Yup, time for more cartoon talk with Jimmy and Tom.
This time, we’re covering the Batman The Animated Series episodes “What Is Reality?” “I Am The Night,” and “Off Balance”.
“What Is Reality?”
The Riddler returns to erase himself from official existence. When Commissioner Gordon gets mentally trapped inside a virtual reality trap, can Batman and Robin get him out before the Riddler’s program kills him?
jimmy: Nice to see the Nintendo Virtual Boy getting some love. Strike that, Nygma’s VR was light years ahead of that, even if all VR in the 90’s was only in shades of red.
tomk: This is one of those episodes where, for some reason, even though TVs are in black and white and gangsters still tote tommy guns, they somehow have advanced computer systems with virtual reality…but also a phone jack. Somehow that connection works faster than I would have thought possible.
jimmy: I noticed that too. It was a very high tech device for a series that seems to take place in the 30’s. That said, there is the Bat computer and we’ve had Terminator style robots, so they pretty much do whatever they want. Unfortunately Gordon has a PC that can only display one line of text on the screen in giant letters.
tomk: Maybe it’s because he can’t see very well. How strong is the prescription for his glasses?
jimmy: Good point. 🙂
tomk: I suspect these are the sorts of fictional story lines that drive people who actually know a thing or two about computers angry with rage.
jimmy: In a way, especially seeing it was released over 20 years ago (Dear Lord) and we are still nowhere near that technology. That said, it is a very high level concept. Not like other shows/movies that spout technobabble to sound hip and relevant but get everything completely wrong.
tomk: Well, I assume “potential Riddler-induced fatal heart attack” is not a selling point for the Occulus Rift.
jimmy: Haha, I guess we’ll need to ask Jenny
tomk: Well, if something happens and we can’t, we’ll both know why.
jimmy: Question: what was the Riddler hoping to accomplish by wiping out all his records? Or was it just an elaborate trap for Gordon/Batman?
tomk: Well, he wanted to drop off the grid for the first part. And the elaborate trap was an added bonus. Of course, the record wipe might have just been a way to split Batman and Robin. His only other appearance so far showed him the pair are good together.
jimmy: Is Robin smarter than Batman? At the very least with regards to puzzles and computers?
tomk: Well, he’s younger. He has to be better with modern technology. It’s, like, a rule.
jimmy: Haha, true enough. Like in the comics now Damien has a smart phone and Bats has a Motarola Razr.
tomk: Or just how sidekicks are the ones that know video games.
jimmy: The Riddler can be a tough villain to write with his whole riddle routine. The riddles have to be complex enough to be challenging, but also still fit within the narrative of the story. Writers often don’t know how to handle him from a motivation standpoint, and he is either portrayed as Joker-lite (e.g. Batman Forever) or completely insane (e.g. Gotham). TAS seems to find the sweet spot with dealing with him as an intellectual. What do you think?
tomk: I think this show got it about right. Riddler’s not a cackling mad man. He’s a smart guy, not as smart as he thinks he is, but a smart guy who feels a compulsion to prove himself the smartest man in the room by outsmarting other smart guys like Batman.
Paul Dini had a decent run on Detective Comics that featured, among other things, the Riddler going straight and trying to prove himself as a private detective for hire. He was often wrong but didn’t know it, and at one point anonymously logged into an Internet chatroom looking for clues. He didn’t know that two of the other anonymous folks in there were Batman and Detective Chimp keeping an eye on him.
jimmy: I like the way you put that. His modus operandi is not so much about the crime but about outsmarting everyone.
tomk: The classic Riddler just couldn’t help leaving clues behind, sometimes before the crime was committed. He probably would have gotten away with a lot more if he just, you know, didn’t do that.
jimmy: I’ve heard about that run but haven’t read it. Worthwhile?
tomk: I’ve read better. Dini got all into Hush and kinda lost me there.
The Riddler stuff was pretty good. The Catwoman/Hush stuff, not so much.
jimmy: Was that where Hush steals her heart?
tomk: Yes, that was the one. He also got plastic surgery to look exactly like Bruce Wayne for…some reason.
jimmy: Ok, that one I did read.
tomk: I just felt Hush worked best as a one-off bad guy, and to keep going to that well didn’t work.
If Dini had just stayed with the Riddler’s attempts to go straight…
But that would have meant keeping Nigma away from giant, brain-sucking supercomputer VR machines.
jimmy: Getting back to the episode, I found some of the riddles over the top or lame. All those clues, etc, to spell out DMV? A copper? 101 cents? Meh.
But I guess that is par for the course.
tomk: Just try writing a good riddle sometime…it’s why I wouldn’t be doing Riddler stories if I were working on Batman.
jimmy: Oh, I agree. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t envy the writers having to come up with these riddles with each appearance.
tomk: I suspect that’s why there are few good Riddler stories…or that most writers just avoid using the guy. Sometimes they just make him crazier and that doesn’t work. Sometimes he’s zany. And on The Batman, he was a Marilyn Manson type for some reason.
jimmy: I haven’t seen much of The Batman, but that doesn’t sound too “Riddler”-y.
tomk: It had some…interesting ideas on design elements. Joker was a barefoot leapfrogging lunatic with a head full of deadlocks.
jimmy: That I’ve seen. Probably why I didn’t watch more of it.
tomk: It wasn’t…completely terrible.
jimmy: Seems like we’ve beaten this one to death. You have anything else to add?
tomk: Not really. I’m sure Nigma learned a valuable lesson about trying to be in 32 places at once.
“I Am The Night”
On the anniversary of his parents’ death, Batman begins to doubt his mission when Commissioner Gordon is injured during a bust of Jimmy the Jazzman.
tomk: Apparently, even Jim Gordon has archenemies.
jimmy: I would guess every inmate at Stonegate Penitentiary blames Batman and/or Gordon.
tomk: Well, Croc had it in for Bullock.
jimmy: True. I guess it is common for all criminals to want revenge on whoever put them behind bars. On TV and in movies anyway.
tomk: Yes, well, maybe its a good thing Batman is responsible for the busts of the most dangerous criminals. He can take care of himself better in the event of an escaped con looking for revenge.
jimmy: It was a nice bit of continuity to again revisit Batman meeting Leslie Thompkins at the scene of his parents’ murder. He’s much kinder to Alfred this go around though.
tomk: Actually, the two things that struck me the most about this episode was Batman wanting to quit his never-ending war (a theme that many Batman stories play up once in a while, even the Nolan trilogy), and Batman’s relationship with Gordon.
jimmy: I was a bit surprised by how old Gordon was, but I guess I never really thought about it much before. Bats says Gordon was old enough to be his father. How old is Bats in the show do you think? 30’s?
tomk: Old enough to have adopted and raised a college-aged boy…late thirties would be my guess.
jimmy: Right. So Gordon’s late 50’s probably. Just two days from retirement and getting too old for this shit.
tomk: Well, he still probably owes a ton of tuition money on Barbara’s college education.
Nice to see her, by the way.
jimmy: True. I have a feeling she’ll amount to something.
tomk: If only there was some way to know for certain…
I also must say, I dig that Bruce’s entire support squad shows up to ask him to keep going…except for Bullock, who of course would never do such a thing.
jimmy: One of the biggest things I noticed was when Bats finally shows up at the Jazzman raid. He comes up over the rooftop and his entrance is made that much cooler by the explosion in the background. Wait…that was a police helicopter exploding. Are we to assume that any occupants bailed on the two seconds before the crash? Bats made no attempt to help them and didn’t flinch when it blew up.
tomk: Bats has places to be, running around random rooftops while he looks for the Jazzman.
jimmy: I know it created a very cool shot, but to let a police helicopter crash without even flinching? Just seemed out of character. Especially when you contrast it against the rest of the episode where he almost retires because Gordon got shot.
tomk: But, see, he knows Gordon. Those guys in the helicopter? Nah. Strangers.
jimmy: Hmmm. Right.
Also, and this happens ALL THE TIME, why not let Robin come with him to find/fight Jazzman? He’s already suited up and everything. I always find it silly when heroes turn away help from other heroes. Bats does it all the time in Arkham Knight too. “Nightwing, you stay here. I’ll go fight the one hundred criminals left to finish this game.”
tomk: Well, it is a well-established fact that jazz is Dick’s one true weakness. That and hand grenades.
jimmy: Jazz is a weakness for many. And hey, that Wizard kid sure sounded familiar.
tomk: Seth Green gets around. He’ll even have a reoccurring role as the school jock in Batman Beyond.
jimmy: I just saw him in a small role in a very early episode of The X-Files as I revisit all things 90’s. He just needs to show up in season 2 of The Simpsons to complete the trifecta.
tomk: Yeah, The X-Files had some really weird guest stars on it too. A later episode had Jack Black and Giovanni Ribisi as a pair of best friends.
And if you really need the trifecta, try Guardians of the Galaxy.
jimmy: Did that come out in 1992?
tomk: It did in your imagination.
Or you could ask Jenny when Oz started showing up on Buffy.
jimmy: I don’t have much else to add. I liked the callback of the title to the “I am vengeance! I am the night!” declaration from very early on.
tomk: I liked the symmetry. Gordon was the only one who could snap Batman out of his funk, and in the end we learn Gordon admires Batman just as much as Batman admires Gordon.
jimmy: Bosom Buddies.
tomk: Well, Tom Hanks and Commissioner Gordon had to get their start somewhere.
We could point out that what Batman might have really been looking for was some sort of note of approval from his dead father. Gordon fills that roll rather nicely.
jimmy: Yes. He straight up says his father would he the same age as Gordon. He definitely sees him as some sort of father figure.
It’s a little surprising that this one particular incident could cause Bats to question retirement, even though he has been through much worst. But that is a common criticism of these characters with such rich histories.
tomk: It’s like how every Spider-Man writer eventually does a “poor Gwen Stacy” story. Every Batman writer, if he or she is on the character long enough, will eventually do the “Batman is doubting his mission” story.
At least giving it a different spin works. I liked Greg Rucka’s version, where he had a hallucinating Bruce see his dead mother, who thought being Batman was just kinda silly.
jimmy: I should track down that run. I think you’ve mentioned it a couple of times now. And I like Rucka anyway.
tomk: Well, in this case, that was a mini-series extra called Death and the Maidens and was actually more about Ra’s al-Ghul’s other daughter, Nyssa, who has since become a regular guest star on Arrow.
But Rucka always had a thing for giving a voice to otherwise voiceless female characters.
jimmy : Right. I’ll add Maidens to the list.
tomk: Well, anything else then, Jimmy?
jimmy: Not for this one.
tomk: Then it may be time to start looking into a certain Demon’s Head and his extended family…
When the mysterious Society of Shadows sets up shop in Gotham, Batman investigates. But can he and mysterious newcomer Talia stop the group’s leader, Vertigo, from stealing a WayneTech sonic drill?
tomk: OK, for once, Jimmy, I may be a bit ahead of you on reading these old stories. I recently got my hands on DC Showcase Presents Batman Volume 6. It has the original Denny O’Neil stories with both Talia and Ra’s al-Ghul. I’m working my way through them right now, but there are some similarities here. Talia appeared before her father did. She did tend to an injured Batman without his mask. And they were dealing with a rogue element from the League of Assasins, though it wasn’t Green Arrow foe Count Vertigo.
That said, Talia was supposed to be a simple medical student studying abroad in China when Batman met her, and she seemed to accidentally kill the master villain when something she did got him run over by a train while he was fighting Batman. By the time Talia returns, we find out she wasn’t really much of a timid med student after all.
jimmy: You were definitely ahead of me on this one. I did track Detective Comics #411 down after watching the episode for comparison’s sake. It’s always interesting to see what they keep, what they drop, what they change, and what role the censors would play in those decisions.
tomk: I’ll say. There’s an episode coming up where Batman and Ra’s do some globe trotting together. Denny O’Neil wrote the script for both the original comic and the cartoon, but there are some definite changes.
But as far as this episode goes, I first want to say this: I’ve never liked Talia as a character. No matter how badass she’s made out to be, she always seems to be someone who’s willing to let a man dictate what she needs to do, either Bruce or Ra’s. Ra’s dying for a period helped that during Grant Morrison’s run, but I just never got into the character. And the femme fatale thing is much more obvious in the animated series given her Jessica Rabbit hairstyle.
jimmy: I liked that this episode seemed to be setting future things in motion with Talia and Ra’s and not just a one off adventure.
tomk: That is true. And hey, they swiped another old Green Arrow foe to keep Clock King company.
jimmy: I have no idea who Dr. Darrk [in the original story] was, but there seemed to be quite a bit if backstory in Detective Comics that they didn’t want to get into. And they needed an enemy with powers [for the cartoon] since Batman fighting a bull would just be silly.
tomk: He was one of those reoccurring bad guys being used to eventually set up Ra’s as the mastermind behind them all. Most were forgotten.
jimmy: Interesting. And no sign of Ra’s in the comic.
tomk: Nope. He came along very soon after that, though.
jimmy: As you mentioned, Talia is a force of nature right from the get go in the show.
tomk: True, and she does possess the voice of original live action Supergirl Helen Slater.
jimmy: Yes, I thought that was an interesting switch of character. I guess she got tired of waiting for the Supergirl sequel to start filming.
tomk: Well, it had been a decade or so.
jimmy: Yeah, nothing comes back to movies or TV after that long…
It’s a good episode, but I have to say my favorite part was Alfred up on the step stool cleaning the giant penny.
tomk: There’s a lot to like here. Vertigo comes off well for his only appearance, and voiced by actor Michael York who we will hear again for other characters. And then there’s the first appearance by Ra’s voiced by character actor David Warner, probably reviving his role from Time Bandits as “the Evil”.
jimmy: Did Vertigo die at the end? For that matter, did the snitch die at the beginning?
tomk: This episode did drop a lot of people into bodies of water and then leave them unaccounted for.
jimmy: Especially when they go out of their way to say that the assassins erased their own memories, not killing themselves.
tomk: Nothing creepy about that…
jimmy: Back to Vertigo, he also had the power to make one of his eyebrows disappear and reappear. Very distracting and good for evil!
tomk: Actually, I’ve been rewatching the Young Justice cartoon off Netflix, and about the time I watched this episode, I’d just seen Veritgo in a couple episodes of that show as well.
jimmy: With two eyebrows?
tomk: I wasn’t counting…
jimmy: You will now. 🙂
I tease. It’s actually pretty amazing these animated shows don’t have more errors in them.
tomk: Still, this was a rather straightforward adventure where Batman learned the way to beat a bad guy may be to keep your eyes closed…and Talia showed that simply shattering a man’s ear drums with pointblank church bells can also work.
jimmy: It’s almost an after school special on using your senses.
tomk: I’m guessing Bruce really wanted to be Daredevil when he grew up.
jimmy: Which is funny since Daredevil grew up to be Batman.
tomk: Those guys were probably pen pals.
jimmy: Seems like there should be more to talk about here with the setting up of Ra’s, but maybe that is a talk for a day when he is the main protagonist.
tomk: Yes, which should be soon. My Batman reprints had the Talia premier issue in Batman, then the very next reprint (from Detective Comics) brought in Ra’s.
But, as I said, I was never a Talia fan. She was always either throwing herself at Batman or doing what her daddy wanted. I much preferred Bats with, oh, anybody.
jimmy: While I do know my share about Ra’s and Talia, I wouldn’t make any claims to have great knowledge of them. I’ve never read Bride of the Demon for example.
tomk: I can’t claim to have read that one either.
jimmy: Ah. I figured that was one of those quintessential Ra’s stories.
tomk: It probably is. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
Well, this episode has all been some serious set-up for the future. You know what we need next time, Jimmy? Some kind of wacky Joker episode.
jimmy: It’s surprisingly been a while.
NEXT TIME: Yes, some wacky Joker antics occur in “The Man Who Killed Batman,” but then there will also be discussion between Tom and Jimmy on “Mudslide” and “Paging The Crime Doctor”.