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Original Airdate: October 30, 2004
Writers: Thomas Pugsley & Greg Klein
Director: Seung Eun Kim
Contrary to popular belief, having multiple writers on an episode does not mean it’s less likely to be terrible. Case in point: almost every new episode of Spongebob Squarepants has three writers attached.
And my word, are Pugsley and Klein facing an uphill battle today. You see, this is a Man-Bat episode, and those of you who paid attention to my first review…
… will likely recall that I don’t care much for Man-Bat. And I still don’t.
Seriously, he makes Bane look like the gold standard of innovation and interesting plot development. In case any of you are unfamiliar with him, here’s a thumbnail biography from Wikipedia:
Dr. Kirk Langstrom, a scientist specializing in the study of bats (chiropterology), develops an extract intended to give humans a bat’s sonar sense and tests the formula on himself because he is becoming deaf. The extract works, but it has a horrible side effect: it transforms him into a hideous man-sized bat. The serum also takes away his intelligence, so he goes on a mad rampage until Batman can find a way to reverse the effects.
Even if you don’t particularly give a crap about Marvel (and to be honest, I don’t), Man-Bat is a pretty lackluster villain, mostly because Kirk Langstrom’s consciousness goes lights-out whenever he turns into the guy (which is almost always by horrible circumstance instead of intent). There’s very little emotional or moral stakes to be had – he’s a villain 100% built for action sequences, and incredibly predictable action sequences at that. I’ve seen Batman hitching a sky-ride on his claw about several dozen times now, and it was pretty boring after the first one.
But that was apparently good enough for him to carve out a niche, and he’s been a semi-recurring member of Batman’s rogues gallery ever since. As previously mentioned, That Other Show used him as their first villain, and the episode in question was almost entirely redeemed by how badass
Tokyo Movie Shinsa’s Spectrum’s animation was. That might be written off as a chest-beating display of creative independence on their part (please realize that I spontaneously sprouted a beret, goatee, and Starbucks latte as I typed that), but then they did another one.
At this point, it’s probably for the best if we all admit to what his real appeal is:
Oh, there’s been a few snippets of more interesting takes – mostly when they tried to play him as a hero who’s in full control of himself as Man-Bat – but those never last long. Let’s see if The Batman can make this bat fly, shall we?
The episode begins on a fairly tense note: the cops have spotted the Batmobile, and are doing their damndest to hunt it down. This leads to the first Bennett/Yin exchange that I actually find… kind of amusing.
Bennett: Hold on. The Batman nails thugs for us again and this is the thanks he gets?
Yin: I just want to tell him how grateful I am. Up close and personal.
Unfortunately for them, Batman’s outfitted the Batmobile with hyperdrive and loses them in a blink. But the night’s not a total loss – a flock of bats come right the hell out of nowhere, and having nothing better to do, Yin and Bennett follow them right to…
Okay, it’s not quite that bad. While Ethan does immediately accuse Bruce of being (the) Batman upon seeing him, he admits he’s joking a second later. Not that bad for Bruce, I mean. The good detective’s probably been cemented as the Jar-Jar of this show.
By the way, this is the first time we get to see this show’s take on Bruce-the-businessman, and first impressions are honestly not good. I know that realistically speaking, he can’t devote attention and compassion to every corner of Wayne Enterprises, but when your top researchers are building supervillain lofts in your main building, complete with terrible lighting and bat infestation, it might be time to hire a
Morgan Freeman Lucius Fox.
Yeah, that’s this show’s big change to Langstrom – he’s now working for Wayne Enterprises, and the way the episode frames him as a creep from the start kind of makes me suspect they had That Other Show’s take on the Mad Hatter in mind. Only, y’know, without the genius of Paul Dini.
After the fastest interrogation in police history, Bennett and Yin beat feet, and Bruce tells Langstrom he’s getting canned for keeping secrets from the Corporate Overlords. I’d make a crack here about how this is where 50% of supervillains began, but it’s quite apparent that Langstrom already had a few screws loose for a long time now.
The part where Langstrom (temporarily) saves his own skin, by the way, is a nice but ultimately pointless bit. He plays the “my research is meant to help this deaf kid in my family” card, and Bruce immediately folds upon hearing that there’s a little child’s wellbeing hanging in the balance. That, more than anything else, is how you know this is a valid take on (the) Batman, unlike some stories I could mention.
So why is it pointless? Because the very next scene (okay, second-to-next, but all the next scene does is set it up) has Bruce going to Langstrom’s niece’s house and trying to bring her a hearing aid (by the way – can someone fluent in ASL tell me if Bruce’s sign language in this scene is accurate?), at which point she yells for her mom, calls him a weirdo, and slams the door in his face. While it’s kind of funny, it makes the previous plot point moot, and it’s not particularly clear why Bruce hadn’t done his own research on the niece before going there (or at least contacted her mom).
Bruce storms back to Langstrom’s lab, only to find the little creep’s stalker journal on the Batman. Newspaper clippings, police reports, websites, the whole bag. When Langstrom comes back, the two have an understanding – and I have to say, it’s kind of cute how Bruce’s first reaction at Langstrom’s “I wanna be like Batman” speech is “You want to be a crimefighter?”
Nah, Langstrom just wants to be feared. A lot of people (most of whom I suspect couldn’t care less about Man-Bat otherwise) have trashed this as the flimsiest villain motivation on this show yet, but I find it’s got some potential. One of the slightly less-popular deconstructions of Batman posits that he’s (or fears he’s) nothing but a bully who likes to make the poor and mentally ill soil themselves, and in a better episode, Langstrom could’ve proven to be a twisted mirror of him spiritually as well as superficially.
(The above point is something quite a few Scarecrow writers have tried to tackle, at least unwittingly, but none of them have really made it work. Besides, Chris Nolan already called dibs on Scarecrow when this show was in production.)
But this episode – and really, this entire show – is more rooted in Batman the superhero (whom only bad guys fear) instead of Batman the figure of urban terror, and Langstrom simply isn’t multilayered enough to make it work. He’s just the big jerk we’re supposed to root against.
Guy’s got one neat character design, though.
Now facing a hideous, superstrong mutant who wants to kill him with no spare Bat-suit on hand, Bruce pulls out all the stops and manages to toss Langstrom into his own petri-dish freezer. Can you guess what hacky one-liner the writers steal from Batman & Robin for this scene?
A.) Let’s kick some ice!
B.) Cool party!
D.) Stay cool,
Bat Bird Boy!
E.) What killed the
bats dinosaurs? The ice age!
F.) Tonight’s forecast: a freeze is coming!
Alright, pencils down, everyone! If you guessed C, you are correct. Your grand prize: to get mentioned in my next Batman fanfiction when I finally get off my lazy arse and write it.
The freezer doesn’t hold Man-Bat for long, by the way; he kicks his way up through the ceiling, through a dozen more floors, through the roof of the whole building and… Jesus, was Langstrom experimenting with bat DNA or super-soldier serum?!
Bruce then loses about a hundred IQ points and calls for the Batmobile on the front steps to Wayne Enterprises, at which point Murphy’s Law kicks in and Bennett and Yin show up again, having gotten a search warrant. The part where the Batmobile is literally redirected behind the cops’ backs is an admittedly nice show of Bruce’s unflappable “playboy” mask, though.
That said, I’m really not sure why Bruce goes to so much trouble to stop the cops from searching Langstrom’s lab again. Everything points to… well, everything being Langstrom’s fault – is it just because it’ll be bad PR for Wayne Enterprises if the cops conclude that Langstrom was Batman all along?
Man-Bat proceeds to do Bruce a solid by picking that exact moment to start attacking livestock, distracting the cops and providing Bruce with an ironclad “I’m not Batman” alibi (until Langstrom gets caught, anyhow). We actually see Man-Bat swooping down on a petting zoo to give a goat the Chupacabra Special, too, and truth be told it’s kinda creepy.*
Anyways, Bruce’s commentary: “Langstrom couldn’t have used fruit bats?”
Bruce, I believe certain individuals would find your insinuation that those are somehow harmless most… distressing.
Cue the standard Batman-riding-Man-Bat sequence, which boasts some nice, slick animation but isn’t really as imaginative with its setpieces as I would’ve liked.
Man-Bat manages to shake Bruce off and corner him in an alley, but as luck would have it, the clock strikes midnight and he turns back into
a pumpkin something that could pass for human. He then gets into an extra-monologuey mood and tells Batman that two more doses of the Man-Bat serum will make the change permanent (how he kept the serum vials on him all this time is a mystery, since they don’t even seem to be corked).
Bennett and Yin, those masters of convenient timing, then show up. Batman and Langstrom flee through the alleys, at which point Yin actually displays some police competence and takes down the old freak. Temporarily.
Sadly, Langstrom already got another dose of the serum, and it’s right about now that the Keystone Kops realize Langstrom isn’t Batman and Batman isn’t Man-Bat. Then Bennett tries to draw a bead on Man-Bat and… this happens.
Man-Bat’s scientist curiosity gets the better of him (what does a human taste like?) and he flies off with Ethan as his next midnight snack. Batman manages to shoot a tracking device on him before he can fly out of range, though. He then calls up Alfred (who has a video phone to the Batmobile installed in his alarm clock – poor guy) and has something – probably the antidote to the Man-Bat serum – prepared.
The sun’s starting to come up, and we can’t have that interrupting the big boss battle. So Bruce heads down into the sewers, where Man-Bat’s got Ethan trussed up with bat-goo for… some reason.
So, having run out of material for a standard Man-Bat episode, the writers start pilfering from the Killer Croc formula instead. The part where Man-Bat spies on Bruce with echolocation is a neat stylistic trick, but that’s about all it is. Also, take note of the fact that this is the first time Batman out-and-out saves one of the cops; it most definitely won’t be the last.
Bruce then starts breaking every law of sewer battles and whips out a jetpack glider to keep up with Man-Bat, which… Jesus, isn’t darkness and claustrophobia the whole point of sewer scenes? The way he beats Man-Bat is a neat call-back to the last episode, though: the something he had Alfred prepare was the sonic doohickey he used to drive off Penguin’s birds.
And, y’know, I’m not sure whether it’s scientifically accurate that sonics fuck around with bat sonar, but it sure looks cool.
By the way, how Bruce actually subdues Man-Bat is pretty damn vicious. After fucking around with Langstrom’s sonar, he tricks the guy into running headfirst into a sewer pipe, which fills up the entire reservoir with water. In other words, Batman tries to drown him into submission.
It works, and Langstrom doesn’t even look that battered when he gets washed out into the closest canal, but… Jesus.
Since the episode’s just about done, Langstrom’s serum wears off again and the cops nab him. But when they come back to his lab for additional evidence, they find it mysteriously empty. How very convenient for Wayne Enterprises’ PR department.
This scene ends on a somewhat decent note, as Bennett jumps to Bruce’s defense when Yin starts getting suspicious. It’s the best sign yet that they’re genuinely old friends, and it’s a worthy counterpart to That Other Show’s portrayal of Harvey Dent in a kinda-similar story. One of my problems with That Other Show’s take on Harvey Dent was that he appeared too few times for me to truly buy the whole “friend of Bruce/ally of Batman” background that made his fall so compelling, but given that every other line out of his mouth tends to be a groaner, I can’t exactly fault anyone who says Bennett appears too often.
Uhh… not to say that anything bad’s gonna happen to him later on. Nope. Nu-uh. *Whistles*
And for our epilogue, we get the standard bit of Langstrom in Arkham, vowing revenge. Or something. Also, he’s picked up the art of foot-only spork-writing, so we really know he’s TEH KUH-RAZY.
The episode ends with Langstrom’s insane giggles echoing through Arkham, presumably mere days (or hours) before the Joker brutally murdered him for muscling in on his shtick.
So… there’s not really much to recommend in this episode. The writing kinda stinks, the villain’s as one-note as they come, and even the action scenes don’t have much punch. The Curse of Man-Bat struck again, and it struck hard.
Next: People love Mr. Freeze. People love the Gargoyles guy. What the hell could go wrong?
* Fun fact: That Other Show wanted to do a vampire episode, but were continuously turned down by S&P, making this a one-in-a-thousand instance where The Batman was actually edgier.