(DISCLAIMER: The author of this blog owns none of the properties depicted below. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise.)
Original Airdate: February 12, 2005
Writer: Steven Melching
Director: Brandon Vietti
Good evenin’, all you Penguin fans, wherever you may be…
U.S., Russia, Ireland, Mexico or Greece…
What a mediocre tale that we have here today…!
You nerds can simply call it… the one and only Bird of Prey!
Okay, not really. Today’s episode has nothing to do with Oracle, Black Canary, or any other sexy, asskicking ladies. One “s” makes all the difference.
What it is is basically “(the) Batman vs. reality TV/news media”, an idea that sounds like an instant winner but which has never worked for me outside the grimy, super-political, dated-but-not-too-dated atmosphere of The Dark Knight Returns. Why? Search me – maybe pre-Sin City Frank Miller was just that damn good.
In any case, you may have surmised that this kind of plot doesn’t really need a specific villain to work, and you’d be absolutely right. The Batman volunteers Penguin for the job, which should surprise no one familiar with That Other Show; Penguin’s always been harder to nail down specific, character-driven plots for than the likes of Joker or Two-Face, so he’s often saddled with the thankless task of carrying “gimmick” pitches (Batman gets KO’ed in some kid’s basement! Batman’s car gets jacked! Batman is blind!) that the writers were too lazy to invent a new villain for.
That’s not to say, however, that such episodes are inevitably terrible. The Adam West show used this sort of plug-in-villain-here plotting with abandon, and the results – at least in small doses – were often delightful. It was an approach that let the actors, rather than the writers, scope out the villains’ personalities and quirks – and when you have dedicated souls like Frank Gorshin or Burgess Meredith on the job, you get character portrayals that are still kicking in the public consciousness to this very day.
Let’s see which side of the divide today’s episode falls on.
Opening fight? Not much to write home about, unless you want to discuss how it sets the template for this show’s Penguin being the Universe’s punching bag from here on out. I mean, he wasn’t exactly a pillar of dignified villainy in “Call of the Cobblepot”, but the worst thing that happened to him there was getting buried in birdseed. Here?
I suppose you could find precedent to the whole business in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale if you want, but let’s just move on.
Since we still have twenty minutes to fill, Penguin gets away and is miraculously not dogpiled by cops even when he’s standing out on the street. Soon enough, he learns about Bruce Wayne going on an inane day-in-the-life reality TV segment, and launches into the standard tirade about how much he hates the Waynes.
God bless ‘im, Tom Kenny pours all the emotion he can find into this scene, but the writing’s so childish and one-dimensional that he just comes across as a slightly less pathetic Cluemaster. I mean, I’ve never found the “my WASP family hated Wayne’s WASP family” angle terribly interesting, but I’ll admit that some writers have at least tried to mine it for emotional and thematic material. Here, though, it’s just a temper tantrum from an overgrown spoiled brat; “What if Batman grew up to be a total asshole and also short, ugly, and poor?” doesn’t really make for a compelling angle unless you really try.
Penguin then decides he’s gonna go rob Wayne Manor for no fucking reason and… really, writers? You couldn’t even give him a slightly different evil plot? If this is the extent of your creativity with Mr. Oswald Cobblepot just two episodes in, I’m not sure I’ll be able to survive the rest.
The story plods over to Wayne Manor, but it’s just more padding for the most part. That, and Bruce fanservice.
After intrepid media newshound not-Lois Lane and her camera guy not-Jimmy Olsen show up and drag Bruce off, it’s business as usual until Penguin shows up, complete with dramatic thunderclap. I’d take a moment to mock Wayne Manor’s nonexistent security, but really – villains being able to stroll in actually seems to be the norm, regardless of continuity. Stuff like Matt Wagner’s The Riddle Factory is more the exception than the rule.
(Obviously, Bruce can’t hire a full security team, but investing in some laser grids or guard dogs shouldn’t be that hard.)
But even then, Penguin knocks out the entire mansion’s power a little too easily – one snapped wire and the whole place goes dark. One commercial break later, Penguin breaks out the smoking jacket and… uh… plants his umbrella right between Alfred’s legs… and says they’re about to have some fun.
Fortunately, since he has the rough mental capacity of a ten-year-old, “fun” is just smashing up Wayne Manor while the Kabuki twins start looting whatever’s left. I know that this kind of frat-boy behavior contradicts virtually every other depiction of the Penguin (even the Arkhamverse’s take, I think, would’ve just burned down the mansion and be done with it), but I just can’t keep the smile off my face whenever I watch it. In a mostly-plodding story, it’s one of the few spots of genuine, turn-your-brain-off entertainment.
And where is the Batman? Out on the town,
washing his tights clotheshorsing around!
The second act of this episode loves these dramatic moment -> anticlimactic interruption gags, but they’re not much worth noting. Now, the more optimistic of you may be expecting Alfred to break free by himself and start kicking ass like this handsome fellow here, but this version sadly doesn’t seem to have any MI6 training, so all he can do is quietly slip out a cell phone and dial Master Bruce. And he can’t even do that without getting caught. I suppose it’s a realistic depiction of a butler’s limitations, and it all works out in the end since Penguin calls Bruce himself to gloat, but that doesn’t exactly make it easier to sit through.
On the bright side, all this leads to the one genuinely funny joke in the episode: when Bruce gets Penguin’s call, he has to pretend that Penguin is an old girlfriend so the TV people won’t get suspicious. It’s a setup worthy of any incarnation of Batman, and I can almost feel Tom Kenny’s voice switching into Spongebob Mode as he starts playing along.
Bruce gleefully ditches the TV people, who unfortunately can’t take a hint and insist on accompanying him to dinner. Of course, when Batman shows up at Wayne Manor (Alfred’s “I say! It’s the Batman!” must be heard to be believed), Penguin’s still too stupid/conceited to put two and two together.
Cue fight scene!
Now, like the Joker, Penguin’s second appearance scales the kung-fu fighting way back, to almost-nonexistent levels. Well, except for one part where he punches Batman clear across the room.
And since the TV people were too stupid to run away when Batman told them to, they’ve now got front-row seats to the story of a lifetime: the unmasking of the Batman.
It’s a worthy cliffhanger for the show’s target demographic (and I do kind of like the overexcited kids-show host voice that Penguin puts on), but I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that Ozzie fails. How he fails, though, is pretty fantastic: Alfred clocks him over the head with a chair, distracting him just long enough for Batman to go Superman on his chains.
Afterwards, Alfred continues to be awesome by “accidentally” kicking not-Lois Lane’s footage into the fireplace. I mean, in-universe it doesn’t make that much sense, since the TV people never got anything vital on-camera anyways, but I find her so bland that I don’t give a damn. Really, my only complaint is that she doesn’t sound anguished enough.
Anyways, the rematch between Batman and Penguin boasts a few memorable bits (Penguin has a Beyblade umbrella now – remember those?), but it’s not really worth watching if you weren’t a fan of their duel in “Call of the Cobblepot”. Still, gotta give Melching points for consistency.
The script, all told, lets not-Lois Lane off pretty easily. She does get some footage of the second Batman/Penguin fight (the first footage anyone’s gotten of Batman in this continuity), and gets to coin the “Dark Knight” as a nickname for Bats.
But then she starts making the Bruce = Batman connection, and we know there’s no way that’s going to last. In a lot of ways, she’s reminiscent of Vicki Vale, Gotham’s original not-Lois Lane, only without the sheen of Silver Age whimsy or Dick Sprang’s Deco-tastic art to make her palatable.
Oh, and she “dumps” Bruce right after this, having decided that Penguin’s a more interesting subject for her show. No lie – I’d shell out a fuckton for a show that’s just about a day in the lives of the Bat-villains, but this is sadly the last we ever hear on the subject.
The en… ah, wait – you probably want to know how Bruce keeps his secret ID from being blown. Very well.
You might’ve noticed that this is my shortest review yet, but really – there’s just not that much to review. As I’d feared, it’s a plug-in plot all the way through, and it’s not even memorably bad in the ways that “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” or “The Mechanic” were. Mostly, it just retreads what we already knew about Penguin while introducing a bland press angle that doesn’t really go anywhere besides providing some cheap tension. The Alfred moments do keep it somewhat afloat, and some of the jokes manage to work, but they can’t really save it. Even the Kabuki twins are barely worth mentioning.
Bottom line: if you want to see Batman vs. the press played for thought-provoking drama, go with Miller (or alternatively, Neil Gaiman). If you want to see it played for comedy, DC nation’s got you covered. If you just want to see the adventures of frat-boy Penguin, complete with Beyblade-brella and Hannibal Lecter mask (no, really)… well, this one might be for you.
Next: Part one of a stunning season finale featuring Greg Weisman and the Joker… no, no, wait! It’ll be worth your time! I swear!