Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman Hush Review

Blog Batman Hush Review Title

Hush Batman. Hush

Okay, this is one of those reviews where I don’t quite know where to start, or how personal I should get. I have a lot of mixed feelings regarding the source material of this adaptation, but at the same time a movie should really stand by itself and be entertaining without any prior knowledge. So here’s what I’m going to do, the first part of this review I’m going to try to review the movie just as a movie and keep my opinions of the comic out of it, then I’ll look at this as an adaptation afterwards. That’s the fairest way I can think to do this so let’s get on with it.

Batman Hush is the latest of the DC Universe animated films, it’s set in the same continuity as the Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen films (there’s even a few cute little nods to those films), and, overall, it’s an enjoyable action romp. There’s plenty of fights, by which I mean the film is mostly combat, the story has a large cast and the majority of them get to show off just how good they are at fisticuffs at one point or another. Also, while the animation is DC’s usual standard and house style for these movies, I was impressed by how well choreographed a lot of the fights were. I wish this film had a bigger budget to make some of these scenes more epic, but damn some of these fights were worth the price of admission alone.

That being said, I feel the action is a detriment to this film at times. The story isn’t that complex, it’s basically about a  mysterious villain who knows who Batman is, manipulates various members of the rogues gallery into striking at the Caped Crusader in both physical and emotional ways, until the big reveal when he takes on Batman himself. As I mentioned though, there is a large cast to this film and there are a lot of set pieces that it needs to get through and, with as short as these DC movies often are, that’s going to have an impact on the pacing. Some moments are perfect, while others aren’t exactly rushed, all the necessary elements are there, they just needed an extra moment or two to properly breathe and build the right atmosphere.

That builds into another problem for the film and that’s our main villain, Hush himself. Now I’m not going into spoilers (I’ll save that for the adaptation portion), but he is kinda lacklustre in this film. He spends so much of the film as a figure in the shadows, manipulating events from the sidelines, and as a result we never really get to know him or to gauge how much of a threat he himself is. Sure the villains he throws towards Batman are well established, we know what they can do and how they can hurt the Dark Knight, Hush not so much. Then you get to the actual reveal of who Hush is and my reaction was ‘oh, it’s that guy’. I like the idea of who Hush is in this film, but with the execution, I never found him a threat, which is a problem when he’s meant to be our master villain.

Let’s end this section on a positive though, the relationship between Batman and Catwoman. A large chunk of this film is dedicated to developing their relationship, we see them grow closer, open up to one another and there’s the moment where you think that this time, this one time, we’ll get a happy ending. Then of course it all comes crashing down because Batman is a tragic hero and that ain’t ever going to change (especially not with the cyclical nature of comics). All of that is handled really well by the film and if you’re a Bat/Cat shipper then this film is for you. There’s a lot of great scenes between the pair and this film really is about their love story before anything else.

That brings me to the adaptation side of things. Batman Hush, the comic, is one of those seminal comics that I’ve seen on a lot of people’s ‘Best Batman Stories’ or ‘Batman Comics You Must Read’ lists, it’s well regarded and well loved. I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone complain about the story before, which makes me nervous because I do have complaints. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I love about Batman Hush, Jeph Loeb writes a fantastic Batman and Jim is nothing short of phenomenal on art. There are plenty of big blockbuster moments that I adore and, as a popcorn read, I adore Hush. However the comic is trying to be more than that, it’s trying to have a compelling mystery and it falls into a trap that a lot of mysteries do. The villain’s scheme is so far reaching, so perfect and detailed that there is no way anyone could ever pull it off without the writer twisting the narrative into some really convoluted shapes. The last few issues of this story break my suspension of disbelief into tiny pieces and throw them to the wind, because nobody would be able to get away or set up all the stuff that Hush does and a lot of the explanations come right the hell out of nowhere.

Thankfully that’s something this adaptation fixes. The story is greatly streamlined, with several characters that would take too much time to explain exercised from the story (sorry Jason Todd fans) and many of the more convoluted plot elements either cut or changed to make more sense (a lot of my issues with the ending of the comic are fixed in this version). The stuff it does keep is very accurate to the comic, some shots directly copying panels, though they lack the impact of Jim Lee’s artwork, and there are numerous lines lifted wholesale and put into the dialogue, which I enjoyed. Of course there are some changes, a lot of the smaller ones I’m perfectly okay with. Swapping out Huntress for Batgirl makes sense, she is the more recognisable hero. Swapping out Killer Croc for Bane I’m less sure of, but I guess it’s for the same reason.

That brings me on to the big change though, and that’s the identity of Hush. Spoiler coming in three…two…one…Thomas Elliot is not the bandaged bad guy in this film, which plays into the lacklustre reveal of who it actually is for this film. Like I said, I like the idea of Hush in this film, but we don’t get enough time with the guy for the moment to have the impact it needs to. In the comic, though Hush’s identity wasn’t revealed until the very end (which did make the finale a bit anticlimactic as he was bumped off as soon as we learn who was under the bandages), we did spend a lot of time with Thomas. We saw him interacting with Bruce, there were numerous flashbacks of their childhood together, letting us know who this guy was. Hush in this film? Not so much. I think it really comes down to a change in focus decided upon by the creators. Clearly they wanted the focus to be more on the Bat/Cat relationship, which left little time to explore Hush. It does mean the film loses a whole load of adaptation points, but if you like the Batman/Catwoman relationship I think you’ll like this film fine. Comic book purists not so much.

In the end, Batman Hush is a fun, action adventure with plenty of action and a good exploration of the Batman/Catwoman romance. If either of those things sounds to your liking then check this film out. If you’re after a comic book accurate adaptation or a deep exploration of our titular villain, then you’re going to be disappointed. I’d suggest looking up the ‘Heart of Hush’ comic as that’s my favourite Hush comic.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

October Movie Madness!

31st October 2014, that was when I started this little blog o’mine with a review of Frozen.

Blog Frozen Review Title

Honestly it feels crazy that I’ve been writing for this blog for nearly five years now, especially when I only started this blog, in part, to build my confidence as a writer (the other reason I started this blog is because I desperately needed some place to talk about all the movies and shows I watch and as it turns out, once I start talking you can’t shut me up!)

Anyway, the anniversary of my blog is a month away and typically I use that anniversary post to look at a film which belongs to a franchise I adore. In the past I’ve done Madoka Magica Rebellion,

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Fullmetal Alchemist – Conqueror of Shamballa,

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How to Train your Dragon 2,

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And last year’s, Tangled the series: Queen for a Day,

Blog Tangled Queen for a Day Review Title

This year it’s going to be Digimon the Movie to tie in with all the other Digimon reviews I’ve been doing (and, yes, expect another oversized title card, I’m actually really proud of this one and I can’t wait for people to see it). However, this is a 5 year anniversary and that feels like a big deal, so I’m going to indulge myself a bit this coming month.

For this year only the movies are taking over October as I’m going to be reviewing a movie tied into a franchise I adore each week (some I’ve talked about before, some I haven’t), so here’s the schedule for October,

4th October – Batman Hush

11th October – Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel – 1. Presage Flower

18th October – My Hero Academia: Two Heroes

25th October – Digimon the Movie

I’m already a little bit giddy with excitement, and to anyone who’s read, liked or commented on any of my posts over the past five years, firstly, you’re amazing, secondly, thank you. I hope everyone’s going to enjoy this as much as I am right now, but enough waffling from me, meet me back here on friday when the party will really begin!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

Blog Batman vs TMNT Review Title

Ninja…Turtles?

Okay, I’ve talked about my love of Batman before on this blog (he is my favourite superhero and I devoted a whole month to him a few years back), but in the almost five years of writing this blog, I’ve never talked about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which this movie finally gives me a chance to rectify. I fell in love with the Heroes in a Half Shell when I was a kid, their original cartoon was one of the tent poles of my childhood. There was so much to adore, cool character designs, comedy and ninjutsu action, not to mention that I’m pretty sure the TMNT is where my love of pizza started. Now putting fun-loving giant turtles into the same film as the grim Dark Knight may sound odd at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

Not only are there multiple, successful, mini-series that crossover these two beloved franchises, but I think they actually fit together rather well. I mean on the surface there’s the fact that both sets of characters have been trained by ninja masters so that gives you plenty of epic martial arts fights, but on a deeper level both franchises are chameleons. What I mean by that is you can take a character like Batman and drop him into a noir-soaked detective story or a globe-trotting adventure, he can fight demons and aliens and be back in time to punch a gangster. Batman can adapt to any situation and the TMNT can do the same. You can play them as goofy and silly, or dark and serious (just take a look at some of the comics for some of the more mature storylines), the franchise has been going for a long time now, with multiple iterations, each with their own style. Both of these franchises can adapt and survive to anything you throw at them and that makes them perfect for one another.

On to the movie though, and I suppose the best place to start is with the story that brings our favourite characters together. It’s a very simple story and, honestly, that’s exactly what it needed to be. Shredder and the Foot clan have come to Gotham for a secret deal, stealing experimental technology from across the city. Of course this brings them into conflict with Batman and when the Dark Knight hears about four mutant turtles running amok in his city, well, he’s not going to stand for that either. One major shell-whooping later and the turtles and the Caped Crusafer are ready to team up and take on the combined forces of Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul as they transform the inmates of Arkham into mutated monsters and plan to tear the whole city apart, because that’s what Ra’s does. It’s a simple, easy narrative, but that leaves room for all the great interactions and moments we as the audience want to see, which is the key to any good crossover. Whether its fights like Batman vs. Shredder or watching Donnie and Batgirl debate whether to refer to the green goop as mutagen or ooze, this film is packed with everything I wanted to see upon hearing the title.

Every character gets a moment to shine and, almost as importantly, a moment to interact with one another. I never knew I needed a scene of Mikey in the Batmobile, but my life is more complete now because I have it (then again, Mikey’s reaction to first seeing the Batmobile is priceless “What do you think something like that costs?” “My soul probably, since I’d pay that.” We all would Mikey, we all would). That’s something else I wanted to bring up with this film, and probably my favourite aspect of it, the dialogue. This is a really witty, funny script and none of the jokes feel forced, every line is just a natural zinger, whether it’s Commissioner Gordon longing for his retirement to literally anything that comes out of Mikey’s mouth. (The line that gets me the most though comes from two unnamed background characters as Mikey bursts into a pizza place and we overhear the conversation “I think we should see other people.” “But I don’t like other people.” I don’t know what it is about that line, but it had me in hysterics. Also I promise I’m going to stop quoting the film now, because I could seriously do that all day there’s so many lines I love). Also credit to a really terrific voice cast, well, except for the voice for Robin, but that’s only because that’s not the voice I’ve ever pictured Robin having. I get what they were going for, it just took a lot of getting used to.

Speaking of getting used to things, let’s talk animation. When I first saw the trailers for this film I was worried about the art style, it’s very reminiscent of The Batman cartoon and I thought it’d take me a while to get used, but surprisingly I adapt fast. I love the use of colour in this film, especially when the characters are just a silhouette with a single highlight colour, but the best of this film from a visual standpoint is the fights. The fight choreography in this film is the best I’ve seen in along while, you feel the weight of every hit and I’ve already mentioned the Batman vs. Shredder fight, which is amazing, both times, but every fight is great.

I could talk about this film all day, but it’s just going to be me gushing more and more and then I’ll start quoting it again so maybe it’s best I leave it here. If you’re a fan of Batman or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you need to see this film. It’s everything I wanted from a crossover, its witty, smart and immensely enjoyable. It has every moment and interaction you could hope for and I completely forgot to mention how much I love the soundtrack. This is not only the best batman film that DC has put out in a while, but one of the best DC Universe films I’ve seen in a long time. Cowabunga dudes!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Anime Corner: Batman Ninja Review

Blog Batman Ninja Review Title

Did…did that castle just turn into a giant robot?

What’s the Story?

After interrupting a get together of some of Gotham’s greatest criminals, and Gorilla Grodd, Batman, as well as his allies and enemies, find themselves whisked away to feudal Japan. Arriving 2 years after everyone else, Batman finds the criminals of Gotham have set themselves up as lords in their respective regions, with the aim of uniting Japan under their rule and changing the whole of history. With his gadgets either becoming useless or destroyed Batman must rely on his mind, his body and his family if he wants to overcome the insane machinations of the Joker and set history back on track.

The Review

Do you ever have those moments were you’re watching a movie or a TV show and you just start to question reality? The end credits roll and the only thing you can bring yourself to say is ‘What did I just watch?’ That’s were this movie has left me, I’m still processing it. One part of my brain, the cold analytic part is going on about how the film is clearly flawed, while my inner ten year old is jumping up and down with glee screaming about how awesome it is. I still haven’t decided whose side I’m on in this argument either (even though admittedly technically I’m on both sides since both are, well, me).

We’ll start at the beginning, if any DC superhero was going to fit into a time travel story set in ancient Japan, it’s going to be Batman. Not only is he one of the most versatile superheroes around, as his myriad of comic adventures and TV shows have demonstrated, the character is open to a wide variety of character portrayals and situations. He can handle anything from a noir crime story, to battling aliens and the supernatural, a little time travel isn’t outside the realms of possibility for his character. I also like the route this film decides to take with Batman, I mean it’s great seeing Batman walking around feudal Japan and taking part in samurai battles and ninja techniques, but he also gets a story arc. What is Batman without all his gadgets? He’s got one for every occasion in that utility belt of his and a plan for every situation, but what happens when you throw him into a situation that not only could he not see coming, but also one where the majority of his gadgets are rendered inadequate. It’s fun to see Batman have to adapt his style and relearn a few things about himself.

Also my props to the Joker in this story, both the animators and both the Japanese and English voice actors really captured the insane clown. I mean Mark Hamill will always be the Joker, but these guys do pretty good and are a blast every time they appear on screen. The rest of the cast, while all of them give great performances they’re not really given all that much to do. It’s one of the flaws of this film, there’s just so much going on in the film that it can’t give the attention some of this stuff deserves. Some moments are perfect, like the first and last confrontations between Batman and the Joker, while others like the village of Bat ninjas and some of Batman’s character arc are rushed over in order to get to the next action scene. I do think this film needed another half hour or maybe to be turned into a TV series just to give it time to explore everything it’s got here, but there are some really good and interesting ideas on display nether the less.

On the animation front, the film looks gorgeous the majority of the time (some of the mouth movements are a little off putting). Now while I still tend to shy away from stuff that is mostly 3D animated outside of Disney and Pixar films, I will admit that I’m a lot more accepting of it than I used to be. Shows like Miraculous Ladybug and Land of the Lustrous have proven how beautiful 3D animation can be. Here, outside of some mouth movements, it does looks really good. I also like the way they texture the characters and the backgrounds so that they look almost painted. There are bits of 2D animation inserted as well, which can be a little jarring when they first pop up, but they’re well animated in their own right so I’ll let those segments slide. The animation is really fast and action-packed and it’s impossible not to get lost in the fun and the adrenaline of it. Also a shout out to the music of this film with is gorgeous, I hope there’s a soundtrack out there somewhere ‘cause I just want to listen to this film on repeat for a few weeks.

I suppose when it comes down to it, there are some truly epic moments in this film that I adore (especially those Batman and Joker fights), but the film isn’t perfect. It has way too many ideas and characters and struggles to squeeze them all into its time slot. Also this film is kind of insane, to demonstrate this allow me to reveal part of the climax of the film. The various villains of Gotham head off for one grand battle to defeat their rivals and take control of all the power cells that control Grodd’s time machine. They do this by mobilising their castles, which can move, and transforming them into giant robots to do battle! Then all the castle robots combine into a super robot and at that point my inner ten year old exploded with glee. It’s insane and the really the kind of thing that could only happen in an anime and that’s why I love it so much. I mean I haven’t even mentioned the part were an army of monkeys and a swarm of bats transform into a giant Batman.

The Verdict

This film, while flawed, is very much a perfect fusion of Batman and anime. It’s creators clearly know and understand the Batman and how to use him, his allies and his enemies in a story, while at the same time being able to blend it with some typical anime weirdness. I do think the film could do with a slightly longer runtime to fully explore all its characters and ideas, but for what it is it’s an incredibly fun ride. If you want to see Batman fight a giant robot then this is the film for you! (and honestly who wouldn’t want to see that?

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Blog Gotham by Gaslight Review Title

Wait, it was him?!

Okay, I’ll admit I’ve been staying away from the DC universe animated movies of late. They seem to have lost something recently, I keep seeing clips and sneak peeks and my interest just isn’t there. There’s either an overabundance of darkness and violence where it isn’t needed (Batman: Bad Blood, I did not need to see a guy’s head explode thank you very much) or they just get terrible reviews (Batman and Harley Quinn). Gotham by Gaslight though, that had my attention and yes I know I just complained about excessive darkness, and this film gets incredibly dark, but if there’s any place that that kind of thing feels appropriate it’s a story about Batman taking on Jack the Ripper. Batman can fit into almost any setting, but a Victorian one feels more appropriate than most. It adds to his gothic appeal, those smog covered streets, that architecture against a moonlit night, I don’t know why this sort of thing doesn’t turn up more.

Now, this movie is based on a comic, which I have never read. So speaking to this film’s adaptation is kind of out of the window (I will get round to the comic eventually it’s on a very, very long list of comics, books, films and TV shows that I must own at some point). However, this film gives me pretty much everything I’d ask for from the concept. A host of characters reimagined in this new period? Check. Steampunk gadgets for our caped crusader? Check. Rooftop chases, contests of strength and intelligence as well as some detective work (i.e. the stuff Batman is really good at)? Check. Mystery and drama as our hero hunts through the back alleys of Gotham all leading to an epic final confrontation? Check. Could there have been more characters and namedrops, more gadgets and such? Sure, but I think they would have probably cluttered up the film too much if you tried to cram absolutely everything in. This is a pretty simple film with a simple story, it’s really an introduction to a world similar to the one we’re all familiar with, but not entirely (I’ll come back to this).

Characterwise Batman is Batman, obviously. Bruce Greenwood puts in a really good performance as a dark knight who’s just starting out. He’s guarded and clinically minded, but still makes mistakes and has a ways to go in the brawling department, which I appreciate. I like a Batman that hasn’t evolved into the Bat-God yet. Also the film makes use of his detective and observation skills, which I always appreciate. The other characters all feel like themselves too, even if on the outside they’re wildly different. Such as the street urchins that are Dick, Jason and Tim (the robins to those that don’t know) and the two-faced Harvey who shows his ugly side without the need of getting half his face burnt off among others. Though if I can take a moment, and please excuse the language, but…you bastards! Not only do you give my Ivy precious little screen time, but you let the Butcher have her! How dare you! I’ll…(Sound effect: being restrained and sedated.)

I’m back. Sorry, I…I…have a thing. I’m better now. Anyway, my favourite character has to be Selina. She’s smart, intelligent and won’t take any nonsense off of anyone; you feel the chemistry between her and Batman. She’s his equal and that’s the way Catwoman should be.

I suppose that brings me to Jack himself and while I’ll try not to spoil it I do want to talk about it. So, if you want to go in completely blank about the Ripper, skip this paragraph. So, Jack, I can see the reveal upsetting a fair few people. Like I said before I’ve never read the comic, so I don’t know if it was the same there, but damn you’ve got some balls. It takes one of the fundamental pillars of the Batman mythos, a character that should be unshakable, and twisted them into a completely new direction. It’s just…It’s…I don’t have the words. My jaw hit the floor when they did the reveal. “You can’t do that!” I cried and yet it made perfect sense. It fit this version of the character and that’s the thing. These are not the characters we all know and love, they may be similar, so very similar, but this is not the canon DC Universe. This is a different world and here there are no rules. There are no characters that are untouchable and I admire this film so much for taking something I thought to be fundamental and smashing my expectations into pieces with it. If the rest of this film was as daring as this reveal I think we’d have a classic on our hands.

On the animation front I like the style they’ve gone for. It’s clean and simple and allows the focus to be on the action and the performances. I also really like the designs of all the characters, simple, but effective. The action is great with lots of fast motion and heavy blows, I especially like the fight between Batman and Jack on the blimp. Though this film isn’t entirely action, it also does a good job of building tension, giving a real feel for this gas lit world.

When it comes down to it Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a short and sweet story, giving us a glimpse of a world very similar to the one we know, but not quite. It’s driven by good performances, good writing and good animation, and while I don’t think it’s going to change anybody’s world, I’m glad I saw it. I’d love to spend more time in this world with these characters. I’m hopeful for the DC Universe movies again and, strangely, that’s the note the film leaves on too. Despite the horror that came before, there is hope for the future, a chance to build something better.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Cartoon Corner: Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker Review

Blog Return of the Joker Review Title

“It’s not Batman that makes you worthwhile, it’s the other way around. Never tell yourself anything different.”

So we’re ending my month of animated Batman shows with Batman Beyond, the show that never should have worked but somehow, amazingly, it did. I mean the whole Batman but in the future is such a marketing executive idea, and I do remember a lot of similar type shows knocking around in my childhood. Spider-Man Unlimited, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, Phantom 2040 and probably a bunch of others, yet for me its Batman Beyond that has stood the test of time (it’s certainly the one I go back to watch most of all).

Where Batman Beyond got it right is with the characters and its world. Instead of just taking two popular concepts, Batman and the Future, and mashing them together and leaving it at that, the show’s creators took the time to really think about their world and the people in it. In this future Bruce Wayne gave up the cape and cowl of Batman many years prior, after his failing health forced him to turn a gun on a criminal in order to survive. Unable to live with that act Bruce became a recluse, shutting himself away in his mansion and never seeing anyone. In his absence Gotham, now known as Neo Gotham went down hill, well, further down hill. Wayne Enterprises was bought out by a shady businessman and gangs of kids in clown costumes roam the streets. Then one night a young and rebellious punk named Terry McGinnis stole the Batsuit (proving he’s either the dumbest kid alive or has balls of steel, possibly both) in order to bring his father’s murderer to justice.

Bruce took Terry under his wing and together they brought hope back to the streets of Gotham, taking on many colourful rogues and a couple of old favourites as well. What made this series for me was that this wasn’t just Batman, it did it’s own thing. Terry had his own rogues and they were all interesting and unique in their way, plus the fact that Terry was a much different Batman to Bruce. Not only was he younger and therefore a bit cocky and chatty, but he’s much more of an acrobat that Bruce was. This is the film that puts a cap on the Batman Beyond series and it’s a very good testament to that, especially in the final confrontation with the Joker, but we’ll come to that. On to the Movie!

We start off with a bunch of jokers, sorry, Jokers, breaking into a hi-tech facility. I don’t know whether it’s a cynical commentary on disaffected youth or the creators were just thinking of the worst possible scenario, but having not just a couple, but a whole army of people dressing up as and worshiping someone as sick as the joker is just wrong. Not saying it wouldn’t happen, it’s just wrong. Today’s collection of clowns includes a man in a pink leotard, a muscle bound bozo, a hyena, someone who’s clearly confused Scarecrow for the Joker and the twins, Dee Dee and…um, Dee Dee (because it is Bruce Timm’s personal mission that a whole generation will have a clown fetish). Anyway Batman shows up and knocks the guys around, though stops at hitting the girls. So they hit him, after tasering him. Despite getting kicked around by the girl’s ballerina act, Batman does manage to stop the Jokers stealing the machine they’re after, even if he has to blow the thing up to do it. The Jokers get away though.

Terry checks in with Bruce, who is making preparations to take over Wayne Enterprises, even if that has put a few executive noses out of joint, including the slimy guy with the pointed chin and voiced by Mark Hamill (hmmm, I’ll just put that to one side for the moment). Terry goes out to party with his girlfriend, Dana, but is too exhausted from his late-night job to do anything other than snore at her. Meanwhile the Jokers check in with their boss THE Joker. Yep, he’s back and as twisted as every, killing one of the Jokers when he starts mouthing off. They need a replacement machine and decide to pay Mr. Wayne a visit to get one.

The Jokers attack Bruce at a Wayne Enterprises party, Joker himself making his grand entrance and not being all that impressed with Terry, or Bat-fake as he calls him. The Joker gets away and Terry wonders how exactly the Joker can still be around and look so young, I mean there’s plenty of options, cloning, robots, narrative convenience. Bruce just says the Joker died and not a word more, leading Terry to suspect that Bruce actually killed the Joker all those years ago. Bruce doesn’t want Terry going up against the Joker and asks him to hand in the Batman costume. Terry reveals in a touching scene that the Batman costume makes him feel worthwhile, he wasn’t always a good kid and hasn’t always been on the right side of the law, Batman is his way of atoning for that. Of course Bruce has spent years perfecting his crotchety old man act and simply says Terry is another kid who doesn’t know what he wants, eyeing the cases of costumes for his previous teenage apprentices. It’s a good scene and shows the depth of emotion and character in these people.

The Joker continues his assault, getting his gang to attack Terry at a night club, injuring Dana in the process, while the Big J himself attacks Bruce in the Batcave and yes, the Joker knows Bruce was Batman. While Bruce recovers from the attack, Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, fills in Terry on how the Joker died. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is where the film gets dark, possibly the darkest any batman animated film has ever gotten, chilling is the only word for it. Our flashback begins with the Joker and Harley Quinn kidnapping Robin, a very young Tim Drake. They have him for three weeks and they break him mentally and physically until he’s a little Joker Jr. The Joker takes a child and tortures them until they break. Jesus guys. Who wrote that? We’re getting you some help immediately. Naturally this sends Batman into a rage and there’s never been a more intimidating sight than this mountain of muscle in a bat costume laying into the Joker until there’s actual blood! When it comes down to it though, Batman just can’t kill. Joker uses that moment of hesitation to stab Batman and throws a gun to Robin, telling him to shoot Batman. Robin points the gun and fires, right into the Joker’s chest. Despite being dead the Joker gets the last laugh as the Batman family is broken, Tim having to spend a year in theory and, well, Bruce and Barbara both have their membership in the bitter old person club now.

Terry goes after suspects, trying to work out who the Joker is, which leads him to that slimy executive from earlier. Aha! He’s voiced by Mark Hamill, who also voices the Joker, I knew it was him! It’s not him, as evidenced by the jokers trying to kill him and the giant laser falling out of the sky. Good red herring there. The Joker’s plan is obvious now, the machines he’s been stealing allow him to hack into defence satellites and fire off their lasers all he wants (and this is why we shouldn’t equip satellites with weapons of mass destruction). So begins the final confrontation between Batman and Joker and boy is it a joy to behold, full of witty lines, great action and some much deserved comeuppance. SPOILERS! Turns out that while Tim was the Joker’s hostage the killer clown experimented on him, implanting his DNA and thoughts inside Tim and over the years he’s slowly been taking over Tim’s body. Now we come to the differences between Bruce and Terry. Whereas Bruce tells Batman to block out the Jokers taunts and just power through him, Terry, as I mentioned is the cocky and chatty type, so he taunts right back. Turns out the Joker can dish it out, but can’t take it, getting riled up enough to drop his guard, allowing Terry to apply a joy buzzer to the genetically encoded microchip holding all the Joker’s DNA, riding Tim of the clown forever.

We end with Bruce telling Terry that it’s not Batman that makes him worthwhile, it’s the other way around. Batman Beyond had a lot to prove when it started out, it could very well have been the only bad show in the whole of the DC animated universe, but it took it’s concept and made the best of it. It built a rich and interesting world as well as a host of interesting and likable characters. It’s no surprise that the series is still fondly thought of, with a couple of appearances in the Justice League cartoon and currently its own ongoing series in the comics. It’s a very worthy successor to the mantle of the Bat.

Thanks for letting me indulge myself for this month and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I’ve enjoyed revisiting some of my favourites. Definitely give these episodes  and this film a checkout if you’ve never seen them, or just a rewatch if you have. See ya in 2018!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday Saturday.  

Cartoon Corner: Beware the Batman: Nexus Review

Blog Nexus Review Title

“How do you know all this?” “I’m Batman.”

Okay, we’re on to Beware the Batman and that means I have to talk about the insanity of Cartoon Network. I really don’t know what to say about this, for a condensed and very brief version of what happened, DC basically had a deal with Cartoon Network. For an hour each day they would show exclusive DC cartoons. For some reason Cartoon Network didn’t want this and did everything in their power to sabotage it, whether that was not advertising new episode releases, putting shows on hold or just straight up canceling them. Many really good shows were caught in this crossfire and Beware the Batman was one of the later causalitie, the show being pulled from the air episodes before the start of the midseason finale (which was awesome) and then the rest of the episodes only being shown on either DVD or Toonami. I don’t understand it at all, to sink to a marketing executive’s level Batman is one of the most marketable characters around and they cut the show before even the first toys were out! The only thing I think is that Cartoon Network didn’t want a darker, more mature cartoon on their stations, which just makes me hang my head in despair.

Anyway, enough of the depressing antics of major networks, let’s get to the show. Batman shows are often reactions to what came before them. BTAS (Batman the animated series) took elements and themes from the Tim Burton movies, toned them down and incorporated its own stuff. The Batman tried to zig where BTAS zagged in attempt to get out of that show’s shadow (not that it worked). Batman the Brave and the Bold was a lighter take on the character, managing to achieve what The Batman couldn’t in differentiating itself. Beware the Batman however, takes its cues from Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. There’s the league of Assassins and ninjas all over the first half and don’t tell me that scene towards the end of the series with a certain agent of chaos preying on the fractured mind of a former district attorney wasn’t inspired by something similar in the Dark Knight. That’s not to say Beware the Batman doesn’t put its own twist on things, it’s a twenty-six episode series and that gives it plenty of time to flesh out the world and throw in new ideas, which it does very well. Where this series shines is in the writing of its characters and the plot progression, when you get to the midseries and series finales all the episodes fell like they come together into their own little mini-movies, which are tense and exciting.

That’s not to say the series doesn’t have its problems. For one this is the first full length CGI Batman cartoon and…it takes some getting used to. The actual textures and the lighting are good and the action is fluid and fast, but I’m not that keen on the actual character models. Everyone looks too thin and long-limbed and Batman’s lips are always distracting for me. The other problem is that Gotham is strangely empty, I mean I can’t blame the people for high-tailing it out of the city, but if my recollection is correct it takes a while for us to see a passer by and then only one or two at a time. No cars either. This does improve over time, but its weird during the first few episodes. Actually that’s true a lot of this show, it improves over time, the first arc is bogged down by a slow start, introducing new villains and laying all the plot threads for later. Once you get through that stuff and the show finds its feet around the halfway mark, that’s where we hit the good stuff.

That brings us to today’s episode, Nexus, picking up a few months after the midseason finale where Batman, Alfred and Katana took down the League of Assassins, only for Alfred to leave at the end to fix some of his past mistakes, leaving Bruce alone, or at least that’s how he sees it. Speaking of Alfred I do like the more bulky soldier that this show portrayed him as, he’s still the faithful butler and father figure to Bruce, brimming with dry wit, but he can handle himself in a fight and has a fair few secrets of his own.

Our episode begins with Harvey Dent having leveraged his way into being District Attorney thanks to the business with the League of Assassins and now he has his sights set on Batman, something the mayor isn’t too happy about. Though she’s less happy when someone tries to blow up her office. The bomb is actually similar to Batman’s own batarang, which Harvey uses to angle for the caped crusader’s arrest. The newly appointed Commissioner Gordon puts on the batsignal and is prepared to question Batman, but Harvey is more in the mood for rushing the roof with armed officers and trying to strong arm the Batman. This does not go well…for the police officers. The pacing of this episode moves really fast and there’s lots of brilliant snappy dialogue between all of the characters. It’s something this series does really well, it gets the characters and knows their voices very well, and having some great voice talent helps as well.

Batman and Katana get away and Batman puts a plan into action to flush out whoever is trying to frame him. He does this by kidnapping Dent in full view of CCTV. I’m sure Katana isn’t the only one to question his sanity at this point. Beware for the Bat-dick to be full effect in this series, he doesn’t play well with others, doesn’t like to be questioned and sometimes can appear to be more concerned with solving a puzzle than helping people. This series is very upfront in its portrayal of Batman as a broken man, struggling to find his way, obsessive to the point of madness, though he’s not the only one. Harvey is determined for Batman to be the bad guy, no matter what other evidence is put in front of him, though to be fair he was just kidnapped.

The real villain is revealed to be that chaotic madman…Anarky. What? Expecting a certain clown? Not here I’m afraid, well, not in so many colours. The creators of Beware the Batman were determined to not just do the same old villains that every other Batman show does. Instead they scrape around the bottom of the barrel and pull up some lesser known names from Batman’s rogue’s gallery. I do applaud the sentiment, but not the execution. For all the talk of doing different stories, a lot of the time the stories feel like familiar gimmicks in a new coat of paint. Magpie is Catwoman, just a lot crazier. Humpty Dumpy is Toyman but with a more tragic back-story. Anarky, well he’s the Joker, but not as colourful and in all honesty just feels like a cheaper knockoff version of the Clown Prince of Crime. It’s why I prefer the more series plot focussed episodes because they feel like they’re doing things a bit different rather than the usual gimmicky run around of the villains of the week. Not that their aren’t some good standalone episodes, both Magpie and Humpty Dumpy get some good showings. Anarky…not so much.

Here Anarky is out to show Batman that he’s an outlaw like him and with those plans up in smoke Anarky starts a new plan. They have a brief fight, during which he slaps bomb bracelets on himself, Katana, Batman and even Harvey. Batman’s is paired with Harvey’s and Katana’s is paired with Anarchy’s, if they get too far apart…boom. Anarky wants Batman to turn himself over to the police, so he takes Dent to a park and what’s this? Actual traffic in Gotham? Where have all these people come from? Meanwhile Katana and Anarky chat and honestly I’m just waiting for her to start punching him, which eventually she does. She gets on her bike and forces Anarky to chase after her.

Batman arrives at the park, trying to work out the code to get off the bracelets and another thing I really like about this show. It really pushes the detective angle of the Dark Knight, though it does tie into Batman’s obsessive-compulsive nature in this show. He takes note of everything, every word and has a vast library of knowledge in his head. He uses this to pick up on the clues Anarky dropped and knowing how the maniac thinks, he works out the code. He also knows that Anarky has planted a bomb in the park and this is a trap. Before police arrive and Harvey shouts at them to start shooting before Batman can do anything about the bomb. Katana leads Anarky to the park and the final confrontation begins, Batman and Katana managing to get all of the bracelets on to Anarky, who promptly blows himself up.

With Batman exonerated, Commissioner Gordon lets him go, but due to the explosion the Mayor green lights the special taskforce Harvey is after to care of the “masks and cape crisis”. As the Mayor puts it, she either gives him enough rope to hang himself now, or he uses this to become Mayor himself and that would be worse. Also Anarky survived. We end with Katana phoning Alfred, she’s worried about Batman. He’s becoming reckless, losing himself in his anger and his darkness and the sight of Batman trashing the targets in his training room are only the start of the Dark Knight’s descent.

What I like about Beware the Batman is two-fold, okay three-fold ‘cause there’s also the great dialogue. The other reasons are one, the way it threads its plots through the episodes. It knows how to build an ongoing arc and when it comes to pulling all the threads together and making an exciting conclusion, it pulls it off effortlessly. Second, is that it is unafraid to portray Batman as a broken man with all his flaws shoved up to the camera screen for all to see. Batman’s character evolves and progresses across the series and it’s a really cathartic moment at the end when he admits that he’s not alone anymore. It’s a shame we’ll never get season 2 and that the whole Batman and the Outsiders plot. All we can do is appreciate what we have.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Next week, we have our final review and we’re looking into the future. Get ready to go Beyond.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Cartoon Corner: Batman the Brave and the Bold: Deep Cover for Batman!/Game Over for Owlman! Review

Blog Deep Cover Game Over Review Title

“Wormholes! So that’s how he does it!”

Batman has a long, long, long history, I mean he has been going for more than 75 years now and while many people see him as the dark brooding hero (myself included), that doesn’t make it the only interpretation of the character. Batman has gone from a guy that fought thugs and crime bosses, to taking on colourful maniacs, to hoping dimensions and teaming up with super powered beings to battle cosmic threats. He’s done a lot and more than anything, what always allows the character to fit into so many situations is one condition, you keep to his core and the core of Batman is that he is on a one man crusade against crime, he is stoic and stalwart in his mission to bring criminals to justice. Whether he’s mad, or depressed, or angry, or vengeance personified, the one-man army, the grumpy teacher, the lost child, the man with a plan for every occasion or a complete and total…well, dick. These are all window dressings, parts you can add or remove as the story requires, but as long as his core is there, he’s Batman.

That’s where Batman the Brave and the Bold comes in. This series is a love letter to the Silver Age of the character’s history, otherwise known as the goofy period. Whether it’s Batman running around in a rainbow coloured costume or fighting 5th dimensional imps, there is some very silly stuff going on in this period and I love it! Well, you can’t be a comic book fan and not appreciate the wacky side where reality gets stretched so thin you can see right through it. It’s gloriously fun. Having said that, I never paid much attention to this series when it was first airing. I was in my late teens and thinking more about college and university than cartoons (it was a stupid period in my life when I believed cartoons were just for kids. I was an idiot back then). I came into this series much later, having heard stuff about an apparently fantastic musical episode (Mayhem of the Music Meister, definitely worth checking out) and I stayed for several episodes. Enough gabbing though, we’ve got two episodes to get through!

We start off in a darkened warehouse were a mysterious figure in a red helmet is testing out a phase oscillator, a machine that can open portals to other dimensions. The Red Hood is soon cornered by four shadowy figures and I have to say a brilliantly orchestrated fight breaks out. The choreography is fluid despite the bulking figures of the character models and you feel every hit as the villains lay into the Red Hood. I also appreciate the use of shadows and black to contrast with the brighter colours this show often uses. Overall, it’s very impressive and a good sign of things to come. In the end the Red Hood gets away, but the villains get the phase oscillator, stepping out of the shadows to reveal themselves as Batman, Green Arrow, Blue Beetle and Red Tornado! Or not, see we’re in the old parallel dimension where the heroes are villains and the villains are heroes. In this case we have Owlman, Blue Bowman, Scarlet Scarab and Silver Cyclone and now they have everything they need to invade our world! Cue titles.

After an awesome opening sequence we cut to the Batcave, where Batman returns to find an unexpected guest, Owlman! Another awesome fight sequence follows and seriously I love the fights in this show, they’re energetic, hard-hitting and always make the best use of what they’ve got, in this case two expert fighters going toe to toe, though in the end Batman manages to outsmart his evil doppelganger. Batman needs to figure out what’s going on and although he soon discovers the purpose of the oscillator, he has no idea what Owlman was up so, so takes the only course he can. He disguises himself as Owlman and travels to this alternate world.

He manages to persuade the villains that it’s not a good idea to invade his world, but that just means they’re going to blow it up instead. Batman plays the part as best he can, but it is rather chilling to see heroes we all know and love gleefully terrorising people and talking about the hero’s hearts they’ve got locked up in their closets. Batman comes across the Red Hood and together they begin to work together to free the heroes of his world, but of course the villains work out that Owlman is actually Batman, thus leading to a scene that shows off the cleverness of this show despite the goofy elements. Red Hood is being interrogated by the Silver Cyclone, but manages to drop hints to Batman on what directions to take to get to him. It’s a cleverly worded scene, but the point I appreciate most is that Silver Cyclone quickly cottons on to what Red Hood is doing. None of these people are idiots and that’s what makes this fight exciting! Batman makes it to Red Hood and they free the heroes, meaning now its one big awesomingly animated brawl. Of course the heroes win and Batman bids and fond farewell to the Red Hood. Overall a really fun episode with some great action and clever dialogue, but wait a minute…Batman returns to his world only to find that now he’s Gotham’s most wanted!

Our second episode begins with Batman having to run away from the cops and quickly figuring out that he’s been away for three weeks. Plenty of time for Owlman to break out of the Batcave and begin a reign of terror in Gotham disguised as Batman. Also I really like the fact that Owlman is wearing Batman’s original costume from the comics, complete with purple gloves! Owlman wants the oscillator so he can go home and Batman would kind of like his reputation back. Of course the evil doppelganger isn’t the only problem Batman has to contend with, all of Batman’s fellow heroes are convinced he’s gone evil and are out to get him. Unfortunately they don’t believe the whole “It wasn’t me, it was my evil twin from another universe!” bit. Batman is saved though, by the Joker. Oh boy.

To be fair this is my favourite part of this two parter, the banter between Joker and Batman is spot on and really funny. Joker offers a team up, since it’s technically Batman vs. Batman, both of them are as good as the other and so they’ll need a wild card to provide a tiebreaker, hence the Clown Prince of Chaos. Batman doesn’t like the idea, but since the Joker is the only one who actually believes him, he doesn’t have much of a choice. While Batman and Joker are off to the Batcave (also I love the Joker’s reaction to the fact he has his own wing in Batman’s villain memorabilia collection.), Owlman has stolen every one of Batman’s failsafe plans. The plans he makes to take down all his friends and allies in case they go evil, even in this lighter universe Batman is still a paranoid control freak. Owlman kidnaps the heroes chasing Batman and offers a trade, the heroes’ lives for the oscillator, but Batman doesn’t make deals with criminals (he says with Joker in the seat next to him).

Batman and Joker head to confront Owlman, who not only has gathered an army of supervillains, he’s also got all the heroes in elaborate death traps! The fiend! (Sorry, talking like that is kind of infectious with this show). Batman and Joker put up a good fight, but when Owlman offers up the chance to off the Batman once and for, the mad clown just can’t pass it up. Fortunately Batman escapes thanks to the oscillator and while he was hopping dimensions decided to do a little recruiting. Say hello to an army of Batmen! Again, awesome fight scene with the Batmen freeing the heroes and taking out the villains. Justice prevails! (I’ll stop now).

This is a really fun series as these two episodes show, it’s crammed full of crazy ideas, excellent action and clever writing. Despite appearances it’s really very smart and despite the ludicrousness of situations it’s never treated like a joke. The threats and the villains are serious; there is peril here and actual stakes to the battles that keeps this from every slipping into parody. Despite the wackiness of events, Batman remains the stoic badass we all know and love and that’s the true strength of this series. It can take some of the goofiest elements of the Silver Age and apply them in a modern and clever way, never losing sight of the core of the characters. If you skipped this series for whatever reason, maybe go back and give it a chance.

Newt week you’d better Beware. Tune in, same Bat-time! Same Bat-site!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Cartoon Corner: The Batman: The Breakout Review

Blog The Breakout Review Title

“The Batman was the only roadblock to my freedom.” “What are we then?” “Speed bumps.”

Sorry this post is a bit late, life stuff.

Anyway, The Batman. I do feel sorry for this series, don’t get me wrong there are series that got a worse end of the stick than this one (I’m sorry Beware the Batman, we’ll get to you I promise). This series though had the unfortunate challenge of following Batman the animated series and from my gushing last week you can probably guess how tall an order that was. Not only did this series have to fight its way out of the shadow of a titan, but it was also hamstrung by needing to be more kid-friendly and the bane of all good cartoons, the need to sell toys! Yeah, this series never really had a chance.

Don’t get me wrong, the series had its moments, the clayface episodes had a pretty good character arc for Ethan and I actually think ‘The Laughing Bat’ is the best episode of the series with some really good lines and the Joker manages to be genuinely sinister a couple of times. I also like the fact that Batgirl got introduced before Robin because to me that makes more sense. There’s no way Batman would let a kid take part in his crusade on crime, I mean I get that he wants Dick to not feel so helpless and angry about the death of his parents, but there’s no way he’d take the risk willingly. If there were say a teenage sidekick before Robin though, one who was, let’s say, independent of the Batman. One who would be out fighting crime whether Batman allowed it or not, then maybe as Batman came to appreciate said sidekick and see that she could handle herself just fine under the right guidance, then maybe, just maybe, he could be persuaded that the Robin thing might work. That’s my mental head canon anyway.

That’s also exactly where Season Four of The Batman has us. Batgirl has been around for a season already and slowly won the trust of our dear Dark Knight and with the beginning of this season Robin makes his debut. The is also the season where I think The Batman finally finds its groove. Its no longer concerned about zigging where Batman the animated series (BTAS) zagged and doesn’t feel as hampered by the toy commercials (also there’s less of the villains with sudden kung fu, seriously the show had the penguin performing martial arts, that’s just sad).

Our episode begins at the end, well sort of. See Black Mask (lesser known villain, don’t worry about back story the show never bothers with one, just know he’s a guy in a creepy mask) has threatened to set off a sonic bomb unless the city pays up and, well, times almost up. Until the Batman arrives! He quickly takes down Black Mask and Batgirl and Robin take out the henchmen. The bomb is still out there though so while Batman goes to track it down, Batgirl and Robin are put on guard duty to keep an eye on Black Mask. They both grumble about this and learn one of the first rules of being a sidekick, there’s no credit for taking out the goons. To get their own back they make fun of Batman while running along the rooftops, following the police vans.

It’s one of the things that works really well with The Batman in seasons 4 and 5, the snappy banter between Batgirl and Robin. It’s something BTAS missed out on, with robin being made college age and the very limited appearances of Batgirl and then when Batgirl did become a regular member of the cast Robin had moved on to being Nightwing. Here we get to see them play off of one another and sure, they’ve been de-aged into kids and act more like a big sister and little brother, but it works for this series, though sometimes the lines can get a little too corny.

While the prepubescent duo are off practising their comedy skits, Batman has found the last known location of the sonic bomb, as well as Black Mask’s army of trained soldiers! It does make me wish that we got more the Black Mask in this show. He’s actually a competent and scary villain despite the fact that we know so little of the man beneath the mask, in fact that probably makes him a little scarier. Most of the villains in this show were there for their gimmick and nothing more, so much so that sometimes they even stole each other’s gimmicks for an episode (looking at you Joker). Outside of the likes of Clayface none of the villains really got much back story or development, not until the later seasons and even then it was only on occasion. Black Mask though, he’s cold and imposing and he has a private army to carry out his plans! When this dude threatens to blow up half of Gotham, you believe he’ll do it. Heck, the guy shoots his number one henchman because a couple of kids got in his way.

Anyway Batman is captured and that means Number One and the rest of Black Mask’s army are free to storm the police station and retrieve their boss. With all of the police officers gassed into unconsciousness, it’s up to Batgirl and Robin to save the day, and they actually do pretty well. It turns into a siege with Batgirl and Robin fighting to block off every attempt the henchman make to get inside, showing off some impressive acrobatics in the fights and some quick thinking. I also like the fact that we get to see the deeper friendship between Batgirl and Robin. When she sees that Robin is actually scared of the army their about to face down, she does her best to cheer him up and even takes a moment to admit that she herself is scared. It’s sweet, pity the henchmen then bust in and ruin the moment.

Meanwhile Batman escapes in a very Batman like manner, using voice recognition to get his utility belt, which has been removed, the shock the henchmen left to guard him. Again it’s another sign of this show finally coming together as the Batman finally starts acting like Batman. In the earlier seasons the ‘kid-friendly’ aspects of this show tried to make Batman more hip and happening in the way middle-aged advertising executives think is cool. It also led to the infamous Batman eating nachos thing that sent the Internet into meltdown a while back. Happily that sort of think is dropped in later season and we get the more brooding Dark Knight we all know and love.

With Batman free it’s a race to the climax, with Batgirl and Robin having a pretty awesome mid-air battle with Black Mask as he tries to escape on a helicopter and set of the sonic bomb. Of course Batman has already deactivated the bomb by the time Black Mask hits the button and Batgirl and Robin get to bring in the big bad. Now the only question left is who’s going to wash the Batmobile.

All in all The Batman isn’t a bad series. It doesn’t have the pathos or the drama of BTAS and there are many, many times when it’s hampered by the more ‘kid-friendly’ aspects forced on it and the need to sell toys, but there are moments when it gets to shine. It can do imposing and smart villains like Black Mask, or more tragic ones like Clayface. It has things that BTAS never managed, such as us getting more of a glimpse at a Batgirl and Robin dynamic that was fun and cute and even a much better interpretation of Hugo Strange. It can also sometimes get the characters and the emotions spot on, such as the scene I mentioned before with Batgirl cheering up Robin. It’s not the greatest, sometimes it’s not even good, but if you’re wanting to check it out, either go for the Clayface episodes, ‘The Laughing Bat’ or just start at season 4 and watch from there.

Tune in next week and be prepared to face the Hammers of Justice! Are you Brave and Bold enough?

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday (usually).  

 

Cartoon Corner: Batman the animated series: Feat of Clay part 1 + 2 Review

Blog Feat of Clay Review Title

“You know what I’d have given for a death scene like this?”

Okay it’s December again and that means I get to indulge myself with a theme for the whole month! Be afraid, be very afraid…actually don’t. This month in order to celebrate the fact that the I can finally buy all four seasons of Batman the animated series over here in the UK (Yes, before I could only every get copies of season 1 and 2 without buying an import from overseas and yes I have silently fumed about this for most of my time on this earth, but it’s here now. I’m happy. Hee hee.)

Anyway, getting off topic. For the month of December I’m going to be reviewing episodes from across the Dark Knight’s various animated outings, starting here with BTAS (Batman the animated series) and then moving on to the likes of The Batman and Batman Beyond among other series. Now I am doing these reviews a little differently to how I normally do things, instead of looking at a series as a whole I’m going to review individual episodes (or possibly two parters like today). I’m going to pick an episode that I feel sums up the series as a whole, that brings me to today’s feature, Feat of Clay from season 1 of BTAS.

Now I’ve got to admit there are so many episodes of BTAS that I adore, this show is ingrained in my childhood and myself (so expect lots of gushing). Not only was this show my introduction to Batman, but it introduced me to superheroes, art deco, heck, I list Bruce Timm as one of the major influences on my own art style. This show is a part of me and there are countless episodes that show the maturity of theme and subject, the clever writing, that mouth-watering animation and voice talent that is nothing less than iconic, but when it comes down to it, these two episodes are the ones for me. You want a quintessential Batman story? Let’s get started.

We start with a mysterious meeting in the dead of the Gotham night, Bruce Wayne having called Lucius Fox to a disused building for a private pow wow. Turns out that Lucius has uncovered evidence that local businessman Roland Daggett is up to no good, but what’s this? Bruce Wayne wants to destroy the evidence and has brought some armed goons to ‘fire’ Mr. Fox! Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun, though really Mr. Fox, you went somewhere at night in Gotham, you should have been expecting this. I guess he’s just lucky he didn’t come across any kill clowns on his way. Anyway, one of the goons tries to shoot Lucius and misses every time and yet can shoot a sign off of the wires it’s hanging from? I might suggest the guy is just messing with Lucius, but I suspect it’s more the censors messing with the show. This is a kids show and therefore nobody knows how to use a gun, unless its against something inanimate or has no chance of doing any harm.

Anyway, Batman hears the gunshots. Hey wait a minute here! You know, I don’t think that guy trying to kill Lucius is actually Bruce Wayne. Well Batman drops in and takes out the goons and what I like about the fight is that while it shows Batman is a competent fighter, he’s not the man-god he’s sometimes written as. Sure he can take out the goons easily enough, but he’s not untouchable.

Set up over we go to a film studio, where a film’s leading man is having a diva fit. It looks like the usual stuff at first, screaming and shouting at the underlings, throwing things around, stuff you’d expect. Until the guy turns around and reveals he has a face that would make Deadpool shudder. This is Matt Hagen, and another thing this show does oh so well. It humanises its villain, oh you still get monsters, the likes of Roland Daggett, Rupert Thorne and the Joker (notice none of these guys have powers and only one is a flamboyant villain), but when it comes to the guys that in a lesser show would come of as colourful characters and nothing, the show instead asks why? What drives these people? What led them down their dark path and made them think villainy was the way to get what they want? It’s something I’m immensely grateful to the show for, when I’m writing my own stories I often work out why a character does what they do, no matter how minor they are and I think that adds a level of depth to any character.

In the case of Matt, he was once a famous actor, the man of a million faces, but then he had a horrible accident that left him disfigured. Then Roland Daggett came along and offered him an experimental face cream and will let him mould his face like putty, giving him his looks back, but at a cost. Not only does the stuff leave Matt in constant pain, but it doesn’t last forever and Matt is forced to do dirty jobs for Roland if he wants his next fix. You can’t help but feel sorry for Matt, it’s a tragic story and he’s clearly a victim of his vanity and his addiction, but at the same time he’s not the nicest guy. His temper and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get what he wants shows just how easily he’ll fall and boy will he fall. Matt decides he’s had enough of Daggett’s handouts and instead is going to break in and take as much of the face cream as he can. Daggett’s goons aren’t stupid though and even though he pretends to be Bruce Wayne, they know its Matt. Also while the censors won’t let them shoot anybody, they’re perfectly fine with having a guy held down while untested chemicals are poured down his throat (great job Mr.Censor!)

Batman meanwhile gets to do some detective work, something that sometimes gets forgotten about with all the crazy villains and wonderful toys. He slowly gathers evidence, first identifying one of the goons who attacked Lucius and then interrogating people until he finds  out about Matt Hagan’s name and his links to Daggett. Also, while I won’t spoil them here, I do love Batman’s interrogating of the two goons, they’re brilliant scenes, whether it’s how over the top Batman goes with Bell to the sheer terror he induces in Germs with nothing more than a beaker and his fist. They both need watching.

Human adversaries taken care of, it’s now time for our headline act, Clayface! See the chemicals Matt overdosed on had a rather unusual affect on him, some might even say downright comic booky! Now Matt’s whole body has soaked in the properties of Daggett’s face cream and he can shape his body into anything he likes, even clothes! He can’t keep it up though, it’s like tensing a muscle and eventually his concentration breaks and he reverts back to his now monstrous form. His acting career gone Matt settles on the one thing he has left, revenge! He makes a show of Daggett live on TV, showing the whole world exactly what Daggett’s new face cream can do and honestly it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Also the animation on Clayface is amazing, the way he morphs between shapes it so fluid and yet solid at the same time. Combined with the sound design you really get the sense that he’s there. Just watching him you can feel the gooey texture of his body and weight of every hit he throws. Back to the story though Batman shows up to save the day, but doesn’t really have anything in his utility belt for living clay (yet), but he does have a plan and that brings me to the last thing this episode highlights about the Dark Knight, his compassion. Despite the tragedy he’s suffered and the darkness he often finds himself mired in, despite even the crankiness that will set in in later years, Batman does what he does because he wants to help people. Here he tries to make Clayface remember his better nature by showing him all of his most famous roles. Unfortunately Clayface hasn’t quite got a handle on his powers yet and starts shape shifting between all the different characters he’s played until he smashes his hands into the TV screens to make it stop and electrocutes himself. Clayface dies. Or does he?

Turns out electricity has no effect on Clayface and his death may have just been another scene. Matt was a famous actor for more than his looks. The final scene of this two-parter is one of my favourites in the whole series and has stuck with me for years. We see Matt’s co-worker lamenting the death of his friend and walking away. He passes an ordinary young woman who starts laughing hysterically, her eyes turning yellow and her laugh slowing turning into Clayface’s. Eep. Seriously, that scene scared the stuffing out of me as a kid and I still admire it as a brilliant piece of directing, voice acting and animation.

For me, if you’re looking to write a Batman story, this is where you come to see the very essence of a Batman story. Human monsters and monstrous humans. Batman as both a detective and a compassionate hero, relying on his quick wits and quicker fists to get him out of trouble while always having a back-up plan. That’s what Batman the animated series is to me, it’s quintessential Batman, it is the blueprint by which I judge all other Batman stories and while it wasn’t always perfect, when it got it right it so got it right.

See you next week for a more… ‘child-friendly’ look at the Batman. Oh boy.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.