The Batman Review: The Bat, the Cat, and the Very Ugly (S2E01)

(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: May 14, 2005
Writers: Thomas Pugsley & Greg Klein
Director:
 Brandon Vietti

Welcome back, everyone. Didja miss me?

Okey, those of you who are still here, your wait has not been in vain. It’s time to tackle Season 2 of The Batman, a distinct improvement over Season 1 in most every way. Though admittedly, that might not be very apparent with this premiere episode, scripted by the same folks who brought us “The Man Who Would Be Bat”.

More than that, this is the show’s first bona-fide supervillain teamup, a formula that many superhero fans tend to approach with caution. In the movies, it often carries a whiff of executive interference, of number-crunchers who want to attract the widest audience possible by tossing together as many big-name characters as possible. And in the TV shows – at least in my opinion – it often signifies that the writers have run out of interesting things to say about or do with the villains in themselves, and have resorted to throwing them at each other in hopes that the script will write itself.

As for the history of this particular teamup… well, most of Batman’s big-name villains have been around long enough that everyone has met everyone else at least once, but Penguin/Catwoman tends to be one of the thornier pairings, since…

CatsEatBirds

Nevertheless, their mutual big-name status has ensured that they’ve teamed up not once, but twice on the big-screen. One a flawed but still very enjoyable and idiosyncratic picture, the other quite possibly the greatest Batman movie ever made, if “greatest” is taken to mean “fulfilled all potential that it promised, and no more”.

Which is which? I’ll leave that for you to decide. But I will say one thing: the writers probably had Returns more in mind when they made this episode.

In a lot of ways, I guess Catwoman is the villain most suited to teamup episodes. Ever since the ’80s and ’90s, her morally greyness and the Batman franchise’s emphasis on longer, more high-stakes plots meant that Catwoman stories needed a second, eviller antagonist to drive the bigger schemes and really put the screws on Batman. That Other Show was guilty of this in every damn Catwoman story it told (though admittedly, Catwoman only ever teamed up with a few of these villains).

This episode, on the other hand, begins with…

PenguinCatwoman01

Yep – true to his DeVito design, Penguin’s a shameless horndog and Catwoman milks it even more than her Pfeiffer counterpart did. Even the Kabuki twins are freaked out.

KabukiTwinsGlancing
“I told you we should’ve stayed with the League of Assassins, but noooo…

To the episode’s credit – I guess – it doesn’t really beat around the bush. After a little sweet-talk from Catwoman, our two baddies agree to partner up so they can complete a pair of ancient Egyptian statues, which just happen to be a cat and a bird. All before the opening theme starts.

Speaking of the opening, it’s the same Season 1 song that we all know and love tolerate, with just one minor change that I nevertheless love. Namely, this shot:

EthanBadge

Is replaced with this shot:

New Partners

I know it’s a small thing to be impressed by, but I’ve always had a soft spot for evolving credits, especially ones that help divide a show by season and status quo changes. It’s one of the few things I still unabashedly love about anime.

So, yeah – the Batman/Yin partnership isn’t going anywhere, and I do have to give the script props for not force-feeding too much exposition about it to viewers who hadn’t caught the previous episodes. Though that’s partly because it’s too busy force-feeding exposition about Catwoman’s m.o., of all things.

Anyways, Batman’s wonderful toys detective prowess tell him about the team-up (and I like how Romano has a hint of childish jealousy in his voice as he talks about how Catwoman always works alone) and the quarry – the two statues are apparently meant to be tributes to Ra. Okay, so we’re going with an Unca Scrooge/Indiana Jones-y kind of plot. Not exactly Batman Returns: The Family-Friendly Cut like I’d expected, but if it means I won’t have to sit through any more of Selina and Oswald making googly eyes (even fake ones) at each other…

PenguinCatwoman02
“You’re beauty and the beast in one luscious Christmas gift-pack…!”

Gaaaaahhhhh.

The sight of these two bonding over sardines (and evil) is too much even for the Kabuki twins, whose signature creepy whispering is hilariously turned into gossipy whispering. Seriously, why haven’t these two showed up in the comics yet? I might actually consider buying them.

Peepers
“What’s she got that I don’t have?” “Now, now, sister… I’ll always love you…”

But before the most fucked-up love triangle (square?) this side of Harley/Ivy/Joker can show up, Penguin tells them to hit the road, and they do. Not cool, Pengers. That’s at least three separate violations of the Bro Code.

Oh, and spoiler alert: Catwoman plans to double-cross him. I know, aren’t you shocked?

Next night (I guess), Selina and Ozzy drop by another museum’s Ancient Egypt exhibit to pick up the bird statue. According to Penguin, the two statues are supposed to symbolize how the cat goddess (presumably Bast) helped Ra harness the power of the sun. That… doesn’t sound remotely like any Egyptian myth I’ve ever read, but given that “Ancient Egypt” lasted for roughly half the length of all human civilization and went through about a zillion invasions and cultural revisions, there’s probably one story somewhere that at least vaguely resembles it.

Egypt
“You whippersnappers these days with your “canon” and your “retcons”…”

While how Penguin and Catwoman steal the thing is appropriately stylish, the script doesn’t fully avoid a common pitfall in villain teamups: namely, that one of the parties doesn’t seem to gain a lot from the other’s skill-set. Penguin has a couple of ravens sneak in disguised as stuffed specimens and tear out the power lines – fair enough – but Catwoman’s contribution is mostly…

 batman catwoman the batman GIF

It’s cute and it’s definitely not out of character for her, but Penguin could probably have thought of that on his own. Then again, maybe I’m just disappointed that there’s no giant boulder chasing them out.

And all told, Penguin’s surprisingly honorable about the bargain, even bringing along the cat statue to give to Catwoman once she gets the bird. But then Batman shows up, disturbing Freudian imagery ensues, and… y’all know the drill.

Now Catwoman starts earning her keep, and I have to say, the fight here has some of the most creative prop usages I’ve seen on the show so far. And since it’s two against one (and more importantly, we’re still in the first half), Batman gets his ass handed to him.

Horror of horrors, our new villain team is invincible! Gotham’s Christmas is doomed! But wait…

NotMyType
“So sorry for stringin’ ya along, Sugarplum… but you’re not my type!”

Yeah, anyone who didn’t see this coming, I envy how unjaded you are. At the risk of sounding like a condescending prick, I think we all knew that Penguin was going to instigate the betrayal, since 1.) He’s a short, ugly, loud character on a kid’s show, and 2.) We already saw Catwoman planning to double-cross Penguin on-screen before, so the script pretty much has to kneecap that for maximum Surprise™. It’s the Unspoken Plan Guarantee‘s evil twin brother.

That said, this is a fairly good demonstration of the Penguin’s intelligence, at least compared to his first two appearances. Judging by how the Kabuki twins reappear on cue, he orchestrated that little spat with them earlier just to get Catwoman’s guard down.

How he plans to… dispose of Catwoman is pretty stylish, too. Not in the same league as DeVito’s “snag her claws on a heli-umbrella and send her into the sky” (which would’ve been an awesome shout-out), but fun in its own way.

CatBatCuffed
Pictured: the shipper in his native environment.

Setting aside how I really don’t want to think about what Penguin’s original plan for those cuffs were, this is a pretty in-character take on a well-worn trope, and I think it might actually be the first time it’s happened to Bruce and Selina. Given how this is practically a free ticket to write all the flirty banter you want, you’d really think it would’ve happened sooner.

But then Batman has to be a giant wet blanket and whip out the Bat-Lockpick. Womp, womp. It’ll be over in a matter of…

Batpick

… okay, I didn’t mean that kind of over.

So, yeah. The cuffs are rigged to explode, and yet they’re nice enough to stop the countdown as soon as Batman quits shoving foreign objects into their hole. Shit, they don’t even cremate the whole museum when Catwoman makes a “been a blast” joke, like any reasonable person would’ve.

Out of other options, our heroes go track down the Penguin together. Even more galling: given the direction they’re cuffed in, Catwoman has to drive.

What's This One Do
“What’s this button do?”
“Guarantees that Halle Berry gets a sequel.”

Gina Gershon’s voice, by the way, hasn’t really changed from her first appearance, but all the bad one-liners that the script tosses at her seem to have gotten worse. Still, there’s a cute moment where she tries to peek under Batman’s cowl (because what version of Catwoman wouldn’t?) only for Batman to shut her down old-school:

“Ladies first.”

And poor, poor Detective Yin picks this exact night to use the Batwave for the first time. While Batman handles the actual conversation with her well enough (no doubt with skills honed from his many days playboying), police reports about the new Dynamic Duo kneecap all that anyways. Yin’s reaction is… mixed, to say the least.

YinFace
“The Batman’s cheating on me the other perp?!”

But honestly, I don’t know why Batman doesn’t just tell her, “Hey, Penguin’s involved, just thought you might like to know” instead of tiptoeing around the subject. Were the showrunners ordered to make Batman resemble his paranoid dickwad comics counterpart more?

Anyways, Bat and Cat go down to Penguin’s old hideout, and there’s a pointless but awesome scene where Batman takes out a mini-lightsaber just to light a few candles. Then, they come across Penguin’s master plan.

EgyptianMyth
About midnight I will go throughout Gotham. Every firstborn in Gotham will die, from the firstborn son of the Mayor, to the firstborn of the garbageman, who is at her dollhouse…

Nah. Thanks to a helpful Ancient Tome™ that Penguin so nicely left behind, Batman realizes that Penguin’s going to use the two statues to puttheinfinitepowerofthesuntoworkandseeeerve! harness the power of the sun.

(There’s another attempt to be cute with Batman’s “the pictures help”, but since the Ancient Tome™ has a cover written in English anyhow, it just feels like the writers were trying to have their cake and eat it too.)

Said power of the sun is not, in fact, the power to bestow horrid cancer on people by increasing UV radiation. Instead, it is something better known to laymen as ANCIENT EGYPTIAN LASER BEAMS.

Think I’m kidding?

 batman penguin egypt the batman GIF

Yeah, it’s stupid, but it’s the best kind of comic-book stupidity that manages to be fun without feeling condescending or dipping into over-the-top self-parody. Your opinions will most likely vary on whether the supernatural has any place in Batman stories to begin with, but when it’s this kind of Indiana Jones-style supernatural, I just can’t bring myself to hate it.

(I know Batman tries to cover the show’s ass by calling it an “ancient Egyptian light machine”, like it actually works on scientific principles, but let’s call a spade a spade. It does beg the question, though, of how Egypt got its ass conquered so many times if it had toys like these lying around.)

Having demonstrated his new toys, Penguin demands a ransom of one million dollars in exchange for not doing it again. Yin is still suspicious of Batman, but admits that she doesn’t have any choice but to trust him – and I must say, Ming-Na actually manages to put some emotion into it. Good on her.

And so, our heroes track Penguin down to the local lighthouse. Since a frontal assault would get them both fried, Batman comes up with the brilliant idea of scaling the walls. Brilliant if they were facing anyone besides the guy known for keeping lookout birds.

CatBatCuffed2
“Any reason you couldn’t use the sonic doohickey BEFORE we rode up?”
“I don’t understand the question.”

After a pretty contrived though still fairly creepy cliffhanger (when in doubt, always go Kabuki), our heroes drive off all of Penguin’s backup and go after the man himself. And it appears that in one night, the power of Mega Ultra Chicken Ra has gone straight to Pengy’s head, and he starts declaring himself Pharaoh of Gotham.

King Tut
“Who dares impugn the gimmick of Tut?! Nabob of the Nile, Moongod of Thoth and… and stuff like that! By the instep of Ramses, I’LL HAVE HIS HEAD!”

Pharaoh Penguin I makes to blow up the Children’s Hospital (which you may remember as something extra-personal for Bruce), but no need to fear – Catwoman and her whip are here!

 batman egypt catwoman the batman GIF

Well, Freud’s ghost is going to have a field day, but at least there’s no one to hurt up there-

Lara
“J… Jor-El? You’re so pale… what’s wrong?

                                                                              

Jor-El
“Nothing, Lara. Nothing’s wrong. Hold me.”

                                                                          

Krypton Going Boom

Goddammit, you two.

So, yeah. Leaving aside the messy matter of planet-wide mass murder, Penguin’s plot has been foiled, his loot is in easy reach, and he was even nice enough to have the handcuff key on him. Our heroes free themselves, get ready to haul Penguin off to the pokey, and makes plans to go out for Bat-milkshakes or something afterward, right?

CatGivesBat
“I would…. I would love to live with you in your castle. Forever just like in a fairy tale.”

You wish.

CatKicksBat
“I just couldn’t live with myself! So don’t pretend this is a happy ending!”

That’s our girl. You didn’t think any Catwoman story worth its salt would have just one double-cross, did you?

Catwoman runs off with the cat statue, but whoops – Penguin turns out to be tougher than she thought. Looks like we’re closing the episode on an explosive three-way (no, not like that). Or at least we would, if there were more than a minute’s runtime left.

As things are, Batman just goes with the ol’ eye-for-an-eye.

Newlycuffed
“By the power vested in me by Kids WB advertising, I now pronounce you man and wife!”

Much like her first appearance, the story ends with Catwoman escaping the law – and since Penguin’s chained to her, he gets some of that sweet, sweet immunity too. Short two jeweled statues but with their freedom (and a kickass hovercraft umbrella) intact, life looks good for our baddies…

… at least, until it turns out Penguin forgot to make a spare key.

No kidding, I would’ve loved to see a follow-up to this development, featuring the wacky adventures of Selina and Ozzy as they travel cross-country in search of a decent locksmith and learn about the real America. Villain-centered buddy comedies are always pure gold. You know, as long as this doesn’t happen.

Oh, and Batman smiles as he sees them fly off, even though there’s a fair chance that they’ll be red, smoldering goo spread over several city blocks the next time he sees them. Man, this thing’s a more in-depth tribute to Batman Returns than I’d thought.

Epilogue: having sat out most of the actual danger this episode, Detective Yin decides that she still trusts Batman enough to respect his final request. Namely, that he keep one of the statues so none besides him may harness the power of Ra ever again.

Hmm. Mighty shady, if you ask me. Let’s ask one of the preeminent minds of the DC Universe her take on Batman’s real motivations.

Ms. Li
“Batman likes to keep things.”

Okey, sounds legit.

And we close on a note of Totally Subtle Foreshadowing™, as Batman’s silhouette just happens to join forces with the half-demolished lighthouse to create…

Proto-Batsignal

I’ll admit – this episode’s certainly no match for the ones that came directly before, but it doesn’t descend to the levels of Season 1’s worst, either. It delivers exactly what it promises – an adventure featuring both Catwoman and the Penguin in all their bad one-liner-tossing glory – and little more than that, but it’s fun, it’s quick, and it actually sneaks in a few surprisingly mature moments for a Saturday morning cartoon. If you’re not a fan of this show’s take on either Catwoman or Penguin, though, there’s not a whole lot to recommend it. Except maybe the novelty of seeing a The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly parody title where the last part gets kept for a change.

(Fans of Detective Yin may be interested to see the first night of her partnership with Batman, but in my humble opinion, that was one of the more poorly-handled bits of the episode.)

Sorry if this review seems a tad anemic for something that kicks off my return from a longer-than-expected hiatus, but I promise – there’ll be a real meaty one coming right up next. Speaking of which…

Next: Riddle me this – how do you fix a villain with too much villainy? Stay tuned for what’s likely to be a pompous, 3000-word essay on the matter. Maybe with a review thrown in there if I have time.

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8 thoughts on “The Batman Review: The Bat, the Cat, and the Very Ugly (S2E01)

    • At my original rate: as quickly as I can in-between schoolwork and goofing off elsewhere on the Internet.

      The next review will probably take a while, though. I’ve got a LOT of thoughts on the Riddler.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I don’t really mind supernatural stuff popping into Batman stories. I mean, he lives in a universe of magic, aliens, gods, and monsters. The weirder stuff was bound to cross over with him at least a few times. And let’s face it, the ancient Egyptians having a sun laser is FAR from the craziest thing in the DC universe.

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  2. God, I absolutely despise Batman Returns, it just fails as a Batman movie to me and it doesn’t even work as a superhero sequel in my opinion. Good review though, I remember this episode and it was alright.

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    • I actually like Returns a lot, but I’ll admit that it’s less than the sum of its parts, and that it breaks a crapload of “rules” about Batman as well as conventional narrative.

      Despite having a reputation for being the most depressing of the Burton/Schumacher films, I loved its rather misanthropic sense of fun, and even that part where Batman casually roasts someone with the Batmobile’s exhaust valve was so over-the-top I couldn’t help but like it.

      Is this a take on Batman I’d like to see in the comics? Hell no. But in and of itself it’s delightful, so long as you don’t watch it as a superhero story.

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