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Original Airdate: August 27, 2005
Writer: Adam Beechen
Director: Sam Liu
Really, is there any holiday more fitting for a Batman story? The night instantly justifies masks and gimmickry galore, to say nothing of all the potential to further Batman’s creature-of-the-night image, all the angsty childhood flashbacks he’s sure to get at the mere mention of trick-or-treating, how one of his A-list enemies is literally built around terrifying people…
Or he could just get in a punch-up with a big white zombie. There’s precedent for that, too.
Like Ragdoll, Solomon Grundy was originally a foe for a relatively obscure Golden Age hero – in his case, the Green Lantern Alan Scott. But unlike ol’ Ragsy, Grundy was never truly forgotten by fandom or creators: after his debut, he lumbered around various supervillain teams (one of which eventually catapulted him to minor Internet stardom), fought just about every hero in the DCU at least once, got to be a hero at a few intervals, and eventually ingrained himself in Batman’s rogues gallery deep enough to snag a boss fight in Arkham City.
Grundy’s deal in the comics is pretty convoluted (especially when you factor in the whole “reborn with a different personality each time” thing), and those of you truly curious can find a good, geeky analysis here. For our purposes, it boils down to this: 19th century robber baron turned into a zombie, (usually) your standard-issue dumb muscle, except since he’s not really “alive”, even DC’s most squeaky-clean heroes tend to give zero fucks about killing him. In fact, the first time he fought Batman, this happened.
Let’s see if the big guy will fare any better here, shall we?
The cold open tries to get the plot rolling while staying true to the spirit of the holiday, with mixed results: two trick-or-treaters go to the big mansion at the edge of town, where Cinderella’s stepmother and her twin sister tell them the legend of Solomon Grundy, and how tonight’s totally supposed to be the night he wakes up and kills all the descendants of the city’s founders.
Beechen really, really tries to ramp up the Southern Gothic in this part – he even names the sisters Virginia and Georgia! – but sadly for him, this show’s timeslot won’t even allow the words “death” or “kill”, let alone the slightest implication of racism or incest. Since this part is meant to evoke a traditional ghost story, where tell is just as important as show, this is kind of a problem.
An even bigger problem: there’s no context to anything in the story. Where did Grundy come from? Why does he hate the founders so much? I know, I know, less is more in horror stories, but less doesn’t mean nothing, and-
N-NOT YOU, SIR! YOU’RE AWESOME! THE ONLY REDEEMING PART! R-REALLY!!!
If there’re any Grundy fans in the readership, feel free to chime in, but I dig this design a lot. Most adaptations stick to the “albino Hulk” template, but this top-heavy, narrow-waisted design (directly inspired by Kevin Walker’s take from Shadow of the Bat, unless I’m mistaken) works well for a horror story. And to me, at least, his build makes his wall-shattering punches that much more unnatural and disturbing.
Anyways, Grundy gives those sisters their just deserts for stiffing those poor kids out of their candy (oh, and being related to the city founders too, I guess). His next stop: Wayne Manor!
No, wait, it’s even worse than that: some dumbass dad who thought giving his kids those costumes was a hi-lar-ious idea.
This is something I see a lot when Halloween (or any masquerade ball) pops up in a Batman story. Writers and/or artists want to be “cute” and throw in a partygoer or two dressed up as villains, even though this should be beyond tasteless in-universe. Even in this relatively toothless Gotham, Joker and Penguin have a long history of terrorism, attempted murder, and generally not being very nice people. Seriously, I really want to see what would’ve happened if these guys ran into Detective Yin or anyone else in the GCPD.
But Gotham’s finest happen to be sitting this one out, so Sherlock Pennyworth will have to do.*
Bruce himself is surprisingly okay with the whole thing, even admitting that the villains probably seem cooler to kids that age. Don’t come crying to Alfred if one of those kids grows up to be a serial killer or something, pally.
Also, Alfred seems weirdly cowardly and superstitious about the legend of Solomon Grundy, even though he’s usually the oldest, most jaded member of the cast and should have the least attachment to a local fairy tale, since he presumably grew up across the pond. Then again, given how he and Bruce almost got their heads caved in by Dracula not too long ago, maybe the real issue is that Bruce doesn’t take the idea of Grundy seriously enough.
Well, an alert from the Bat-Wave fixes that quickly enough.
As someone who doesn’t especially like the sisters, I do find it vaguely adorable that they’re absolutely terrified when Batman first sweeps onto the scene (even calling him a vampire!). But since the meat of this story is Batman vs. Grundy, they get over it quick enough and dole out the exposition needed for Bruce to find Grundy’s next victim.
Our hero does a good enough job of giving said victim a chance to get the hell out of there, but when it comes to taking down Grundy himself…
This being the first act and everything, Grundy does a bang-up job banging up Bats (not to mention the house), and Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame does some decent growls and snarls, but I have a slight problem with how wordy the script makes the big guy. Look, I’m no big fan of how Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale made Grundy just go “BORN ON MONDAY” ad nauseam, but at least that’s got a certain memorable, inhuman cadence to it. “GRUNDY MUST DESTROY!”… really, really doesn’t.
And damn, Batman must’ve really been taking those Bat-vitamins lately. Blow for blow, I think Grundy gave him an even worse beating than Bane did, but he wakes up fine and dandy enough to wisecrack with a few trick-or-treaters.
Next, the episode tries for an “OH NOES GRUNDY IS GOING AFTER WAYNE MANOR!” fake-out, which isn’t a bad idea in and of itself (Bruce’s ancestors being instrumental to Gotham’s development has been a thing for decades, and it’s only grown stronger in the New 52), but the music and camera-cutting try waaay too hard for me to take it the slightest bit seriously. But that’s not the main point of this scene, which is to
- Fill in Grundy’s (supposed) backstory
- Have the World’s Greatest Detective do something resembling detective work
The backstory is actually a fairly creative yet kid-friendly twist on the standard Grundy origin: he was a golem created by the immigrant laborers built Gotham and were rewarded by having their homes turned into a waste-dumping site. The ones who did said waste-dumping? None other than the robber barons who bankrolled the city. This is actually a brilliant idea, at least for a one-off – Grundy, at least in his debut, always carried a trace of class-divide imagery with him, the being dressed in scraps of finery but lowlier than the lowest Neanderthal, except now that subtext’s become text. It even provides a handy in-story justification for why none of his victims are really hurt: he’s interested in ruining them like they ruined his creators. Death would be too quick.
Oh, and I should write something about the second bullet too, I guess. It’s nice to see Bruce taking some initiative and analyzing a mud sample to see whether Grundy’s “really” supernatural, but again, I still think he’s a wee bit too Scully-ish for a guy who lives in a world where Dracula
Anyways, Batman goes out again to protect the third victim, who owns and operates a wax museum. But first, a small pause for an idiot partygoer who thinks he’s in Spider-Man 2.
After a few more fake-outs, Alfred radios the lab results over to Bruce. The good news: Grundy isn’t a zombie after all!
The bad news: he’s actually that one member of the rogues gallery who’s super-strong, nigh-indestructible, and can look like whoever (or whatever) the fuck he wants.
Yeah, even if you haven’t seen this episode before, reading the comments section in my “Meltdown” review (or paying attention to the tags on this one) probably spoiled this twist for you. Which is a real shame, since it’s handled beautifully by the show’s usual standards. Up to this point, no one has so much as mentioned Clayface or Ethan Bennett, and The Batman vs. Dracula has done a lot to convince us Grundy might well be real. And what few clues Beechen put in the first two acts (emptied safes, a focus on mud) were details consistent with both Grundy and Clayface. Even better: Alfred’s lab report comes right before the last commercial break, while the actual reveal comes right after, giving viewers a decent window to try working it out for themselves.
So… pretty sweet from a plot perspective, but what of a character one? Things admittedly get a little dicier there, and I’m gonna ask you to hold on to your hats, because we’re going to get into something I’ve pretty much never discussed so far.
The tie-in comics.
It’s probably not a good sign that in twenty-five reviews, I’ve talked more about That Other Show‘s tie-in comics than the ones for the show I’m actually reviewing. But there’s no getting around it: That Other Show’s tie-in comics were freaking awesome, whereas this show’s… weren’t, for the most part. Entitled The Batman Strikes!, it largely embodied the worst and most forgettable parts of The Batman, without even the fun of the music, voice-actors, or seeing the fights in motion.
But their approach to Clayface was a little different, if only because Ethan’s the only villain on the show where things like “continuity” actually matter. I suppose you could say that the end of “Meltdown” wrapped up all of his remaining humanity well enough, leaving future writers free to use him without getting into any of the character baggage, but to his eternal credit, Strikes! writer Bill Matheny tried to show it wasn’t exactly all gone…
… until he decided to end the story on an even more hope-crushing note.
This particular story wasn’t just a generic Clayface romp, but an active, calculated attempt by Clayface to erase every single good deed Ethan Bennett ever did as a cop, mainly by committing break-ins at all the places where he once solved them.**
And the kicker? He succeeded. By the next time Batman fights him, a mere two issues later, he doesn’t call Ethan anything besides Clayface.***
Now, there’s a 99.9% chance that “Grundy’s Night” was written before either of these two comics, given the nature of animation lead time and the fact that even its airdate falls well ahead of the comics’ release dates. But in-universe, I feel that the two comics stories provide an imperfect but nevertheless powerful prelude to this episode: now having used up even the least flattering of his personal motivations, Clayface has become every bit as inhuman as Matt Hagen from That Other Show, existing for the thrill of his powers and nothing else.
For now, anyways.
It all segues into a crackerjack third act, where Clayface flees into the wax museum and dares Batman to come after him. This episode’s had more than its share of stupid puns and nonsensical quips, but the way Romano delivers “A shapeshifter in a wax museum. Great.” is absolutely perfect. Maybe the first time when I genuinely can’t imagine Kevin Conroy doing better.
And it’s here that the Halloween spirit really comes to the fore. The atmosphere in the wax museum is enhanced tenfold by the knowledge that Clayface could be any display, and some of the scares get surprisingly graphic. Whether it’s alien!Clayface cutting off his own leg to escape a freeze grenade…
… or Clayface disguising himself as a vault door so he can suffocate Batman…
And of course, we can hardly forget how Batman wins the fight: a piping hot wax shower.
The case closed, Bruce goes back to the manor for some leftover Halloween treats, having proven once and for all that silly superstition is no match for rationality and science.
OR IS IT?
So the zombie of
Slaughter Gotham Swamp may be real after all. Not the most original of endings, but I can let it slide.****
For an episode that doesn’t actually have Grundy, this is actually a pretty spiffy Grundy story. Like I said, this show’s take on the legend of Grundy is surprisingly insightful, and I doubt I’ll surprise anyone when I say that even the fake Grundy proves quite an exciting foe. And as a Clayface episode… well, I can’t say I’m not a wee bit disappointed by how Ethan’s been reduced to a mere crook like That Other Show did to Two-Face and the Mad Hatter (among others), but he’s certainly not a boring one to watch.
As Halloween episodes go, It’s got my seal of approval.
Next: What’s the only thing more terrifying than one Batman? Two Batmen.
* Beechen probably just went with the first “English guy” costume he could think of, but this is still a pretty cool nod to Golden Age Alfred.
** A setup that’s been used with more than one Two-Face story, to varying degrees of quality.
*** By the way – you can’t really tell here, but this issue has some of the most hilarious Joker I’ve ever read.
*** Okay, so the “real” Grundy showed up in Strikes! a while after this episode aired. Twice, as a matter of fact. I literally read both those stories seconds before I typed this footnote and I still can’t remember a damn thing about either one.