Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Recap/Review: Gotham Girls "The Vault"

Among animation/comic book circles, many people hold up the DC Animated Universe up as a crowning example of the heights that could be reached by "kids' shows." Heck, I did that yesterday. The DCAU had award-winning, powerhouse shows like Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Batman Beyond as well as a few well-regarded, if not as widely remembered, additions like Static Shock.

And then there's this thing.

Gotham Girls was a spin-off of Batman: The Animated Series (well, The New Batman Adventures, if you want to be precise) of short, online Flash cartoons, made by Warner and featuring the original voice cast from the DCAU. And according to the DCAU Wiki, the DC Wiki, and the Wikipedia Wiki, this mess is canon.

I've known about it for quite a while, and I've finally decided that it's odd enough, canon enough, and short enough to begin going over in detail.

The step-headed red child of the DCAU.
But before I can adequately discuss this show, let me explain something to all you whippersnappers out there who might not remember the Bush-Era year of 2000.

Back when this "Ryan Gosling" kid was best known for a bit role on Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Back when Spider-Man didn't have any movies yet, people with dial-up... oh, great, something else to explain. Starting over.

Back in 2000, not everyone actually had internet access. Some people, odd as it may seem, didn't even have a computer. (Story Time: When I was a young'un, the cereal mascots would have a picture on the top of the cereal box saying "We're on the web!" Not having internet at the time, I assumed that "the web" meant "the front of the cereal box.") People lucky enough to have an internet provider generally had what's called "dial-up." Basically, it was really slow, made funny noises when you turned it on, and made it so you couldn't use the phone. While a 2-minute cartoon will load in a few seconds today, it took anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours to load a simple Flash cartoon. You kids don't know how good you have it.

So to keep people occupied, it was common practice to include a built-in minigame to play while the cartoon loaded. You can still find examples of this on some of the older Homestarrunner.com cartoons. And now I've got youngsters wondering what this "Homestar Runner" is. When did I get old?

Anydangway, this episode comes equipped with a pre-load minigame where you have to make five card suits match. Each suit you click on makes the ones around it change. Why am I bringing this up? Because I hate puzzles like this.

Stop taunting me with your bubble, you vile harlequin!
Back on task, "The Vault" opens up with a gigantic plant reaching up from the Gotham streets and heading into a building. Clearly Catwoman is behind this scheme! Actually, it's Poison Ivy, as you might expect, with Harley Quinn joining in on the caper. And it's at this point that we really get to see the animation quality. It's... well...

It's Bush-Era Flash animation.
I can't really fault DC for this utterly abysmal quality. No, really. I ain't even mad, bro.
This was done back when DC still did traditional animation. They probably saw this "Flash Animation" thing as a quick way to churn out cartoons, with Gotham Girls being a rough prototype. Emphasis on "rough." Seasons 2 and 3 (yes, seasons of this) were done by Noodle Soup Productions, who would later go on to do The Venture Bros. But I'm pretty sure this season was animated by one guy on the low rung of the Warner Animation totem pole. And I'll bet you anything that this was just written in a few minutes to see just how little they could spend on it.

I'm not giving them a pass on the animation, but I can't really fault them for being crap at using a medium that was still quite new. I won't be judging this on the same standards as Batman: The Animated Series, but I'll be judging it on the same standards as its contemporary Flash cartoons.

This came out within a month of this episode.
So back in the episode, Ivy needs Harley to be quiet and watch for cops while she cracks the safe. Unfortunately, Harley is... well, she's Harley. As such, she simply can't contain her excitement over the diamonds they're about to pilfer. First, she sings a little song about being rich. Ivy tells her to shut up. Then she hums the exact same song and drums her fingers and Ivy tells her to shut up again..

Poison Ivy: "Find something else to do with your mouth, other than yap."

Get your minds out of the gutter, audience.

Unaware of the smutty suggestions some of you no doubt have in your heads, Harley thinks up a nasty thing to call Ivy.

Harley Quinn: "Rhymes with 'rich.'"

"Rich" as in "what Gotham Girls didn't make Warner Animation."

Bored, Harley starts chewing some bubble gum. And if you're not a moron, you've already guessed the punchline.

This is where the Flash becomes "interactive." Possibly. The Gotham Girls shorts were released on the DVD set for the Birds of Prey series as a bonus feature, which is where most people will probably see them. But originally, on the Gotham Girls website, each short had a short interactive bit. To acclimate the viewer to the idea of interactivity, text appears on the screen while Harley blows her bubble, saying "Get ready to click the bubble!" And when the bubble is big enough, it tells you to click on the bubble to pop it.

Truly, this is the future of storytelling.
But you know what? I refuse. I am not your puppet, Gotham Girls! I am not an animal! But even if you don't click the bubble, it pops anyway. What's the point of "interactivity" that has literally the same result as doing nothing? Not only that, it pops with the most cliche, cartoony, gooey-splash stock sound effect possible. You know exactly the sound I mean.

Poison Ivy: "If I hear one more sound out of you, just one, I swear I'll cram fast-growing cactus seeds up your toches!"

A big hello to those of you who arrived here by Googling your oddly-specific fetish.

As Ivy goes back to the safe, cops surround the building. Harley stays silent. Three guesses as to where this is heading. Ivy cracks the safe, and looks at the shiny, badly animated diamonds before police surround the two femme felons. Poison Ivy is confused, and Harley admits that she saw the cops while keeping lookout.

Poison Ivy: "So why didn't ya say something?"


Oh, sorry. Ahem. "Ha. Ha."

This was terrible. Absolutely terrible. The animation was bad, even for 2000 Flash animation. I'd give it a pass if you told me that this was fan-made, but an official product of Warner Animation? This is laughably bad. You can't tell me that professional animators turned this in. I don't care if they weren't used to the technology, or whatever. If you're going to release a cartoon professionally, put some dang effort into learning how to use your tools.

Seasons 2 and 3 were animated by Noodle Soup Productions, which would later go on to work on The Venture Bros. Allegedly, the same is true for this season, but I doubt it. The second and third seasons actually looked like something that people put money and effort into.

The writing was subpar with basic gags and predictable punchlines. Still, the actresses give it their all; I'm not faulting them. Another thing I'm not passing blame around for is the framing. You see, nowadays, if you view the original Flash files (they're still available from the WB website) you'll be viewing them without the frame overlay, meaning you see things that were supposed to be past the edge of the frame, hidden by a border.

Oh, so the diamond heist was just to get money for Harley's new prosthetic legs.
Gotham Girls would get a more successful comic spin-off that would eventually lead to the Gotham City Sirens series. And it's all thanks to this? It's hard to believe.

One down, twenty-nine to go. Wish me luck.


  1. Oh, come on, season 1 wasn't the best, but I actually found the cartoon sound effects that went on throughout the series gave Gotham Girls personality.

    1. That's fair. I just felt that they clashed with the designs taken straight from the DCAU. Like I said, I can complain, but I can't really blame the creators for much as they pioneered a new medium.