Debriefing #17: ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ Vol 1 Disk 3

Batman: The Animated Series Volume 1 Disk 3
Creators: Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm
Directors: Kevin Altieri, Dick Sebast, Dan Riba, Boyd Kirkland and Frank Paur.
Writers: Sean Catherine Derek, Laren Bright, Richard Mueller, Jules Dennis, Martin Pasko, Dennis O’Flaherty, Tom Ruegger, Garin Wolf, Dennis Marks, Bill Finger, Marv Wolfman, Michael Reaves

Note: This discussion covers the episodes The Cat and the Claw Part 1 & 2, See No Evil, Beware of the Gray Ghost, Prophecy of Doom and Feet of Clay Part 1 & 2.

Edgar: At this point in the Animated series cannon, the show is definitely in its groove. Those who didn’t enjoy the first 14 episodes have little chance of being won over at this stage. Luckily, you and I have been mostly having a great time either discovering or revisiting them. With that in mind James, I’d like to start the conversation with a slightly different question this time. Essentially,  the show’s creators continue to delve into Batman lore to construct new stories with familiar foes all the while tapping into their creative instincts and creating brand new villains for the Caped Crusader to face. In the collection of episodes we watched most recently, which did you prefer, those with old villains (Catwoman, Clayface) or those with new villains?

James: That’s a tough one. I really liked the episodes with new villains. They have some creative ideas and I like the way they use those characters to tease out stories you don’t always see in the Batman universe. When was the last time you saw a Batman/Bruce Wayne story where he went up against a religious charlatan? Probably never. That being said, one of the show’s greatest strengths is how to fleshes out classic villains into very sympathetic characters and I felt they did a much better job of that in the Catwoman and Clayface episodes, although, I think Beware of the Gray Ghost is just as good of an episode. What was your preference?

E: I feel like I should side with the episodes that presented new villains. To me, those adventures presented new aspects to the Batman universe and thrusted our hero into situations that we rarely get to see him in. You referenced the one in which Batman must foil the plans of a charlatan (great word by way, well played). That’s something we simply never see Batman handle. It also spoke to the scope of villains he chooses to wrestle with. The villain in that piece is not especially megalomaniacal, but he nevertheless crosses a dangerous line. The charlatan also doesn’t have that many tools besides his special effects man, yet Batman must contend with that as well. I thought that in this stretch of adventures, the stories and how they continued to expand upon the Batman universe were a little more rewarding. You seem to have liked the other ones a little, so let’s take a look at the. The catwoman two-parter. did you believe in the romantic angle between Batman and Catwoman. Did that work for you?

J: I think it works here. That’s part of what makes the Catwoman character a main-staple of the Batman universe. However, where I think this episode shines is how it also explores the duality of the relationship. In the Batman/Catwoman relationship, you have Catwoman pursuing the distant Batman but with the Bruce Wayne/Selina Kyle relationship the roles are reversed. Selina is elusive while Bruce Wayne is the one pursuing. In fact, this relationship, and the second episode of this two-parter is one of my earliest memory, if not the earliest, of this show. The actual plot of this episode I can take or leave, but the relationship is so good that I really liked these two episodes. Did you feel the same way?

E: For the most part, yes. The plot is not especially memorable (saving wild cats, a little obvious and on the nose for my taste), yet the writers really put a fantastic spin on the romantic angle for the very reason you elaborated on. Bruce is interested in Selina, but she isn’t very interested in him. On the flip side, Catwoman adores Batman, yet the latter cannot return the feelings, at least not as Batman. In that respect, those two shows work wonders, although most of what revolves around that particularly strong core is not as interesting, which is why I can’t say that I really loved them. There is another two-part story that elaborates a new story for a familiar face: Clayface. Where do you stand on those two shows and, perhaps more importantly, what did you think of the voice acting?

J: I assume you’re referring to my man Ron Perlman. I thought it was great. I’ve probably seen this episode a dozen times, if not more and I never noticed it was him until this time. We also get a good performance from Edward Asner as Daggett. Most people will remember him as the voice of Carl from Up. There has been some great episodes in terms of voice work, but I think this is one of the finest we’ve seen so far. And it doesn’t even have any Mark Hamill! Once again, I think Perlman is fantastic at making a character who is both very angry but also very broken. His voice is able to mingle that anger and hurt. And I think that’s a big part of what makes Feet of Clay one of my favorite episodes.

E: Clayface is one of those villains whose backstory I’m not as familiar with so i cannot speak to how authentic it is, but as it stands in the show, it’s pretty clever. He is an actors who depends heavily on his good looks for getting work, but following a terrible accident which left him scarred on his face, he must utilize some sort of clay-like substance to literally mold his face back into place. In return he must perform errands for the mob, who supplies him with the substance. All of that is pretty fantastic. I don’t know how impressed I was with Perlman in the more touching scenes, but he’s great when angry! What are your thoughts on the powers Clayface possesses. I thought they overdid it a little bit, but then again, I’m less familiar with that character.

J: I love the setup. You just see Bruce Wayne and he behaves in a way you don’t expect and then at the end of the episode you get the reveal that it was Hagen using the face cream to look like Bruce. Actually, I really liked how much they used it. Sure sometimes it might be more to just have eye candy, but I like that they show that Clayface could guise himself as anyone and what he could do with that. That’s a really scary idea if you consider he can pretend to be someone like Bruce Wayne. You might be referring to the climax where they go all out with it, but I thought that was a creative way for Batman to subdue Clayface. I think these two episodes are probably my favorite of this stint and I’m also looking forward to seeing Clayface again because I think every Clayface episode is one of the most creative episodes of the show.

E: Yes, I was partly referring to the climax when the two foes go head to head. There were some basic elements that I had difficulty wrapping my head around, like how Clayface can make huge objects out a greater amount of clay that seems to make up his body, or how he can not merely replicate objects, but provide them with their natural colours too. I’m probably whining about things that are not worth criticising, but I couldn’t help it. I did, however, notice how much angrier Batman was in this story, which makes a lot of sense. He is so accustomed to besting others under the guise of the Caped Crusader that when another challenger fools not by pretending to be Bruce Wayne, that gets him mad. There are some other episodes to talk about, starting with one that features a new spin on the tale of the invisible man. James, your thoughts.?

J: I like that it’s a very different kind of story. You could use the invisible man design for a more traditional Batman vs. Baddie showoff, but instead the episode heavily features the subplot where you find out this villain is a father who’s been issued a restraining order from his daughter and he uses the technology to visit her,, pretending to be her invisible friend. And her mother just thinks he’s imaginary. I liked that element a lot, although I have to say it comes of as a lot more disturbing and unsettling now than it did watching it as a kid. Man, this episode freaked me out, even the last bit with Batman had me uneasy. I don’t think it’s an amazing episode, I think the villain is a bit too much of a maniac, but man, this episode was chilling. Did you feel the same way?

E: I would say it starts in chilling fashion, with an opening scene that has the little girl visited by an invisible force that initially sounds as though he speaks with a pleasant enough tone, but there is a little hint that something is off. That being said, the chills don’t really ever come back since the episode settles itself nicely into the Batman universe. The story is pretty solid though and feels much more intimate than the others. I want to applaud the writers for finding a way to make the antagonist villainous enough yet still sympathetic. Were he only trying to visit his daughter, there would be no conflict. we learn that the product he uses to become invisible has corrupted his mind. Far-fetched maybe, but it added some gravitas. Then comes Beware the Great Ghost, one of the most unexpected stories of the series so far, for more reasons than one. There is a voice actor who should be familiar to any self described Batman fan and the fact that we get to see into Bruce’s a little more, revealing info we had never known before. Where do you stand with this episode?

J: I love it. It hearkens back to an older era of comic book characters by heavily featuring an actor who played Bruce’s fictional hero as a child, the titular Gray Ghost. The way the show captures that era as well as references itself with that surprise performance is a beautiful homage to the era. And yet, the show fits elegantly into The Animated Series. He falls into the cycle of sympathetic characters: an actor who’s fallen out of the limelight, is unable to get a job and seems to be at the end of his rope. Once again, I’m not so crazy about the plot itself, the big reveal is kinda cheesy, albeit another homage to a bygone era, but everything else is top notch. Another stellar episode. In fact, looking back on all of these I’m very tempted to call this the best batch of episodes we’ve seen so far. Do you agree?

E: Not quite. I think I like the second batch a little bit more despite that it includes my least favourite episode we’ve watched. I think this episode suffers from the same symptoms as the Catwoman story: the character beats are amazing but most of what surrounds them is sub par. The villain here is ridiculous, homage to a bygone era or not. Despite that, there is a lot to like, in particular the revelations of what partly inspired Bruce to becomes the Batman. The episode opens in a strange manner, juxtaposing scenes from an old Grey Ghost movie with a case Batman, with everything in perfect synchronicity, which made me think the episode was trying to merely convey the idea that the character of Batman is from a different time, his origins I mean. Ultimately the shows uses the Great Ghost footage as a narrative device, literally, and I also thought that was cool. I guess we can reveal that the Grey Ghost is voiced by Adam West. A good decision or not. too ‘insider’ or not?

J: I thought it worked. It’s not so overpowering as to be on the nose. They aren’t making clear references to the ‘60s show, it just has the vibe of that era. It’s more of a subtle nod. If you’re an inside, you get it, if not it still works. That’s usually the best sign of a good homage, one that still works even if you don’t understand where it is coming from and I think that’s what Adam West’s voice acting does. It’s not overly-Batman and they’re not flaunting it, but if you recognize the voice, it adds that extra bit of appreciation and enjoyment to the episode.

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