When poking around for stuff to go through next, I considered the DCAU.
So, apparently, was Jimmy Impossible.
So, we’ll be doing it together, starting where it all began with Batman.
“On Leather Wings”
Some giant bat-thing is robbing chemical plants and factories. Most of Gotham City’s authority figures think its Batman and go out to arrest him. Instead, its the Man-Bat. Batman subdues the creature and helps him out while clearing his own name.
tomk : So, the first thing that jumped out at me was the general tone. It’s quiet in places. The scene in the mayor’s office where Mayor Hill, Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, and DA Dent are discussing bringing Batman in and convicting him seems to be almost out of a different show. Keep in mind the average kid action cartoon at that point, like the Ninja Turtles or G.I. Joe, made the good guys good and the bad guys bad. Batman’s show is very good at blurring the lines.
jimmy : Agreed. The violence was also more “realistic” than any of those shows. Whereas GI Joe and Cobra shot at each other with brightly colored lasers, the villains and police of the Batman universe used actual machine guns. The other aspect of the tone that was a bit surprising for Saturday mornings was the sexuality. The couple at the pharmaceutical lab sneaking off to make out, Alfred canceling Bruce’s date with Bambi, Bruce making goo goo eyes at Francine Langstrom.
tomk: The guns were machine guns, but the setting isn’t quite the weird mix of 30s noir and modern day stuff it will be. The machine guns and the suits the gangsters wear would look more in-place in a Humphrey Bogart movie. They also tend to watch most TV in black-and-white, while still having computers.
jimmy: It seems to be the Batman thing to do, like Burton’s Batman, which is a strong influence here of course. But even modern shows like Gotham have that “confusing what time period is it” aspect to it. They drive old cars and everything is very noir, but they have cell phones (flip, not smart) and do have computers. Speaking of computers, the Batcave has better voice recognition circa 1992 than I have now on my phone and in my car.
tomk: If I remember right, that voice recognition gets a little more advanced in future episodes involving Alfred flying the Batwing.
Speaking of voice recognition, Kevin Conroy does multiple characters, as do most of the cast, but the differences between his Batman and his Bruce Wayne is rather striking.
And I do want to give a shout-out to Andrea Romano for casting Marc Singer as Kirk Langstrom. Casting the actor perhaps known only as “The Beastmaster” as a man who turns into an animal is a nice nod to people who notice.
jimmy: Haha, I never noticed the parallel, but was always a Singer fan from Beastmaster and V. Back to Conroy, It’s almost like the old Christopher Reeve Superman. All he did was remove his glasses and change the part in his hair and he just transformed. You could almost believe people would be fooled by his alter ego. I did noticed the multiple characters being voiced by their small cast. I know this happens in animation a lot, but generally the voices are quite different. (Not always, I’m looking at you Seth MacFarlane.). It was a little odd that so many characters had the same voice, even Conroy, while his Bats and Bruce are distinctive, it is obviously him as one of the helicopter cops.
tomk: Yeah, nice touch Conroy got one of the first lines of the series, but not as Batman!
Richard (Two-Face) Moll also has a fairly distinctive voice. He’s Harvey Dent and the Batcomputer!
jimmy: And the pharmaceutical guy at the beginning
tomk: Did the show also seem a little more “cartoony” to you, Jimmy? I’m thinking of the security guard Man-Bat roughs up a that start of the episode and his over-exagerrated reactions.
jimmy: Yeah, they were definitely finding their way. The audio commentary on the episode from the DVD collection had Timm describe all the animation as “rubbery”.
tomk: That sounds about right to me, but it was better than the next episode, as far as that goes.
jimmy: Well, my actual very first impression was that the animation was much better than I expected. I feared a Simpson’s/Family Guy first season type of cringe worthy art, but outside of the “rubbery” comment, it is really quite good. Maybe I’ll feel differently as we watch subsequent episodes.
The theme and opening are some of the best ever. Another interesting tidbit from the DVD is that the opening titles are a slightly condensed, reworked version of the “mini-pilot” that Timm and Radmoski used to pitch their take on the show. However, the animation was a second pass as the original that was done was too “realistic” and not with the style that would define the show.
The different voice actor for Alfred took me a hit by surprise. I didn’t know they recast a few episodes in because Revill was too busy.
tomk: Clive Revill’s Alfred seems weird. I know he doesn’t last long, but he sounds more goofy than Efrem Zimbalist will.
jimmy: I found the use of shadows over the top. At times almost 1/4 of the screen was in pure black.
I liked the choice of first episode, contrasting Man-Bat and Bat-Man, and not starting with yet another version of the Batman origin. This Batman has been operating for an unspecified amount of time prior to this story.
tomk: Man-Bat fits in well as many of Batman’s enemies stand out as distorted mirror images of himself. Man-Bat is just the most obvious of the lot, what with the reversed name and the fact few of Batman’s other foes ever get mistaken for him.
jimmy: My last thought is that the SWAT team filing out of their van is hilarious.
tomk: My last thought: the moral ambiguity of later episodes isn’t as strong here, given Langstrom’s “villain speech”, but there’s a moment when Francine walks in and sees the Man-Bat and he looks a bit sheepish. That sort of stuff seems more likely to be a precursor to the things to come.
Christmas with the Joker
The Joker manages to escape from Arkham Asylum on Christmas. Batman and Robin have to find him before he kills Commissioner Gordon, Summer Gleason, and Harvey Bullock.
jimmy: From the moment Joker sang the alternate lyrics to “Jingle Bells”, I was hooked. What kid didn’t sing that growing up? And to have someone in the Bat universe sing it was hilarious.
I love Jack and I love Heath but Mark Hamil will always be “my Joker”. I know it is only his voice, but I feel the same about Conroy. Those guys just hit it out of the park.
I also felt like this episode must have been scripted slightly later and moved up because I don’t think they ever say who Sunmer Gleason is. (She gets a much more proper intro next episode.)
And I was surprised that Robin appeared so early in the run. I thought he got introduced later. Not that he had much to do. And I assume it is Dick Grayson, he is only referred to as Robin, but he wears a very Tim Drake-esque costume with the long pants and longer black cape.
tomk: It is Dick, based on later episodes. I was actually impressed that Robin was, well, competent. He doesn’t need rescuing at any point, and while Batman gets all the flashier saves, he gets stuff done on his own.
jimmy: He just seemed to be there as a foil to try to lighten Batman up as opposed to later episodes. But you are right about him managing not to become a damsel in distress for 22 minutes.
The tone has to be surprising still for anyone that caught this on a random Saturday morning back in the day. It starts and ends in an insane asylum, and with Joker in a straight jacket at that. You didn’t see that on Tiny Toons. Well, maybe Animaniacs…
And Batman is sure up to date on his toy manufacturing.
tomk: Well, as far as this episode goes, while the Joker is crazy, he seems to be working out of a totally different cartoon. After the level of semi-realism that was the Man-Bat (you know as realistic as Man-Bat can possibly be), the Joker blasts out of Arkham on a Christmas tree rocket and somehow switched out the telescope for the Gotham Observatory with a self-firing cannon with only two henchmen.
Which may not have been helped much by the fact the animation took a huge dive from the first episode.
jimmy: But that’s the Joker. And that’s super heroes. If we start analyzing how Joker got anything done, we’ll never enjoy another Joker story. 🙂
tomk: Which I truly concede. Joker got to play by rules the others didn’t. That’s probably why he had his own theme music.
jimmy: We’ll have to see what rules Joker plays by in subsequent episodes, especially once Harley shows up. The episode is very lighthearted…well, as lighthearted as blowing up train tracks and hanging people over vats of acid can be. It’s not as dark as the pervious episode nor the next Scarecrow episode.
tomk: I again agree with that one. Hamil gives it his all, and scanning through the next few episodes, there’s a lot of Joker yet to come. Oddly enough, perhaps because of the Burton movie, Joker is one of two bad guys not to get a real origin story for the show. The other was the Penguin.
jimmy: Well…Joker never has a “real” origin anywhere…
tomk: Of course, Joker is another dark mirror image of Batman. Batman is dark in color, quiet in tone, and doesn’t screw around. Joker is loud in voice and color and does not BUT screw around.
Joker drops into acid is pretty much all the guy needs.
jimmy: Which was a nice touch as Bats saves him from that fate here near the end of the episode.
tomk: Bats saves Joker a lot. I wonder if he ever goes home and regrets that…
jimmy: It’s never easy with the Joker.
tomk: There’s a reason he gets trotted out for every big storyline.
“Nothing to Fear”
tomk: I’m not sure any character on this show got as many make-overs as the Scarecrow.
And he keeps getting creepier.
Wow. I don’t remember that last one at all. I think my favorite Scarecrow look is from the Rocksteady games, but even that is constantly evolving.
tomk: The last one is from the final season when the characters all got a redesign and they paired the show off with Superman.
But this episode…that university guy was a bit of a dick to Bruce.
How do you tell a guy who watched his father get gunned down in an alley as a child that its a good thing his father didn’t live to see what kind of a man he became?
jimmy: I agree. But that seems to be another common thing across Bat mediums. I think Bale gets the “your father would not be happy you are a drunken playboy in a restaurant fountain with two supermodels” as well.
tomk: He does, but does anyone else ever hit him with the whole “it’s a good thing your father is dead” version of that sort of shaming? Besides, the university guy sounded really snotty about it.
jimmy: Plus Bruce just happens to be in the elevator with him, not in the midst of being a dick.
tomk: Yeah, Bruce actually looked like he was trying to help the university out. Not cool, Professor Dick, not cool.
Even if it does set up Bruce’s fear rather nicely later of the disapproving father, who sounds like Conroy trying to be Santa. And why doesn’t anyone ever wonder what old Martha Wayne would have thought?
jimmy: His mother would have approved I guess.
I did like how they used the father angle though while still avoiding an origin episode.
tomk: The only time I ever saw anyone worried about Martha’s opinions was in Greg Rucka’s “Death and the Maidens” mini-series, where a delirious Bruce sees his dead mother, and she thinks all the Batman stuff is just plain silly.
But yeah, I think they saved the origin for Mask of the Phantasm.
jimmy: Flashpoint Batman gives a pretty telling Martha Wayne story, even if it is an alternate universe.
tomk: I don’t think Martha was even allowed to live in the anti-matter world with Owlman battling his father Commissioner Thomas Wayne Sr.
But back to the Scarecrow, he might have avoided a lot of problems if he’d just made tenure at that university. Its hard to get fired with tenure…though not impossible.
jimmy: I think if you lock people in rooms with rats and spiders…that might do it.
tomk: Hey, somebody had to sign off on those rats and spiders to begin with. Colleges don’t just give university profs all kinds of live critters without signing some paperwork somewhere.
jimmy: Maybe that’s why Professor Dick is so angry with the world. His name is all over Crane’s experiments.
tomk: Must be why he’s taking it out on a donor. No university type would do such a thing otherwise.
jimmy: One other brief thing about the illusions too, but no origin this episode, it was a nice touch with Bullock calling Batman “Zorro”.
tomk: But you know, Jimmy, we need to discuss the big moment. The moment Kevin Conroy still quotes at conventions…
jimmy: I made note of that too as Conroy’s “I’m Batman” moment…though he doesn’t believe in contractions.
tomk: It’s firmer. And more detailed.
The documentary I Know That Voice is about voice actors. Conroy was working as a volunteer at a firehouse after 9/11 when one of the firefighters recognized him, so he burst out THAT LINE so everyone in the station would know it was him.
Needless to say, it worked.
jimmy: I need to watch that. His Batman is distinctive for sure. It’s a great episode for Conroy to stretch his chops as Bats and Bruce as he deals with the fear toxin running through his veins.
tomk: And his fear fits his character. Just as the fact one of the Scarecrow’s henchman’s fear is apparently of jail cells seems like a huge cliche.
jimmy: And another common Bat moment when Crane gets hit with his own gas and sees Batman as an overpowering monster.
tomk: That Bat-monster looked a lot like the demon from the Fantastia segment, “Night on Bald Mountain”.
jimmy: But that can’t be Tom, this is Warner Bros. 😉
tomk: Well, there’s a Walt Disney stand-in during one of the Mr. Freeze episodes, so I won’t tell if you won’t.
jimmy: The animation is still a bit rubbery, but a step up from Joker episode.
tomk: They were handing off animation duties to different studios to make sure they got enough episodes made. Animation quality will probably bounce back and forth depending on who drew the individual episode.
This episode does have a sort of classic not-very-happy ending for Batman. He visits his parents’ grave. Later episodes will show bad guys not quite so finished. This one ends with flowers on a grave. Not quite Optimus Prime driving off into the sunset.
jimmy: And the excellent Bruce walking away, Batman shadow.
NEXT TIME: Tom and Jimmy discuss the episodes “The Last Laugh,” “Pretty Poison,” and “The Underdwellers”.