Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 17, 2005)
Part of the Bat-renaissance from the early Nineties, Batman: The Animated Series helped revive the character. We got our first big batch of shows via the four-DVD Volume 1. This package presents the subsequent 28 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
Note that these are the second 28 shows produced, and they don’t even remotely approximate the broadcast order. For the series’ first season, they created 65 programs. Here we start with the 29th program created. I’ll review these episodes in production order and will also mention at what point they actually hit the air. The synopses come from http://www.tvtome.com – thanks to them for their good work.
Eternal Youth(broadcast 16th, 9/23/92): “Poison Ivy (voice of Diane Pershing) lures people to her health spa and turns them into trees.
Most Bat-villains are little more than simple nutbags, but Poison Ivy offers a baddie with more depth since she strives to protect the environment. Unfortunately, not much nuance comes through in this simple tale. It displays no subtlety and offers amusement mainly through its unusual depiction of Alfred.
Perchance to Dream (broadcast 26th, 10/19/92): “Bruce Wayne finds himself in a strange world where his parents are alive and he's never been Batman (Kevin Conroy).”
At no point in “Dream” does Wayne’s alternate universe come across as real to us. Heck, the title alone ensures we know it’ll be a dream. Still, it’s interesting to see Bruce muddle through his situation and moderately fun to watch him face off against himself when he fights Batman. The ending is a disappointment, though.
The Cape and the Cowl Conspiracy (broadcast 25th, 10/14/92): “Batman must outsmart Josiah Wormwood (Bud Cort), a criminal who schemes to acquire his mask.”
Based on its subject, I thought “Cowl” would be fun and clever. Unfortunately, it’s neither, especially due to its lack of a strong villain. A plot twist at the end adds some intrigue but not much. At least “Cowl” marks the debut of the Batsignal.
Robin’s Reckoning Parts 1 and 2 (broadcast 51st, 2/7/93): “Robin (Loren Lester) has been left out in the cold on the current case Batman is working on. Batman's outrageous rejection of Robin's involvement in the case has Robin even more anxious as to what is going on. Unwilling to take Batman's orders, Robin finds out what Batman is hiding him from.”
A vast improvement over the prior episode, “Reckoning” does many things right. It deftly integrates Robin’s origin story into its main plot, and it presents these elements in a dramatic and fluid manner. It manages good drama but without sentimentality. Heck, it even explains why Robin makes such infrequent appearances on the series - he’s away at college! This ends up as a terrific two-parter.
The Laughing Fish (broadcast 46th, 1/10/93): “The Joker (Mark Hamill) tries to copyright his smile after developing a chemical that produces bizarre smiles on fish.”
Why is the Joker such a great character? Because he can invent disfigured fish and have it make sense. A show about a copyright battle sounds lame, but the Joker’s nuttiness turns this one into a winner.
Night of the Ninja(broadcast 28th, 10/26/92): “An old martial arts nemesis of Bruce Wayne, Kyodai Ken (Robert Ito), comes to Gotham City planning for his revenge.”
After the solid “Fish”, we get a disappointment with “Ninja”. At times it feels more like a sequel to Karate Kid than a Batman show. It lacks creativity and becomes a bore.
Cat Scratch Fever (broadcast 33rd, 11/5/92): “Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) is infected by disease while uncovering Roland Daggett's (Ed Asner) plan to infect stray animals.”
Despite the usually compelling presence of Catwoman, “Fever” never rises much above the level of mediocrity. As with many shows, part of the problem stems from the absence of a good main villain, and the pedestrian plot doesn’t help matters. It’s not a bad show, but it’s nothing special either.
The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne (broadcast 29th, 10/29/92): “An evil psychiatrist named Hugo Strange (Ray Buktenica) discovers Bruce Wayne's secret, and attempts to auction it to the highest bidder, which could be the Joker, Two-Face (Richard Moll), or the Penguin (Paul Williams).”
Fans will already have seen a similar plot in Batman Forever, but I can’t blame the folks behind the series for that; clearly the filmmakers borrowed from this episode. This show takes a fun twist; how often do we see three mega-baddies in one place? It’s a pretty solid program.
Heart of Steel Parts 1 and 2 (broadcast 39th, 11/16/92): “High-tech secrets are stolen from Wayne Enterprises and Commissioner Gordon (Efram Zimbalist) is replaced by a robot look-alike.”
It’s tough to dislike a show that starts with a fight between Batman and a walking briefcase. Bouts of cleverness occur at other points, but they’re not quite enough to make this a memorable program. A HAL-style villain isn’t enough to carry the day.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? (broadcast 41st, 11/18/92): “Edward Nygma (John Glover) becomes the Riddler after being fired from his job.”
Obviously the Riddler is one of the all-time great Bat-villains, but “Smart” isn’t a terrific introduction to him. Maybe part of the problem comes from the lame hit videogame he invents; even allowing for changes in technology, it was too silly to turn into anything terrific. “Smart” has some clever moments but won’t go down as a great Riddler adventure.
Joker’s Wild (broadcast 42nd, 11/19/92): “When a billionaire builds a casino called the Joker's Wild, the Joker breaks out of Arkham Asylum to destroy it.”
Joker episodes don’t often go wrong, and “Wild” presents another strong one. The casino offers lots of opportunities for fun, and the plot takes some interesting twists. The show also brings out the best in Bats and turns into a memorable program.
Tyger, Tyger (broadcast 30th, 10/30/92): “Selina Kyle is kidnapped by an evil scientist who turns her into a real cat-woman.”
An obvious rip-off of The Island of Dr. Moreau, “Tyger” is too goofy to be a success. The baddies are silly instead of scary, and the episode never takes flight. It borders on embarrassing, really.
Moon of the Wolf (broadcast 36th, 11/11/92): “An ex-Olympic athlete is turned into a werewolf by an evil professor's steroid formula.”
Two consecutive shows devoted to people turned into critters? That seems like at least one - and maybe two - too many. The program relies on monster scares and doesn’t go much of anywhere.
Day of the Samurai (broadcast 55th, 2/23/93): “Kyodai Ken kidnaps the daughter of Bruce Wayne's old martial arts instructor and ransoms her for an ancient scroll that teaches the Death Touch.”
Kyodai Ken was a lousy villain earlier this season, and he hasn’t gotten any better since then. This show feels more like a bad martial arts movie than an episode of Batman. I’ll give it credit for its attempt to broaden the series’ horizons, but it doesn’t turn into a good show.
Terror in the Sky (broadcast 37th, 11/12/92): “The Man-Bat (Marc Singer) returns but this time someone else has taken the Langstrom bat formula.”
I never cared much for the Man-Bat character, as he’s kind of a lame concept. Seeing Batman face a similar foe doesn’t demonstrate much creativity, and this episode’s twist doesn’t add much to the proceedings. Granted, it is perversely interesting to see Man-Bat in pink Capri pants, but otherwise this program’s a dud.
Almost Got ‘Im (broadcast 35th, 11/10/92): “The Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) play cards and tell stories about the time each one almost got Batman. Poison Ivy tells of how the Batman foiled her plan to poison Gotham with rigged pumpkins. Two-Face tells of how he tried to flip Batman to death with a giant penny. The Penguin tells of a cunning bird trap and Killer Croc tells of how he almost killed Batman with a...big rock. The Joker tops them all (and wins the poker game) with a story of how he kidnapped Catwoman.”
If one baddie is good, then four should be great, right? I don’t know if “Almost” becomes great, but it’s consistently very good. The show musters a nice mix of comedy and action to turn into a definite winner.
Birds of a Feather (broadcast 52nd, 2/8/93): “The Penguin becomes the toast of the Gotham social scene after being released from prison.”
In an intriguing twist, “Birds” gives us a glimpse at life from the Penguin’s point of view. It becomes somewhat poignant as we see him try to go straight but run into roadblocks. It’s an unusually rich program.
What Is Reality? (broadcast 45th, 11/24/92): “The Riddler returns and lures Batman into a dangerous riddle-laden virtual reality computer program.”
Unsurprisingly, this look at “virtual reality” stinks of early 90s cyber-concepts. That means it doesn’t age well, and the series’ lackluster depiction of the Riddler doesn’t help. Batman Forever has many flaws, but Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the character is quite good, while the series’ version is a non-threatening nerd. This episode is too goofy to be a success.
I Am the Night (broadcast 34th, 11/9/92): “On the anniversary of his parents’ death, Commissioner Gordon is shot by the Jazzman (Brian George), a drug runner. Batman believes himself responsible and begins to question what good he does. He considers quitting but when the Jazzman escapes he goes to rescue a critically injured Gordon and manages to stop the criminal just in time. Reminded that he does make a difference, Batman returns to patrolling Gotham.”
And for a Very Special Batman. A little depth and soul-searching are a good thing, but this episode makes them too heavily the focus. Batman just seems whiny, and the Jazzman is far too bland a villain to warrant such calamity.
Off Balance (broadcast 44th, 11/23/92): “Batman gets aid from a mysterious woman named Talia (Helen Slater) while tracking Vertigo (Michael York), an international crime leader who has just stolen a powerful sonic weapon.”
Let’s see if I get this straight: Vertigo’s power is to make people dizzy? That’s a pretty lousy supervillain, and his lameness infects much of “Balance”. At least Talia offers a fairly intriguing babe, and the show introduces noted Bat-baddie Ra’s Al Ghul, so it’s not a total loss.
The Man Who Killed Batman (broadcast 49th, 2/1/93): “A small time hood becomes a hunted underworld hero when he apparently kills Batman.”
Obviously, we know that Bats will eventually turn up alive, but “Killed” provides a fun tale nonetheless. It’s a cool look at the notoriety that a nobody gets for events not in his control, and it becomes quite interesting as the noose tightens. Some of the most entertaining moments occur as the Joker deals with his sense of emptiness without Bats to kick around any longer.
Mudslide (broadcast 63rd, 9/15/93): “A female scientist helps Clayface (Ron Perlman) when his body begins to disintegrate.”
I can’t quite decide if Clayface is one of Batman’s more interesting villains - or one of his crummier foes. I lean toward the former, as the character seems silly much of the time but offers some intriguing possibilities. Too bad “Mudslide” tends toward the soap opera side of the street and becomes pretty sappy. It does incorporate a mix of movie references that become moderately clever, though.
Paging the Crime Doctor (broadcast 65th, 9/17/93): “Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Diana Muldaur) is kidnapped when crime boss Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) requires surgery.”
We’ve seen Thompkins before, but the involvement of Thorne’s doctor brother adds depth to this program. We get some additional info about Bruce Wayne’s family and see the extended influence of a major villain. All of that adds up to a pretty interesting show.
Zatanna (broadcast 50th, 2/2/93): “Batman helps a magician Zatanna (Julie Brown) when she is framed for robbery.”
The best parts of “Zatanna” give us a little background about Bruce Wayne’s training to become Bats. Zatanna herself proves to be a surprisingly engaging romantic interest for Bats, and this leads to some nice interactions in this solid show.
The Mechanic (broadcast 48th, 1/24/93): “After the Batmobile is virtually destroyed, Batman seeks the help of the mechanic that designed it. Unfortunately, the Penguin has located the mechanic and has plans to "fix" Batman's car.”
“Mechanic” borrows a little from Batman Returns as it looks at the Penguin’s attempts to tamper with the Batmobile. However, it opens up matters well with a glimpse of the behind the scenes work to create that fabled vehicle. Those elements - and some good action - help turn this into a winner.
Harley and Ivy (broadcast 47th, 1/18/93): “Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) teams up with Poison Ivy after she is kicked out of the Joker's gang.”
Since Harley usually gets stuck in the background, it’s cool to find an episode in which she’s allowed to shine. Of course, she’s still not totally in the forefront since she pairs with Ivy, but it’s a fun twist as they become the Thelma and Louise of Gotham in this very entertaining episode.