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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
The Five Shittiest Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series 
Tuesday, July 15th, 2008 | 09:24 am [batman, television]
Steve
Yesterday I kicked off Batman Week on a positive note by writing about the five best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. It was nice, I guess, to go back and pick out the diamonds in that dung heap. But it was also an act of charity, like writing an article celebrating Sidney Ponson’s five best starts, aware the entire time that writing about the colossal failures would be a lot more fun. Put yourself in my position. Would you rather walk up to Sidney Ponson, shake his hand and congratulate him on his Yankees contract, or walk up to Sidney Ponson, shove him down in the mud and take a piss all over him?
 
I thought so.
 
With Sidney Ponson not available to me, I will turn instead to another childish underachiever, the Batman cartoon produced for Warner Bros. Animation by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski and Alan Burnett and Paul Dini and a whole slew of other people who demonstrated flashes of great talent while producing what was ultimately a pretty shitty product. Hating on Batman: The Animated Series is like sliding into a warm bath: welcome, reassuring, therapeutic. Join me if you like — the water’s great. Here, I’ll turn the bubbles on. Just keep your fucking hands to yourself — I’ve got a switchblade right where I can get at it.
 
The Five Shittiest Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series
 
“Christmas With the Joker.” This was the second episode ever produced, and it’s almost the worst of the series. Not a great note to start on. The Joker earns the everlasting wrath of Batman and Robin by preempting It’s a Wonderful Life to taunt Batman about the kidnapping and imminent murder of Commissioner Gordon and other hostages. This one is a perfect example of one of the biggest problems with the show — the writers had no clue how to do humor. The tone of the series from episode to episode swung wildly from one extreme to another — a somber, almost maudlin episode like “I Am the Night” was followed by the too-clever-for-its-own-good “Almost Got ‘Im,” which was followed by the defanged horror story “Moon of the Wolf.” No consistency. Worst of all were the “funny” episodes like “Christmas With the Joker,” where Batman’s insane, murder-happy arch-nemesis behaves like a character from a Bugs Bunny cartoon — and not a Chuck Jones one, either. I’m talking Friz Freleng. Smartly, they held off airing this episode until the series had been on for a few months.  (Besides, what sense would it make to air a first-run Christmas episode in September? Wouldn’t that be the stupidest fucking thing ever?) The first Joker episode broadcast was the much better “Joker’s Favor.” This piece of shit didn’t air until November, by which point most of the kids in the audience had been conned into thinking the creators knew what the hell they were doing.
 
“Tyger, Tyger.” Imagine an adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, with a little bit of “The Most Dangerous Game” mixed in, scripted by a semiliterate teenager who has evidently not read either one. Catwoman is kidnapped during one of her regular midnight zoo visits and taken to the lair of an evil geneticist who is obsessed with breeding human/animal hybrids. He gives Selina an injection which transforms her into a cat-woman like, for real, yo.  Fortunately this radical alteration of her DNA is easily reversible. Dr. Faux-Moreau’s masterpiece is Tygrus, a humanoid/feline mutant who sees Batman as a rival for Catwoman’s hand in fuckage. There’s a chase, there’s a fight, there’s more than one scene where Catwoman tells Tygrus that she’s just not that into him, and everybody quotes the shit out of that William Blake poem. The mad scientist even names it before he rattles off the first few lines, figuring the drooling masses in the audience have never heard it and have no idea what he’s talking about.
 
“Holiday Knights.” This was the first episode produced in the New Batman Adventures run, another Christmas episode, and another great big belly-flop into an Olympic-sized shit pool. What was it about this series and Christmas shows? This episode isn’t almost the worst of the whole series — this is it, the undisputed Shittiest in Show. What makes this one — which was first broadcast in September — so goddamn horrible? There are three stories, like a Halloween episode of The Simpsons, all of which are pretty terrible, but it’s the first one that really drags the episode down into the “Televised Atrocity” category. In that opening segment, the delightful duo of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy put Ivy’s mind control whammy on Bruce Wayne. With one of the world’s richest men helpless under their thrall, they do what any pair of criminal masterminds would do: they force him to take them shopping. I hate Harley Quinn to begin with — if I ever wrote a story featuring her, she’d be in it just long enough for the Joker to snap her neck and drop her off a bridge. She’s a horrible character, and she makes good characters (like the Joker, or Poison Ivy) into shitty ones by her mere presence. The last thing I want to see in a fucking Batman show is Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy behaving like Bratz characters, trying on outfits and giggling at each other’s funny hats. See, they’re just a couple of girls! Discover the joys of misogyny, little boys of America.
 
“Cold Comfort.” Mr. Freeze starred in the best episode of the series, the Emmy-winning “Heart of Ice.” A few years later, they defrosted him and trundled him back out for this unfathomably stupid follow-up (there was another Freeze episode, “Deep Freeze,” toward the end of the Adventures of Batman and Robin run, but it’s neither good enough or sufficiently terrible to go into at length). This one makes the list not just for its mistreatment of Mr. Freeze (his frozen condition has left him just a head inside a robotic suit, and he’s gone from a tragic character looking to save his comatose wife to a standard issue supervillain who just wants to kill everyone), but for its portrayal of Batman. There’s a later episode of the series, “Never Fear,” where the Scarecrow gasses Batman and removes his fear, making him reckless and willing to kill his adversaries. This is treated like a big deal, with Robin pleading with Batman not to violate his morals and murder the Scarecrow. Had the Boy Wonder witnessed the climax of “Cold Comfort,” he wouldn’t have bothered, since this episode ends with Batman, in his right mind and fully in control of himself, cold-bloodedly murdering Mr. Freeze. Batman ties Freeze to the bomb he was planning on using to kill Gotham City, and drops it into the bay. The ending suggests that Freeze may have survived the explosion, but that doesn’t change Batman’s intention: he deliberately tries to kill the bad-guy. And in the putrid “World’s Finest” Superman cross-over aired just the week before, Bats made a tasteless quip about the Joker’s apparent demise while parachuting to safety with Harley Quinn.  Some hero.
 
“Chemistry.” On the plus side, this is a Poison Ivy episode that doesn’t co-star Harley Goddamn Motherfucking Quinn. On the negative, it’s another story built around our noble heroes nonchalantly slaughtering the villains. Bruce Wayne meets his dream woman, falls in love and gets married. Whenever that happens before the first commercial, you know something’s fishy. It turns out the dream woman is a plant-based clone grown by Poison Ivy, who sent a whole army of these floronic floozies to seduce Gotham’s wealthiest citizens and lure them onto a cruise ship for Ivy to rob and sink the whole bunch of them. Robin figures all of this out and races to the ship to rescue Batman before it’s too late. He takes with him some extra-strength herbicide, which he uses to melt the plant-people. But here’s the point: they were people. They had minds, emotions, they were capable of making decisions, they had a sense of self-identity. They were alive. And Batman and Robin liquidate them all without the slightest hesitation. Because they were intelligent plants rather than human beings, this is assumed to be morally acceptable, but that rationalization crumbles as soon as you give it a second’s thought. The plant-people even scream in agony as the industrial weed-killer dissolves their bodies, but Robin keeps on spraying with a wisecrack and a smile on his lips. To think he gave Batman shit for trying to kill the Scarecrow. The little twerp.

Comments 
Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 | 01:31 am (UTC)
Anonymous
Don't mistake me as a giant fan of the show as I haven't seen it since I was a kid, but considering it was a kid's show I'd hazard to guess that nobody in the target audience was aware of William Blake. Compare the show to something like Ninja Turtles and it's miles above.
Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 | 01:50 pm (UTC)
You are totally right. It was better than most other kid's shows of its time (or this time, even). My problem with it is that the people who made it, and the biggest fans of it, often spoke about it as though it was something other than a kids show, which clearly it wasn't. It was a kiddie cartoon. Better than the other kiddie cartoons? Sure.

Compare the show to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it's way, way ahead. But compare it to Batman: Year One, or The Killing Joke, or even most of the O'Neil/Adams, Englehart/Rogers stuff in Batman and Detective Comics in the 1970s upon which much of the animated series was based, and it falls far, far short.

I guess that's what irks me about the show, that it's treated like a great masterpiece by its creators and fans, when really it was just an occasionally good kid's show based on a character capable of much, much more.
Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 | 11:07 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I wonder if people think so fondly of the show because it was the first time Batman was done 'right' outside of comics. You can debate the quality, but it was far more faithful than the campy 60's series or the Burton movie (really Bruce, twin gattling guns in the batmobile?).

- SJB

(I figured I should sign my posts since I'm too lazy to sign up for a real ID)
Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 | 01:43 am (UTC)
Now admittedly, I'm not a huge Batman fan. I've seen all of the movies and casually watched the series when I was younger. It seems to me that your biggest problem with a lot of theses episodes is that the morality of Batman is questioned. I know that part of the background of Batman is how he walks the fine line between criminal and hero. So from time to time shouldn't he let it get the best of him and murder Mr. Freeze?
Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 | 01:43 pm (UTC)
My problem isn't that they had Batman do something that violated his principles. My problem is that they don't acknowledge, or even seem to realize, that it is a violation of his principles to wantonly murder his foes. Like I said, there was a show a few episodes after the Mr. Freeze one I menitoned that was all about Robin trying to prevent a chemically-impaired Batman from "crossing the line" and killing the Scarecrow. What's the point of that episode, when we've already seen Batman, in his right mind, willfully kill (or attempt to kill, at least) one of the bad guys?

I'm fine with the idea of telling a story where Batman finally has enough and pushes Mr. Freeze out of an airplane. I think if done right it could be a terrific story. But the first step would be to acknowledge that such an act would be a gross violation of the hero's moral code.

As far as the morality of Batman himself, that's a whole different issue, and one of the things that really appeals about the character to me. I don't find him a particularly moral guy. He is in the sense that he has a definite sense of his own morality, and what he will do and what he will not do, but viewed from the outside he's a violent, self-destructive guy who inspires and sometimes outright invites other people (four Robins, two Batgirls, a small army of other young costumed vigilantes) to join him in being violent, self-destructive people, too.

There's a very, very troubling aspect of what Batman does that is almost never touched on in the comics, the movies, and certainly not in the animated series, since their interest is to portray him only as the noble hero who protects the innocent and saves the day, but to me it's the most interesting thing about him.

Sorry, the Batman Snob in me wrested the keyboard away and took over for a bit.

Edited at 2008-07-16 05:06 pm (UTC)
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