Today I'm joining my lovely wife, Tiny Doom, and the other ladies of The Ladies of Comicazi in their Bat-Month blog series. Bat-Month involves each lady choosing her favorite episode of Batman: The Animated Series (including The Adventures of Batman and Robin) and talking about why it was chosen. I was excited by the idea and decided to join in, unofficially, and do a review of my favorite episode. As you can imagine, this is no small feat because there are so many incredible episodes of the award wining and genre changing show.
I know this series holds a special place in my heart, I have always been an animation fan and the years just before Batman: TAS began I often complained about the poor animation quality and the poor story telling of the garbage that was on TV. I honestly thought that American animation was truly was in it's death throws (although looking at what was on in 1993, I can see that Batman was one of the shows that premiered on the precipice of change). Then along came Batman, with a retro design, fresh concepts that paid homage to story lines from the comics, writing that strove to tell a good story instead of trying to sell toys and voice acting that was actual acting by talented people. To this day, my wife and I still refer to Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil as "The One True Batman" and "The One True Joker". The series made folks take notice and once you watched an episode, you were sucked in.
I remember when the show was on originally, my father would watch it with me when he got home from work, once they altered the time to slightly earlier he admitted that he was disappointed to be missing the show! I didn't even realize he had enjoyed watching it, I had just assumed that he was watching it because it was on when he sat down.
Such is the power of Batman: The Animated Series.
Beware all whom enter, for here there be spoilers:
So the episode I have chosen as my favorite is an unusual episode, it doesn't take place in Gotham, it barely features Batman and it takes place in 1883. The episode is "Showdown", first aired September 12, 1995. The fall after I had graduated high school, *gulp* 18 years ago.
I'm in the mood for spaghetti just lookin' at those bat-wing doors.
I don't want to get TOO involved in describing the episode, but I'll give a good overview, skip this if you want to remain totally spoiler-free.
The episode starts with Batman and Robin chasing after Ra's al Ghul, who has shown up in Gotham and appears to be kidnapping someone from a retirement home. Ra's has left the Detective a cassette, which Batman and Robin listen to while they try to catch up to the fleeing al Ghul.
The story told is the brunt of the episode, it's 1883, Ra's and Arkady Duvall are working on a plan to create a Jules Vernian air ship, The Phoenix, which he plans to use to destroy the railroads and then move onto Washington and take over America.
In the mean time, Jonah Hex is on the train of Duvall, who has a bounty on his head for beating up some local women. He's assisted by a local "barmaid" who explains that some of "her girls" were beaten by Duvall and she wants to see him pay.
Hex tracks down Duvall and al Ghul and puts an end to The Phoenix, has the titular showdown with Duvall, who he ultimately defeats and captures alive. Ra's gets away as the airship is crashing, leaving Duvall to his fate.
We then join Batman and Robin just as the story is finishing and they catch up to Ra's with the old man that was kidnapped. Robin realizes that the old man is actually a 100+ year old Duvall. Ra's explains to a bewildered Robin that Duvall had been exposed to a Lazarus Pit in his youth, but that a long prison sentence had destroyed his mind, to the extent that another bath in a Lazarus Pit would do no good. Duvall is actually Ra's son, a son that al Ghul knew early on was too mean and unstable to take over for Ra's, but that Ra's had lost track of until recently.
The episode ends with Ra's asking Batman to back off and let to Ra's take his boy home. Batman knows they will meet again eventually and he respectfully does as Ra's al Ghul asks.
This description does not do the episode justice, it's fun, it's exciting and you really can't blame Batman for letting Ra's leave at the end. He just wants to spend what time he can with his lost son, something that, with a deftly animated squint of the eyes shows that Batman understand that desire and is maybe a bit jealous.
I had never heard of Jonah Hex before this and immediately sought out more info on him. Luckily there had recently been a Vertigo miniseries, Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo, that had wrapped up so I had something to jump into! Hex is still one of my favorite DC characters, I just wish I loved his new adventures as much as I enjoyed his original adventures...but that's another post.
I still think it was brave to make a Batman episode that Batman was barely in, but I'm also not surprised because The Animated Series was known for taking chances. That's why is won 4 Emmy's in it's few seasons.
Some interesting bits of trivia:
- This was the first appearance of Jonah Hex in any kind of film.
- Malcolm McDowell voiced Arkady Duvall and would go on to voice Metallo in Superman: TAS
- Elizabeth Montgomery voiced the barmaid and this was her last performance before dying of cancer.
- David Warner once again voiced Ra's al Ghul, and it was the first time he and McDowell had worked together since the fun (if a bit over long) movie "Time After Time".