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Original Airdate: November 13, 2004
Writers: Christopher Yost & J.D. Murray
Director: Seung Eng Kim
So. The Firefly. I don’t believe he’s ever been much more than a C-lister to people who prefer the comics version of Batman, but his stock’s grown rather nicely from all the appearances he’s made in the cartoons and video games. He even got his own action figure in The Dark Knight‘s toyline, for some reason that probably made perfect sense to the WB suits in 2008.*
And sadly, that’s probably not a coincidence. Firefly is what crueler Internet-goers would probably call a walking special-effects reel: a “character” who largely exists to blow stuff up good while laughing and twirling his mustache. One of my buddies once voted him “villain most suited to a Batman movie directed by Michael Bay”, and I can’t really contest that.
But God help me, I kind of like him (and today is Independence (to Blow Shit Up) Day in the States)**. Or at least feel more than crushing apathy towards him, like I do with Bane or Man-Bat. Maybe it’s because of how convoluted his history is – you can get the full details here, but the short version is that he debuted as a standard Silver Age villain (and was so forgettable that even his Brave and the Bold appearance needed to pull in stuff from two unrelated stories to keep it interesting), made a short-lived comeback in the ’80s, and kinda-sorta-not-really got melded with a similarly-named but different villain during the ’90s.
That last part, by the way, came courtesy of our old friend…
Dixon’s revamp of the Firefly isn’t really the best villain revamp he’s done, but I like it well enough – his Garfield Lynns is still a former movie man, but with the added twist of being a psychotic arsonist who sees naked women in the fires he sets. The new armor-like suit that Dixon’s regular artist Graham Nolan (one of my picks for best Batman artist of all time, or at least the ’90s) made for him also caught on well, but to be honest, my favorite Firefly scene from the comics came from before he ever put on the suit. It’s just a lot more compelling when the sadistic monster looks (almost) like a regular guy.
Alright, enough with the history lesson. Let’s look at how The Batman tackles this
ready-made action figure character.
Straight-up: this is probably my favorite Matsuda redesign so far. It’s sleeker and more colorful than That Other Show’s design (which was admittedly taken straight from the Nolan design), and it suits a character who’s – spoiler – going to be spending a lot of his screentime in the sky. And look at that – they’ve found a way to make him look even more like his namesake while actually giving a reason for it!
(That giant cylinder dangling off his ass? It’s part of his jetpack.)
Also, it was deemed worthy of Lego Batman 3, and isn’t that what’s really important in life?
Firefly is voiced by Jason Marsden, a fella who’s been in… quite a few things us millennials might remember from our childhoods.
The voice he uses here isn’t too memorable, but it works for the character well enough – light, cocky, and in the supervillain biz for cash and thrills instead of any darker obsession. This is a notable departure from the pyromaniac Firefly most know and
love tolerate, but it’s got enough in common with Dixon’s take for me to like. I’ll get into this more in the next review, but most of Dixon’s villains – no matter how psychotic – have a workaday, blue-collar streak to them, which I have a real soft spot for. As long as they’re not on the clock, they almost seem like cool people to hang out and have a beer with.
Yost and Murray don’t waste any time setting Firefly up: the guy’s a corporate saboteur, and he’s very good at what he does. The character’s trademark flamethrowers are gone – maybe the network was scared all that fire would scare the kiddies or something – but what he has now is a decent halfway point between his old-school light gimmick and his current fire gimmick.
So Batman catches him on his latest round of corporate saboteur-ing, the two duke it out for a while and trade bad quips (Firefly’s are especially dorky), and Batman cuts one of his suit’s fuel lines, forcing the guy to retreat. Since Batman sadly didn’t bring along his own jetpack today, he can’t follow.
But never mind those two, it’s time to meet the episode’s real star. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages… put youuuuur hands together forrrrrrr…
Love it or hate it, the old 1960s Batman series was what permanently pushed Batman into the public consciousness, and the renaissance it’s experienced this decade – a digital continuation comic, an entire bonus level in Lego Batman 3, wave upon wave of toys, and an upcoming animated movie – is well-deserved. I’m personally a tad annoyed by how reactions on the Internet are either “OMG BEST BATMAN SHOW EVUH EVERYONE ELSE GO HOME” or “WORST BATMAN EVA BURY IT ALIVE”, with little real critical analysis to speak of, but West himself was always aces – a squarer-than-square pillar of the community that we could always laugh at in our brighter moods but who’d always be there for us in our darker ones.
I’m thus kind of ashamed to admit that most of his voice-acting appearances (at least, the ones meant to “reprise” his role as Batman) don’t do much for me. Mostly, it’s because of his age – I know that’s not something he can control, but his noticeably shakier 2000s voice undercuts everything that I liked about his 1960s voice.
So what role does he play here? Well, That Other Show already cornered the market on serious, heartfelt tribute with “Beware the Gray Ghost”, and portraying him as a delusional joke a la Kim Possible or The Fairly Oddparents was overdone even circa 2004. So The Batman went in an unexpected direction: mayor of the city.
… I said unexpected, not original.
As Mayor Marion Grange, West is basically Mayor West from Family Guy, except sober and kid-friendly. In other words, nothing like Mayor West at all. Oh, and fun fact: in the comics, Marion Grange is a woman, but I suppose sacrifices must be made in the name of Adam West cameos.
His characterization is almost surprisingly straitlaced, at that. Most Batman shows and movies make at least a token attempt to depict a mayor, but since Jim Gordon is the only competent, three-dimensional government official allowed, they’re usually incompetent bureaucrats, corrupt douchebags, or damsels in distress. Or some combination thereof. Even though Grange is an old friend of Thomas Wayne’s in The Batman, none of those are totally out of the question…
… but for the most part, he feels like a distaff counterpart to Dr. Leslie Thompkins from the comics and That Other Show – a kindly old professional who knew Bruce’s parents back in the day and acts as occasional moral support/plot enabler.
This leads us to the first B-plot The Batman‘s ever tried: Gotham’s city council is about to renegotiate the annual contract to rebuild and expand the Children’s Hospital, an honor traditionally reserved for the Wayne Foundation. But this year, the council’s starting to turn its attention to a new donor:
Yup. GothCorp is one of That Other Show’s more underappreciated inventions, and intentional or not, it’s hilarious that a company traditionally associated with Mr. Freeze is now debuting in a Firefly story. The Batman doesn’t provide us with its own take on Ferris Boyle, but fear not – GothCorp’s warm and cuddly as ever, according to Bruce.
“GothCorp isn’t known for its acts of public service. They’re known for allegations! Investigations! Resignations!
Hallucinations! Experimentations! Sterilizations! Too many -ations for my tastes!”
This whole scene comes close to knocking it out of the park, but Bruce’s little rant up there sounds downright childish (especially with Romano’s delivery), and a viewer who’s not familiar with GothCorp from That Other Show could even be forgiven for thinking that it’s just sour grapes on Bruce’s part. West, though, almost singlehandedly saves it – his Mayor Grange is very much a kind, grandfatherly old man who’s in a tough position, and I felt for him when he explained that as bad a reputation as GothCorp’s got, Bruce’s is worse.
Now, this is the kind of storytelling that verges on groundbreaking. Traditionally, depending on what Batman story a writer wanted to tell, Bruce Wayne’s public image has varied wildly – reclusive and dim playboy, prominent businessman, bleeding-heart charity financier, and more. This is usually treated as a plot necessity and not given a second thought – and indeed, none of these things have to be mutually exclusive – but it would be very, very easy to strike sparks between any two of them.
That’s exactly what happens here – and it feels like something the previous episodes have been building up to. So far, we’ve seen Bruce strand two dates at a big basketball game and throw a rave in his mansion – and if you consider his non-public appearances as valid evidence for the prosecution, he also listens to music and munches on nachos when working on important projects. Shit – is it even a disguise anymore? Maybe Bruce really is too big of a kid for something as serious and dignified as charity work? Maybe he should just stick to wearing his underwear on the outside while punching people in the face?
I know that on paper, this all seems like that hackiest of kid-movie plots: stop the evil land developer from stealing the
orphanage farm puppy shelter charity rights, and maybe if the mayor were voiced by someone else, it would come off that way. But when it’s West in the role, it stops being the lazy kind of cheesy and starts being the good, comforting kind of cheesy – would we expect the Batman of ’66 Gotham, who once lectured Robin on the importance of filling a parking meter for the Batmobile, to co-pilot a plot any less square?
(The cherry on top: West’s bone-weary “And wear a tie…” as he tells Bruce that the council will be holding their final vote on the hospital at 8:00 am tomorrow.)
Fast-forward to after sundown, where we get the rare sight of Bruce using the Batcave in his civilian togs.
And man – Bruce is really determined to kick GothCorp out of the running for those charity rights. It would be one thing if he were researching their background to see if they’re a worthy alternative to the Wayne Foundation, but he’s straight-up looking for something he can nail them with. I know that Thomas Wayne started the whole charity and Bruce has enough daddy issues to fill up a whole Hideaki Anno series, but this just seems petty.
Unfortunately, Firefly (remember him? Me neither!) pops up again in a law firm across town, and the Batman’s duty calls. Alfred, ever the bro, generously volunteers to
dig up some dirt research GothCorp while Bruce goes out to kick some arsonist ass. Gee, I sure hope this doesn’t come back to bite Bruce come 8:00 am!
This time, Bruce remembers to grab his jetpack glider when he suits up as Batman. Good thing, since Firefly tripped the alarm for no reason other than to draw him in. Some guys just looove to hold a grudge.
But when the asshole decides he wants to play chicken, Bruce starts playing dirty.
I love that little “Ohhh, no” Firefly makes when he realizes that he’s going too fast to dodge Batman’s tear gas. But then Batman has to be an idiot and just stand there while his opponent’s helpless and coughing. Rappel him! Batarang him! Anything!
Well, after Batman wastes his chance, it’s time for his first real aerial fight. Like I mentioned before – this episode features a lot of flying around, to the point where I started to feel that its spiritual ancestor from That Other Show wasn’t the Firefly episode, but the Roxy Rocket episode.
Only, y’know, with less sexual tension.
So then Firefly tries to trick Bruce into flying into his ass… I said less, not none, okay? After he’s had his fun showing off his superior jetpack technology, he blasts the wings off Bruce’s glider and sends our hero spiraling straight into a warehouse roof.
Where he stays.
By the time Bruce wakes up, it’s five minutes to eight. Alfred’s already got the research on GothCorp, a fresh set of clothes, and a razor in the Batmobile, but it’s not gonna mean squat if Bruce can’t show up in time for the vote.
Unfortunately, Alfred forgets the tie.
Even more unfortunately, time is not on Bruce’s side, and the Clock King won’t be debuting until Season 4. By the time he makes it to City Hall…
A sad Mayor Grange tells Bruce that he’s too late. The vote’s been cast, and as salt in the wound, one of the council members snidely contrasts Bruce with his father as he’s on his way out.
The aftermath of this scene – once again – isn’t terribly subtle, but it’s nice to watch Bruce grapple with two defeats in a row. Especially when the one closer to his heart is the one he can’t undo.
Or can he?
Yeah – it’s around now that all that stuff I’d praised earlier starts turning to ashes. The revelation that Firefly was on GothCorp’s payroll all along isn’t exactly out of left field (it’s adorable how they act like Firefly being a corporate saboteur is a twist), and it does nicely tie the A- and B-plots together, but I still find it a lazy choice that makes GothCorp even more one-dimensionally mwa-ha-ha than they were in That Other Show, which is certainly no small feat. Bruce’s “detective work” during this scene is also hilariously rushed and half-assed, so it looks even more like he’s pointing fingers at GothCorp out of spite.
That said, it does partially redeem itself by putting a twist on the earlier “maybe it’s time to hang up my cowl” episodes. Bruce actually considers leaving Wayne Enterprises to someone else and becoming Batman full-time (Alfred, of course, suggests the same thing he always has). The above point cancels it all out seconds later, but I guess it’s a nice lesson to the kiddies about the perils of overmultitasking. Or something.
As we move toward the final act, Bruce baits a trap for Firefly, by announcing on Exposition News that his company’s going to come out with a prototype that’s going to set the technology world “on fire”.
Firefly sees the newscast and agrees to target Wayne Enterprises next, and my God I can’t help but sympathize with him. I mean, I’m not even getting paid to sabotage businesses and I want to punch that face good.
In other words: just as Batman planned.
Come night, Batman confronts Firefly in one of Wayne Enterprises’ labs, and after some more stupid quips (I’ll admit that “GothCorp? That a rock band or something?” made me smile), it’s time for the big dogfight. And Batman’s found a 100% American way of winning it.
Shamelessly rip off the competitor’s tech.
Our combatants zoom up, down, and all around Gotham, narrowly avoiding turning into street/wall pizza a hundred times over and making taxicab drivers rethink their places of residence.
You tell ’em, guy. They never get flying do-gooders over there.
By the way, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Firefly doesn’t think to start attacking civilians – even if just by accident – since this isn’t one of those moments when Gotham is inexplicably empty. There are hundreds of cars around, and at one point Firefly even starts blasting away at a tunnel… to absolutely no effect.
Eventually, Batman grits his teeth and barely overcomes this unbeatable foe by… doing exactly what he did the first time. Only this time, I dunno, the fuel line leaks faster for some reason.
Now all his gear’s gone kaput, but Firefly’s not ready to throw in the towel. I think you all know what’s ne...
Whoops, my bad. In a stunning display of realism (which surely has nothing to do with how there’s only a minute of runtime left), the guy who’s depended on fancy toys all his life has no kung-fu skills whatsoever. I guess it’s kind of badass to see Batman getting Flawless Victory for once, but mostly it’s just sad to watch, especially given Marsden’s “whiny jock who’s just gotten rejected by the prom queen” voice.
Come morning, GothCorp – and the police – get a nice little present.
Apparently, tying up random people and sticking signs on them is good enough for a court of law, because next thing you know GothCorp is getting buried under arson charges. And of course, that leaves the Children’s Hospital charity wide open for the Wayne Foundation.
… together with every goddamn contract GothCorp currently has on its hands.
I guess we’re supposed to look down on the other city council members for all the shifty faces they make during this part, but really – all this seems mighty convenient for Bruce’s company, especially if you weren’t there to see him taking Firefly down. There’s a legitimate case to be made here that Wayne Enterprises is participating in a giant frame-up.
But hey, Adam West gives it his seal of approval. And who are you to disagree with Adam West?
Bruce wisecracks about his tie. Roll credits.
If compared with That Other Show’s Firefly debut ep… this one wins, hands down. I’d take this Firefly over a stalker-y creep who suddenly decides he wants to blow up Gotham in the third act for no reason any day. End of story.
But if compared with That Other Show’s Adam West debut ep… suffice it to say that this episode isn’t really a match for “Beware the Gray Ghost”. But that’s more in the execution than the concept. The basic plot outline and having West as Gotham’s mayor – and an old friend of Thomas Wayne’s – are all aces, and I’m not even that bothered by how one-dimensional Firefly was. The story’s not really (or shouldn’t really be) about him, so an airy villain who’s 90% action sequences/toy advertising and 10% meatheaded quips sounds fine by me. Just tighten up the script in its weaker spots (even if having GothCorp hire Firefly was inevitable given the time constraint, Bruce shouldn’t look this much like a Designated Hero), and you could have a real winner.
And when you get down to it, isn’t that what the spirit of America’s really about? Never perfect – for that would mean staying still – but eternally on the move, eternally experimenting, eternally striving toward one form of greatness or another? Accepting that it can never be the Old World, but acknowledging that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that?
Okay, so it’s about the junk food and shameless consumerism too. There’s room enough in Uncle Sam’s heart for all.
Happy Fourth, everyone.
Next: We go from the the show’s (potentially) best episode so far to its absolute worst. Bring a drink. A strong one.
* I’d make some crack about the other Firefly here, but I can’t really be arsed to watch it (and from what I can tell, Joss Whedon is already on half the Internet’s shit-list anyhow).
** The date tag might say July 5, but it’s still July 4 where I live, so nyeh!