Debriefing #28: ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ Vol 2 Disk 1

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Batman: The Animated Series Vol 2 Disk 1

Creators: Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm

Directors: Kevin Altieri, Frank Paur, Boyd Kirkland, Bruce Timm, Dick Sebast,

Writers: Beth Bomstein, Elliot S. Maggin, Laren Bright, Michael Reaves, Steve Perry, Paul Dini, Randy Rogel

Note: This discussion covers the episodes Eternal Youth, Perchance to Dream, The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy, Robin’s Reckoning Part 1, Robin’s Reckoning Part 2, The Laughing Fish and Night of the Ninja.

James: After working our way through the first volume of The Animated Series, we’ve gotten the setup for a lot of the characters (with an exception we’ll talk about this time around). As we move into this second volume, we’re getting a lot of repeat customers, especially in the rogue’s gallery. The show is still giving itself some space to explore new characters, but for the most part we’ve got the groundwork set. My question for you is do you think these latest episodes do a good job developing these characters or were you left hoping for more?

Edgar: I’m glad you chose to start the discussion with the topic of developing the characters we’ve already come to know a little bit through the first volume of episodes. The reason being that I was particularly intrigued and in some cases satisfied with where this small collection of episodes took Bruce, Batman, Robin and even one of the villains, Poison Ivy. I don’t know if this was a conscious decision on the part of the writers to string together a series of episodes where viewers got to understand some of the deeper inner workings of these people but in any event it made for a really interesting run of adventures. I very much liked what they did with Poison Ivy in ‘Eternal Youth’, painting her as an even more twisted version of Batman himself. I appreciate it when the writers have the courage to go that deep with the characters. They did it a number of times in the first volume and continue to do so thus far in volume 2. James, were there any particular highs or lows in that regard?

J: While I wouldn’t count it among the greatest moments in this batch of episodes, I like the subplot with Alfred in ‘Eternal Youth.’ It was a fun way to show us a slightly more laid-back side of Alfred that we haven’t seen up to this point. Also, I really liked that it feels like Robin finally comes into his own in this batch of episodes. He’s been around but he just sorta showed up without laying any groundback and the show finally goes back and gives us Robin’s origins and I think it does a great job of explaining this depiction of him. What did you think of ‘Robin’s Reckoning’?

Robins-Reckoning

 

E: As I started watching part 1 I thought I was struck by a case of déjà vu. In truth, I had actually seen these two episodes before. They must be an extra feature on one of those original animated blu-ray discs I have although right now I don’t remember which one. Seeing them again for the first time in a little while was great. I like the fact that we didn’t get a Robin origin story in the first season. The show lets him just be for a few episodes and once we’ve gotten to know him a little the writers decide to lay the groundwork for the backstory. They do a solid job, I’d agree with that. They understand the behaviour and general demeanour of Dick Grayson. I especially like his early relationship with Bruce Wayne. Even its earliest stages Bruce had trouble finding time to accompany Dick as a mentor and a friend. We know Dick’s story by heart now but the Animated Series version, which takes a lot of cues from the first two Tim Burton films, feels like what we could have had had Burton included Robin in either the first or second film. I enjoy them a lot, except that weird line at the end of the story when Batman says he didn’t want to share information with Robin because he didn’t want to lose him. That was a little weak. Where do you stand?

J: I actually think it works. I don’t think Bruce is talking about losing Robin in the sense that Robin might die, but that the quest for vengeance might consume Robin. Bruce knows what it’s like to have that pain inside you and he’s probably entertained notions of what he’d do if he ever found his parents killer and known how that would destroy who he is and what he stands for. At least, that’s how I took that line. I do like that they explore the idea of vengeance through Robin instead of Batman. I’m curious what you think of revisiting another character given your first impression: What did you make of the return of The Mad Hatter?

E: Ah, I was wondering when we’d get to that episode. Calling it the ‘return’ of the Mad Hatter is a bit of a stretch however. True enough, we come to learn that he is behind the very vivid dream Bruce Wayne is having throughout the episode but that’s only at the end. I understand that the fact that the contraption he uses is a sort of hat suggests the Mad Hatter would be the villain but I personally think any villain could have been revealed at the end. I was far more interested in this bizarre world in which Bruce’s life has completely changed (or has it?) to the extent that he is not Batman nor are his parents dead. And he’s marrying Selina Kyle, which is a major surprise. Again, it speaks to the strength of the writing that the episode doesn’t go for cheap fish out of water jokes. It takes the idea of Bruce waking up to a different life, the life he’d have if his parents hadn’t died, very seriously. Bruce basically goes psychotic at times in this episode! I loved it. What are your impressions?

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J: This episode is easily one of my favorites from the series. I’d echo all of what you said and add that what I love about this episode is that explores sometimes having the ideal life isn’t ideal. Bruce has everything: his family, a beautiful fiance, financial security and a life where he can take it easy and do whatever he wants. But he realizes that he has no purpose, no direction, no goal in life. As terrible as it sounds, the trauma and suffering Bruce goes through actually moves his life in a direction where he’s able to have a purpose and I think it’s Bruce realizing that he needs a purpose instead of just a life of pleasure that brings him to realize the illusion…well, that and not being able to read, which would totally suck!

E: I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s an episode in which Bruce doesn’t even get to be Batman anymore yet he realizes the importance of his alter ego. That’s the tragedy of Bruce Wayne, it’s what so many comic storylines harp on in so many different kinds of ways and these guys here succinctly deliver the argument in a twenty-minute episode. It’s brilliant. There is another episode, not as provocative mind you, that shares with us a bit more about the Bruce Wayne psyche, that being Night of the Ninja in which a ninja from his past arrives in Gotham. What did think about that episode?

J: It’s funny, I’ve seen this show through multiple times and I always forget about this episode, which seems absurd. I mean, how can you forget the episode where Batman fights a ninja? It’s a fun episode that balances a cool backstory of Bruce’s training with a running hunt to find a ninja roaming Gotham. It’s got a couple of great fight scenes, I particularly love the last one where Bruce basically has to take a beating to keep his identity as Batman secret because the ninja faces him down in front of a kidnapped reporter. What did you think of this one?

E: I think the writers of the show are smarter and clever than myself by a country mile because it took me a couple minutes to realize why Bruce was getting the crap kicked out of them. How is this ninja so much better than Batman?!? THIS IS IMPOSSI- oh, wait, I see what they did there…Yeah, I like this episode a fair bit. I agree the action is pretty cool but what I take away most of all is Bruce’s obsession with being the best in everything. He has to be the smartest, the best strategist, the strongest, the fastest and so on and so forth. We don’t realize that as often as we should (or at least I don’t) but Bruce has to work damn hard because he must be the best. It’s not an option in his case. I enjoyed seeing how that self-ordained mission statement wears down on him sometimes. It’s funny that we’ve gotten this deep into the conversation and not discussed the Joker. I don’t know if it’s Joker fatigue or whatnot but he does indeed show up here. Not one of his best efforts if you ask me although there are some positives. James?

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J: “The Laughing Fish” is certainly not a great Joker episode. I do have some affection for it because it was one of the first episodes I saw as a kid and I still vividly remember the experience of watching it and realizing that I had never seen a cartoon quite like it. Watching it again, I’m surprised by how dark and shocking it feels for a kid’s show. We basically watch a group of cops and Batman himself completely unable to stop the Joker from killing a random victim. Granted, the episode doesn’t really give Joker a good motivation for doing it: he basically gets mad that he can’t paten his Joker Fish, but that scene with the cat in the dark room is probably one of teh most chilling scenes in the show, IMHO. What did you think of this one?

E: The cat scene is super weird. The blue goop slurping out of the feline’s mouth and Batman and the victim switching attire? Visually there is a lot of messed up stuff in that scene, especially when the victim, dressed as Batman, is hit by the poison and starts laughing maniacally. Yeesh… I don’t know if I’m reading too much into the episode and I’d love to hear what you think but I feel the creators pay tribute to a lot of past Joker storylines and famous evil deeds in this episode. He takes a crow bar to attack Batman (Death in the Family), he announces that he shall kill specific people at given time and neither the cops nor Batman can prevent the crime (one of the stories we read in Batman Chronicles volume 1). Do you think that was on purpose or am I way out in left field here?

J: Oh wow, I totally didn’t make those connections. However, this is an episode by the famous Dini/Timm team, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to pull on their Batman knowledge to pack in such references. I might have to see if they did a commentary on this episode and get back to you on this one because that’s a really interesting thought. Well, we’ve one last episode left involving another one-off villain, and probably the least fantastical villain we’ve encountered so far. What did you think of ‘The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy’?

E: See, this is the episode I might forget the quickest In fact, I watched it 48 hours ago and I’m trying to recall some of the specifics. It’s a weird one. You have this villain that leaves challenges à la Riddler but that isn’t the Riddler. Then you have a secondary villain who shows up for a few minutes and is leaves for Europe. I don’t know. It was like the writers sort of ran out of gas and were just killing time when making this one. It’s not bad (I don’t recall us reviewing a flat out bad episode yet), I mean I like the scene where the bad guy tries to cook Batman under a huge light bulb in a wax museum. I don’t why it had to be in a wax museum but the idea is neat. It’s okay but nothing more. Did you enjoy this one?

J: It’s entertaining enough. I think I like the idea of it more than the execution. The villain is more grounded than most of the badguys we’ve encoutnered so far. I like that he’s mroe of this anoymous guy who doesn’t want the massive attention of most of the villains. However, his elaborate trap setups seemed kinda odd and a bit nonsensiqual. At least with The Riddler there’s some kind of twsited joke behind it that makes it work. Here, this guy just seems to makre really weird traps that Batman only falls for because he knows it’s the only way he can get closer to the guy, because most of the traps are kinda crappy. Still, I like that reveal at the end where we find out Batman has been posing as the Baron who hired him to find out about his previous job.

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E: I’d like to once again commend the artists working on this show. They strive to make the Animated Series look as cinematic as possible. I love it whenever, instead of cutting to another image, the virtual camera pans away to something else as if it were an actual film capturing live action. There are also some extraordinary Batman poses and silhouettes in this batch of episodes. I was wondering if with respect to the visuals there are any significant highlights in this early set from volume 2?

J: I already talked about the one scene in “The Laughing Fish.” I also love a lot of the imagery in “Perchance to Dream,” especially the bell-tower sequence at the end. It’s one of those shows where I could probably talk about a scene in every episode. There’s just an amazing amount of visual craft to it and they find some great ways to tell smart visual storytelling, showing that you don’t have to talk down to kids to make a good story for kids. It makes for something adults can appreciate as well.

E: Yeah, the show is made for little kids as well as big kids like you and me. Fun for everyone. I think volume definitely starts on the right foot. Of course, so did volume 1. In fact, volume 1 ended on the foot. Forget it, the show is seemingly always on the right foot. I’m almost starting to worry for the day when we finally watch one that I really don’t like. There are a lot of episodes left after all, so anything is possible. As someone who has watched the series already, would you say the best is behind us or there are still gems to come?

J: Worry not, we have greatness before us! I’d say that we’ll get to some choppy waters eventually, but the best thing about this show is there’s always a great show or two even where things get rough. In television when you can get some stinker seasons in even great shows, it’s a testament to the show’s quality that you’ve always got some good episodes just around the corner.

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