Could it be?
Bat-Month - Over?
Our Dynamic Duo dropped from their spotlight?
The Fortress, lying fallow?
Movies unwatched? Comics unreviewed?
All this and more will be revealed in our next stunning installment!
So tune in next month: Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Could it be?
I've always loved the Riddler, and I've very rarely seen a version that I didn't like1. I don't care for the design of the Riddler on "The Batman," but I've never watched enough of that series to know if I like the portrayal. But outside of that, I like the "private investigator" version of the character in the current comics, I generally liked the character even in "Hush," I loved solving his puzzles in "Batman: Arkham Asylum," and I'm not sure there's ever been a better Riddler story than "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?"
So it's interesting to take a look back at Frank Gorshin's version of the character, who made "The Riddler" a household name, and "riddle me this" a common phrase. "Hi Diddle Riddle" and "Smack in the Middle" are the first two episodes of "Batman" '66, and there's really something to love in a Batman series that begins with a Riddler story.
The episode begins with a scene at the Gotham City World's Fair, where the Moldavian Prime Minister is about to unveil his country's greatest national treasure. Before he does that, though, he has to cut the traditional Moldavian friendship cake, which explodes. As the crowd panics, a police officer points to something that shot out of the cake and is now floating to the ground on a parachute.
We cut to Commissioner Gordon reading the para-riddle:
Why is an orange like a bell?
Which leads to what is, by now, a familiar scene: the Gotham City Police Department shamefacedly admitting total inability to solve children's puzzles and stop a criminal whose greatest weapon is a bowler hat, and turning toward the bright red phone under a serving dome that really only slows down the process.
Alfred answers the phone and goes to retrieve Bruce. Commissioner Gordon looks up from the phone and says, "We're in luck: he's at home." How many unfettered sprees have occurred while Batman was out getting groceries?
Anyway, this actually leads to a very unfamiliar scene in this series: Bruce Wayne speaking before a group of people, pledging his financial support for their enterprise. His reason:
Perhaps if there'd been anti-crime centers of the type you now propose when my own parents were murdered by dastardly criminals...
It's one of very few callbacks to Batman's origin in this series, which is somewhat unsurprising given how dissonant that is with the lighthearted nature of the show. I admit, it's difficult to reconcile the modern Batman, whose persona clearly comes out of the Crime Alley tragedy, with this version, who takes time out of crimefighting to properly parallel park, but it's interesting to see that the origin wasn't excised (or ignored) entirely. Robin, on the other hand...
Bruce gives the excuse of taking Dick fishing, and I know it's not the only time he's used that same excuse in the half dozen or so stories I've recently watched. What does he say in the Winter? Ice fishing?
"Atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed..." yeah, it does give me a little geek thrill to hear that.
Perhaps the other half of the homophone was more well-known in 1966, but I still think the answer to the Joker's riddle could have used more explanation; it makes more sense in writing than it does out loud:
Batman: Why is an orange like a bell?
Robin: Answer: because they both must be peeled!
Batman: Right, you peel an orange and you peal a bell! Get it?
Sure, Batman, I get it, but I have a relatively large vocabulary.
Chief O'Hara: What idiots we are! Now, why couldn't we have worked that out?
Gee, Chief, it might be because you immediately gave up and called Batman, rather than even considering answers to the riddle.
Batman and Robin discuss the Riddler's modus operandi, explaining that he leaves confounding clues that may or may not direct them to the real crime, leading to this gem of a simile:
Batman: The Riddler contrives his plots like artichokes:
This screenshot is from the moment after he says "artichokes": it looks to me like Commissioner Gordon (in the back) is as shocked and confused at the comment as I am. Do tell, Batman:
You have to strip off spiny leaves to reach the heart.
Oh...okay. Batman's rambling eventually leads him to realize that the Riddler's target is the Peale Art Gallery--next to, I assume, the Steede Museum--but suspecting some trickery, he tells the cops to stay put while he and Robin mount their investigation. Upon arriving at the Gallery, Batman lets loose with this line that sounds like it's half-Middleman and half-fodder for Ambiguously Gay Duo jokes:
Batman: Let's mosey up the back way.
There are a couple of things I like about the Batmobile Phone. First, it reminds me of the old car phone my family used to have, which was bulky and unwieldy and corded. Second, I like that it's shaped like a bat, but the Bat-Phone isn't. Given that the Bat-Phone sits out in Bruce Wayne's sitting room, this demonstrates an uncharacteristic amount of subtlety and attempt to conceal his secret identity. I mean, sure he's got a translucent red telephone in his sitting room that looks identical to the one the police use to call Batman, but at least it isn't bat-shaped.
The sign on the wall behind the Bat-Poles more than makes up for that subtlety, though:
I mean, I understand labeling the poles themselves (making that mistake would be disastrous for all involved), but who is that sign for? Are Bruce and Dick afraid that they're going to forget what's at the bottom of the poles?
The phone call is from the Riddler--or rather, a recording of the Riddler2--giving them another riddle to solve:
Before you trip over your cape, Batman, riddle me this: There are three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. How do they manage to smoke?
Rather than solving the riddle, they decide to scale the building so as to ambush him. Robin is struggling to figure out the Riddle, and Batman suggests that it's because his mind's preoccupied with "that cute little teenager who waved to you on the way across town." I like that kind of good-natured ribbing between the Dynamic Duo; it's another instance of this series sneaking in a bit of character depth even when you wouldn't expect it.
Climbing up to a barred window, they find this scene--and doesn't the Riddler look dashing?
Seriously, that's a nice outfit, especially for a 1960s supervillain.
Batman cuts through the bars with some kind of laser torch, and then the duo crashes through the window to ambush the Riddler. They place him under arrest for armed robbery (as duly deputized officers of the law), at which point two goons come out and take a picture of the scene. The Riddler starts giggling and says he even tipped them off. Then, the curator chimes in:
Mr. Peale: Batman, you've made a mistake: He didn't steal that cross.
Curator:I tell you, it belongs to him! He lent it to me for a show!
Batman isn't quite convinced, noting that he saw Peale being held at gunpoint. The Riddler then demonstrates that the gun isn't a gun at all:
Robin: Holy ashtray, he did tip us off! There were three men in a boat with four cigarettes and no matches. How did they manage to smoke? They threw one cigarette overboard and made the boat a cigarette lighter!
I like that one, but then I'm a fan of puns.
Mr. Peale explains that Batman and Robin saw Riddler lighting his cigarette while Peale gave him back the cross. It's a contrived set of circumstances, but then again, this is the Riddler we're talking about. He foresaw Batman's blunder, which is why he brought witnesses with cameras. He then poses this brilliant riddle:
Riddler: Ho ho! What is it that no man wants to have, yet no man wants to lose?
Robin: A lawsuit!
Riddler: Correct, Boy Wonder!
Dare I say it? Yes, I dare:
Batman got served!
After the break, we find Bruce, Dick, and Alfred watching the news report, which addresses in somber tones the prospect that Batman and Robin will almost certainly have to unmask in court, thereby ending their crimefighting careers.
Bruce says here that he's been through all his father's old law books, which suggests that Thomas was a lawyer in this continuity, or perhaps some sort of polymath. He doesn't think they have a leg to stand on. Alfred, always one to find the dark cloud behind every silver lining, brings up the point that things will not be pleasant once Aunt Harriet finds out what Bruce and Dick have really been doing on their "fishing trips." This is a good point, though a sad one: given her comments and behavior, I wouldn't be surprised to see Aunt Harriet press charges for endangering a minor. Bruce could end up sued and imprisoned all in one fell swoop.
There is an awkward and somber silence for a moment, until Dick takes a look at the lawsuit itself. He remembers what the Riddler said when he handed it to them:
When you've chewed over this one, look for two others.
He and Bruce reason that he meant two other riddles, which must be on the legal document. They look at it with some blinking lights and what looks like a shiny rotary sander:
And discover riddles written between the lines. Curse those lawyers and their fine print!
Batman: When is the time of a clock like the whistle of a train?
Robin: When it's two to two--toot too tooo!
Sure, they explain that one with Robin making train noises, but they leave the "peal" one up to the viewer to make sense of.
Batman: What has neither flesh, bone, nor nail, but has four fingers and a thumb?
Robin: A glove, of course!
This leads them to an address: 222 Glover Avenue.
We cut to the underground subway lair of the Mole Hill Mob, where Jill St. John is eating caviar out of a jar3. One of the wiseguy gangsters tells her not to, because the caviar's full of calories and she'll blow up like a balloon. Good to see such equality among the criminal set. Quickly, the Riddler comes bounding down the stairs in a much less dashing outfit, proclaiming that Batman's had time to solve the riddle.
Now seems like as good a time as any to digress a moment. This story, like the Penguin one that follows it, shows the villains to be particularly brilliant by having them use Batman's own traits against him. The Penguin played on Batman's detective skills, knowing that he'd see connections and patterns where none existed. Here, the Riddler plays on Batman's overwhelming respect for the law, knowing that it trumps his need for secrecy. Riddler here even has the Duo down to a set pattern, knowing how long they typically need to find and solve his clues. What this does, compared to Batman's own methods of detection and deduction, is set the rogues up as his intellectual equals, just as able to deduce things about his life and find patterns in his methods as he does with theirs. This is, rather sadly, often missing in the modern Batman stories.
The Riddler and his Mob head through the tunnels, presumably to Glover Avenue. Meanwhile, the Batmobile speeds down the street to the address--the new discotheque, What A Way to Go-Go. Suspecting a plot to rob the wealthy patrons, they start to head inside, but the doorman says that Robin is underage. Batman's response? You guessed it: "It's the law." While he suspects that this may be a plot to separate them, the law trumps safety. Besides, Robin says he can take care of himself. Batman here takes Lawful Good to new extremes.
Incidentally, while Robin's too young to go into the club, he's old enough to drive the Batmobile:
He parks so he can watch the Bat-scope. What's he watching, you ask?
Batman looks really out of place inside the club, while Jill St. John (her character still hasn't gotten a name) watches him from the bar.
He orders a large fresh orange juice at the bar4, and Jill asks him a riddle:
Jill: Why is a quarrel like a bargain?
Batman: Well well, what master taught you to riddle?
Jill: The answer is it takes two to make it. Like beautiful music, like the dance...shall we?
Batman's OJ arrives, and we get this stunning exchange:
Batman: What's your name?
Jill: Molly [finally, a name!]
Batman: You interest me...strangely.
Bats, you're making it very difficult for me to avoid the gay jokes.
Batman and Molly dance, and you know what's coming next:
Things start to go blurry for the Bat, and he realizes his drink was drugged. Robin sees him collapse on the Bat-Scope, but before he can get out of the car, he's shot with a hypodermic dart by the Riddler. Molly and the bartender head down the manhole back to their lair, while the Riddler accidentally triggers the Batmobile's anti-theft device--which is a bit of ingenuity cribbed straight from the Evil Overlord List:
Since he can't steal the car, he kidnaps Robin and throws a small bomb into the car to burn it up. This triggers naturally, the Batostat anti-fire device, which puts out the flame5. Cursing the car, Riddler escapes with his gang, Robin in tow. Batman rushes out of the club to the car, to go after Robin. The police officers won't let him out of the parking spot, though:
Officer: Hand me the key, Batman. I'm afraid you're in no condition to drive.
Batman: Yes, of course officer, you're entirely correct.
Again, the Riddler plays on Batman's adherence to the law to ensure that he won't be followed, even though he could neither steal nor destroy the car. Also, this scene is pure awesome.
Back at the Riddler's lair, Robin is trapped, unconscious, with his head in a vise. Naturally, it's on this cliffhanger that the episode ends, with a teaser for part two:
I'm a little curious here why the Riddler would even bother with the kidnapping scheme, as it would seem to undermine his ability to file the lawsuit. I would think that the best course of action would be to let the legal process do its work, rather than engaging in typical supervillainy. Then again, I don't have a compulsion to commit criminal acts and leave cryptic clues behind for the heroes to solve, so what do I know?
Either way, it's an excellent example of the core problem of Bat-villains: they may be Batman's intellectual equals, but their criminal compulsions consistently cause their capture.
Episode two begins with dawn at stately Wayne Manor, where Batman is in the Batcave (presumably having been up all night) telling Robin through some communicator to turn on his homing device. I have to imagine it's been awhile since we last saw the Boy Wonder, and Riddler was tightening that vise pretty quickly. On the other hand, it has to be pretty tough to crush someone's skull with a vise, maybe he gave up and decided to do something more practical.
Alfred calls from upstairs, saying that Miss Cooper noticed their beds hadn't been slept in, and was quite upset. Batman says to tell her that he and Dick are spending the night at his uncle's house. One problem, Bruce: if you had an uncle, why were you raised by your butler?
At the Riddler's hideout, Riddler and Molly pull a plaster cast off of Robin's face. Oh, I see, the vise was just to hold him still. While she goes off to get into costume, Riddler wakes Robin up (with an aerosol spray, thereby contributing to the hole in the ozone layer, that dastardly ghoul!):
Robin: Where am I? Where's...Riddler! You fiend! What's the meaning of this? Where's Batman?
Riddler: Hanging by his phone, I hope. Call him. Get him through police headquarters on that famous hot-line: I wish to pose him another amusing problem.
Robin: You've flipped your lid. You think I'm going to help you in some rotten criminal scheme?
Riddler (laughing): You're scared! You're really scared that I'll outwit your Batman yet again, all right!
Robin: It'll be a cold day in August before we're scared of you, Riddler! Gimme that telephone!
And thus the Boy Wonder falls prey to the Riddler's tricky reverse psychology, calling Commissioner Gordon just as he was told to do. Gordon gets the call plugged into the Bat-line, and tells the operator to trace and record it. Batman answers the phone, which Riddler grabs rather quickly:
Riddler: Riddle me twice, Batman: What kind of pins are used in soup?
Robin: Terrapins, Batman!
Riddler: Very good. What was Joan of Arc made of6?
Robin: Joan of Arc was...
Batman: Maid of Orleans!
Riddler: That's where you'll find him. Happy hunting.
Robin tries to warn Batman that it sounds too easy, but Riddler gasses him unconscious again. Batman deduces the location--the old turtle mill at Orleans Cove--and speeds off in the Batmobile.
Meanwhile, Molly walks in, with the image that spawned a thousand fetishes and "sexy" DC Halloween costumes:
Somehow, by application of a rubber mask, that turns into this:
Batman drives recklessly to Orleans Cove (seriously, he's all over the road--I guess those laws don't matter), while Molly activates the homing beacon in Robin's belt. Batman chases after the Riddler's car, knocking out the ignition with headlight-mounted Bat-Rays. Riddler, of course, is prepared:
The car crashes, and Riddler runs for the hills, while Batman pulls up to find Robin, thrown from the wreckage and clutching at his throat. Batman understands that there's something wrong with his vocal cords, then takes Robin back to the Batcave, where he hopes to retrieve the universal drug antidote7.
Molly quickly shows her true colors.
Batman: Well Molly, I was wondering when you'd get around to that.
Molly: What?! You mean you saw through my disguise?
Batman: A criminal always makes one mistake, Molly. Those straws you gave Robin to breathe through? I spotted the defect in the mask instantly. That was the one hole in your plan.
Molly: There's gonna be some holes in you, Batman.
She pulls the trigger, but nothing happens. Batman informs her that he burned off the revolver's firing pin in the Batmobile with a hidden "Bat-Layzar beam." And yes, he pronounces it "lay-zar."
Molly throws the gun8 and runs away, climbing what appears to be a TARDIS console or warp core in the back of the cave:
Batman warns her to stop, that she's climbing into the Batmobile's nuclear power source. She looks down into the reactor and screams for help, while Batman pulls out a Batarang (or as it's spelled on his belt, Bat-A-Rang) to save her. He climbs up, but can't reach her. She slips, falling to her death in the nuclear reactor. Batman is dismayed:
Batman: Poor deluded girl; if only she'd've let me save her.
Then, he's a dick.
Batman: What a terrible way to go-go.
Oh Batman, you and your incredibly inappropriate gallows humor.
At police headquarters, Batman, Gordon, and O'Hara analyze the tape of Robin's phone call. It cut off before they could get a trace, and O'Hara notes what a bad recording it is, due to all the rumbling noises. Batman notes that the noises are actually helpful (which comes as a surprise to the totally useless police officers, who have apparently never thought to listen to the background noise of an emergency call), and explains that they're subway trains. Batman asks for a timing on the tape and a subway schedule, which he plugs into the Batmobile's mobile crime computer. The computer spits out a paritcular platform, which is apparently located next to the entrance to CONTROL:
Using what appears to be a set of Bat-plastic explosives, Batman breaks into the Riddler's lair, where he snares the fiend in a Batrope. But the Riddler is still several steps ahead, separating himself from Batman and Robin with a sheet of bulletproof glass. He then proceeds to taunt the Bat:
Batman releases Robin, who explains that, by playing possum, he was able to listen in on the Riddler's big plan--and his new riddles:
Robin: How many sides has a circle? Answer: two--inside and outside, right?
Robin: Here's the second one: what President of the United States wore the biggest hat? It's easy, Batman: the one with the biggest head!
With these clues, they are able to deduce that the Riddler is going to the head office of the Gotham National Bank, where he's going to take the money from the inside to the outside.
Narration informs us, however, that the Riddler and his gang are heading through the tunnels to the Moldavian pavilion at the Gotham City World's Fair, suggesting that Batman has goofed.
At said pavilion, the Prime Minister is showing off the Great Mammoth of Moldavia, which was found in ice and worshipped by his people. It's covered in various jewels, and stuffed entirely with used postage stamps from ancient Moldavia--"very cheap stuffing then, but now worth unspeakable fortune to stamp collectors." Um...yeah. This is strangely omitted from the Wikipedia entry on Moldavia
Underneath the pavilion, the Riddler's men are rigging up tanks of laughing gas--stealing the Joker's schtick!--presumably because Riddler's latest outfit isn't quite ridiculous enough:
Turquoise plaid and magenta accessories? Amazing.
Riddler breaks in (wearing an elephant-shaped gas mask), telling lame jokes to start everyone laughing until they're unconscious. He then signals his goons to break in, so they can steal the mammoth.
Suddenly, Batman and Robin burst forth from the creature! They sent the police to the bank as a ruse; Robin says he got the clues wrong, but Batman solved them.
Batman: The biggest head? The fabulous Mammoth of Moldavia, with jewels on the outside and priceless postage stamps inside.
Naturally, it's time for the fight scene, where Robin really takes it. First he's ambushed by three goons, then knocked for a loop by the Riddler. With Robin apparently out, the gang closes in on Batman, restraining him the same way. Robin breaks up the fray, allowing the Dynamic Duo to get the upper hand, but the Riddler escapes under the pavilion. Batman chases, Riddler shoots, and a laughing gas canister is punctured. Batman warns that if the gas ignites, it'll blow him to kingdom come. Batman climbs back out, just in time to avoid a huge explosion of colored smoke.
Back at Wayne Manor, Alfred shares the news from the wireless regarding the Riddler's lawsuit: apparently it was dismissed because the plaintiff failed to appear. Dick is oddly happy about the prospect of having killed the Riddler in an explosion, but Bruce reminds him that the police never found a body, so maybe he escaped. The scene at the end here is actually really good, so rather than quote it, I'll let you watch it:
I'm glad that was on YouTube, because I don't have access to any video editing software at the moment.
Overall, I really like this story. There's a lot of heart to it, with the Molly subplot, and the Riddler's plan is a great example of the way brilliance can be led astray by delusion and compulsion.
I compared these episodes to the Penguin story that followed, and I think they both do a great job of subverting common superhero storytelling tropes. The villains undermine Batman by using his own skills and compulsions against him, and that's a depth of storytelling that no one seems to give this series credit for. The real danger comes from doing this as a first episode. Subverting tropes and upending clichés is great, but the effect is lost if the audience isn't familiar with the tropes and clichés in the first place. It's like watching "Shrek" without ever having heard a fairy tale.
"Star Trek: The Next Generation" made that mistake with their second episode, "The Naked Now." A direct homage/ripoff of the Original Series episode "The Naked Time," the episode featured the crew acting uninhibited and out of character. Such episodes are often great ways to explore the characters' personalities and shock the audience with familiar people doing unexpected things. Unfortunately, the episode lost any impact it might have had because we'd only had one story to establish what "in-character" was.
These "Batman" episodes work in a way that "The Naked Now" didn't, but I'm quite familiar with the superhero tropes they're subverting; would the average audience member in 1966 have been as familiar?
It's possible that they would have. After all, "The Adventures of Superman"--which would have had such tropes--ended only eight years before, and the comic book market was much larger then. Still, it seems like it'd be prudent to start the series by establishing the tropes and then working to turn them on their heads.
As a final note, Gorshin's Riddler is fantastic. I was a little worried that his manic portrayal and high-pitched giggling would rub me the wrong way with the character, but the writing made him out to be a mastermind, and his (surprisingly nuanced) acting sold the story. While he's often mocking Batman for falling into his numerous traps, there are some great moments where his voice drops an octave or two and he becomes fairly genuinely menacing. Heck, there's a shot or two where he looks like Hannibal Lecter. For all his bouncing and giggling, there are scenes where he serenely allows the pieces to fall into place, and his calmly triumphant expressions are perfect:
I'd like to say that Gorshin's Riddler influenced other portrayals of the character--it probably did; his suit-and-bowler from early in the episode was definitely the genesis of the B:TAS version's costume--but more than that, I think Gorshin has influenced portrayals of the Joker. I can't help but see parallels to Mark Hamill in Gorshin's acting.
So there you have it, another surprisingly excellent installment of "Batman." I'm enjoying this series so much, I may have to continue it...
1. By "rarely," I mean "Jim Carrey."
2. Holy telemarketing, Batman!
3. The jar, incidentally, formerly contained moonbeams.
4. I like this, just because it has interesting resonance for the World's Finest team. Batman orders orange juice at the bar, but Superman (typically) orders milk. And I don't know about you, but milk and orange juice aren't tastes that go particularly well together, even though they both quench your thirst at breakfast.
5. In the future, Batman would avoid these problems by not driving a convertible.
6. Surprisingly enough, the answer is not "wood." Though I have it on very good authority that she weighed the same as a duck.
7. I leave it to you, readers: is withholding that formula from the public an act of Bat-uselessness, or Bat-evil?
8. Who does she think she's fighting? Superman?
Friday, October 30, 2009
I haven't been able to keep up with Blackest Night quite as much as I'd like to, particularly the tie-in miniseries. Even so, I have some thoughts about where the series might be going. I'm still pretty well convinced that the story's going to end with Hal Jordan becoming the (temporary) White Lantern, uniting the emotional spectrum with the power of life. The effect of this, I imagine, will be the undoing of a whole bunch of superhero deaths, and probably a moratorium on the "revolving door of death" in the DCU--at least for a little while.
The question I have is who'll be coming back? First priority, I think, are the people who have died in the course of the story: Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Gehenna, Tempest, Damage, and so forth. After that, I suspect it'll be the really significant characters: Aquaman and Martian Manhunter will be back in some way or another, Ronnie Raymond, and the other obvious ones. I'm curious, though, how far the resurrections will go. Might we see a return for obscurer characters like Azrael and Conduit? Could Ted Kord and Max Lord--and other characters with significant event-specific deaths be on the way back? What about civilians, like Tim Drake's parents?
The real ballsy move on DC's part, the twist that would make a real interesting impact on the DCU and would show a commitment to shaking up the status quo (in the same way that New Krypton and Dick-as-Batman do), would be to resurrect everyone. We've already established that the only corpses which become Black Lanterns are ones who have particular emotional connections to our heroes, so it's not as if we'd have billions and billions of people returning (with the exception of resurrected planets like Xanshi)--that would make for a very crowded Earth. This would be an interesting way to lead into the "legacies" event that Dan Didio has talked about for next year--though they could do that with just a hero/villain resurrection as well.
But imagine a world where Thomas and Martha Wayne are alive again decades after being gunned down in an alleyway. Would Alfred tell them about Bruce's secret life? Would they get to meet their grandson? What would they think if they, knowingly or unknowingly, found the cave? What would they think if they found out that their son was dead and hadn't been among those resurrected? The same could be said for the Flying Graysons...how would Dick react to having his parents in his life again? How would they react to finding that their son had been adopted by a multimillionaire?
I think that would make for some interesting drama--although it'd kind of derail whatever independent paths the Bat-books (and several other books--what about Jor-El and Lara? Zor-El? Coast City?). It'd especially be intriguing to see what happens when Batman finally returns. How would the resurrection of his parents affect him? We've already seen him work to stop it (in "Tower of Babel"), so presumably he thinks it'd be an overall bad thing, but would it cause him to give up his crusade? Would he even be able to face them, given how their deaths have affected him?
Or would he return to find that they'd been quietly murdered again by the man who's wearing his face, Tommy Eliot?
In any case, I imagine that Blackest Night, if not leading directly into the return of Batman, will cause more than just Tim Drake to think that he must still be alive. At least some of the heroes will have to be wondering why Bruce wasn't among the resurrected/Black Lanterns, especially when his grave was among the first to be defiled by Black Hand. Obviously a Black Lantern Batman would be a great asset to the undead hordes, so it doesn't make sense that they'd leave him be. Someone is going to notice his absence and draw the likely conclusion that he must not actually be dead.
And if no one does, then I imagine that the heroes of the DCU are a lot denser than previously suspected. Come on, Detective Chimp? The ghost of Ralph Dibny? Someone will have to connect the dots.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I found what is purportedly the pilot/teaser for Batman: The Animated Series on YouTube. It's pretty cool, though I think the show ultimately ended up looking a lot better by erring on the side of "stylized" rather than "cartoonish."
I am curious about where it's taken from, because I'm pretty sure I've never seen it, and I'm similarly pretty sure I've watched all the special features on all the Batman DVD sets, so I wonder where it's from. If anyone knows, please share.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
I'd thought about liveblogging this installment of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but that would take too much of my attention away from the episode. So instead I wrote on the commercials.
I've only seen a handful of episodes of the series so far; while I seriously enjoy its less serious take on the Dark Knight and its unabashed love of the DCU, I rarely seem to find it when it's on. And when I do, it's always the first episode with Blue Beetle or Red Tornado, or the "Incredible Journey" one with Aquaman and Atom. I've seen maybe five episodes outside of that, but when I found out that the musical episode with Neil Patrick Harris was going to air when I could watch it--and during Bat-Month no less!--I couldn't resist.
I'm going to restrict the commentary to moments and thoughts, avoiding plot summary as much as I can. You should watch it yourself; it was a blast.
So, I'd seen episodes with Green Arrow and Aquaman before, but this was my first exposure to BatB's version of Black Canary--who I didn't know had even appeared in the show before. She's one corner of a love...well, it's not even a love polygon, and I'd prefer not to draw a diagram at the moment, but she's got an unrequited crush on Batman, which is a romantic pairing that I hadn't thought about before. Somehow, despite being a comic geek and ostensibly a fan of both Black Canary and Green Arrow, I didn't consider why I'd never thought of that pairing before.
There is nothing quite like seeing Aquaman and Grodd waltzing. It's like the Silver Age coming to life.
The villain of the piece (well, aside from cameos) is the Music Meister, who is kind of a combination of the Fiddler and Pied Piper--which makes it a little sad/strange that the Flash didn't show up in this episode. He can control people's minds by singing, and wields a staff that seems to be based on the musical weapons of Bluegrass and Melodia.
There's a great scene when Batman shows up (on the Bat-Gyro1, no less!) where those under the Music Meister's thrall approach him while snapping in the classic "West Side Story" style.
Arkham Asylum makes an appearance, looking surprisingly similar to how it looked in the old Animated Series--I'm pretty sure even the jagged font on the gate is the same.
The song set (largely) in Arkham also manages to mention the Batusi and Shark Repellent. Fantastic.
Black Canary has a ballad about her love for Batman--which is interrupted by Music Meister's ballad about his love for Black Canary--that reminds me quite a bit (something about the scansion and tune) of "I'm Not a Killer" from "Evil Dead: The Musical." It kind of makes me want to compare the writing/composing staffs for both shows.
While Batman and Black Canary are trapped in Music Meister's deathtrap, the walls are covered with band stickers and posters, all named after DC properties. They range from the obvious (Metal Men) to the obscure (Inferior 5) to the surprising (Trenchcoat Brigade). I wish I'd been able to get down more; it's a reason for freeze-frame when the show makes it to DVD. Speaking of which, the DVD release schedule for this series is really obnoxious--three-plus volumes of four episodes each, with no season set on the horizon? That's ridiculous.
This episode contains the only use of the word "unfurled" in song that I've ever heard outside of the Pinky and the Brain theme song.
I won't spoil the climax, but I'll tell you that it contains a line that I don't think anyone ever expected to hear Batman say.
Don't tell Jay-Z, but even Batman uses auto-tune. Specifically, a "Bat auto-tuning amplifier." Now, since Jay-Z compares himself to Superman, what does this mean for the World's Finest team? Or does Batman keep the auto-tune in the same way that he holds onto the kryptonite ring, as a failsafe?
Getting back to my sudden fan amnesia, the episode ends with Black Canary lamenting her unrequited love, as Green Arrow shows up to declare his own crush on her. And so she settles for a cheerful Batman knock-off, which is funny on a variety of levels.
Bottom line: it was a fun episode, though I wish Batman had gotten a song instead of just an operatic warm-up. After all, we already know he can sing:
But I hope they're just saving that for a sequel.
1. Which I assume is made from a mix of bat-beef and bat-lamb, placed on a bat-pita with bat-tzatziki sauce.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
One thing I forgot to mention in the last post is another viable possibility1, a gay/bi Batman. Despite the jokes, I don't think there's any existing--or at least active or recent\--continuity where the evidence supports a gay Batman. It's something I'd be interested in reading (or writing, for that matter) as an Elseworlds or Earth-Whatever story.
In particular, I'm imagining a long-term (but ultimately not permanent) relationship between Batman and Superman (and before anyone mentions it, I'm aware of Midnighter and Apollo, but what I've read of The Authority hasn't really made me interested in reading more). It'd be an interesting mirror to modern portrayals of the World's Finest team, where despite initially distrusting each other and disliking each other's methods, they grow closer and forge a strong, solid friendship. In my scenario, they meet "on the job," and initiate the romantic relationship at the outset. The relationship would persist over the years, waxing and waning a bit in intensity, but ultimately ending with the duo having grown too far apart, having become too different to maintain the pairing. It wouldn't be a bitter ending--I don't think Justice League meetings would be particularly awkward--but it'd be an ending.
One interesting theme I think a story like that could explore would be the complicated politics of superhero dating--and the superhero "closet." It's one thing for people to realize (whether or not it was intentionally made public) that Batman and Superman were lovers; it's quite another for billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne to suddenly start dating farm-raised reporter Clark Kent. I think both would perceive the need to keep their relationship secret in order to preserve the masquerade. This would naturally cause tension, which would be a major contributing factor to the breakup.
There could be other intriguing elements as well...would this universe have a Robin? I envision a scene--a scene which ultimately leads to the "we need to keep this relationship a secret" talk--where Bruce and Clark are at the circus together, and Superman appears just in time to save the Graysons from falling to their deaths. Superman's sudden appearance in Gotham would raise questions, and with the papparazzi constantly hounding Bruce Wayne, it'd only be a matter of time before someone put the pieces together. Lois Lane's role in the story would necessarily be altered; while I think it'd be easy enough for her and Clark to develop the same friendly rivalry, once the news came out that Superman was the last homosexual of Krypton, I can imagine her putting the pieces of his identity together relatively quickly--unfettered by the blinders of unrequited love. Maybe there'd be the threat of a Lana Lang--or Pete Ross--tell-all book, revealing all of Clark's secrets to the public.
The more I think about this, the more ideas I get, and the more interesting I think this story could be. I guess this is how people become slash fic writers.
1. There's also the possibility that Batman is asexual, which again I don't think is
borne out by the evidence. It also would make the last couple of posts relatively short.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Weighing in on my own question, there's only one romantic interest I can see for Batman1: Catwoman. I suppose it's a bit pedestrian, but I think they belong together. In fact, about the only good thing to come out of "Hush" was the strengthening of their relationship and Selina learning Batman's identity. Hell, I was even able to swallow the most ridiculous aspects of "Heart of Hush"--including giving Hush a backstory that made him into Kenny Braverman--because of the Bat/Cat 'shipping.
But let me briefly run through my reasoning.
- Vicky Vale, Jezebel Jet, Silver St. Fox: In other words, the normal people. I don't see any of these relationships working out, largely because they start with Bruce Wayne. I'm a firm believer in the school of Bat-thought that Batman is the real identity and Bruce Wayne is the disguise, so these relationships are all ultimately built on lies. Besides that, with any civilian, the basic problem is that they'll never really be part of his vigilante life, even if they discover his identity. They'll end up living the life of the cliché superhero spouse, the one always compared to police officer's and firefighters' wives and husbands, waiting up late hoping that he'll come home safe. Except with Batman, the stakes are a little higher (given the kind of scrapes he gets into) and the nights are far later (methinks Mrs. Bruce Wayne wouldn't sleep often. If at all). No, the only Bat-relationship that could work is one that incorporates both vigilantism and millionaire playboyism, with the focus on the former.
- Talia al Ghul: Let's break this one down. Pros: mother of Batman's son, accepts Batman's double-life, no pesky civilian life to get in the way, intellect to match the World's Greatest Detective's. Cons: evil, willing and repeated accessory to genocide, crazy in-laws. Next.
- Zatanna Zatara: I'll admit, Zatanna is tough for me. I love the B:TAS episode she appears in, and I've enjoyed all their back-and-forth in Dini's "Detective" issues. My only real problem with the two of them is Batman's frequently-avowed dislike and distrust of magic. While it would be interesting, I don't think the world's most rational2, self-driven person would be able to stand being with a woman so steeped in magic and the supernatural.
- Catwoman: Another driven vigilante, another person who can mix in high society (though also as a disguise), another strong personality with particular obsessive tendencies...about the only dissonance I really see between Batman and Catwoman is her dalliances on the wrong side of the law and her more flexible sense of morality (e.g., killing when necessary, such as with Black Mask) causing friction, and that's certainly a concern. Whether or not Batman's crushing loneliness and quest for family would permit forgiveness somewhat depends on the writer.
1. For the comic continuity, anyway. If we're talking about the Animated Universe, I'd say Wonder Woman--I thought their relationship (much like John and Shayera's) developed really well and really naturally.
2. Presupposing a world where "dressing up as a bat to fight crime as a way of coping with death" is a rational decision.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Continuing my reviews of classic "Batman" episodes, I bring you some thoughts regarding the Penguin's debut two-parter.
First, it seems that opening the show with Dick taking some kind of lesson, finding it pointless, and being admonished by Bruce that it's key to world peace, is a theme (or a running gag). This time, it's French.
We're introduced to Warden Crichton and his "progressive penology" here. They keep harping on the word "progressive," while also showing how silly (and ineffective) the Warden's policies have been. I suspect a subtle political subtext.
In this case, Crichton's policies include allowing criminals to wear their civvies the week before they're released, to better acclimate them to normal society, and secretly videotaping them in their cells. Now, the former is kind of strange, but the latter seems to me to be a gross violation of civil rights. Even a criminal like the Penguin still has rights, and if I were Oswald, I'd be phoning my local ACLU and Amnesty International chapters as soon as I walked out of the penitentiary grounds.
It's interesting to note that the show--intentionally or otherwise--exposes the problem with constant surveillance (one which persists to this very day). Even though this tape is days old, and even though it shows the Penguin plotting his first post-release crimes--which he has already started committing--it's clear that no one has watched it. Big Brother is watching, but he only has so many eyes.
Robin wonders aloud why they're even releasing the Penguin, and both the Warden and Commissioner Gordon are taken aback. "Ours is a rule of law, Boy Wonder," says Gordon. "When a man has paid his debt to society, he must be released." Poor Robin; with everyone from Aunt Harriet to Commissioner Gordon constantly scolding him, it's clear that he's the show's very own Wesley Crusher.
Speaking of Commissioner Gordon, there's another fine example of Gotham City's tax dollars at work. Since they know the Penguin's plan involves umbrellas, Batman suggests they start by looking for any umbrella factories that have opened in the last three days. Now, I can think of several ways of obtaining large quantities of umbrellas quickly that would be better than opening an umbrella factory, but I guess that's why I'm not the World's Greatest Detective.
Anyway, after they've pored over the city records for a whole commercial break, Commissioner Gordon comes back with this gem:
Gordon: Three new umbrella factories, none of them unfortunately in the name of Penguin. It's a dead end!Ladies and gentlemen, your Gotham City Police Department.
I don't know what's more surprising: that Gordon expects a criminal to open up a front in his own name, or that the umbrella industry in Gotham City is so booming that it can support three factories in the last three days alone! What, is the rainy season approaching?
It gets worse:
Robin: Could he be using an alias?Ladies and gentlemen, the World's Greatest Detective.
Batman: Good thinking, Robin!
The Penguin's scheme here is actually very clever. He's going to release a bunch of senseless umbrellas into the city, then let Batman draw connections between them, thus planning his crime for him! It'd be ingenious if it weren't for the fact that Batman would necessarily know about the crimes before the Penguin was going to commit them, which ought to make it really easy to get caught. But otherwise, a crime wave by way of pareidolia? Good show, Mr. Cobblepot.
Penguin is really impressing me here. Batman decides to bug the Penguin's factory, in order to discover his real plans, but goes as Bruce Wayne, so he'll be incognito. No sooner has he placed the bug, when an alarm sounds and a net drops on him. Two of Penguin's goons come out of the back room to restrain him while Penguin knocks him out with some gas from his umbrella, mentioning how glad he was to have put an anti-bugging system in. The Penguin is turning out to be a genuine mastermind here.
And this is basically how the first episode ends, with an unconscious Bruce Wayne, mistaken for a rival umbrella company's industrial espionage agent (what the hell is going on with Gotham's umbrella industry?), tied up and placed on a slow-moving conveyor belt heading for the furnace they use to forge the umbrella core and spokes.
Naturally, Bruce escapes. He returns to the Batcave, where he and Robin continue trying to puzzle out the Penguin's latest scheme. Back at the umbrella factory, though, the Penguin remains one step ahead. The umbrella that the Dynamic Duo has been examining--the one most clearly styled as a clue--is itself a bug, allowing the Penguin to eavesdrop on Batman and Robin's investigation!
Which brings up several questions: if the Penguin is this smart, how does he ever get caught? Why doesn't the Batcave have an anti-bug system like the Penguin's hideout? How can a series deconstruct itself in the second story?
I have seriously underestimated both the Penguin and this series.
Batman and Robin, true to Penguin's predictions, deduce that Penguin's planning to kidnap a movie star, and discuss in detail how he plans to do it. The Penguin decides to give the Batman a little surprise when he arrives.
Incidentally, Batman calls Robin "old man" periodically. It's an interesting nickname, and one that, just by existing, lends some depth to their relationship.
We cut to the starlet's penthouse (at the Pelican Arms), where she's doing a sultry photo shoot on a pink shag rug in a gold jumpsuit for "Funboy" magazine. Oooh, racy.
Batman, having not yet developed the grapple gun, has to use the Batzooka to fire a grappling hook up to the penthouse window. It's about as stealthy as it sounds like it would be. The heroes warn Dawn Robbins about the kidnapping plot, then plan a trap for the Penguin. Eventually, the Penguin--who's been watching the whole scene--enters the room and knocks out Dawn and her agent with some knockout gas. Batman and Robin enter with gas masks, but the Penguin's still a step ahead, having rigged an electromagnet which pulls the Dynamic Duo inexorably toward the wall by attracting their utility belts. And there is no way this scene could be filmed without looking ten kinds of wrong:
So the kidnapping goes off, just as Batman planned, while he and Robin struggle to remove their belts. We find out the next day how they managed to escape:
Robin: If that room service waiter hadn't come in at midnight, we might still be stuck there.The more I think about this image, the funnier it gets.
The Penguin asks for a ransom, and for some reason he wants the trade to go down in the front hall of Wayne Manor, since it's a neutral location. Batman and Robin plan to hide in suits of armor in the hall, ready to pounce when the deal is made.
Penguin, of course, hears all this, because Batman was kind enough to bring the umbrella along. I certainly hope at this point that Batman's figured out it's a listening device, because otherwise this is just getting sad.
The Penguin and his goons enter Wayne Manor, gassing Alfred, and then Batman and Robin in their suits of armor, immediately. Then they take the ransom money and leave the girl. At least he's true to his word.
Upon returning to the umbrella factory, though, the Penguin makes a startling discovery: Batman and Robin! They figured it out when Penguin used the exact same words at the penthouse to describe his caper that Batman and Robin had used in the Batcave. They discovered the transmitter and set the trap, using dummies in the suits of armor and hiding out in the hideout the whole time. Naturally, next comes the battle.
It starts amusingly enough as a fencing match with umbrellas, which the Penguin's crew wins quickly. Once it turns to fisticuffs, though, the fight's over pretty quickly. The police arrive, and Batman makes a clever quip. We might expect the episode to end there, but it doesn't.
For some reason, there's an upper-class dinner party at Wayne Manor the week after the crime spree. There, we get our first glimpse at Bruce Wayne, playa:
He leaves this bevy of beauties to welcome starlet Dawn Robbins, but she's cold and distant. As it turns out, though she only saw him for a moment, she's fallen hopelessly in love with Batman. Ah, if only she were Kim Basinger, Batman could take her in his cape and...hang upside-down or something. God, Tim Burton was weird.
So, the overall verdict? This was a great story, at least for the Penguin. Batman and Robin don't come out looking quite so good, since Penguin effortlessly outsmarted them in every step except the last, and the Gotham Police Department is apparently staffed by certified imbeciles.
It's worth noting that I've watched four different stories since I acquired these episodes, and each one begins with some crime, after which the Gotham Police officers stand around talking about how useless they are, and how the only people who can possibly solve the crime are Batman and Robin. At first, I thought this was particularly demeaning to the GCPD, but after seeing a few of these, I think it might just be an honest assessment of their complete inneffectiveness.
I mentioned in the last review that I wanted to pay more attention to the fight scenes, and I'm glad I did. The real stand-out of this episode is the umbrella fencing match, in which the Penguin and his men handily disarmed the Dynamic Duo. As with the rest of the episode, Batman and Robin come out on the bottom of the situation, and it serves to demonstrate that there are at least some things at which the Penguin is better than Batman.
Which brings us to Burgess Meredith's Penguin. Maybe it's just the strength of the story, but Meredith is fantastic, and the character is great. As much as I saw elements of Romero's Joker that may have made their way into later portrayals, it's clear that every subsequent version of the Penguin stands in Meredith's shadow1. I'd even go so far as to say that Meredith's Penguin is the most well-remembered character--or at least villain--of the series. Part of that might be due to our most recent former Vice President, who bore various striking resemblances to the character and allowed for eight years of photoshopping and impressions. But then, there's a good thirty-odd years in-between, and I suspect a lot of the endurance of the character in the public consciousness owes to that distinctive catch-phrase (or more accurately, catch-quack), "waugh waugh waugh." There's been a trend recently in the comics to bring the "waugh" back, but I think it just tends to look silly on the page. Strangely, I don't have a problem with hearing it. Meredith is a real treat here, and is as close to threatening as I can imagine happening in this show. He is believable as a criminal mastermind (again, partially due to the quality of the story), and makes a credible adversary for Batman.
Anyway, this is a fantastic story, and really makes me reconsider the capabilities fo the 1966 Batman series. If you get a chance to watch this two-parter, take it.
1. I say this with a caveat: I'm not sure what the Penguin was like pre-Meredith, so I'm not sure how closely his portrayal mirrors the comic series. Even so, I suspect that Meredith's version has had a major impact on other Penguins, either through homage or response.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
It's another audience participation day here at the Batcave of Soliloquy. I put it to you, dear readers: Who should Batman settle down with? Who is his ideal mate, his life partner, his love interest? What lucky girl or guy would you most want to see walking down the aisle with an enormously expensive ring shaped like a bat?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
As a comic fan, I expect to enter into any number of pointless conversations at any given moment, but especially at comic shops. And depending on the circumstances and content, I'm totally happy to jump into those conversations and have at it. There are some topics that I just stay away from in meatspace, unless it happens to be with friends.
One of those topics came up recently, when I was taking my brother to a semi-local comic shop. One of the shop's employees was talking to me as I browsed the TPB racks, and I chit-chatted in a friendly manner, right up until he got to that topic, at which point I got very engrossed in the racks and responded with absentminded "yeahs" and "mm-hmms."
The offending point? Paraphrased: 'I think Frank Miller really had the right idea; he just put Superman and Wonder Woman together. That's the way it should be, he should never have been with Lois Lane.'
And what a common sentiment this is, that Superman and Wonder Woman should be together. And every time I hear this argument, I have to wonder: have you ever read a Superman or Wonder Woman comic book?
There's only one reason I can think of to pair the two up, and it's not a pleasant one. The only thing Superman and Wonder Woman really have in common is that they're both A-list superheroes with similar power sets. If anyone else has more to add there, feel free, but the only rationale I can figure is "stick with your own kind." I think this position not only shows a lack of knowledge of the characters (as well as a lack of knowledge of musical theater), but also a lack of respect for them, and a general lack of understanding how relationships work in reality.
Let's remember who we have here: on one hand, there's the farm-raised alien boy scout, who makes his living as an investigative journalist. On the other hand, there's the Amazon warrior princess who makes her living as a diplomat (and occasionally, as a secret agent). If it weren't for the fact that they both dress up in spandex and fight crime occasionally, they'd never even have met, let alone dated. People tend to enter into romantic relationships with people that they spend a lot of time with. Hence why Superman has consistently dated a hard-nosed city-girl reporter who works with him, and why Diana's notable love interests have been a pilot co-worker, a fellow peace activist, and a fellow secret agent. Even her short-lived relationship with Batman built out of working more and more closely over several story arcs. I just don't think Superman and Wonder Woman have enough in common to warrant such a relationship.
I think a lot of the problem I have with this is that it largely ignores who both characters are as people. One of the most important characteristics of Superman's personality, I think, is that he sees himself as a normal person; he self-identifies as a human. Given who he is, we'd expect him to fall in love with a normal woman.
Diana's position is similar; her origin story is about a young woman of privilege who wanted to be treated as an equal to everyone else, and to be the bridge between two disparate cultures. Given who she is, we would expect her to fall in love with a normal man.
For Superman and Wonder Woman to get together, it would require a rejection of these basic components of their characters. Instead of further connecting himself with humanity, Superman would be with a demigoddess from an isolationist nation; instead of interacting with man's world, Wonder Woman would be spending her life with another visitor to that world, another outsider. All on the basis that they share similar abilities, on the basis of the things which make them particularly special and set them apart from their peoples--the very same things that neither one wants to be judged by.
It's essentially "I want someone who loves me for who I am, not what I can do."
And when it all comes down to it, I don't think real people approach relationships this way--deciding who to date based on who appears to be the most similar in terms of abilities or looks. That completely ignores the roles of personality and proximity in partner selection, boiling everything down to a mechanistic trait-matching game. Or to simplify, Wonder Woman is not Maxima.
There's another issue I have with this position, though it may be less sinister than I suspect. I always hear it phrased as "Superman should be with Wonder Woman, not Lois Lane," and I think, "doesn't Wonder Woman have a say in this arrangement?" I never hear "Wonder Woman should be with Superman, not Steve Trevor"--though it's possible that Diana's traditional relationship is just not well-known enough, and it certainly hasn't been the status quo for over twenty years. Even so, the implication is that Lois Lane is somehow beneath Superman, unworthy of him, while Wonder Woman possesses whatever quality would make her a suitable mate for the great Man of Steel. The whole thing smacks of sexism, both because it makes Superman the only agent in the discussion, and because it treats these two women as if their only value is as a physical mate.
Wonder Woman and Superman may be many things, and may have been many things over the last six decades, but one thing I can't see them being is lovers.
I've recently obtained several episodes of the '60s Batman series, which I haven't really been able to watch in years. The show has led to a lot of unfortunate consequences for comic fans, not the least of which the fact that every other mainstream story about comics begins with "Biff! Pow!"1, in the series' distinctive style. Forty years on, somehow this show manages to remain cemented in pop culture as the quintessential comic book adaptation. While Batman has largely escaped from its long shadow, thanks to the recent films and the Animated Series, the rest of graphic literature in general still has to wear the albatross of '60s camp around its neck.
The fact that the series hasn't been released onto DVD is a tragedy, in my opinion. Theories vary on the reasons behind this video limbo, but I'm sure the dissonance in tone with the current Batman tone and portrayals makes the various parties less anxious to pursue resolution than they might be otherwise2.
But I digress. One of the things I've wanted to do for Bat-Month is a series of reviews and retrospective on the '66 "Batman." And where better to start than with episodes 5 and 6, our two-part introduction to the Joker?
The story begins in "Gotham State Penitentiary." Shows set in an ambiguous locale often have to resort to these weird naming conventions, where "State" is appended to things which aren't actually states. I suspect it's because of this that we have Blackgate Prison and Arkham Asylum--and a host of other such institutions--in the comics.
Anyway, I'm a little curious as to just how penitent the prisoners can be, given their activity schedule:
Apparently Warden Crichton has some wacky liberal ideas about how to rehabilitate criminals (and in a demonstration of continuity that I would have imagined beyond this series, it references Crichton's theories from the previous story). In this instance, Crichton's penology3 includes an all-criminal slow-pitch softball team. Chief O'Hara remarks in the audience that he's surprised at how well the Warden's techniques work--rehabilitating the Joker to the point where he'd be content to play softball rather than organize a prison break. And doesn't he look content?
Not so much for the guy behind him, I guess. Of course, this is all a clever escape plot by the Joker, who launches himself over the prison wall with a giant spring under the pitcher's mound.
And you better believe that they milked the "sprung" pun for all it was worth. Commissioner Gordon makes the inevitable bright red phone call.
I know this is a common question, but it bears repeating: why does Bruce Wayne keep the Bat-Phone out on a desk in plain sight in his study? He takes such great pains to hide the Batcave entrance switch under the head of Shakespeare, but leaves the red translucent phone where anyone can see it? And Alfred answers it? Look, Lois Lane might very well be the dumbest person in comics, but Commissioner Gordon and Aunt Harriet have to tie for a close second.
There's a nice bit of subtle character work here; Bruce is reading the newspaper while Aunt Harriet gives Dick a piano lesson, and Bruce wordlessly expresses his opinion of the music:
I like this a lot, because they don't remark on it, and it shows an attention to detail that I think a lot of people assume the show couldn't accomplish. Naturally, it isn't long before they're sliding down the Batpoles into the theme song.
Now, something I like about this series is the way it jumped right into things. This is the Joker's first appearance, but the episode assumes that the viewers will already be familiar with the character--or that such familiarity is unimportant.
I made light of this Batman's detective skills in the first Bat-Month post, but he does a good job of it in this episode, I think. Gordon and O'Hara show him a bust--it's not clear who it's supposed to be (though Batman calls it a "good likeness"), except that it clearly has the Joker's coloration (I suspect it's supposed to look like Joker, but it could just as easily be Gordon with Joker's makeup and hair coloring)--that they discovered under the spring at the crime scene. Batman suspects that it may be a clue that the Joker left behind, and Gordon asks a pertinent question:
Gordon: Why would he leave you a clue, Batman?Which is a good justification--or as good a justification as we're likely to get for this trope. Batman then ruminates on where one is likely to find a bust on a pedestal, which he connects to the point that the Gotham Museum of Mordern Art is opening a Comedians Hall of Fame--which won't have the Joker in it. Naturally, the Joker would want revenge, and the Museum has a sizeable jewel collection. Strangely enough, this bit of (totally circumstantial) detective work makes plenty of sense, at least to me.
Batman: He might not mean to. It's a trait of the criminal mind, the urge to boast. It often leads to the criminal's giving himself away.
When Batman and Robin arrive at the Museum, two interesting things occur. First, a bunch of teenage girls shriek and giggle at seeing Robin (I think I understand the tight briefs now...), and Batman realizes he's parked next to a sign that says the spot's reserved for the GCPD. He actually gets back into the car to move it, until an officer tells him it's okay and removes the sign. The Joker is about to rob the museum, but Batman needs to make sure he's not illegally parked. I guess when you break one law, it's just a slippery slope until you're just like the Joker.
Batman and Robin tell the guy at the front desk to evacuate the Museum, then go to check out the new exhibit for themselves. To their surprise, they find a big bronze bust of the Joker (Which looks nothing like him) among the displays. Robin suggests that they may have put up the bust after hearing about Joker's escape, so as to placate him and prevent a robbery. Batman kindly refrains from pointing out that they would have had to sculpt and cast a bronze sculpture in a ridiculously short amount of time for that plan to work (or, given the likeness, hastily placed a different sign on someone else's bust). Batman suspects that it may be a diversion.
They leave to find the Museum Director, and Batman suspects that he saw the statue move, but brushes the concern off. Perhaps I was too quick to laud the skills of the World's Greatest Detective. Naturally, as soon as the Museum closes, Joker comes out from behind the statue. Note that I say "behind," and not "inside"...there's nothing to indicate that he could even fit in it, there's just a flash of light and puff of smoke, and he rushes out, calling for his henchmen, who similarly emerge from behind busts of famous comedians. Good thing Batman didn't walk around any of the statues.
Batman and Robin realize their omission, and manage to break into the supposedly burglar-proof Museum with surprising speed and ease. A fight ensues (though without the theme music, which was disappointing), but Batman is knocked out when a displayed sword falls off the ceiling and konks him on the...shoulder. Hal Jordan would be proud, or perplexed.
The Joker's henchmen begin carrying the Dynamic Duo out, but it turns out Batman was playing possum4. He throws down a smoke bomb, which allows the heroes to overtake the villains, but the Joker escapes through a trap door--vowing, as he does, to never be thwarted by Batman's utility belt. I'll ignore the question of why there's a trap door in the burglary-proof Museum, because I know there's no decent answer. He decides that the solution is to craft a utility belt of his own:
I'm going to assume that the girl on the right is just an early Harley Quinn. She inspires the Joker's next scheme, to hijack the S.S. Gotham, which is launching next week.
The Joker announces his crime by tossing a clown doll into the window of the police station, while Gordon and O'Hara talk with Bruce and Dick about the security arrangements they've made for the S.S. Gotham. Gordon tries calling Batman about the clue, but Alfred informs him that "Batman is out for the day." I wonder what Gordon thought he'd be doing--going grocery shopping? Walking in the park? Seeing a movie? What would Batman do when he's not at home? The Commissioner is visibly upset, but Bruce reassures him by saying that the police can probably handle it. Then, Bruce asks if he could take the Joker's doll, the one thrown through the window of police headquarters, as a souvenir. Gordon asks the logical question:
Gordon: Any use for it, O'Hara?To which O'Hara replies, "Why, yes Commissioner, it's evidence in a criminal investigation. Even if'n it weren't a clue to the Joker's next nefarious scheme, it's at the very least evidence in a vandalism case!"
Just kidding. What he actually says is:
O'Hara: Not for me. The sooner we get this mockin' thing outta headquarters, the better I like it!Such stunning police work!
Gordon gives Bruce the doll as a "souvenir of [his] narrow brush with crime." Right, Bruce Wayne's narrow brush with crime came in adulthood, when the Joker tossed a doll through the police station's window. Not, you know, when his parents were gunned down in front of him as a child. I think Gordon's leading Lois at this point.
By the way, is it just me, or did Bruce's wardrobe here inspire his look in the Animated Series?
Speaking of inspirations, Batman realizes that the Gotham Opera Company is performing Pagliacci, and we quickly cut to the melodically morose clown himself, looking an awful lot like the Joker's henchman mask from "The Dark Knight."
In a further bit of synchronicity (which now seems eerily coincidental if it wasn't intentional), it turns out that the Joker's beneath that mask this time as well. He throws out some sneezing powder, which incapacitates Batman and Robin long enough for the henchmen to restrain them, so that the Joker can unmask them on live television. Thankfully, this being a live televised performance of "Pagliacci," their identities would be completely safe.
As the second part opens, Batman tosses a gas pellet up into the sprinkler system, activating it. Joker tosses a pellet of his own, throwing up smoke so he can escape onto the catwalk. Batman orders a surrender, as a "duly deputized agent of the law," but the Joker says "as the Clown Prince of Crime, I decline." Is that principality the basis for his eventual diplomatic immunity?
On the catwalks5, Batman pulls out his cuffs, but clearly isn't prepared for the Joker to tie him up in confetti. If Joker had used razor confetti, the whole show would be over by this point (then again, if he'd lobbed a grenade through the ridiculously unguarded police headquarters window instead of a doll, he'd be ruling Gotham by now).
The Joker's utility belt, which was concealed beneath his Pagliacci costume for the entirety of the fight, somehow becomes the subject of the nightly news. The bit is a joke--the anchor is reading "the questions all Gotham City is asking itself tonight," but the questions are exactly what the narrator just said. It's a fairly well-done gag, if only because it allows them to say "have Batman and Boy Wonder finally met their match?" and "will the Joker's utility belt prove their ultimate undoing?" three times in the span of a minute or two. According to the newscaster, criminals across Gotham City have been emboldened by the Dynamic Duo's apparent impotence6 and are embarking on a terrible crime wave.
The Joker's henchmen then hijack the studio, producing a shaky-cam broadcast of the Joker, hinting at his next crime. Again, as much as Goyer and Nolan have worked to craft their own serious version of Batman and the Joker, I can't help but see parallels.
Batman and Robin work out the clue and engage in one of their patented wall-scalings. Sadly, no guest stars in this one (though it wouldn't make sense for them to be hiding in a warehouse. A fight ensues, but the Joker and his henchmen mak their getaway. Batman throws a pellet to...I don't know, they were long gone by that point. Nonetheless, it explodes into a shower of confetti and a sign saying "Phooey on Batman." The Joker had switched utility belts with Batman during the fight, prompting this:
Robin: And when you thought you were stopping him with your utility belt, he was really stopping us with his!Rimshot! I'll admit, I laughed pretty hard at that one.
Batman: A tricky double! He's hit us below the belt!
The Joker's next plan--finally getting back to the S.S. Gotham--involves a special cork in a bottle of champagne. Batman and Robin are set to christen the ship, when a concerned citizen asks why they're there instead of stopping the Joker from taking over Gotham City. Good question, citizen, but we're going to ignore it. He examines the champagne bottle, then complains of a headache and takes a pill for it. He gives another to Robin, "in case it's contagious." Robin reminds Batman that if that's the case, they should both keep very clear of Rob Base. Naturally, when Batman breaks the bottle on the hull of the ship, it emits a noxious gas, which knocks out everyone in
r'haky-cam message of the Joker's, this time demanding the title to the S.S. Gotham, or else his medieval executioner will cut off the unconscious Batman and Robin's heads. Obviously, it's another ploy--Batman and Robin were prepared with a "universal drug antidote7." As it turns out, the replica utility belt that Joker had made also included a replica of his trick cork, which Batman analyzed, making him prepared for the Joker's plot. There's the usual fight, until the Joker trips over his own utility belt, which explodes. Shortly thereafter, the Joker and his henchmen are restrained and ready to go back to softball prison.
The show ends with a return to Dick's piano lessons, and a nice shot of Bruce looking...well, looking really Batman-y:
I really didn't mean for this to turn into a liveblogging/synopsis (I keep having trouble with that), but that's what we've got here. Overall, the story was entertaining, though it did feel like it bounced around quite a lot. In the span of under an hour, the Joker had something like four to six plots, and sometimes the connecting threads were dropped for quite long periods of time. Still, the end had some nice closure, with the Joker being undone by his own utility belt instead of Batman's for a change, and there were some good gags and good Bat-moments interspersed throughout. One thing I want to pay a little more attention to in future episodes is the fight sequences; I kind of used those moments for writing, so I missed out on a lot of the action.
I could hardly get through this commentary without saying a bit about Cesar Romero's Joker. He's never really threatening, but that's hardly a complaint; in this show, I have a hard time imagining what a threatening villain would even look like. He makes up for it by being incredibly over-the-top. As supervillains go, Romero's Joker makes you believe that he has a warehouse full of giant pianos and playing cards. One of the best things about Romero's Joker is his laughs: he has so many, and they're all very distinctive.
Adam West's Batman deserves some recognition here, too. As I said once or twice in the synopsis, West generally does very well putting forward that Batman air. He has that commanding, considering voice that Batman ought to have. I think what throws people watching this now--and what certainly threw me--is that the entire core concept of Batman is so different. It isn't just that this Batman is an officer of the law, it isn't just that this Batman is a good role model for his youthful ward, it isn't just that this Batman is so completely wholesome, it's that, in the entire hour, there's not a single scene at night. This is Batman out of the shadows, Batman in bright technicolor, and when you consider that the number of daytime scenes in the four-year Animated Series almost certainly wouldn't exceed the double-digits, and the same can be said with the films, that's jarring. In fact, it'd only take a few minor tweaks to make this series a decent Superman show, and that would fit much better with modern sensibilities.
All in all, I had fun watching this two-parter, and I'm looking forward to the next one8. I think something with the Penguin is in order.
1. And usually ends with "Comics aren't for kids anymore." Sigh.
2. On the other hand, "Batman: Brave and the Bold." Either way, if I were at Warner or DC or wherever, I'd be recording commentaries with the surviving cast and crew.
4. Or is it "playing opossum"? I think I like the alliterative version better regardless.
5. Yeah, on the catwalks, on the catwalks, yeah. I do my little turn on the catwalks.
6. Yes, that's his word. Admire my self-restraint, that I didn't take the Ambiguously Gay Duo joke-bait handed to me there on a silver platter.
7. Which raises a humongous host of other questions. Why wouldn't they just take that at the start of every day, on the chance that they'd be drugged at some point? Has Wayne Industries done any marketing of this? Do they realize that this wouldn't just be an amazing source of income, but would be one of the greatest technological advances in medical history? Or is this another case of Reed Richards is Useless?
8. I'm also looking forward to making that entry much shorter.