Monday, May 25, 2015

Recap: Batman: The Animated Series "I've Got Batman in my Basement"

I may have mentioned it once or twice or a million times, but I consider the DC Animated Universe to be a masterpiece of both comic book adaptations and animation in general. But that's not to say every episode of every show was a masterpiece. The episode I'm covering today certainly isn't. It's an episode that sparks feelings of shame in the writer, lead designer, and even the guy who threw out the general idea for the plot.

In the same way that DC fans praise episodes like "Mad Love," they speak in hushed tones about this one.

And Galactus help me, I'm going to be going over it today.

Let's do this thing.
The episode begins with a couple of window washers riding their washing platform up the side of a building. Nothing odd here. Except for the fact that they're doing it in the dead of night. As you might have guessed, they're not actually window washers. Not even ones desperate to earn some overtime.

Instead of looking to earn a bit of extra scratch, they're hoping to steal it. Their target: a Fabergé egg.

They use a diamond-tipped blade to slice a triangular section out of the window, which I'd imagine is the easiest way to do the "cut-a-hole-in-the-window" trick. From there, they reach inside the window with a telescoping claw to nab the goods. Ten bucks says the Penguin's behind this!

And, of course, I'm referring to Feathers McGraw.
After stealing the egg, they head to the roof and run across to another building where they ditch their uniforms, revealing their normal clothes underneath. Because two normal guys hanging out on a rooftop isn't suspicious at all. After they change, one of them can't help but marvel at how easy the heist was, which the other agrees to.
Criminal 2: "Yeah, it only took five minutes."
Batman: "And that'll get you five years. With good behavior."

I've aid it before, and I'll say it again. If you don't give Batman a chance to do a one-liner, he won't show up.

But before Batman can swoop down to do a one-two of vengeance and the night, a vulture attacks him from behind. The thieves make their getaway as Batman struggles to fight the vulture. It's... rather unimpressive. I have a bit of a hard time believing that a vulture can knock over Batman, but lo and behold, that's exactly what the episode shows us. And even if he didn't get knocked over by a bird, the way Batman has trouble locating the thing to hit it with a Batarang is.... Well, let's just say that it's like watching an old lady with a newspaper trying to see where that bug flew off to.

The fight of the century this ain't.
Batman manages to fight off the foul fowl, but not soon enough to chase after his quarry. Though he does notice something on the rooftop.

Batman: "Birdseed?"

Apparently, birdseed is suspicious. Even though feeding birds from rooftops isn't an unheard-of hobby.

The next day, over in the suburbs of Gotham, a boy named Sherman is showing off his new Junior Detective Kit to his friend and/or sister Roberta. But as always happens, the neighborhood bullies show up to give him a hard time for being a dweeb.

Now, let me ask a question. Has a "Junior Detective Kit" ever been used to solve a crime in the history of ever? Even if it's just to figure out who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? In my experience, these types of things remain either unused or wasted.

When I was but a lad, my parents got me a subscription to Spy University. Every month or week or something, I'd get a new booklet with new gadgets. UV pens, hidden cameras, some nifty stuff. Nifty stuff that would either be a bit of fun for a while or completely useless, like when they don't give you the special film for your hidden camera.

But back to my original point, I never used it for any "spying." Not that I didn't try. It's just that no one was stealing government secrets, defecting to Russia, or even just taking my Halloween candy.

So... Yeah. Unless somebody brings me compelling evidence to the contrary, detective kits are pretty much useless. And the older bullies in the episode seem to agree with me. Except for the bully who steals Sherman's binoculars and spots a hawk with them.

Roberta: "Can't you find any of your own species to play with?"

A harmless put-down these days, but I would like to apologize to alien readers in the far future for this unabashed species-ism.

The bullies leave, and Sherman looks for that hawk one of them mentioned. But through his binoculars, he discovers that it's not a hawk, but a South American vulture. Yes, Sherman specifies that it's specifically one from South America. The bullies continue to make fun of him. This time, it's because there are no vultures in Gotham City, South American or otherwise. Geez, why are all these kids experts in or ornithology? The Gotham Public School System must be freaking amazing.

"You don't know the migratory patterns of the Cathartidae Family? Freakin' dillweed."
Sherman and Roberta go off to investigate what a vulture would be doing in Gotham.
Sherman: "Now that's a mystery."

No, that's just an oddity. A man found decapitated alone in a locked room with his head spinning on a record player? That's a mystery.

Sherman and Robert follow the vulture across the city to an abandoned warehouse, where they follow it inside. Inside already are the two egg thieves, waiting for "the boss." One of them freaks out over a noise, but it just turns out to be falling birdseed. Unbeknownst to them, however, is the fact that the birdseed was tipped over by Sherman and Roberta on the catwalks in the ceiling. I guess they're up there now, despite being on the ground level when they entered the building ten seconds ago.

And Sherman's totally doing that on purpose!
Speaking of entering the building, a trapdoor opens on the ground, revealing the boss. He's a short, round man in a tuxedo.

Sherman: "The Penguin!"

Let me just say right now that this is Penguin's introductory episode. But not only is he appearing with little pomp or circumstance (like the audience should already be familiar with him), but the first thing he does after making his debut is screech.

Penguin: "ERRAAWGGHH!"

This calls down his vulture (named Scrap) so he can feed his bird some rotten meat he had been keeping in his pocket.

Penguin: "Oh, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem... by this sweet egg, which we have scrambled for."

The egg being that sweet ornament which truth doth give, apparently.

Let's talk about this version of the Penguin.

Short story: Everything is wrong.

Long story....

The creators of the show were going to reinvent the character as they would so many others. From what I've read, they had been toying around with the notion of making Oswald Cobblepot similar to Norman Bates, with an unseen "mother" acting as the Scarface to his Ventriloquist. But the studio said that they had to use a version based on Danny DiVito's portrayal in Batman Returns.

The version we ended up getting is a hybrid of the criminal mastermind the writers wanted with the disgusting inhuman version the studio wanted. But the writers would end up getting their way after redesigning the character for The New Batman Adventures.

Not sure why he got a nose lift instead of a full-blown nose job.
But for this episode, we're stuck with the unwanted executive meddling version. And that's note even getting into the problems with the voice.
Paul Williams is a phenomenal singer-songwriter with a few acting credits to his name and even an Oscar nomination for his work on Phantom of the Paradise. Not to mention both a Grammy and an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Evergreen." I mean, the man wrote "Rainbow Connection" for The Muppet Movie.

Or you might know him for his Dexter's Laboratory cameo.
Which is why it kind of pains me to say that his performance isn't very good. There's nothing that really elevates his performance to the memorable heights of Mark Hamill as the Joker, or Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not amazing. It doesn't really sound like there's any motivation behind what he's saying. It sounds like he got his lines right before he was supposed to deliver them with no time to prepare. I don't have a problem with Williams's inflections, but the energy doesn't seem to be there.

Anyway, the kids are watching all this happen.

Sherman: "They stole the Vonalster Fabergé Egg!"

Because of course Sherman can identify a specific Fabergé egg from over fifty feet away.

Roberta: "The what?"
Sherman: "Don't you read the papers?"

Uh... What kind of Gotham City parent lets their kid read the newspaper what with all the homicidal maniacs making the headlines?

he kids try to sneak away with the intent of getting an adult, but Scrap spots them and tries to get them. Luckily, Batman arrives with a net to put the bird out of action before springing into action against Penguin and his crew of two. Batman easily grabs the egg from the thieves and buries them in birdseed, but things take a bad turn as Sherman accidentally turns on the conveyor belt he and Roberta are on by hitting the OFF switch. Not the ON switch, as you might expect.

Not even joking.
This is the problem with outsourcing your animation to countries that don't speak English as a first language. That's not even a joke; that was an actual problem they kept having with the show.

Anyway, the conveyor belt sends the two off to the doomy crusher machine of doom. But Batman manages to save them in time and quickly get them to the fire exit. Penguin soon frees himself from the birdseed and shoots a gas pellet at the returning Batman. Coughing and choking, Batman runs back to the fire exit to get some fresh air. And maybe also medical attention. He uses the remote on his belt to summon the Batmobile and climbs in.

Sherman and Roberta, who saw all this go down, rush over to help the vigilante. When Penguin and his goons exit through the fire exit, the two hop inside the Batmobile and start pressing buttons in the hopes that one of them will help. After activating everything else (including the Batmobile's missiles, which are a bit un-Batman like, the two of them drive away, with Sherman steering and Roberta working the pedals.

So Sherman drives down the streets of Gotham with the Penguin and his two mooks hanging on to the roof of the Batmobile. Not only that, but we see close ups of the kids working the gears. These kids are driving stick. I can't even do that.


I'm beginning to see why some people call this episode ridiculous.

After the kids shake off the Penguin, they take Batman home and stick him in, you guessed it, the basement. They give him some water, but the Dark Knight isn't doing too well. And I can only imagine that the poster of the Joker on the wall isn't helping.

As an aside, WHY? Why would you have a poster of a serial killer on the wall of your basement? What kind of parent would allow that? Especially a parent living in Gotham!

Anyone else reminded of Misery right now?
They introduce themselves to Batman, who responds by saying "capsule." Being a super-sleuth who can recognize birds and Fabergé eggs on sight, Sherman thinks Batman said "captured." Because Sherman is just as dumb as he is smart.
Batman: "Nooo.... Visor.... Auughhhhhh..."
Sherman: "Wonder what that meant?"

Maybe he wants them to finally return Cyclops' visor for him?
But Roberta's not in the mood for guessing games and goes to call the cops.
Sherman: "No way! A detective always has to protect the identity of his client."

Well, I think the fact that you're harboring a vigilante overrides that. Also, you're ten. 

Meanwhile, Penguin and his boys drive around the area to try and find where the kids went. Speaking of the kids....

Sherman's Mom: "Sherman, what are you doing down there?"
Sherman: "Nothing, mom."
Sherman's Mom: "You're not trying to make gunpowder again, are you?"

I'm fairly certain that his kid will have made a fine villain by the time Terry McGinnis starts wearing the Batsuit.

Roberta: "We just saved Batman's life, Mrs. Grant! And now we're hiding him from some bad criminals."
Sherman's Mom: "That's good. Just don't make a mess."

Alright, that was pretty funny. Credit where it's due.

She tells the kids that she's going to the store, and leaves in order to facilitate the upcoming Home Alone ripoff. As she leaves, the two bullies from earlier decide to play basketball with a brick. And that's not me making fun of what they're doing, they've got a brick and one of them is trying to shoot it into a stack of boxes. When he succeeds, the boxes go flying and reveal the Batmobile.

From the basement window, Sherman watches as the two go to check out their find. He tries to stop them from taking a joyride with lies about it being his mom's car, then his uncle's car. Finally, he fesses up and admits that it's the Batmobile.

One of the bullies, screwing around with the sun visor, finds a box of capsules, letting Sherman figure out what Batman meant earlier. But as he rushes to get the box to Batman, Scrap swoops down a couple times.  Sherman manages to get the capsules to Batman as the bullies follow him into his house. The two are amazed and awed to actually see Batman in person. For a second or two. Then they just want to see who's under the mask. Sherman puts a stop to that and explains that if that vulture found them, then the Penguin can't be far behind.

Roberta tries to call the cops, but Scrap has already gnawed through the phone line. In response, Sherman takes Batman's belt off and gets ready to do his best Macaulay Culkin impression.

The bit where the villains enter the house is basically one big Home Alone sequence. Tripwires, exploding stairs, smoke grenades, and even some bolas thrown into the mix. But in the end, the kids only slow Penguin and his goons down. Soon enough, they're inside the locked basement, taking the kids hostage and reclaiming the egg. Penguin readies his umbrella-saw and prepares to slice Batman into pieces, but Batman recovers just in time to beat up the goons and use a handy screwdriver to fence against Penguin with.

Again, I'm not even joking.
And it's not like Batman momentarily defended himself before going back to punching; the two of them have a protracted sword fight with a screwdriver and an umbrella shank. Thankfully, Batman wins just in time for Mrs. Grant to return home and demand to know what's going on. She's mad at first, but once she sees Batman, she realizes that he must have just put a stop to some kind of evil doing. She even swoons a little over that deep voice and manly jaw.

Sherman: "Say, Batman, you wouldn't be single, would you?"

Sherman, I know you're probably speaking for your mother, but please stop sounding like you're flirting with Batman; Robin's presence alone leads to more than enough pedophilia jokes.

The next day, Sherman puts some papers about the case on his wall as a trophy.

Sherman: "Now where was I?"
Frank: "Someone keeps swiping Mr. Banducci's newspaper?"

Well, the newspapers on Sherman's wall had to come from somewhere.

He sends Frank and Nick out to investigate while he and Roberta to look for a lost dog. Because apparently, they're all on good terms now.

And with that, the allegedly worst episode in the DCAU ends. So lets review this infamous installment.

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