The Batman Review: The Apprentice (S3E10)

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Original Airdate: February 11, 2006
Writer: Steven Melching
Director:
 Brandon Vietti

Well now, here’s a sight for sore eyes: a Joker episode that actually tries to be about the Joker.

I mean, whatever strengths “Brawn” or “The Laughing Cats” may have, I think we can all agree the Joker’s presence in them was unremarkable at best, outright deadweight at worst. All the more reason to appreciate this Joker outing, which happens to be Season 3’s last – making this, if I have my math right, our least Joker-y season thus far.

On top of that, we’re returning to the well of Joker-as-corrupter, which is not only one of my favorite aspects of the character but also something that’s almost mandatory for a successful take. The Joker may give off the vibes of a rabid animal, but consider this: would we be half as afraid of those if we didn’t know they could bring us to down to their level with one bite?

So it was with the Adam West show and its Bad Pennies. With That Other Show and Harley Quinn. With The Dark Knight and Harvey Dent. With Ethan Bennett on this very series. And of course, we mustn’t forget the most successful one of all, which corrupted me into never giving DC another cent of my money for as long as I live.

“Good ter have yeh back, matey.”

But the clearest precedent is probably “Be A Clown”, deemed by many to be That Other Show’s worst Joker episode. Personally, I feel that’s a little harsh – it’s no “Joker’s Favor” or “The Laughing Fish”, but it did touch quite a few interesting ideas before the big inevitable rollercoaster punch-up.

Can Steven Melching do one better? Let’s find out.

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The Batman Review: Fleurs du Mal (S3E08)

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Original Airdate: November 26, 2005
Writer: David Slack
Director:
 Anthony Chun

The year is 1857.

Hugo is seven years in exile, and the Bonapartes’ second wind is in full swing. Russia has been soundly whipped for its insolence in the Crimea, but who has the time to celebrate? The whole of France – the whole of the Continent – buzzes with news that America is headed for a split, and Victoria’s Empire may not be far behind. Into this harrowing pit strode a most unimpressive figure, an unreliable little dandy of a man by the name of Charles-

Okay, fuck it. I don’t know the first thing about Second Empire poetry, and neither do you. I’m really sorry, guys – I wanted this blog’s first anniversary to be marked by a review of Something Special, but my work ethic roughly matches that of M. Baudelaire’s, and you can see how that’s worked out.

In any case, the link between today’s episode and Baudelaire’s most (in)famous work are probably skin-deep at best. Still, it’s the classiest reference this show’s done so far, and a worthy welcome for David Slahominahominahomina…

David Slack
Fun fact: the “slack” is derived from the state of your jaw after Googling him.

Excepting Greg Weisman, Slack is the most high-powered writer this show’s tapped so far, having already masterminded five whole seasons of Teen Titans back when that name still brought cheers instead of retching from Cartoon Network’s faithful. Lest you still have any doubts, here’s just a small selection of what he can do in the writer’s seat.

So seeing his name on this episode is heartening, to say the least, but can his talents pull him through a show even Weisman couldn’t crack on the first try? We shall see.

David Slack
“We shall indeed. By the way, you losers still can’t use Robin. Just so you know.”

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The Batman Review: The Laughing Cats (S3E07)

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(Again – sorry for the delay, folks. Wisdom teeth extraction isn’t terribly conductive to productivity, a half-gallon of tranquilizers even less so.)

Original Airdate: November 19, 2005
Writer: Joseph Kuhr
Director:
 Christopher Berkeley

I recently came across a review of The Batman by one of my older e-buddies, in which he cited pacing as one of the show’s two biggest problems. My first instinct was to disagree, then mail him a box of angry cobras (only I get to criticize The Batman, donchaknow). Then I remembered today’s episode is the last time Catwoman gets anything resembling a spotlight, and she’s considered one of the less-wasted villains.

I don’t even like Catwoman that much, but after the bum deal That Other Show gave her, she definitely deserved better from this one. Instead, she gets a permanent demotion two seasons before the finish line, and her going-away party gets hijacked by Batgirl and the Joker, to boot.

But wait, maybe our special guest gatecrashers will do more good than harm! Let’s see what history has to say.

Catwoman and Batgirl got off to a fairly rocky start, since the latter was introduced in the ’60s and DC’s cure for writer’s block back then often boiled down to “rip off whatever Archie’s up to”. The Superman books got the worst of it, no doubt, but Gotham’s women were far from safe.

detective369-19

Fortunately, this angle was dropped after a story or two, and as Catwoman moved into grey hat territory, Batgirl became another upstanding Debbie Do-Gooder who could be teased and teamed up with – though never seduced, like Batman might be. Instead, Catwoman-Batgirl stories tend to be pretty straightforward girl-power affairs, with “Batgirl Returns” from That Other Show undoubtedly the most famous of the lot.*

(Of course, the two of them are nowhere near contemporaries in this show, so we’ll see how that shakes out.)

Catwoman and the Joker, meanwhile, have a much longer, twistier history. From a certain perspective, they’re almost siblings – not only were they both introduced in Batman #1, but they’d cross paths in the very next issue, in the first-ever meeting between two big-name rogues. And just like siblings, they could rarely stand to be in the same room for five seconds; team-ups were rare, and when they did happen the results were seldom pretty.

Pictured: one of Cesar and Eartha’s happier outtakes.

As the years went on, this animosity got worse. Modern writers love emphasizing Catwoman’s (relative) sanity almost as much as they love playing up how screw-loose the Joker is, and ever since Frank Miller introduced “Batman. Darling.” into Joker’s personality, well… the Bat-Cat-Bat love triangle might be dead, but the Bat-Cat-Clown one is still kicking.

Miller – and fellow ’80s stalwarts like Mike W. Barr – would use that dynamic to turn out some of the most disturbing moments in the Joker’s history, but I seriously doubt this episode’s going to be anything like that. Still, one never knows…

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The Batman Review: Brawn (S3E06)

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Original Airdate: November 12, 2005
Writer: Alexx Van Dyne
Director:
 Brandon Vietti

People like the Joker, right? What if… we gave him steroids?

You think it’s stupid. I think it’s stupid. But apparently Rocksteady didn’t, and as of 2016, this is still probably the closest thing The Batman has to an actual legacy.

TITAN: NOT EVEN ONCE.

Anything else I can add to the history lesson? Well, the general idea of Venom falling into non-Bane hands is certainly older than this episode (hell, it’s older than Bane). That said, this episode was probably made around the same time Jose Canseco’s Juiced came out, so there may – may – have been a tiny seed of influence there.

This episode is also a Batgirl-centric one, so the choice of Joker for the main villain leads to some pretty inevitable parallels with a certain other work from DC’s past.

What’d you think I meant?

But we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of that later.

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The Batman Review: RPM (S3E05)

(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: November 5, 2005
Writer: Christopher Yost
Director:
 Christopher Berkeley

Folks, before we start, there’s something you need to know.

One episode in this season has an evil toymaker as the villain. It is not half the toy commercial this one is. And all because-

WHO THE PLUPERFECT FUCK ASKED YOU?!

But yes, the Batmobile is right up there with Robin as one of the most iconic elements in Batman’s world (and if we’re being honest its hatedom is much smaller). Still, basing an entire story around it is… dicey, to say the least. It made for a cute twelve-pager back in the ’50s, but the last time a cartoon – a modern cartoon – tried to make it a full-length story…

If there’s one small mercy here, it’s that The Batman was sensible enough to not draft the Penguin again. Instead, this episode features Gearhead, who’s probably the most obscure baddie this show ever adapted from the comics. I mean, Spellbinder got to be in Batman Beyond, Cluemaster got to father Tumblr’s favorite Batgirl, and even Ragdoll got some quality time with James “I did stuff besides Cry for Justice, honest!” Robinson. There’s exactly one writer who cares about poor ol’ Gearsy: his creator.

Chuck Dixon
“It’s okay, son. I still think you’re cool.”

Gearhead is far from my favorite Dixon rogue, but I’ll give him this: for a D-lister, he’s got one hell of an origin. Once upon a time, he was just Disgruntled Inventor #712, kidnapping his boss’s daughter for a quick buck. Then came Batman. Then came a half-frozen river. Then came the full-body frostbite.

And then came a Good Samaritan whose idea of medical attention was this.

Gearhead Origin

From there, the guy basically turns into an evil Ed Elric, using a variety of super-advanced cyborg limbs to get revenge on Batman (who was too busy saving the kid to worry about the ‘napper). Like most of Dixon’s villains, he’s got roughly zero redeeming traits, but with the sheer amount of shit he’s gone through, it’s kinda hard to hate him for it.

And you know, I was all set to rant about how he deserved better than a debut ep obsessed with fellating Batman’s car. Then I went back to the comics, and very quickly found him headlining a story obsessed with just that.

Well-played, Mr. Yost. Not that it can save the rest of this episode.

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The Batman Review: A Dark Knight to Remember (S3E03)

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(This review dedicated to the late Darwyn Cooke.)

Original Airdate: October 1, 2005
Writer: Joseph Kuhr
Director:
 Brandon Vietti

Okay, everyone’s waited long enough for this, so let’s just get something out of the way. Fat, obnoxious villain? Batman having memory issues? I think we all know where this is going.

I mean, if I had the slightest cause for hope, I’d be trying to link this episode’s inspiration to Puckett, Templeton, and Parobeck instead. But that part of my brain has been on life support ever since I found half my family are voting for The Donald, so let’s just dive in.

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The Batman Review: Batgirl Begins, Part Two (S3E02)

(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. Also, this blog will not be held responsible for any mental trauma ensuing from looking up what the Hydra Trash Party is.)

Original Airdate: September 24, 2005
Writers: Adam Beechen and Michael Jelenic
Director:
 Christopher Berkeley
Special Guest Villain Reviewer: Lauralot

Previously…

Gaia
“I’ve been asleep for HOW LONG?!”

                                                        

Captain Planet
“Now, Gaia-“

                                                                     

Gaia
“Answer. The. Question.”

                                                        

Captain Planet
“… since ’96 or so. But don’t worry, things couldn’t have gotten that-“

                                                        

Headlines

                                                 

Captain Planet
“Uh… yeah, I’ll just go round up Kwame and the rest…”

                                                    

Gaia
“No. You won’t. Humanity’s had its fucking chance, old friend.”

                                                  

Gaia
“It’s time I got back to what I do best: making monsters.”

                                                     

Birth of Ivy
“Rise, my new champion. RISE.”

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The Batman Review: Batgirl Begins, Part One (S3E01)

(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. Also, this blog will not be held responsible for any mental trauma ensuing from looking up what the Hydra Trash Party is.)

Original Airdate: September 17, 2005
Writer: Michael Jelenic
Director:
 Brandon Vietti
Special Guest Villain Reviewer: Lauralot

And we’re back, folks. Who’s ready for another thirteen riveting reviews of Kids WB’s second-most successful Batman cartoon?

Joker cricket

So. Season Trois. With Batman now in Gotham’s good graces and the “threat” of the GCPD snugly boxed away, the showrunners needed a new gimmick development to keep viewers hooked and the beast known as Mattel appeased. No problem, right? The stage was perfectly set for a certain Boy Wonder to swing into the hearts and minds of children everywhere, as he’d been doing for the last sixty-odd years. Best of all, Robin was about as gritty and realistic as Scooby-Doo, so there was no way the Nolan movies would’ve called dibs-

Image result for teen Titans 2005
“No, but I did. Get in line, pal.”

Welp.

Yes, to the dismay of some (and the relief of many more), Teen Titans was still going strong and making it very clear that other shows could pry Robin out of its cold, dead hands. This left The Batman‘s showrunners up guano creek without a paddle, until some brave but unremembered soul in their midst recalled what history’s very first Batman show did to shake up its third season.

And just like that, they had their out.

Greetings, citizens!  Lauralot here, current torturer of Marvel characters in fan fiction, but before that, torturer of the Bat-verse!  And long before that, a kid who ran around her yard pretending to be Batgirl, because what else is a ginger girl in the nineties going to do when she plays Batman especially when her sister’s already claimed Batman, the Joker, Two-Face, and everyone else all for herself?

In 2005, however, I was exactly none of those things.  I was a freshman in high school who caught the occasional episode of Teen Titans on TV, but who had mostly been caught up in the explosion of manga and anime popularity in the West.  I’m not even sure if I realized The Batman existed at the time.  Which is, in a way, a blessing; I’d have inevitably compared it to That Other Show that I grew up with, and I’d have inevitably found it wanting.  At least now, I can give the show a fair shake.

As fair a shake as I can manage, anyway, given that Barbara Gordon is my favorite character in all of comics and once I finally jumped back on the Bat bandwagon in 2008, I quickly devoured anything and everything I could find that had to do with her.  So my standards might be a bit unreasonably high.  

Part of me really wonders what it would’ve been like if The Batman came out in the 2010s. Between Twitter and Tumblr, you’d probably have a larger, or at least more concentrated, fanbase willing to stick up for it. But on the other hand, it did randomly boot a woman of color from the cast and try to replace her with a white Batgirl and… oh dear God. You get the feeling Dan Didio was taking notes at the time and casting glances at Cassandra Cain?

I get the feeling DiDio’s taking notes whenever something unfortunate happens to a lady hero.  Come to think of it, wasn’t 2005 the year DC revealed that Leslie Thompkins deliberately let Stephanie Brown die to teach Batman a lesson?

Yeah.  It may be best if I don’t derail the whole review with a vitrolic rant about that.

So, Barbara Gordon!  She’s had a number of origins over the years, with probably the most well-known being Beatty and Dixon’s Batgirl: Year One.  Which, by the way, is the most awesome origin, but for comparison purposes with “Batgirl Begins”, it’s probably best to use That Other Show’s “Shadow of the Bat” episodes.  They’re both two parters of an animated series as opposed to single issue comics or miniseries.  They also both feature Barbara suiting up to help her father, although “Batgirl Begins” is a literal rescue mission, whereas “Shadow of the Bat” has Barbara trying to save Jim’s reputation after he’s been jailed on suspicion of taking bribes.

What’s interesting to me about “Batgirl Begins” is that, unlike in many other Batgirl origins, Barbara isn’t just in costume when circumstances around her force her to react.  In her original comic introduction, Barbara was on her way to a costume party that Killer Moth crashed.  In “Shadow of the Bat,” she was pretending to be Batman at a rally when gunfire broke out.  And the New 52 origin by Gail Simone had Barbara throw on a mock-Batsuit for protection when the police station was under attack.

Here, Barbara decides to become a Bat to try and save her friend, and then creates the costume.  That’s pretty cool, and it reminds me of Barbara’s introduction on the Adam West show.  Both times, there was no circumstance thrown at her while she was in costume.  It was just Barbara being awesome.

Like a lot of things on The Batman, Babs’ big coming-out party hasn’t aged flawlessly, but I have to give the writers credit for at least one thing: they did not short-change her in the enemy department. Sidekicks, especially in a franchise as villain-driven as Batman, are easy to write off when so few of them have worthwhile enemies of their own – hell, the closest thing Babs had in the comics was Killer fucking Moth

I think you mean the greatest villain in all of comics.

Baaah. Anyways, the Adam West show mitigated this by spotting her Penguin (supposedly the writers’ favorite), but The Batman saw and raised with…

Y’know what, why don’t we let the lady introduce herself?

Poison Ivy

The genesis of Poison Ivy was, admittedly, not that impressive. Her creator? The worst Wonder Woman writer ever. Her concept? “Hey, what if Bettie Page stalked Batman?” The poor girl didn’t even get a proper origin until more than ten years after her debut, and at a different writer’s hands, to boot.

But about ten years after that, things started looking up.

For now was the age of the British Invasion, of the Vegetable Theology, of DC Comics realizing that they’d better start milking everything Alan Moore had written, because their former golden boy wouldn’t come back with a blowtorch to his feet. Magic- and plant-themed characters (the more obscure, the better) became the new in-thing, allowing some nobody called Neil Gaiman to swoop in and turn Ivy into a veritable goddess with the entire plant kingdom at her beck and call. This boosted her juuust enough to get scooped up by That Other Show, and the rest is history.

Ivy is the last real Arkham A-lister to get The Batman‘d, and the choice to tie her debut with Batgirl’s strikes me as fitting, if not long overdue. They both popped up in 1966, right around the time America realized this “women’s lib” thing wasn’t going to leave anytime soon, but despite all the thematic potential (deliberately plain-Jane bookworm vs. glamorous, fame-hungry seductress) and the fact that superhero comics practically invented the Designated Catfight, they remained perfect strangers to one another. In fact, to my knowledge, they’ve squared off exactly one other time. In 1978.

George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone, Uma Thurman, and Chris O'Donnell in Batman & Robin (1997)
“B-but…”

I REPEAT: ONE OTHER TIME, IN 1978.*

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