Debriefing #30: ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ Vol 2 Disk 2

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Batman: The Animated Series Volume 2 Disk 2

Directors: Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Kevin Alteri, and Eric Radomski

Writers: Buzz Dixon, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Bynne Stephens, David Wise, Paul Dini, and Cherie Wilkerson

 Note: This is a discussion of the episodes Cat Scratch Fever, The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne, Heart of Steel (Part 1 & 2), If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?, Joker’s Wild, and Tyger, Tyger

Edgar: As we go deeper and deeper into Batman: The Animated Series, more familiar villains are provided additional episodes, while some long forgotten ones receive their share of the spotlight for the first time and still in other cases entirely new foes are brought into the ring to challenge the Dark Knight. This batch of adventures presents a healthy mixture of each scenario, some of which I found to be stronger than others. James, were you more interested in the repeat offenders like The Joker and Catwoman, were you more excited by the first time appearances of old friends like The Riddler and Doctor Strange or did you prefer the entirely new maleficent maniacs we got this time around?

James: Funny, I was contemplating that as I re-watched this batch of episodes. This is an eclectic mix, and this is probably the worst batch of episodes we’ve seen so far. They’re still good, but I think as a group that some of the same notes are played a bit too quickly in succession. For instance, both Cat Scratch Fever and Tyger, Tyger are episodes where environmentalism gone wrong. I guess out of this batch, the two I liked the best were the ones where we are introduced to The Riddler and Doctor Strange. They felt the most well-balanced and thrilling of the bunch. What about yourself? Where did you fall into this mix? 

E: I think the newer villains and first time appearances brought interesting things to the table, more so than The Joker or Catwoman. Actually, I’m including the Tyger, Tyger episode in that comment even though Catwoman is there but she’s much more a victim than an antagonist. Watching this stretch I was reminded of the 1950s and 60s comic books where the writers took Batman and Robin to far-fetched realms. Very far-out, sci-fi material that was played with a goofy tone for the most part. Granted, The Animated Series rarely goes for ‘goofy’ but certainly the sort of villains we got this time were at at times pretty crazy, especially the bad super-computer. You and I are often on the same page it seems and I have to agree that this is the worst series we’ve reviewed thus far even though it’s still okay on the whole. I feel we need to tackle the first episode which I don’t think is very good, Cat Scratch Fever. I have things to whine about, but I’ll let you start.

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J: This was a rough way to start out this lot. I do appreciate how this show tackles certain problematic social issues, but this episode’s messaging was over the top and the villains felt sniveling and childish, which is very atypical of this show. In fact, I tend to feel that Daggett is one of the worst recurring villains in the series as he’s a bland stand-in for corporate corruption. Also, Catwoman feels like such a wuss in this episode. She has a lot of fight in her in many other episodes, here she’s mostly a victim for Batman to save over and over again. Hopefully I haven’t stole your thunder because I do want to hear your rant on this episode.

E: This episode is terrible. I’ve feared the day when I’d have to have a Debriefing with you on the Animated Series and have to complain about the writing but, alas, that day has arrived. I’m flabbergasted by the poor writing that went into this episode. Even the set-up is terribly rote and depends on preposterous coincidence (Selina Kyle being told by the judge she can never don the Catwoman outfit again only for her to stumble on this Daggett operation hours later? Give me a break). As you’ve already pointed out, the villains here are boring and their dialogue is pathetic. I couldn’t believe some of the crummy throw away lines they were spitting out. ‘He’s dog meat’? Oh my goodness. Really, just a poor effort all around. I don’t like writing such as harsh criticism about this show but I have to call it as I see it. A shame but I guess nothing is perfect, not even Batman: The Animated Series. Next up is a story ripe with potential but only harnesses some of it I think, the one with Hugo Strange. Did you find that episode could have done more with the idea of a villain discovering Bruce’s secret?

J: This is one of those episode where on the frontend I’m always perplexed by the risk Batman/Bruce Wayne takes. Bruce almost flat out tells Hugo that he’s Batman. I kinda wished they found a better way for Hugo to get the secret. But as far as where it goes from there, I think it’s a smart episode that shows how Batman uses brains more than brawn to overpower and outwit his opponents. They could have certainly played up a battle of wits more. It’s an episode where I do think it could have been a great one if framed a bit differently, but I still think it’s quite good by the time you get to the end. What did you think of this one?

E: I actually didn’t mind (ha!) the way Strange found out about Bruce. I wasn’t under the impression that Bruce knew what Strange did to the guests at his resort. Quite the contrary, the way I saw it he only found out when it was too late. That first section is not the one I have some issues with, but rather the latter half. I don’t dislike it, it is cool for Strange to auction off Batman’s secret identity to some of Gotham’s most notorious crooks (although why the Penguin is there considering he’s barely appeared in this series so far beats me). I was hoping for a greater struggle on the part of Batman to shield his identity. The resolution seemed rather pat to me. It makes sense I suppose. If Strange’s machine can depict thoughts then someone can theoretically create false thoughts and record them, but it all seemed like an easy way out. Next up is an uber sci-fi duo of episodes featuring a Hal-wannabe machine that tries to take over Gotham. The computer strived for perfection. Did the writers as well?

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J: I’m on the fence on this episode. On the one hand, I love the sci-fi idea, it’s an old staple of the genre. On the other hand, as a foe for Batman, H.A.R.D.A.C., a supercomputer working through robots, doesn’t really ever reach fruition for me. I like how H.A.R.D.A.C. starts out sabotaging Wayne Enterprises, but on a hero/villain level, it felt like it was missing true conflict for me. I dunno, it’s an intangible feeling I’m having a hard time pinning down. However, I love a lot of the stuff with the Gotham Police in this episode, especially once H.A.R.D.A.C. replaces Gordon and Bullock with androids. Also, Barbara Gordon makes her first appearance and she ends up helping out Batman, so it’s fun to see another part of the Batfamily get introduced this episode. Did this episode click for you or were you left as cold as a machine?

E: Oh we’re on fire tonight with the puns, I’m loving it! I did appreciate these episodes quite a bit. I can understand where you’re coming from in feeling the sense that something was intangible about the villain but that never bothered me. It made for a different type of story, one where the enemy, because it was intangible, was something greater than usual. That doesn’t mean H.A.R.D.A.C. was a truly great villain but a lot about it creeped me out. Curiously enough, apart from being reminded of Hal I thought of the mean super-computer we see at the very beginning of the first Tron movie. I don’t know why that came to mind, perhaps the deep, electronically enhanced voice. Thematically these couple episodes are perhaps a little bit more empty than most (I’m not exactly sure what they want to say other than don’t play god with technology) but they move along at a super brisk pace that I enjoyed. The first one ended and I thought there were ten minutes still left! Ah, Barbara. I love me some Babs. I was wondering when she’d do something in this show. Her participation felt a little perfunctory in the first part but they use her nicely in the second half. Moving along we get to the creation of a much beloved villain in The Riddler. It hadn’t even hit me that we hadn’t seen him up until now. We’ve witnessed a lot of terrific origin stories in the series so far? How did this one measure up?

J: I’d say this one falls a tier below the greats. It’s not nearly as magnificent as Feat of Clay, Heart of Ice, or Two-Face, but it’s still good. It does a great job of showing us the Riddler persona and it has a lot of quite clever play on words and ideas. I also enjoy the whole construct of the last half of the episode where Batman and Robin run through a labyrinth created by The Riddler. However, Edward Nygma never felt sympathetic as a human being to me like Victor Fries, Harvey Dent, Matt Hagen or even newcomers like Jervis Tetch did. That’s where the episode didn’t click for me. I thought the rest of it was sharply written and amazing. What did you make of Riddler’s first outing?

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E: Well, I can safely say that I’m not one to unravel his riddles since I never even put much thought into his real name, Edward Nygma. E Nygma. Enygma. Oh, boy I don’t feel too smart. Anyways…Yes, I thought it was a solid episode overall. Not the best origin story mind you. I think your comment about Nygma lacking any sort of empathic qualities does hurt it just a wee bit, but on the flip side we get to witness this perverted story in which Batman and Robin have to rescue a scheming, back-stabbing millionaire who takes advantage of his employees. I really liked that touch. It almost makes Batman look like the bad guy in this episode. I can’t say enough about the ending though. I loved it. That is a brutally dark conclusion, yet another example of how the writers don’t shy away from showing rougher material even though this is a family entertainment cartoon. Before moving on however, I’d like to know some of your thoughts on the maze. Yay? Nay?

J: Yay for sure. It feels perfect for the the character of Riddler to make them run through a maze with all sort of clues based on turns of phrases or double meanings for words. Also, I like that it has the minotaur theme to it as well. It gives it personality instead of just being a bizarre death-trap. It’s also quite funny that it’s based off a video game that we see Robin play. It’s funny that they make it sound all cutting-edge and advanced, but at the time I’m pretty sure what that game looked like would look outdated to most kids watching it for the first time. It made me chuckle. What about you? Did you find it confusing or amazing?

E: Close to amazing. Quite fun. The concept of a maze with a series of clues is solid and I thought they implemented it really effectively. I agree that the minotaur at the center was a nice touch and a neat homage to greek mythology. The giant hand of fate was perhaps a bit much for my liking but I guess the Dynamic Duo needed some way to get to the center of the maze. This episode is followed by the return of The Joker. This adventure has him not as the main villain but as a pawn in someone else’s scheme. Was this the right move or did the episode run out of luck?

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J: I thought this was a fun, rather passable episode. On the one hand, I like those few moments we get where you see that something actually gets to The Joker. He’s usually so unaffected, but he really get miffed this episode. Also, his banter in prison is great, especially the bit with Poison Ivy. But his actual romp feels a bit scatterbrained and unfocused. I do like that he’s getting played this episode. I do feel like the major missing key this episode is Harley Quinn. I feel like her presence would really make this episode shine. Instead, it’s an episode with some great episode, but I feel like it sags a bit in the middle. Was this one a jackpot or did you want to cash out early?

E: I could have stayed longer if only because by winnings, while decent, were not satisfying enough. I got greedy and wanted more. I really like the concept of the Joker being played the fool for once. So often he has this audacious plans that seem to require insane preparations. He always has a plan for everything. This time around a smart businessman takes advantages of his hubris and I thought it worked well enough. I guess my only issue was one that could have only been rectified by spreading the story over two parts. I wanted to see the Joker work a little more to find out why he’s being taken advantage of and by whom. Even so, I did like this one a fair bit. It was a little strange not seeing Harley Quinn given that there are multiple shots of casino employees dressed up as Quinn. A few times I was wondering if it was actually her or not. Silly me. This collection of episodes concludes with another really weird one, Tyger, Tyger. This definitely make me think of a hard edged variation of a 60s comic book. Where do you stand?

J: This one is a bit of a head-scratcher for me. I can get the idea of what they might have strived for, trying to explore a bit of what Catwoman’s agenda might lead her to if she took it to the extreme, but on the other hand, it has an edge to it that just feels a bit too dark and out there for this show. It has a strong Island of Dr. Moreau vibe to it and I’d say this is a horror story. I dunno whether or not I think it’s any good. It’s interesting, though. You’ll probably remember it as one of the more off-the-wall episodes from the series. What about yourself?

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E: When Selina Kyle is attacked in the first scene I sort of went ape-s***. I didn’t see that coming. In fact, that was the last thing I ever expected. Nice reference to The Island of Dr. Moreau there. That didn’t even strike me as I watched the episode but you’re right, it does borrow from that pretty heavily. I have to say I liked this one a lot precisely for how dark it was. The huge cat-man was a terrifying monster. He looks incredibly imposing, is bulky as heck, moves like, well, a cat, and just won’t bloody die! Yes, it’s pretty out there but tonally I think this episode struck a really cool middle ground between being scary and adventurous. The one problem I have with it, and I find this very unfortunate because this is the second time this week where I’m nonplussed by Catwoman, but I just don’t think the writers really knew what to do with her here. They turn her into a humanoid cat (or cougar?)…and then what? She just wants to revert to being a human. I don’t know, there was something missing to it. Either go all the way and make her a monster or take an ever weirder route and have her intrigued by the idea of staying a humanoid feline. That would have been something. Instead they half-bake it. What did you think about that aspect to the episode?

J: Unfortunately, I think it’s a restriction of the episodic nature of a lot of these shows. It’s common for a lot of these episodes to reset back to default so people can tune in next week without feeling like they’ve missed out. I do think it would be interesting to see some consequences like that carried throughout the show. We have seen shows for children take on more long-form consequences (Avatar: The Last Airbender), but that is in more recent years. Also, just more as an aside, I don’t think I would have liked an animal/human Catwoman hybrid. She just didn’t seem that compelling as a character in that form.

E: The Animated Series could not have continued serving up greatness time and time again. It was inevitable that we’d run into some episodes that didn’t strike our fancy as much as those that came before. Even though a couple of these ones have their share of problems I have to credit the show for being great for so long, not to mention that we’ll undoubtedly review some classics in the future, so all is not lost. Overall, a decent collection but, much like you, as a whole these are not ones I’ll remember as fondly as most of the others we’ve reviewed. So James, what gets you more excited: Catwoman or Cat-Woman?

J: Oh, I’m going to have to plead the fifth on that one. That question is way too loaded!

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