Once more, Jimmy and Tom are continuing their rewatch of the DCAU.
This week, we’re covering the Batman the Animated Series episodes “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy,” the two-part “Robin’s Reckoning,” and “The Laughing Fish”.
“The Cap and Cowl Conspiracy”
A master of deadly traps is after Batman, all in an effort to secure the Dark Knight’s cape and cowl.
jimmy: Question one…how is this not a Riddler episode?
tomk: Excellent question!
It could have something to do with Elliot S! Maggin adapting one of his own Batman comics. And yes, that is the way he punctuates his own name.
jimmy: I never knew…through the magic of the interwebs let me check it out…
Have you read the issue? I’ll read it in a bit and continue this dialog. We can continue with something else like…
I’m surprised it took this long for the “Bat Signal” to show up.
tomk: I’ve never read the issue, but I have read other comics by Maggin. His work often has a good amount of energy in the dialogue, and I thought that carried over here. His superheroes are serious, but not too serious.
jimmy: Ok…I read it. Very similar, but structured very differently. And Wormwood is less Riddler and more master assassin. The plot involves getting him to admit he assassinated a senator, not the bond heist story from the cartoon.
tomk: It’s like when we talked about the Scarecrow substituting for Zsasz. It was made more kid friendly.
But how scary was Batman when he unmasked himself for Wormwood at the end of the episode?
jimmy: Oh for sure about the plot change. With the change though and making him very Riddler-esque, just use the Riddler.
I never saw the Batman switcharoo coming until the very last second. Very well done.
tomk: And then he’s in the shadows for a while there, so most of what you see if the cape and cowl he’s actually wearing.
But you’re right about the Riddler. Wormwood is even animated in appearance very much like the Riddler for this show.
jimmy: Yeah, he doesn’t look like the Riddler in the comic version.
So the Bat Signal. First appearance complete with yellow oval.
tomk: It’s continuity, Jimmy. You don’t get forward story momentum like this on Challenge of the Go-Bots.
jimmy: Because Go-Bots suck.
tomk: Well, yes.
Not exactly on my “I shall revisit this later” list.
jimmy: Btw, Detective Comics #450…not first appearance of Bat signal. 🙂
tomk: Well, that’s good to know. I suspect it is also not the first appearance of Batman just going through Gordon’s file cabinet without asking first.
jimmy: Haha, that part’s not in the comic.
Getting back to the reveal, Bruce is a hell of an actor and had quite the makeup job done on him to fool Wormwood. Not to mention his ability to completely discard it and change into the cowl in mere seconds. Bravo Batman!
tomk: It was a Scooby Doo disguise. Maybe Wormwood was doing bong hits in the back of a psychedelic van with his great dane.
A good episode, though it looked like it might have gone through some rewrites after it was sent for animation. A couple times the lip synching was way off.
tomk: I hadn’t noticed. I’ll take your word for it there.
jimmy: One thing that did bother me was how smiley Batman was. And then at the end he sends Wormwood the cape and cowl as a joke.
tomk: Or a bit of torture. That was something of a Maggin signature as near as I can tell.
A “jokey” hero.
jimmy: Again, this probably plays to whether he behaves like “my Batman” or not. I found him too jokey. But he does smile now and then, which is ok.
tomk: Well, I didn’t mind it. It seemed like a throwback, especially considering the set pieces for Wormwood’s attacks were railroad tracks and wax museums.
jimmy: The story it was based on came out in 1975, so there’s that. (And the whole train thing is not in the comic, but the wax museum is, almost exactly.)
tomk: Well, nerve gas and heat lamps might affect even a Batman’s sense of humor.
jimmy: John Rhys-Davies does a distinctive turn as Josek.
tomk: It helps that Josek looks like him.
Bud Cort had a nice weasely turn as Wormwood, too.
jimmy: Haha, you are right
He was good, but I’m not familiar with him.
tomk: He gets around. His filmography doesn’t jump out, though he was Toyman on Superman The Animated Series.
jimmy: Anything else on this one?
tomk: Not that I can think of. It’s a fun episode where Batman plays mind games with a guy who could have been the Riddler in another life.
Robin learns his parents’ killer is back in Gotham City, but Batman tries to stop him from getting involved.
tomk: Let’s get the flip comment out of the way first…how badly did you expect Tony Zucco to start calling people a “butthead”?
jimmy: Haha, I had no idea what you were talking about but now I see! Never even noticed it was Biff!
tomk: But getting to the main event–Robin. I said way back in a previous entry that I like this Robin. Kid sidekicks never worked too well for me. Why Batman took one out, especially as the character got darker, never made much sense, and I couldn’t see the point. The kid sidekick is right up there with the female knock-off in terms of characters I could do without. But Robin as a college student actually works. I read a bunch of Robin stories from the 70s once when he went off to college, and it showed a character in constant conflict between respecting authority figures like a good DC hero should and trying to get along with protesting hippie types his own age. He was walking a fine tightrope, and I appreciated that take on the character. The Robin on this show reminds me of that Robin. He’s perfectly capable on his own, is a distinct character from Batman, and is often more of a partner than a sidekick. This Robin works better as a character than most, including when this series introduced Tim Drake as a new, younger Robin.
jimmy: You think he is more Nightwing here than Robin?
tomk: Maybe. The big thing about Nightwing is he’s taken a big step out of his mentor’s shadow and become a hero in his own right. The different original members of the Teen Titans did that with varying degrees of success. Arguably, Dick is only behind Wally West in terms of solo success, and Wally just adopted his mentor’s identity and team affiliation.
jimmy: I really loved these two episodes, particularly the first one. It may be my favorite of the series so far, definitely near the top.
tomk: They worked the flashbacks well into the story, and for once, it didn’t feel like they were padding out a first episode to make a lackluster second.
jimmy: The death at the circus was handled phenomenally.
tomk: It was. The way the shadows showed Dick’s mom swing out, and then the broken rope.
And I loved the way they made the different characters look younger…except for Alfred, who apparently doesn’t age.
jimmy: Maggie keeps him young.
tomk: That is the only possible explanation.
jimmy: I liked the touch that the Bat suit had no yellow oval, just the black bat as per many early year continuities.
tomk: My favorite was Bullock as a uniformed cop.
jimmy: That was great. Gordon with the red hair too.
tomk: Even Bruce had some subtle changes in his civilian appearance. Nothing major considering he was still wearing the same suit.
Plus, hey, they brought back Arnold Stromwell.
jimmy: I was surprised he was Zucco’s uncle.
tomk: I was a little, too. But that showed some sense of continuity. Stromwell was supposed to be the top boss in Gotham when he was introduced, and this is the past before Thorne muscled in.
jimmy: And we know how I feel about continuity.
tomk: A kids cartoon even having it is impressive.
But the thing that stands out the most here is Robin and his rage. Robin doesn’t often become a wrathful character, unless he’s mad at Batman. It’s easy to forget Dick’s parents were killed much as Bruce’s were, but Dick just seems to be mentally in a better place despite this.
jimmy: Agreed. One of the things that made him a different but enjoyable Batman when Bruce was “killed” in Final Crisis. Or just Nightwing in general.
tomk: Dick is what Batman would be if Bruce were, you could say, more well-adjusted.
jimmy: Which is surprising seeing he was “raised” by Bruce.
tomk: Well, the circus started. That was one supportive elephant. It even knew when to cheer him when he did the trapeze act.
jimmy: They are known for being better surrogate parents than bats.
tomk: Yeah, too bad Robin wasn’t adopted by the Elephant Man, but Michael Jackson wanted that guy’s skeleton for some reason.
That may be the single most obscure reference I will put into any of our chats.
Bruce obviously cares for Dick, even if he isn’t sure how to be a parent. Even to the point of trying to take out Zucco without letting him get involved.
tomk: Yes, but really, Dick intervening when he did also helped Bruce. Bruce didn’t keep Dick out of it to keep Dick from killing Zucco. He did it because he wanted Zucco to himself and almost went too far on his own.
jimmy: Bruce taking things too far and not accepting help from family? That doesn’t sound like him at all.
tomk: But when Robin accused him of having a cold, black heart, he realized what he was saying. The two men are really very alike in that respect.
jimmy: It’s not just the villains that are mirrors and reflections of Bruce.
tomk: Excellent point, young padawan.
jimmy: As an aside, most of Dick’s New 52 storyline involved his relationship with Tony Zucco’s estranged daughter trying to be a legit business woman.
tomk: Um. Wow.
jimmy: And of course Bruce taking things too far and not accepting help from family.
tomk: I hear an echo!
jimmy: Grayson is much more upbeat and playful when fighting crime than Bats. Displayed prominently at the beginning of part one versus the thugs in the building development. And contrasted with Batman’s shakedown of the villain after he sends Dick away.
tomk: That was always Robin’s purpose: to make Batman less dark.
Except when Dick was Batman and Damien was Robin and it was the other way around.
jimmy: Yes, exactly. Damien is a chip off the old block for sure.
tomk: Well, by way of the League of Assassins.
“The Laughing Fish”
Joker comes up with a scheme to copyright smiles on fish. The law doesn’t work that way, and he doesn’t care. Can Batman stop him from terrorizing every pencil-pusher in Gotham City?
tomk: Wow. Bullock actually solved the crime. Maybe there are some smart cops in this town after all!
jimmy: Well…he figured out where the hideout was and went in without backup and was only not shark food because Joker didn’t want his shark to be too full to eat Batman.
tomk: Well, Batman usually goes in without back-up, so what’s the big deal there?
jimmy: I guess you are right. No difference there.
I tracked down the 3 issues this episode is based on. Detective Comics #475-476 feature the Joker fish, the copyright angle and the two murders almost as per the show, minus Harley of course. Batman #251 has the conclusion as the aquarium complete with Batman and one of Joker’s former thugs (as a stand in for Bullock) taking a dunk in the shark tank. Then it’s back to Detective #476 for the “Joker falling in the river” finale.
tomk: Yeah, apparently, the episode mixes and matches two old Batman stories, one by Steven Englehart, the other by Denny O’Neil (I spotted both their names very briefly in the closing credits). Obviously, they added Harley and connected the two. I’d say the two mesh together very well all things being equal, only with less murders and more “Batman has an all-purpose anecdote”.
jimmy: He even had a smaller antidote dispenser for the cat.
tomk: But I will add this: I read ages ago that the Joker in the real world couldn’t use the insanity defense for most of his crimes. It seems insanity can only be pleaded on cases that make no sense whatsoever. Joker killing people often has an explainable motive, even if he’s laughing it up. The one exception mentioned was the smiling fish caper. That one could have legitimately used the insanity defense.
jimmy: There’s also a side story in the comic involving Rupert Thorne where the Joker threatens to kill him if he discovered and revealed Batman’s identity. For, “The Joker must have the Batman! Nay, the Joker deserves the Batman! And for anyone else to destroy Batman would be unworthy of me!”
tomk: Wow. Talk about a possessive adversary!
jimmy: Speaking of Joker, I did miss him though. Been a while since we’ve seen him after he was often appearing in every other episode.
tomk: Well, they’ve been good about bringing out more bad guys so they don’t have to rely too heavily on the big one.
In the early episodes, they probably kept going back to Joker because they were still building the familiar rogues gallery.
And we still haven’t seen the Riddler yet.
jimmy: And to draw viewers.
tomk: Do you need Joker to do that if you have Batman?
jimmy: I thought we saw Riddler before Robin…oh wait…
tomk: Well, someone must have thought so, since we had the Sewer King…the suckiest suck who ever sucked,
jimmy: Maybe not but it doesn’t hurt.
tomk: Riddler auditions did not go well for Mr. Wormwood.
jimmy: Solid episode though. I had a minor quibble about the first and last scenes. Let’s start with the first scene. If Bats didn’t know about the Joker Fish, why was he just hanging around the docks in the rain?
tomk: Bats is always where the action is.
It’s like asking why he’s always hanging out overlooking a supporting character at the end of many episodes.
Even creepy ones where he looks like he’s stalking kids at the end of “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement”.
jimmy: Or we are introduced to friends of Bruce that we never heard of or never hear from again, but just happen to fall into a dastardly plot.
tomk: Bruce has a sixth sense for dastardly plots.
Actually, I think the basic idea is Batman looks out for all the people of Gotham City. He’s a protector, so if something bad is happening, he’ll get involved eventually.
jimmy: My other quibble was with the end. I could tell it was going to happen, I knew the writers would do it…shark jumps up and eats the Joker card. It is a great visual but makes zero sense. 🙂
tomk: Man, artistic flourishes are just wasted in you, Mr. Impossible.
jimmy: Hey, I like my bat costume wearing vigilantes and clown faced arch villains to at least be realistic!
tomk: Thank you, Mr. Nolan.
jimmy: Only the second episode so far with no title card. The other being “Heart of Ice”.
tomk: The creaking sign in the rain wasn’t realistic enough for you? Maybe if a shark took a bite out of it…
jimmy: Haha, the sign was fine, just pointing out the lack of title card.
jimmy: I did find Joker’s “well, I can’t feed Bullock to the shark because he won’t be hungry enough to eat Batman” excuse a little lame.
tomk: It made for a decent excuse not to kill Bullock on a kids show.
jimmy: Damn kids. Always ruining my cartoons.
tomk: Wait until we get to Batman Beyond. That one was supposed to be more kid friendly and turned out exactly the opposite.
NEXT TIME: Jimmy and Tom discuss “Night of the Ninja,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” and “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”.