one (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!
Alas, today’s episode is no showcase for Oracle, Black Canary, or any other sexy, asskicking ladies. One “s” makes all the difference.
What it is is basically “Batman vs. The Media”, an idea that sounds fairly interesting 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, “Call of the Cobblepot” didn’t exactly paint him as the next Dr. Doom, but the worst it did was bury him 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 in the middle of a shopping district. Instead, Exposition News regales him with its latest ratings stunt: a day-in-the-life interview with Bruce Wayne. Cue angry ranting.
God bless ‘im, Tom Kenny gives it everything he’s got, 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?” isn’t much of an angle unless you really delve.
Penguin then decides he’s gonna go rob Wayne Manor for shits and giggles and… really, writers? You couldn’t even give him a slightly different evil plot? If this the most creative you can get with your second Penguin episode, I’m not sure I’ll be able to survive the rest.
Fortunately, the story picks up once it heads over to Penguin’s would-be victims as whoop, false alarm, it’s just more padding. Padding and Bruce fanservice.
After intrepid newshound not-Lois Lane and her camera guy not-Jimmy Olsen show up and drag Bruce off to the big interview, Alfred gets to be man of the house until Penguin barges in, complete with dramatic thunderclap. Yes, in accordance with a time-honored tradition, Wayne Manor has less security than Arkham after a budget cut – Ozzie doesn’t even have to “TWICK OR TWEAT” his way in!*
One ad-break later, Penguin’s pets have (somehow) killed all the lights. Perfect for the man himself to break out the smoking jacket and rope, plant his umbrella right between Alfred’s legs… and…. uh… get ready to have some fun…
Oh, stop looking at me like that – “fun” is just smashing up the manor while the Kabuki twins loot whatever’s left. Yeah, it’s way more Bart Simpson than Oswald Cobblepot (even the Arkhamverse’s take, I think, would’ve just burned down the place and be done with it), but I can’t make myself hate it as much as I probably should. In a story as bland as this, it’s one of the few spots of genuine, turn-your-brain-off entertainment.
So where is the Batman? Out on the town, clotheshorsing around!
The second act of this episode loves these dramatic moment -> anticlimactic interruption gags, almost as much as I love clinging to the
delusion hope of all this going somewhere interesting. 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, what follows is the one genuinely funny joke in the episode: when Bruce gets Penguin’s call, he has to pretend that Penguin is an old flame 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 brain 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 joining him for dinner. On the menu: one very unhappy vigilante, one “I say! It’s the Batman!” that must be heard to be believed, and one overstuffed fowl who still can’t put two and two together.
Now, like the Joker, Penguin gets his kung-fu fighting toned way, way down in his second outing. His trick umbrellas get all the heavy lifting… until the TV people show up, at which point he lays Batman out with one punch.
Get back to me when you stop losing to a piece of string, Artie.
Surprising nobody, the TV people were also too stupid to run away when Batman told them to, for which they are punished… with front-row seats to the story of a lifetime: Batman’s unmasking.
It’s a decent 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. It’s how he fails that’s the real treat: Alfred clocks him over the head with a chair, distracting him just long enough for Batman to go King Kong on his chains.
Afterwards, Alfred keeps up the good work and “accidentally” kicks not-Lois Lane’s footage into the fireplace. I mean, story-wise it’s not that big a deal, since nothing vital got recorded anyways, but anything that makes her VA actually emote is aces in my book.
Anyways, the rematch between Batman and Penguin boasts a few memorable bits (c’mon, tell me you’ve never wanted to own a beyblade umbrella), but nothing that really stands out from what “Call of the Cobblepot” had to offer. Unless you count this.
The script, all told, lets not-Lois Lane off pretty easily. She does grab some footage of the second Batman/Penguin fight (the first footage anyone’s gotten of Batman in this continuity), and gets to add “the Dark Knight” to Gotham’s lexicon. Not bad for a day’s work.
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 kept his secret ID secret. 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 Media 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 (seriously)… 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!
* Hilariously enough, while this was playing in theaters across America, the ink-and-dead-tree Riddler was facing one of the most delightful exceptions to the rule.