Thursday, October 30, 2014

Recap: The Batman "The Bat in the Belfry"

I've already covered two episodes of this series, but I'm returning to The Batman to take a look at it from the beginning. But before I do, there's something that I really need to go over. There's an elephant in the room, and it's called Batman: The Animated Series. Batman: The Animated Series defined Batman for many people. The music, the voices, the writing, the character designs; they were all pretty much spot on. When the show ended, it was naturally going to be a tough act to follow.

The creative team behind The Batman had an unwritten guideline. They were fully aware that they were riding the heels of the immensely successful B:TAS. As such, when faced with a situation or character that already came up in B:TAS, the writers would generally say, "Let's take it in a different direction." Immediately noticeable is Batman's chin being pointy instead of the manly-man man-jaw it is in most other adaptations.

But because of this approach to things, Mr. Freeze became an entirely villainous sociopath, Penguin lost his gentlemanly qualities, Riddler became a tragic villain, and Joker changed from the dapper gentleman of deadly mirth into, well, someone who's just batsh*t crazy. Pun definitely intended.

To all of you who know nothing about this series, I have one piece of advice: Forget everything you think you know about Batman. Within reason.

His parents still got shot in an alleyway. And he has a butler. And he's rich. Just keep an open mind, I guess. 
The series opens upon a shot of a Gotham building in front of the overly large moon and oddly green sky. I’d say that this was an attempt to differentiate their aesthetic from the red skies of Batman: The Animated Series and its sequel The New Batman Adventures, but there are red skies later in this episode. So I’ll assume that it’s pollution. Horribly carcinogenic pollution.

Inside this building, crime lord Rupert Thorne waits and sweats. A shadow flits by outside. Then something appears inside as the curtains blow. Thorne’s hired men attack the shadowy figure, but to no avail. Neither bazookas nor glowy nunchuks can save them.

Although they do provide interesting visuals.
Thorne offers to bribe the shadowy figure, but it merely walks toward him in silence. Desperate, Thorne jumps out the window, only to be grabbed in midair and deposited on a nearby rooftop. 

Rupert Thorne: “How’d you do that?”
Batman: “I’m the Batman.”

And this is our first hint that things are different now. He's not just Batman. He's the Batman. He's not the night, he's not vengeance. He's simply your worst nightmare.

Unless your worst nightmare is something like your skin rotting off and filling with bugs.
Anyway, the theme starts. It. Is. Awesome. I love the Edge's theme for the show. I mean, the bat-squeak effects were done on a guitar. It's amazingly atmospheric. It's retro, and spy-ish, but also pretty rock n' roll, kind of psychedelic, it's... it's just great.

After the theme, Batman jumps into the Batmobile and speeds off to the Batcave as the police arrive to take care of the criminals Batman tied up for them. Alfred greets him with cake once he arrives.

Alfred: “Surprise.”
Bruce: “I’m touched, Alfred. But… my birthday isn’t ‘til October.”

"And you do know I'm older than this, right?"
As it turns out, it’s an anniversary cake. On this night, 3 years prior, Bruce Wayne put on the batsuit for the first time.

Bruce: “Crime flies.”

…I can’t decide if that pun was great or terrible. He begins to make a wish, but doesn’t finish it. He doesn’t need to.

Alfred: “I wish they were here, too. Very much so.”
Batman: “To the memory of Thomas and Martha Wayne.”

The next day, Gotham Police Chief Rojas is on the TV talking about the Batman rumors. Chief Rojas is voiced by Edward James "Commander Adama" Olmos. After this episode, that will stop being true. Get used to a whole series of famous actors showing up in one episode each before getting replaced by someone cheaper.

Chief Rojaz: “Do you know of anyone who’s actually seen this Batman? Because he’s what’s known as an ‘urban legend.’”

Alfred gets a bit miffed at this dismissal of Bruce’s efforts, but Bruce notes that it’s a good thing to be able to stay under the radar like this.

Reporter: “Well, there you have it! In only three years’ time, our crime rate has plummeted to a nationwide low, thanks to Gotham’s finest.”


Sorry, it’s just so weird to hear that Gotham’s crime rate is at a nationwide low. That just sounds wrong. According to my research, the actual city with the lowest crime rate, as of this writing, is Scottsdale, Arizona. Now, I don't know a darn thing about Scottsdale, but I find it hard to believe that in only three years, the wretched hive called Gotham stole Scottsdale's crown.

Of course, what we do have to factor in is the fact that for the past three years, Batman has been unleashing himself upon the petty criminals and gangsters. They may be superstitious and cowardly, but they're not... crazy enough to take on the Bat.

But you know, there’s bound to be a power vacuum of some kind if Gotham's crime plummeted that fast. Who knows what kind of lunatic will decide that Gotham deserves a better class of criminal? Or an enema.

Anyway, Alfred gives Bruce Wayne his season pass to the Gotham Gators basketball game later that night. Again, I have ventured into the realm of reality and discovered that in real life, the Gotham Gators are... well, I'll just quote the Gotham Gators website.

"The Gotham Gator Club® is the official University of Florida Alumni club for New York City and the Tri-State region."

Was this a shout out to the actual Gotham Gators? (Which, I guess would also be the University of Florida Gators?) Otherwise, why gators? As in those things from Florida and not wherever Gotham is supposed to be? Is this version of Gotham City in Florida? Nah, Florida's the "Sunshine State." Gotham's the Den of Darkness. Unless... you're right, I'm rambling more than usual. Fine, I won't go on any more tangents for the rest of the Recap.

Anyway, Alfred's adamant that Bruce go to the game. Because otherwise, people are going to wonder why Bruce Wayne stopped showing up once the Batman rumors started flying around. Speaking of Batman rumors, we cut to Gotham Police HQ, where Police Detective Ethan Bennett is hard at work going over said rumors. Chief Rojaz comes in to give him a hard time as well as introduce him to his new partner, Detective Ellen Yin.

Yin (voiced by Ming-Na “Mulan” Wen and based on a character from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Ellen Yindel) has just been transferred from Metropolis. Right off the bat (I swear, no pun intended that time), she has a no-nonsense attitude towards costumed vigilantes working outside the law. My personal theory is that they transferred her to Gotham after she suggested the Metropolis police go after the guy in the red cape leaping over all those buildings in a single bound.

"Apparently, the final straw was when I brought Kryptonite to work."
Later that night, Bruce reluctantly gets ready to head to the Gators game as Alfred hands him his PDA with built in Bat-Wave, which is basically a Bat-Beeper.

I don't try to find opportunities to add this picture into Batman stuff; it just keeps happening.
Meanwhile, at Arkham Asylum, an orderly makes the rounds and checks on each patient in turn. When he gets to a vacant room, he notices something weird. Namely, that it’s not vacant at all.

Orderly: “What’re you doing in here?”

The occupant is barefoot, with wild hair and a tie-dyed straitjacket. He lazily swings his arms as he quietly responds.

???: “I was feeling a bit screwloose, so I… checked myself in.”
Orderly: “Who… who are you?”

He produces his card which, say it with me, is a joker. Joker giggles and attacks the orderly with some kind of green gas. For his next trick, he manages to find the door override for all the rooms in the asylum and frees all the patients.

"Just thought I'd stop by the asylum on my way to your nightmares."
Back with Bennett and Yin, Bennett’s bringing her up to speed on just how good the Batman is at getting gear and leaving no trace. Long story short, he's very good. Suddenly, an alert comes up on their computer screen about trouble at Arkham. Knowing that this would be a perfect situation to find Batman lurking around, they drive off.

Ethan Bennett: “Whah? That's crazy!”

…Okay, Bennett momentarily slips into "stereotypical energetic black guy" territory, and then they drive off. The Bat-Computer catches the alert, too, and Bat-Waves Bruce while he talks to his beards, I mean, dates at the Gators game.

"Having twice as many girlfriends makes me twice as straight, right?"
Bruce: “You know, I once toyed with the idea of buying the Gators. Buying them lunch!”

With the “crime flies” from earlier, I can’t tell if Bruce is pretending to not be funny or if he’s genuinely not funny.

But the Bat-Wave goes off, and Bruce excuses himself. Alfred, watching the game on the big screen at the mansion, gets a bit miffed when the announcers try to put the camera on a now-absent Bruce Wayne.

Announcer: “Grabbing a Gator Dog, no doubt.”
Alfred: “…No doubt.”

Outside, Bruce summons the Batmobile remotely. He attempts to do the trick from the ’89 film where it stops an inch away from him, but he nearly gets run over for his trouble.

Bruce: “Gotta work on those stops.”

Yeah, it's not like you've had three years to perfect th... oh, right.

After he suits up, he speeds off to Arkham Asylum. The cops are already there, having almost hit a few patients wandering around. (Said patients are, amusingly enough, modeled after the Batman: The Animated Series staff.) On the bridge to Arkham Island is a gigantic jack-in-the-box. Because it’s from the Joker, it naturally explodes, taking out the bridge. So Batman resorts to grappling over. He lurks around the building interior until he comes across the orderly. He’s feeling… much happier.

Well, then. I'm not sleeping tonight.
Joker, lurking on the ceiling, makes his presence known. This is the first time (apart from clips in the theme song) that we get a good look at the Joker.

Well, moving on.... What? I said I wasn't going to stop the Recap to go off on anymore tangents.


Fine, let's talk about the Joker's new look. It’s… well, it's different.

A lot of people don't like the Joker's then-new look. I am not one of these people. To be fair, "Rasta-Joker" isn't an entirely undeserved nickname, given the design. But you have to admit that Kevin Michael Richardson is giving a great vocal performance, despite committing the cardinal sin of not being Mark Hamill. He's a very good voice actor. You may recognize him as Sheriff Blubs, Chairman Drek, The Shredder, or... a character called "Rasta-Man." Once again, I guess "Rasta-Joker" isn't an entirely undeserved nickname.

But before you naysayers continue to say your nays, let me just say that this is a wild-haired, shoeless clown in a tie-dye strait jacket who lurks on the ceiling and moves around like a chimp. Think about how freakin' unsettling that actually is for a moment.

Can’t sleep; clown will eat me. Can’t sleep; clown will eat me.
But Joker’s open to fashion debates.

Joker: “What rational being dresses like you!? Speaking of threads, think this is a good look for me?”

I guess the show’s designer didn’t; in a few episodes’ time, Joker starts wearing the traditional purple tuxedo. Batman doesn’t seem to like it either, because after Joker introduces himself, he tries to rub off Joker’s makeup.

Joker: “Smear-free. It’s permaclown!”

Yeah, what kind of lame version of the Joker would just be some guy in makeup?
But after three years of only dealing with thugs, pimps, druggies, and mobsters, Batman can only stare in awe as he tries to figure out how to react to this giggling maniac.

Joker: “Oooh, tough crowd.”

Joker leaps into action with his gas canister to put a smile on Batman’s face, but gets bataranged for his efforts. Another punch, and Joker’s straitjacket sleeves are ripped to a size that’s easier to animate. Joker yells at Batman for ruining his plan to turn Arkham Asylum into his new home (the irony is not lost on me, I can assure you), and kicks Batman in his face at light speed. Along with the new look, many people have also criticized the fact that Joker now apparently knows kung-fu, but he moves like an insane chimpanzee when he does it, so I’m giving it a pass.

Joker: “But what are you going to do? Lock me in the loony bin? I’m already here!”

The old "How do you punish somebody who broke into jail?" conundrum.
Over on the mainland, the police are doing all the police procedure stuff to take care of civilians, cordon the place off, get a chopper to get to the island, blah blah blah. Yin’s having none of it. She jumps into the river and swims over, followed by Bennett. What else can you expect from someone who’s as swift as the coursing river, with all the strength of a great typhoon? Back in the asylum, Joker and Batman have a beautiful and fluidly animated fight. Well, a “fight” inasmuch as Batman is throwing punches and Joker’s bouncing off the walls to dodge them. That’s not a figure of speech; he’s literally bouncing off the walls.

Joker: “You know, I really love this place! My old hideout’s a shambles!”

After Batman manages to land a kick on the crazy clown, he surrenders. As a parting gift, he throws some razor-tipped playing cards while vowing happy days for Gotham. Batman chases after the escaping madman, but is stopped by another jack-in-the-box. Batman tries to keep it from going off, but fails. Luckily, this one’s a dud. Yin and Bennett arrive at Arkham and split up. Bennett finds Batman almost right away.

Bennett: “You have the right to remain silent!”

And Batman remains silent. As he grapples away into the purple night, in front of the oversized moon. Later, at the Batcave, Batman looks over the orderly.

Alfred: “Sir? A stranger in the Batcave?”

I’m as shocked as Alfred, because we never saw Batman get the poor guy out of Arkham. Batman tells Alfred that the catatonic guy needs a medic, and Alfred obliges. The next day, Alfred informs Bruce that the poor guy’s fine, apart from the smile and being completely out of it. As Alfred goes to answer the door, Bruce wonders where he could track down Joker, in the hope of finding an antidote. Flashback time!

Joker (flashback): “My old hideout’s a shambles!”
Bruce: “If I find the old hideout, I find this Joker.”

The World’s Greatest Detective, ladies and gentlemen. But Bruce’s visitor has arrived. It’s Detective Ethan Bennett.

Bruce: “Detective! Am I under arrest?”
Ethan: “Yo, Bruce!”

In one of the many ways the creative staff have chosen to update the Batman for 2004, he has a black best friend. But before I entertain any cries of "tokenism," we'll need to see how this character behaves when not acting as a designated antagonist. He might actually be a rounded character with hopes and fears. It's not like the writers will just have him walk in and talk about some stereotypically "street" thing, like "shooting hoops," or something.

Ethan: "Thought we were all set to shoot some hoops last week?”

...Okay, then. But then, as if the character suddenly realized that he was the token black guy, Ethan starts discussing his work over coffee, in what is actually a good moment of character building for both him and Bruce.

Bennett: “Tough part’s this, Bruce. I really believe the Bat’s helping Gotham. Even if he is on the wrong side of the law. But he’s getting a bad rap and the heat’s on me to take him down.”

Well that’s enough of that, because we cut to Batman arriving at the abandoned Monarch party favor factory. And yes, he finds Joker right away, because there’s only five minutes left in the episode.

Joker: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Batman. There were these two fellows in an abandoned party favor factory. One says to the other….”
Batman: “Where are you keeping the gas, Joker?”
Joker: “You call that a punchline?”
Batman: “I don’t share your sense of humor.”

After “crime flies” and “buying them lunch,” I should say so. Joker reveals where the gas is. It’s in his hot air balloon! The one he rides out of his hideout towards Gotham’s statue of Justice, which just happens to have a giant, pointy spear. Joker's plan is brilliant in its simplicity. He's going to fill a giant balloon with poisonous gas. Then he's going to pop it over Gotham. And you know what? That's all a Joker plan needs.

Truly, he is a demented genius.
Batman drives off to catch up with the balloon as Bennett and Yin follow suit. Batman swoops into the balloon from above and tackles the Joker.

Batman: “Stop this thing, Joker!”
Joker: “With what brakes?”

Fair point. Speaking of points, as they fight, the statue gets nearer and nearer. Yin and Bennett arrive under the balloon and… follow it. Because they’re in a car. They have very little to do. While they follow, Bennett uses his powers of deduction to work out that the evil clown just might be behind the jack-in-the-box bomb.

Yin: “Fair enough. We’re chasing two perps. One’s a criminal, the other still a vigilante.”

At the last second, Batman manages to hook a building with his grapnel and swing the balloon around a building, narrowly avoiding the spear. Batman proceeds to punch out Joker and remotely controls his Batboat, dragging it down to the sea. He bursts Joker’s balloon, and it releases its poison into the water.

And I’m sure no harm will come from that
Batman manages to get a sample to make an antidote, and he leaves Joker ties up for the cops in the harbor. As he boats off, Batman tells Alfred to prep the lab. Sometime later, the now-cured orderly is making the rounds again. This time, he checks a new arrival off the list. Said new arrival then proceeds to break the fourth wall and talk to us.

Joker: “Well, maybe I am a bit batty.… Blame it on the bats in my belfry.”

It's been said you have a few, Joker.
So how does this new take on the same old Batman fare? Let's review.

1 comment:

  1. Man, I really love The Batman cartoon. Especially season 4. I look impatiently for next reviews.