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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Fishing in the Discount Bin - A Bunch of Batman Episodes

Here we go again with Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch a DVD I own and blog about it.  Something a little different tonight.  Whenever I watch a rerun of Batman: The Animated Series, I usually jot down a few thoughts on Facebook.  So, for this one, I just compiled those thoughts.  This is in my notes at May 18, 2019.

Whenever there's nothing on TV, and I can't decide what to watch on the streaming services, my eyes go to my DVD shelves, and, more often than not, I find myself popping in a few episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.   Still regarded by many as being the truest adaptation of Batman.  As I've read a lot about the series over the years, I can't help but take to Facebook and share tidbits about the episode I'm watching.  As I just watched a few episodes, I was thinking rather than rant on Facebook, why not share a few of my thoughts here?  So, here we are. 

Heart of Ice - This is it.  The episode that put the series on the map.  Paul Dini's re-imagining of Mr. Freeze propelled Freeze into the A-list of Batman's rogues, was instantly adopted by DC Comics as Mr. Freeze's new official origin story, and is regarded as one of the best Batman stories period.  In the beginning, Mr. Freeze was a typical mad scientist, forced to forever live a subzero environment (provided by his special suit) when his prototype freeze gun blew up in his face.  But, Dini turned him into a more tragic figure.  Victor Fries was a pioneer in cryogenics, using the technology to preserve his dying wife until a cure could be found.  But when his villainous boss Ferris Boyle ordered the project shut down, Fries was caught next to an exploding cryogenic chamber, which reduced his body temperature.  Now as Mr. Freeze, he's out to avenge his wife.  Fan little trivia fact:  Mr. Freeze's character design was done by Hellboy creator Mike Mingola. 

Joker's Favor - Charlie Collins is having a bad day.  He snaps at a rude driver who cuts him off, and it turns out that driver is...the Joker.  The Joker then declares Charlie his new hobby, spending the next three years stalking him, and saying that one day he will ask a favor of Charlie.  Of course, this episode is now famous in all of comics as being the very first appearance of Harley Quinn.  Created because the Joker in drag for a gag was considered too ridiculous and modeled after the molls featured on the 1960s TV series, she became the breakout character of the show and now a much-beloved character in her own right. 

Harley's Holiday - One of the final episodes, produced as the series was winding down.  According to legend, Paul Dini looked at Batman showrunner Bruce Timm and asked, "Think we've developed Harley enough that she would work as a solo villain?"  And thus, the episode was born.  Harley has finally been declared sane, has finished out her sentence, and is released from Arkham, determined to finally get her life in order.  But, a misunderstanding at a department store soon snowballs out of control, and before you know it, she's back in costume and on the run.  The intent was to give Harley a bit of a happy ending, and indeed, Dini has said over the years that he believes Harley is the one member of Batman's rogues gallery that truly has a shot of reforming and giving up her life of crime.  Has a nice tip of the hat to Batman: The Killing Joke, as Batman writes off the incident as Harley having a bad day, and sympathetically tells her, "I had a bad day once, too." 

Ooo, and one more thing I thought of as I was transferring this from my notes to the blog.  I love the little joke where the Scarecrow just casually greets Harley at the start of the episode as he's being dragged back into Arkham by Batman.  Since the Scarecrow was a professor of psychology at Gotham University, and Harley studied psychology at Gotham University, my head-canon has always been that Harley was once one of the Scarecrow's grad students.  

Almost Got 'Im: 

Poison Ivy: Harvey. You're looking halfway decent. 
Two-Face: Half of me wants to strangle you. 
Poison Ivy: And the other?
Two-Face: Wants to hit you with a truck. 
Poison Ivy: We used to date. 
Joker & Penguin: Ah. 
Again, one of the best episodes ever.  Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc all sit down for a game of poker and share their stories of how they almost got Batman.    This episode has actually inspired a game.  The big twist in the episode is it turns out Killer Croc is actually Batman masquerading as Killer Croc.  So how the game works is everyone is one of Batman's rogues, and you have to figure out which one is Batman in disguise. 

I've Got Batman in my Basement - A kid who's a wannabe detective rescues an unconscious Batman from an alley, and hides Batman in his basement until Batman can recover.  In the meantime, he rigs his home with a bunch of Home Alone-style booby traps to fight of Penguin and his thugs.  Hi-jinks ensue.  Regarded by many as the worst episode of the series. 

Joker's Wild - A casino magnate opens up a Joker-themed casino, causing the Joker to go on a rampage to try to destroy said casino.  A personal favourite.  Can't explain it.  Just pushes all my buttons the right way. 

Showdown - Ra's al Guhl kidnaps an elderly man from a nursing home.  To explain why to Batman, Ra's al Guhl tells Batman of an adventure he had in the old west, when he crossed paths with a bounty hunter known as Jonah Hex.  I read many years ago this one was supposed to be a three-parter.  Part 1 was going to be Ra's al Guhl vs. Jonah Hex in the Wild West, Part 2 was going to be Ra's al Guhl vs. Enemy Ace during World War I.  And Part 3 was going to be Ra's al Guhl vs. Batman in the present day.  When the network objected to the lack of Batman in this three-part episode of Batman, it got whittled down to the Jonah Hex story, with a Batman framing story. 

Heart of Steel - In this 2-parter, an evil computer called HARDAC is kidnapping people and replacing them with robotic duplicates to take over the world.  Stands out for me because watching this in my youth is the first time I ever found an Easter Egg:  the company that made HARDAC is called Cybertron Systems. 

His Silicon Soul - Heart of Steel was originally supposed to end with Batman fighting his own robot duplicate, but it had to get cut for time.  Not wanting to let their awesome storyboards go to waste, the creators built a whole episode around it. 

Bane - The creators of Batman: The Animated Series were reluctant to use Bane, as he'd only just been introduced in the comics and wasn't that developed yet.  But, they eventually caved to the pressure and cranked one out.  As such, Bane's first appearance outside the comics is a bit of a lackluster affair.  For the series, Bane is a South American hitman who's brought in by Gotham's mobs to end Batman once and for all. 
Beware the Grey Ghost - A bomber is on the loose in Gotham City, and Batman notices that the caper is reminiscent of the plot of an episode of The Grey Ghost...a superhero show he used to watch on TV as a kid.  For help in cracking this case, Batman reaches out to Simon Trent, the actor who played the Grey Ghost on TV all those years ago.  According to legend, once the final script was delivered, showrunner Bruce Timm read it over and said, "Do you think Adam West would be offended if we offered him the role of Simon Trent?"  West was not, and the whole episode turned into a loving ode to the 1960s series and West himself. 

Lock-Up - Not every original villain created for the show is a Harley Quinn.  Case in point:  Lock-Up.  Which is weird, because it took a full six years after Harley Quinn was introduced on the show for her to be introduced in the comics proper, but Lock-Up was introduced almost immediately in the comics after his lone episode.  Lyle Bolton was the head of security at Arkham Asylum, before he was fired for his brutal and sadistic treatment of the prisoners.  Dressing in riot gear, he styles himself as the vigilante Lock-Up, and goes after what he considers the real criminals:  members of the justice system who are soft on crime, lily-livered doctors who believe in rehabilitation over punishment, and the liberal media who makes celebrities out of criminals.  While it's kind of a weak episode, in this day and age, I could see Lock-Up having a real satirical edge with a little more development. 

Mean Seasons - And again, not every reboot of a classic villain can be a Mr. Freeze.  Calendar Man was always one of Batman's more jokey villains, planning capers that match the holidays.  For the animated series, he became Calendar Girl.  Paige Monroe was a former supermodel, who started losing gigs when she committed the inexcusable crime of turning 30.  Rumors started circulating that she was horribly disfigured after one too many plastic surgeries gone wrong.  Now, wearing a porcelain mask, the media dubs her Calendar Girl as she begins launching crimes themed around the seasons, to wreak bloody vengeance on the companies that dropped her.  Again, if this were developed a little more, I could see it having more of a satirical edge.  There's also a bit of B-plot as this whole thing causes Bruce Wayne to re-think Wayne Enterprises' retirement policies.  It also goes for a Twilight Zone-style ending when she's captured and unmasked, only for us to see she's still as gorgeous as ever, leading Batman to remark, "She doesn't see that anymore.  All she sees are the flaws." 

Critters - Another one regarded as one of the worst ever, but Bruce Timm does cite it as a personal favourite.  Dr. Enoch Brown seeks to solve world hunger with his genetically enhanced livestock, but when one of his over-sized bulls goes on a rampage, he's ordered by the courts to shut down his research.  Now, remaking himself as Farmer Brown, he holds Gotham City hostage with his army of mutant farm animals.  One more time, here's another one that could be given a real satirical edge in this era of GMOs and backlash toward them. 

And there you go.  Just a few observations on Batman.

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