Monday, October 20, 2008

Batman: TAS - Episode 4 - The Last Laugh

As you can surmise from the opening title, this episode features the Joker. I really like the Joker, in all media appearances I've seen. I love him in the comics - I recall an issue of JLA where his thoughts are made manifest in the form of a funhouse, and we see that to a logical, rational person like Superman and Martian Manhunter, that his thought patterns are like a mess of mirrors, reflections and fractions of reflections everywhere, no clear line of thought, just a jumbled mess. I love him in the Animated Series, such as in the animated movie Mask of the Phantasm, "Looks like there's a new face in Gotham and soon his name will be all over town... to say nothing of his legs, and feet, and spleeeen..."

And speaking of film, I've always really enjoyed Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the character and up until the release of Batman Begins considered Tim Burton's Batman to be the best Batman film, and one of my all time favorite movies, "Winged freak, terrorize Gotham...Wait till they get a load of me." And now that The Dark Knight has been released, well, I can't imagine that anything will ever compare to the thrill, and the terror I felt at seeing the latest movie version of the Joker. The absolutely beautiful manner in which he sewed chaos throughout Gotham, they way he so easily turned ordinary people into murders (attempted anyway) was just so fascinating. During his interrogation (watch the clip), the way he taunts Commissioner Gordan, "Depending on the time, he may be in one spot, or several." And later to Batman, "I don't want to kill you. What would I do without you?! ...You complete me."

It was just such an amazing experience, I don't think I've ever had such a powerful reaction to a movie before. Not seeing Star Wars Episode I for the first time, or The Bourne Identity, Jurassic Park, all these movies that are such favorites of mine for how they made me feel like I was a part of the movie. Even seeing Star Wars Episode IV (that's A New Hope for all you old fogeys, there is no movie called Star Wars) when the Special Editions were re-released in the theaters, or The Lord of the Rings saga, none of that made me feel invested in the characters like The Dark Knight did. Except for Rachel Dawes, I never could bring myself to care about her.

The point of all this is that when I see that one of these animated episodes will feature Joker I have fairly high expectations, probably too high since TDK, but even discounting that I know how good (or at least how much I enjoy) some of the future episodes, so I expect the same greatness out of the early episodes. And so far, it's just not there. It's the first season of the show. At this point, it's still the first month of the show (if it was broadcast weekly, I'd have to look that up again to know for sure). They haven't hit their stride, they haven't quite figured out how best to portray and use all the characters. This isn't the puberty stage of the show, it's not even the terrible twos, it's the first few days where it's still learning how to drink its mother's milk. It that just the most terrible analogy ever?

So, The Last Laugh starts by letting us know it's April Fool's Day, and the next thing we see is a garbage boat floating down the Gotham River, or through the docks, I don't know. Anyway, we know it's a Bad Thing since the pilot of the ship is a clown. And everybody knows that Clowns are Evil. There's some funky green vapor rising of the pile of garbage, and as people smell the vapor they start laughing uncontrollably and doing silly things, like slap fighting, or driving on the wrong side of the road while hanging out the window. Obviously Joker is up to no good.

Since it's April Fool's Day Alfred tries to bring a smile to Bruce's sour face. Does that guy ever smile? No, because if he did it would be weird. It's morning and Bruce is shaving, so Alfred proffers, "Here sir, I've drawn you a bath." Bruce walks over to find the bathtub is empty! Drawn him a bath, indeed.

April fools! Bruce is not impressed. Alfred turns on the radio at Bruce's request and he hears of the plague affecting Gotham. According to the news says hundreds of Gotham citizens have inexplicably began acting like total laughing fools. What a nice thing to say about someone! Batman is on the case. We see that Joker and his clown-masked goons are leaving the barge to take advantage of the situation, breaking into armored cars that have inadvertently driven off into the river, or just waltzing down the street pushing shopping carts and relieving people of their valuables, breaking into jewelry stores, etc. I think part of my disappointment with the Joker episodes so far, is that his jokes aren't funny, they're bland and predictable. "When the going get's rough, the tough go shopping!" he says as they debark, or "Who says crime doesn't pay?" or "Now this is what I call a sidewalk sale." It just really doesn't work for me. At least I know it'll get better.

Back in the Bat cave (which is what I want to say every time we cut back to Batman in the Bat Cave) we get a plot device explanation from the computer - an air born gas emanating from the river front district is causing people to act stupid, exposure to the gas will result in permanent insanity. Batman doesn't really respond to such a grandiose statement, and it therefore looses a lot of its weight, so the next reveal also has no impact on me. Batman intercoms Alfred to ask for something, to which Al replies, "Oh, go fetch it yourself, thbbbbbtttt!" Batman's not amused, and then hears crashing and ridiculous laughing. He runs upstairs worried and finds Alfred swinging a broom around knocking things off shelves and tables and breaking Ming vases - because anytime a vase breaks in a movie you are almost guaranteed it's a Ming. Apparently they're quite easy to come by. "Just a little Spring cleaning, sir." Alfred says, and it's the best joke of the episode, as the room is littered with rubble and debris from smashed flower pots and thrown books and overturned tables and chairs, and don't forget the Ming vases. Also the room is full of green vapor because the windows are open, but Batman instantly realizes what it is and puts on his gas mask. Just like World War I, never leave your bed without one.

Anyay, Alfred is obviously batshit crazy and now Batman must find a cure for the gas that causes permanent insanity. Man, I wish I had some of that gas. Anyway, now with proper (but not very impressively conveyed) motivation, Batman sets out to stop the Joker and find a cure for his crazy gas. He uses his boat (on remote control) to tow the garbage barge away from the city, while he boards and beats the crap out of Joker's goons. "Look who's come to trash the place!" Joker quips. Okay, I liked that one. The first two goons stand no chance against Batman and he defeats them without even trying. Then the third goon breaks the tow cable with his bare hands, and we learn that he's a robot when Batman punches him and it clangs painfully. They stuff him in a garbage can of some sort with a locking lid. Joker punches holes in it so Batman can breathe, and then tosses it overboard, where it sinks to the bottom of the river.

Our good hero escapes by remote summoning his boat, which is also a sub, and having it shoot lasers at the barrel. Luckily it slices open the barrel without hitting him. Woo! That was close.

The next encounter is at the junkyard where Joker (presumably) stole the garbage barge, Acme Waste Disposal. The two thugs are spraying some vile green liquid on the garbage to renew its potency, when Batman cuts the hoses with a well thrown batarang. The thugs are drenched in liquid, and Batman shortly removes their masks so they can join the ranks of the reality challenged. He's cleverer fighting the robot this time, beating it with a metal pole instead of his hands, and eventually getting it dropped into a garbage masher. Those things sure are convenient, they're great for grinding the bones of your enemies into talcum powder.

Joker isn't happy about the demise of his good friend Captain Clown, and he lures Batman into the disposal plant where he has obviously learned where everything is. We get a somewhat creepy shot of Joker staring at the camera for several seconds, just waiting for Batman to arrive. He tricks Batman twice into precarious positions hanging over what looks like boiling lava, but since that seems like an odd substance to have in a waste disposal plant it's probably some acidic compound to break down the garbage, maybe? Or maybe a pit of fire for burning the stuff.

Of course being the hero, and quite well trained and prepared for such problems Batman triumphs over Joker, again leaving him hanging over some dangerous pit, in this case a furnace for burning garbage, just like the end of Christmas with the Joker. This final confrontation at the disposal plant was enjoyable, much more so than the rest of the episode. It's nice to see how often Joker can surprise Batman, for all his experience and preparation Joker still gets the better of Bats some way or other throughout the episode. I think my favorite moment was the final time when Joker and Batman are on a catwalk above the fiery furnace and Joker throws two razor playing cards at him. Batman dodges the first, and snatches the second right out of the air, which surprised the Joker quite a bit.

Strangely, we hear nothing of how Batman found a cure for the chemical that caused 'permanent insanity' upon exposure, but we see that Alfred is obviously cured, and not in a good mood as he cleans up after his wacky antics of earlier. In particular, we see him mourning over the loss of the Ming vase, but Bruce cheers him up, "Don't worry about it. I'll just take it out of your salary for the next couple of years." Hilarious. "Hey Alfred, April Fool's!" And the day is saved! Though we're not told how, or if anyone died in the insanity. Oh well, it probably wasn't anybody important.

Directed by our good friend Kevin Altieri, who as I'm sure you remember, directed the first episode On Leather Wings, and will also direct the last episode of disc one, P.O.V. and a two part episode on the next disc that I'm quite looking forward to, Two-Face. IMDB had no info on the writer of this episode, Carl Swenson, other than the fact that he wrote this episode. Maybe I'm not the only one that thought it wasn't that good?

This episode was alright, but not great, sorry to our friends Carl and Kevin. The first half felt fairly bland, until Batman caught up with the Joker and the fighting started, and the final confrontation wasn't bad, but overall I felt kinda let down. I didn't even see anything that deserved to be shown to you, so all you get is screencaps, no videos. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but after seeing The Dark Knight I don't know how I can do otherwise. I saw the peak of cinematic perfection in that movie, and all movies and Joker performances hereafter will be compared to that, and will be found wanting.

Remember kids: Believing oneself to be perfect is often the sign of a delusional mind.

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Quote of the Cyclical-Timeframe

I read quite a few toy reviews. I usually find them fascinating, even for items I have absolutely no interest in, and when they are reviews of items I have, like or want, then they're almost as fulfilling to read as having the figure is. My primary sources for toy reviews are Michael's Review of the Week and Online Action Figure Entertainers. And of course the various forums I'm a member of (The Fwoosh and SW Action News mostly).

So I found a review of Clone Wars General Grievous figure from the new animated show line, and the author said Revenge of the Sith is the worst of the Star Wars prequels. Now, I'm currently not a huge fan of the prequels, but there are certainly enjoyable parts in all three films.

But this has to be the best statement explaining what's wrong with ROTS. And I quote:

"At least The Phantom Menace knew it was a kids' movie and behaved accordingly, so dumb as it is, it's actually quite entertaining to watch, like a kitten rolling around like a spaz trying to catch its tail. RotS, on the other hand, thought it was some kind of important war epic, so it wound up being like a middle-aged self-appointed "intellectual" rolling around trying to catch his tail, and then claiming it was a commentary on the superficiality of the audience. You know what, no."

Wow. Nothing I could possibly say can add to that. It's such an interesting visual that I'm now inspired to try and find similarly great quotes to post every once in so often, so look for more quote in the indeterminate future.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Batman: TAS - Episode 3 - Nothing to Fear

Before we get into this episode I've posted a short addendum on the previous episode, Christmas with the Joker. It has a short video, go watch it, then come back for this episode.

Nothing To Fear tells the story of Scarecrow, aka Dr Jonathan Crane (you can never trust anyone named Jonathan), as he attempts to get revenge on Gotham University, and a Dr Long in particular.

We are told that there have been many incidents recently, robberies, vandalism, etc, at the University, and that people are concerned the students will leave and the University will be shut down. We are introduced to Dr Long, a bald old man with a heavy moustache. He's grouchy and crotchety and rude to Summer Gleason, the resident report of the show. His behaviour is understandable of course, I hate reporters and the press, bunch of lying bastards. But that's not the point. The point is he's a jerk and we're not supposed to like him, and Summer Gleason is a pretty woman and we probably are supposed to like him.

Anyway, Dr Long and Summer are at a benefit for the University trying to raise money, so naturally Bruce Wayne is present. Bruce is introduced to Dr Long, who's a short tempered old man, who grumps "Your father and I attended the University together, he had big plans for you." Bruce takes it as a compliment and mentions how successful Wayne Enterprises is, but Dr Long isn't impressed. "When your father was alive 'Wayne' was a name that commanded great respect. Now all it stands for is a self-centered, jet-setting playboy. It's lucky your father didn't live to see what you've done to his name. He'd have died of shame." Now, I've convinced a lot of people I'm a nice guy, but I really want to punch this old man in the face. Bruce looks a little sheepish but gets over it as soon as the Dr Long leaves the elevator, even showing a little smirk.

Moving along, because we don't want to be here all night, Scarecrow attacks, blasting a hole in the roof and breaking into the University's vault, which looks just like a bank vault. There is only one guard on duty there, and he's quite out-matched, being a rather scrawny guy, kinda like me or Evil Cousin Rish. Scarecrow of course brought backup in the form of two hulk mobsters. The guard pulls his gun on them and we are introduced to Scarecrow's trademarked Fear Toxin gas which he sprays on the guard. He coughs and suddenly starts yelling about spiders, "Get them off of me!"

Scarecrow explains to his lackies that his gas made the guard experience his worst fear. Scarecrow exposits that the robbery isn't about money but revenge and tells his lacky to grab what they can and burn the rest. Batman arrives (wearing a gas mask, how'd he know about that?) and during a tussle Scarecrow pulls a dart gun and shoots Bats in the back of the neck. Crane and his boys escape after setting the vault on fire, leaving Batman overwhelmed by the Fear Toxin, and we see what it is that Batman fears.

In the flames Batman sees an apparition of his father, Thomas Wayne, and he hears his voice say "Bruce, you have failed me. You have disgraced the family name. Then the sprinklers come on and put out the fires and the vision is gone. The police bust in then as Batman crawls coughing out of the vault. The guard is explaining what happened and how Batman stopped Scarecrow when Bullock arrives, not impressed by the absence of the Scarecrow. I really like Harvey Bullock, but he's much more of a jerk in these earlier episodes than in the later ones, where he's more usually just a slob who doesn't like Bats, but isn't quite so antagonistic. Gordon arrives and Bullock complains about Batman trying to take evidence, a piece of Scarecrow's costume, but when he turns around to talk to Batman again he's gone.

Okay, gotta move this along faster. There's a scene where Dr Crane explains to his lackies how he was a leading professor of psychology, and from a child he'd been fascinated by fear and its effects on people. In a flashback we see a scrawny kid with a big head and red hair chasing girls with snakes and laughing. He says that when he got a job with the University and began further experimenting with fear, locking people in rooms with rats or snakes or in the dark. The University was not pleased by it, and Dr Long called him a lunatic and fired him. So now he's doing what any well adjusted, mature adult would do, and is trying to shut the University down.

At the Bat Cave Bruce instructs the computer to analyse the piece of cloth he obtained from Scarecrow. He continues to hallucinate about his parents and how he has failed them. Bruce picks up a picture he has of his parents next to the Bat Computer and hears his father's voice again saying that he has failed them. On the screen next to him Summer Gleason reporting the news repeats over and over that Batman Failed, FAILED! FAILED! to catch Scarecrow. He's upset and shaking, and then we get a nice little moment between Alfred and Bruce.

It's a little boring to me sometimes, touchy-feely moments like these, probably because my heart shriveled up and turned to stone long ago, but it's still nice that the movies and the animated series let us see that Alfred and Bruce have a very close relationship. Bruce tells Alfred about the visions he's having, but Alfred dismisses them saying, "I know he'd be proud of you, sir, because I'm so proud of you."

The University holds another fundraiser which is spoiled by Scarecrow and his goons, he gasses the entire crowd, so when Batman (predictably) shows up he is attacked by the crowd who has gone nuts and freaks out over the giant bat in their presence. Now, from what I've read Batman is always willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goal (except kill anybody), so I don't think he would have hesitated much before taking a swing at the people attacking him. Although, perhaps I'm wrong and he cares more about innocents than I think he does, and he wouldn't want to harm them. I think back to Batman Begins, he doesn't fight the crowd then really does he? But he escapes in a similar manner here, using his grappling hook to get about and away from the crowd.

Scarecrow has escaped the building with Dr Long in custody, and is flying away in a zeppelin. Batman, of course, is able to bet aboard the zeppelin and defeat the goons, who seem extra less intelligent than the lackies usually are. We get a nice shot of Batman disarming one with a batarang, and it seems slightly graphic. In my memory the batarangs always hit the guns in the cartoon, in contrast to the comics where they tend to become embedded in the arm or hand of the gun wielder, and here we get the latter. Perhaps they softened it up in the subsequent episodes, or perhaps my memory isn't as clear as I think it is.

Anyway, in the ensuing fights the zeppelin controls are destroyed, the passenger area is started on fire, and the blimp bumps into two different buildings. Batman and one of the goons are knocked off the zeppelin and, in what seemed an uncharacteristic move, Batman doesn't catch the goon who falls what was obviously over 30 stories and bounces off an awning to safety. Scarecrow is confident that the Fear Toxin will defeat Batman, and as he tries to climb to safety back aboard the blimp the demons of his past again assault him.

In this final confrontation of his fears, his father appears to him again, large and unpleasant looking with evil glowing red eyes (rather like Evil Cousin Rish), and as he tells Bruce that he's a disgrace he morphs into an evil skeleton. But Bruce faces and defeats his fears, and utters a very quotable line.

After defeating his inner fears defeating the Scarecrow is a trivial matter, simply regain entrance to the blimp, beat up the last goon (who gets Fear Toxin-ed and sees prison bars closing in on him and jumps out of the zeppelin, again landing safely in a tree), rescue Dr Long before the zeppelin makes a head-long collision into one of Gotham's giant skyscrapers and bursts into fiery death (Scarecrow escaped on a glider), get the data analysis from the scrap of Scarecrow's mask he had, which leads him to a company called Crane Chemicals, slap Crane around a little bit, and expose him to his own Toxin. Crane sees terrifying visions of monstrous bat-creatures chasing him, and he is defeated by his own medicine.

In the penultimate scene Detective Bullock again making his case to Commissioner Gordon that Batman is a menace to them, he's withholding evidence, hindering the Scarecrow investigation, helped Scarecrow escape, "I'd bet my badge he and Scarecrow are in cohoots!" "Your badge, eh?" Says Gordon, pointing to the ceiling fan, from which Scarecrow is hanging with a note pinned to his chest from Batman. "About that badge..." he quips.

The final scene shows Bruce laying flowers at his parents grave, paying his respects, as he often does in the show, particularly if something or someone reminds him of his parents.

As I write this I wonder if David Goyer and Christopher Nolan (story and screenplay, Batman Begins) were fans of this episode, or if this episode is based at all on a particular comic that they might be fans of. There were a couple of interesting similarities, such as Batman becoming a hideous monster in Crane's eyes and exposing a crowd to the toxin to have them fight Batman, that make me think they probably have a similar inspiration.

Nothing to Fear was written by Henry T. Gilroy and Sean Catherine Derek. Gilroy appears to have also worked on one episode of Justice League Unlimited, and is also co-wrote the new Clone Wars CGI Movie and worked as a writer and story editor for season one of the show. I haven't seen the new Clone Wars stuff at all, so I can't really comment of it that's a good thing or not. But I thought it was interesting. has an interview with Gilroy that I haven't read, but might be good reading.

Sean Catherine Derek worked on several episode of Batman: TAS, as well as possibly interesting things like Mortal Kombat: the Animated Series, Spider-Man: the Animated Series, and some not so interesting things, such as The SMurfs and Captain Planet (I pity her). It appears she's also a writer on an upcoming Mortal Kombat movie.

Boyd Kirkland directed this episode, and he's got a nice long list of work I should mention. He was a producer and writer on X-Men: Evolution (and animated series), as well as directing quite a number of Batman: TAS Episodes. He worked on the feature length animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (according to Dragonlance Movie Site (another animated film he worked on) he co-directed Mask of the Phantasm), and co-wrote, directed, and produced Batman & MR Freeze: Sub-Zero, the second feature length film from this series. I've never heard of him before tonight, but I really like him now. He's worked in animation for 30 years, also having been involved in Spiderman and GI Joe animated shows in the '80s.

And now I realize I haven't really talked about my feelings for this episode. It was mostly good. It didn't feel as bland to me as Christmas with the Joker, but I didn't find myself as intrigued with it as I did On Leather Wings, but I wonder how much of that is my unfamilarity with Man-Bat, versus feeling more or less familiar with Scarecrow. I think it was a good introduction to Scarecrow and his fascination with fear and its effects. In the scene where he gassed a large crowd, while he was making his getaway he paused and looked around with an interested look on his face. I could tell that he wanted to see how people were reacting, he wanted to enjoy their terror. Scarecrow's design gets better in the final incarnation of the show (where he looks more like a corpse than a cartoony scarecrow), but the shape of his eyes and mouth, and his low-ish voice helped keep him from being completely un-scary.

We also are show a bit of Bruce's character, what's he afraid of. It's not spiders, or death, or physical harm (as we saw with other people who were Fear Toxin-ed), but he's afraid of not making his parents proud, of not living up to the vow he made to clean Gotham of its crime.

So, yes, it was a good, enjoyable episode. And that's probably enough about this particular episode. Coming up next, another Joker episode that fell kinda flat for me, and Poison Ivy's first appearance in the series. Tune in Tuesday morning.

Remember kids, There's Nothing to Fear, only Fear Itself.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Batman: TAS - Episode 2 - Christmas with the Joker

The plot of episode 2 is thusly: Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum. Again. Yes, this has happened many many times, and it will happen many more times in the future.

Sorry about that, got a little derailed. Anyway, so it's Christmas Eve and the inmates of Arkham are singing and decorating a very tall tree. Joker sings the well known Batman variation of Jingle Bells.

    Jingle Bells
    Batman Smells
    Robin laid an egg
    Batmobile lost a wheel
    And the Joker got away!
While singing he is handed a pointy spire thing to put on top of the tree, and he climbs a 20 foot ladder to get to the top. As he croons "Awaaaaaaaay!" he places the spire on the tree and a rocket ignites at the bottom. He jumps on and rides it through the glass skylight in the roof, laughing and singing all the way.
    Crashing through the roof
    On a one horse open tree
    Busting out I go
    Laughing all the Weeeee!

Batman and Robin are preparing to leave the Batcave, and Dick, whining child that he is, complains about it being Christmas Eve and can't they have just one night off, surely the Joker's not going to do anything on Christmas Eve, and we should be relaxing and waiting for Santa, and why can't I drive the car, and don't tell me what to do, and you killed my parents...Oh, that was a different Dick. I don't particularly care for Dick Grayson as Robin. Once he grows up and stops acting like a spoiled child and becomes Nightwing he becomes much more tolerable, and I even kinda like him. But not that much right now. At least he's older (I'd say somewhere between 17-24) and has the modern(-ish) Robin costume on, and not that horrible green Speedo and pixie boots. What a gaylord.

Robin offers a deal, we search the streets of Gotham, and if there's no sign of the Joker we come home, have Christmas dinner and watch It's a Wonderful Life. Batman almost tells a joke, saying he's never seen that movie, because he couldn't get past the title. It's funny, see, because his parents were murdered right in front of him when he was ten years old, and he spends all his nights chasing down street scum instead of in bed with hot chicks like a rich playboy should. Funny, right?

They comb the city (the whole city? In one night? With enough time to still watch a movie afterward? Gotham must be caught in some kind of time vortex.) Batman's gloomy and brooding, Robin's perky and annoying. They see a scummy hooligan chasing a fat old lady in a fur coat, Batman thinks he's going to mug her, but it's just some nice young man telling her she dropped one of her packages. "Can we go home now?" Robin whines. Batman MANUALLY throws his grappling hook, pulls it tight and is suddenly pulled up into the air, like magic, and we see that the rope is anchored to the top of a building at least 30 stories high. That dude has one hell of an arm.

Eventually they go home and sit down to watch the movie, but there's something else on, and it's on every channel, whatever could it be? It's the Joker, of course, dressed like an evil clown version of Mr Rogers (instead of the normal, evil Mr Rogers) and he tells the whole city that they're going to see a different show tonight, a Special, called "Christmas with the Joker".

The gist of it is he kidnapped three people (Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, and some woman who may or man not be a police officer, or maybe the news anchor woman), and he's going to kill them unless Batman can find them first. "Christmas is a time of family, and since I don't have one of my own, I decided to STEAL one!". Now, I've never kidnapped or gagged somebody, but I'm pretty sure a candy cane wouldn't really do the trick.

Batman and Robin have to puzzle out where they are, using such things as where excess power drains are occurring, or where the signal is being broadcast from, etc. They find several fake locations where Joker has left traps for them, like the Gotham Observatory where he's somehow converted the telescope in to a motion tracking cannon, or a railroad bridge that has been rigged with explosives, just a few minutes before the Gotham Train arrives, or Joker robots with machine gun fingers. For having just escaped a few hours ago that Joker sure is damn resourceful.

Of course, Batman being Batman, he stops the train - or specifically, he tells Robin the Boy Whiner to uncouple the passenger cars, then Batman pulls the Engineer out of the engine and jumps off, letting the engine take a nosedive off the bridge. Kersplodey!

In the end Joker gives Batman a clue that lets him figure out where he's holding the hostages, and there's a showdown with some giant robotic nutcrackers (Where does he get all those wonderful toys?) , RC planes - which Batman knocks out of the sky with a baseball bat, which lets Robin say the groaner line, "Guess they don't call you Bat-man for nothing." Wow. Could somebody please stab him? I think I'd rather that Jason Todd had lived, and Dick Grayson died. After defeating the toys some goons with tommy guns start shooting at them, easily defeated byt The Batman. And then Joker reveals himself.

Joker has the three hostages hung over a vat of boiling red liquid a gift box in his hand (wrapped with Bat-wrapping paper). He's going to cut the rope and let the hostages fall if Batman doesn't open the present. Batman won't sacrifice the hostages, so he takes the gift. He hesitates, Robin encourages him not to open it, Joker threatens to cut the rope. Batman pulls off the bow, tears open the paper, opens the box and

That was actually unexpected. I knew it couldn't be a bomb, or something that would really hurt him, since he was holding it next to his chest, and he's The Batman, dammit, nothing can defeat him. But I didn't expect that. It was pretty cool. He lunges at the Joker who cuts the rope and runs, but Batman is able to jump on top of the vat and knock the hostages out of the way before they fall in. He then takes off after Joker, and grabs his arms, Joker struggles, and suddenly his arms and sweater vest fall off, and he speeds off again, climbing the stairs up to the walkway over the vat. And steps on a stray roller skate, which throws him over the rail and into the vat of chemicals. Not surprisingly, Batman grabs his ankle just before he falls in. Then he fakes dipping him in a few times, just to scare him. "Merry Christmas, Joker" he smirks. "Bah, humbug!" comes the reply. Lastly we see Dick and Bruce sitting down to watch It's a Wonderful Life, and Dick emphasize that it IS a wonderful life. Bruce, considers, and returns, "It has its moments."

I found a lot of this episode to be kinda trite and predictable, and a little boring. Except the end confrontation with the Joker, which was unexpected, it just wasn't that exciting, but I'm not really sure why, I usually really enjoy the Joker episode.

This post was also supposed to contain the write-up for Episode 3, but in the interest of getting it posted on time that write up will have to wait until Thursday morning, so check back then for Nothing to Fear.

Addendum: I was in a bit of a rush to finish this post so I inadvertently didn't mention a few things I meant to, like talking about Mark Hamill as Joker, and discussing the writer and director. Oh well. But I did want to take the time to quickly mention that one of the reasons I think Mark Hamill makes a great Joker is his laughs, he has a wide variety of laughs for Joker, depending on what feelings exactly he wants to convey. For example...

Remember Kids: Pillage, THEN Burn.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Not DCUC Ares wave pics

I found some new figures last week, and didn't bother to take pictures of them until a couple of days ago when I opened them. They're from the Marvel Legends Walmart Exclusive Ares wave. Except for King Hulk, he's from the Fin Fang Foom wave.

I finally got around to starting my attempt at improving King Hulk's silver arm. First step was a black base coat to dry brush silver over. But it looks kinda cool black.

Evil Cousin Rish and I found 4 unopened cases of Ares figs last week, and having a little mooney I bought the two that interested me the most, Heroes Reborn Iron Man and Crossbones. I'm not a huge Marvel fan, I've only ever read one Marvel comic I can think of, so I don't know much about Iron Man beyond the movie, but it was a nice looking figure, and at least it has cool hand poses, as opposed to the movie figures. I guess Crossbones murdered Captain America, but it's not like I care. He looks kinda like Bane to me, so that's who he's going to be, until we get a sweet Bane in DCUC.

King Hunk and Bane take on Iron Man and War Machine

Someday my case of DCUC Wave 4 will arrive and I will have an awesome Wonder Woman figure to slap these guys around and stop them from fighting all the time.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Batman: TAS - Episode 1 - On Leather Wings

A couple last points of introduction to the Batman Animated Series.

It should be pointed out that I'm most familiar with the final incarnation of the show, The New Adventures of Batman, for which many of the characters went through design modifications. I will try to keep the comparison between the two styles to a minimum until we get to the new episodes, but some comparisons will be inevitable.

As I understand it, this series is sort of a continuation of the Tim Burton Batman films, with the notable exception that the villains who bought it in the movies are no longer deceased. Maybe we could call it a spiritual sequel, if not a true sequel. The style is meant to match the films, the look of many characters are similar - Penguin is basically an animated version of Danny DeVito's character. As I mentioned in the intro post Danny Elfman's Batman theme is the basis for the music of the show, the theme can be heard at times exactly matching the soundtrack, but Shirley Walker's music blends in perfectly. It's a perfect mood setter.

Being a continuation of the films none of the characters receive an introduction of any kind. Everybody has heard of Batman, some people like him, some really don't, and some don't know what to think. Commissioner Gordon already has at least a working relationship with Bats, if not yet a real friendship. Detective Harvey Bullock really doesn't like Batman at all.

The setting of the show is a curious mix of modern/slightly futuristic and an older 40's/50's look. The vehicles are old style cars, the police have a WWII era blimp, while Batman has a highly advanced computer, with sophisticated voice-recognition, sound wave analysis, in later episodes we also see complicated chemical and spectral analysis, and in this episode it speaks too. Additionally Batman's car is similarly very technologically advanced.

Also, this post took way too long. I spent a little over two weeks writing it, getting screenshots and the video clip. I'm not going to spend this much time on each episode. I wrote way too much for this one, you don't need a frame by frame replay of the episode, and even if you want one you're not getting it. For future posts in this series I'll be only doing a high level plot recap, I'll only dwell on the points that I really enjoyed. I'd like to set up a schedule, both to help me get posts out in a reasonable time, and because we'll be here forever if we don't do this in a timely manner, what with there being 12 DVDs just for Batman TAS, not counting the 4 movies, and I want to do Superman, Justice League, and Batman Beyond too. I think the plan will be to have a post reviewing two episodes ready every Tuesday morning. We'll see how it goes.

Okay, now on to the review. I'd better repost the opening screen, because I love it and you might have missed it before.

This episode seemed at first quite different from the episodes that I'm more familiar with. It began with what seemed to me a very different visual style than the episodes I'm familiar with. The opening has an almost blurry feel to everything, like an old 40's detective movie.

After the opening titles (which you should look up on if you haven't seen them before) the title screen for the episode appears (pictured above, in case you missed it the second time) with some great music that reminds me of an old horror or mystery show. On Leather Wings opens to a shot of dark, heavy clouds late at night, the view then pans until a break in the clouds reveals us to be high over Gotham city. It's dark and gloomy, car lights can be seen on the roads between the tall buildings. A blimp floats by with '* Police* ' on the side. Cut to the interior where we see two cops, an older experienced cop, and a young, nervous cop flying the blimp, with Old Cop reporting in to the station that all is quite in Gotham City for once. Yeah, that's not going to come back to bite him on the ass. And I guess it really doesn't either.

Young Cop sees a blip on his radar, but when he mentions it to Old Cop it's gone, Old Cop tells him he's seeing things. Then something large flies past the window suddenly, but Old Cop doesn't see it, but he tells Young Cop to fly above the clouds so they can see whatever it was, but nothing's there.

We see the blimp fly off and the camera pans down to a dark shape fling past the towering skyscrapers of Gotham. We see the creature flying through the dark night for a few seconds and over a building with the sign 'Phoenix Pharmaceuticals', then cut to a security guard wandering inside darkened building. He's speaking into a little tape recorder with a bland, not very impressive voice "Testing, testing one two three." Then suddenly switching to a deeper, radio announcer voice he records an advertisement for some learn-to-be-a-radio-or-tv-announcer class. I found it amusing.

As the guard walks he hears a loud thump-crash. He tip-toes back to a room he's alrady passed and looks around, there's a large window, moonlight casting shadows on the floor and wall behind him, but he sees nothing. He heaves a huge sigh of relief and walks on by, his shadow cast on the wall behind him. The camera doesn't pan with the guard, but stays focused on the wall, where we suddenly see a very large, non-human shadow sneaking up behind the guard. The camera switches to follow the guard, who suddenly stops and shakes suddenly, I can only imagine he got a very nasty chill down his spine. He turns to see what it is, and screams as the beast swings at him, knocking his recorded out of his hands and under a desk. The guard grabs a chair from the desk and throws it at the beast, which ducks and the view changes to show us the chair smash through one of the large windows. We see the shadow of the creature on the wall through the window as it picks up the guard and hurls him through the window. The guard screams as he falls, making a big splash in the river, conveniently located next to the building.

We see a newspaper declaring that the Police are after Batman for his connection to several robberies. It's the next day and Commissioner Gordon and Detective Harvey Bullock are arguing in the Mayor's office. Apparently the robbery at Phoenix Pharmaceutical last night is the third or fourth such robbery, where witnesses report seeing Batman. Only this time someone was seriously injured. Harvey wants the Mayor's support to organize a task force to capture the dangerous vigilante. Commissioner Gordon argues that it's not Batman's MO, it's probably someone else and has refused to authorize the strike force. We see someone's hand resting on the arm of a chair, idly flipping a coin and the Mayor ends the argument by approving Bullock's request for a swat team and choppers. The Mayor asks if he needs anything else, to which Harvey says to make sure there's someone in the DA's office with enough guts to prosecute, he'll bring the Bat in. We see a man in suit sitting in a chair flipping the coin who says, "If you catch him, Harvey, I'll put him in jail for you". He's not named, but he's obviously Harvey Dent, District Attorney in Gotham City.

Later that night we see Wayne Manor sitting atop cliffs high above the ocean. In the BatCave Batman reads the news headlines, while Alfred pours him some tea, or coffee, or possibly hot chocolate, since it is a cartoon. They discuss the headlines and I must point out that while Clive Reville did a great job voicing The Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back, his Alfred voice sucks. It's slow, and almost too low to hear, and he has no personality. He tries to be snide with Batman, but it doesn't really work. They probably thought Alfred shouldn't have a personality, but he should be the most proper British butler, but really it's no good. Thankfully they cast someone else for the role a few episodes later, who really gives Alfred some great personality and allows for much better banter between him and Batman.

Batman heads to the crime scene to investigate, World's Greatest Detective that he is and we get lots of footage of the Batcar driving the long (but quite variable, episode to episode) distance between Wayne Manor and Gotham City. I really quite like the design of this car, although the later design is a little better. This one is obviously reminiscent of the vehicle from Burton's Batman. From the ridiculously long hood, to the forward sliding, two windowed cannopy, to the winged rear wheel covers to the single rocket engine. It's cool, it's rather impractical, but who cares?

Arriving at Phoenix he shoots his grappling hook at the top of the building, and as he flies up it two scientist types making out in a dark office see his shadow on the wall, they call the cops. Batman enters the building and seeing a guard seated at the door to the room where the crime occurred rolls a ball under her feet, which releases gas and knocks her out. Now we get to see Batman at his sneaky, investigative best. He just knocked out a police officer without her even noticing he was there. Now he must enter the room to investigate, but oh no! There's a barrier, a single strip of police line tape is strung across the door opening. What does Batman do? Not what somebody trying to keep their presence hidden would do. He tears right through the paper as if he didn't notice it at all. Um, WTF?

Meanwhile Bullock receives a call while in his squad car, informing him Batman has been sighted at the scene of the crime. He orders the SWAT team and a chopper to converge on the location. We see squad cars and a SWAT truck enroute to the lab, and get a look at the SWAT team inside. As stated before, the cars look old-timey, and the truck looks like a cross between a refrigerator box and a bus.

Back at the lab Batman sprays the room with some sort of red spray and puts on some InfraRed goggles that look like something Cyclops would wear, with build in digital zoom and photo capability. He finds strange hairs which he gathers, as well as seeing the guards footprints by the desk. He looks underneath it and retrieves the cassette player. He examines the desk and finds hairs which he takes, all the while we hear police sirens slowly fade in, though Batman doesn't notice until they arrive at the building and spotlights are shined through the window. He might have been just a little too focused on the investigation.

As the SWAT team storms the building Batman starts his escape. Gordon arrives, and Bullock is as excited as a kid at Christmas as he informs the Commish they have the Bat cornered, and he won't escape. "That's great," says Gordon, only you've got the wrong suspect, another chem lab was just robbed! You've got the wrong suspect."

We see Batman trying to prise open the door to an elevator as some SWAT guys come around the corner, he drops some gas bombs which knock them out then slides down the elevator cable. As he exits the shaft more SWAT guys see him and shoot as he jumps sprints down the hall. He sneaks around and hides in a dark room, shortly after which a SWAT member enters the room. Batman pulls the machine gun right out of his hands and covers his mouth. The team outside the room think they hear something, so they toss a smoke grenade in the room, not noticing the warning sign above the door, and it lands by several gas cans. Batman grabs the SWAT guy and jumps out of the window. The room explodes as though two pounds of C-4 had been in there, instead of a few 5 gallon gas cans. Batman and the SWAT guy land safely, and Gordon and Bullock come running, the SWAT member faints as Batman runs off into the night.

And we're only halfway through the episode, I'm going to see if I can speed up my recap. The next scene shows us Gotham Zoo, and Bruce Wayne walking through the bat exhibit. Bruce has a totally different demeanor than Batman, a slightly silly smirk on his face, standing taller and more proper. He even talks different, a slightly higher voice, and one that is a little harder to take as seriously. He encounters a Dr March, a shortish, hunched man with gray hair in a lab coat who comes out of a back room and practically yells at Bruce, "Why you bothering me?" Bruce says he called earlier about a bat problem in his attic. The scientist goes off on a tirade, "What do you think we are, pest control?" But he does let him in to the back room, muttering about Bruce thinking he owns the place, just because he donated a few million dollars to the exhibit.

Bruce explains about hearing squeaks in his attic and finding hair in his chimney, a sample of which he gives to the doc. The man clearly has been designed at scripted to arouse our suspicions. He obviously likes bats more than people, and though I know who Man-Bat is in the comics, I'm actually a little thrown, and wonder if he's supposed to be Man-Bat. I mean, sure Bruce Timm thinks of it as an adult show, and I do, but I know that the studio had to think it was a kid's show, being a cartoon, and wonder if some of the writers did too, and they're making it easy for the kids to spot the bad guy.

Anyway, he goes into a tirade, asking Bruce what he'll do if he does have bats in his belfry (no he didn't say that, I did), "you'll kill them like some insect?" He continues saying humans won't survive the next evolutionary calamity, but bats will, and bats are so much greater than people and they're not pests, they're a great benefit to man kind and yadda yadda yadda. A woman's voice interrupts his tirade, and we see pretty blonde woman in a lab coat, Bruce's interest appears to perk up, and he's suddenly a little smarmy as he introduces himself. The woman is Dr March's daughter, Dr Francine Langstrom, wife of Dr Kirk Langstrom, who enters the room just as she says his name.

Dr March runs off with the hair sample, Dr Langstrom is a little too friendly, and now I'm suspicious that he's Man-Bat, and wonder why Dr March is such a jerk. Anyway, Bruce pulls out a tape player and says he recorded a sound he heard from his chimney and watches both Dr's Langstrom closely for their reaction. The sound is very obviously not bats, sounding more like Godzilla or some other scary Japanese monster. Francine is very surprised, not having heard such a sound, Kirk says they'll analyse it, comparing it to other animal sounds.

Back in the Bat Cave Batman listens to the sounds again, when Alfred approaches and makes a joke about Batman listening to rock and roll music, which would have worked much better had The Real Alfred given the line, instead of the monkey-eyed, old-woman Emperor. Batman says the computer hasn't been able to identify the sound. He gets a call from Dr March, stands up a little straighter, and suddenly Bruce's voice comes out of the Bat costume, and it's really odd. "Hey, what's up, doc?" He asks. Seriously. It was awesome, but then, I love Looney Tunes. Dr March says Bruce has bats in his attic, and they'll probably go away as it gets colder. He says the sound he recorded was bats and starlings. After the call Batman has the computer analyse the sound comparing to bats and starlings, and surprise, surprise (not really) it's not bats and starlings.

Realizing that Dr March is lying to him Batman heads off to the lab to snoop around. In the meantime we hear spooky music and see a shadow figure in the lab burn the tape and hair evidence that Bruce had given Dr's March and Langstrom. Shortly thereafter another shadowy figure (easily identified as Dr Kirk Langstrom) is hunched over one of the tables, holding some small vials in his hands, "Can't fight it, it's got me" he says, drinking the contents of the vials." That's not at all suggestive, is it?

Later, Batman enters the lab and finds the vials of chemicals that have a Phoenix Pharmeceuticals label on it (incriminating!), and then someone enters the room. "Who's there?" Dr Kirk Langstrom asks, and Batman reveals himself. "You!" Langstrom says. "I'm looking for Dr March." "He's not here, Batman." Langstrom says, suddenly sounding very unconcerned. He pulls off his rubber gloves and closes the door behind him. Batman says March is deluded, a liar and a thief, but Langstrom says he's a theorist, afraid to try out his ideas. "But I wasn't." He says. "We created a formula to create and entirely new species, neither human nor bat." He says he started taking the formula, but then couldn't stop, it started taking over. Francine and March tried to protect him, but it was too late. The beast knew how to make the formula itself, and that it only needed one more formula to complete the process, the one he had just taken.

"It's in me, Batman!" His voice distorts with the last few words, he starts laughing evily. And then, he changes. His voice gets deeper, his teeth get sharper, his body gets bulkier, his mouth stretches, his hair spikes out, his ears lengthen and move up on his head, his eyes turn yellow, he gets bigger and bigger until his chest and arms burst out of his lab coat, now with wings hanging from his arms, his legs lengthen and rips his pants, until he is, the Man-Bat. A large, perversion of nature, an unnatural crossing of man and bat. A monster.

I noticed something interesting about this transformation. Firstly, it seemed a tad more graphic than I would have expected for a 17 year old cartoon. Maybe I'm just out of touch with what kids would find scary, and I've probably forgotten that as I kid I would have thought it was really cool. The other thing is, like the Hulk, now matter how large he gets his legs never do more than shred the lower legs of his pants. His shirt and lab coat practically explode off his body as he transformed, but his pants didn't. It must bind like hell...No wonder Hulk and Man-Bat are always in such bad moods, their pants are much too tight for their man parts.

Man-Bat is suddenly very hostile. Smashing all the tubes and vials, he flies at Batman and knocks him down, he throws a desk on him, jumped on it, and looked like he was going to bite him. And Francine arrived to save Batman. She's yells at Kurt and backs away horrified. He's shirks from her glare and flies out the window, smashing through the glass. Batman shoots his grapple which wraps around it's leg and is pulled free of the desk to be dragged through the air behind him. A chase scene now occurs, as Man-Bat flies over Gotham trying to shake Batman off him. There's a nice shot that seems an homage to Tim Burton's Batman, with the shadow of Man-Bat and Batman flying up in front the moon.

We see our favorite police officers again, floating high above the city in their blimp. It's quiet and peaceful, the music having stopped. Young Cop again notices something strange on the radar, "Not again." Old Cop whines. "I'm serious," Young Cop argues, "It's right below us." And it was. Man-Bat shrieks and flies past them, slamming Batman's face into the glass next to Young Cop.

Old Cop radios for choppers, and we again see Bullock and Gordon fighting about catching Batman. They both jump in a chopper which takes off, looking for the Bat. Man-Bat drags Batman through the steel framework of a building just under construction. Batman narrowly avoids getting slammed into the steel beams, and as Man-Bat dives, Batman lands one and pulls the cable tight, but Man-Bat slams into him, knocking him off. Batman grabs his neck as they fall and hangs on tight. Back in the chopper Bullock sights them, "There he is!" he shouts as they head straight towards them. "There they are." Gordon corrects him. "What is that thing?" Bullock asks.

Now sitting on Man-Bat's back Batman hammers several powerful punches to Langstrom's face. He then covers his eyes with his arms and steers him to face-plant into the side of a building. They fall to a ledge, Man-Bat unconscious, Batman dazed. The chopper is quick to follow them, and Batman hoists Langstrom over his shoulder and runs off into the night.

We again see Batman in the Bat Cave, and Man-Bat laid out on a table. He has a list of all the items stollen from the various pharmeceutical companies, and he thinks he can synthesize an antidote. He enters some information into his computer, and we then see the Car pull up to the Lab, and Batman exists carrying a shape wrapped in his cape. Francine runs out and asks if he's okay, and if he'll change again. "No," Batman says, "the formula is out of his system. It's over. For now." The theme swells as the screen fades to black. And the credits roll.

I really enjoyed this episode, partly because it was the first, and I'm not sure if I'd seen it before. The transformation was the best part, it surprised me and it looked really good. For those of you that haven't seen it, here it is.

I can't really explain why I liked it so much, except that I was trying to watch it as though I hadn't seen the series before, or at least wasn't very familiar with it. I really liked the way Bruce Wayne and Batman were voiced, and depicted as completely different people. Bruce Wayne was light-hearted, and very happy and optimistic sounding, which is the polar opposite of Batman, who is the Eternal Pessimist. Just everything about this show is great. The visual and musical styles are so faithful to the character of Batman from the (good) movies and comics.

Batman has always been my favorite Super Hero, and this show is a great way to get to know him, the had such freedom to tell so many great stories, and they did. And it's certainly more accessible than comics, and at their current price on eBay it's certainly cheaper. Sure, we're not going to get such long, involved stories as Cataclysm and No Man's Land, or even something shorter like Knightfall or Hush, but it's a wonderful introduction to the character, and has probably been the single greatest contributor to my DC fanboyism. Maybe after I finish going through all five Bruce Timm series' I'll move on to review what comics I have. Or maybe the Teen Titans show, I know Rish would love that.

Moving on, this episode was written by Mitch Brian, who also wrote two other episodes. He also wrote, co-wrote, adapted, or otherwise worked on other stuff, none of which I've heard of. Kevin Altieri directed this episode, and Wikipedia says he's best known for his work on Batman the Animated series, and Pearl Jam's video "Do the Evolution". Skimming down the list of episodes (before the rename to The Adventures of Batman and Robin) he directed over 10 of them, so I guess he's cool, and I like his work.

The character voices of note in this are of course, the staples of the series: Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Robert Costanzo as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Lloyd Bochner as Mayor Hamilton Hill (who I honestly didn't remember had a name other than Mayor). Other voices include, Richard Moll of Night Court fame as Harvey Dent (and later Two-Face. Looking over his past work I notice he was in the pilot episode of Highlander: the Series, which I have and should have recognized him from, I guess. He also voiced The Scorpion in Spiderman: the Animated Series.

Dr Kirk Langstrom was voiced by Marc Singer, who when I saw his picture recognized as the protagonist in Beastmaster, he also guest stared in many shows I like - The Twilight Zone, Murder, She Wrote, and Highlander, the Series. He is cousin to the director Brian Singer (the X-Men series, Superman Returns). And I've already talked about what I thought of Clive Revill's portrayal of Alfred.

And finally, the voice and name that should have stood out to me the most (and I guess it sorta did, but I didn't consciously recognize it, but I bet Rish would) René Auberjonois played Dr March. I know him as Odo, from Star Trek: Deep Space 9. He also cameoed in a few movies, Colonel West in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and Dr. Burton, a mental asylum doctor patterned after Tim Burton, in Batman Forever. Wikipedia says he voiced several roles in this series, and also Justice League Unlimited so we'll be hearing more of him in the future.

I really did go in to far too much detail on this episode, and I won't be doing it again (except maybe on rare occasion). It was fun to watch the episode and write it up at the same time, but just took too much time. So shorter write ups in the future, probably fewer screen grabs, but maybe not. Next up will be Christmas with the Joker and Nothing to Fear.

One last thing. I also must say I'm really quite proud of the screen shots I was able to get (thanks to Windows Media Classic). They turned out very crisp and clear, and a much bigger size than I was expecting - I widened the format of this blog by over a sixth so I wouldn't have to scale the images down. I'm also happy with the video captures, although uploading them to youtube lowers the quality, until I can figure out how to embed the hi-res version instead of the standard.

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