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Archives for : March2016

BTAS #15 and 16 Cat and Claw

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

BTAS #15 & 16

Cat and Claw

 

Part 1

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Part 2

Directed by Dick Sebast

Parts 1 and 2

Story by Sean Catherine Derek

and Laren Bright

Teleplay by Jules Dennis

and Richard Mueller

 

It is to be expected that coming off of an episode like Heart of Ice, debatably one of the best of the whole show, it can be easy to be disappointed at the next episode for not being as good. That being said, outside of that bad taste in my mouth going into this review, these two episodes struck me about the same as The Underdwellers did. There was great character, good occasional lines, decent action, but I was constantly distracted by a bad overall plot and a horrible and uninteresting villain. That is in no way to say that these episodes do not have value though. In particular, there are two things to know about this episode.

The first of, which is the more obvious, is that this is the introduction episode for Catwoman. Personally I really like this version of Catwoman, but I wish she got a better introduction episode as she does deserve some respect in this version, but I’ll get to that later. The second thing of note is this was actually the first episode to air. Often with TV shows like this, they will release a mid-season episode before the premiere as a sneak peek just to entice interest in the premiere. These two episodes for most people were the first impression they had on BTAS…. I’m not sure that’s a great thing though.

Our episode begins with Catwoman scaling the side of a building. It is worth mentioning that this Catwoman is using special claws that allow her to climb the walls. She does not have any mutation or supernatural abilities of any kind in this version.

People often go back and forth on whether or not Catwoman has powers, and this version chooses to leave her as a cat burglar only and not a Metahuman. Although I have seen both versions of the character work effectively, and there are Metahumans in this show, I think it works better for this version. Her portrayal works similar to Poison Ivy’s in a good way: She does not act like a cat, she is not part cat, she does not have cat powers, she is not sexually aroused by cats, she is an activist who loves cats, and when she turns to crime she themes herself accordingly.

The other unique aspect of Catwoman’s character is that so far in the series, as odd as it sounds, she’s the only main Batman Villain who is into crime purely for financial gain. Most are in it for revenge, public status, or for the sake of spreading chaos or panic. Penguin comes the closest, but he steals in order to fulfill his compulsion for sophistication. He’s not interested in stealing for money, he does it for class. For a character most people accuse of being generic and boring, I was surprised to find such a unique trait.

Catwoman uses her claws to cut the glass window of a wealthy sleeping woman. After Catwoman cuts the hole out, she then commands her cat assistant, Isis, to jump through the whole and steal the woman’s prized necklace. According to online sources, Isis is supposed to be a Siamese. This version however must have had Catwoman dye her fur as they are typically dual toned.  Isis looks carefully at the necklace in the display and the visuals imply that Isis is able to focus her eyes to see security beams that humans wouldn’t be able to see. I am unaware if cats can actually do this, but I’m going to put it in the “superhero logic” category.

Batman spots Catwoman as she exits the building. She jumps to the ground when she hears Batman coming after her. The animation on this episode has a few cool, but inconsistent moments. One of the better of these is the design of Batman’s face as he scowls at Catwoman. It is reminiscent of the style used in the iconic “Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns”. Catwoman tries to flirt with Batman, but Batman shrugs it off. Catwoman then makes a run for it.

The tradeoff between Catwoman and Batman has always been that Batman is stronger but slower, and Catwoman is quicker and has more agility. This series follows that rule very well. Even without powers, Catwoman leaps off the side of the building and latches to a flagpole with her whip to get back to the rooftops. She is surprised to find Batman waiting for her in the shadows when she gets there.

The two of them then continue on in a beautifully animated chase scene that ends in a brief fight scene where Catwoman makes a slash in Batman’s cape. (Which based on your own interpretation ranges from an impressive to laughably impossible feat.) Catwoman and Isis run across the street, but Isis is stunned and startled when an oncoming truck’s high beams hit her. Luckily for Isis, Batman dives in and gets her out of the way before the car can hit her. Catwoman calls Isis with a whistle and is seen blowing Batman a kiss before escaping. Batman looks up at where she stood with a flirtations whistle and remarks about the piece of Isis’ hair that she left behind.

Batman and Catwoman’s first encounter is pretty well handled and establishes the flirtatious nature that this relationship is built on. The mechanic has always been to juxtapose differences between the relationship between Batman and Catwoman and the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. We will see how the latter relationship is handled later in the episode.

Bruce Wayne is seen attending a charity bachelor auction for a mountain lion based Wildlife Reserve.  Bruce is called up to the stage and the women in the crowd begin to bid on him.  Starting at $500, the price continues to go up and up and up until a voice in the back of the room screams out $10,000. The voice from the back of the room is Selina Kyle.

Bruce stares at her as she stands under the spotlight at the back of the bar. Bruce surprisingly gets flustered and nervous talking to her, and after she says that he’s not obligated to go on the date, he insists on taking her out. Bruce and the others hear gunshots outside and when Selina and her assistant turn to look where it came from, Bruce disappears.

This scene has another example of a unique animation style, but it’s one used other places in media. In this technique, main characters in a scene are animated normally while background players are painted dark blue. This symbolizes their lack of importance as they appear like outlines blending into the backgrounds. Some say this is done for budgetary reasons on scenes with large crowds of people, but this show has enough crowd scenes I’m going to assume Altieri did this in order to help guide the eye through such a busy scene.

Batman tracks down the gunfire coming from a cell of well-experienced criminals that are stealing a truck of army supplies and weapons. They are seen keeping the cops at bay by shooting a Vickers out the back door of the Truck. Batman jumps onto the truck and strategically crashes it. Commissioner Gordon shows up with several officers to take over the situation. Gordon informs Batman that Red Claw, an extremely dangerous terrorist, has been spotted. Batman is advised to keep a look out.

Selina Kyle gets ready for her date in her lofty apartment surrounded by her several cats. She continues to make jabbing, obvious statements about how she’d rather be going out with Batman. Usually, I welcome these double meaning jokes, but the actor’s delivery just feels on the nose. Bruce welcomes her at the door with flowers and a compliment, but she is quickly called away by her assistant for a phone call with her lawyer. Selina is furious when she finds out that the company Multigon International has overturned a legal matter and purchased the Mountain Lion Reserve that she was donating money to at the auction. Selina apologizes, but Bruce comes to the rescue by nonchalantly picking up the phone and asking her what time she would like a meeting with their president.

Multigon’s office is, not so subtlety, covered in taxidermy animal head mounts. Mr. Stern, Multigon’s president, informs her they are committed to use the land to make a five star resort. Selina claims the land is so far in the middle of nowhere, it’s practically worthless for anything but a reserve. Mr. Stern insists it’s their best strategy and “politely” shows them to the door. Selina storms out with threats to inform other animal rights groups. After they leave, a door opens from behind his desk and reveals Red Claw, but low and behold, the episodes big twist, Red Claw is a Woman!!!…So?

I want to make sure I state this clearly and accurately here because this differentiation is incredibly important. In the past, I have praised this series for its incredibly important work in establishing strong female characters, but just because a female character is strong, does not mean that a character is good. Is Red Claw strong? Yes, she’s incredibly strong, skilled, and known in the episode as “The most dangerous terrorist in the world.” Is she a female character? Yes. She is a female character working as a main villain who fights Batman and Catwoman and has her own goals and objectives. So she covers the basic requirements, but those aren’t the traits that make a good character. The answers to these questions are only a skeleton on which interesting characters are built upon. Here are some questions that better define my point and my feelings toward this character.

Does she have depth? No. Her character is given little to no personality outside of “I am a woman who fights men so that makes me awesome.” Does she have any unique traits that set her apart from other Characters? Once again, No. The most unique thing about her is the fact that she’s foreign, but they don’t explore or use that at all. It’s just there to say “I am a villain with a somewhat eastern accent so I’m obviously evil and scary”

Does she enhance or influence the story or any other character in a way other than just not being on “their side?” You guessed it, no. Her character is completely replaceable in the context of the episode. All important or personal responses she has from characters are generic lines that could be said to virtually any other character and still have the same result.  This shows how generic and literally replaceable her impact is on the episode. Finally, does her character or her goals leave a lasting impact of any kind? Absolutely not. Not only did I not remember this character until I re-watched them here, but I’ve had to constantly take closer looks at this character numerous times just to try and remember what little personality she does have to work with. I may sound like I’m being too hard on Red Claw, but I stand up to the point that “BTAS is better than this.” This kind of lazy, phone in villain is exactly the kind of cliché’ that this show strives so hard to overcome. This breakdown is one I will continue to use on other characters so I want to make it clear that this is not a simple unnecessary rant. The parking garage is accompanied with some slightly better Batman/Catwoman references.

Batman breaks through the ceiling of a mob kingpin and interrogates him for information about Red Claw. The Kingpin claims that he doesn’t know anything, but he’ll see what he can find.

Catwoman breaks into the Multigon offices and uses the secret code she remembered from the first visit. I find it funny that the song on the key piano is Beethoven’s Ninth and there’s the whole cats have nine lives thing. Probably coincidence, but I like it anyway. Several trick doors open up and Catwoman begins taking photos of the files inside of a safe.

Red Claw continues with a lecture to her men about a military train they plan to rob that has some unexplained super weapon on it because …well the plot said so? I’m not sure. They don’t give any better reason than “because we’re the bad guys”. Security cameras catch Catwoman taking photos of the documents and they head to the office to take her out.

 

Isis senses something is wrong and insists they get out, and Catwoman is able to escape into the ventilation system before security makes it into the room. One of the henchmen goes in after her, but she comically stops them with a long maze of spikes that are shaped like cats. Catwoman escapes to the roof, but Red Claw is right behind her. With nowhere else to go, Catwoman takes a wild leap to a building rooftop she can barely reach. She tries to pull herself up, but Red Claw fires at her with a personal grenade launcher. She misses the direct hit, but sends Catwoman plummeting towards the pavement.

Batman saves her just in the nick of time with a surprise swing of his Grapnel gun. Catwoman embraces him with a kiss. Batman is surprised at first but, after they land, Batman clearly starts to enjoy it. Catwoman thanks him for saving Isis. Batman tries to remove Catwoman’s mask, but Catwoman refuses. Batman warns her that her crime fighting way stands in the way of the obvious attraction they have for one another. Catwoman catches him off guard and uses it as an excuse to get away. Catwoman returns to her home and her assistant greets her with a robe that she comedically wears over her costume. The episode ends with the reveal of one of Red Claw’s men spying on the two of them and discovering her secret identity.

I won’t say much about this episode separated from the parts, but I will say from a wait till next week to see the next one perspective, I’m not engaged. As far as establishing Catwoman and her relationship with Batman, they’ve already done that. I already have her character in my head and I understand her dynamic with Batman. The second part just serves as an excuse to stretch out the plot with Red Claw. Which would be fine if I gave a damn about her character or her plans. I don’t.

Regardless, I am an unbiased Reviewer and will continue with the part accordingly.

One thing of note about this second episode is that is not directed by Kevin Altieri. Instead, TV writing veteran, Dick Sebast, directs it. Considering his storyboard resume is actually quite impressive, I have high hopes for the second half, and Sebast has not only directed some other amazing films, but some of my favorite BTAS episodes, I’m nervous about his reputation on sequels. I don’t exactly know how I feel about episodes of Batman: the animated series being made by the man who made “The Secret of Nimh 2: Timmy to the Rescue”. Regardless, I promise to approach the episode fairly and judge it on its own merits.

The episode begins with the Mob boss from the first episode walking under a dark bridge in the middle of Gotham’s equivalent of Central park. He seems suspicious of his surroundings and for good reason. Batman walks out of the shadows and catches him off guard. Batman then confirms the meeting was premeditated. After the Mob boss tries to hold some information as black mail to keep Batman out of his mob’s way, Batman starts to threaten the use of force against him and his gangs. The mob boss confesses to rumors of a train heist going down tonight and that nobody local to Gotham is making the hit.

Batman talks to Commissioner Gordon about the rumors, but Gordon confirms there are no trains going through Gotham that night. Batman suggests he check military trains that would be off the grid.

We cut to some beautiful shots of the military train traveling in the middle of the night. One of the solders gives us our first confirmation that the weapon is in fact a Biochemical Virus. There’s also a real good face palm moment when one them taps hard on the lid of the chemical crate with the butt of his rifle…. I’m sorry, but I’m uncomfortable with you protecting my country anymore.

Using a rocket sled on the tracks, Red Claw and a small group of her men climb on to the surprising unprotected caboose of the train and use a bazooka to break the chains between cars and leave the car with the most solders falling behind them. They use a gas grenade on the others.  Batman swoops in and takes out several of the henchmen in a brief but well-handled fight scene. In the designated Face Palm Moment of the episode Red Claw, The “most dangerous terrorist in the world”, Blasts open the crate containing a biochemical bomb, with a shotgun blast… I don’t feel like I have to explain what’s wrong with this scene so I’m going to move on before the logical side of my brain explodes.

As unimpressive as the reveal that Red Claw was woman was to the audience, Her banter response with Batman is easily the best line(s) of the episode. “Red Claw? A Woman?” “Is that a problem for you Batman?” “Not at all. I’m an equal opportunity crime fighter”. As often as these episodes can make me groan, it’s impossible to watch those lines and not smile. Batman tries to take out Red Claw, but she warns Batman that the bomb will destroy everything within a ten-mile radius.  Batman is forced to let her go.

Commissioner Gordon screams over his phone to a military general about how he was not given knowledge of this train and blames that for the theft of the bomb. Immediately afterword, we get a great reveal that Commissioner Gordon has a separate phone in his desk specifically for calls from Batman.

Bruce Wayne is speaking to Gordon, in one of the very few scenes in the whole series, which features Bruce Wayne speaking In the Batman voice.  Gordon confirms that Red Claw is putting up a 1 Million dollar demand in exchange for not destroying Gotham.  Bruce pulls up to pick up Selina Kyle for their next date. Bruce and Selina share some actually well written secret identity hinting while Bruce tries to test the waters on whether or not they are being followed by a red car. Unfortunately for them, the red car begins to ram them. The cars begin to hit each other back and forth, until Batman pulls a U turn and plays chicken to drive the other car off the road.  

Bruce and Selina walk back up to her room and Bruce asks her if she’s alright and to tell him if she’s in danger. Selina is flattered and kisses Bruce on the cheek. Bruce confesses he has feelings for her, and the two of them part ways.

Selina’s assistant meets her inside as Selina is changing into her Catwoman costume. Selina discusses that there are hidden bunkers underneath the resort site. We also get our first look at the fact that her claws, like a real cat, are retractable.  She tells Isis that she is going alone.

Alfred speaks with Batman in the Batcave where they find a cat hair on Bruce’s Jacket. He puts two and two together to discover Isis is the link that reveals Catwoman’s secret identity.

Selina’s Assistant is making, what I’m guess because this is a kids show is, orange juice.  A henchman from Red Claw breaks into the apartment and begins to sneak up on her. Just as he’s about to attack, she sees his reflection in the glass table that she set the pitcher on and splashes the juice in his face. She tries to make a run for it, but the door is locked and it takes her too long to unlock it. The henchman swings his hand back to hit her, but Batman show up just in time to grab his arm. Batman pummels him as the assistant struggles to retrieve her glasses.

Batman tells her he knows who Catwoman is and insists that she tell him where she went.  She confesses that she went after Red Claw and also that Catwoman is in love with him. Batman stops for a moment, but moves onward to find her.

Catwoman breaks into Multigon one henchmen at a time. She sneaks in through the ventilation, but a quick shot of the Batplane shows that Batman is not far behind.

The Two of them end up bumping into each other while trying to break in and are caught by Red Claw and captured.

The Two of them are tied back to back with ropes. Red Claw, in a confusingly stupid stroke of not logic, decides instead of blackmailing Gotham to use the Biochemical Bomb, that she will kill all in a ten mile radius along with Batman and Catwoman…. for reasons…. and then give fake vials for ransom to collect the money…. because reasons. You know what? That’s not accurate. She does have a reason. A really stupid, nonsensical reason. She decides to use it on them because, “Why risk carrying such a dangerous chemical around?” Well let me ask you this Red Claw: If the chemical is so dangerous to carry it around then WHY DID YOU STEAL IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!?!?!?!? World’s most dangerous terrorist my ass.

In yet another act of stupidity, Red Claw did not take away either Catwoman’s claws or Gadgets nor Batman’s utility belt, so they escape quite easily. All the other terrorists are making their escape and there’s an emergency siren, but the rate that Red Claw’s chemical melt away towards the biochemical bomb detonating is fast enough to make the idea of escaping downright laughable.  

Batman convinces Catwoman to make her escape while he takes care of the bomb. In order to take care of the ultra-dangerous Biochemical bomb, Batman opens a hose connected to a petrol truck and creates a trail of Jet fuel leading back to the truck. Batman drives the truck away and throws a grenade out the window, setting off a trail of fire leading back not only to the bomb, but to an entire army supply of TNT, Grenades, and all sorts of explosives. As much as I want to tear this moment apart, I’m going to just say that maybe the explosion helped diffuse the chemicals of the bomb or that the bomb required being detonated gradually and that rapidly blowing it up stopped the chemicals from mixing and becoming volatile. Seems Legit.

Commissioner Gordon Comes up to the scene with choppers and rounds up the terrorists. Catwoman tries to slink away, but Red Claw attacks her. What follows is an incredibly lame fight scene; Catwoman is saved by one of the mountain lions that Selina was fighting to save. Ha ha . Irony. Catwoman disappears as Batman hands Red Claw over to Commissioner Gordon.

Catwoman returns to her apartment to find Batman waiting for her there. Batman tells her that he didn’t want to see her taken away by the police like a common criminal.  Catwoman tries to flirt with him because she knows he cares for her, But Batman handcuffs her and ends the episode on the line, “More than you know.”

Although I will state clearly that I find both of these episodes have some incredible moments in character and animation, a lazy plot and a completely uninspired villain drag this whole episode down into mediocrity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. “BTAS is better that this!”

I’ve already ranted enough about how I despise Red Claw so I won’t do any more of that here. What I will talk about though is how much it drags down this episode that her big scheme doesn’t really amount to anything. A character’s goals can show just as much as her direct personality. As mentioned before, with minor adjustments, I just as easily could see Joker or The League of Shadows or any number of Batman villains could have attempted this heist. Not to mention the actual stakes of the situation are really unclear and makes it difficult to get invested in the story.  Also it leaves the story littered with plot holes. For example, if Red Claw said that the tunnels underneath the land were from the government, then, why was the land available for sale in the first place? Or why did they not think of it as a place that lots of weapons could be stored?

Many people might immediately criticize me for being so hard on Red Claw while so many people have major problems with Catwoman. Let’s take a closer look at Catwoman shall we? I’ll use the same questions so you know I’m being fair.

Does she have depth? Yes. Her duel Identity does not express a fake personality, but rather explores different aspects of her personality individually. Does she have any unique traits that set her apart from other characters? Yes again. Selina ‘s animal activist efforts are very carefully crafted in a way that is more realistic to honest activists and not a view of extremists. Not to mention her gray morality helps define her from other villains. Does she enhance or influence the story or any other character in a way other than just not being on “their side?” You guessed it, Yes. Her character is invaluable to the other characters in the plot. Catwoman’s activism is the thread that connects the civil and superhero sides of the story. Her character is a major impact character for both Bruce Wayne and Batman as she lowers Bruce’s defenses and makes Batman briefly contemplate where he draws his line between good and evil and has to stop his feelings from perverting his personal code. Finally, does her character or her goals leave a lasting impact of any kind? Absolutely. Out of all the various interpretations of Catwoman, next to Michelle Pfeiffer, This is by far my favorite version.  She finds a great balance of keeping her flirtatious and manipulative personality without turning her into a mindless sex symbol. She is a perfect example of how a female character can be beautiful and seductive, but that doesn’t make her a bad character. In fact it can help make her a great character.

Although the music of this episode is really good, I am disappointed that Catwoman does not really get her own theme. At least, not in the same manner as other villains got themes. The music revolving around Catwoman is usually played on either strings or oboe. It conveys a sense of sneakiness and suspense and the instruments themselves subconsciously reflect her movement. I’m just sad we didn’t get a memorable theme to line up with her character.

This isn’t the only episode in the series that features two writer’s working on a two-part episode, but I actually found that not to be a major problem. Altieri is one of the more consistent directors on this show and although I gave Sebast some crap about Nimh 2, he did a really good job. I think a big part of the problem is the writing. These particular episodes had 4 writers. 2 on teleplay and 2 on story. Usually when you see credits like this, it means an episode was probably plagued with numerous rewrites and staff changes. This is most likely responsible for the episodes’ numerous inconsistencies.

Cat and Claw is not a bad set of episodes. I just wanted more. It’s radically inconsistent and the story is hard to care about. However, it’s introduction to Catwoman and her relationship to Batman is worth checking out.  I can’t give this a recommendation unless you’re either a Catwoman fanatic or insist on purely watching every episode. Otherwise, I could take or leave these two.

BTAS #14 Heart of Ice

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

 

BTAS #14

Heart of Ice

Directed by Bruce Timm

Written by Paul Dini

 

This is one of those episodes I’ve been waiting to review from the very beginning. This episode not only has a lot to talk about, but it also has a great deal of behind the scenes material to draw from. The season 1 DVD contains a featurette that talks briefly about the episode and there is also an episode of Kevin Smith’s Fat Man on Batman podcast with the episodes’ writer Paul Dini that provides a commentary track for the episode itself. I definitely recommend both of these for those interested in this episode and I will be covering that information here, but only as it becomes relevant. I just want to make it clear; this episode leaves a lot to talk about. Well that reason and there’s also a lot to talk about because it’s really damn good. 

I’ve talked briefly about Paul Dini and Bruce Timm Before.  Individually they are the heart and soul of the series. Dini is an overseeing writer and Timm is the series’ producer and is credited as one of the few people that you could argue “invented the show”. What makes this episode so important though is that this is the first time both of them work together full time on an episode. Timm has main director credit and Dini has Full writing credit. Believe me, having both of them in the main chairs makes a huge difference in the outcome. Anyway, let’s move on to the show itself.

The opening scene of this episode absolutely encapsulates the episode and the character of Mr. Freeze. The opening credits actually blend right into the main show for the first time. The main credits are met with a flurry of snowflakes falling down in front of the frame. The shot pans to a spinning Ballerina inside of a snow globe. As the shot begins to zoom out, we see that not only is the snow from inside the snow globe, but we start to see a purple hand holding the snow globe, and shortly after, a darkly lit Mr. Freeze. You can’t see his whole suit, but we see his glass helmet and a metallic pattern over his shoulders. Half of his face is seen inside the glass, and his eyes slowly open to reveal that they are actually rounded and red as if they were mechanical.

While all of this is going on, Mr. Freeze is giving a soliloquy about someone that the ballerina represents and the person who took her away from him. The speech is dark and dramatic and combining that with the mystery of who or what he is, creates an incredible amount of tension and suspense. Mr. Freeze’s voice is emotionally cold and slightly mechanical. When Dini talked about how they were going to make the character feel new, they were fixed on the idea of making the character emotionally cold and shut down as a reflection of the ice theme of his powers. The interpretation and execution is downright near flawless and the voice not only maintains that sense of emotionlessness, but the mechanical nature of the voice helps match up with the suit he now wears to keep himself alive. It creates a man vs. machine aspect of his character that builds upon his subdued personality. All that put together, and Mr. Freeze can range from intriguingly dark to downright terrifying.

Our next scene gives us a black and white news report talking about that even in the middle of a summer heat wave, Gotham is being attacked by a new founded ice themed villain who has created winter like conditions with what witnesses are calling a freezing gun. She cuts to a quote taken from the CEO of Goth Corp., whose company is the sole target of these attacks. CEO Ferris Boyle says he doesn’t know what this villain has against his company, but they’ve always looked at his company as “the people company”. The reporter “Summer Gleason”, (oh yes this episode has it’s share of ice puns. Only difference is these ones don’t suck), signs off the broadcast as we get a fun snapshot of a group of kids playing in the snow, being chased off by a security guard, and then pelting him with snowballs when his back is turned. The TV we’re watching turns out to be Batman’s Batcomputer, which Batman turns off after the report.

Batman evaluates the robberies, while Alfred makes a quick joke. Batman explains that individually, the stolen materials are harmless, but assembled by the right person, they could be used to make a super powerful Freeze cannon. There’s only one piece left and only one Goth Corp. plant that makes it.  This scene is quite short, but one thing I find of interest is that the drawing in this scene portrays Batman‘s cowl as being more Blue than black. Technically, the cowl is always slightly blue, but the coloring is more prominently blue here. Possibly this is to reflect the ice and water aesthetics of the episode.

Security stands guard outside of the Goth Corp. plant. They only have two men so it’s obvious they haven’t figured out the crime pattern like Batman has. The guards try to stop Mr. Freeze and his men but Freeze arrives in an armored van going 70 with no intention of stopping. The guards jump out of the way as the van breaks through the security gates. Meanwhile, Batman is in hot pursuit behind them in the Batmobile. Batman manages to stay right on Freeze’s trail, but Mr. Freeze uses his ice ray on the road and sends the Batmobile careening into a wall. Mr. Freeze uses his ice gun again to break through a security door and instructs his men to load a series of canisters into the truck. More security finds Freeze, but he seals off the entrances. Batman swoops in and takes out all the criminals.

Batman throws a batarang at Mr. Freeze, but Mr. Freeze freezes it in midair and it falls to the ground. He warns Batman that his vendetta is personal and he has no desire to fight Batman, but Batman insists that it is in fact his problem. Batman tries to swing away from Mr. Freeze’s ice ray, but is eventually caught and falls into a pile of canisters. One of Mr. Freeze’s men is also frozen by a missed shot from the waist down. Mr. Freeze adjusts his ice gun and encases Batman in a layer of ice. This gives Mr. Freeze and his men enough time to get away. The henchmen with the frozen legs begs for help, but Mr. Freeze instructs the rest to leave him. He emotionlessly tells him he should have stayed out of his way.

He grabs another henchmen’s pant leg begging for mercy, but he refuses to disobey his master. Batman breaks out of the ice, but they’ve already all gotten away. All except the henchmen that was hit with the ray.

All things considered, this feels like a really dark scene. The actor that plays the man left behind does an incredible job portraying his horror. It doesn’t matter if we know that he won’t die. All that matters is that he believes he is going to die.

Batman saves him and puts him into a chemical bath back at the Batcave. The machine itself looks similar to the recovery chambers seen on dragon ball z (wow I never thought I’d put those shows together). The actual mechanics of the machine are matched with sounds and devices similar to what you’d see in a Frankenstein movie.  The aesthetic of this does fit in with the previously established Batcave, but is just different enough to show it’s meant to have specific meaning for this episode. As Batman tries to revive the henchmen, Alfred makes mention to the cold he has formed. Obviously someone as tough as Batman would normally have an incredible immune system, but you can’t get encased in solid ice and not expect to at least get the sniffles. Batman says he has no time to worry about the cold, as Bruce Wayne has a meeting with Ferris Boyle.

Boyle greets Bruce into the office and makes a quick jab at Bruce’s Playboy nature. “Hey Bruce. You still the terror of Gotham’s night scene?” Some days you just gotta love wordplay. Bruce struggles with his cold, but assures Boyle it’s nothing. Boyle says he has no idea who would want to attack his company. His only guess is an ex-employee who was caught using company money for personal reasons, but he tells Bruce he died in a company accident. In a very nonchalant way, he tells Bruce that he sent his men after him, there was a fight, an explosion, and they lost him. Disturbingly unmoved by the notion, Boyle goes on in anger about how he was wasting his company’s money, or in his clarification, his money. He confesses to Bruce that all the family company mentality is just crap for the press to eat up. “When the wage slaves start acting like they own the place, it’s time to pull the plug.” They just keep that wordplay coming don’t they?  Boyle receives a message that the Humanitarian society is here to see him downstairs and Boyle begins to put his Public face back on. Bruce tries to hide his disgust for Boyle and hides it under his cold. He makes a begrudging exit.

Boyle speaks to the reporter again at a humanitarian event and spews out more company family crap. The TV watching this report is interrupted by Mr. Freeze’s ice ray, blowing up the television. Mr. Freeze continues to soliloquy about how he knows Boyle is a fraud and that that compassion and understand was never there when “She” needed to hear them. Mr. Freeze sits on a throne made of ice as he stares deeply into his ballerina dancing in his snow globe. Mr. Freeze instructs his men on the assembly of the cannon.

Batman looks through old newspaper clippings trying to find a link to the accident Boyle mentioned to Bruce. The reason for the accident was covered up so Batman needs to hack into Gotham’s private files. After hearing Batman continually sneeze, Alfred hands him a thermos. “Knock out gas?” “Chicken soup. It’s the only way to fight a cold”. Alfred is never without a good quip in this show and this episodes dark tone leave his elevating humorous moments all the more welcoming in contrast.

Batman sneaks into the building by disguising himself as security and telling the guard on duty he’s got the night off. The guard not only doesn’t see through it, but struts out of the room like a million dollars. Batman scurries through a filing cabinet and finds some suspicious photos and a videotape.

The tape is a set of video diaries from scientist Dr. Victor Freis. Freis believes he may be on the verge of discovering humanities first true version of immortality. His invention was a cryogenic chamber that he used to preserve his beloved wife Nora, who is diagnosed with a terminal disease. His hope is that the chamber can keep her alive until a cure can be invented years later. During the recording, Boyle crashes into the room with two security guards. Boyle is outraged that the project was suspended months ago, but Freis has kept Nora alive using company resources. Boyle demands they disconnect the machine, but Freis begs them not to as disconnecting the machine will likely kill her. Boyle is too obsessed with his lost money to care and the guards are ordered to dismantle it. Freis panics and grabs a pistol form one of the guards and points it at Boyle. Boyle plays innocent and tries to apologize and come to a truce, but when Fries lets his guard down, Boyle kicks him into his chemical table; spilling chemicals, and causing a explosive fog of blue and white smoke. Snow begins to engulf the room as Boyle and his men exit. Fries is covered in snow and ice as he tries to grab onto his wife’s chamber, but falls to the floor unconscious.

This particular scene is not only the best of the episode, but is debatably one of the most important scenes in the history of the animated DC universe. No, I’m not exaggerating. This particular version of Mr. Freeze’s origin has become so iconic to the character, most people think this is the way it’s always been. Before this show, Freeze had no real definition or personality. He was just another ice themed villain. When this show aired, the origin story created by Paul Dini was so beloved, to this day; it is the basis of almost every Mr. Freeze origin known to the DC universe. Everything from the Rocksteady games, the God-awful Shoemacher movie, to the New 52 Continuity to almost everything in between. Without question, Mr. Freeze’s origin from this episode is the most important and influential scene to ever come out of the DC animated universe. Well, that and the scene is just amazing on its own. The performances are perfect, the situation is absolutely relatable, and it makes Mr. Freeze by far one of the most tragic villains in the entire show. It’s as heart wrenching of a scene as it is legendary.

Batman is truly moved by Fries’ story. So moved he doesn’t hear Mr. Freeze sneaking in behind him. Freeze comments “It would move me to tears if I still had tears to shed.”  Mr. Freeze then traps Batman with his ice ray.

Batman wakes up hanging upside down inside of a snow-covered cave. It’s a strange comparison, but I find the scene is similar to that in Return of the Jedi when Luke is fighting the snow monster. A fitting comparison considering that Mr. Freeze is occasionally compared to Darth Vader, (and Boyle is played by Star Wars’ Mark Hamil).

Batman tries to make peace with Mr. Freeze by showing sympathy towards his wife; But Mr. Freeze says that he has become frozen and dead to emotion. Batman deduces that Freeze’s suit is a result of the accident and Mr. Freeze confirms that he is no longer able to survive in above zero temperatures. He talks with Batman about how tonight he plans to take out Boyle once and for all, even if innocent people will have to die in the process. Mr. Freeze leaves Batman to go off on his scheme, meanwhile once he is out of sight, Batman uses all of his might to break free of the cave.

 

What makes this scene work so well is the tone in which Batman and Freeze talk to one another. As one of the smartest of Batman’s villains, a non-confrontational conversation between these two feels like a melding of two great minds. They feel as impressed by each other’s intellect as they are threatened by it. It’s as if they are playing chess with their minds, and they’re words are the pieces. It makes what would normally be an exposition, heavy, useless scene into an iconic, true introduction of these characters and their power dynamic.

Mr. Freeze pulls up in front of Boyle’s award banquet with the giant ice ray. There’s a good quick gag about a Valet offering to park it, but Mr. Freeze ignores him and uses the ray to seal the building shut with ice. Batman barely escapes out the back door, only to be almost hit by Mr. Freeze creating giant walls of ice all around the perimeter of the building. As the award is about to be given to Boyle, the window breaks and the room is filled with cold wind and snow. As Freeze’s goons reach to increase the power, Batman stops them by throwing an icicle. Batman swoops down and steals back his utility belt.  Freeze runs away to find Boyle and in a very clever quick scene, breaks a fire hydrant and then freezes the water with his own ice ray to ride the ice up into the building.

Mr. Freeze bursts into the ballroom to find Boyle standing there with no idea of who he is. Mr. Freeze reveals his identity and begins to freeze him. He doesn’t Freeze Boyle like he does with Batman. Instead, he freezes him from the feet up slow and thick. He definitely is doing it this way because he wants Boyle to suffer. Boyle begins to beg Mr. Freeze to let him go and Mr. Freeze gives the best line in the episode. “You beg? In my nightmare I see my Nora behind the glass. Begging to me with frozen eyes. How I’ve begged to see that look frozen on you”. Batman runs into the room to stop him, but Freeze has him overpowered. Freeze reveals his suit triples his physical strength. He has Batman suspended and strangled by the neck.

In a surprisingly effective last ditch effort, Batman grabs the chicken soup thermos from his cowl and smashes Freeze’s helmet and burns his face. Freeze struggles to breathe the warm air and falls unconscious. Batman gives the evidence of Boyle’s cover up to the reporter and gives a final sneer to Boyle as he leaves.

 

Mr. Freeze sits without his suit in an ice-covered cell in Arkham asylum holding his snow globe once more. He gives his most beautiful speech yet as he hopes that somewhere, someday, he’ll find Nora waiting for him. Freeze touches the glass as he thinks of Nora, but his coldness stops the Ballerina from moving and the snow globe turns white as it freezes. The show pans out to see Batman watching over freeze and the sympathy he carries for his tragic fate. The episode ends with Batman running away into the night sky next to the most beautiful moon so far in the series.

This episode is one of those episodes that make me want to say such crazy and inappropriate things as “If you have not seen this episode, you’re not a real Batman fan.” I obviously don’t mean that, but for the love of Gotham! YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS!!!

This episode is considered to be one of the best constructed episodes of the series and it would be very difficult for me to disagree. The actual craftsmanship of this episode is jaw dropping. The art design stays true to the Batman universe while also introducing several unique elements to the episode that support its themes and ideals. The episode itself shifts towards a very blue and white color pallet as a way to show the coldness and isolation portrayed in the episode thematically. Batman’s Cowl, although always part blue, makes its blue more visible in this episode and the color blue is used on several other things in the episode from the beam of Freeze’s ray to the tint of the Security footage. Several other characters in the episode wear blue and Freeze’s suit also contains a lot of blue. Even the lighting of the episode makes black objects or clear ice to appear slightly blue.

Dr. Fries’ cryochamber and Batman’s Chemical chamber draw symbolic comparisons to one another. It not only draws immediate comparison between the two as scientists, but it also sets both of them with an eerie sense of darkness in the experiments they conduct. It gives them both a feeling of a Frankenstein moment where they feel like, to an extent, they’re playing God.

Speaking of Frankenstein, the story of Frankenstein has been a constant influence to this character from the beginning, but this series is one of the first to actually do something with that. He’s always been named Victor, but this is an episode where that feels part of his character. Even before the accident, there is a neurotic, or out of the ordinary, feeling to Freis. Our first introduction to his human character is already showing him stretching the boundaries of science and trying to bend the mortal coil. That in no way takes away from the fact that he is doing all of this for a noble cause, but we only see his character after he has made his decision to cross lines that most people wouldn’t even consider getting near.

For being one of the most human of the Batman Villains, it’s ironic how inhuman and robotic the character can be. As the villain Mr. Freeze, the voice actor was told over and over again to give less and less emotion until you are left with the emotionless, haunting, monotone the character is known for. Despite the lack of emotion in his voice however, his emotion still comes through in his writing and his line delivery. The way in which the character brilliantly can convey no emotion, and yet all the emotion he needs at the same time, is a contradiction that shouldn’t work, but does. The mechanical filter on his voice helps this portrayal as well. The gravel of the filter hides changing intonation in his voice in a natural way so that he can still maintain a quality performance with a one-tone voice.

Mr. Freeze’s behavioral acting is often described as “Shakespearean”. Not only does Freeze’s Story sound like a Greek tragedy, but the soliloquy and monologue based speech patterns give the character that sense of self-absorbed importance. Even when speaking with others, he speaks in few longer stanzas. It gives a feeling as if he speaks with others in a way that feels very much like an emperor or a tyrant. This mentality once again points to Freeze’s common comparison to Darth Vader; an emperor himself, who also carries conversations in a similarly self-obsessed manor.

Ferris Boyle is a good villain for this episode and luckily doesn’t dip into one-dimensional territory. One of the biggest assets this character has going for him is that this role was the audition role for famed Joker actor Mark Hamill.  This was the role when Hamill first got involved in the show, and then later was invited to audition for the Joker. As far as his role as Boyle goes, he still does a great job. His fake smile for the press routine in contrast his deeper self-obsessed greed gives his character just enough dimension to be interesting, but not relatable enough for him to be likable.

There isn’t an extreme amount to talk about with Batman in this episode as far as character development, but there are a few of his reactions that point to some deeper levels of his character. The first of these is Bruce Wayne’s utter disgust for Boyle’s policies on how he treats his company and his employees. Several episodes of this show give examples of how Wayne goes out of his way to treat his employees far above average. He is an actual people company. As pointed out by this quirk in other villains like the Penguin, we already know that Bruce despises gluttony and greed. So seeing a rival company that lies about such a good reputation is something that he would be utterly disgusted by. Not to mention that the family company mentality was one of his Father’s most important tenants when he founded Wayne corp. in the first place. So it makes sense that Bruce would be furious of someone making a mockery of it.

The second of these was the sympathy that Batman feels after learning of Victor and Nora’s fate.  Seeing as Batman was motivated to vigilante status because of a loved one he lost, it’s understandable that he relates to someone in a similar situation. On an even deeper level, you get a sense that Batman might feel an even deeper compassion for him seeing as Freis not only feels a sense of responsibility for Nora, but that he tried everything in the world to save her, but ultimately failed. You can imagine the comparative thoughts coming from Batman. If Bruce had the option to try and save his parents, even bending the rules of death, would he?

Moving on to Nora, It can be difficult to talk about an innominate character, but I believe that discussing her is extremely important to this story. Two particular details are left out about her character; both of which I believe the episode gives subtle room for interpretation towards. The first of which is defining what the meaning of the snow globe is. The obvious answer is that it’s a working metaphor and reminder of the frozen capsule she remained trapped in, but looking deeper into Freeze’s dialogue, there is solid evidence that she may have actually been a ballerina. This would also explain why the ballerina looks so much like her. The second question is what the incurable disease that she suffered from was. The episode gives very little evidence of what Nora was suffering from; my educated guess would be a tumor. Having the show take place in the 90’s, the idea of it being inoperable and I’m guessing it’d be a disease that’s thematically fitting.

 

The music of this episode isn’t quite as prominent as it is in other episodes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good. I think it’s mainly because the music in this episode doesn’t show off as much as in other episodes. Mr. Freeze’s theme however, is amazing. Its melody is very mysterious, eerie, and has just the right amount of a winter/Christmas sounding bounce in the counter melody. In a way, the theme reminds me a little bit of the theme of Edward Scissorhands, but darker. The thing about the theme that I find the most fascinating is the fact that I don’t think that the theme is supposed to be Mr. Freeze’s. It’s Nora’s.  The theme only shows up in scenes when Freeze is talking about Nora and the song itself seems to represent her. The theme is pretty, elegant, delicate, and it seems to bounce and float. It actually sounds like something a ballerina would dance to. The song is played mostly on a flute. An instrument usually associated with innocence and goodness, and yet the minor key of the theme overlays the theme with a sense of sadness and darkness.  The song isn’t about Nora. The song is Nora. 

This episode is also one of the first episodes in this series that actually confronts death directly. In previous episodes, characters are threatened with death or Bruce mourns his parents who are already dead, but this is the first episode where someone died directly because of a present character’s actions. We don’t actually see Nora die, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.  Not only that, but Mr. Freeze is openly tortured by these actions in a way that Batman never was with his parents. Freis felt even closer to her and lost everything in his journey to bring her back to him. A journey that in his heart he hasn’t given up on. When Freis ends the episode, he begins to cry and beg forgiveness from Nora because he thinks he’s failed her and he hopes that somehow, somewhere, she hears him. This particular stanza is potentially one of the better spiritual moments of this show. The phrasing of the line sounds like Mr. Freeze is talking about finally meeting Nora in heaven. He speaks the line “Some place a warm hand waits for mine”.  My interpretation is that he’s talking about Nora waiting for him in the afterlife. At first this theory sounds far fetched, but in a later episode, Freeze discusses how he believes the accident has made him immortal and that if he lives forever, He and Nora will never be reunited.

As far as Mr. Freeze’s role in the Arkham villain theory, it’s a bit more spot on than most, although no less fitting.  (Pun unfortunately inevitable), Mr. Freeze is supposed to be a representation of Batman’s Coldness. Freeze is a character that believes himself to be unable to feel emotion and Batman is a character who is constantly rejecting his emotions. Bruce/Batman is constantly pushing people away and potentially hurting those that he cares about for the sake of their safety. He rarely lets anyone get close enough to him that he could get hurt. The downside of that is, Mr. Freeze is a representation of Bruce/Batman’s largest fear about isolating himself. He will lose all those who care about him by pushing them away and he will end up like Freeze: emotionless, cold hearted, and alone 

This episode is probably the closest I will ever get to saying the word “perfect” in a review. The episode itself is the animation equivalent of High art. It may not be my absolute favorite episode, but it is objectionably one of the best-made episodes. If you have a beating heart, I’m sure there is something about this episode you will grab on to and enjoy. In my life, I have never met a person who did not fall in love with this episode, and I don’t plan on finding one anytime soon.

You would actually need to have a heart of ice not to fall in love with this tragic, animated masterpiece

BTAS #13 I’ve got Batman in my Basement

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

BTAS#13

I’ve Got Batman

In My Basement

 

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell

 

Did you ever watch “Home Alone” as a child? Of course you did. In its time it was one of the most popular movies of its day and is still viewed as one of the best children’s films ever made. It is without question a treasure, in a world of it’s own. What does this have to do with anything? Well, let me ask you this: Have you ever watched Home Alone and said, “this movie is good, but you know what it could use? More Batman.” No? Well apparently Frank Paur did. Evidently he liked the idea so much that he made an episode of the show based around that concept. Does it work? The answer just might surprise you.

First I’d like to take a minute to talk about our episode’s director “Frank Paur”. Over the course of Paur’s episodes, not every episode but most, Paur seems to show a few patterns that lean towards defining his directing style. A good example of one of these patterns that shows up this episode is his adoration for 50’s style Americana. He loves to constantly pay homage back to this, especially in his art design. Considering that he’s also an animation art dept. leader on several projects, he’s had an opportunity to hone his craft in showing how these 50’s aesthetics can be accomplished even in a series that takes place in the 1990’s.

Our episode begins with two criminals, disguised as window washers, breaking into a skyscraper, most likely a museum, to steal a priceless Faberge egg. Batman gets the drop on them. The second that they think they’re safe Batman swoops in, but Batman turns out to be not the only one doing the swooping. Out of nowhere, Batman is attacked by a vulture, a rather unusual sight in Gotham, but I guess that explains why it’s able to catch Batman off guard. Not to mention that despite the fact that you don’t know this for certain until the next scene, it’s not your average sized American Vulture. Batman is able to fend off the vulture, but not before the other criminals get away. Batman is perplexed, but finds birdseed at the crime scene. This sets up the idea that the Vulture was part of a trap.

We cut to a city block set in Frank Paur’s trademark 50’s Americana style. In Fact it’s probably one of the 50est looking and feeling episodes in this whole show.

We see our main protagonists sitting on the front porch of a suburban house opening up their new Jr. Detective kit. I really like that the content, sand, and even the packaging evokes the feeling that he bought it from the back of a comic book. It’s a nice touch and helps to define the mystery solving adventurer aesthetic we find in our protagonists.

Sherman is our first hero, a bit on the nerdy side, but he has a heart of gold and a sense of bravery that seems almost inhuman. He gets scared, but that doesn’t stop him from jumping into action.

Roberta is the Watson to his Holmes. She is a lovable sidekick and often the moral center and logical, strategic side of the team. Roberta is not fearful, but she’s also the one to think more clearly and not jump into a situation without a plan. She is also a bit of a tomboy, to the point of symbolically riding a light blue bicycle and wearing a baseball cap. She’s spunky and forward, but never unlikable.

Two local bullies harass Sherman and Roberta. One of them, named Frank, steals Sherman’s binoculars and starts teasing him by holding them out of his reach. Roberta grabs the binoculars from him and throws them back to Sherman. Frank looks up at what he thinks is a falcon, But Sherman takes a look with his binoculars and determines it’s a “Giant South American Vulture”. Intrigued by the new mystery he has stumbled upon, Sherman, informs Roberta that “It’s Adventure Time!”(ok, ok, not those exact words but you get the idea.)

Our duo of investigators follows the vulture to an abandoned birdseed factory. Yes. Really. The two thugs from earlier slouch around the factory warehouse. Then one of them notices something suspicious across the room, but he doesn’t see the two kids hanging above the rafters.  A trap door opens from the floor to reveal the Penguin inside of a large steel cage–shaped elevator.

The Penguin is definitely one of the more overlooked and underestimated of Batman’s Rogue gallery. He is also one of my favorites. I think this character has a lot of personality, and I love seeing the different interpretations as time goes on. To say that Penguin is one of the more sophisticated villains is an understatement. Penguin revels in his higher-class persona and is one of the few villains that actually commit crimes for financial gain. He steals and runs mob racket strictly to maintain his own higher-class lifestyle.  Similar to the Burton interpretation that will come after it years later, this Penguin is born with actual birth defects. He’s hunchbacked, has a long beak like nose and has three fingers on each hand. His deformities may serve as an explanation for his addiction to the high life. He wears a black tuxedo, a large manacle, and a cigarette holder similar to that of Cruella Deville. The Penguin is one class act.

Penguin calls for his pet Vulture, now known to be named Scrap, and gives him a slab of meat as a reward for helping get the egg. The other two try to ask for credit, but they are scolded for needing Scrap’s help. They hand over the egg to Penguin while the two kids crawl across the catwalk. They are spotted by Scrap who swoops in to attack them, but Batman comes out of the shadows, traps Scrap in a net, and opens up a floodgate trapping Penguin and his henchmen in birdseed.

Sherman trips over a conveyer belt switch and both of them start being pulled towards a large grinder. A birdseed bag getting chewed up does a good job of setting up the fear in the kids. Batman grabs them from the belt and jumps from place to place to get them through the door. He manages to get them there just fine, but you can tell Batman is not used to carrying two people at once. He then yells at them to get out as fast as they can.

Penguin breaks out of the seed and runs to attack Batman. Batman runs back to fight him, but is hit with a gas bomb launched out of one of his trick umbrellas. Batman summons the Batmobile remotely, but passes out in the driver’s seat before he can get an antidote.  Penguin quickly sicks his goons on the two children. They both pull Batman inside the vehicle and Sherman starts pressing buttons looking for a way to escape. During this sequence we discover that the Batmobile contains tank missiles, a flamethrower, wheel spikes, poisonous gas, and even a full set of anti–air missiles.

The kids stumble their way into driving the Batmobile and manage to lose Penguin and his men in the process. A strange occurrence seeing as the Batmobile is a Manual Transmission. I also love how even when Penguin is gripping the Batmobile, for dear life, he still tries to make sure his hat and monocle don’t fall off. Its small touches like this that make these characters come to life.

Batman comes to as we find out Sherman and Roberta have taken Batman to Sherman’s basement.  You can tell by the posters and Jr. Detective equipment scattered around the place that Sherman is a bit of a hero worshiper. He even has a Wanted poster for joker above his couch. They give Batman a glass of milk to try and revive him. Batman barely makes out the words “Capsule” and “Visor”. Roberta reaches to call the police, but Sherman insists it’s their responsibility to keep Batman’s identity a secret and that the police would want to unmask him.

We get a brief scene with the Penguin where he reveals that the gas will keep Batman out of commission for a few days. We also get a first person shot of him cleaning his monocle. If you pay close attention to the scene, you will notice that the monocle is completely decorative. A well fitting touch of detail to his character.

Sherman’s mother stands at the top of the stairs in another 50’s homage shot as she screams down to Sherman that she wants to know what he’s up to and he better not be trying to make gunpowder again.  Roberta is quick on her feet and gets away with it by telling her the exact truth, “We just saved Batman Ms. Grant. And now we’re hiding him from some bad Criminals”. “Well that’s nice dear. Just don’t make a mess.” It’s a simple gag, but one of my favorites because the acting is spot on.

Ms. Grant heads out to the store, and doesn’t spot Frank and his friend picking up a brick from the front yard. They start playing with the brick and accidentally find the Batmobile hidden under some cardboard boxes. Sherman runs out to tell them to get lost, but they don’t listen. When asked about it, Sherman can’t come up with a good lie for such a weird car just sitting there and tells them it’s the Batmobile. They don’t believe him at first, but the more they look at the car, they start to think it couldn’t be anything else. Frank stumbles upon antitoxin found in the driver’s seat visor. Sherman quickly figures out what it is and grabs it from Frank, but before he can get it to Batman, Scraps dives down to attack them. Sherman sneaks away and gives Batman the Anti–Toxin.

Frank and his friend escape Scraps and run downstairs to find that Batman really is there.  Frank tries to take off Batman’s mask, but Sherman tackles him out of the way. He tries to warn them that they don’t have much time before the Penguin arrives. Roberta reaches for the phone to call the police, but Scrap has bitten through the phone lines. With Batman still unconscious, Sherman realizes it’s up to them to stop the Penguin. Sherman takes Batman’s utility belt off his waist and runs upstairs to put his scheme into motion.

On a quick side note, it’s worth mentioning that the way in which Sherman takes off the belt implies that Batman told him how to do it. I say this because in other points in the show, or in other shows in this continuity, Batman has some very powerful deterrents set to stop people from taking off his mask or belt. These traps include gas, flash bangs, or an electrical charge powerful enough to take down an elephant. Considering that Frank almost grabbed his mask, there are a lot of lucky kids in this episode.

Penguin uses his umbrella to break the house locks. Sherman runs up stairs and tells Roberta to be ready for “Operation Fowl Play” (get it?).  Penguin criticizes the droll and outdated décor of the 50’s style home. (It’s so fitting it’s almost Meta).  The traps that the kids set are effective, but surprisingly violent. One criminal is sent toppling down the stairs and the other steps on explosives, that were set up on the staircase, sending him flying onto the couch and toppling it over. Penguin sarcastically blames the accident on the cheap furniture.

Sherman and Roberta run downstairs and hit Penguin with Batman’s Bolas. Penguin lets them think he’s caught, but then cuts the ropes with his umbrella. They run into the basement, but the bullies tell them Batman isn’t awake yet. Penguin and his men regroup and run down the stairs. Penguin steals back the egg and in a surprisingly dark display, uses his umbrella as a bone saw and begins moving towards Batman’s neck.

Batman wakes up just in the nick of time and pushes Penguin away. Penguin’s ace up his sleeve is a short sword made out of the shaft of the handle of the umbrella. In an act of awesomeness, Batman grabs a screwdriver from the work desk and spars penguin with it. Batman plays possum to get Penguin to let his Guard down and kicks him, unconscious, into some broken shelves.

Ms. Grant starts screaming about how destroyed the house is, but when she goes downstairs to scold Sherman, she is stunned to find out that Batman is actually down there. Batman greets her with a hilariously formal “Ma’am”. Sherman then makes a quick joke to Batman asking him if he’s single. Batman smiles. A good joke on its own, but another example of a joke where knowledge of Batman’s Womanizing nature makes it that much funnier.

Sherman puts two newspaper clippings about the crime on his basement wall. One of them gives him credit for stopping Penguin (Batman wouldn’t want to be involved with the press) and the other says that Scraps was given to the Gotham Zoo. Frank and his friends are now working for Sherman’s Jr. Detective agency and they are sent on surveillance for a neighbor that is having his newspaper stolen. Roberta and Sherman head out to Mrs. Fineman’s house to find her missing cat. The episode ends with a shot of Batman checking in on Sherman and seeing the good that he has inspired in all four of them.

Frank Paur may have used this 50’s aesthetic before, but I think this is the episode where all those pieces just mesh together. The 50’s Americana elements of this episode not only give it a unique tone, but also help to create a cast of characters that wouldn’t probably exist in a normal context. The episode itself is not a mystery, but the problem solving adventure aspects of the episode are intriguing and relatable. I really get the feeling of what it would be like as a child to spontaneously run into Batman. It’s a framing device that countless writer try and fail to pull off, but these writers have it down pat. The 50’s elements also work in contrast to Penguins upper class personality as he constantly scoffs at the simple and unsophisticated aesthetic of Sherman’s neighborhood.

The episode’s format also works very well for Batman as he’s written in as an escape route that’s been blocked off. The episode is written from the perspective of Sherman and Roberta. The main mechanic of this device is that things that would normally be easy for Batman are major threats to them, but that device can only work if Batman is out of the picture. Enter: Penguin’s gas.  Now just because the two kids don’t do everything themselves to save the day, doesn’t make them boring. They actually accomplish quite a bit in the episode and do manage to save Batman’s life, twice. And for the segments that Batman is awake, He does a great job emphasizing that the children’s safety is his number one concern. As we’ve discussed previously, Batman’s connection and protective nature towards children is a constant theme throughout the series.  This episode highlights that theme in a compelling and subtle way.

For a character that can sometimes get the short end of the stick, I’m glad to see that Penguin is presented loudly and proudly in his debut performance. Penguin is shallow, stuck up, prissy, and treats everyone around like he’s better and more sophisticated than them…I love this guy. A lot of villains in this show are certifiably crazy, but Penguin is just hilariously self-absorbed. He’s not nuts, he’s just greedy. In all honesty, he’s a lot more human than the other villains because his motivations actually make sense for a sane person. On the other hand, that’s not to say because Penguin isn’t crazy that he is any less unique or interesting to watch. Penguins deformity obviously separates him visually from the average villain, but his sophistication and bird themed preferences give him a quirky personality that might not land him in Arkham, but give his character enough definition for repeat occurrences to feel welcome.

Kids aren’t often that well written in Children’s shows…. It sounds very strange when I read it back to myself, but it’s surprisingly true. I’ve talked before about how this show does it better than anyone, and this episode is a shining example of that. This episode has not one, but 4 child characters. To be fair, Frank’s friend is just a carbon copy of Frank, but besides that, these characters have a lot of personality.

Sherman and Roberta make an awesome team. They don’t fall into a straight man funny man formula, but they play off of each other very well. Sherman knows when to jump into action, and Roberta knows when stop a minute and think. Sherman is impulsive and excited, but sometimes doesn’t think things through. Roberta isn’t quite as impulsive, but she is cunning and intelligent. Sherman is the one with the ideas, while Roberta is the one with the answers. Frank starts out as a pretty boring standard villain, but his voice actor does a good job of showing his change throughout the episode. He’s not evil; he’s just a bit of a bully.  This show doesn’t cover bullying from a real serious perspective often, and this is not one of those times, but for what it’s worth Frank and his friend do just fine.

Aligning with the Arkham Villain theory, I believe that Penguin is supposed to represent Batman’s Gluttony. It would so inline Penguin’s desire for the upper class and the sophisticated.  His constant desire and obsession for these things can make a great parallel to the temptation Bruce Wayne faces in keeping up his playboy ruse. The temptation that Bruce could also become addicted to the same playboy personality he tries so hard to fake on a daily basis.

If there were one last thing I wanted to talk about on this episode, it would be the music.  Penguin’s theme music is the musical identity of this episode. The theme is light and bouncy, but the lower notes of the song give almost a bumbling feeling that seems to comically reflect Penguin’s girth in almost a vaudeville kind of way. In the main versions of the theme, an interesting fact is that the theme is played on a xylophone, which in it of itself is a bit of an oxymoron.

Although the sound of a xylophone can fit Penguin’s profile, it’s clean and precise, it is in no way sophisticated.  This leads me to an interesting conclusion about the heart of Penguin’s character: Penguin is not defined by his sophistication; it’s defined by his obsession with being/trying to be sophisticated. As hard as he tries, Penguin’s deformities and short temper hold him back from the High-class man he is deep down. All of that was taken away from a couple notes of music.  That’s how great the music can be in this show and how much it can say about its material. On top of that, occasionally the instruments for the melody do change, but never to contradict the former.  They merely play the song as more of a warning of impending danger. That or on occasion, it will blend back and forth with Batman’s theme in order to show the power struggle between the two.

If I had to sum up this episode in one word it would be “execution”. Between Penguin’s interpretation and the Americana feel that Paur has tried so hard to create, I feel like this is the episode that the stars aligned for Frank Paur. The Americana feel is executed perfectly, the music is astounding, and this is one of the clearest and most compelling interpretations of the Penguin I’ve seen. It’s by far my favorite version of the Penguin. However, it is not my favorite episode of the Penguin, but that is a story for another day. Until then, this story is sure to keep you entertained. It’s as masterfully nostalgic as it is ingeniously crafted.

 

BTAS #12 It’s Never Too Late

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

 

 

BTAS #12 It’s Never Too Late

 

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Story by Tom Ruegger

Teleplay by Garin Wolf

 

Religious themes are never an easy topic to talk about when it comes to animated series. Generally when TV series tackle religions like Christianity, Judaism, or Muslimism they are often portrayed as either completely inaccurate hyperboles, or insultingly missing the mark out of ignorance. Needless to say, the idea of it being portrayed decently in a children’s animated TV show about Batman seems like a laughable idea. Although for anyone who understands the basic structure of an introduction paragraph, you know where this is going. This series actually does a pretty good job with its incorporation of religion. How you may ask? Using the last thing you’d expect out of a conversation about religion in a superhero show: subtlety. 

Our episode begins with a young girl retrieving a ball from the front of a large gated community. Two men in suits peer down at the girl from a second story window. The girl doesn’t say anything, but it is apparent she is uncomfortable being anywhere near the place.  The way the scene is shot actually resembles the “old fashion values” look of “Be a Clown”, despite the fact that here it’s used for an opposite effect.

Inside the building, we see a news report talking about the ongoing mob wars between the previously explored Rupert Thorne and longtime kingpin Arnold Stromwell. Commissioner Gordon goes on record during a press Q&A saying that Mob activity is intensifying because he believes that Arnold Stromwell is on his way out of the business since he’s losing his edge against the younger Thorne. The report turns tragic as they announce that Arnold Stromwell’s son Joseph has gone missing. Outraged by the report, Stromwell breaks the remote control with his fist. Stromwell is outraged at his son’s disappearance and denies the accusations that he’s all washed up. He wants the mob war over with and demands a meeting with Rupert Thorne that night. Stromwell finds himself rattled over the thought that Thorne has kidnapped his son.

  Although they may both be mob bosses,Throne and Stromwell, could not be more different characters. Stromwell appears to work with a much more loyal and tight knit group of lackeys rather than Thorne’s group of random lackeys. There is also a more obvious sense of humanity present in Stromwell. His concerns for ending the bloodbath of the mob wars speaks towards an older and more calculated approach to crime: Prepared for bloodshed, but will avoid it as much as possible. Clean and calculated is his way, while Thorne is more shock and awe.

We cut to the exterior of “Pete’s Restaurant” where Thorne is sitting at a table with his men. Thorne signals for Pete to escort out a sleeping vagrant at one of the tables. The Vagrant turns out to be a disguised Batman who places a listening device underneath the table. Thorne jokes around to his men to play it cool and make Stromwell feel welcome. Thorne makes is abundantly clear that this meeting is a set up. He says that they have till the count of five after Pete leaves to get out of there and then no more Stromwell.

Stromwell and his men pull out of the gated community, with a shot surprisingly similar to that of the Bat mobile leaving the cave, and find themselves waiting in front of a set of railroad tracks. Hearing the noise of the warning bell and watching the changing lights, Stromwell seems to fall into a fear induced trance. One of the more subtle aspects of this scene is the way the series has drawn consistency to its nightmares. The facial animation and expression on the victim draw many similarities.  Another interesting comparison is the use of a very specific flute synth present in all these sequences. It’s also the primary instrument used in the melody of Two – Face’s theme.

The dream opens up to the first ever use of sepia tone in the show. A flash back shows a train yard and an old fashion train with exhaust smoke coming out. Two young boys walk along the railroad tracks and are arguing about the petty crimes that the young Arnie Stromwell has been committing. He brags that one day he’ll rule Gotham. The warning bell begins to flash and ring as the spotlight of an incoming train can be seen in the distance. In a pillar of black smoke, a full speed train with a signal spotlight comes charging down the tracks towards them with its horn blazing.

The second child runs off the tracks, but Arnie’s leg is stuck between the rails. Arnie trembles as he stares the train down in front of him. After a horrifyingly well-animated shot of the train from first person point of view, Arnie barely manages to free his leg and jumps off the tracks at the last minute. To his horror, Arnie realizes he has jumped onto a parallel set of tracks and another Train is right in front of him. As he stares towards what he believes is imminent death, Arnie flashes back to his adult self and snaps back to normal. A train of similar make and model passes in front of him. He lets the train pass and moves onward.

In our first piece of religious imagery, we see Batman standing among the gargoyles of a large cathedral. Batman looks down to an intersection as Stromwell is driving past.  Stromwell looks up towards the Cathedral with a blank expression and turns back unchanged. The interesting thing about the scene is the fact that they don’t show a reverse shot of Batman not at the Cathedral. This implies that we don’t know whether or not Stromwell actually saw Batman or not. I personally believe that he did see him. It’s revealed later in the episode that Stromwell does not fear Batman, so it makes sense that he does not flinch when he notices him.

 

Batman walks into the office of the church priest. Batman warns him that the Mob war is going down tonight and that he needs to be there for Arthur. The priest says he wishes he could give up on Stromwell, but Batman says he doesn’t think he means it.

Stromwell walks into Pete’s Restaurant. After some awkward introductions, Thorne suggests that they let both their men leave the room and talk man to man, to which Stromwell complies. After putting up with Thorne coyly wasting time, Stromwell grabs him by the collar and demands that Thorne tell him where his son is. Stromwell throws Thorne across the room. Thorne claims it wasn’t him on the grounds that he doesn’t mess with family (which according to the last episode is a complete lie). Stromwell lets him go. In a gesture of kindness, Thorne offers to use his advanced connections to help him find Joseph. Extremely reluctant to take his help, Stromwell swallows his pride and sits down to talk with Thorne. Thorne makes small talk with Stromwell as he makes his way towards the back door. With one last smile from Thorne, Stromwell realizes that he’s been set up, but the lights go out and there’s no time to escape. At the last second, Batman appears out of the shadows of the room. The lackeys outside jump at the sound of the building going up in smoke when the bomb detonates. The detonation is one of the most active and violent explosions so far in the show.  Adding to that, the timing on the detonation is, to the second, perfect. Thorne says five seconds from when the lights go out. Counting the time until detonation: it’s five seconds, a brief pause for Thorne’s men to panic that it didn’t go off, and then BOOM. It’s just delayed enough to throw you off guard.

Stromwell’s men start to panic, but one of them insists that they need to leave before the cops show up. Thorne and his men slip away from the scene while Batman carries Stromwell out the back door just before the building collapses.

The fire department looks over the wreckage with Commissioner Gordon and we get an, on the street, witness screaming about how he saw Batman. He describes Batman as a mysterious demonic figure, a dark angel swooping up Stromwell like a bat from Hades.

Batman attempts to interrogate Stromwell about the gangs, but as we established, he isn’t afraid of Batman. Batman takes Stromwell to the alley that he sold drugs to in his youth, but Stromwell denies it even when Batman accuses the drug manufacturing racket he currently runs. Batman takes Stromwell into a drug rehab center in the slums. Stromwell doesn’t want to go in, but Batman is quite persuasive.  They both walk into a room that has Joseph lying on a hospital bed and Stromwell’s ex–wife sitting in the corner.

Stromwell is furious to find out that someone was selling drugs to his son. His eyes widen in horror when his ex–wife tells him that it was his own men who sold the drugs to Joseph. Batman confronts Stromwell about how the gang wars have led to his misery. He convinces Stromwell to come clean to the police and take down the mob empires with him.

Stromwell hands Batman the file about the gangs, but Batman is smart enough to realize that the books are fakes. Stromwell holds up Batman with a Hunting rifle from his wall.  Batman tries to talk him down, but Thorne’s men attack them both when a canister of tear gas breaks through the window.

Batman puts on his gas mask and tells Stromwell not to move. Two lackeys come in after them, but Batman disposes of both of them quickly. After hearing machine gun fire, Thorne comes in with a few more of his men only to find the two henchmen tied up.  Thorne and his men run through the back alleys and find Stromwell running through the train yards. Stromwell escapes them by hiding underneath one of the train cars. Batman gets the drop on two more of Thorne’s men with a great first person splash shot in the Adam West Style.

The Priest from earlier holds out his hand and reveals that he was the other child from the flashback. Stromwell slips into the flashback again, only this time watching the events himself. This time, we see the tortured look on Stromwell’s face as the other boy pushes him out of the way of the second train, costing him his right leg. Stromwell is brought to tears as The Priest begs for him to end the madness and save his own life while he has the chance.

Without warning, Thorne finds them and prepares to shoot them both, but Batman swoops in just in time and knocks the machine gun from his hands. Thorne is knocked unconscious and Batman escapes before the police arrive. The episode ends as Stromwell agrees to give his statement to Commissioner Gordon and our final shot is Batman looking off into the distance and the ominously lit cathedral.

It’s Never Too Late is a brilliant example of properly using religion in storytelling without coming from a preachy point of view. In fact, the episode never actually uses the word religion, or God or anything directly relating to the subject. They simply use the thematic elements it portrays in its subtext. Symbolic imagery of heaven and hell or Angels and demons can go a long way to express emotion or character. Even if people aren’t themselves religious, they can understand its symbolism.

The subtext is mainly used towards two characters: Batman and Stromwell.

Batman is commonly connected to the mythos of a dark guardian or dark angel. Seeing Batman standing over the cathedral with the gargoyles puts him in a similar symbolic position. In scripture, the gargoyle was a creature meant to drive evil spirits away from the cathedral.  This is a great comparison to how Batman protects the city of Gotham from the evils of its corruption.

Stromwell is often drawn to religious subtext through the episodes title and main theme: It’s Never Too Late. Connecting Christianity to Stromwell’s largest struggle, this episode takes the theme of redemption and stares it right in the face. Michael, Stromwell’s childhood friend and future priest, works as a perfect representation of Stromwell’s conscience and also a perfect connecting point towards the show’s deeper religious meaning.

 Often in media priests and other figures of faith are used as metaphors/representations of the beliefs of a religion or sometimes used to represent Christ himself.  In this episode, Michael is used as a direct metaphor for Jesus’ teachings and, debatably, his crucifixion. In the episode, Michael constantly works to warn Stromwell of his evil ways, even though he knows his attempts may be in vain. Michael becomes tired and frustrated in his attempts to save him, but still as a child, even as unworthy as he was, Michael is willing to potentially sacrifice himself for Stromwell. Michael’s strides for showing mercy to Stromwell are a reflection of the way Christ is portrayed in his redemption for people who refuse to heed his warnings, and his eventual sacrifice for the unworthy.

All things considered, this episode in particular covers some of the darkest subject matter in the whole show: arson, drugs, addiction, divorce, and the tragic loss of Michael’s leg during his childhood. This episode makes no attempt in holding back from it’s audience and looking at these characters, acts, and even Gotham itself as dark as they actually are. However, with that darkness comes the greater sense of resolution, redemption, and resonance that this episode leaves its watchers with. This is an episode that I think will be overlooked by a lot of people because of its lack of super villains, but I highly recommend this one for its hard hitting portrayals of Gotham and its characters. It’s an episode that I have found sticks with me far after watching. Its themes and morals are long lasting and I think everyone could stand to learn a thing or two from this episode’s use of proper religious subtext. This is definitely a solid recommendation.

BTAS #10 & #11 Two – Face

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

 

 

BTAS #10 & #11

Two – Face

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Story by Alan Burnett(Part 1 and 2)

 

Teleplay by Randy Rogel (part 1)

Written by Randy Rogel(Part 2)

 

This is an episode I have been looking forward to. Previously in this series that dip into the dark, psychedelic, and heart wrenching aspects of this show. This two parter plunges into that ocean and does not have any intention of coming up for air. This set of episodes digs deep into advanced character, impossible choices, regret, police corruption, and the creation of one of the greatest Batman villains ever.

For the multi part episodes in this series, I will make mention where the divide is and will make quick notes on the stories pace that far in, but will still wait until the end in order to give deep analysis. In other words, I will do my best to evaluate these episodes as individuals and as a combined story.  Without further ado, let’s get started.

The music during the opening slide sets up the scene of the first scene with its use of echoing instruments. It breeds a sense of emptiness and mystery. The opening scene has a lot going on and based on the length and number of these dreamscape stories, I am going to analyze them as much as possible here instead of at the end. 

We see Dent running through a sort of gray void. He hears a strange voice calling his name and then leans over trying to catch his breath. A dark and raspy voice calls out to him. Dent looks around the room, but sees nobody. Dent holds onto his head and screams for the voice to keep away. Dent frantically walks farther into the void. He is confronted by a figure standing in the shadow. It is the source of the dark voice. Dent says he wants no part of him. The voice stretches out a hand and the hand is hit by a spotlight. He flips a coin into the air. The coin makes a very distinct noise, which Dent can’t stand the sound of and covers his ears begging him to stop. The figure simply states, “Come on Dent. It’s Time.”

Dent wakes up in a pool of sweat from his night terrors.

Let’s start with the location. Obviously the location is meant to be a visualization of Dent’s mind, but what is significant about the way they portray it? Well almost everything involving Dent’s persona leads back to a theme of justice or chance. For a character that sees everything as Two – Face as black and white justice, it is interesting both colors are virtually absent in the environment. Dent wears a gray suit with a white shirt. The backgrounds however are all in shades of gray.  Never quite black or white but variations in-between. The battle between Dent and Two-Face seems to be boiling up before the transformation has occurred. 

 When “The Dark Voice” appears in front of him, not just as a silhouette to save his identity, but it brings true black into the scene for the first time. A quick metaphor to show what he represents. There is also a lot to grasp from the wording of Dent’s line, “I want no part of you.” A clever foreshadowing of when the two of them will later become one.

  The yellow light coming over the coin can be interpreted a few different ways.  One could be that it is supposed to emphasize a new perspective, as it is a color that appears nowhere else in the dream.  It may actually be possible it is meant to represent justice. While blue is usually the color assigned to justice (as displayed in Batman later on in the Dark Knight trilogy’s color theory). The exact shade of yellow used under the spotlight is used only in two very distinct areas of the show: The police spotlights of Gotham PD, and the Bat signal. Another option is that it represents a spiritual presence or that flipping the coin is supposed to mean “It’s in God’s hands now.” The first is far more likely, but it does paint an interesting perspective on how spirituality could be further applied to this series. An issue we will be tackling in a later episode.

To say that Dent wakes up in a panicked sweat would be an understatement. Other characters have awoken like this in the series, but never one so drenched in sweat and eyes so bulging from fear and shock. Adding to the effect is realizing Dent actually was sleeping on his office couch, showing he probably was not even intending to sleep. This gives a simple example of his psychosis starting to escalate to dangerous levels.

Dent is led by his right hand man, Carlos. Also in the scene we see his desk nametag confirming he is district attorney. On the desk next to it is a picture of his beloved fiancé Grace, yet another shining example of the awesome female representation in this show. Carlos informs him “Commissioner Gordon started the raid.” Dent remains almost silent as he storms out of the office.

Dent arrives on scene and we have a both comedic and frightening moment where Gordon’s response to “How’s it going?” is met with opposing gunfire. I love how they chose to use an action rather than dialogue to convey what was an obvious message in a clever way.  A policeman informs Gordon that a swat team is in place, but Gordon commands they wait for his order.

 The thugs are seen stealing from a crate from the US Army Gotham Armory. Several crates are shown, but out of the one they open they pull out a bazooka. A shadow is shown in the background as Batman takes them out one by one. We also see a really awesome tap on the shoulder gag from Batman and one of the criminals. We watch from the exterior as the whole police force reacts to all sorts of crashing and pummeling noises coming from Batman’s attack. One villain comes careening out the window and we see the bazooka shoot straight up and detonate harmlessly in the air. The majority of the criminals run out so scared they offer themselves to the police just to get away from Batman…. Nice.

As Batman leaves the scene (only to be seen in the distance and silently thanked by Gordon), news reporters start to trickle in. When asked about the raid, Dent takes credit for planning the raid and is happy to see another one of Rupert Thorne’s criminal rings broken. Rupert Thorne is a Mobster villain created for this show in particular, but we will get to him later.  Dent also makes a quick but noticeable reference to the fact that he is up for re-election; a solid connecting point to why he is hamming it up so much for the cameras. As the crowd cheers, one of the thugs makes a vague threat at Dent and pulls away from the cop who handcuffed him just long enough to kick mud onto Dent’s suit.  Various thugs begin to laugh at him, but Dent snaps, throws him in the mud, and threatens to tear him apart.

This being the first time we see Dent switch personalities, it is very important we look at the telling signs they use.  First off, we hear the recurring music from the opening scene. Previously used as a metaphor, we also see the background of the scene turn red to symbolize rage. The sweat and bulging eyes appear again, but this time is obviously different context, yet the familiarity still makes them a worthwhile device. And last but not least, the angered face he makes is very clearly a foreshadowing to his unfortunate accident to come. (Spoiler alert: Two – Face is an episode about Two – Face.) The only thing shockingly missing is the voice. A telling sign that Dent has not completely switched over, an important detail to remember for later.

Dent snaps out of it after Commissioner Gordon grabs him and gets him to snap out of it. Gordon pulls him aside to get away from the press. Gordon questions him about his well-being. As much as Dent tries to shrug it off, it is obvious that Gordon senses there is more going on than he is aware. News reports play out coverage of the proceedings, and as the TV is muted, we are introduced to our villain.

A great deal of the time superhero shows tend to phone it in on villains that do not come from the comics. Often treated as “Filler Villains”, they are met with lazy writing, lack of personality, and overall blah ness that can put a bad taste in your mouth over an entire episode even if it had otherwise good elements. I am proud to say, Rupert Thorne, not only flies above that trend, but is an antithesis of notions like “He doesn’t have powers. Why bother?” or “He’s a Gangster. That’s all the character we need.” Rupert Thorne is cunning, an incredible strategist, and one of the best crime syndicate based villains in this show or any other.

Thorne discusses plans with two of his accomplices, an hot headed generic man, and a seductress style right hand woman dressed in red (I normally would explain this trope but it’s so common, I don’t feel the need this time.) Rupert dismisses the idea of killing Dent because it would draw too much attention. He wishes to dig up some dirt on Dent so they can make him lose the election and they can get a district attorney they can manipulate. Candice, the woman in red, claims Dent is so clean, there is no way they could find any dirt on him. Thorne replies with another great foreshadowing, “The brighter the picture, the darker the negative.”

Dent holds a campaign fundraiser at the Wayne mansion. In another nod to good symbolism, an ice sculpture of Lady Justice sits on his main table. The sculpture is well constructed, but it is noticeably melting. One could leave the meaning at justice falling apart, but the melting ice also looks similar to Dent’s sweat in the earlier scenes. The shot is framed the exact same way. Coincidence? Possibly, but hey, it is my hypothesis. Grace thanks Bruce for sponsoring the fundraiser, and Bruce tells her that he is just glad he can help. As established in Pretty Poison, Bruce and Dent are very close friends. Practically surrogate brothers, an important, yet tragic detail knowing our eventual fate.

Dent leaves the podium and is politely approached by a supporter before he is distracted by a voice from across the room. The voice is Grace making a joke about setting a date for the wedding. Bruce makes a quick jab about stealing her if he does not make a move. I know that he would not actually do it, but knowledge of Batman’s ummm let’s call it “James Bonditude” makes this joke extra funny.

Carlos approaches Dent whispering, “The Judge just threw out the case against Thorne’s men.” He tells them that part of the warrant went mysteriously missing. Dent once again flips the switch and goes berserk. He grabs Carlos and throws him against the table knocking over the ice sculpture and breaking it in half. Bruce tries to break him out of it, but he only comes to when Grace jumps in front of him.

Although we have seen this transformation before, this one shows an escalation in his condition. Dent’s transformation takes far less time and although not quite hitting all the way to Two – Face, his voice does go lower than before when he gets to his angriest. Also in this instance he is lashing out at close friends, not a snot nosed crook. The red coloring is more prominently shown throughout the frame; even in shots Dent is not part of, a simple and re-occurring example of his actions’ lasting influence. The final important aspect is the way he snaps out of it. Grace is commonly used in this series as the best mirror to Dent’s humanity. For a Character built on a split personality, it works so well to have Grace as a character who literally always sees the good in him. The second he sees her, the red disappears and his eyes turn from rage to fear, all in the course of about a second. It sets up how much influence she has on him, even at his worst.

Dent apologizes, but his response implies that he might have more memory of this incident than the last. Horrifyingly this would imply that the line between his sides is getting grayer. Dent tries to brush it off, but Bruce insists it was more than just a slip. That he was “like another person.”  Grace reveals to Bruce that Dent sees a psychiatrist but is embarrassed to talk about it because of his campaign. Bruce is proud of him for getting help. Dent asks him to keep it quiet and Brue ends with a “wink wink” line of “if there’s anything I know, it’s how to keep a secret.” It is after this we approach the moment we have all been waiting for. One of the greatest scenes in the entire show’s four-year run: Dent and the “Psychiatrist.”

We open the scene with a black void and a pocket watch swinging back and forth like a pendulum.  We see a reverse of Dent looking at the watch. As the watch is eyes swaying left and right, notice that 80 percent or so of Dent’s face is blanketed in darkness. This effect remains throughout most of the scene. We also see a beautiful effect as the reflection off the pendulum shines a bright but temporary light on his face. The psychiatrist tells Dent he is now in a deep sleep. She asks if he can hear her, and he nods.

The psychiatrist says she would like to speak with “Big Bad Harv.” Dent seems to struggle when he says, “He’s not interested.” Just then, a strike of lightning crashes across the screen and we see one of the series’ most iconic shots. A flash of light over the side of his face reveals about a second of the Two – Face form cast in only light. The reason I bring up it being cast in light is because it gives the illusion of a photonegative. (Now where have I heard that before?) This is the first time in the series we see the Two – Face…. Well, Face. I don’t want to talk about the face until its true reveal, but needless to say, this scene is just as thought provoking as it is bone chilling.

Dent takes a moment to compose his thoughts and then begins to twitch as he changes sides all the way for the first time. His whole demeanor warps; his contorts as it did when he was angry, he begins to more casually slouch in the chair, his eyes droop to a maniacal stare, and he begins to flip the lucky coin in his pocket with the same constant noise as in his dream. He Leans forward and utters only one word in a dark and terrifying voice: “Speaking.”

The Psychiatrist confronts Big Bad Harv about him and Dent not getting along so well.  Harv shrugs it off and tells her he is a wimp.  The Psychiatrist tries to justify Dent by saying that when Dent was young, he felt guilty about his angry feelings and tried to hold them in until they manifested into Big Bad Harv. She explains how Dent needs to learn to control his feelings.

Things get scary when Big Bad Harv reveals that he is not only a full-fledged personality, but is fully cognitive and aware. He puts it together if Dent gets help and gets his anger under control, he will disappear. He begins to rage and throws a coffee table across the room and full size lamp out the glass window. He grabs his psychiatrist violently threatening to kill her. The Psychiatrist snaps her fingers and breaks Dent of his trance. Dent regains control.

Now what makes this transformation different and better than any other is not what they do, but rather what they took away from the scene. The visual cues of the red have been taken away entirely. This combined with the final voice switch shows Dent finally reaching a 100 percent switch. The device that makes this scene so intense however is the complete lack of music. This is the first time in the series they use this technique and It is not used often. The second Big Bad Harv comes out, all music disappears and the scene feels so tense you could hear a pin drop. The raw and vulnerable approach to the scene turns Dent’s transformation from a child’s dark fantasy to something surreal and quite terrifying. As effective as the music in this series can be, having it taken away can make you feel so close to the action it is almost uncomfortable. It increases the feeling of danger. When you add that with the fact that it is the only time so far Dent makes a direct threat to kill someone, you have a scene for the ages that has gone down in history as one of the greatest in BTAS history.

Dent drops the coin (on heads I believe, it can be difficult to know for sure).

This time, he has no memory of what Big Bad Harv did. Seeing his condition worsening, the psychiatrist suggests that he admit himself to a psychiatric ward for a few days, but Dent refuses because of the election.  Instead, he schedules more sessions. The scene ends as we pan away to a well color-coded red door to the office, and the reveal of Candice eavesdropping from outside.

 Dent is later seen at another campaign event where Carlos announces Dent is currently winning by a landslide. Shortly after in celebration he announces to Bruce and Grace he is going to announce his wedding date to Grace during his acceptance speech, which leads grace to tears. Dent is called away to a phone call, but is shocked to find Thorne on the line.

Thorne coyly says he wants to offer Dent a deal, but Dent’s not interested…until Thorne threatens to release his Psych paperwork to the press. Dent heads towards a car he is instructed to get into parked outside.  Grace asks him what is wrong, but Dent shrugs her away. Bruce tries to approach him at the elevator, but when Bruce asks him if he is in trouble, Dent responds with a symbolic, “You don’t know the half of it.”

The car barrels down the road, but Batman is in fast pursuit. Before the car can get away, Batman uses a tracker gun to tag the car. Bruce follows the signal in the Bat Cave to an old factory.

Thorne begins to read Dent’s psych report aloud to annoy him. He reveals that when Dent was a child he had a bully that constantly pushed him around until one day he got fed up of getting beat up and slugged him. The next day, he heard the boy was in the hospital. He was there for appendicitis, but Dent thought he almost killed him and tried never to show his anger again. That repression became Big Bad Harv. Thorne continues to prod at Dent and his duel identity, and Dent is pushed to his breaking point. In a telling moment, Big Bad Harv shows he can disguise his voice and sneaks up to Thorne and tosses him across the room.

This transformation is by far the most complicated. Dent starts with usual signs, but this time everything seems to morph together. Dent’s facial expressions contort rapidly around his eyes and jaw, the main contortion point around his later transformation.  The sweat and music are back and so is the red glow.

What is new to this one is the constant flashing images. Glimpses of random thugs laughing at him and contorted audio of their laughter. We also see a shot of the flipping coin under the yellow spotlight again, accompanied by that iconic flipping sound. It is also noticeably longer than the other transformations, but the more frantic nature shows off how intense Dent’s battle for control is. Leaving us with a final moment where we are not sure which Dent we will end up with.

Dent tries to take out Thorne, but Batman stops him.  There is a split second when “Dent” hears Batman’s plea for peace, but Big Bad Harv remains in control. In the midst of some amazing action shots of Batman fighting the henchmen, Thorne grabs the file and tries to make a run for it.  Big Bad Harv and Batman are not far behind, but the henchmen are slowing Batman down. One of Thorne’s men gets to the door before Batman and tries to fire at Harv with a machine gun.  Batman knocks him out, but messes up his aim, and his bullets hit a high voltage box causing exposed wires to go flying all over.  One of the wires falls into a vat of chemicals and causes a large explosion that sends Harv flying across the catwalk. When Batman runs to him to check if he is all right, Batman looks appalled at the disastrous results.

Dent lies in a hospital bed, half of his face covered in bandages. The doctor said he was lucky and that a good plastic surgeon can probably heal most the physical scarring, but Bruce comments that is not what he is concerned about. We also get a very quick scene of Thorne pondering whether Dent is still a problem for him.

Back at the hospital, we get a note for not recreation of the Burton movie’s joker surgery scene as Dent’s realization of his face makes his scream in madness. He storms out of the room and as Grace spots him, she is so shocked that she faints. “Two – Face” says goodbye to Grace and walks away.

The design of the Two – Face is by far one of my all-time favorites. The light blue is a nice contrast to the on the nose black or red interpretations.  Combining that with the white hair of his evil side, it almost gives him an appearance like a Ghoul or Frankenstein.  The enlarged eye is not only effective on an overall scary level, but it works because the eye balance matches the expression it is going for: a constant state of rage, which we have previously established, leads to Dent widely exaggerating his eye opening.  I also like that even with the animated option of making the line exact, it appears jagged and follows the contours of his face. Every element works together to make not only a long lasting and iconic design, but also one that is clearly set up by the episode devoted to creating this tragic villain.

Part 1 works great for the uninitiated, but this is where I can give credit where due to the previous episodes subtlety getting people familiar with Dent, so that when we got to this episode, the audience is quick to get invested in his story. Pacing wise, the story is fast paced and sets up several great plot points and cliff hangers that make part 2 such an amazing follow up.

Part 2 opens with a man looking out the spy hole of a building’s “Room 222”.  Two Face pulls up driven by a few of his henchmen, and the location is revealed to be Rupert Thorne’s bookie joint. We get our first look at the coin, which is now revealed to be a two headed silver half dollar with George Washington on it, and one side has now been badly scratched.

Many have asked over the years why the coin is two headed. The two faces joke seems like a quick explanation, but it is not the only reason. According to the comics, Dent’s father was extremely abusive and an alcoholic. He would constantly torture Dent by telling him he would beat him if the coin was heads and leave him alone if tails. It being a two-headed coin, Dent was always beaten. For some reason, Dent has kept that coin all these years. In this series though, it makes more sense to have him keep the coin. Big Bad Harv is the one who constantly uses the coin, and Harv is the one who represents Dent’s repression. Therefore it stands to reason that he would hold onto a symbol of that.

The bookie joint has a nice look to it, a little bit like a casino. We see a couple of older men taking bets from patrons all lined up watching about seven or eight televisions of races and games. After an opening door bust gag, Two – Face and his men storm into the place. The men begin to rob the place and we get a listen of a brand new song.  Music for this two parter continues to be awesome, and this new song works with the same two level back and forth as the last theme, but at a faster and more intense tempo and tone.

While looting the safe, one of the thugs tries to steal a large stone ring off one of the patrons, but Two – Face says “jewelry wasn’t part of the deal. We have to flip for it.” The henchmen think he is crazy, but Two – Face flips the coin and it comes up heads. Two – Face tells him to leave it, and when the henchmen refuse, he knocks it out of his hand and screams at him. Shortly after, they take their loot, make a threat to Thorne’s men to give him a message, and get on their way.

Match cut to Thorne’s hideout and we get a reveal that this is six months since part 1 and that Two – Face had stolen 200 thousand dollars at the last raid. In frustration, Rupert Thorne gives out a bounty of two million dollars for Two – Face.

We now continue Bruce Wayne’s part of the story with one of the season’s best dream sequences. We see Dent running in a panic threw a maze of crooked buildings. A dark figure follows behind him, but it comes into focus as Batman. Dent runs out to a drawbridge. Batman screams out to him to let him help. But Dent screams back that he blames him for not doing anything when he noticed Dent was in trouble. Batman argues how much he tried, but Dent turns to Two – Face and screams at him in anger that it is his fault he is like this now. The bridge collapses underneath, and Dent yells “Why couldn’t you save me?” as he falls in agony.  When Batman looks down into the abyss, he sees his parents standing underneath a light post. They stand crying as Thomas looks up and asks, “Why couldn’t you save us son?” Bruce wakes up completely out of breath in shock. The frame zooms out to reveal he was asleep in front of the bat computer surrounded by his work. Showing how engulfed in his life Two – Face has become and how it tortures him he could not stop it.

The bent buildings work as a great metaphor for inner turmoil, but also it shows off the German expressionist influence of the show as a whole. Specifically, it reminds me of the buildings in the horror classic “The cabinet of Dr. Cagliari.” The scene’s dialogue does well to represent the scene under Bruce’s perspective, including Dent knowing his true identity.  The chasm does well to represent falling deeper into the levels of Batman’s mind. Which shows to reason that closer to the center we find the deeper seated inner tortures of his subconscious in the form of his parents’ death and his own regret of their fate. Batman makes some soliloquy about what has become of Two – Face and wondering what he dreams about. He makes a solemn vow he will save him.

Grace cries over a picture of Dent when she hears a knock at the door. She is greeted at the door by what looks like a policeman and a detective, but is actually Candice and an imposter police officer. She gives him a beeper to contact them if she ever hears from him.  After they leave, Dent conveniently pulls up and stares into Grace’s window. A quick reprise of the original episode theme sets the mood perfectly.

Two – Face counts the 650 thousand he has taken from Thorne. As he puts the money into his wallet, he sees a picture of him and Grace that stops him in his tracks. His henchmen suggest he go see her, but when the coin lands bad side, he says they have more important things to do. He plans to finish off throne once and for all.

Batman and Alfred ponder a possible pattern in Two – Face’s crimes involving 2’s and Alfred as usual is quick to find a great one liner. Taking this information forward, Batman feels that Two – Face may be approaching end game with Thorne.  Batman mounts the Batcycle and comments to Alfred he feels Dent is still in there, to which Alfred worries will make him all the harder for Batman to take down.

 Two – Face and his men break into an attorney’s office looking for information about Thorne. Inside the offices, they find Thorne’s missing file. Under the discovery that the document he was looking years for was blackmailed and bribed out of police custody, Two – Face decides he will use it to take down Thorne like Thorne took him down. As they make their exit, Batman appears in front of an open window. 

Batman tries his best to appeal to Dent, but Two – Face does not want to hear it. When Batman mentions Grace however, his tune changes. Both seem on the verge of agreement, but when one of the henchmen interrupts, it lets Two – Face get the drop on Batman.  They both continue to fight as Two – Face tries to leave, but Two – Face knocks Batman unconscious. 

The real mastery in this scene is the shot composition. Two – Face’s constantly changing emotions are perfectly captured, as the angles will carefully alter to show either both sides of his face, or a profile showing only Dent’s. A clear and effective metaphor for Batman’s ability to play to Two – Face’s humanity. This is also reflected in the subtleties of Two – Face’s voice as throughout the scene, he also alters from Dent and Two – Face, not in a Jekyll and Hyde level, but dynamically and subtly throughout the scene.  

A Janitor awakes Batman and we get a quick shot implying he may have bruised or broken ribs. When he grabbed Two – Face, he took with him a few pieces of fabric he ripped, and a pack of matches from a ripped pocket.

Two – Face is driven by his henchmen when he notices the Manicheans of a wedding store. He visualizes Grace’s face on the bride and is overcome with thoughts of her. He demands the henchmen stop the car, and he flips his coin. I find it peculiar when he fantasizes Grace into the bride, he does not fantasize himself as the groom, most likely because he can no longer see himself as human.

Grace hears her phone ring and finds Two – Face on the other line.  She is brought to tears at the idea that he wants to see her. He tells her to take the car across the road and it will take her to him. She hesitates to bring it at first, but Grace takes the tracker.

Rupert Thorne gets word that his files were stolen and freaks out so much that he pulls his phone from the wall and throws it at his men. He demands that Dent be taken care of tonight.  Candice receives a signal from the tracker and tells everyone that it is time to move.

Grace walks into Two – Face’s hideout only to find him waiting at the end of the room. The room is exactly half lit and he is wearing a white cloth over the deformed half of his face. Grace runs to embrace him, but Two – Face will not let her remove his mask and rejects her when she calls him Dent.  

Dent explains that he constructs his base as a reflection of himself: A perfect economy of order and chaos. He describes his choice to live under chance. “Whether you’re rich or not, whether you live or die, whether you’re good or evil, it’s all arbitrary. ”

 Grace tries to talk him down and removes the veil from his face. She finally has Dent in control of his mind again, but is interrupted when Thorne storms in after taking out his henchmen. Thorne has Two – Face surrounded. They reveal the tracker scam to Two – Face, and he loses his trust in Grace. Batman arrives at the establishment but is very obviously still in terrible pain.

  Thorne starts tearing the Hideout apart looking for the file, but Two – Face refuses to tell him where it is hidden. Thorne begins to caress Grace’s face as he threatens to hurt her if Two – Face does not reveal the location of the file. Two – Face caves. He grabs the file from a hidden compartment underneath the roulette table. Dent hands over the file, but Thorne commands that for both of them to be killed.  Thorne’s men prepare to shoot Two – Face, but a batarang cuts his hand.

  Although badly injured, Batman still manages to take out several henchmen by himself, and Two – Face takes out a few of his own. Cindy is taken out by Grace in a brief but awesome girl fight.  When all the rubble is cleared away, Rupert Thorne is trapped in the center of a fallen chandelier.  Two – Face grabs a machine gun from one of the henchmen and points it at Thorne. 

What is amazing about this scene is how perfectly they set up the thematic we-have-already-established-the-lighting metaphor for the room. Two – Face finds the gun just on the edge into the dark side, and Thorne is trapped right between the light and dark sides. The scene makes perfect sense without noticing these things, but the scene packs a bigger punch when you do notice.

  Thorne begs Two – Face not to do it, but Dent will not listen. Batman screams for him to let the law handle it, but Two – Face scoffs at him saying the only law he carries about is the law of averages.  Dent flips his iconic coin into the air. Thorne’s face is drenched in sweat as the coin flips through the air. In a last ditch effort to save Thorne, Batman uses his remaining strength to empty a box of coins from the casino throughout the air.

   When Two – Face cannot find his own coin, his  whole mental structure goes into shock, rapidly changing from personality to personality. He screams in uncontrollable agony while looking for his coin. Grace grabs him trying to get him to snap out of it and there is a beautiful shot of Grace and Two – Face’s human side, each shedding a tear, as Two – Face comes to his senses.

  Two – Face willingly checks himself into the Arkham asylum. Commissioner Gordon asks Batman if there is any hope for Dent. He says, “Where there’s love, there’s hope…but a little luck couldn’t hurt.” Batman drops Dent’s coin into a fountain. Our final shot is watching the coin drop heads at the bottom of the water.

  This set of episodes tells an incredible, tragic tale of one of the most personal villains. Two – Face is deep, sadistic, unpredictable, and incredibly entertaining to watch. Two – Face is a villain that never crosses a line to an unlikable or unredeemable level of villainy. The ways in which Dent fights back work really well despite the fact they never go for the cliché of having Two – Face and Dent talk to each other.

As far as Dent’s role in the Arkham villain theory, I think Two – Face is a representation of Batman’s duel identity. The ever-ongoing battle between what Bruce Wayne desires/fights for and believes is right, and what Batman’s constantly fighting for. 

 As a whole, this episode holds up in its claims as one of the best stories this series has to offer. The pacing is spot on, the characters are multidimensional, the music is absolutely astounding, the writing is damn near perfect, and the animation and direction gives us some of the best individual scenes this show has to offer. It truly is “One of the Best.”

 

BTAS #9 Be a Clown

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

BTAS #9  

Be a Clown

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Ted Pederson and Steve Hayes

 

In my last few reviews, I have made defense of the episodes in this show that do in fact take on less climactic or deep topics and rather find they indulge in more casual or campy affairs. As I have briefly touched on previously, I not only do not mind, but also actually quite like these episodes.  It is true that this series has some very deep introspective episodes that will challenge you as a viewer and as a Batman fan, but that is not every episode.

If it were every episode, the series would become emotionally exhausting. This show has episodes that are not necessarily deep, but still maintain an incredible amount of character and consistent strive for polish that this series never lets fall by the wayside. This show, although it has a few episodes I do not like, never seems to “phone it in.”  If an episode doesn’t work, it never seems to be from a lack of effort, a trait that I am glad to say comes across in this simple, but nonetheless incredibly entertaining episode.

The episode starts with a very clever homage to Reaganomics…. No seriously, it is a 40’s style ad for a suburb featuring an old fashioned, happy family with parents wearing cowboy hats. You can’t tell me there is no subtext to be drawn there. In many ways, this does reflect somewhat with the mayor, who is one of our main characters for the episode. In episodes featuring the mayor, He presents his political views as a callback to an old-fashioned family value aesthetic. He tends to shy away from the more corrupt aspects of Gotham and insists deeply in looking at Gotham through beautiful, yet rose colored glasses.

The Mayor of Gotham is at ground breaking for his new neighborhood he is building for the people of Gotham, reassuring that Gotham can be a safe and affordable place to live. The Mayor is in an election year and is trying to convince the people of Gotham that Gotham can be one of the safest and family friendly places to live under his watch. Unfortunately, irony rears its ugly head as a police chase crashes through a nearby fence and almost hits some people in the crowd.

  This is a subtle thing, but I love that even with no dialogue, you can feel personalities coming from the two thugs in the car. One of them is stone faced and confident, and the other is more panicked and jittery. My prediction would be it is a well-experienced criminal who is “taking the new guy out on the route.” This little explanation is drawn from a few seconds of footage. This is the detail I spoke of. Great to see it put to use even on very small moments.

  The car gets a flat tire and crashes into a piece of construction scaffolding that falls over onto the stage. The two thugs jump out of the car and immediately spray Tommy gunfire at the police. From out of nowhere, Batman swings down riding an I beam from the building and clotheslines both of them. Normally I would comment on how that would break all of their ribs, but hey, cartoon logic. The thugs land in the dumpster and set Batman up for a good one liner. The press go after him, but are not fast enough to catch him.

  Trying to make cash in on current happenings, a news reporter approaches the mayor as he climbs out from under the scaffolding with a sarcastic remark about the “safety of Gotham.” The mayor insists that this was merely an isolated incident. During his attack on vigilantes, he insists that Joker and Batman are cut from the same cloth.  This upsets a channel surfing Joker who pays particularly close attention to the mayor, claiming that he wants to make Gotham as safe as his own home, a statement Joker wants to turn into a personal challenge.

 This is a trait of many villains, the Joker in particular, I quite enjoy. Although their reasons are vast, all the best villains of this series operate crime for very personal reasons. Some do indulge in robbery or stealing, but most are not in it for the money. They are in it for something that means far more to them. That being said, this is only one of many times that Joker will convolute an entire scheme for only the sake of his own ego. That’s it. People’s lives in danger, thousands of dollars in damage, kidnapped innocents, all so Joker can show someone up, prove someone wrong, or make a statement about the most trivial thing imaginable. Two lines of dialogue. Two lines of dialogue are all that got this criminal psychopath to embark on the dark and deadly scheme we are about to examine.

  We see the Mayor harassing his butler Franklin about hanging decoration for his son’s birthday party. Considering that Alfred is the only other butler seen in the series up until this point, the comparison goes an extra mile to show the lack of respect the Mayor has for his “Help.”  He insists he wants everything perfect because some very important people are going to be at the party. In a priority telling moment, he realizes he does not know where his son is.

  We are introduced to Jordan, the Mayor’s eccentric son. We see him cooped up in his room practicing his showmanship and magic tricks. The Mayor opens the door, clearing toys out of the door way as he enters. He chastises Jordan for not being ready for his party, and you can tell Jordan does not like the way his father talks down to him. Jordan says he does not want to go to the party because he knows his dad is just using it as a political PR stunt. The only kids there are the kids of his dad’s Politic friends.  “It’s not even really my party.” Unfortunately, The Mayor does not want to hear it and orders he be downstairs in five minutes.

 The Mayor invites people in, shakes hands, and poses for a few photos. There is a really good gag in this scene too where a photographer blatantly lies to the Mayor about getting a shot of him and the senator. You can see that one of the other kids is miserable before he even makes it in the door. Jordan continues to complain, but the Mayor insists he has a special surprise waiting for him, which in a cut away we see is a birthday clown.

Now knowing that Jordan loves showmanship and magic, you might think this is a rather nice present, but with the Mayors wording, it is quite obvious this is a negligent case of “Ummm Ya! All kids love clowns right? That’ll work.” Making the situation worse yet, is the audience’s realization that this is no ordinary birthday clown. In fact, it is a clown we are all familiar with.

  This next scene is my favorite of the episode just for how well it displays that Joker could destroy Gotham in a heartbeat if he really wanted to. This scene has so many possible points he could have assassinated every political figure in Gotham in one place at one time. It is maddening to think he is so egotistical that he did not see the point in doing it because he was too busy trying to show up the Mayor for quite honestly no reason other than because it is something to do.

 Joker introduces himself as Jekko The Magnificent. (For those curious about my name choice, I will be using the name Jekko to refer to when Joker uses the Jekko voice.) Immediately, his potential for destruction is clear as he sets off fire cracker juggling balls (could’ve been bombs), hits the Mayor with a joy buzzer (self-explanatory), and makes doves appear out of thin air. (Okay maybe that last one was innocent.)

 Jordan is fascinated with Jekko’s magic tricks and asks Jekko how to become a great magician. Jekko tells him to run away from home, find a good magician, and steal his act. After the Mayor tries to get Jordon to blow off Jekko and say hello to “Mr. Wayne,” he runs out of the party in a tantrum. Jekko however says that he has saved his best trick for last.

  After making some fittingly cheesy puns at the expense of his big finale, Jekko puts a dynamite candle with a Joker face on it at the center of the birthday cake.

Bruce Wayne makes his way into the party and insists on carrying in his own present instead of giving it to Franklin. I do not know what Bruce got him but I am assuming he got him something good.

  On a passing note, there is a really good episode of Justice League where Wonder Woman and Batman show up to Superman’s birthday. Batman got him cash. No idea how much cash, just cash.

  As Bruce walks into the party, Jekko skips past him running out of the party. As he leaves, Bruce hears Joker’s laugh leak out of his performance.  Bruce investigates the party for anything suspicious. Quickly he recognizes the large sparkling stick of dynamite with a joker face on the side. He pushes his way through the crowd and pretends to trip in front of the cake, knocking it into the pool. The water dilutes the explosion, and nobody is hurt.

 

The police have shown up on the scene and the Mayor is furious. He is making orders to Bullock to put every man they have into finding out how that madman got into his party and put everyone in danger. In character, Bullock is eating a piece of birthday cake rather than writing anything down. Gordon walks in on the scene revealing that Joker tied up the real Jekko and stole his van and costume up the road. It is only at this point that Bruce (not the boy’s father mind you) notices that Jordan is missing.

Joker pulls the van into an abandoned amusement park. Jordan slips out the back of the van and looks in wonderment at the park before him. Joker watches a TV report where it is revealed that the Mayor blames the party explosion on an electrical fire. Joker laughs at the cover up but is shocked to figure out that Jordan is missing.  Jordan reveals himself and after being briefly upset, Joker realizes that this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

 Bruce, Commissioner Gordon, and the Mayor watch the footage of the party and suspect the joker as a likely culprit.  The Mayor is deeply saddened by his son’s disappearance and feels responsible.  He promises he will change if he ever sees his son again. Bruce takes notice of the Prosciutto sign the Joker was holding.

  Joker shows Jordan a sword-swallowing trick. Jordan seems to be starting to get nervous. Joker gets a distress call from the security system and sees that Batman has broken into the park. Jordan’s father told him Batman was a bad man and so Jordan goes along with Joker in wanting to stop him.

  Jordan stands outside to grab Batman’s attention. Batman tries to convince Jordan he is in trouble, but Jordan is too scared of Batman to listen. Joker starts attacking Batman with razor blade playing cards. Joker climbs up a really good-looking spiral staircase and then throws a gas filled card (after they both throw out some good old fashioned puns) and knocks Batman unconscious.

 The Joker, in a hilarious character moment, leaves Batman’s fate to “Madra the fortune teller,” a mechanical fortune machine. We do not ever get to see what the fortune was, but I can guess it was nothing good for Batman.

  Batman finds himself in a strait jacket inside a water tank upside down. Joker wears a showman hat and carries a cane and talks up the routine by referencing it as a main routine of Harry Houdini.  Jordan seems concerned that Batman cannot get out, but as I am about to explain, he is going to be just fine.

 You see, it is common knowledge Batman is a jack-of-all-trades, but the series gives us a deeper view in the episode “Zatanna” of his experience. During this time, Bruce was a star pupil of “The Great Zatarra,” the greatest escape artist known to the DC universe.

  Batman escapes from the straight jacket in seconds.  Unfortunately, the glass is a lot more difficult to get out of. Jordan freaks out and grabs the stage axe and makes a big crack in the side of the glass. Joker takes the axe away and tears off his Jekko Face to reveal his real one. Jordan fights back with a seltzer bottle and runs away. Now I think the reveal shot is great, but I think they missed a great opportunity to have the seltzer melt away his Jekko mask.  The scene works fine, but that would make is so much better. Batman pushes with all his might and breaks the case open and grabs his utility belt. 

  After running in fear from a few other rides, Jordan hides from joker in the roller coaster. Batman turns on electricity to the park so that he can find Jordan sooner.  Joker however, uses this as an opportunity to get away as he starts up the coaster and takes Jordan along with him. Batman grabs the train next to him and tries to catch up.

  Joker tries to blow Batman up with explosive infant dolls. (Sometimes I feel the desire to emphasize I’m not making this stuff up.) Batman’s train blows up, but he was able to leap to Joker’s. Batman and Joker fist fight for a bit as Jordan panics about the upcoming coaster twists and turns.  Joker is thrown from the train and lands on a conveniently placed bounce castle.

  Batman asks Jordan to reach for him, but Jordan still does not know if he trusts him. Can’t exactly say I blame the kid, as he has been told nothing but how much of a terror and menace Batman is.  Luckily, Jordan decides to trust Batman, and they both grapnel away to safety and escape without a scratch. That is more than I can say for the amusement park however, which is absolutely decimated and collapses in on itself.

  The Mayor sits in his backyard still distraught over losing his son. He sits in sorrow examining Jordan’s magician hat. It is once again a really good example of the show using non-vocal storytelling. They treat the audience like they have the intelligence to understand the scene. A lot of other shows constantly over explain everything, but this show luckily has more confidence in you than that. It does not take a genius to see that the hat is supposed to show the Mayor growing to understand his son and his passion.

The mayor is nearly brought to tears when re united with his son. Jordan is very happy to be re united with his father.  The final main shot of the piece is a simple feel good moment of Batman standing in the background giving Jordan a smile and thumbs up.

  This episode has a lot of great moments going for it. The Mayor and his son play very well off of each other and it is really interesting seeing that the Mayor is the one learning the lesson this episode. He does not have the screen time that other characters have, but his change is apparent and heartfelt regardless. It can be difficult to write characters in a way that lets them start as “bad people” and still have them be likable, and the Mayor is definitely relatable as a character even if we see him through the lens of his son who sees him as self-obsessed and uncaring.

 Jordan also comes up as a shining example of a well-written child. A strange occurrence in children’s fiction ironically is the inability to write quality child characters in shows that feature an adult protagonist. Jordan is charismatic but easily manipulated. He is a character you can understand, root for, and care enough to worry when he falls into trouble. Jordan may not go through a massive change through the episode, but he is nonetheless a very important character in his father’s transformation. Unlike The Under dwellers, I feel a real character in Jordan and not just a child-sized frame. Although he is not featured again, I would welcome Jordan in other episodes that feature the Mayor.

Similar to Jordan, Batman works to influence and mold the Mayor throughout the episode. As Bruce Wayne, he is by the Mayor’s side, quick to comfort him and in subtle ways, he leads on that he has Jordan’s best intentions in mind. As I discussed in The Under dwellers, Batman/Bruce has a largely protective personality with children, so it makes sense he cares very much for seeing Jordan get home safe. Bruce helps the Mayor come to terms with his mistakes, while Batman puts that compassion to action in walking right into Joker’s trap to save Jordan’s life. Batman could have very easily taken credit and changed his perception with the largely anti-bat Mayor, but instead sacrificed that chance for the sake of letting the Mayor make amends with his son. 

The Joker is on the top of his game in this episode. He is scary, smart, charismatic, and slick. I mean to be fair, he always is, but this episode especially so. Joker shows in probably the most public way yet that he cares more about the rush of chaos than the success of his destruction. He is a thrill seeker with an insane thirst for chaos. He shows a great amount of personality in both the writing and performance. A sense of consistency to his chaos if you will. In the zanier portrayals like this one, it is important that the Joker never loses his edge and this episode never loses it for a second.

The shining technical aspect of this episode is its cinematography. Yes I said cinematography. Cinema is the lens we view the medium through, not the device we use. Not to mention stylistically, that is what this episode is trying to replicate. The animation and shots of this episode lean heavily towards a real camera perspective; long moving shots, pans, zooms, and mid shot movements, all lean towards giving the episode a very real camera aesthetic.

This episode is top notch. I would not say it is one of the best, but it does do a great job hitting a lot of great points. It is heartfelt, action packed, well written, well animated, and the characters previously established in the series, all do a great job of exploring a new story from new perspectives. This show is built with characters that appear several times, and each time explores different perspectives or transformations of each character. This was not the first time we saw the Mayor, and it will not be the last, but this episode does a great job bringing a likable and relatable character out of him.

 This episode will not make you cry, but it will entertain those looking for some heart to go along with their heroics.

BTAS#8 The Forgotten

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

 

 

BTAS#8

The Forgotten

 

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Jules Dennis, Richard Mueller and Sean Catherine Derek

 

At the time of this writing, I have yet to construct any form of exact top 10 or 20 films, but it is safe to say that this film is in. it is as arbitrary as the statement sounds: “one of my favorite episodes.” For further clarification, it is debatably the best episode without a super villain. For an episode named “Forgotten,” this episode is quite the opposite. This is one of those episodes that just grabs you and does not let go. It has a personality to it all its own and is an incredibly gripping episode taking the deepest look so far into the mind of Bruce Wayne.

This episode is one I often reference when telling people how unique this show can be, or how deep it gets. For sure there are far better episodes, but this is one I want to go out of my way with to make sure it is not forgotten.

The episode starts with music from the title card foreshadowing future events with a blues riff on a harmonica.

The episode begins with two pigeons flying from a perch through the top of Gotham (we will get back to this). We see a homeless man grabbing old shoes out of the dumpster of a pawnshop. This is one of the first episodes to show the homeless population of Gotham and the first episode to fully focus on poverty.

There are some political overtones in this episode, and I will be covering them as honestly to the source material as possible, but it is worth mentioning that the issue of poverty in this show is not slipped under the rug. This episode is very up front about it, and although toned down for children, it still paints a pretty grim picture on its overall perception.

Bruce meets with the leader of a soup kitchen in the Gotham slums. They are carrying food to be used for dinner. The two of them share small talk while skinning potatoes. This scene paints Bruce very well in his philanthropy as he does not just throw money at this kitchen, but actually gets his own hands dirty and gets involved. It is a great subtle device to set up not only events later in the story, but make Bruce look good to the audience in the process.

For a lot of people, Bruce’s wealth can become an overwhelming crutch and prevent people from relating to the character. Although the series has several instances that show Bruce’s character going above and beyond his wealthy status, this episode helps bring Bruce back to earth as he is seen showing a compassion for the city of Gotham and showing just as much respect to the homeless wandering the street to the mayor of the city.

Speaking of the wandering homeless, the owner of the shelter tells Bruce that homeless seem to be disappearing left and right for the last few weeks. Bruce asks him if he has contacted the police.  He responds with, “Of course, but the police don’t think homeless people going missing is news.” Harsh words for a children’s show, but they are quite up front and personal with this issue. Not to mention, in comparison to “The Underdwellers,” the issue is handled with much more clarity and maturity.

Back at the Batcave, Bruce dawns a disguise involving white hair dye, raggedy clothes, and some aging make up, and makes his way to the alleys of Gotham’s slums.

In the scene he grabs the costume, and you notice that it has a name attached to it: Gaff Morgan. No immediate significance in the name, but it does continue to show off another great aspect of Batman’s detective skills. He is a true master of disguise. In several different iterations of the character, Bruce has used everything from ventriloquism, self-voice modulation, and full prosthetic faces with accompanying costumes that match to the teeth. Batman is a master of stealth, but also has an incredible talent for hiding in plain sight.

Batman parks his car down the road and walks past a group of vagrants standing around a fire inside a trashcan. Bruce notices a large truck that seems to follow him as he walks into a new alleyway. A black cat jumps out of one of the cans and runs across the alley. Out of the shadows, two shady looking men walk out asking him if he’s looking for a job. Bruce responds in a disguised voice, quickly realizing he’s in a trap. In response, Bruce takes out both of the thugs WITHOUT TAKING HIS HANDS OUT OF HIS POCKETS!

It is really a sight to see. The second guy does not even use his feet. He just dodges and lets the guy beat himself up. Unfortunately, the black cat was bad luck for him after all. Bruce is distracted for a split second by the cat, and a third assailant clubs him in the head, knocking him unconscious.

Bruce wakes up to find himself in a bunk bed and attached to it by a leg cuff. Two men approach him with introductions. One is a comedic minded man named Salvo Smith and a tall black man named Dan Riley. They explain to him that he has been kidnapped as part of a chain gang, but when they ask Bruce for his name, he finds himself struck with amnesia and cannot remember.

The chain gang is in the deep desert as part of an illegal mining operation. The miners all stand in line for slop of what if they are being honest about its contents, is made from rat. Stepping out from the main shack is our villain of the episode. Since they do not name him, I am going to refer to him as “the Foreman.” I love the Foreman. Or for better clarification, I love to loathe the Foreman. Before I get into why I feel the need to explain something.

Characterization is the art of using visual or societal clues or techniques in order to define a character with little exposition. In the art design and vocal performance of this character, I know an incredible amount about this character by the time he speaks his first sentence.

The Foreman, by art design, is a deplorable embodiment of greed, gluttony, and tyranny. The Foreman is about 6 feet tall. Approximated weight I would say has to be between 400 and 500 pounds if not more. He has a sleazy mustache, a nice purple dress shirt, and a white suit coat. Normally his attire would be a sign of sophistication, but this is overtaken by him carrying an enormous turkey leg in one hand and a hand fan in the other. His nice dress clothes are drenched in barbecue sauce, grease, and sweat stains.  His voice is gravely and purposely off putting, as if he only talks with food in his mouth.  His demeanor is so repulsive it makes it incredibly fun to despise this villain.

He actually complains to his lackeys that they should not break for food and that he does not get fed enough. Then in a morally disgusting display of his power, He throws one of his miners “In the Box”; a large steel cage with solid walls that grows incredibly hot in the sun’s heat. Bruce tries to save him out of instinct, but Riley holds him back.

Alfred realizes that Bruce Wayne didn’t come home last night and begins to investigate his absence.

Down in the mines, the three main miners start talking about how they got there. Salvo was an unemployed vagrant who was kidnapped, while Riley was working at the naval yard, while also volunteering at the rescue mission Bruce was volunteering at. The mention of the rescue mission begins to jog Bruce’s memory, but he is interrupted by a cave in. Everyone is all right, but the other inmates confirm how unsafe the mine is.

Alfred continues his investigation of Batman’s absence.

A lot of people do not realize that Alfred is actually one of the smartest and most resourceful characters in the DC universe. He is not a feeble old man; he is a former British secret agent (and an S class ranked one at that). He has his own set of martial arts skills, and as shown in later episodes, has insurmountable willpower. He is certainly not a character to underestimate.

Once he tracks down which of Bruce’s cars he took out last night, he activates a tracker to find its location.

Bruce walks down a hallway of mirrors with no lights and dark purple walls. They are not normal mirrors however, but rather funhouse mirrors. Bruce looks perplexed into them as his reflection changes size and shape. He hears a familiar laughter coming from behind him. He turns around to find the other wall has morphed, and now only one mirror across a long purple, darkly lit wall stands in front of him.

In the reflection of the mirror is a man in a brown suit laughing hysterically. Upon walking closer to the mirror, the man turns out to be “Bruce Wayne” or rather a version that is dressed and acts like his normal self. The sound of his laughter begins to warp and with the blink of an eye, the reflection turns into a horrifying laughing Joker. Joker’s hand breaks through the mirror and pulls Bruce into the reflection as the mirror further shatters.

Bruce and Joker tumble down a vertigo inducing skyline of Gotham City, Joker laughing as he goes until the whole screen is engulfed in burning flame. The screen lands on Bruce now in his normal suit standing amongst the city of Gotham left to ruin. A newspaper floats past the frame like tumbleweed. Bruce looks at the shambles of the rescue mission. A man comes from behind him and holds his hand out. Bruce reaches into his pocket and hands him a dollar.  A woman in a red coat follows him immediately with her hand extended, but as Bruce reaches to hand her a dollar, he finds himself immediately surrounded and overwhelmed with homeless beggars desperately holding their hands out for help.

Bruce pulls away from them, but with no path to walk away, he sheds a single tear in sadness. Bruce jumps out of his bed at the chain gang in horror and shock. All was but a dream, but still no memory. I will be analyzing this scene later on in the review, but needless to say, this is one of the most heartfelt moments of the season, if not the series itself.

Bruce remains to focus on “dock street rescue mission” but still doesn’t know what it means.

The next scene opens up with an inside the mouth angle of the Foreman eating a submarine sandwich. Disgusting, but effective. Salvo tries to make a joke under his breath, but the foreman hears him and orders to throw him in the box. Riley implies that the box will kill him, and the Foreman confirms “That’s the idea.” This time, Riley takes action and slugs one of the lackeys. The Foreman sends the rest of his lackeys after him, but Bruce enters the fight. They take out quite a few of them, but are eventually overpowered and thrown in the box.

Alfred Follows the car’s tracker to a junk yard and grabs the tracker from underneath the car. He spots the shady looking characters from the earlier scene and secretly places the tracker underneath their truck.

Bruce and Riley sit in the “Boxes” sweating themselves to death. Riley starts losing his tact as he starts trying to hold on to memories of his family. When Riley screams, “I lost my family,” Bruce’s eyes open wide with revelation as he has a strange dream flash before his eyes.

Bruce sees himself as a young child in a black void playing with his mother and father. Thomas throws Bruce up in the air, but rather than fall into his dad’s arms, Bruce falls out of frame. A small flash is seen in the back of the frame. Tumbling from its place is Thomas and Martha’s tombstone, which breaks into pieces as it zooms into the word “Wayne” and dissolves into a black void filled with nothing but confused, roaming bats. All of a sudden, the bats all fly towards a lone skyscraper surrounded by spotlights in all directions. Standing at the top of the skyscraper is a shadowed, cloaked figure. The figure turns around to reveal the clear and intimidatingly close scowl of “The Batman.”

One beautiful match cut later and Bruce finally has his memory back. He uses his re-found skills to bust his way out of the box. The Foreman’s lackeys and dogs chase Bruce into a large canyon, but Bruce is able to lose them by taking to higher ground with some fancy-free climbing.

Alfred uses the Batwing to find Batman in the canyon. Despite my previous mentions of his valor, flying appears to be Alfred’s Achilles heel. The Batwing flies itself, but Alfred and the computer have a hilarious banter before landing, almost cutting Bruce’s head off in the process.

This is the first time in the series so far the Batwing has been used. Its overall design functions very much as a space age update of the burton design. Slick and built for one passenger, it carries the iconic bat signal design and a cockpit modeled closely to that of a jet. The exact voice of the machine implies a direct tie in to the Bat cave master computer.

At nightfall, we see the Foreman sitting in front of a meal of (and I’m not exaggerating.) eight potatoes, a full turkey, a whole bowl of mashed potatoes, a submarine sandwich, four eggs, a chicken drumstick, a full pitcher of milk, and what appears to be the leg of a cow. This guy’s got a problem.

Batman crashes through the door carrying a lackey in each hand, and throws them at the Foreman’s table. The Foreman picks himself back up and grabs his shotgun, but in a hilarious display, he actually roars as he aims at Batman. Batman disappears into the darkness of the mine. The Foreman screams “One thousand dollars for Batman’s head!”

To put in perspective how low this is, in a future episodes, Two-Face has a two million dollar bounty on his head. In the nineties Spider-man animated series, Spiderman is put on bounty for one million (a bit low but comparatively high), and to top it all off, in the Arkham Origins game, an early year Batman is worth 50 Million dollars cash. That is one cheap Foreman.

Batman hides in the shadows as the lackeys look for him. Batman easily takes them out one by one. The Foreman has them turn out the lights and has them use their helmet lamps. Little do they know, this is going to make it way worse.

When the lights go out, the animation style changes to a very noir like color palette. Characters are seen primarily in silhouette. It is only after the Foreman accidentally drops his lamp and starts a fire that the animation goes back to normal. I love the use of practical situation changes to motivate the changing animation. It keeps things artistic, but still fast paced.

The Foreman’s lamp catches fire to explosives and Batman quickly saves himself and the Foreman by forcing them both down a water shaft leading to a lake outside the mine. The Foreman is arrested and all of them return to their families. After finally revealing who he is, Bruce tells him that he can help them find a job at Wayne Tech Enterprises. Alfred pulls up the car and the two of them drive away into the city.

If you have made it this far into the review I have probably made quite clear that I love this episode. It is a very strange departure from the norm and functions as sort of a western else world’s story. The plot of this episode actually feels like a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, in a good way. It is a great episode to either watch, as a piece of the series, or as a piece all on its own.

The dream sequences of this episode are just amazingly deep. And it wasn’t until watching this episode a third or fourth time I knew how much there was to go over.

With the first dream sequence, the purple walls may at first seem coincidental, but I believe they are intended as a metaphor for the influence the Joker has on Batman’s subconscious, as reflected in the morphing sequence.

There is also evidence of Bruce’s Batman identity trying to sneak out as well. If you listen carefully to the beginning of the scene, there is a sound effect of a group of bats. None are seen; just the sound, a subtle cue that pieces of his memories are sneaking through. Bruce’s reaction to the image of himself turning into the joker does not seem to faze him as much as you would think, which leads me to the idea that he is unable to recognize his own self in the mirror despite the physical similarities.

Part of this also points back to the mirror theory. What if Bruce can’t recognizes himself because all the mirrors he sees himself with are warped? Maybe that is why they are funhouse mirrors. They are metaphors for Batman’s inability to clearly identify himself. His image of himself in his head is warped, unclear, fighting for dominance against one of the other biggest mysteries, understanding the madness of the Joker.

As for the reason for the face warp, that is a little bit harder to pin down. One theory is like I just stated, it is meant to represent thoughts or identities fighting for attention inside his head. Another theory would be that they are trying to make a statement about how Bruce and Joker are more similar than they think when they are brought to absolute basics as they are in this scene. My theory is rather that Joker is a representation of Batman’s repression.

According to the law of the villain theory, I believe Joker is a representation of the potential for madness found in all of us, brought into a physical character. In several of Joker’s escapades, Joker acts strictly for his own individual goals with no consideration for the safety of others.

Joker is supposed to represent the guy we do not want to admit we want to be. The ability to be fearless and take whatever we want from the world without regard for society or law or even human life. Joker is a power fantasy brought to a literally insane extreme, but what does this have to do with the warping sequence?

The Joker in Bruce’s head is a direct representation of his repressed madness. It is an incarnate of Bruce’s fear of going mad trying to regain his memory. It is a representation of a Batman with no sanity.  If Joker is Bruce’s repression incarnate, it makes sense that Joker’s presence in this scene is Bruce having a nightmare about watching himself slip into madness (taking the Joker’s form), being grabbed by his madness, pulled into the rabbit hole (the mirror), and spiraling downward with madness laughing all the way. All through a skyline of Gotham a location still locked away in his sub conscious (remember Bruce has not seen or heard the word Gotham since he lost his memory).

The second part of the dream is a lot easier to tackle. The desolate remains of the rescue mission paint together a broken memory he is trying to recover.  Bruce is wearing his normal clothes again, which implies in this sequence he may have a better grip on his identity, but not as good of one as he would like. When the beggars start panhandling, he is quick to help, but quick to pull away in tears when he realizes his inability to help them all. So why these dreams? What does this second one mean? Why show them together?

Both of the dreams cover different aspects of the same theme: Bruce’s worry about not regaining his identity. One showing his fear of slipping into madness, and the other showing his ability to make an impact being torn away from him, but the question still remains: Why two dreams? I believe the reason is because the dream of slipping into madness is meant to represent Bruce, and the second dream of shedding a tear as he is surrounded by people screaming for help and standing there unable to represents Batman. Both tie back to a central fear of what is lost if his memory is never recovered and solid reasons his mind is working so hard through these dreams to recover.

The sequence where Bruce regains his memory is short, but still has some great moments to explore.

When his parents throw up Bruce, and Bruce falls down without them, it does a really good job of showing Bruce’s shock and misery involving the incident. It is kind of used as a clever way to convey the same emotions without showing the alley shooting. Part of the reason for this is maybe they thought that showing a graphic scene like that this early in the show would be too graphic and would frighten rating they needed to establish credibility to try darker things. Keep in mind, they did use guns in this show, but so far, there has not been a main character that has been shot by a gun directly and died.

One other thing I am not sure what to make of but I want to be very clear that this is intentional: Martha Wayne is mixed race in this episode. This is the only episode she is drawn this way. It is set up against a black backdrop so there is no room for error. Martha’s skin is significantly darker than Thomas or Bruce’s. I really cannot think of a specific reason why it is this way. Hopefully, the reason was not that it was retconned after this episode.

On the next scene, the spinning grave does not come out of nowhere; it comes out of a flash in the top left corner. The flash works to represent the bullet in a simplistic and memorable way. The cracking Gravestone makes a nice transition piece and helps keep up the feeling of loss and destruction of this moment and immediately followed by the BTAS.

The bats have a lot more meaning than just the obvious connection to the Batman origin. Not only does the skyscraper Batman stands on work towards the idea of Batman’s mission in looking over Gotham, but the fact that the bats lead all the way to him illustrate the journey he takes to get to the creation of the character of Batman. Only at that moment do you match cut to the normal clip and Bruce becomes Batman again.

It is nice to see someone finding a way to explore the origins of Batman without doing the alley scene for the billionth time. Especially if you are not putting up an effort to make it something unique and not phoning it in.

As mentioned previously, this episode effectively uses some great animation techniques to change things up. My favorite is the way that they use color palette to express light levels in the dark cave. It helps not only with the stealth of the scene, but it treats the audience with enough intelligence to be able to tell the difference between what the audience can see and what the characters can see.

If I had to pick one thing though that makes this episode really stand out, it is its astonishing music. The score of this episode takes a simple five note melody and morphs it by playing it in multiple different tones with different instruments (just like the opening theme). Depending on the mood, it is an establishing accompaniment, a suspenseful echo, a western showdown theme, a mournful cry of defeat, or a Batman themed battle cry. Outside the use of the main cadence, the rest of the music really stands tall by showing off the western aesthetic and tone. In some instances, it is the music you do not notice that can shine the brightest. I notice the music in this episode because of numerous listenings, but I am sure most people will not pick up on many of its subtleties unless listening for it. Regardless, it still will evoke the same emotion.

Forgotten is a top-notch episode. An absolute must see for any Batman fan. It is not technically an origin episode, but it breaks down Batman to its essential elements. If you are trying to pitch this series to someone new, I highly recommend this episode as a starting point. It will surely not be…. Well…you know the Joke.

 

BTAS #7 P.O.V

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

BTAS #7

 P.O.V

 

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Story by Mitch Brian

Teleplay by Sean Catherine Derek

and Laren Bright

 

Now that’s more like it. After the last episode, this one reassures me on a few worries I was beginning to have about some out of the ordinary episodes. I worried that one-shot villains were not going to be any good and that it was impossible to have an episode be decent without a super villain. This episode not only proves that wrong, but is one of the most experimental episodes in the show’s first season.

The episode starts with a pair of police officers heading to a burning shipping yard. The two police officers are (and in police fashion I will be referring to them in last name) Wilks, a rookie on the force, and Montoya, to my knowledge, the only lead female officer on the force (and one of the few Latina characters in the whole show).

Impulsive, but quite smart. They both arrive at the scene and pull up next to the officer’s car, but they realize he is inside waking up from being knocked out. Montoya chastises him for not waiting for them, but the robbers bust through the window and make for the exit.  They start to run after them, but Bullock tells them there are people inside. Montoya leaps into action and tells Wilks to chase the escapees while she checks out the warehouse. Bullock looks up and sees Batman on top of one of the buildings before passing out again.

We fade into our episode’s unique framing device. The three officers are sitting in a dimly lit interrogation room at the police station with Commissioner Gordon and Gordon’s lieutenant. All of them are being interrogated about one of Gotham’s biggest drug lords. The lieutenant starts making accusation that it may have been an inside job, to which Gordon immediately takes offense and dismisses. (A quick side note to remember is that in most continuity, Gordon used to work in internal affairs. His job was to find and take down corrupt or crooked cops.)

The format of this show takes shape as each of the three detectives is asked to tell their stories from their own perspective of what happened. This technique is very effective in this episode as you see subtle aesthetic differences in how each character tells or shows their story. To my knowledge, no other episode is framed in this way, and that makes this one a great example of the big chances this show was taking by breaking convention and trusting the intelligence of their audience.

Bullock tells his story first. Bullock being hot headed goes in without back up. He spots Batman and runs in after him to “make sure he doesn’t screw anything up.”

While I am at the beginning of this story, I would like to point out this is one of the first times in the show that a pistol is shown and used by a main character. Not a ray gun, not a rocket launcher, a pistol. I do not want to turn this into a criticism of how modern shows refuse to tackle contemporary stuff like this, but this show had some guts having pistols, machine guns, knives, bombs, poison, animal violence, and a whole lot of stuff you would not see on television today.

Bullock stumbles upon four criminals in trench coats in the shadows. A few mobster types breaking into a safe and stealing a few million dollars. Bullock trips on a can and falls over, alerting the crooks (in the story he blames the whole thing on Batman of course). The criminals attack Bullock and get a royal beating from him too. One of them attacks him with an axe but misses and breaks a fuse box that starts the fire. Bullock is about to pass out from the smoke when Batman comes down from the ceiling and saves him. In Bullock’s version, Batman is a lot grayer looking, a bit more akin to the golden age look of Batman (not really much to draw from that, but worth mentioning). Once again, Bullock lies and blames Batman and claims that he saved Batman rather than vice versa.

The next perspective is Wilks’. When he comes around the corner, he claims the suspects completely vanished. When he checks one of the garages, a car starts up and begins to chase him down. Out of nowhere, Batman appears in front of him. In Wilks’ version, this is the first time he has seen Batman, and to his eyes, he appears as a mighty figure captured in a dark blue shadow of cape and cowl. Batman takes down the criminals in the car, but one of them gets away. Batman catches the other one and begins interrogating him for information, and the crook starts spilling his guts. I love the way they animate this scene.

The unique thing about the way that Wilks tells his story is how the fundamentals of his character affect his portrayal. He is youthful, optimistic, and a bit child-like at times, and that is the perspective he sees Batman through. The angles all make him look like a big, intimidating, shadowy figure. When he explains Batman using his gadgets rather than listing the gadgets, he sees them as if they were some kind of dark magic, as if they just came out of his fingers. There is even an extra sparkle that comes out of the road spikes he throws to stop the car.

This scene does a good job of showing off the differences in perspective Batman can have. To the audience, we see in clear lighting and quality animation exactly what Batman is doing. With the way that Wilks describes it, we get a brief idea of what a criminal might see: a tall shadow. An extended hand and they are hit with something before they can even blink. Out of nowhere, before they know who is in front of them. It is this mystery and this romanticism that makes the Batman persona work. He strikes fear into villains so hard that they will not even think about trying anything in fear that “The Batman” is watching them.

Montoya is the last one to be interviewed. She rushes into the building to find the people that Bullock said were still in there when she finds the main gangsters. She begins to fight them, but her shotgun is knocked out of her hands.

One of the crooks comes at her with the drill they used to get the safe open, but Batman uses a batarang to knock it out of his hands. Batman takes out the thugs, but seems to be buried alive when he pushes Montoya out of the way of some burning building support beams. (Spoiler alert…. HE’S NOT DEAD!) The animation for Montoya’s story is surprisingly quite anime influenced. Specifically very old anime, almost Akira style animation. The way they use fire and facial design hark to older style animation on a very subtle level with hints of Japanese influence.

The only pieces of information they were able to get out of the stories were the interrogated prisoner saying “Doc” and Montoya hearing one say “Hathcock.” The LT. is unconvinced of their innocence and orders all three of them suspended. He asks them to turn in their badges and guns. I found the order in which they turned in the weapons and badges to be telling of each of their characters. Wilks turns his in without hesitation, as he is the youngest and most likely to be cut if he were insubordinate. He does as he is told, even if he does not agree with it completely. Bullock hesitates, but begrudgingly turns in his badge and gun while staring at the LT. and slamming them both on the table. Montoya is stubborn with the ruling and waits until she is specifically asked in order to comply. As we see seen in the later scenes, she is hesitant to give up because she is not willing to give the case up yet.

Montoya takes the train home as she brainstorms on a piece of paper what the connection between the two words was. After a few minutes, she realizes that he was saying dock not doc(tor). She gets off the train and heads for the harbor. Montoya goes to the dock alone since she is suspended which leads me to realize how badass this woman is, willingly putting her job and life on the line to confront the toughest drug smugglers in Gotham, unarmed. That is a hero right there.

The criminals pace around Batman who is tied up and hung by his hands as they try to pry open and operate his utility belt. One of them accidentally launches pink paint that is sprayed at his face from the belt.

In several of the comic book and TV versions, the utility belt has been shown to have all sorts of defense mechanisms. It is bulletproof, laser proof, unbreakable, and although only paint is shown here, the belt has also been shown to either shock an enemy like an incredibly high voltage Taser, or to blow itself up to protect contents. Food for thought.

Batman, in a clever stroke of manipulation, trips one of the thugs into telling him where their boss is. With this information, Batman reveals that he could have escaped at any time and uses a hidden blade in his glove to cut himself down. His hands are still tied together, but that does not stop him from pummeling the larger thug and tossing him by his feet into the bay. The other criminal tries to get the drop on him, but Montoya knocks the gun out of his hand and throws him over her shoulder half way across the room into a steel container. It is a shame she is not prominent in more episodes. Montoya knows how to kick ass.

A strange figure signals to several other lackeys to go after Batman and Montoya. The shadowy figure wears a brown overcoat and although his face in unseen, you can see he is wearing a monocle on his left eye. This mysterious character is a civilian interpretation of “the gentleman ghost,” a golden age DC villain whose aesthetic harkens back to the 1800s. This particular version is not a literal ghost, but his lack of a clear face gives that same general feeling.

Batman and Montoya make short work of the criminals, but one remaining thug pulls a tommy gun and starts firing. Luckily for Batman and Montoya, he suffers from what I like to call “kid’s show aiming disease,” a strange disease where gun marksmen in kids shows are rendered impossible to hit the broad side of a barn even at near point blank range.

Batman grapples the two of them away to the cabin of a crane used on the site. Batman instructs Montoya to stay put and she obliges. I like this honest moment between the two of them. Montoya is brave, but she is smart enough to know that with no gun in this situation, there is not much she can do…or is there? While Batman fights a few more of the thugs that have gotten back up, followed by a gorgeously ominous silhouette shot, Montoya jumps in the cabin and decides to use the crane to help Batman.

Montoya, like many characters in the nineties, suffers from “spontaneous construction equipment control disorder” as she knows how to operate it with no experimentation at all. She grabs a large steel crate and drops it right behind the criminals, dropping them all into the water (seriously her aim is inhuman), giving Batman time to stop the second in command thug he dropped in the water earlier.

The thug comes charging at him with a forklift, but Batman grabs him and throws him from the machine, all the while the Gentlemen Ghost is making his escape on a large boat. Batman steers the forklift to ramp off the edge of the dock and careen into the side of the boat, making it unable to sail. The Gentlemen Ghost tries to escape on foot, but Montoya uses her incredible construction skills to actually catch him inside the jaws of the crane mouth. (Seriously where did she learn this?) Batman gives Montoya a smile and a slightly self-aware thumbs up.

Gordon gets fed up with the lieutenant, takes back the badges from him, and gives them to Montoya because she has earned it from her hard work and honesty. Montoya humbly confirms it was a team effort and that Wilks and Bullock were just as deserving from their bravery at the beginning. Wilks is grateful and immediately takes his badge, but Bullock is slower to give thanks as he is not much of a touchy feely guy. Nonetheless, he takes the badge and thanks Montoya for a job well done.

This episode can be described as a breath of fresh air. The format of this episode is just far enough away from the norm that it breathes a sense of uniqueness and technique that will keep you glued to your seat from beginning to end.

While far from the last, this is one of the first episodes to experiment with subtly changing art styles within the same episode. Some of the more finite changes talked about may be overlooked when not looking directly at them, but still are clearly intentional. It hints strongly towards identifying the influences and visual devices used to make these episodes speak to you. They help make each individual episode stand out against the others in a powerful way.  

Often when it comes to animation, it is what you do not notice that leaves the biggest impact. Even if you do not notice a visual devise or influence, the impact it is meant to evoke will often resonate all the same.

The music in this episode is high tension and focused. The episode’s score is very cleverly and meticulously matched with the episode’s action, making the constant and fast paced heightening and releasing of tension reflect in perfect time with the music. The main instrument that makes this piecework is the use of French horns. French horns have a very malleable sound and are often used as either regal battle cries, or as dark and ominous marches of evil. Batman’s theme in this episode is primarily played by French horns and flutes. The horns keep the feeling of grandiose and power while the light trill of the flutes keeps a feeling of unreleased tension. The beautiful thing about good music though, is you do not need to understand the theory behind what makes it work to reap the benefits of its emotional give and take.

Officer Montoya reigns as sort of an MVP of this episode because she is a character that, sadly to say, does not receive enough screen time in other episodes, displays clear and interesting personality, incredible bravery, great problem solving, and can take out the bad guys when all those are not enough. This series is filled with powerful and interesting female characters, but unfortunately before this re-watching, I had overlooked this top-notch performance. I do not intend to make that mistake again.

Not really much to analyze on the villain front, but the character designs were unique, and their subtle personalities helped me feel out which one was which. The Gentleman Ghost by design leaves me little to talk about, but I enjoy his presence as an example of this shows further connection to DC’s rich, nostalgic past.

I would not go out of my way to consider this one of my favorite episodes of all time, but I will say this is an episode that genuinely surprised me. It is an episode that takes bits and pieces of what makes this show great and uses them to turn what would normally be a boring Batman vs. random lackeys episode into one that is truly memorable, unique, and iconic.

Although I would normally condone watching this series in order, if you have a friend who you want to see a quick episode to show them what all the fuss is about, this one paints a clear picture of the tone, tension, and the great characters that make this series soar

BTAS#6 The Underdwellers

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

BTAS#6

The Underdwellers

 

Directed by Frank Paur

Story by Tom Ruegger

Teleplay by Jules Dennis and Richard Mueller

 

This is a hard one to write about. While I praised the last episode for being incredibly balanced and polished, this episode has a few above and beyond moments, but is extremely rough around the edges.

This also marks the first time we have what is known as a “one off villain,” a term commonly used to describe villains that were only used for one respective episode of a television show. Some of the villains in this show have proven to be as good, if not better, than certain recurring cast members, while others stayed at one episode for a reason.

Our episode begins with two of the stupidest characters this show has seen so far: two guys in their twenties who I am assuming are standing on top of a train playing chicken… Okay, I hate to go on a tangent, but this is the first time in this show I feel I have to call bull s**t. What is your best-case scenario here? You either do not jump and get crushed by the tunnel, or you jump off a city monorail train going 60 miles an hour and land on an immeasurable number of random things, none of which would stop you from breaking enough bones to put you in a wheelchair eating soup from a straw. Even when Batman shows up, he shakes his head as if he is thinking, “Remind me again why I’m doing this? Are they really this stupid?”… Yes Batman, they are.

Even dumber than that, one of them has his foot tangled in a giant mass of cables. (I face palmed when I saw that the first time.) Batman has to get them both off the train. Batman succeeds, and with a bad pun, warns them to not be stupid anymore and grapples away…

Just to be clear, not only is this scene stupid, it is entirely pointless. This brings us to one of this episode’s two main problems: This episode wastes time. There is a lot of filler in here that could have been used so much better, but alas, I have to review the filler anyway.

A small boy in a green hood and cape made from rags steals a purse from an elegantly dressed, large woman. She shrieks and calls for the police. When the police arrive, she says her purse was stolen by a leprechaun… Okay, I am really trying to stay focused on this review; did the supporting cast of this episode flunk out of middle school? A leprechaun…I know I should just take this as a tongue in cheek joke, but it turns into a running gag that lasts half the episode. Bad move writing staff. Bad move.

Moving on, Bruce and Alfred share a quick joke about him refusing to take a vacation before we head back to the main story.

We hear some great strings music accompanying a nice set of camera shots that lead down below to the catacombs of the sewers where 30 or so children are seen working away in what looks like an underground sweat shop. Pilling up jewels and cash and other valuables stolen from the streets, towing away at underground soil, it looks like they are mining, but one cannot be sure.

One of the kids accidentally hits himself with a hoe and begins to scream before another child covers his mouth in a panic. A bell rings, and all the children scurry to a stage and sit down in front of it. On their way to the stage, we see the children walking one by one towards the end of what looks like a giant red oblivion. This scenery is used quite commonly in a lot of stories involving animation and slavery. My only guess is that it is intended as Holocaust imagery… You know, for kids!

On that stage is a tall, lanky man sitting on a throne. He wears renaissance style clothes, a large ring or two on his hands, a red cape, and a pair of glasses with one lens popped out to look like an eye patch. This is the Sewer King. He is without question one of the lamest villains in the entirety of this series.

It is hard to pin down exactly why I cannot stand this villain. I think it starts with his outfit. It looks absolutely ridiculous. It is like he dove into a bargain bin at Goodwill, and do not give me “that’s the point.” Even if he is supposed to look like a rag-based villain, who is still stupid by the way, he looks more like he just woke up drunk in the medieval times. The other thing that bugs me is how he tries way too hard.  Like many other villains, he has big speeches of grandeur and monologues that make him sound intimidating, but they fail on that very level. He is basically talking gibberish; just a bunch of random sentences saying, “Pay attention to me! I’m evil.” Sadly, he is not.

The closest thing you get to scary during this scene is a shadow of what looks like an alligator crossing the frame. Next to that, the Sewer King freaks out that the kid who screamed broke their arbitrary vow of silence and now must “see the light.” He locks him in a room with a single florescent light in it…Scary.

Batman begins stalking the sewers after finding a secret passage way to their base. He shines a flashlight at one of the walls displaying the graffiti “Beware the Sewer King.” Batman finds the kid from before and saves him from a passing subway train. He takes him back to the Bat Cave and instructs Alfred to take care of him.

What happens next is an overly long sequence of slapstick from Alfred trying to get the kid to eat civilized, bathe, and wash dishes. The scene is completely pointless, and once again, ruins the pace of the episode. It is not even that funny. It is the same joke over and over again, and it makes Alfred look like an idiot. I know now it may seem like I am taking this too seriously, but you will see why later on in the review.

Finally, Batman instructs the kid to tell him where the rest of the kids are. Batman takes a few evidence pictures, you know, because he is the only one with a brain in this episode, and moves on to find the Sewer king.

You can tell that this whole scenario really bothers Batman. One of the longest running themes in this series is Batman’s empathy for children. Since Batman grew up with no parents, he carries a heavy heart for children. It is frequently mentioned that Bruce donates millions to children’s charities, and his empathy for children is the motivation for the existence of Robin. (This is why it kills me Robin is not involved in the live action movies, but that is a rant for another day.)

Batman Rings the bell as loud as he can. Even breaking it off and letting it fall to the floor. All the children run towards him, but so does the Sewer King. The Sewer King sends his pet alligators after him but Batman defeats all of them. As much as this episode bugs me, you cannot deny the awesomeness of Batman fighting a crew of alligators, one of which he suplexes and hog-ties…. Nice.

More alligators start attacking Batman, and he picks up the bell by the rope, swings it like a flail, and bashes an alligator with it… once again… NICE.

Batman chases him into the sewers but after he slips down an open grate (this episode is getting harder to like), the Sewer King tries to knock him into the alligator filled water below. Batman swings around and kicks him into the water. Batman tries to grab his hand, but the Sewer King refuses with an over dramatic “neveeeeeeer” and falls into the water. The alligators are loyal to him and do not eat him. He runs away.

The Sewer King tries to escape down the subway path, but Batman takes him out very easily and angrily pins him to the wall.

It is at this point where the saving grace of this show comes in. Batman grabs him and looks him square in the eyes and says, “I don’t pass sentence, that’s for the courts, but this time, I am sorely tempted to do the job myself.” I find it really powerful that although he was not technically a good villain, this is a story that affects Batman on a personal level. Batman anonymously helps get the kids back up to the normal world, probably to an orphanage of some sort, while he watches from the distance looking down at them.

This episode, outside of some good set ups of Batman’s character and an alligator fight, is a true disappointment. The more times I watched this episode for the sake of review, I found myself disliking it more and more.

It looks pretty. I can give it that I guess. It is one of a small group of episodes that has more of an anime influence, a bit like Akira I would say is a decent comparison. Gritty, older anime.

Outside of that, this episode is a good reminder that you cannot win them all. If all episodes were perfect, nothing would set apart the great ones.

Regardless of how I am talking, this is not my least favorite episode (we will get there believe me), but it is definitely toward the bottom of my list.

BTAS#5 Pretty Poison

The Following is an Expert from the Book, “The Man who Watched Batman Vol. 1 An In depth Analysis of Batman: The animated series”.  If you’d like to purchase the book in it’s entirety, Click here to get a paperback on amazon or click here to get a digital copy on Drive thru comics!

 

BTAS#5

Pretty Poison

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Story by Paul Dini and Michael Reaves

Teleplay by Tom Ruegger

 

This particular episode is one I have been excited to get to. First off, this marks the appearance of our first lead female character, and a villain to boot.  Second, this marks the first episode with a vanity card credit for series Co – Creator, Paul Dini. Dini is claimed by many to be the heart and soul of this series and the lead writer on the series as a whole.

The episode begins on a sepia tone, signifying we are in flashback. The mayor is giving a speech signifying the construction of a new penitentiary, which was made possible by donations of the Wayne Foundation and co-founded by District Attorney Harvey Dent. You can see as these episodes go on how intertwined the Batman universes are with each other. This marks one of the first times those lines begin to blur.

A lone, unseen figure is seen taking a single rose plant from the site of the dig to start the foundation as Dent and Bruce both take a shovel and pose for the cameras. That same figure takes a newspaper clipping from that day and mounts it on the wall next to the now potted rose and a clipping about Redwood Lumber & Construction.

In modern day, construction equipment is shown tearing up similar roses, setting up for the new building. We skip to five years later and the building is fully functional. A rouge copter flies onto the scene, picks up a criminal, and flies away. Commissioner Gordon receives a call, and the police force rallies behind him, except for Bullock, who doubles back for a donut… Classy.

One interesting thing in this scene is the way they frame the shot when Gordon picks up the phone. You see just his shadow cast against the office wall.  It is a subtle homage, but homage nonetheless, to the animated Superman series when you would see the shadow of Clark Kent changing into Superman. This series does a great job overall of remembering the old days of DC universe and DC animation.

Pamela Isley and Dent share some playful banter about Bruce falling behind juxtaposed with some beautiful footage of Batman chasing the thug. It is a clever gag, and I find that the footage of Batman chasing the criminal does well to show off the now more consistent art direction of the show. A sense of sharpness and more popping colors than previous episodes, although all the various art styles in this show have very unique charms.

  1. Congratulations, you know Bruce Wayne’s credit card number. Have fun. In all honesty, the shot of his card on the table does a good job of establishing his hospitality in floating the bill as they exchange pleasantries. Besides, who would try to steal from Batman?

They swap stories, but Pamela says she must leave early, not before laying a comically long kiss on Dent. As Pamela struts out of the restaurant, men stop talking and double take. There were a lot of things this show found a way to get away with, and one was a very voluptuous woman.

Not necessarily a controversy, but women of this show did a really good job of drawing beautiful women with full figures that were still dressed in flirtatious, but not scandalous, apparel. There have been instances before when they were forced to be toned down. Hence why some female characters might have larger breasts or curvier bodies in some episodes than others. I am not saying this as a reverted complaint, but attractive, classy women are hard to come across these days, and this show drew a lot of them.

Dent tells Bruce he is smitten with her and plans to marry her, but Bruce thinks he is definitely rushing into things. All while they laugh through their argument, Dent complains about the heat in the room, until suddenly, he collapses into a plate. Bruce thinks for a second he is faking, but is horrified to find he is not.

Gordon receives another call this time telling him Dent is at the hospital. The whole force rushes down to save him…Right after Bullock swings back for another donut… Again, Classy.

The doctor informs them all that Dent has been poisoned. Gordon sends Bullock to the Rose Cafe (HINT HINT) to see if anyone knows anything. Bruce waits for a scientist to leave and takes a sample of Dent’s Blood from a microscope.

Bullock has a quick but hysterical scene where he is interrogating an innocent, but hilariously stereotypical, French chef about the poison. Bullock gets a lot of crap in this series, but in all honesty, he is a good cop. He even gets an episode of his own in sorts later on.

Batman analyzes the poison back at the Bat Cave and finds that the rose used went extinct five years ago (HINT! HINT!), and he is unsure of how to make an antidote without the plant. Bruce goes to the hospital to visit Dent and sees Pamela there. After he walks her to her car, he realizes the poison may have come from the kiss she gave him.

After he asks Alfred to do some research, he finds that Isley is a botanist who is a large advocator of saving endangered plants. Batman is unsure of her guilt but finds it might be good to investigate. Pamela says goodnight somewhat creepily to her plants in her greenhouse as she steps behind a curtain to change her clothes. Batman runs inside and nearly falls through a trap door into a pit of mutated cactus, only to realize he is stuck in the clutches of the vines of a man-sized Venus Flytrap. Stepping out from behind the curtain is the femme fatale: Poison Ivy. (Shocker right?)

Poison Ivy explains her motives of getting revenge on Dent for the almost extinction of the rose species, and actually uses the word murder in her explanation.

She kisses Batman (the first to kiss him in this series but far from the last) in order to poison him, but refuses to give him the antidote. Batman manages to get away from the flytrap with some fancy footwork and hidden knife, but the chemicals are making Bruce see double, triple, and more.

Ivy launches an arrow from her wrist launcher, but she misses and accidentally hits the flytrap. She and the plant scream in agony. In her anger, she rapidly fires more shots at Bruce, but continues to miss. Every single shot inadvertently hurts her own plants more and more. One of the skylights falls from the roof and the whole place goes up in flames. Batman dangles from the pit of cacti as Ivy proudly stands overhead with the antidote.

Batman, having stolen Ivy’s precious rose, offers it as ransom, but not without some very intentional word usage. “What’s it gonna be Ivy? The weed for the antidote.” Ivy complies, and they both run out of the building. Dent wakes up from his poison coma, and Ivy is sent to jail, the same jail that she was trying to avenge the creation of. The episode ends with a maniacal monologue of Ivy talking to her plant and planning her definite escape.

This episode is incredibly well paced, and that is why I am leaving so much of my review until now. I wanted you to feel how well this episode rolls from one event to the next. Even though like I joked around earlier, the mystery is not that hard to solve. The clues are set up quite nicely and leave Batman to figure it all out right when he needs to. The final fight does not really take too much time, so it was important for them to make the main focus of the episode on the mystery.

Ivy’s design and costume are great as they define her character’s personality with her plant themed, yet still elegant dress, and her voluptuous figure. They work towards the siren like aesthetic of her character. Her attractive colors draw people into her traps like a Venus Flytrap.

On the interpretation of her character, I am glad they did not make her a Meta human. I never liked the idea of people interpreting Poison Ivy as part plant or something along the meta human lines. She is just not quite as attractive with green skin and covered in leaves. Her character is more relatable as an eco-terrorist who might be psychotic rather than actually being able to feel the pain of plants. (That and other theories of her actually having sex with plants, but we are so not getting into that.) The Basis of Iv’s motivations and strategies are quite clear. Ivy is not interested in Taking over the world with plants. She simply wishes to fight back against those who wish to do harm against plant life. The problem comes when you realize that she is almost psychopathically distant from almost all-human life. Giving the character a level of dimension allows us to save time explaining why she’s attacking this group of plant killers for these reasons, and instead focus on deeper levels of her character.

Speaking of deeper character levels, Poison Ivy is to no one’s surprise, a part of The Arkham Villain Theory. Poison Ivy is a tough nut to crack on the Villain theory, and this one may sound like a strange one, but I believe Poison Ivy is a representation of Batman’s Conscience. I know off the bat how pretentious that sounds, but hear me out. The conscience is defined commonly as the center of your reasoning of what you personally consider to be right or wrong. It is your conscience that also walk the gray line of morality when personal agendas make you bend your own rules. Although not explored as deeply in this episode compared to others, Poison Ivy’s character is filled with constantly changing, but self justified hypocrisy. Poison Ivy loves plans more than people, but still uses plants weapons and tools in several of her schemes. Poison Ivy wants to preserve the world of plants and is constantly criticizing man’s influence on it, but is seen frankenstiening plant speicies back from the dead, harvesting chemicals and enzymes of plants for experiments, even sacrificing plants to the slaughter as punching bags or minions of her diabolical schemes. Poison Ivy’s end goals are clear and do not change, but the lengths she’ll go to get there are constantly changing. It is through this slow but constant Justification that a vocal eco – terrorist became one of Gotham’s most powerful villains. Batman’s conscience is also constantly evolving with his surroundings. Even inside of Batman’s conscience, several episodes point to severe gray areas in Batman’s judgment. Batman’s famous no killing policy is challenged both directly and non-directly in several episodes. Even without killing people, Batman’s methods and rules constantly change. To what extent is it ok to interrogate a criminal? Withhold evidence from the police? Cooperate with a super villain? Become romantically involved with a super villain?(this one turns out to be a big one throughout many continuities) Throughout the show, Batman fluctuates greatly from yin to yang on these ideals. One could argue this is simply him adjusting to individual circumstances, but I believe this is Batman succumbing to compromising his own Conscience from time to time to reach is ultimate goal, or in some cases, for his own benefit.

One last thing I want to touch on about Poison Ivy. This may sound like one of my more outlandish theories, but I feel very strongly that the creators of this show have written Poison Ivy as a lesbian. Now, I assure you this is not some sort of fan fiction theory or some kind of perverted wish fulfillment. Looking at the character, Poison Ivy frequently shows a outright disgust of man, or at the very least, of masculine culture. The only time Poison Ivy is ever seen in any kind of Romantic position with men is when she is manipulating and trapping them. She uses her femininity as an ultimate weapon against easily fooled men. If that is the status quo with Poison Ivy, Wouldn’t it make sense that the thought of actually being attracted to a man seem unlikely? On top of that her character is constantly blossoming with sexuality and pervasiveness. While commonly seen as a device to allure male audiences to the character, the show makes very clear that she’s not interested. If that’s the case, that sexuality and pervasiveness has to be directed somewhere. In later episode, Poison Ivy’s insistence on surrounding herself with strong, attractive women becomes abundantly apparent. Not to mention her interactions with them (especially one in particular we’ll talk about next season) are noticeably more personal and intimate than with other characters. Even the flowers and plants she cares for so much are all referred to as she. She may not be in love with her plants, or be attracted to them, but it is abundantly clear that this sexually electrified character strongly prefers the presence of the female sex.

Let’s also take a minute and talk about that final speech. When I watched that speech the first time, it gave me chills. It feels like it came right out of a Hitchcock movie: ominous, compelling, and powerful. It is easy to forget sometimes because of the childlike nature of the show that these are meant to be hardened psychopaths, and this little scene pulls the curtain back on that just long enough to put you on the edge of your seat before the credits roll.

As I mentioned earlier, I think one of the best things of this episode is its use of word choice. Good writing can come not only in what you say, but how you say it. Characters in this episode display impeccable subtext and deception. It really helps make you feel like these are real people talking and not just actors talking over pictures. That said, this is also one of the first episodes that really let a large group of characters interact with one another on a level not seen before now. It is a huge stepping-stone for the ultimate close-knit build of the Gotham universe.

Speaking of word choice, I want to talk a minute more about Poison Ivy and Bruce Wayne. Ivy has some incredibly good dialogue in this episode, both in her honest moments and in her deceptive lies. She is very believable in her innocent routine, and it is easy to get swept away in her seductive manipulation. As for her performance as Ivy, I love the way they portray her desire to maintain her tact. You see evidence that underneath her calm and collected, classy routine lies a hot headed and violent woman with a severe grudge against men (which we will get into in future episodes). Bruce on the other hand is given more screen time in this episode than any so far, and his natural charisma carries a lot of his scenes. I also like seeing Bruce doing Batman things in civilian clothes. It really helps sell the idea that they are one in the same.

Pretty Poison in its entirety is one of the most polished episodes so far. There is nothing at all to complain about really. Characterization and word choice shine bright alongside incredible pacing, balanced and refined animation, and a great origin story to one of Batman’s best villains.