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Original Airdate: June 18, 2005
Writers: Christopher Yost & J.D. Murray
Director: Sam Liu
So. Penguin/Man-Bat team-up, yadda yadda yadda, never been done in the comics (best to my knowledge), probably never should. Let’s just get this over with. It’s gonna take all of my inimitable comedic prowess to make this one bearable.
The cold open in a nutshell: some scientist’s developed a sonic whistle thing that lets him control birds, and Penguin’s interested because of… reasons. It’s an odd gadget to steal for someone who’s already known (especially in this show) for having swarms and swarms of trained birds at his command, but that’s not to say it can’t be used for some surprisingly awesome stories.
Sadly, this show’s writing staff can barely stack up to Ty Templeton on his worst day, so let’s not get our hopes up. The only part really worth capping is the token runt in Penguin’s hench-birds.
Batman fails to stop them, by the way, and to add insult to injury he breaks the scientist’s spare whistle. You may be wondering why he doesn’t just pull out his sonic doohickey to chase them off, in which case I must congratulate you for giving way more of a crap than the writers.
That said, Yost and Murray do seem to be experimenting with a new angle on this show: giving Penguin a finite gang of birds with defined designs and personalities instead of an infinite, mindless legion. There’s nothing wrong with this in theory, but I don’t think it’s ever really worked in practice, and it can easily slide into preschool-level gimmickry. Case in point…
But lo and behold, this episode dives under even that bar without breaking a sweat. Penguin goes on a tear (that would make even Skeletor shake his head) about how all his current birds suck, and it ends with – honest to God – the first bit of toilet humor on this series.
“Q&A”, please come back. All is forgiven.
Anyways, the reason Penguin stole the sonic thingy (his words, not mine): he’s gotten a giant condor to replace his current crew, except it’s so vicious it can’t be trained by conventional means. But one touch of the thingy and… it still won’t listen to him.
While the condor gives Penguin a long-overdue schooling, we hop on over to Arkham, where Kirk Langstrom gets new viewers caught up on his gimmick with the standard Mad Scientist Rant™. The only part I like about this scene is how few shits Stoner Guard gives about Langstrom, but even that’s reaching.
Oh, and Arkham apparently serves chimichangas for dinner. Geez, who’s running this place?
You can probably guess what happens from there, but for the record: Penguin’s sonic thingy triggers some dormant traces of the Man-Bat serum (or something) and forces Langstrom to re-mutate while also making him the thingy’s slave. I guess there’s some bullcrap I can spew about how this is thematically significant after Penguin spent his last appearance being a bat-thing’s slave, but let’s face it: Man-Bat’s so mindless that he’s practically anti-depth, and Penguin’s plans for having a super-strong, flying slave are all too predictable, with none of Dracula’s old-school classiness.
The only part I find vaguely interesting is that the control isn’t perfect. If Penguin doesn’t make his orders sound like orders, this happens:
But the Penguin’s never been short on arrogance, so that’s taken care of pretty quickly too. At this point, the writers have no doubt noticed that this isn’t really enough to fill 22 minutes, so enter the subplot.
Hey, remember the Meeko/Percy scenes from Pocahontas? Ever wonder how you could make them even more soul-crushingly awful and pointless? The Batman‘s writing staff are here to help.
- Swap out Renaissance-era Disney animation for substandard TV stuff.
- Turn the bulldog into a human (they’re both English, right?). Not just any human, but the the coolest butler in fiction and one of the coolest characters in Batman’s supporting cast.
- Plonk it against an A-plot that’s already terrible and dull.
Meanwhile, Penguin’s made Man-Bat clean out a bank, Batman investigates, and every second of it just makes me wish I were back watching The Batman vs. Dracula. Okay, okay, something positive I can say, something positive…
I, uh, really like Penguin’s
Fortunately, Batman’s amnesia regarding his sonic scrambler doesn’t extend to his jetpack glider. Unfortunately, we’re barely at the halfway point, so Man-Bat shakes him off and carries the loot back to Penguin. And after ten minutes we’ll never get back, the World’s Greatest Detective finally figures out what the hell’s going on.
Riveting stuff, folks. Let’s take a little breather with our lovely subplot!
Ahem. Let’s see how the real Alfred deals with vermin in the cave.
Back at Penguin’s hideout, Man-Bat’s mutation wears off (because Penguin hasn’t been using the thingy for too long… or something), turning him back into Langstrom and making this whole cartoon 700% more wrong.
Langstrom spits out a bunch of technobabble neither Penguin or I give a single shit about, and Penguin taunts him with the sonic thingy before telling him that no, he’s here to stay as Penguin’s barely-human slave. There might be a crumb of an interesting story here if either of these two were anything besides a power-hungry lout of the highest order, but alas, they aren’t, so there isn’t.*
Around this point, Bruce fixes the spare sonic thingy he broke, and realizes it can be calibrated to control either birds or bats. Now that the gadget of the day is all in order, it’s time to lay some bait for Penguin.
An ancient book? Are you insane? That’s way too much culture! Won’t someone think of the children?
Better, but how can we put our respect for the audience’s intelligence even lower?
Penguin sends out Man-Bat to steal the statue, yadda yadda yadda. I’m not sure whether to be mildly amused or mildly annoyed at how the thing is just a ten-dollar shell stuffed with bowling balls, though I will confess to being mildly disappointed that we didn’t hear Tom Kenny do his best impression of Admiral Ackbar.
So predictably, things go south, and try as I might I still can’t figure out why Batman’s so hung up on making his own sonic thingy work instead of just stealing/Bataranging Penguin’s. But wait, there’s more! In an attempt to convince us that the raccoon subplot “counts”, the episode has the little bugger singlehandedly depower the Batcave.
I… just… wow. This is literally the most weaksauce cliffhanger I’ve seen in the history of Batman. Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman would consider this beneath them. No, forget that – the people who wrote Mall Cop 2 could probably write a better episode of Batman.
So now Batman’s sonic thingy is now useless because he needs the Batcomputer to transfer the bat-controlling frequency to him (or something). Looks like it’s time for the old standby: drowning the shit out of Langstrom.
… or not. Looks like it’s time for Batman to beat feet.
Okay, one thing I do unabashedly like about this episode: the hide-and-seek game on the docks. Batman slipping into the makeshift alleys between the crates is an inspired move, and Man-Bat (partly) circumventing that with his echolocation is a worthy counter-strategy. While it doesn’t really make up for the deathly dull fifteen minutes beforehand, it’s better than nothing, and I rather like the horror-movie atmosphere.
But our 22 minutes are just about up, so Alfred gets the cave’s backup power in gear, juuuust as Man-Bat’s getting ready to snack on Bruce’s face. Maybe I should feel vaguely uncomfortable about how Bruce then uses his sonic thingy to counter-brainwash Man-Bat into bringing him the Penguin, but I just can’t rouse myself to give a damn.
Well, except maybe this shot.
Penguin also yells at his old crew to save him as Man-Bat carts him off, but they, rightfully remembering how much abuse he heaped on them (or just knowing there’s nothing they could do anyhow), just leave him alone. Well, at least Tom Kenny’s learned a lesson from all this and will never treat his pets-
Alright, let’s just wrap this up: Penguin and Langstrom go back to Arkham, and Bruce goes back to the Batcave, where Alfred’s got a little surprise for him:
So, is there anything else I can say about the episode? Well, maybe it’s not quite as bad as “Q&A”, but it’s still a pretty big disappointment from the team who gave us “The Big Heat” and “Riddled”. My feelings toward Man-Bat haven’t changed in the interim, and where the Penguin is concerned, it’s a bog-standard Penguin-gets-a-new-toy formula that you may remember as one of That Other Show’s most forgettable episodes. And the subplot, in case I haven’t made my feelings clear, just sucks all kinds of balls.
Terribly sorry for the short review, folks, but there’s simply not much to discuss beyond harping about everything that went wrong and hoping that this was just a blip from Yost and/or Murray. But if there’s one objectively good thing that comes of it, it’s that our next episode hits one of the show’s legendary highs.
Next: Just what is the strange secret of Greg Weisman? Find out (maybe) as the Batman’s greatest enemies step into the light.
* That said, this setup is somewhat reminiscent of one of the worst Scarecrow stories ever told, so I guess we should at least be thankful that America’s TV airwaves were spared the Scarebeast.