Continuing Jimmy and Tom’s rewatch of the DCAU.
This week, we’re covering the Batman The Animated Series episodes “Beware the Gray Ghost,” “Prophecy of Doom,” and the two part “Feat of Clay”.
“Beware the Gray Ghost”
When a “Mad Bomber” starts blowing up buildings in a manner reminiscent of his favorite show from childhood, Batman turns to the actor who played the TV hero the Gray Ghost for help finding the culprit.
tomk: Hey…Adam West!
And a Mad Bomber!
jimmy: Lol, that’s exactly who I thought of!
tomk: I also thought…hey, it’s the voice of Bruce Timm and the character looks like him. Was someone trying to say something about working for the guy?
jimmy: I wouldn’t recognize Timm or his voice, but I did notice his name in the credits.
tomk: You’ve probably heard his voice if you’ve been listening to the audio commentaries. Plus, you can probably see him in some of the DVD extras.
jimmy: I have for sure, but I wouldn’t recognize it like say Conroy as Bruce’s father.
tomk: Well, his name was also in the credits.
jimmy: Are there stories about Timm being difficult to work with or anything?
tomk: None that I’ve heard, but it is an old tradition for animators to draw themselves into cartoons all the time. The only thing I know for certain is Timm actually isn’t fond of doing voice work but got stuck doing a regular Joker gang leader on Batman Beyond so the various writers made sure to include the character fairly often.
I think this is the first time we’ve seen Bruce’s dad that wasn’t in a dream…albeit a flashback. (Unless you consider it the dream Bruce wakes up from and remembers Gray Ghost.)
tomk: No, that was a flashback as far as I was concerned. I liked the way they went back to that look when nostalgic Bruce was watching the episode later.
On a side note, the Gray Ghost had some tremendous production values for its time period.
jimmy: The show within the show you mean?
tomk: Yeah. They must have had a huge budget for an old TV show.
But on a more serious note, despite the casting of Adam West as Simon Trent, a remarkably fit man for his age, I thought the story was closer to that of George Reeves, the TV Superman who couldn’t find work after the show ended and may have killed himself out of frustration.
jimmy: Excellent point. I did like the meta aspect of the casting of West. Very Birdman before Birdman was Birdman. Complete with thrashing a room full of belongings.
tomk: Simon Trent even looked a little like West.
jimmy: Likely intentional.
tomk: Oh, certainly. Just as the Mad Bomber looked like Bruce Timm.
jimmy: When you said that I pictured the Mad Bomber from The Tick and thought you were kidding.
Oh yeah, that looks like him for sure.
tomk: No, that was the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight.
jimmy: Haha, great show.
Speaking of great shows, I thought this one was ok but I really, really wanted it to be better.
tomk: You know, I did too. It’s a very basic episode that mostly revolves around how a TV hero helped inspire Batman. Oh, and the hero was Adam West.
I will say the Gray Ghost had a brilliant retro soundtrack of his own.
jimmy: Yeah. I think it is one of those deals with nostalgia that you hate. You build it up in your head. It’s a clever enough episode, and the whole play on Gray Ghost versus the West TV Batman and West actually protraying the Gray Ghost, it all seems like it should be a fantastic episode.
tomk: Well, we know from Batman Beyond Bruce will be keeping his Gray Ghost shrine for several decades to come. That man will not let anything from his childhood go.
jimmy: Just from his childhood?
tomk: Isn’t the whole point of Batman that he is avenging a crime he witnessed as a child?
jimmy: Oh yes, but I mean Bruce doesn’t seem like the type to let anything go. Ever.
tomk: I love Batman, but in many ways, he’s the kid who won’t let a bad thing happen again after he’s been hurt by the world.
jimmy: I’d hate to owe the guy $20.
tomk: Well, on a side note, I’ve seen the bomb-carrying remote control cars before in a Dirty Harry movie (the fourth and last one). They even chased the hero and his partner around in their car.
jimmy: Dead Pool is the fifth, but you’re right.
tomk: There were five of those? Considering I’ve only seen the first and the last, I think there was a huge dip in quality there.
jimmy: Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and Dead Pool.
tomk: So there was.
Was the Gray Ghost in any of those?
jimmy: Only Dead Pool. He was played by Jim Carrey.
tomk: Oh, bummer.
Is there anything else to say about this episode, Jimmy?
jimmy: I did like the intercutting of the Gray Ghost episode and the real time bombings at the beginning.
But I found the animation in general very off at times. There is a point where the Batmobile looks like it is made of rubber and several times Batman looks like he is off character specs.
tomk: I’m just glad the show was all hand-drawn. Off-model is annoying, but a price you pay for that sort of craftsmanship. The polish of later episodes isn’t there yet. But the Gray Ghost opening credits were fantastic. Too bad they couldn’t do the whole episode that way.
The only other notes I have were that it is an interesting blend of technology that Bruce’s limo has a TV, but it is black and white.
And Trent seems like he is a bit slow with the whole “I used to watch Gray Ghost with my father” bit. Surprised he never put two and two together like Gordon at the end of Dark Knight Rises.
tomk: I actually thought he did put it together, the way West had that “Really?” line and the look on his face.
jimmy: Perhaps. It never really came off to me that way, but maybe it was suppose to.
tomk: Well, maybe that was just a secret Simon Trent would take with him to his grave…or his next interview with People. I was surprised they used the real magazine’s logo.
jimmy: Maybe they have an affiliation with the WB?
“Prophecy of Doom”
Batman learns of a fake psychic who is scamming Gotham’s millionaires out of large sums of money by faking disasters he conveniently predicted.
tomk: Ugh. This episode.
Here’s why this one is my least favorite episode: it’s bad and utterly forgettable at the same time.
At least with the Sewer King, the suckiest suck who ever sucked, there’s something to kinda remember. This episode isn’t even all that original. The superstitious gullibility of Gotham’s millionaires will be played again at least once more with, I think, the Mad Hatter, and the plot here, where a fake prophet arranges disasters to his own personal profit, was actually once used in an episode of Dynomutt, a comedic superhero cartoon series that used to run with (and get the occasional guest appearance by) Scooby Doo. So this episode has all those strikes going against it.
jimmy: I didn’t think it was that bad, but certainly forgettable.
tomk: I have a special thing against cults and conspiracy theories.
jimmy: I can understand that. I can feel that way too when it is in my face, but this didn’t bother me.
tomk: Well, I just couldn’t believe how dumb everyone was in this episode. You mean no forensics types investigated that elevator accident and saw the acid burns? Nostromos’ act is also rather stupid.
jimmy: Speaking of the elevator, how did Bruce change so fast? And does he have his costume on under his clothes? And what happened to his clothes?
tomk: They were found in the wreckage. Superman comics used to show he had a pocket in his cape to store his Clark Kent clothes when he changed into his costume.
jimmy: Really? I never heard of that. Maybe that is where Bats kept the thermos of chicken soup in “Heart of Ice”.
tomk: Bats has a belt. Barry Allen used to store his Flash costume in a ring.
jimmy: That I knew. I’ve never heard of Batman storing his costume in his belt. Just one of those “suspension of disbelief” things I guess.
tomk: Truth be told, I’ve never heard of it either, but most superheroes don’t bother to explain where their costume or their regular clothes go when they change. And some of the ones that do are screwy. The Atom, for example, wore his costume all the time, but the material was stretched so thin it was invisible when he was at his full size.
jimmy: Spider-Man is pretty clear about clothing changes.
tomk: He’s an exception, like Superman used to be. He carried the clothes with him.
jimmy: Anyway, back to this episode, I thought the fight in the planetarium was pretty good. And the sinking of the “Titanic” was very traumatic for a Saturday morning cartoon.
tomk: I thought the sinking was weirdly animated, and I was wondering why a special effects guy (named Lucas!) was giving Batman so much trouble.
And what were those planets made of? Most shattered except for apparently Saturn with its razor sharp rings.
jimmy: Stop trying to make sense!
But good points. And the sinking felt like it was from a different show, like the way the last season of Spider-Man would use material from Rocket Robin or some such.
tomk: See, the cult of stupid rich people (and it comes back later as noted) bothered me, for a number of reasons, so the episode makes me spot flaws.
Add in the fact that the episode is also utterly forgettable. There’s not much worth remembering about it. The first time I watched this show on DVD, I had completely forgotten this episode existed. I am pretty sure it was the only one I had utterly forgotten too. Even Sewer King left a better impression, even if it was a bad one.
And there’s the “here are some good friends of Bruce Wayne never mentioned before or afterwards” too, with the skeptical daughter being voiced by Heather Locklear.
jimmy: I was just about to mention her. It almost seemed like they were setting them (her at least) up as regular characters.
tomk: I don’t know what they were doing. I’m not even sure what their relationship was. Were they just friends or was Lisa a potential love interest? She did need to be rescued, and Batman is not, as a series, above bringing in the damsel in distress trope.
jimmy: I was confused by their relationship as well. I would assume love interest, but it is never clear.
tomk: And she doesn’t come back, so whatever it was, we’ll never know.
jimmy: Oh that Bruce, will he ever settle down?
tomk: Yeah, but that’s another episode.
“Feat of Clay parts 1 and 2”
Industrialist Roland Daggett is up to some nasty corporate tricks involving chemicals that can help people literally mold their faces. After framing Bruce Wayne for attempted murder, Batman gets on the case, but not before actor Matt Hagen is transformed into the monstrous Clayface.
tomk: OK, Jimmy, let’s get this out of the way first: was Clayface gay? His pal Teddy seemed a little chummy. Teddy was initially dismissed as just a stand-in, but it looks like Teddy lives in Hagen’s house and cooks dinner for them. I didn’t think much of it, but some friends of mine were rather insistent Bruce Timm was implying Matt was gay.
jimmy: Never once crossed my mind but I suppose he could be. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
tomk: No, there isn’t. The relationship throws people off. Catwoman had a personal assistant living with her, but Selina was clearly straight given her flirting with Batman, and I suspect it was supposed to be a sort of reverse Batman thing with the assistant being a female equivalent to Alfred. But man, Teddy sure goes above and beyond caring for Matt here.
jimmy: Now that you say it I can definitely see it. But when watching I just thought he was a good friend or manager or some such.
tomk: See, the same thing happened to me. I didn’t see it until someone pointed it out to me.
jimmy: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Clayface was one of those Rogues Gallery guys that was a nothing gimmick until TAS got hold of him.
tomk: Actually, there were a couple different versions. One wasn’t even a shapeshifter. Another had some weird disease that caused people he touched to melt.
jimmy: Weird. I obviously don’t know much about Clayface. Actually, I did find one thing weird about him. I was fine with the shape shifting, but when I thought about it, when he discarded parts of his body throughout…wasn’t he really discarding parts of his body? And he discards a whole shell at the end. I guess he has endless regenerative powers. I just got it on my mind and it bugged me throughout part two.
tomk: I chalk that up to “things you shouldn’t think about”.
Was Daggett a comic character?
tomk: Wikipedia tells me no he was not.
jimmy: I suspected as much. Ed Asner does a good job with him.
tomk: Asner does good voice work, but his best DCAU work comes with Superman.
I would also point out the episode, co-written by Crisis author Marv Wolfman, gave Daggett a pair of distinctive henchmen in a germophobe (voiced by Ed Begley Jr) and a guy with headphones (voiced by another Family Ties alumni Scott Valentine).
I think Begley’s “Germs” comes across better, if for no other reason than Batman’s awesome interrogation scene in the lab.
jimmy: Begley was unrecognizable. And agreed about the interrogation. I was going to ask if you knew Valentine. I never noticed Wolfman’s credit. That’s cool.
tomk: I actually thought Ron Perlman as Clayface was a bit unrecognizable. But I also think Begley voices a different, more memorable character in a different episode.
jimmy: I was surprised too when I saw the credits for part one, I never realized it was Perlman.
And his voice is usually pretty distinctive.
tomk: Perlman usually has a distinct sort of growl to his voice. I didn’t really hear it here.
I’ll be on the listen for it for future Clayface episodes.
jimmy: Solid set of episodes though. I was thinking the end of part two was a bit lame until the big reveal of Hagan’s “death scene”.
tomk: Actually, I thought part two was the better episode for once. I’m not sure there was enough story for a two-parter here since the first episode seemed to be just some long set-up, but then we got to some real shapeshifting action that worked very well.
jimmy: Oh I enjoyed it, and the action with Clayface was tremendous, but I was just like “really? This is how he gets defeated?” And then the further reveals of the husk, etc, saved the end for me.
tomk: It was awfully convenient that Clayface assumed the Bruce Wayne face for those cops.
jimmy: Haha, yes, I thought so too.
Along those line, how did Clayface/Hagen perfectly imitate voices? Or is that another thing in the “don’t think about category”?
tomk: Well, I would assume he could do some mimicry to begin with, but perhaps molding his vocal cords a certain way helps.
jimmy: Well, he imitates Bruce in part one with pre-moldable vocal chords. I supposed he can do impressions, but it was just all too perfect.
tomk: Then, once again, don’t think about it too hard. It was good enough to fool Lucius. Though why they would want to kill him and let his driver sit unmolested in that car is beyond me.
jimmy: Well, they weren’t that skilled it seemed and they went to the Stormtrooper school of gun training. The sniper can’t hit Lucius while he is running away but can in rapid succession hit two wires that are holding up a hanging sign?
tomk: Why aim for the sign if you can just hit him?
jimmy: I guess hitting moving targets was a problem.
tomk: Yes, really they should aim for nearly invisible stationary targets.
jimmy: Maybe he was aiming at Lucius and got lucky with two shots.
tomk: Well, it doesn’t matter.
And you noted the ending. This episode is another great example of the DCAU ominous ending, where the threat has been dealt with, but only temporarily.
jimmy: That’s every superhero ending.
tomk: No, sometimes the bad guy just goes to jail. The fact Clayface can be literally anybody on the street makes him a bit more dangerous.
jimmy: Fair enough.
Backtracking a bit, I did find it odd that when he is first turned, Clayface has a meltdown and decides he can’t continue acting because it is too hard to stay transformed…then in the next scene transforms into a doctor and goes after Daggett’s man in the hospital.
tomk: He exhausts himself in the first fight with Batman. He gets better later. But not enough to just turn into Matt Hagen and try to stay that way.
jimmy: I know I’m just nitpicking and there are reasons (i.e. the plot)
tomk: There are always reasons. Clayface should be unbeatable to Batman, but the character, like Mr. Freeze, doesn’t appear all that often, possibly because he doesn’t fit as well into Batman’s world where most of his foes lack superpowers.
jimmy: I know what you mean. It would be like Spider-Man making a deal with the devil. He just doesn’t fit in stories like that.
tomk: Anyone who thinks a story where Spider-Man makes any sort of deal with any sort of devil clearly has no idea what kind of character Spider-Man is.
jimmy: That’s a whole different series of columns…
tomk: Well, if only I knew someone nutty enough to do an entire Spider-Man chronology.
jimmy: I knew someone like that once. He made it through a month at least…
But back to Batman, he usually doesn’t seem out of place in supervillain stories, Crisis stories, street crime stories and everything in between. It’s just so ingrained in us now that he is always prepared and always finds a way. See “Tower of Babel” and Dark Knight Returns amongst many other examples.
tomk: Yeah, it’s the sort of thing you really shouldn’t think about, where the street-level vigilante who holds his own city as priority one routinely gets called in as one of the top guys for every mess no matter how big or small it is.
jimmy: And is always the last or next to last man standing. Unless your story is written by Watson.
tomk: Well, Darkseid knew he had to remove Bats from the scene almost immediately in Final Crisis.
jimmy: Exactly. You don’t see Gods planning around “What would D-Man do?”
tomk: Maybe they should. D-Man might be the weapon the Avengers really need.
jimmy: And I think we’ve strayed enough away from Clayface. Shall we move on? I think I hear the Joker laughing….
tomk: Why, not only that, I think I hear someone calling him her puddin’…
NEXT TIME: Tom and Jimmy cover the first Harley Quinn episode with “Joker’s Favor,” the first Killer Croc episode with “Vendetta,” and the return of the Scarecrow with “Fear of Victory”.