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BTAS Vol. 1 wrap up

Season in Retrospect

If I had to sum up this series in one word, I believe it would be “foundation”.  For a serialized show it’s not common to dedicate so much time to world building, but this show makes that a top priority. Villains in this series not only have meaningful motivations, but motivations that get them back to the city of Gotham itself.

Everyone established in this series has interlocking relationships with each other that help make an infinite pool of possibilities for our characters to draw from. In many ways, that is the point of this season.

In order to tell more complicated or emotionally fueled stories, we have to create the foundation for them to stand on. In our journey through 28 episodes, we have been introduced to almost every member of Batman’s rogue gallery, Bruce’s circle of friends, and a few special new characters that might stop on by to say hello.

As we begin the Journey into season 2, we build upon season 1’s origins and experiment with what kind of new colors we can create by mixing this character with this environment, or see what happens when Batman meets up with more powerful or more intelligent adversaries than he’s ever fought. We see what happens when both Batman and the super villains find allies. Batman will be challenged in ways he’s never been before, and I can’t wait to see where season 2 takes us. Until then, thank you for joining me on this journey and I hope to see you back next time. Same Bat time, Same Bat channel.

 

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BTAS #28 Dreams in Darkness

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 #28

Dreams in Darkness

 

Directed by Dick Sebast

Written by Judith & Garfield Reeves – Stevens

 

Season finales are always fun for me. Whether it be, “Aw crap we’re getting cancelled, let’s pull out all the stops”, or “Congratulations guys! Let’s take everything we’ve learned so far and end with a bang”, season finales are usually the least safe episodes you find. This finale is no exception. Dreams in Darkness is a great finale as it not only branches together the whole season thematically, but the episode experiments with ideas and creative devices that would not fly today no matter how popular a show you were. I don’t know whether or not this series knew they were coming back for a second season, but if this was going to be the last episode of BTAS, they were going to fight like hell till the bitter end.

Our episode begins with the lead psychiatrist at Arkham, Bartholomew (for brevity, we’ll call him Dr. B), examining Batman. For reasons unexplained, Batman is in a strait jacket, and locked in Arkham Asylum. Batman pleads to Dr. B that Commissioner Gordon needs to be warned that Gotham is in grave danger; Dr. B sees it as just part of Batman’s delusions.

For the first time in the series, Batman begins to internally monologue. For a series that so heavily influenced by Noir, it’s curious they have never used Noir style narration up until this point. The monologues also function as a method for Batman to show his mental control and negate the idea that he’s completely lost his mind. Regardless, Batman tries to remember where it all began.

Batman thinks back to a crime taking place at the Health Springs Spa. When Batman goes to investigate, he finds a strange man with a torch attached to his arm trying to torch a device into the water main. When Batman confronts him an unknown source focuses on a camera located at the scene and a mysterious man flips on a countdown clock of 20 seconds.

The man at the spa adjusts the setting of his torch and gives himself a drill arm to attack Batman with. The two of them share a really good fight scene, but ultimately, the device they were trying to install is destroyed in the conflict and both the Man and Batman are hit with a strange red gas.  

Batman examines the man’s technology for clues and finds that the red toxin is a possible variant of Scarecrow’s gas, but there’s not enough evidence to convict or find an antidote. Even aware that the gas can cause illusions, Batman sees Joker sneaking up behind him at the Batcave, but finds Alfred is the one actually there. Batman heads to the hospital to talk to the man from earlier and get some answers. Unfortunately, he’s not given many.

The witness in question is suffering from similar side effects and illusions. Batman confronts one of the doctors he trusts to look at his blood. She reveals that since Batman was not exposed to as much of the gas and because of his strong body, it’s taking more time to affect him, but it will eventually drive him to advanced hallucinations. The doctor claims that the only cure will be to knock him unconscious for two days. Batman refuses to be out of commission that long, but takes the medicine and goes on his way into the night.

Batman drives the Batmobile at full speed toward Arkham Asylum because he thinks Scarecrow is the culprit and he might have the antidote.

Batman shows signs that the gas is taking effect, but Batman tries to shake it off. Without warning, Batman sees Robin in the headlights. Batman screams and slams the brakes. The Batmobile tumbles down the winding road and is found by doctors from Arkham.

Batman rambles about his delusions to the doctors. They have Batman tied to a stretcher and hooked to sedatives. One of them tries to remove his mask, but Dr. B insists that the mask is tied to his identity and removing it could affect his psyche (trust me. I’ve heard much worse excuses over the years).

Dr. B tries to get Batman to open up, but Batman insists that a large plan is at foot. Neither character makes much leeway in convincing the other, but there is a nice nod to ‘89 Batman where Dr. B refers to the Joker by his alias Jack Napier. Batman warns that he believes that Scarecrow is the one responsible, but Dr. B insists he saw Dr. Crane in his room that morning.

Crane reveals himself to have escaped from Arkham as he commands his men to pump the gas into several biohazard trucks. He reveals to his men that the attack on the spa was always a trap to expose Batman to the gas. Scarecrow’s acting in this episode does paint him more calculated and maniacal than previous episodes. He sounds smarter and more confident, which works great to paint him as an intelligent and sophisticated villain.

Batman’s slip to insanity hits full force as he embarks on his first full-blown hallucination. Batman finds the door to his cell opening to a room filled with bright red light. He walks through the door when he comes out the other side, his straight jacket is gone and he finds himself in an orange tinted alley. The buildings appear slightly warped and covered with shadows. The animation dips back into normal colors as Bruce enters the alley. Bruce is stopped in his tracks when he sees his parents standing at the end of the alley. It’s a subtle maneuver, but the scene intentionally breaks a normal cinematic rule called, “crossing the line”. It’s not something the average person would not be able to spot, but most people will catch the idea that something’s not quite right.

Batman sprints towards his parents as they walk towards a suspicious looking tunnel at the end of the alley. The alley behind Batman begins to warp itself longer, preventing him from getting to his parents. The animation on this sequence works quite smoothly thanks to the stylized look of the buildings already feeling so elastic in nature. Since the buildings don’t have clear landmarks of size or shape, they mold and stretch without any feeling of breaking or looking out of character.

Batman’s parents walk into the tunnel as the whole world around them and Batman breaks into the fire and brimstone of Hell. The tunnel bursts from the Hell below to reveal that the tunnel is the barrel of a giant revolver. Magma and mortar pour from the barrel of the gun. Batman screams in agony as the hammer slowly pulls back and the gun fires. Batman awakens from his nightmare curled up on the floor in a hot sweat.

Dr. B visits Batman to confess that Scarecrow has in fact, escaped from Arkham. Batman tries to predict Scarecrow’s next move by asking about where Arkham’s water comes from. After discovering it’s from a cavern underneath the asylum, Batman insists he needs to be set free. Despite Batman being right, Dr. B still refuses to release Batman. Batman tries to escape, but even with his skills, he is unable to take out two large guards without use of his arms.

One of Scarecrow’s lackeys confirms the last of the gas trucks has arrived in the cavern. Scarecrow starts up a countdown clock to what he refers to as the largest psychological experiment in the history of the world. Scarecrow flips a switch confirming the chemicals will enter the water supply in 5 minutes.

Batman manages to find an opening to escape the guards. Dr. B hits the red alert button and guards begin to prepare tranquilizer guns and nightsticks. Batman steals a fire axe off a wall and uses it to escape the straight jacket and kidnaps a guard to get him to the basement.

Batman takes a flashlight to investigate the caverns. Batman finds himself closer to Scarecrow than ever before, but his psychosis continues to worsen. Batman sees a rat on the floor that warps into the Joker’s face.  Batman freaks out, drops, and breaks his flashlight. What follows is by far the greatest dream sequence in the whole season. I’ve said that to a few episodes before, but I mean it. This one is the best.

A large spotlight blinds Batman as an unnerving Joker walks through the spotlight creating a sunburst. Joker laughs maniacally, but his voice is more warped and echo filled than usual. It sounds more unnatural and unique from any other laugh he’s had so far. Bursting from the floor, a 300 foot tall Penguin appears. A slower and darker version of his theme accompanies him as he blocks falling debris with his umbrella. Batman runs out of the way as debris starts falling on him.

Penguin screams a horrible shriek as his face explodes and peels away to reveal Two – Face flipping his coin. Two – Face’s theme has been remixed as a dirty jazz song. Two – Face’s coin morphs into sawblade to throw at Batman. A quick shot of Batman dodging out of the way of the inexistent blade reminds the audience how trapped Batman is in the illusion.

It makes sense to continue to reject the illusion because Batman runs the possibility that he could lose his grip on reality all together. As the episode has gone on, the illusions have not only gotten more direct and part of his reality, they have also become longer in length. This scene in particular, the longest he’s been away from sanity; which sets up his terror as the illusion tempts him to give into the darkness.

Two – Face melts into a putty that reforms to makes Poison Ivy. Batman screams at her that she’s not real, but Poison Ivy stretches her arms into vines to entangle Batman. Robin and Alfred step out from behind Ivy.  Batman begs them to help him, but they prefer to tempt Batman to give into the darkness. Both of them continue to tempt Batman as a chasm has been opened up in front of Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy throws Batman into the chasm. Batman screams and flails the gray walls of the chasm morphs into a bright orange and yellow spiral with blotched patterns similar to the Hell scene earlier. An echoing monologue from Scarecrow taunts him about how the Great Batman has lost his mind. The spiral turns brown, as the center of the vortex becomes a laughing head of Scarecrow that devours Batman. A single bat comes from the shrouded darkness and Batman continues to fall through the orange void once again. The screen fades back to normal day as Batman squirms on the floor screaming. He struggles to catch his breath before following a single bat deeper into the cave.

About 3 minutes remain on the clock as Batman swings into the scene. Scarecrow knows that Batman will fear the henchmen so he assures them that they will take Batman out no problem. Batman sees the Henchmen as green Martian, zombie creatures against the orange and yellow background from before. The style decision for what he fears may seem strange, but considering the clothes they wear do not change, it gives evidence Batman is doing better to maintain control. Going further with that theory, Batman grabs the microphone and whistles loudly. The henchmen grab their ears and Batman’s high pitch endued ear pain helps break the illusion. Batman takes the three of them out while Scarecrow runs away to restart the machine.

Batman tries to jump the ledge after him, but the fear gas make the floor fall farther away from him as Batman falls into vertigo. After composing himself, Batman makes the jump. As he reaches for the turn of switch, the cable he needs to pull turns into a poisonous viper. With only ten seconds left, Batman summons all his strength and pulls the wire from the wall. The whole machine begins to explode and the chemical spreads everywhere.

Scarecrow screams in horror as he is exposed to the gas. This time, rather than seeing a large blue demon, he sees Batman. Only Batman.  Scarecrow begs to be taken away because he can’t take it anymore.

Scarecrow is returned to his room in Arkham and Dr. B scolds his assistants to make sure Scarecrow will not escape again.

Alfred gives Bruce the antidote and Bruce thanks him for making sure he’s safe. The episode and season ends as a lone bat is perched upside down in front of the light. A shadow of the bat’s extended wings casts on Bruce before closing its wings into a modified Batman logo.

It’s a bittersweet feeling reaching the final episode of the season, but I’d be lying if I said the final episode was anything less than awe-inspiring.

Scarecrow has become the stand out star of the series so far. For a villain that had only been featured in an animated form back in the super friends show, this show has proven the true potential of this Villain. As the character has progressed through the series, both the iconic fear chemical and the character himself have evolved and changed to be more compelling, frightening, and interesting. Scarecrow is a character that not only comes up with new schemes, but he learns from his mistakes, improves his methods, and becomes a better villain. This episode is debatably the most effective and horrific scheme any villain has ever attempted. What makes it scarier is how close he comes to getting away with it.

As much as I praised Appointment in Crime Alley for showing Batman’s changing and powerful emotions, this episode is hands down Batman’s most emotional outing. This episode goes beyond seeing Batman as vulnerable. You see Batman grasping on to his sense of control. He’s losing his mind slowly, but surely and there’s nothing he can do about it. When Batman confronts his fears, he runs through his entire history of emotional trauma and you can see from his face, his actions, and his state of being, that it is taking a toll on him like he’s never experienced before.

A large part of this comes from the creativity and effort put into the use of Scarecrow’s poison. In previous episodes, I’ve talked about exactly how each strand of the poison works. This strand, for obvious reasons, is the most powerful and deadly. Even in its early stages, it builds upon effects of the previous poisons.

The illusions Batman sees are formed out of physical objects that replace reality just like in Fear of Victory, but they also morph and contort depending on his mental state, just as they did in Fear of Victory. The difference for this poison comes in how they not only work together, but also work completely against his chances for victory. Similar to Fear of Victory, the poison is activated by his adrenalin. Not only does this make it so that the harder Batman fights against the poison, the stronger it becomes, it makes the ticking clock before he reaches a mental point of no return drastically steeper.

This helps sell the idea that Batman can’t just think his way out of it. The illusions are connected enough to Batman’s brain to run the risk of causing him actual pain. If a person is hypnotized deep enough, the mental perception of pain can cause real pain. If perceived death, one can kill themselves in fear.  Once Batman crosses that threshold, Batman’s chances of mentally rejecting the poison drop to almost nothing. I would likely interpret that threshold cross to be the moment he crashes the Batmobile. It’s the first moment he believes an illusion 100% and it’s quite likely his condition would’ve severely worsened if he had a concussion in the crash. This also explains why he says Joker’s name in the hospital instead of Scarecrow.

The use of other villains in the dream sequence is the only time in the season villains appear together. For a person who was watching this series the first time, this is a big moment and will not disappoint. Between this scene and images of Hell and brimstone in the alley dream, this episode contains the darkest and most morbid imagery featured in the show so far.

Speaking of the alley scene, Appointment in Crime Alley does confirm the origin of Bruce’s parents, but it’s in a small enough place that it’s possible to miss it.  This scene however, is the closest we get to actually seeing what happened. The wording on the previous episode’s newspaper doesn’t send the idea home that Bruce did in fact watch his parents get shot right in front of him. This explains why even though Batman couldn’t run fast enough to stop them, he was forced to watch his parents die in the dream. Bruce’s footing was the only platform left. It makes sense that his mind would force him to view his tragic nightmare the way it happened.

Dr. B would probably be the closest I get to a complaint about this episode. He’s not a bad character by any means, and it’s good to see an antagonist in the gray area, but the possibility of Batman being mentally evaluated is a potential I wish Dr. B had tried harder to explore.

I’ve touched on the music slightly earlier in this review, but it’s worth mentioning again as this is one of Shirley Walker’s finest moments. In order to pull off a psychotic juggling act like this, it requires everyone to be operating at the top of their game, and the music here shines through. Hearing variations on previous themes brings back a sense of ominous nostalgia amongst high-tension moments and quick changes in musical tone help express Batman’s rapidly changing state of mind.

Dream in Darkness is the kind of episode that you use to drive home a point to someone. This is the episode to prove how good this season is to someone. Part of me feels like I could talk for hours just on this one installment.

This episode understands and explores emotional and thematic depth on a level that surpasses almost any other episode in the series. To be fair, it can only be as good as it is because of all that the season before it built as a foundation, but this is an episode where they really got an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of what kind of story could be told, how they were allowed to tell it, and how smart and mature of a story their audience could understand and accept.  People ask me why I Think this series is better than any other animated series, to which I reply, “Episodes like this one”.

BTAS #27 Mad as a Hatter

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 #27 Mad as a Hatter

 

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Paul Dini

 

To say that several artists of various mediums have interpreted Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland would be the understatement of the century. The characters of the book have taken so many forms; you could make a series of books just about all of the various interpretations. Not surprisingly one of the more popular interpretations are the way the characters are used in Batman. Now the actual meaning of Alice in Wonderland, as a base point to talk about its interpretation, can be difficult to establish. Now I’m not going to go over the meaning of every single character involved in the story as some of them are important to the story and some are just there because they fit. That being said, I recommend if you really want to get the absolute most out of this episode, you at least watch the original animated Disney interpretation as most of the characters used here are portrayed clearly in that version. As far as the story itself, or to some people the lack there of, this is the common ground commonly found between interpretations.

Alice is a young girl who chases a rabbit down a rabbit hole and finds herself transported into a mystical world where the characters are as colorful as can be and the logic of the world is absurd as can be. All the character’s in the story are portrayed to have unique personality quirks or designs that make the behaviors of the characters somewhat consistent between versions, but artists have found room to interpret their own conclusions of why they act that way or what these characters are meant to represent.

As far as the original meanings of these characters are concerned, people often debate not only about what their meaning is or even if there is any meaning. I’m not here to give an answer to that question, but as a critic, I need to evaluate not only how this episode holds up as a Batman episode, but also how it holds up as an interpretation of Lewis Carol’s characters. Keep in mind this episode is not an interpretation of Lewis Carol’s story.

This episode takes the characters of Wonderland and interprets them into a Batman setting in order to tell a story completely their own. That being said, we can get started.

Our episode begins with Jearvis, the Mad Hatter, interpreted as a scientist working for Wayne Corp. studying ways to carry brain waves from one person to another. The result is a band that he wears on his head allowing him to control a group of rats to sit at a miniature table and drink tea like civilized humans.

Into the room walks Alice, who warns him that his boss and Bruce Wayne are on their way in. Jearvis is bashful towards Alice, but panics and hides his research when the others arrive.  His boss, a red headed woman with a wicked temper, scolds him for embarrassing himself in front of Bruce, but Bruce gives him the benefit of the doubt. As his boss leaves, she notices the Alice in Wonderland poster on his wall and make a tongue in cheek joke about, “having his head” if he messes up like that again.

Jearvis talks to Alice at her desk and we learn that although she is very close to Jearvis, she has a boyfriend. Alice comments that she is so glad that she two great men in her life. Jearvis is infuriated at the picture of Alice with her boyfriend on her table, and knocks it over after she leaves. Jearvis does his best to fake a smile in her presence, but Jearvis’ frustration is apparent.

He monologues to himself in his office about what to do about Alice. While he contemplates, his mentally controlled mice grab his tea. He confirms that he has the technology to control a human, but he refuses to use it on Alice, as it would turn Alice into a shell of her former self. This is extremely important to the episode as it confirms that regardless of your feeling towards whether Jearvis’ actions are ethical, it is clear that his feelings for Alice are in fact, genuine.

From the other room he hears the sound of Alice crying, when he eavesdrops, he finds that to his glee, Alice has been dumped by her boyfriend. Jearvis plans to use this as an opportunity to sweep Alice off her feet with a wonderful night on the town, but in a telling moment, Jearvis looks at the Mad Hatter in the poster. Looking at this as a reflection of himself, he sighs thinking there’s no reason she’d see him as desirable. Upon which, he gazes at his mind control cards, already themed with the fraction 10/6, and seems to have a plan.

Jearvis arrives at Alice’s door dressed as the Hatter and insists on taking her out for a night of whimsy to forget her foolish ex. Alice seems a bit overwhelmed but agrees. The two of them take a horse drawn carriage downtown where two muggers come after them. Jearvis insists on handling it and places mind control cards on their person. He plays up a tough guy act and commands them to jump in the river. The two thugs walk away and Alice is awestruck.

Batman patrols the city and has a humorous quip or two with Alfred over the communicator. He is interrupted by a police communication about two men who are going to jump off the Gotham Bridge. After Batman finds them, he uses an ejector seat to get to them as soon as possible. Batman tries to stop them, but they overpower him with some sort of enhanced strength (that gets explained later). Batman uses his glider to save them, but barely can make it to the ground because of their weight. Batman examines the cards from the Hatter that he finds on them.

Jearvis and Alice share a meal at a restaurant of all mind-controlled staff. It’s a brief scene, but if you pay close attention you can see that Alice pulls her hand away when Jearvis grabs it. Despite her misleading nice personality, we have a piece of evidence that Alice is still keeping her guard up.

After taking control of a guard, Jearvis takes Alice to Storybook Land, An amusement park themed after various fairytales. Jearvis takes her to the Wonderland section and sits on the mushroom of the caterpillar. He begins to sing the mock turtle song, and invites Alice to, “join the dance”. Jearvis and Alice begin to dance around the room.

Batman examines the effects of the cards while Alfred points him in the direction of Alice in Wonderland. I know Alfred deduces this just because of the fraction, but I just find it funnier because he’s British.

Jearvis kisses Alice on the hand and drops her off back at the apartment. Jearvis skips away in excitement and Alice comments to herself what a nice man he is. Alice finds her boyfriend waiting for her with open arms and an apology andAlice runs to him.

Jearvis walks into the office the next day with a spring in his step and a bouquet of flowers in his hand. He’s met with rage when he finds the picture of her boyfriend is back on her desk. Alice thanks him for cheering her up last night, but is thrilled to tell him that her boyfriend proposed. In his anger, Jearvis cuts his hand clutching the roses in his fist and a drop of blood falls onto her boyfriend’s picture. Alice asks if he’s ok, but Jearvis retreats to his office.

Jearvis’ boss bursts into his office and tells him that Bruce demands to see him right away. He becomes fed up with her and uses a card to tell her to shut up. Bruce comes to the office looking for him and asks Alice where he is. Alice hasn’t seen him, but she takes a minute to tell Bruce she’s engaged and Bruce congratulates her. Alice receives a shocking phone call from her new fiancé who decides to break up with her for no reason. Normally this would be a tragic, but non-Batman issue, but putting two and two together, Bruce is smart enough to know something is up.

Alice returns to her apartment to find Jearvis waiting for her with a room full of flowers. Jearvis has become louder and more aggressive as he tries to once again sweep Alice off her feet, but Alice notices that she didn’t tell him about the break up.  As Jearvis begins to approach her Alice backs into Batman.  Hatter is prepared for trouble and turns his hat to reveal it is wired into his mind control software.

Crashing through the front door of the apartment door are two men in costume: the Walrus and the Carpenter.  Batman fights off the carpenter despite the large sledgehammer he carries. The walrus proves to be exceptionally tough as the man behind the mask appears to be a behemoth of a man. Jearvis is deeply disappointed in himself for being forced to use a card on Alice, but he has been left with no choice. Jearvis escapes with Alice while Batman takes out the two costumed goons.

Batman follows Mad Hatter to Storybook Land. Usually, I wait until a villain is referred to their villain name to call them by such, but since they never do, I chose this moment because this is when he more or less reaches super villain status.

Batman finds all sorts of other mind-controlled innocents, including Jearvis’ boss, mind controlled and dressed as Wonderland characters. Fittingly, his boss is the Red Queen. Mad Hatter knows Batman won’t hurt the innocent people. All of them stand on a giant black and white chessboard while Mad Hatter stands on a higher platform with Alice, now wearing the outfit from the Storybook Park. Mad Hatter brags to Batman about how the hypnotism increases their physical strength. This matches up cleanly with what people have been told about hypnotism in real life. A person operating hypnotized or an actual zombie bypasses your body’s natural pain threshold. Your brain isn’t telling you to stop in order to prevent hurting yourself. Therefore, Batman is fighting enemies with natural superhuman strength.

Batman uses a smoke grenade to distract one of them long enough to remove the card from his costume. Batman instructs him that they won’t attack him because they’re programmed to follow Batman. With the rest of them distracted by Batman, the cured man, Alice’s fiancé, is able to remove all of the cards.

Seeing his plan is foiled, Mad Hatter flees with Alice into the Wonderland Card Maze. Mad Hatter starts messing with the controls to keep Batman lost, but Batman just climbs on top of the maze and tackles him away from the controls.

Batman tries to confront Mad Hatter about how by turning Alice into a mindless doll, he has destroyed her, but Mad Hatter refuses to accept it. He blames Batman for making him resort to his machine. Mad Hatter and Batman fight back and forth with the Red Queen’s axe, but after a well-planned set of card dominoes, Mad Hatter has Batman pinned between two card walls. As Mad Hatter reaches back for the final swing, Batman throws one last batarang and cuts free the hanging Jabberwocky and Mad Hatter is pinned to the floor between its claws. Batman destroys the mind control device and Alice runs into the arms of her Fiancé. Alice refuses to look at Mad Hatter in dread of what he’s become. The episode ends with Mad Hatter despairingly singing, “Would not could not join the dance”. The final shot is of the statue of the crying Mocking Turtle.

As a person who has seen Alice in Wonderland mythos butchered time and time again, it’s with a head held high I declare this interpretation of the highest quality. BTAS not only pays clever homage to its source material, but also interprets and uses its characters and environments in creative and inventive ways. Outside of that, it meshes so well into the Batman mythos, you’d never even know they were separate.

Starting with the Wonderland influence, the idea of Mad Hatter being in love with Alice is one that several different interpretations have tried, but never, other than here, have I seen it done interestingly. Many interpretations also have decided to give Mad Hatter extended screen time, most likely because of his popularity in the animated film. The foundation for this framing device is set up for them, but it’s what they do with it that makes this episode work.

Alice herself is similarly optimistic and innocent in this version. She may not be the main character of the story, but she is essential to the story’s plot. She is shown to be slightly naïve, but not stupid. Part of this might come from us being unfamiliar with what her age actually is. My guess is probably early 20’s, an obviously necessary change from the original.  She does have a sense of bubbly happiness about her though that makes her desirable. She’s the kind of person that just seems to like people and love life. The kind of person you enjoy being around because they enjoy everything.

Jearvis is a complicated character, but his various quirks and slip into madness, (pun intended) make him a compelling and long lasting villain.  As mentioned before, it’s made very clear that Jearvis’ feelings for Alice are truly founded. Jearvis is extremely eccentric, even to the point of being frightening, but still maintains a sense of charisma. Alice did have to want to be as close as she is to him in the first place. Jearvis also finds himself at the center of a moral predicament. Unlike other villains, he’s actually aware of his villainous hypocrisy. Jearvis clearly acknowledges the problem with mind controlling Alice, but his constant loss of self-control makes it believable.

In fact, it’s part of the reason he begins falling down the villainous path in the first place. A lot of people overuse the phrase, “slips into madness”, but that does do an incredibly good job of explaining this situation. Jearvis starts the episode with a clear set goal and a line he refuses to cross.

Originally, he starts with minor flirtation, then to glee over Alice’s misery of losing her boyfriend, then to mind control on innocents to impress her without intent of hurting people, then to using his powers to manipulate himself into Alice’s life, then to violence as he uses captives to ensure Alice will come with him (this is before he knew Batman was coming mind you), and then finally breaking his one rule by hypnotizing Alice. Jearvis’ trail towards immorality is steady enough that it’s easy to imagine he doesn’t even notice himself changing, but what makes his character interesting is that he does.

He knows he’s contradicting himself. He knows that this isn’t the Alice he wanted and it disgusts him that this is what he’s had to fall to. It creates an interesting dynamic where even before Batman comes to stop him, He’s already lost. He finds himself fighting for a hollow shell of true victory, just as Alice has been reduced to.

The music in this episode is rather subtle, but in a good way. It fulfills its purpose during normal scenes, but it does stand out loud and proud during sequences that include more Wonderland elements; like when Jearvis begins to sing. I do wish the music was more prominent, but the music we do have works for the piece.

So far in the series, Frank Paur and Paul Dini have not worked together, but watching this episode, I see that they should’ve worked together a long time ago. Combining Frank Paur’s old school action directing and vintage aesthetic with Paul Dini’s natural speaking characters and incredible knack for visual script writing, you end up with a sense of surreal whimsy that feels so real and yet so fantastical at the same time.

The tone of the episode the two of them create is based on the idea that none of the fantasy is real. In his head, Mad Hatter’s infatuation for Alice becomes not only for him to be with her, but also for her to become The Alice. The only problem is that it’s all an illusion. The wonderland he’s trying to create is literally an illusion made to attract tourists. Jearvis is a neurotically lonely character that when unable to find an identity for himself that Alice would fall for, found himself slipping into one that was already created. Mentally, he actually becomes the Mad Hatter. As the story goes on, more and more elements of the Wonderland universe become part of his character. The outfit, the cards, the minions, and eventually, his takeover of Fairytale Land. They’re beautiful illusions of Wonderland, but that’s all they are, illusions. Dini and Paur set up Mad Hatter in an environment that perfectly juxtaposes the real world and the fantasy world that Mad Hatter is trying to build for him and Alice.  Paur’s Americana old fashion feel does an incredible job of visually portraying the world of Wonderland as a nostalgic piece of escapism and whimsy, and Dini’s dialogue crafts a villain that wants so badly to escape to that world.

As Mad Hatter is featured prominently as a main villain in this series, it makes sense that I cover Mad Hatter’s place in the Arkham Villain Theory. I believe Mad Hatter is a representation of Batman’s denial. Just as Mad Hatter fights for a fantasy world that he can’t have, Batman Fights and dedicates his life to creating a Gotham city that he knows will probably never exist. Despite this, both of them press on either out of arrogance or out of denial. Where the issue becomes complicated is where they find if it is hurting more than helping for them to live in their delusions.

All in all, Mad as a Hatter is a perfectly crafted episode and shows off its director and writer at the top of their game. Jearvis is one of the most tragic villains yet. Not because of how far he drops, but because his relatability and awareness of his corruption make him work. Brilliant art direction combined with motivated fight choreography and writing help bring Lewis Carol’s characters to life in a way rarely seen.  Not only does this episode hold as an interpretation of Carol’s characters, it works great as a Batman story. The varied characters and environments of Wonderland give Batman a whole new perspective on combat and traversal. Thematically, it draws from lore and mythos the same way as many other Batman villains do. In many ways, it’s a match made in heaven. If you are looking for a refreshing Take on Lewis Carol’s characters or are looking for another great origin episode, look no further than here. Oh. And very merry unbirthday to you.

BTAS # 26 Appointment in Crime Alley

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 # 26

Appointment in Crime Alley

 

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Paul Dini

Can an episode truly succeed where virtually nothing major happens? Can an episode be about an average night for Batman where he only fights for about thirty seconds? Can an episode keep your attention with not only no super villain, but with minor lackeys doing all the villainy for the episode? Can an episode have all those variables, and yet still be subtly heartwarming on an extremely powerful level? Obviously you know the answer is yes, but you get the idea. Let’s get started.

Our episode begins with a sweeping shot through Gotham’s Crime Alley. Returning villain, Dagget, is seen watching a clock tick towards 9:00 pm. When the clock strikes 9 a fiery explosion travels down the alley. We zoom out to reveal that in fact, it’s only a model (Shh!)  Dagget speaks to his hired arsonist Nitro about his plans to blow up a gas line under Crime Ally so that it will destroy the building, but still looks like an accident. Dagget also goes to the trouble of setting up a public banquet that he will be speaking at during the explosion. As will be repeated several times in the episode, the bomb is to go off at 9:00 pm.

A news report that Bruce Wayne is watching tells the story of Crime Alley. What used to be the site of a historical hotel has unfortunately turned into a slum filmed with criminals and low lives. Dagget wishes to tear down the whole street to build more real estate for his company, but the historic hotel is a landmark and there are numerous protests from honest families that live in Crime Alley that would have nowhere to live if it was destroyed. For a man like Dagget however, this is only a minor bump in the way of what he wants.

Bruce and Alfred make friendly banter about an important meeting that Bruce is on his way to.  Batman’s Batmobile clock reveals it is almost 8:00.  Batman sees a young girl jump out in front of the Batmobile screaming for help.  With a look of horror on his face, Batman cranks on the brakes of the Batmobile and stops it just in time. The young girl tells Batman that her mother is being harassed by a gang of thugs upstairs.

Batman sneaks into the upstairs room and takes out a small cell of criminals trying to drive the mother out of her apartment. On one hand, a stylized portrayal of low light helps make this scene really pack a punch and stand out. On the other hand, this is the only one. There are no other fistfights this episode. Not a complaint, but definitely important enough to make another mention.

An old woman at the community center comments that someone she was supposed to meet hasn’t shown up yet and decides to go out looking for him. Another woman tries to warn her, but she insists that, “Parkrow” has nothing that will scare her. Notice she chooses the proper name and not, “Crime Alley”.  It’s a subtle nod to the woman’s optimism. She steps towards the front door of a house she hears suspicious noises from and finds a blasting cap that has fallen on the porch. She walks in to investigate, but after she makes Daggett’s men, they are left with no choice but to capture her.

Batman joins a group of police officers trying to talk a man off of the roof who has captured an employee of Daggett’s company and is holding him hostage on the billboard. We get a quick joke from Batman talking to one of the policeman. Batman’s approach to the situation is quite interesting. Batman talks to the culprit in a strong, firm voice, but hides his actual location. He talks dark enough to freak you out, but that’s only magnetized when you realize you don’t know where he is. On top of that, Batman then draws attention to himself swinging back and forth trying to get the culprit to accidentally waste all his ammo. Unfortunately his final bullet ends up taking out the supports for the scaffolding they’re standing on. They both begin to free fall, but Batman catches them and drop them off on the ground. The police handle it from there. It’s a nice extra touch how both men are taken away from Batman by police, but obviously in different ways.

Batman goes to the apartment of the woman who we now know is Leslie. Her locker reveals she is an M.D and sitting on her desk is a memory book filled with old newspaper clippings.  The articles briefly discuss her relationship to the rise and fall of Parkrow, but the important piece of the puzzle comes when Batman finds the newspaper article about the death of his parents. There is also a charming picture clipping Leslie and Bruce, as a boy, hugging to forget the sorrow that came that day.

Just outside, he hears a homeless man comment to himself that he saw something. Batman interrogates him about a blasting cap that he had on his person. The man confesses that he saw Nitro and one other man tie her up in a building and that they had tons of explosives. He took the one Batman found when they weren’t looking and was going to sell it on the street

Passengers of a trolley train panic as their driver has passed out at the wheel with the accelerator pushed down to the max. Barreling down the street, you can see an orange strobe light coming from outside the trolley car. It almost reminds you slightly of the tunnel from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Batman watches as cars careen themselves out of the way of the trolley. Batman is upset to once again delay his appointment, but people are in danger so he must spring into action.

Batman turns the corner towards the Trolley, with homage to the grappling hook turn maneuver from 89 Batman. Batman tries to board the trolley to hit the brakes, but is met with a look of horror as the door is locked and he doesn’t have time to break in before the trolley hits the townspeople at the end of the track. Batman’s only remaining option is position himself in front of the Trolley and using the Batmobile’s Brakes to stop it himself.

Now I’ve spoken before about the magnitude of awesomeness Batman’s techology and vehicles have, but even that said, this is not an easy feat. The Batmobile’s Brakes slow the trolley down, but with almost no space, it’s not nearly enough. Batman activates turbo reverse thrust, but the immense tension on the Batmobile has popped all four of its tires (once again, not an easy thing to do) and turned the vehicle sideways.  Screeching to a halt, the Batmobile barely touches a single car with a chuckle worthy bump.

Seeing a reporter or two amongst the crowd, Batman installs the Batmobile’s shields as not to be tampered with and grapels away to find Nitro and his accomplice. Upon finding them, he confronts Nitro about breaking his parole and returning to arson. After catching them in the act with a semi- trailer filled with explosives, they confess that Dagget is behind the whole thing. Nitro warns Batman that, “It’s almost 9 pm”, and tells him where Leslie is.  Batman swoops in to save her just in time, but Leslie insists he worry about disarming the bombs at the hotel.

Dagget watches the time as he finishes his banquet speech. When the explosives go off, Dagget is quick to act shocked and sympathetic when the cameras appear, but Batman is on the scene with Nitro and his accomplice ready to confess. Unfortunately, Dagget is quick to dodge their testimonies and escape immediate arrest. Leslie insists that Dagget will be arrested yet. The two of them finally have their appointment and walk the street talking about what Crime Alley used to be; that good people used to live there. Batman leaves two roses at the corner of Park Avenue. The episode ends on a still shot of the picture in the paper of the two of them following Batman’s powerful final line, “good people still do live on Crime Alley.”

Appointment in Crime Alley is an episode that doesn’t scream at you with its big spectacle or its iconic villains, but it gives a rare look at Batman that we don’t usually see. A look at Batman in what a normal night might look like. Sometimes, villains don’t wear colorful costumes or have crazy accents. Sometimes, it’s just normal people doing bad things. You don’t usually see episodes about normal crime or spontaneous tragedies, but that’s because most people think that these stories can’t be interesting. This episode goes out of its way to prove that wrong.

When you actually look at what this episode’s key action is, it’s mostly realistic, non-comic book style events. It’s a woman being harassed by mobsters, a man holding a gun to a man on a billboard, and a run-away trolley train. I believe what makes this approach work is how it shows that no crime is beneath Batman. He has no agenda or standard of which people are considered not worthy or not worth his time. He strives to protect people, no matter who they are.  I think that’s what makes this episode stand out. It’s not an episode about stopping villains; it’s an episode about saving people.

Now one thing I did notice about this episode that they do touch on, and I’m sure it’s intentional, is race. Now although without context, it can seem questionable that an episode about the slums of Gotham also happens to feature more African American and minority characters than any other. That’s not to say these characters aren’t treated with respect, (all pants in this episode maintain waste level and all guns are held in a proper vertical position), but it is abundantly clear they are there. In my opinion, their presence here is not to judge these people for being in this position, but considering Gotham is modeled after a much older society, the remains of class based racism is something that does exist and is placed in this episode in order to purposely make you feel uncomfortable about the state of this community.

The relationship between Leslie and Batman works well for the episode and helps tie together the most important moment so far in the series. It was this episode that officially explains the fate of Batman’s parents. According to the comics, Leslie was a doctor who worked with Bruce’s father, which explains their closeness and why they meet at that alleyway all these years. Park Avenue, as one could predict, was the alley in which Bruce’s parents were killed.

Even further, we can extrapolate the importance of that event to the creation of Crime Alley. Bruce’s parents were one of Gotham’s biggest philanthropists and used their fortunes to turn Gotham into a better place for all. It was that irony written into the comics that they were shot down by one of the desperate vagrants they were trying to save. With the absence of the Wayne’s influence, Parkrow and Gotham itself slip into corruption. The existence of Crime Ally is a constant reminder of what Batman strives for; to continue his parents’ mission and hold up their legacy. The main difference being that Batman obviously has a different approach to holding their legacy.

The recurrence of Dagget as a villain helps point the episode in a direction we’re familiar with, but he really doesn’t act much as a villain for the episode. His alibi plot actually speaks to his intelligence and it allows for a larger plot to be at large without taking away from Batman focusing on saving people rather than fighting a super villain.

Batman’s behavior in these situations also points to his main objective. Over the course of the episode, you see more real emotion out of Batman than you see in any other episode. You see him get scared, mad, and everything in between.  In particular, fear. There is a very large amount of risk for characters in this episode and it speaks a lot to Batman’s character to actually see honest concern for their lives.

The directing for the episode helps this by making the close calls a heck of a lot closer than he normally would be allowed to get away with. Simple things like letting the trolley hit the car or using an elderly woman as a victim, or even letting a non-villain character, a normal citizen, hold a man at gunpoint with the entire police force within seconds of taking him down. All these work towards both lowering an audiences defenses and buying the illusion of danger these characters are put in.

One final advantage this episode finds in having no real villain; they are able to achieve a level of gray morality that they normally wouldn’t be able to get away with. Like I just mentioned, this episode features a man that in the context of the episode, should be considered one of the good guys, holding a man that works for the villain at gunpoint, and Batman and the police see him as one of the bad guys. Daggett’s scheme is meant to improve the city of Gotham by removing one of its most dangerous neighborhoods, but he’s considered to be evil. Even with Batman, he spends the whole episode protecting a neighborhood that not only is considered to be one of the most corrupt in Gotham, but the neighborhood responsible for the death of his own parents. There are no clear good and bad guys. There is only people. Real people that have real reactions to real problems that do not have clear-cut right or wrong answers.

Appointment in Crime Alley is not an episode that should not be overlooked. It’s not one of the best, but it’s one of the most unique. For a person who has been watching episode after episode for months, this episode is a change of pace towards some truly mature subject matter that I find quite welcoming. If you’re looking for an episode a bit out of the ordinary or one that really dives into adult subject matter, you’ve come to the right place.

BTAS # 25 The Clock King

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 # 25

The Clock King

 

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by David Wise

 

For a character who’s been around for over 75 years, (the year this book was created marks Batman’s 75th Anniversary.), you would assume that Batman would have more established villains than the 10 to 15 we usually see. That being said, several Batman shows will experiment with adding a villain or two to the usual rogue gallery. These are what are known by many as the “B cast Villains”. Finding the right pick can be quite challenging. When looking through classic Batman villains, they range from, “Wow! How come they don’t use him more often?” to, “Who the hell thought that was a good idea?”  Today, we take a look at a villain that luckily, lands pretty close to the top of that food chain: The Clock King.

 

Our episode begins with our main villain himself Temple Fugate. (The name being a play on the Latin phrase tempus fugit, meaning “time flies”). He is boarding a Gotham subway train and commenting in monotone about its lateness. He takes a seat next to Mayor Hill.  As the two of them begin to make small talk, we get our first look at one of Fugate’s greatest weapons, his watch. From looking at the watch, we see that it in impeccably accurate and can tell time in years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. Seeing as how this is a villain based completely on time, it makes sense that his personal timepiece would be top of the line.

When Mayor Hill hears Fugate talking about his upcoming court case, Mayor Hill suggests that the judge will think he’s up to something if he showed up as high strung and neurotic. He advises that a good baby step Fugate could take is that instead of taking his coffee break at his office at 3pm on the dot in his office, he take it at 3:15 somewhere outside the office. Fugate looks on in hilarious horror, but the look on his face implies he’s considering letting it sink in.

Back at his office, Fugate is typing away at his computer. A print boy gets chewed out when Fugate calculates how long the printing of the exact number was and he was several seconds late. This provides further examples of how incredibly well Fugate knows his Chronology; a major key to his plot later on. When his assistant brings him his coffee, she is speechless to find that Fugate has decided to take Mayor Hill’s advice.

Fugate takes his coffee and court files to the park and sits on a bench. Fugate notices two kids playing ball a ways away and smiles. What he doesn’t notice is the brats throwing the ball at him for laughs. The papers blow away and with the help of some canine hijinks, Fugate finds himself and his important court papers drenched from the park fountain statue. The scene seems incredibly straightforward at first, but two things stand out. The first is abundantly clear after asking: “Why would Fugate smile at the kids?” I mean in all practical senses, kids represent disorder and chaos. What it actually is, is that Fugate is paying attention to the sound of the kids passing the ball. The sound of the kids passing the ball mimics the pace and sound of a metronome; a sense of order that Fugate is pleased to hear in the midst of this chaotic new place. The second is the purposeful absence of music in the first half of the scene. I believe that the lack of music is supposed to represent Fugate’s mind, for it is only when the scene breaks into chaos does his tranquility become replaced with disorder and noise.

Fugate is drastically late for his court hearing and his company is fined for 20 million dollars from the case being forfeited. Fugate begs that the ruling will leave him in shambles, but the judge ironically chastises him about learning the importance of appearing on time. Fugate screams in agony.

We flash forward an astonishing 7 years. (And no I am not going to analyze the Gotham timeline. It’d take a whole book).  8:57am and we follow a police escort of Bruce Wayne and Mayor Hill. Alfred makes a few jests about the fundraising event he’s heading to for Mayor Hill, but is struck in a T-bone accident. Alfred and the driver yell at each other briefly before noticing the traffic signals are down. The Taxi driver begins yelling at Mayor Hill as the source of the problem. Bruce Wayne notices a suspicious figure on a rooftop. The figure presses a button and a set of small explosives go off releasing a large poster across the building of Mayor Hill covered with immature graffiti. The crowd begins laughing and Mayor Hill comments this is not the first time this has happened. Bruce Wayne runs into action and in a clever homage to the 40’s Superman serials, Bruce Wayne changes into Batman in silhouette as he climbs the stairs.

Fun fact about that series: never once in that series did Superman ever get changed in a phone booth. In fact, never in the comic books did Superman ever get changed in a phone booth. It’s become an absolute staple of the character for 75 years, and nobody knows where it actually came from. It may have even started as a joke or rumor that expanded into how everyone just assumed he transformed every time. Also, for those who haven’t watched them, watch the Superman animated serials. They’re awesome.

Batman meets Fugate (known in the episode title and the comics as The Clock King) on the roof. They exchange some banter and puns before Clock King Throws an exploding pocket watch at Batman’s escape route.  Batman tries to cut him off, but in an incredibly badass escape, Clock King uses his knowledge of the Gotham transit system to backflip off the building and land on the precisely 6 minutes early train. I might be grasping at straws here, but one might ask why the beginning of this scene is the only one to include a time stamp. Well, by my calculations, Fugate jumps on the train at 9:09. If you subtract that from the time the scene begins, you get 12. Coincidence? Honestly, it could be. It’s a stretch.

Batman breaks into the security room that controlled the traffic lights. When examining the scene, he finds one of Clock King’s exploding watches. He zooms in on the Watch with his special glasses and finds an expensive serial number. Upon examining the police records, he tracks the watch back to Fugate. It also draws Batman’s attention to who would want to use a $6000 Rolex for a bomb.

Batman explores Fugate’s abandoned clock shop. Batman drowns out the sound of the numerous clocks in the background and finds graffiti posters of Hill and several pieces of research on the Gotham Clock Tower. Alfred gets notice of a suspicious one block black out near the center of Gotham. Putting two and two together, Batman and Alfred combine the location in Gotham with Clock King’s time theme to determine he is after the time locked safes at the Gotham Bank.

Batman arrives at the bank to find its patrons unconscious on the floor and gas has been pumped into the room. Batman wears his gas mask as he walks into the open safe in the back of the bank. Batman finds a green box in the center of the room with a tape recorder on it.  He reaches for it, but the giant safe door closes behind him and a fifteen-minute timer starts up on the box. What follows is debatably one of the best-conceived villain schemes in the whole series.

The tape recorder delivers a message to Batman that rather than deal with Batman’s array of gas masks; he’ll simply remove all of the air from the room. He calculates that it would take Batman 75 minutes more than he has to burn through the door with his utility belt torch. He also cannot move or destroy the pump (the green box) because it is hooked to a bomb set on vibration sensors. Batman muscles together his inner MacGyver and devises a pretty clever scheme. Batman carefully removes the tape from the tape recorder and begins to unwind the tape.

Meanwhile, Mayor Hill is attending a grand opening of a new subway station. He declares it to be the first fully automated subway station in the city. A quick shot of the tracks shows that the rails have been definitely tampered with. Mayor Hill looks at his watch and at the right time, commands the first train to arrive. Mayor Hill is embarrassed when the tracks remain empty.

Batman hopes to make his way out of the safe by using the tape to lift the pump on a pulley system and then hopefully use a batarang to set off the bomb and blast open the door. Unfortunately, the lack of oxygen causes him to pass out before he can throw it.

Mayor Hill chastises his assistants about the train, but is interrupted by Clock King taking over the PA system. He makes some political attacks at Mayor Hill’s expense before sending the train careening into the station and injuring several people in the wreckage. (Probably would’ve killed with how big a crash it is, but you know, kids show and all that.)

While that’s going on, Batman regains consciousness and sets the trap; leaving him able to get some fresh air just in the nick of time. Batman evaluates the city as he tries to predict Clock King’s next move. He gazes into the distance at the Gotham Clock Tower.

Clock King has Mayor Hill tied to the hour hand of the clock. Clock King monologues poetically about how at exactly 3:15; Mayor Hill will be smashed to bits. Mayor Hill finally discovers who Clock King is and begins to apologize profusely. Clock King refuses to listen, as he believes Mayor Hill was trying to sabotage him. He reveals it was Mayor Hill’s law firm who was prosecuting him all those years ago. Mayor Hill claims ignorance, but Clock King won’t hear it.

Batman shows up just in time and Batman and Clock King start their epic final fight. I haven’t talked much of Clock King’s attire until now; mainly because it’s not that different from his regular clothes. Exceptions include clock themed lenses pointing to 3:00 on his glasses and a clock hand shaped Sword-cane that he carries with him and currently uses to fight Batman.

Batman is pushed off of the clock face and climbs into the absolutely beautiful interior of the clock. The gears of the clock climb and interlock in any which direction, but Clock King clearly displays his knowledge of the infrastructure in his movements. Batman and Clock King share an incredible fight, but Clock King has a secret weapon. By studying footage of Batman’s technique, he knows it takes exactly 1/20th of a second to throw a punch. (I didn’t do the math, but I’m going go out on a limb and say that’s crazy fast.) Batman tricks him into jamming his sword cane into just the right set of gears.

The Clock stops in time to save Mayor Hill, but the whole clock is coming down from the inside out. Batman goes after Clock King, but in good villain fashion, he makes a mysterious escape while laughing maniacally. Batman quickly climbs the clock and saves Mayor Hill by a hair. Commissioner Gordon debriefs with Batman about how Clock King is most likely still alive and our episode ends on Batman squeezing in one more predictable, but admittedly necessary time pun.

The Clock King is a refreshing episode and is by far my favorite version of the character. Not only does he clearly establish himself as a competent villain, but also his character is the device by which the entire plot, tone, and foundation of this episode is built upon.

Now this far into the series, the idea of using a villain’s theme to define its plot or tone is nothing new, but this one is a little different. We’ve seen characters use plots based on plants, ice, fear, laughter, but we haven’t seen one based on time. Time can be a little bit trickier. To achieve this, several subtle touches from metronomic audio to the placement of clocks throughout the episode constantly keep you in the right mindset.  I also like that the time theme is clear enough to understand, but not so specific to make it boring. He’s not just robbing random clock stores or stuff like that. He uses his theme to perform his crimes, not the other way around.

When interpreting villains into a different medium or version, it can be both important and nigh impossible, especially when you are adding or subtracting superhuman abilities. In the silver age versions of The Clock King, he had a super human ability that was always that he could look at the world exactly four minutes into the future; not far enough to effect the future majorly, but far enough to be able to predict the fight movements and attacks of any opponent. It can seem disappointing to have a villain lose such a unique and powerful power when moving into this show, but Clock King’s chronological control is interpreted as part of his own intelligence. I actually prefer this interpretation. It helps make his specific use of his powers as an expression of his mind and not some inhuman source. It makes his transformation into villain more powerful because it is all from his own volition. He created the Clock King from nothing and turned it into a powerful villain.

Needless to say, the music also gets its time to shine in this episode. The music of this episode is purposely back and forth between clean, sharp, controlled stanzas and flowing, chaotic, bright melodic flurries. As mentioned previously in the article, the music is sometimes used to reflect the mood or tone of The Clock King himself.  They don’t follow this rule on every scene, but it’s a good perspective to use music changes to motivate the episode’s pace.

Speaking of pacing, for an episode about time, the pacing is about as tight as you imagine it would be. A main difference to most origin episodes is that the actual origin story of the episode has far less screen time than the average episode. The sequence doesn’t feel rushed though surprisingly, the scenes are fittingly clean and quick and paced in just the right way as to not waste a second. This gives more time for Clock King’s master scheme to slowly develop over time. The tensions hold strong because although you know Clock King’s target, his actual scheme is not revealed until the very end of the episode. The smaller, but more abundant scenes of the series reveal a larger stretch of time these events are taking place in. This gives a dynamic edge to the show as it sets up the idea that Clock King and Batman have been fighting on several occasions for months, but we are only seeing the highlights of what is otherwise, an ongoing war.

The animation for the episode is handled quite well, but it is the art design that really makes this one stand out. Dark Deco does an incredible job of showing off the finesse and precision these characters and scenes work with. The amount of time something takes, the amount of time left to save someone, even the feeling of impatience and anticipation, are portrayed in the finite detail of devices like the slowly moving clock tower hands, the accurately moving timer on the Safe Bomb, and even the animated speed of the trains throughout the episode.

Direction and fight choreography help this idea of dynamic Chronology by reflecting pacing through shot selection. Often, the angle or closeness of a shot can reflect a sense of peace, panic, or even anticipation.  Even in shots the characters’ faces are not front and center, shots can portray a sense of time. Shots are farther away and less intimate in moments of patience and contemplation. Closer shots reflect a sense of nervous claustrophobia and panic; a sense that time is running out. It’s a subtle, but clever mentality to keep in mind when examining how this episode handles the passage of time.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time already talking about him, but it goes without saying that I love Clock King as a villain. He’s cunning, meticulous, and just the right amount of evil. He’s just so entertaining to watch. I’m glad this is not his final appearance.

All in all, this is one of my favorite episodes to analyze. This episode in particular has quite a bit going on at once and Altieri has proven his talent in the past in handling these complicated episodes. For the first season, I would say this might be Altieri’s best episode. His direction and shot selection are incredible and his unique interpretation of Clock King is one that has stuck with me far after my initial screening. If you want an episode you can really sink your brain into or you want to see a villain a bit out of the ordinary, I’m sure this episode will be perfect for you.

BTAS #24 Fear of Victory

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 #24 Fear of Victory

 

Directed by Dick Sebast

Written by Samuel Warren Joseph

 

In the first outing of the Scarecrow, I commented that I loved how his fear gas made the fear of individual characters feel both personal and powerful. It gave you a sense of dynamic range to an otherwise simple power. So what happens when that toxin operates more directly? When other characters receive the ongoing dosage Batman received that caused him to sporadically jump into a sense of inescapable horror? Beyond pointing out a person’s innermost fears and forcing them to confront them, what if he found a way to evoke pure cerebral manipulating fear?  What kind of web could you spin with a set up like that? Well that’s what Fear of Victory offers us: a look at what taking Scarecrow to the next level can accomplish.

Also worth mentioning, Dick Grayson/Robin is now back in the series. Part of this, I think, is this is the second time they were trying to test the waters with audiences as to how they would respond to having him around. I will say I don’t have a direct preference of episodes that feature Batman so or ones that feature either Dick Grayson or Tim Drake. Or at least, not yet. They are different for sure, but I don’t plan on using this as a prerequisite of an episode if it is good.

Now in the past, I’ve talked about the fact that this show is very kind to the uninitiated, however, there are a lot of jokes, subtext, and story mechanics that do work better if you have an understanding of the basic Batman universe. Now considering that Dick Grayson and his backstory are important to get the most out of this one, I will go over his backstory extremely quickly here. Dick Grayson was part of a family trio of flying trapeze artists in a traveling circus. For constantly changing reasons (due to massive recreating and alternate universes), a mysterious man with a vendetta sabotaged the act one-night and Grayson tragically saw his parents fall to their deaths in the middle of the act. Bruce Wayne agrees to take care of the child until a proper family will adopt him, but after both Bruce growing fond of him and Dick discovering Bruce’s alter ego, Bruce becomes a father figure and mentor to Dick Grayson, although father is a word that Batman always refused to use. Regardless, the two of them share a strong bond that makes the dynamic duo we know and love today.

A car from the Gotham messenger service pulls up with a telegram for Brian Rogers. In the sports TV footage after, we see that Roger’s is a promising college quarterback with a big game coming up to help decide his position in the NFL draft.  Grayson, Brian’s roommate, teases him about going pro. Brian chuckles, but comments how much is on the line at the upcoming game. Grayson turns on the TV to find a sports blooper show featuring usually professional athletes flubbing up, but looking closely reveals evidence that Scarecrow might be involved. Grayson looks at the footage suspiciously, but is interrupted by a knock at the door.

A mysterious man with sunglasses and a mustache delivers a telegram for Brian. If you listen very carefully to his voice, you can tell that Crane is the deliveryman. Brian opens up the letter, but after being confused by its message, hands it to Grayson. The message is worded as a vague threat, but the statement that stands out is, “Only a fool knows no fear” The message contains no sender information and both of them find it suspicious. Outside, the deliveryman returns to a vehicle that is pulled up front and removes his disguise off camera.

We cut to the big game and Brian’s team is getting absolutely destroyed. Back in the huddle, Brian is sweating like mad, a common sign used for when Scarecrow’s gas is in effect, and even when his teammates notice something’s wrong, he insists he’s fine.

Brian takes the ball back for a Pass, but as he sees the other team coming at him, we get some nice crash cuts followed by the other team’s defense quickly morphing into hideous, roaring monsters. Grayson runs onto the field to try and find out what’s wrong, but the doctors insist on taking him to the infirmary for observation.

Now obviously Brian does not have a phobia of large monsters in football uniforms. This is however a clear example of the improvements made to Scarecrow’s toxin. I mentioned earlier that this toxin now would evoke the pure feeling of fear. I bring that up because that is displayed in the differences in this toxin. This version does not simply show a person what they fear, it warps they’re existing reality to become that fear. It evokes fear itself and overcomes other natural emotions from reaching the brain.

This fear theory can be a bit confusing so let me try and break this down. In the episode “Nothing to Fear”, peoples’ fears appear like mirages, illusions out of thin air as constructs of their fears. In this version of the toxin, it grabs onto your sense of normality and warps it to be more effective. In this toxin, the constructs of your fear latch onto previously existing constructs like people, vertigo, or even random objects.  When that sense of fear is overtaking what reality you have left, what non-fear related consciousness enters your brain; you get a sense that Scarecrow has made a major leap in perfecting his fear toxin.

As for why Brian sees these particular monsters, I have a few theories. One is that he is naturally fearless. That would mean that the fear toxin would not have a clear construct and would rather warp in a form resembling the raw emotion. In this case, represented by monsters, a fantasy creature out of reality that works as a perfect analogue.

The second theory is that Brian is xenophobic. A man that fears the unknown would be deeply afraid of a creature that he normally would think is not real. The final and most likely theory though is that it represents his fear of failure. His anxiety over failing the game is represented by horrifying bloodthirsty creatures that will stop at nothing to stop him from winning. This explains why the creatures still wear football uniforms. As they cart Brian away, we see the shadow of Scarecrow watching from the catwalk.

Batman and Robin confront a group of bank robbers down town. They both begin to scale the building to get to the robbers on the roof. The only problem with their plan is that as soon as Robin dodges out of the way of the robbers’ falling debris, Robin is struck with crippling vertigo. Without Robin’s help, Batman is taken out by the robbers and forced off the building. He manages to save Robin in his decent, but is clueless to why Robin is acting this way.

Looking for clues, Batman and Robin find a white powder on the telegram Brian received. After testing it at the Batcave, Batman realizes that the powder in the envelopes is in fact a variation of Scarecrow’s original fear gas. They also find out that the toxin is hidden by having it trigger only when the subject is exposed to adrenalin. Logically, Batman and Robin’s next step to investigate the Scarecrow is Arkham.

The Dynamic Duo catch an Arkham guard throwing away food intended for the Scarecrow and interrogate him to find out he’s either working for him, or under the influence of his gas, or both. When Batman visits Scarecrow’s cell, he finds only a dummy in his place.

Another amazing little touch they put into this scene is that as you pass the cells of the other criminals of Arkham, you actually get to hear reprises of all their villain themes one after the other. I mean that’s attention to detail right there.

Scarecrow, using his disguise from earlier, is suspected of cheating at the Gotham Sports Multiplex. The owner of the casino sends one of his thugs after him to find out how he’s cheating. Scarecrow walks into the stables of the now cancelled horse show using an employee key.  Scarecrow taunts the lackey and gives him an envelope with the toxin. By the time he reads the note, Scarecrow reveals himself and the toxin takes effect, leaving the lackey paralyzed with fear.

This is also our first look at the first of two major Scarecrow redesigns in this series. Unlike some other redesigns in this series that unfortunately diminish characters, Scarecrow just keeps getting better. His face has clear eyes now and his mouth has a few crooked teeth. His new design is not only scarier on its own, but it makes the character more intimidating because his facial expressions are a lot more dynamic.

Batman shares a brief scene with Robin as he tries to mentor him on getting over his fear. It’s a short scene, but I like the symbolism of Robin walking on the thin path being similar to him walking the tightrope in the circus. It makes sense without knowing his story, but once again it’s a good example of showing the hardcore fans they care.

Batman and Robin set up a stake-out looking for Scarecrow before he can attack again. Robin spots a man in the crowd that looks like the Scarecrow in disguise. He takes a moment to compose himself and then goes after him. Batman accidentally catches the wrong guy, and we get a funny gag about the mail man thinking Batman’s taking him down for double parking. Robin continues to follow the Scarecrow into a locker room and finds that he has laced a quarterback’s helmet with fear gas and then replaces it.

Scarecrow watches from the catwalk, as his “fixed game” and it is not going anywhere near the way he had intended. Batman ambushes him from the shadows. Scarecrow reveals that he has been cheating on sports games in order to make a fortune at illegal betting parlors so he can fund more of his experiments. When Batman threatens to take him out, Scarecrow pulls out a vial of poison and threatens to pour it onto the stadium, starting a virus like spread across all of Gotham.

Robin watches the action from below, but is still paranoid of heights and struggles to climb a ladder to the catwalk. Batman promises not to make a move, but Scarecrow drops the vial anyway. Summoning all his courage, Robin swoops in and catches the vial while Batman apprehends Scarecrow. There’s also a really nice audio match-up between Robin catching the vial and one of the teams catching a Hail Mary pass. The final shot of the episode is a quick joke from Bruce back at the mansion about sending Brian a telegram congratulating him for being drafted.

I’m going to be up front with this one. If you’re looking for a high action, swash-buckling adventure, this episode is not for you. The episode has very few action scenes and what ones it does have are usually straightforward and not very long. However, this episode does a great job of treading on previously unseen territory for both Dick Grayson and for Scarecrow.

Although this is technically not the first episode to feature Dick Grayson, I feel this is the first one to really flesh him out. As any sidekick should, Robin succeeds where Batman lacks. Robin is young, more acrobatic, and an optimistic moral compass for Batman. In this episode, Dick Grayson is seen as sympathetic, friendly, and loyal. As Robin, we see him as the only character to conquer Scarecrow’s toxin. That’s got to give him some bravery points. It’s quite a ways farther in until Robin actually confronts what happened to his parents, but this episode does marvelously at using that history as tool.  Robin is a character written in a way where younger viewers can relate to him and his personality and fine moral standing make him a great character as well as role model.

Scarecrow’s scheme on the surface might seem a little unfitting, but after taking a closer look, it makes perfect sense for him. In his first outing, Crane was stripped of his funds and grants for his research and took revenge against the university as the Scarecrow. In this episode, not only is he taking revenge against the Gotham University Football Team, but also even while raising money for his experiments, he’s performing experiments. All of the athletes from all over are working as surrogates until he can afford real subjects. In many ways, it’s a perfect plan for Scarecrow.

Music and animation in this episode both find their moments to shine. On the Animation front, interpretations of the gas’ effects are always top notch. The vertigo effects in particular are done beautifully. The Scarecrow theme makes a return obviously, but its clever placement, along with the return of other villain themes, leave this episode quite memorable musically.

Fear of Victory is an absolute must watch for Scarecrow fans. The character is handled so well and the suspense of his new style reveal is actually quite effective. If you like your episodes a bit more on the mysterious side than the action, this one is probably a really good fit for you. Overall, I found this episode quite compelling. Great directing and writing, musical precision, and a much-welcomed Scarecrow facelift, give this episode a sense of suspenseful personality and a solid recommendation.

BTAS # 23 Vendetta

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 # 23 Vendetta

 

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Michael Reaves

 

(Sigh) I was hoping I’d never come to this. This is truly a dark day for any BTAS fan. It absolutely breaks my heart to announce that in my journey through the greatest animated series of all time I have finally found my worst nightmare: A boring episode. It’s not the worst episode, but it’s the first one I was legitimately bored of. I just found it to be so, Meh.

I was underwhelmed on every level. I wasn’t angry at it, I just wanted it to be over. To an extent I don’t know if there’s much else I can say about it.

This is probably going to be a short one. There’s unfortunately not that much to say about it.

The episode begins with a ship in the middle of the ocean. A “mysterious” creature puts a bomb on the bottom of the ship.  I put that in quotes because it makes no sense they’re trying to hide the Killer Croc’s identity. He appears bright as day on the title card, his arms are clearly displayed when he puts up the bomb. So you put one and one together and there’s really no more mystery to what he looks like. Not to mention his design is mediocre, but we’ll get to that later.

The passengers of the boat are rescued and the police force begins to investigate and we get mention that Bullock is extra annoyed that the transported villain Conway was not found.  Bullock is furious at Gordon for taking him off the case to retrieve Conway.  Gordon says that if Conway is caught, he’ll testify against Rupert Thorne and get him put away, but Bullock going after him will bring up some mysterious dark history that shouldn’t resurface. Batman eavesdrops on the conversation and escapes to the Gotham records.

Batman takes Gotham’s record from a filing cabinet. In an extremely subtle nod, you can see the file N. Bates near Bullock. Batman is interrupted when Bullock himself comes after his file. When he finds it missing, he assumes foul play.

Alfred finds that Batman’s taken the file home and our big reveal of Bullock’s past appear to be just a “suspicion” that he might have taken a bribe from Thorne and that Conway was involved at the time. So apparently they expect that Bullock was the one who realized that it is crazy to let Conway testify. So if he were nervous about Conway ratting on him, he’d just let him rot in jail. So yeah. Lame plot device.

Conway wakes up in an underwater cave lit by a lamp. We get a rather underwhelming scene of Killer Croc (still trying to keep the secret mind you) coming out of the water as Conway screams. It’s a mostly pointless scene and not scary at all. Moving on.

Batman kidnaps Thorne from his greenhouse after escaping a few of his goons. After some light interrogation, Thorne reveals that Conway might not have enough on him to lock him up after all and that Thorne didn’t kidnap Conway. The scene actually has some good dialogue and action… which would be great…. if Thorne was the villain, but he’s not. This is his only scene. So yeah. Back to the episode at hand.

Batman confesses to Gordon that he believes that Bullock is guilty, but Gordon refuses to believe that Bullock is behind it. I still stand tall that this is uncharacteristic to Batman because Batman still has no true evidence against Bullock and I have a hard time believing Batman would bring this to Bullock’s superior on a hunch. I’m glad to see that Gordon is at least smart enough to get my point.

Our next scene is by far the lowest point in this, “Let’s not show the Croc” joke, as he disguises himself as Bullock in a trench coat in order to break another criminal out of prison. Now normally, I try to let these suspensions of disbelief go. Between Clark Kent’s glasses and Ninja Turtles wearing trench coats as well, usually I can let this stuff go, BUT CROC DIDN’T EVEN DRY HIMSELF OFF! I mean, come on.  To be fair his Bullock impression is good, but if you show up soaking wet with your head hidden in your coat behind reptile eyes, what do you expect? Regardless, Croc takes out the guard and kidnaps his target.

Bullock is arrested after eating a dinner with Agent Montoya and papers confirm under the he is under investigation. Batman takes a scale sample that he picked up at the original crime scene and analyzes it under a microscope. Alfred makes a quick joke, which jogs Batman’s theories to lead him to examining whether it’s reptilian. He finds that it is, but still maintains human skin qualities.

Now one would think that after Batman discovers that he is facing some kind of crocodile mutant, he would use the infinite resources of his Batcomputer to find a way to track him or research possible identities, but no. HE DECIDES TO GO VISIT CROCODILES AT THE ZOO! I can’t make this up. He goes to the zoo to hear a zookeeper say that crocodiles like to sleep in underwater caves. Glad to see that Batman isn’t wasting time in a hostage situation… Let’s just get this over with.

Batman uses the submarine feature of the Batboat to invade Killer Croc’s lair. The two captives try to warn Batman it’s a trap, but Batman says SHHH! (Wish I was kidding). Predictably Killer Croc bursts out of the water and we FINALLY get to see Killer Croc aaaand…. I’m not impressed. After all that build up Croc’s design is just lame. It’s a muscular man with gray skin, a few vs. on his body that are supposedly scales, and Croc teeth.

Batman and Croc fight for a little bit while Croc monologues trying to make himself sound awesome, but fails. I mean he’s so vague about his powers I struggle to get a feel of what he is or how his power works. Saying you have, “the strength of a crocodile”, doesn’t make much sense when you leave it that ambiguous. So I have no idea how strong he really is, but all I can tell you is he’s strong, but no idea how strong. He can swim fast, but no idea if he’s amphibious. His skin might be tougher than ours, but they never say. Anyway, Batman is able to detain Killer Croc, but when the two captives swim away, he is forced to stop them first, giving Killer Croc time to escape.

Batman finally comes to his senses and uses the Batcomputer to research Killer Croc. He doesn’t really find that much interesting about his character, but he does find that Bullock and the two men he kidnapped were responsible for getting him arrested and now he’s back for revenge.  Batman finds that Bullock is innocent… Something he would’ve known if the world’s greatest detective would do some detective work. Batman realizes the only way he’ll catch Killer Croc now is with a trap.

Bullock is released from prison and pushes past the press to get to his car. Killer Croc, with no disguise in the middle of Gotham, just walks down the street and into Bullocks car.  Bullock asks him how he got out of prison, to which he says, “Nobody checks the sewers”… that doesn’t seem likely. Regardless, Batman is waiting for him in the back seat as the main mechanic of the trap…. What isn’t a main mechanic of the trap is a tranquilizer, Taser, knock out gas, or any other method of immediately taking down the Killer Croc before fighting him in the car and forcing the car to crash, injuring Bullock…No joke, that’s exactly what happens.

Batman and Killer Croc fight in the sewers. It’s the first time that we see Batman fight underwater. It has a couple of cool shots in it, but mostly spoiled by a lack of follow through.  There’s even a scene where Croc tries to hide in the water to sneak up on Batman, but instead of letting it build suspense, they animate really obvious bubbles above his location that follow him anywhere he goes.

Batman eventually takes him out using a flash grenade of sorts. This is not a weakness of Croc; at least not one that we are told about (or ever comes back), so it makes no sense that it would be so effective. Regardless, Batman brings Killer Croc to Bullock, apologizes for doubting him, and Bullock is dropped of all charges. The episode ends on a shot of Batman giving a slight smile that Bullock is back.

I wish I had more to say about this episode, but I really don’t. Sure the animation and music are still average, but a mediocre villain, poorly written characters, and terribly written characters, make this my first episode so far I fully recommend you skip. It’s as much as I hate to say it, a waste of time.

BTAS # 22 Joker’s Favor

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 # 22 Joker’s Favor

 

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Paul Dini

 

It’s really hard not to open this review without saying this is one of my all-time favorites…so I won’t. What I do want to talk about though is that this is one of the most important episodes in the entire DC animated universe. What makes this episode so important? What does this episode add to the large DC cannon that still remains relevant and powerful to this day? Well, I can sum that up in two words. Harley Quinn.

A larger detail I find a lot of people tend to forget is that Harley Quinn has not always been a part of the DC universe. She was actually created exclusively for this show. In fact, Paul Dini, The creative father of Harley Quinn, only intended to have her be a unique henchmen for this one episode. Problem was Harley was so well liked by audiences, not only did she come back for several more episodes, but she was actually retroactively written into the comic books and accepted as a full-fledged Batman villain ever since. In the history of the character, only two women have ever played Harley Quinn in Major roles: Arleen Sorkin, the original, and Tara Strong, the current and first person the torch has been passed to. Today though, we’re going to be looking at the former.

Our episode begins with a middle-aged man named Charlie. Charlie is stuck in traffic and, overall, having a very bad day. He got turned down for a raise at work, his kid needs braces, now a traffic jam has formed because Joker escapes from Arkham asylum, and the police are jamming up the roads. Charlie continues to get angry as the police and the Batmobile cut him off and make him swerve on the road. When a tan car cuts him off, Charlie has had the last straw. Charlie furiously drives ahead of him, cuts him off, and starts bumping into the side of his car. Charlie begins cussing him out, but is scared to death when he finds none other than The Joker.

A terrified Charlie gives a friendly fake smile and wave and then tries to sneak away without Joker noticing. Joker smiles and follows him off the road. Charlie’s car breaks down so he decides to make a run for it. Joker tracks Charlie down and dares him to repeat what he said. Charlie frantically tries to apologize to Joker, but Joker gives him a scary speech about how it’s not polite to scream at people on the freeway and then grabs him by the collar before going in for the killing blow. Charlie begins to panic and tells Joker he’ll do anything to save his life for the sake of his family. At the sound of the words, “I’ll do anything”, Joker pauses for a second to consider it and then decides to make Charlie a deal.

Joker asks for Charlie’s wallet. Joker takes his driver’s license and, after making some funny cracks about his photo, tells him that in exchange for keeping him alive, Joker is going to ask him for a favor. He doesn’t know what it’s going to be yet, but Joker will contact him when he knows what he wants. Paralyzed with fear, Charlie agrees.

Flashing forward 2 years, Commissioner Gordon is upset that the city is throwing a banquet in his honor and he really doesn’t want to attend. Gordon is very much to himself and really doesn’t feel like putting on a suit and wasting his time. Eventually, Gordon caves in and agrees to attend.

Joker throws darts at his copy of the flyer for Gordon’s ceremony. This scene marks Harley’s first appearance. Harley is a young, attractive woman dressed in white make up and a red and black harlequin outfit, (Hence the name pun). Hilariously, in her first ever scene, Harley is seen filing her nails… while wearing white circus gloves. I know Paul Dini; this is not an animation mistake. This is a joke. It’s a funny one too.

Harley and Joker play off of each other as Joker monologues about how he should be the one who’s given the honor at the banquet.  Joker catches his main two lackeys (surprisingly, both of them are constantly recurring characters in Joker Stories) not cheering along and stares them down until they start cheering. It’s a small scene, but I like it because it helps point out that this is one of the scariest Jokers that has appeared in an early episode. I don’t know if there is an exact reason for that. I think Hamill was just on his game this episode. Joker decides since this is such a big job that he might need to call in some help, “Who you callin’ Mr. J? A specialist?” “No. Just an old friend who’s dying to do me a favor.”

Charlie is out in the suburbs with his family and playing catch with his son, Kenny, (I like this kid already) in the front yard. The phone rings and Charlie runs inside to answer the phone. It’s obviously Joker on the other end, but Charlie insists he has the wrong number. We get a brief reveal that Charlie has changed his name and moved out of state to get away from The Joker. Joker has tracked him down despite all of his running away and hiding. Joker threatens to kill Charlie’s family if he refuses to go or tells anyone. We get a frightening ending shot of Charlie looking out the window to see Joker’s goons patrolling his block. Charlie’s wife and son wave at him and Charlie tries his best to wave back with a fake smile.

Charlie lands at the airport and spots a newspaper with Batman on the front page. Charlie begins to self-monologue that he wishes there were some way he could contact Batman or tell the police what’s going on. Charlie thinks he sees an opening and starts walking towards an exit with the police. He nervously fast walks towards the door, but is politely cut off by a happy Harley Quinn dressed as a limo driver. She greets him with balloons and “escorts him” to the car. Joker greets Charlie with a big ol’ hug. Joker insists that he won’t have to hurt anyone, but if he plays along, that he promises he’ll return him home.

Joker explains that he and Harley will be invading the Commissioner’s Banquet. Harley will be dressed up as a policewoman and bringing a large cake into the banquet hall. According to the Joker, Charlie’s only job is when Harley knocks on the door three times, he opens it… that’s it. Two years of stalking, kidnapping him, forcing him into this whole charade, and threatening to murder his wife and kid, Joker’s favor (aw man he said it!) is to open a single door, “Well look at the size of that cake! Harley won’t be able to open it herself Charlie?” We get a couple of good funny gags with Bullock not being able to behave himself at the banquet and embarrassing himself in front of Agent Montoya before seeing Charlie walk through the front door. Still looking for a way out of this, Charlie goes to the, “Hall of Inventions”, (The banquet is in the Gotham Museum) and looks for anything that might help him get Batman’s attention. He figures every cop is at the banquet already so he’s the only one left who might be able to save him. After looking around, he uses a crane to move a prop bat in front of one of the walls. Luckily for him, Bruce and Alfred were just leaving and Alfred pointed out the signal to him as a sign he might be needed back inside.

Gordon begins his speech and Harley knocks three times. Charlie opens the door and the whole room is shocked to see Harley walking in with the cake. Bullock mistakes Harley for a stripper (Don’t you throw that “it’s a kids show” card at me. The subtext here is clear. He’s looking for a little something something.)

Bullock tries to make a pass at her, but Harley is quick to respond with sass, class, and a police baton to the shins. Some solid writing starts this character on the road towards immortality.

As soon as Charlie opens the door, he realizes there is a strange putty that is sticking him to the door. Harley gives a clever speech to the commissioner, but also reveals that the trap has been sprung. Harley blows a whistle and the frequency triggers paralyzing gasses to be emitted from the candles on the tables. Harley gives herself and Charlie gas masks so they stay conscious. Now that the entirety of Gotham’s police upper class has been frozen stiff, Joker pops out of the cake. He gives a small speech to Commissioner Gordon before leaving a Joker Bomb on Commissioner Gordon’s person.

Charlie tries to get Joker to release him, but Joker decides to just blow him up instead. The bomb has five seconds or so left when Batman crashes through the skylight. Charlie tells him about the bomb and Batman launches it outside. Joker hears that the explosion is outside, but when they try to escape, they find that the bomb landed on their getaway van. Batman takes out Joker’s two main thugs in the armory exhibit. Harley tries to play the poor little girl card to get away from Batman, but he’s not buying.  She makes a pretty funny joke about dropping out of beauty school. Harley’s true origins are actually not revealed until much later in the series.

Batman Chases Joker into a section themed after an Aztec temple. This is the one section of the episode that makes me scratch my head, Joker reveals that the entire section of the temple, including all of its booby traps, is active… alright I’ll play along, but this seems like a bit of a safety concern. Batman uses his cape to get past an array of poisonous darts, but gets swept under by a drop away floor with a bottom of spikes. Batman waits until Joker walks by to flip the lid and knock Joker over.  Joker escapes by throwing Batman another Joker Bomb, which Batman disposes of into the drop away floor.

Joker runs into a back alley where he finds Charlie there waiting for him. Charlie punches him and knocks him into some trashcans. Joker tries to psych him out, but Charlie pulls one of Joker’s bombs out of his coat. Joker’s eyes widen, as this is the first time in the series we see Joker in true fear for longer than a few seconds. Joker tries his best to talk Charlie out of it.

There’s also a really funny gag where mid speech he actually screams out for Batman to come save him. Charlie’s long going speech about how noble it would be for him to suicide bomb the Joker is terrifying and powerful. It’s a common theme throughout the episode that Charlie is going to reach his breaking point, but this is the moment that it finally happens.

Batman finally intervenes and Joker is surprisingly happy to see him.  Batman tries to talk Charlie down, but he refuses because Joker will just come after him again. Joker frantically hands over all the information and addresses begging Charlie to stop this. Charlie smiles and throws Joker the Bomb.  Joker cowers behind Batman. The bomb detonates, but it turns out to be one of Joker’s dummy bombs.  Charlie smiles maniacally and says, “Gotcha!” In a hilariously simple moment, Batman himself has a light chuckle. It’s hard to explain exactly what I mean, but when Conroy laughs as Batman, it sounds like what you’d imagine he’d laugh like.

The final scene is Charlie finally getting to walk home with a spring in his step and a sense of appreciation for the regular and boring world he used to hate so much.

This episode…. I mean damn! Just damn!  This episode has it all.  Great characters, incredible comedy, superb pacing, and to top it all off, one of the most memorable melodies in the series.  I can’t say that this is my favorite episode, but damn is it close.

I can’t say enough times how amazing a story you can create without Batman being the protagonist. In fact, he’s barely in this episode. He’s not even necessary in it until the last five minutes of the episode.  In reality, this episode is about the conflict between Charlie and Joker, and it’s quite refreshing to see Joker interact with more characters. It really helps flesh out Joker’s character when he has more people to play off of.  You get to see him express a lot more emotion than usual and it’s a breath of fresh air to see that Joker has some variety and lasting power.

Harley, although far from a main character, I can see why people were so quick to beg for more of her. Harley has the building blocks of an incredible character and does an incredible job of making a good case for why she deserves to stick around.

It’s worth mentioning that Harley only functions as a minion and not Joker’s partner or implied love interest. That said, she still comes off with a sense of charm in whatever she does.  Harley is always excited, moving, and ready for whatever’s going to happen next. Even in her more subtle moments, she finds a way to stand out. She’s aggressively fighting for attention on screen and trying to steal just one more good one liner before she’s done. She’s a minor character overstepping her bounds, but I think that’s kind of the joke. A nod definitely must be given to Arleen Sorkin, as she is the one that created the iconic sound of Harley’s voice.

Harley is just mad enough to buy her, as a villain, but not so mad that you don’t kind of want to see her succeed. She’s clumsy, well spoken, and is quick to establish her prescience with her actions even in scenes where she is not as important. Verdict: Harley steals the show.

One can’t talk about this episode without talking about its main character: Charlie. Charlie is a great protagonist for this episode because he does go through a journey, but he never really takes close attention to it. At the beginning of the story, Charlie is begrudgingly down trotted and pessimistic. By the end of the episode, He’s become so appreciative of the little things in life and after everything he’s going through, his normal life seems like a dream come true. On top of that, this is a story about Charlie learning to not let people boss him around. You can tell by how reserved he is in the beginning that it’s a definite possibility that he lost out on his raise because he was not assertive enough. The big pay-off for him not taking it anymore is definitely when he is threatening to kill the Joker. The bomb itself was a fake, but to an extent, you could argue that Charlie’s feelings are real. When you look at the sweat on his face, the bulging of his eyes, and the creepy monotone he slips into, one of the darkest aspects of Charlie’s brilliantly written character is the idea that you don’t know whether or not he would blow the two of them up if he got the chance.

Not every character in this show gets the honor of having Shirley Walker write them a song, but she gave her absolute best effort when she made one for Charlie. Charlie’s theme is one of my favorite melodies this season. It’s a simple little bouncing tune that works as a tongue in cheek joke about Suburbia and the sitcom dad character Charlie is a parody of. Where the song becomes truly memorable though is in its use of whistling. Accompanying the melody of the song, a whistle track copies the melody and gives the whole thing a 50’s feel that brings the whole thing together. I hear the whistle and it resonates so well because of all the things you’d imagine this show to draw upon, I did not expect a musical homage to the theme of the Andy Griffith show.

Although not my favorite Joker episode or my favorite Harley episode, this episode does hold a special place in my heart. Harley in her first outing does an incredible job keeping the pace and tone as quick and light hearted, as they need to be, when they need to be.  Charlie is one of my favorite one-time characters in the whole series, and the brilliant and iconic writing of Paul Dini never disappoints. For a lot of Batman and DC fans, this episode is considered to be a piece of history. I would agree 100%, but let me assure you that Harley is not the only thing in this episode worth checking out. Look a little deeper, and you’ll find yourself falling head over heels for this episode, just as much as you do for her.

 

BTAS 20 and 21 Feat of Clay

 

 

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 20 & 21

Feat of Clay

 

Part 1

Directed by Dick Sebast

Teleplay by Marv Wolfman

Part 2

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Teleplay by Michael Reaves

Part 1 and 2

Story By Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves

 

For what it is worth in context, I would like to point out that I am writing this review a mere two days after the series finale of the sitcom super hit: How I Met Your Mother. Although I have grown to love and accept the ending of this show, several people have taken extreme hatred of it, in particular, the final 2 and half minutes or so. I bring this up because this episode has a similar problem for me. I think this two part is brilliant. I think that it’s superb…BUT THE ENDING!!!!!! It’s not even the last 2 and a half minutes, IT’S THE LAST TEN SECONDS!  Yes, that’s all it took. Ten seconds to leave a bad last impression of a truly amazing episode. Regardless, I will judge the episode as a whole and not strictly my annoyance of its final moments. Let’s get started.

Our episode begins not with the reveal of a villain, but the reveal of a primary plot device used in the episode. As many people know, Clayface stories tend to use a great deal of what I call “the shape shifter device”; the idea that a great deal of your focus in the episode is trying to confirm if a person is who they say they are or an imposter by using facial cues, personality quirks, speech patterns, etc. Therefore, I am mentioning this upfront so that you will understand why I point out these cues when analyzing the episode. Once again, two parts. So I will be reviewing them both in one review, but still giving some intermission style opinions between halves as we have two different directors.

Our episode begins on what looks like a shady deal going down in an abandoned building. Lucious Fox, One of Gotham’s most pronounced benefactors, arrives carrying a steel briefcase. He is shocked to see Bruce Wayne in a trench coat waiting for him. He instructs Lucious to enter the building. They begin discussing a man named Daggat. The papers inside the case are supposed to incriminate Daggat and get him off Bruce’s trail, but Bruce reveals he’s in cahoots with Daggat and that Lucious is no longer of interest to him. A group of sharp shooters comes out of the shadows and line the catwalk as Bruce tries to steal the briefcase. The handle breaks off and Lucious runs away with it, and fires a shot at him that Batman hears as his cue to jump into action.

Now obviously with that line, we have official confirmation that it was never Bruce Wayne, but the show confirms it far before. While Bruce is very bright voiced and charismatic. This Bruce is cold, monotone, and he speaks in a much more metronomic rate.

Batman takes out the thugs, but Lucious is knocked unconscious. When police arrive, He blames Bruce Wayne.  One thing that I do love about this fight is this is the first time I’ve come to realize this show does not recycle lackeys. Each gang this show introduces has new models of henchmen drawn from the ground up and if they have names, they have different personalities and quirks. It’s not revolutionary, but a welcome detail.

We cut to a movie set on the imperial pictures lot.  The director calls for the stunt man to get the star out of his dressing room. Matt Hagan, Hollywood icon, is ransacking his trailer and looking through his make up for a specific container. When Teddy, his stuntman, walks inside, he hides his face and yells at him to close the door. When he turns around, Matt is revealed to have a badly disfigured face. After continuous begging and screaming from Matt, Teddy gives him a small container of make up with Daggat written on the top. In a panicked and addicted rant, Hagan puts on the make-up and his face begins to mold and contort like clay until his face returns to his normal, movie star face. Based on his outburst, we can tell that the material that he uses to return to normal is not only in short supply, but is also dangerously addictive as you can see the beginnings of him entering a psychotic withdrawal. This will be very important to keep in mind for later.

Our next scene introduces us to the owner of Daggett industries and his new lead lackeys, Germs and Raymond Bell. Germs is germaphobe and Bell is constantly listening to police communications on a headset. They don’t explain the germs. They let his personality speak through his actions, the way it should be done. Daggett reveals that it was Hagan they hired to impersonate Bruce Wayne as their scapegoat. He wants to incriminate Wayne so he can buy up Wayne Corp. Daggett is disappointed that Hagan failed to deliver the information he got from Lucious. He realizes he is no longer of use to them and has his men put a hit out on him.

Hagan sneaks past a sleeping security guard and into the factory to steal more of the cream he’s become addicted to. Because of a morphing device used in a moment, the scene is animated with him cast in shadows, but it does contain one really cool first person shot. He finds the cream and begins using it, only to be caught at gunpoint by Germs and Bell. Hagan tries to disguise himself as Bruce Wayne, but they aren’t falling for it. The two of them pin him to the ground and have the seemingly hilarious idea that to kill him, they’ll overdose him on the chemical.  It’s worth mentioning that the concoction he used just now and then was drowned in, was not the completed cream that he has been taking. It was from a vat over a Bunsen burner, implying this is the chemical in its most raw form. That explains why we see later it affects him so drastically.

Batman uses advanced profiling software to identify Bell as one of the men he fought that night.  Alfred brings Batman a newspaper confirming the police are looking for Bruce Wayne. Batman is shocked, as it is obviously impossible for it to be Bruce Wayne who set up Lucious.  Batman realizes he has to go to Bell and find his own answers.

In a very well-paced chase scene between Bell’s car and the Batwing, Batman strategically impales Bell’s car on the front of the Batwing.  Eventually, the car falls off and Batman holds Bell captive on a claw extended from the Batwing. He interrogates him by dropping him in the water, but is unable to get the answers he’s looking for because Bell passes out from the stress. Police helicopters demand he release him and Batman drops him in a rooftop pool.

Bruce Wayne sneaks in a window to see Lucious, but a terrified Lucious calls the police that are outside the door waiting for Wayne. Bruce is smart. He obviously knows that he didn’t do it, and in order to keep his reputation alive once this is all cleared up is for Bruce to act innocent and play along with the rules. Part of that means letting himself get arrested.

Our final scene plays out with Teddy tracking down Hagan’s car. Teddy runs to the car to see if he’s ok, but looks to him in horror when he sees the deformed Clayface. Hagan sees his face in the rearview mirror. Upon seeing his new face for the first time, he screams in agony. This marks the end of part 1

This episode does a much better job with the set up episode and payoff episode than Cat and Claw did. Strange considering they came from the same two directors. Even as far as the two-parter is concerned, by the end of the episodes it feels like a detailed set up for more Clayface episodes.

All that aside, Part 1 is well paced and it sets up everything needed for a good second half. Speaking of which…

Part 2 of our story starts with tinted blue “black and white” images of Bruce’s prison mug shots. The frame fades back to color as Bruce is released on bail. He has a humorous conversation with Alfred while putting on the Batman Suit before he goes out looking for more answers.

Hagan sits in his trailer contemplating his impossible situation. Teddy helps him pack up his stuff.  We get a flash back discussing how Hagan was in a terrible accident that destroyed his face and that Daggett offered him the chance to be the test subject of his new invention. Knowing that the chemicals could be dangerously addictive, Daggett let him take it anyway. When it became an addiction, he would ask for illegal favors in exchange for his supply.

Teddy tries to calm Hagan down, but he is still hysterical and refuses to listen. He walks down the hall of his dressing room looking at all the great roles he’s played, but doesn’t notice his head begins to warp as he begins to focus on each one. Once he notices it in the mirror, he concludes that the chemicals must’ve been absorbed into his cells. He finds he can contort it into all sorts of shapes, even make clothes. When he tries hard enough, he finds he can contort himself into a full-fledged human being, but can only hold it as long as he can maintain his focus. Otherwise it seems to happen subconsciously if he’s not focusing on it specifically. Overall a strange set of rules, but one they obey to the T.

The scene also shows the first moment Hagan breaks down in response to feeling his lack of humanity. We’ve established previously how he went to extreme lengths in order to keep up his appearance, but now to see he can’t even look human anymore, you can tell it affects him deeply. That and consider the psychological effects the chemicals had on him before. Imagine it now that the chemicals are infused into his very being. It can’t be good for his psychological well-being.

Hagan disguises himself as a doctor to enter the hospital and sets up his scheme to take the place of one of Daggett’s henchmen. Germs sneaks into Lucious’ room and attempts to smother him in his sleep with a pillow, but Batman is there to stop him with a batarang. In his panic, and of all the rooms he could’ve picked, Germs runs into a medical disease library. He finds himself surrounded by beakers and jars filled with viruses and horrible diseases.

Germs is petrified and begs Batman to let him go. Batman interrogates Germs, but he gives no answers. Batman grabs a jar claiming to be Crimson Fever and places it on a shelf above Germs’ head. When Germs refuses to answer, Batman punches the wall and makes the jar shake. Eventually Germs confesses, that Hagan did it, but Batman doesn’t believe it. Germs tries to spill the beans about the chemical, but a policemen walks in to apprehend Germs.  We also get a hilarious reveal that the jar actually just contained Seawater for analysis.

Our two biggest pieces of evidence that the Hagan accusation is false, are his goal and his voice. First, knowing he’s not approaching anyone who’d recognize him, Hagan doesn’t go the trouble of modifying his voice.  You can also tell because he pays no direct attention to Batman. Despite Gordon’s friendship with Batman, the police force still plans to apprehend him. Hagan gives himself away by treating him like any other person.

When Batman tries to push the guard away, Hagan reveals himself and stretches his arm to pin Batman to a wall. When Hagan turns his attention back to Germs, you can see that his eyes are not formed. My guess is it is because the eyes are the most difficult part to maintain full focus on. He probably lost some focus when he extended his arm.

Hagan returns to his normal form, takes Germs up the stairway and attempts to throw him off the roof. Batman tries to stop him and notices that Clayface transforms subconsciously. At this point, Clayface has enough control of his powers he’s learned to use his hands as semi complex weapons. Batman does notice however that it does exhaust him after a while. Hagan escapes by jumping off the roof and escaping into the sewers. An important plot point I’ll bring up in an episode way, way, farther into this series. This is also the first scene he is revealed to be able to completely bend his body into other shapes

As Hagan’s anger gets worse, he throws out Teddy, his only remaining friend. While watching the television, Hagan discovers that Daggett is going public with his cream.

Batman consults a sample of Daggett’s formula trying to find any pattern to Hagan’s condition and is able to backtrack the entire scenario from what he already knows. Alfred fetches him copies of all Daggett’s films, but Batman does not tell him why.

Dagget appears on a talk show in order to debut his new invention. A disguised Batman makes his way to the main TV terminal room, but we’re not sure yet why. Hagan displays on the show how his cream can do in seconds what plastic surgery can accomplish in years. Seeing the results, there are some funny responses from several women in the audience. Batman watches the telecast from the terminal room and begins placing videotapes in all of the terminals. Not sure why yet though.

The News caster opens up the floor to questions and a woman from the crowd questions what Daggett has done about the side effects. Daggett tries to dodge the question, but then she asks about the addictive qualities and consequences of overdose. As the woman keeps getting angrier, her voice starts to distort lower, revealing it to be Hagan. When Hagan breaks past security, he transforms back to normal in front of Dagget. The studio audience runs in terror.

Hagan starts walking towards Dagget with obvious ill intent. He towers over Daggett and Daggett is obviously scared out of his mind. He tries to make a run for it, but Batman swings stopping Dagget from escaping. During the fight, we get our first instance of Hagan referring to himself as Clayface. Batman lures Clayface into the terminal room. Clayface tries to pin Batman down to stop his plan from coming to form, but Batman manages to reach one of the switches from the console. When Clayface sees the face of one of his characters on the screen, he transforms into him without triggering it himself. Batman proceeds to turn on all the TVs, all of which feature pictures of his previous films.

The following scene, as discussed by its animators, is one of the most complicated hand drawn scenes that have been attempted. As Clayface sees all of the characters he’s played cast on the televisions, he’s unable to handle all of it. He starts rapids morphing into character after character. After a while, he’s unable to keep a solid form. He begins spinning and rapidly morphing part by part and his forms begins to mix and match. The animation on this scene is amazing because the transformations don’t happen in fade sequences or clean cuts. It’s done in morbid morphs and warping sequences. It’s almost painful to watch his body contort how it does.

Batman realizes it’s hurting him too much and tries to turn it off, but Clayface flails into him and sends him flying. Eventually, Clayface breaks one of the terminals by punching it, but electrocutes himself unconscious.

Clayface is apprehended and all charges against Bruce Wayne are dropped. Batman tests a piece of Clayface and finds that it’s quite possible that since the version of Clayface they took to prison didn’t have an electric response, it might be a shell that Clayface used to escape. The Final Scene reveals through an awesome monologue by Batman that Clayface sneaks away in the body of a woman in the background.

Now the way the frame sets up Clayface’s disappearance is subtle and powerful. They don’t overplay his escape or even tell you who he became. They show you clearly and you get it. I bring this up because this right here is when they ruin the episode. The final shot of the episode is a close up shot of the woman Clayface becomes laughing maniacally over evil music and slowly morphing into the Clayface voice.

This ending absolutely makes me furious. In an episode about mystery and suspense, it ruins it! They give you a final moment where they painstakingly explain it and then throw it in your face! It tears me apart. It bugs me so much!

Final shot aside, this episode is a definite high point for the season. Batman has a large rogue gallery and often one or two are overlooked. That being said, seeing Clayface was treated with a real sense of respect and definition. It was nice to see that after Cat and Claw. Dick Sebast seems to be falling more into a groove and directing some better episodes.

I wasn’t a big fan of Clayface before this episode. I didn’t have anything against him mind you, I just didn’t know of any really good versions of him. This episode did a great job of making the character relatable and likable. Like many Batman villains, Clayface is a tragic villain, or should I say a really tragic villain. I mean I don’t know specifically what about him I relate to, but I can really feel for this guy. They give you every reason to not only excuse his slip into madness but, even if you don’t agree with the decisions he made to get this way in the first place, you can understand it. I like how they use the cream addiction to not only be a mirror of an actor’s obsession with appearances, but also the temptation of addiction often plaguing the entertainment industry.

Unlike Freeze, Hagan’s quest for revenge is against not only a person that did him wrong, but one that is actively pursuing him in the present. Not to mention its form is an enemy that actively did this to him on purpose.  All of these elements add up to create one hell of a back story and one hell of a good villain.

As far as music, it does depress me that we don’t get a great character theme. I don’t know what I would want it to sound like, but just like with Catwoman, I’m just a little disappointed that I don’t get one here. Otherwise, the music is good as always.

Animation on the other hand is top notch. Clayface’s style of transformations are never an easy thing to pull off and this show does it with flying colors. Subtle cues and hints in animation alone really help the tension and tone of the episode. Clayface’s normal body also looks awesome. The way its various levels give a feeling of malleability even in his static form make his transformations look natural. I also like how the transformations vary in kind. Sometimes disguises, sometimes stretching or melting, and sometimes weapon arms or projectiles.

At first, I didn’t think that Clayface was going to fit into the Arkham villain theory so easily. He’s usually not considered one of the A-class villains and I had never really considered where the comparison lies. After a little bit of thinking however, it dawned on me that the answer was not only simple, but also quite relatable.  Clayface is meant to represent Batman’s humanity. Clayface is only one of two Villains that rebuke their status as a villain. Clayface, although driven to madness and hell bent on revenge at the beginning, would give up anything just to be normal again. No matter how many villains Batman takes down, that is the one thing Batman will never have no matter how hard he tries, a normal life.

Feat of Clay is a great example of how the two part format can be used correctly. At no point, except the ending, does it feel like any time is being wasted. The episode does a great job of keeping you on your toes and keeping you thinking. The episode stands out from a lot of other episodes with its unique supporting cast, incredible main character, and some truly amazing animation and writing. I recommend this episode with flying colors… I also recommend you skip the last ten seconds, but that’s just me.

BTAS #18 Beware The Gray Ghost!

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 #18  

Beware The Gray Ghost!

 

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Story by Dennis o’Flaherty and Tom Ruegger

Teleplay by Garin Wolf and Tom Ruegger

 

I’ve probably touched on this quite a bit before, but it goes without saying that Batman, this show in particular, was a very big part of my childhood. It’s really easy to get blown away by a show with characters you’ve come to love and seeing them in so many different ways. As a Batman fan, I find that I don’t like to declare an allegiance to one particular interpretation of Batman.

That’s not to say I love them all, but I acknowledge the great qualities in as many as I can. Now that being said, This particular series is the one I hold closest to my heart, and therefore I force myself to look at episodes both emotionally and critically as to express how an episode makes me feel, but not be blown away or swayed by nostalgia. Keeping that in mind, you can see how reviewing an episode that not only hearkens back to the golden age of Television, but also is actually in and of its self about nostalgia, it feels fittin to talk a little bit about it, as I will be talking a little bit more about my personal experience with this show than I would on other episodes.

 

Before I begin, I want to talk briefly about the 1966 Batman series. Although not as deeply engrained in my childhood as BTAS, This show does hold a special place in my heart. For a lot of people older than me, this was the first real Batman that they fell in love with.

Even just watching the reruns of the show, I feel the energy and creativity that went into creating such a bizarrely campy Batman universe. A lot of people dismiss the series for shying away from the comics or for interpreting Batman in a humorous light, but this show is just as much an important piece of Batman history as any other Batman interpretation. The reason I am going on about this is because as many of you know, This particular episode features a special guest team up by one of the most iconic and memorable people to ever put on the Batman suit: Adam West.

Other people play their version of Batman, Adam West just is Batman. There’s no real sense to it. He just turns Batman into a persona so far his own, it almost becomes its own separate character rather than a Batman style.  Regardless, his performance in this episode is not only important because of West’s history, but is an integral part of the shows primary nostalgic theme as Adam West himself is, in fact the nostalgic anchor point for a lot of adults watching this show with their kids, and to an extent, those kids re-watching the show now. One of those kids being the one who wrote this book.  

As I’ve said before, I refuse to let my nostalgia take over my opinion, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t effect it, and that’s not a bad thing.  As we go through the episode deeper, you’ll see exactly what I mean by that. Now that we have all the fan gushing out of the way (who am I kidding… there’s more.) let’s get on with the episode.

I don’t usually talk about the title cards, but this one takes the cake. We get a black silhouette of the Gray Ghost with a dark red background. The design is meant to be an homage to the original silhouette of Batman from the show’s main logo but changing the character.

The music comes in blasting the heroic anthem of the Gray Ghost. The main theme is a perfect fusion of the dark and brooding feel of Batman and the swashbuckling adventure aesthetic of golden age adventure shows.  It almost feels like Batman meets The Lone Ranger. (For the record that’d be the greatest team up ever.)

Our series begins with an episode of “The Gray Ghost.” A black and white TV show from the 50’s that used the superhero/vigilante aesthetic and put it into a dark noir environment that clashed with a swashbuckling Saturday morning action tone.

If you’re noticing any hinting similarities here, it’s not a coincidence. The scene, in a way, is kind of making another version of their own show. The way the genres mesh together seamlessly shows a clear and engaging homage that sucks you into a world of its own. It feels old and new at the same time. It accomplishes this because although they are changing things to fit these older elements, it feels natural to see them because the show has been using several of these techniques all along. At the same time, the style and tone of these segments dive into the show’s original inspiration on a level not previously seen.

 

To say that seeing this series’ dark deco art style in black and white is amazing doesn’t do it justice. The signature black paper technique of the show makes every last light source, shadow, and shade of gray; pop like you would not believe. Chiaroscuro is most prominently used in black and white, and these segments not only evoke the nostalgia of the shows that they homage, but they also stand on their own as stylized masterpieces. I literally get goose bumps every time I watch them.

Our show begins with an older man being mugged in the alley by a few escaped convicts. A narrator introduces The Gray Ghost out of the shadows. The Gray Ghost jumps into action and in a beautiful one-shot fight sequence, sends the crooks packing. The main logo of the TV series appears and we see a fog covered horror movie font with long casted shadows. The name of the main star appears on the bottom, “Simon Trent.”  The opening scene of the episode, entitled “The Mad Bomber”, features a large explosion coming out of the Piedmont Plastics building.

The Gray Ghost stands amongst the wreckage looking for a solution. We cut to a scene of Bruce Wayne as a child, wearing the costume of the Gray Ghost, and holding an action figure. Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s now late father, sits behind him with the newspaper. We cut back to an image of Batman standing on a rooftop as the Piedmont Plastics building, of the present, explodes by arson. Frequently cutting around, we return to Thomas Wayne picking up a tuckered out Bruce and putting him to bed, then to an image of The Gray Ghost reading a ransom note from The Mad Bomber, threatening to attack the Gotham Bank. Our Final cut in the group is a shot of the present day Gotham Bank going up in flames from yet another explosion.

The scenes are edited together quite nicely and I like the extra touches of leaving Bruce’s flashback scenes in black and white. This keeps the two parts divided symbolically instead of practically, and also that the orange overlay the series commonly uses around fire gives color images a feel of a strictly orange and black color pallet.

Bruce Wayne tosses and turns in bed until he realizes that, “The Gray Ghost”, is the key linking the two Bombings together. Bruce and Alfred drive to a TV show archive downtown. He tells them the studio for The Gray Ghost went up in a fire 20 years ago and all the negatives are gone. Finding no way to watch the older episodes, Bruce looks up Simon Trent, the actor that played the Gray Ghost, in an archive at the Screen Actors Guild Building.

We cut to Simon Trent, down on his luck being screamed at by his Landlord because he’s behind on his apartment’s rent. The apartment is practically barren all except his collection of memorabilia and merchandise from his show. He gets a call from his agent sadly informing him that he still has no work for him and that people only seem to see him as The Gray Ghost.  In a fit of rage and frustration, Simon trashes his apartment and topples his collection shelves. Luckily, little of his collectables were damaged, as we’ll see in a later scene.

Simon takes his Original Gray Ghost costume and his merchandise and sells it to a collectable store downtown. His merchandise is in low demand, but he makes just enough to get by. All he has left is his original poster, and another item we’ll get to later. Simon falls asleep on his chair, but when he wakes up, he finds that all of his Gray Ghost items have been returned to him. He sees a note on his cloak telling him to meet him in a specific alley. When Simon goes to the alley, he is horrified to find Batman waiting for him there.

 

Simon begins to run as fast as he can, but he’s no match for Batman. Batman questions Simon about the connection to his show and the bombings. Batman asks how the explosions were done in the show, but Simon doesn’t remember. He tells Batman to leave him alone, but Simon stops when he hears a strange sound. Batman panics at the last minute and pushes them into an alley. Afterword, two explosives detonate.  Simon runs away from Batman in the chaos, but Batman is waiting in his apartment for him.

 

Batman interrogates where he heard that noise from, but Simon continues to get angry and shoves Batman away. Batman grows upset with him and asks for his help one last time. Begrudgingly, Simon opens up the back of his closet to reveal he has copies of all The Gray Ghost episodes, possibly the only remaining copies in the world. He gives a copy of “The Mad Bomber” to Batman and tells him to be on his way.  Batman criticizes him for not being The Gray Ghost he thought he was. Simon keeps screaming at him that he’s not The Gray Ghost, but Batman still looks at him judging as he tells Simon, “I can see that now”.

 

Batman and Simon have a very good dynamic in this episode. As heroic and altruistic as Batman has built The Gray Ghost to be, you can see how he is disappointed to find Simon as a fallen star scarred by Hollywood. On the opposite point, the show goes out of its way to make Simon relatable and it’s easy to understand how he has come to where he has gotten. His frustrations are not unfounded, they are ongoing and they weigh heavily on him. The relationship between the two does develop, but the show does a good job with these scenes establishing both characters being against each other, but you can still empathize with both.

Bruce watches the episode in Wayne Manor while Alfred fetches him some popcorn. Bruce reminisces about watching the episode as a child, but this time, the footage and the flashback is portrayed in sepia tone and the flashback is presented as more of a symbolic sequence rather than an exact memory.  Batman watches the television in a black emptiness instead of his living room. Batman notices the explosions were caused in the video by remote control cars mounted with cameras and explosives. Batman warns Commissioner Gordon to be on the lookout when they defend the Gotham library that night.

The library is on full alert with police cars everywhere. Three cars controlled by a mysterious man behind a massive computer controls them remotely. One of the cars is hit with a riot shotgun prematurely. It detonates without causing damage, but it’s a great way to show how strong the explosives are without blowing up the library on the first shot. The second one gets as far as the front porch before Batman destroys it with a flamethrower…. Nice. The third turns out to be a decoy, trapping Batman in the path of two other cars. A mysterious rope appears next to him. He climbs it, escaping the cars in the nick of time. Upon reaching the rooftop Batman finds Simon, as The Gray Ghost, waiting for him.

Batman and The Gray Ghost begin talking more on the same page as it appears some of what Batman said to Simon sunk in. The Gray Ghost is here now and you can tell Simon’s charisma and heroic sprit is back as well. Batman leaves to examine the car for fingerprints, but upon seeing newfound heroism in The Gray Ghost, he asks for his help with the car. They both return to the Batmobile, but hear four more cars coming fast. They leap in the Batmobile and escape as fast as possible. The cars are gaining fast on them, but Batman instructs The Gray Ghost and he flips an oil slick switch. The four cars cause some bad collateral damage, but they make it out alive. The Gray Ghost cheers for the excitement of being back in the action.

The Gray Ghost marvels at the Batcave and we get a nice revelation that Batman designed the Batcave from The Gray Ghost’s Layer. Batman shows him a fan room that Batman built of all his Gray Ghost memorabilia from when he was a child.  He talks about how he watched the show with his dad as a child. He was Batman’s hero. The Gray Ghost is moved and comments, “well now I know it wasn’t all for nothing.”

Batman analyzes the fingerprints on the car and they are both surprised to find Simon Trent’s fingerprints on the car.  Batman constructs a solid motive and means for Simon to be the culprit. The Gray Ghost is literally backed into a corner by Batman as he tries to explain that he sold his cars weeks ago to pay his bills. A look of shock and horror crosses The Gray Ghost’s face as he comes to the conclusion that The Mad Bomber is the most unlikely of culprits: the owner of the collectable shop.

Our villain smashes a Batman toy across his large array of computer screens.  A security alarm goes off inside the building as our villain sees Batman enter the room.  He dispenses a large group of Mad Bomber cars to try and spook Batman, but He’s smart enough to know they’re not loaded. The villain monologues about his obsession with toys and how after watching The Gray Ghost, he discovered how much chaos he could cause and hold the city for ransom… So he can buy more toys. Not the most diverse of villains, but he works all the same.

The Gray Ghost swings in through a window, smashing it and knocking over the Villain, and his shelves of toys. The chaos breaks the computer and sets it on fire. Knowing there are other explosives in the building, the two of them grab the villain and get out of there just in time. Despite being safe, The Villain cries in agony over losing all of his toys.

A spinning newspaper announces The Gray Ghost and Batman taking down The Mad Bomber. A news reporter talks about how Simon’s copies of the negatives made video production possible for The Gray Ghost for the first time ever. Back in the eyes of the public and on the cover of People magazine, The Gray Ghosts hosts an autograph signing. Bruce Wayne smiles at him as he signs his copy. On his way leaving, he reveals his identity to The Gray Ghost by saying “I used to watch your show with my father. The Gray Ghost was my hero”. The Gray Ghost smiles at the revelation. The episode ends with a close up on a young Simon Trent in the cloak and hat on the cover of the people magazine poster behind him.

Earlier in this episode I mentioned how it was not necessarily a bad thing that I approach this episode with a feeling of nostalgia. The reason for this is that no reviewer can truly have no bias. It is our opinions and bias that help us form unique opinions and styles as reviewers. Not to mention the point of this episode is to evoke the feelings of sitting down in front of your television on a Saturday morning and watching your favorite TV show. Whether that show was Lone Ranger, Pokémon, or BTAS itself. It’s a feeling that transcends age or even generation. This show evokes those feeling and not only makes you nostalgic for other shows from childhood, to even make this episode nostalgic for people like me who watched it on Saturday morning themselves.

The tone of the episode, as mentioned previously, has an amazing score. It matches the character perfectly, but deeper than that, in moments they don’t play the Gray Ghost theme, the fusion of the sounds forms a kind of sound all their own. A sound that I’ve come to love. In the scenes of the Ghost, they play more to his style, but the tone of the piece makes them more dark and emotional. When Batman is prominent on screen he has the dark tone he usually does, but his music tends to steer towards more action packed and driving. So in a way, they both take a little bit of each other into their unique sound. Simon Trent’s story as the Gray Ghost is expertly crafted and seeing him slowly becoming the hero he spent so many years playing was amazing. At moments, Trent can feel so wrapped up in his persona of The Gray Ghost, you almost feel like he really thinks he is a superhero. His character goes through a brief, but incredibly journey from fallen icon with no ambition and constantly living in his past, to a triumphant hero. A real hero that stands for something, someone people can look up to, and one that gives his persona and his life work meaning.

Batman’s perspective in this story is quite perplexing, as it comes in a few different directions. The first is Batman’s hero worship that this episode explores so deeply. It adds quite a bit to Batman’s character getting to see who Batman’s hero is and how he influenced the hero he became. In many ways it humanizes him to a great degree. We can all relate to having our own hero or superhero we looked up to as a child and how that affected us, especially because for many of us, that hero was Batman.

On top of that, Batman’s fascination with The Gray Ghost, combined with his memories of watching it with his father, leads me to believe that The Gray Ghost TV show may be this series’ trigger show. What I mean by this is in different Batman origins; People will occasionally change the film that Bruce was watching with his parents the night his parents were killed. Christopher Nolan interpreted it as an opera, The comics use the original 1940 classic “The Mask of Zorro”, so it makes sense that maybe in this series, The assassination could’ve happened after watching an episode of Bruce and Thomas’ favorite TV show.

Now the Villain of this episode is obviously not the major focus of the episode and receives almost no screen time, but that’s not to say there is not room to pull some interesting theories out of him. His character comes from a collectable obsession that seems to cause him to dip into the psychotic side of villainy. With this unique MO, I think that this toy collector is actually the series’ interpretation of The Toy Maker; a Batman/justice league villain from the silver age. Although his screen time is brief, I can definitely see how if explored in a later episode, this was a great set up for an iconic new look at an older Batman villain.

I know this often feels like a cop out description of an honest opinion, but this episode speaks for itself. I mean I’ve covered episodes with good pacing before, but this episode is so well edited, perfectly paced, and the symbolism is so incredibly clearly portrayed, I almost feel stupid pointing it out because everyone can probably get it all themselves. This episode may work on several levels of cleverly placed nostalgia, but I want to go out of my way to make it very clear on a technical level, this episode is incredibly well created and stands up strongly on its own, even without its ties to our childhood.

When you can find an episode that does an equal job of challenging your intelligence and pulling your heartstrings, you know you’ve found something really special. I think that’s the way I would explain this one. Beware The Gray Ghost is a very special episode. It’s incredibly emotional, brilliantly crafted, and highly recommended.  Set your alarm for Saturday at 9 AM, grab your favorite cereal, and enjoy.