Going Through The DCAU Part Nine

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After a week off, Tom and Jimmy’s rewatch of the DCAU continues.

This week, we’re covering the Batman The Animated Series episodes “Dreams In Darkness,” “Eternal Youth,” and “Perchance to Dream”.

“Dreams In Darkness”

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Batman thinks the Scarecrow is trying to somehow poison the Gotham water supply, but he can’t do anything about it as long as he’s hallucinating and locked up in Arkham.

jimmy:  Batman’s hallucinations alone, especially the one of his parents, are reason enough to watch this episode.

tomk:  The episode was inspired by a Batman comic storyline that was not decidedly kid friendly. Instead of the Scarecrow, it was a different, at-the-time new bad guy named Mr. Zsasz, who ran around naked killing people and then posing the bodies in lifelike poses for people to find. He also gave himself a small scar for each kill, and his body was covered. The character is a silent mob killer in Nolan’s Batman Begins. Also, Batman goes to Arkham as part of a plan with Commissioner Gordon to find out what’s going on in there, so the two have him fake killing a cop at a crime scene. Not much you can use there on a family friendly cartoon show.

jimmy:  I’m familiar with Zsasz. Outside of Batman going to Arkham, what makes you think that inspired this episode? Was it in the credits?

tomk:  It seems to be the common idea about this episode. Batman goes to Arkham while an inmate is slipping in and out to commit evil deeds.

jimmy:  Fair enough. I get the feeling Zsasz never shows up in animated form?

tomk:  Not to my knowledge. Naked murderers who just slash throats aren’t really something you want in a kids show.

jimmy:  The hallucinations made this episode. Actually, outside of them not a terrible amount happens.

tomk:  I would agree there. Batman’s voiceover gives it a bit of a noir feel, but it isn’t sustained. We’re seeing what Batman is afraid of, and the giant gun his parents walk into is really symbolic in ways I don’t think most family shows would go.

jimmy:  Yeah, that scene is great. And very dark as you said.

I think this is the first time they use Batman as a narrator though.

tomk:  I am trying to think of other times he may have narrated and can’t come up with any. I do remember an episode Superman narrated of his show, though.

Another dark one, as I recall, where Superman had to let the world think Clark Kent was murdered.

jimmy:  I found it a little off-putting actually. It seemed slightly out of character, and who was he narrating to? (I know I’m just being picky now.)

tomk:  Who does any narrator narrate to?

Maybe he’s podcasting by himself in the Batcave.

jimmy:  His weekly Kevin Smith podcast Batman on Fatman.

I noticed Joker gets named as Jack Napier, a direct call out to the Burton films.

tomk:  Yeah, he did. That’s probably why neither Batman nor the Joker get much of an origin episode.

jimmy:  I really enjoyed this episode, but it’s no fun if you don’t find a few things to pick on. For example, should an insane asylum leave a fire axe so readily accessible?

tomk: I also enjoyed it, possibly more than you did. The hallucinations are really good, but the way they screw up Batman at the end of the episode create a lot of nervous tension and a good action sequence. There’s also a good deal of top notch animation, especially in those hallucinations. Penguin’s head exploding and becoming Two-Face is a prime example.

jimmy:  For sure. And Two-Face’s coin becoming the saw blade.

tomk:  And the way the floor dropped down when Batman had to leap off a ledge to get the Scarecrow.

jimmy:  That’s what I was going to comment on next. It’s a nice character builder for Batman (as if we needed it). He never gives up. Even in the face of these fears, like the “Electric Snake” near the end.

tomk:  Lucky for him that snake was also the feeder for the gas.

And look, Scarecrow got hit with his own toxins again! That wacky straw man!

jimmy:  I had to let that go. You’d think he’d make himself immune or protected from them.

I did have a question about his apparatus to poison the water supply, why the countdown clock? When it was ready, just turn it on.

And now that I think about it some more…wasn’t it fear gas? How would that infect the water supply?

tomk:  Jimmy…you’re thinking about it again.

I can’t explain the gas, but the countdown clock seems like the kind of thing that gets added to make for more drama. Let it tick down to a single second before Batman somehow stops it.

jimmy:  Yeah, yeah. I know. It just seemed silly. Especially since they didn’t say set it for 30 minutes and get the hell out of there. There were like 3 minutes left and they just hung around waiting for it to go off. But again, being nitpicky.

tomk:  You gotta keep an eye on these things otherwise who will fail to stop Batman from tampering with the machine when he shows up?

But the thing that bugged me the most…why does Bruce have a bed in the Batcave?

jimmy:  I can see that though. Gotta be lots of times Bruce is wiped after a long night fighting crime and doesn’t have the energy to make it upstairs and just crashes.

Plus, if this Alfred is anything like the Alfred in Burton’s Batman, he could be letting Vicki Vale into the cave at any time for a late night “Batdance” if you know what I mean. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more.

Still more believable than the cache of caged cats he just had kicking around to experiment on in the last Scarecrow episode.

tomk:  Hey, he had some mice there too!

jimmy:  Totally believable then.

tomk:  Well, that’s probably the real reason the whole Catwoman thing never worked out.

“Eternal Youth”

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Batman investigates the mysterious disappearances of rich industrialists from a resort…that’s being run by Poison Ivy! Can Batman stop her before something awful happens to Alfred and a friend of his, attending in Bruce Wayne’s place?

jimmy:  Question one…who the hell is Maggie?

tomk:  I…have no idea.

jimmy:  Does she ever appear again?

tomk:  Nope.

jimmy:  Weird.

tomk:  She reminds me of Miss Piggy pursuing Alfred the Frog.

jimmy:  Haha

And maybe it was just seeing it in the daytime, but the outside of Wayne Manor seemed completely isolated and unfamiliar.

tomk:  As opposed to seeing it at night when it is completely isolated and fairly familiar.

jimmy:  Exactly.

I don’t know. Something about it just seemed off to me.

tomk:  I can understand that. It’s like seeing a co-worker outside the office. You know the person, but seeing him or her in a different setting just seems weird.

jimmy:  I barely made any notes on this episode. It was good, but not much really stood out as exceptionally bad or good. Not even much to pick on. Besides the whole Maggie thing, and Harley obviously undercover as one of Ivy’s henchwomen.

tomk:  I had a bit more for myself.

Here’s my first question: since Ivy is only nabbing polluters, something even Bruce Wayne in his private life finds reprehensible, how much do we side with her this time around? The only really innocent people there are Alfred and Maggie. From an environmental standpoint, Ivy isn’t completely in the wrong.

Yeah, her methods get her labeled a fanatic and ecoterrorist by Batman, and Batman is right, but these people did some damage in the name of profit. Bruce doesn’t believe in that.

jimmy:  And the episode even starts with Bruce losing his mind about cutting down a rain forest.

And there’s siding with Ivy as being right against polluters…and there’s stopping her from turning people into trees.

tomk:  True.

Plus, she doesn’t discriminate. She says she still wants to get Bruce Wayne, and had no problem doing anything to Alfred and Maggie, only one of whom profits from Wayne Enterprises even indirectly as far as I can tell.

But I like to point out that Batman’s foes are mirror reflections of Batman himself, and Ivy does it directly in this one with the old “We’re the same!” speech.

The big problem with Ivy is she prioritizes plants over people.

jimmy:  Like you said, a lot of Bats villains aren’t “evil,” they just go to extremes for their believes. Like Ivy and Catwoman.

tomk:  Yeah. This series does its best to make sure the bad guys are at least sympathetic, even misguidedly like the Hatter last entry.

jimmy:  Hence most of Bats villains end up in Arkham and not Blackgate.

tomk:  But this episode also reminded me of the famous “Anatomy Lesson” issue from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run, where it was stated quite firmly that people cannot turn into plants. They’re not the same on a cellular level.

jimmy:  And Alan Moore is never wrong. Crazy. But never wrong.

tomk:  Well, I’d be wary of some of his erotica.

Just saying’.

I think even Watson would avoid it.

jimmy:  Noted.

tomk:  OK, here’s another question from me: Ivy got crushed to death on the ceiling of her own greenhouse, right?

jimmy:  To death? Now Tom, you know better than that.

tomk:  Just saying’, that should have been a fatal incident involving a solid tree and a glass ceiling.

Oh great, another woman stopped by a glass ceiling…

jimmy:  Haha

tomk:  Well, at least Alfred has an annoying woman on the side. I’d sure like to know where that relationship came from. I know in the Silver Age Alfred had a daughter by war comic character Mademoiselle Marie…but Maggie clearly isn’t a former member of the French Resistance.

jimmy:  He has a daughter in the “Don’t Call Me New 52” DC universe as well.

tomk:  Really? What’s her name?

jimmy:  Julia Pennyworth

tomk:  Well, she has the same first name.

Julia Remarque was the original character.

jimmy:  I’m not sure if her mother has been revealed in this continuity.

tomk:  Well, I had to quit the New 52 for financial reasons a while back and it seemed too daunting to jump back in.

jimmy:  Don’t bother. I’m down to Batman and Justice League right now.

Back to this episode, it once agains shows the ineptitude of the GCPD. They really couldn’t find any evidence to link these people with the Eternal Youth spa?

tomk:  To be fair, Batman might not have either if he hadn’t gotten the same video.

And Alfred initially told him not to worry.

jimmy:  But Batman goes to the house from the beginning and finds the tape lying around. Whether he had gotten the same tape or not, you’d think the police would have noticed everyone had those tapes. Ivy didn’t exactly cover her tracks.

And speaking of Ivy…Alfred didn’t recognize her?

tomk:  Has Alfred met Ivy?

Here’s a better question: was the audience supposed to be surprised it was Ivy when they finally showed her face? She’s kept in the shadows for a long time for no good reason.

jimmy:  I’ve never met Malin Ackerman but I think I would recognize her.

tomk:  Good point…sort of.

jimmy:  Agreed, it was obviously Ivy. I even wonder sometimes why it takes Batman so long to figure this stuff out. Crime involving plants? Poison Ivy. Fear gas? Scarecrow. Some of these are just too easy.

tomk:  He did know, though. He didn’t know about the plant part right away until he added some of that stuff to “human plasma” which is kid friendly TV talk for blood. Morbius needed “plasma” as well on the 90s Spider-Man cartoon.

jimmy:  They did the same shadow trick with Scarecrow last episode for awhile.

tomk:  Except Batman already had him pegged.

jimmy:  Yes, so that made it even stranger.

tomk:  I guess it was just a stylistic thing.

“Perchance to Dream”

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Bruce Wayne wakes up in Wayne Manor with his parents alive, Selina Kyle as his fiancee, and the entrance to the Batcave missing. If Bruce isn’t Batman, then why is Batman swinging around town?

jimmy:  Absolutely heartbreaking episode when Bruce has his “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” moment.

tomk:  It reminded me of another Alan Moore story, the one where Mongul gives Superman the gift of perfect happiness, and the hero has to give it up to save the day.

jimmy:  Not familiar with that one, but definitely sounds similar. And fitting to be compared to Superman since the fight in the clock tower was straight out of Superman III. 🙂

tomk:  True, but the Alan Moore story was adapted to an episode of Justice League, so you probably are more familiar with it than you think.

jimmy:  Maybe. I haven’t seen much Justice League…yet.

This is a great episode though. My only minor quibble was the use of the Mad Hatter so soon after his last appearance. And his explanation at the end for keeping Batman out of his life was kinda weak.

tomk:  Well, Hatter’s blaming Batman for his problems the first time around was kinda weak.

And this is supposedly the second season, so there may have been a much bigger gap between appearances than you and I remember.

jimmy:  Fair enough.

tomk:  But really, the basic plot is the same except Moore included other characters trying to wake Superman up. The hero is in a place representing what he always wanted, a place where his parents are still alive and he has a family of his own. Moore’s is more heartbreaking because Superman in his dream has a son he has to give up along with the rest of Krypton. Bruce also remembers being Batman, which is a weakness on the Hatter’s part. Batman’s too smart not to figure out the dreaming angle.

jimmy:  Especially once the reading thing came into it, which I think has some possible basis in truth but doubt it is 100% accurate. I know I’ve read things in dreams.

tomk:  Or, you dreamed it made sense.

I dunno. I could probably get a lot more done if I could read in dreams.

jimmy:  Either way, it was a great visual and made sense in terms of cluing Bruce into something being amiss….of course, just after he had accepted this was his life.

tomk:  We can’t have him too confused. It’s his show.

If it changed and Batman was a background character to a privileged man’s life, I don’t think it would have been as entertaining.

jimmy:  You wouldn’t want to see the animated adventures of Bruce Wayne and the Supermodels?

tomk:  Not as a kid. Maybe if he were Richie Rich.

jimmy:  Another in a long line of “we’re going to assume you know Batman’s origin” episodes.

tomk:  If it spun off the movies, well, we should.

Who doesn’t know Batman’s backstory at this point?

jimmy:  I agree and I’m fine with it. I just thought it was an interesting choice. Each iteration or “reboot” for a hero seems to give its own version of the origin.

tomk:  True, but it’s been done in different ways. Adam West only mentions it somewhat casually in the pilot episode.

jimmy:  Well, I would expect the tone here would lend itself more to that origin than Batcamp.

tomk:  I remember Superfriends actually did something with in in the 80s when West was the voice of Batman. They mostly talked about it and implied heavily the actual events rather than show them.

jimmy:  Yeah, Superfriends likely not the place to see two innocent parents get gunned down.

tomk:  It was a late episode, probably after they changed the name to The Super Powers Team to match an action figure line and added Firestorm to the team, with Darkseid as a regular villain. They actually started to use more actual DC Comics material. But that’s besides the point.

One of the biggest complaints about superhero movies is they always start with an origin, even with characters like Batman where the audience probably already knows it.

jimmy:  If they have a different spin or something, fine. I had no issue with Batman Begins doing the origin thing. But like Amazing Spider-Man was like “really? Again with the origin?”

tomk:  Probably why they’re skipping it next time supposedly.

What movie going Spider-fan doesn’t know his backstory by now?

jimmy:  Exactly.

tomk:  But we got way off track. Anything to add about the Mad Hatter somehow fitting in that Batman suit, even if it was a dream?

jimmy:  It was a dream. He instantly transforms when Bruce unmasks him. The better question, how was Hatter communicating with him? And if Hatter was just a figment of Bruce’s imagination (as he stated) how did he know everything?

tomk:  My guess: Hatter outside wasn’t. There was enough of the Hatter in the dream machine to project him into Batman, and as it was part of him, it knew all his secrets. The Hatter outside didn’t because he never thought to unmask Batman for some reason.

That, or Bruce is smart enough to know who’d be messing with his mind without being told.

jimmy:  Yes.

And good call on the unmasking. Why do the bad guys always forget that?

tomk:  I suspect some, like the Joker, actually don’t care who Batman is.

Hatter probably knew he only had so much time to slap the dream machine on him and didn’t want to risk Batman waking up first.

jimmy:  I suppose.
Much of the New 52 arc of Batman involves the Joker knowing Batman’s identity. And it’s been long rumored that Joker has known it for some time but just blocks it out as noise since all he cares about is Batman.

tomk:  Yeah, Joker could know, but he wouldn’t care. Some think Commissioner Gordon also knows but pretends not to.

jimmy:  I sure hope so, or he is a horrible detective.

But this is a universe that can be fooled by a pair of reading glasses…

tomk:  Reading glasses and a mild mannered personality shift.

I know Frank Miller’s Year One suggested Gordon was about to figure it out when something came up.

jimmy:  Back to this episode, I assume that everything prior to Bruce waking up in bed is the real world. He even admits himself that he fell into the Mad Hatter’s trap like an amateur. I guess even Batman makes mistakes.

And I think Gordon, if he doesn’t know, doesn’t attempt to find out since it can only do more harm than good for his city.

tomk:  Yes, and he berates himself for it like there is such thing as a professional vigilante.

But there, he knew the Hatter was involved already.

Interesting, though now that I think about it, the dream world had a Batman, and cops who will follow one rich guy to get him to come home, but there doesn’t seem to be any supervillains anywhere to be seen.

jimmy:  Supervillians have no place in Batman’s brain.

tomk:  If you discount every other dream sequence ever, that is true. 😉

jimmy:  Haha, I was thinking that too. Like all the recent Scarecrow-induced hallucinations.

tomk:  Or what he saw when he was locked in Fat Man’s sweat box.

There’s usually at least a Joker in there.

But when you only put in the things he really wants as a perfect life, there’s no Joker. Or any of the others.

jimmy:  The question then…is the appearance of Batman part of that perfect life or an “echo” to try to bring him out of it?

tomk:  I think it’s the echo. Bruce knows “Batman” is behind it all.

Of course, if we want to say Batman is Bruce’s crazy side, that makes sense even if the Hatter isn’t underneath that cowl.

jimmy:  Or he thinks that Gotham needs a Batman, even if it isn’t him, which is a popular aspect of Batman being “eternal”.

tomk:  Well, he’s Batman. He doesn’t quit.

Even if you give him everything he personally wants, he doesn’t want other people to go without and be at the mercy of evildoers.

NEXT TIME:  Jimmy and Tom work through “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy,” the two-part “Robin’s Reckoning,” and “The Laughing Fish”.

 

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