IGN was wrong; a critique of their KotoR II: TSL opinion piece

OK, so a part of me isn't sure I should even do this at all. I don't usually make a point of responding to in detail (if at all), most things I find on the internet, for which I am likely better off. But this particular opinion piece by IGN on Knights of the Old Republic II:

https://www.ign.com/articles/2018/05/14/why-knights-of-the-old-republic-2-tells-my-favourite-star-wars-story

...stood out to me. And unfortunately, it did so largely because it really annoyed me with what was, as far as I'm concerned, a very dubious interpretation of numerous elements of the game, plus a few obnoxious shots at Darth Vader/Anakin and Darth Tyranus/Dooku thrown in for good measure. Now, KotoR II is a great SW game, and it does have a good story. But I think that this piece likes and praises said story for, essentially, all the wrong reasons. It makes several claims about the game, and Star Wars lore as a whole, that are unfair and misleading at best, and completely wrong at worst. And so in the name of trying to push back against that, I decided to offer up a rebuttal. That in mind, I will not be responding to everything, as there are some parts that I either agree with or are things that really don't warrant or necessitate a response for whatever reason. Instead, I'm going to be honing in on how the writer really misses the mark when it comes to analyzing the characters in the game (and Star Wars in general), and also in how he attributes a moral grayness to the game that, honestly, really isn't as present as he and so many other fans of this game believe.

So first off, let's start with talking about the characters, and in how his assessment of them is, for such a professed fan of the game, wildly incorrect:

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This is the title of one of the main chunks of the article, and it's something the author cites as a reason for his loving it. He begins by bringing up the Jedi Exile, giving an interpretation that is, frankly, kind of an oversimplification:

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OK, this, to me at least, is a contradiction; there is nothing "gray" about being a war criminal. War criminals are people we generally look at unfavorably, and for good reason. So if the character is a "war criminal", how is that "gray" and not just straight up evil? And not only that, but this assessment is a little misleading, making it seem like the Exile did what she did out of sheer callousness or malice. It completely skips over the very important fact that it was done as a desperate act to end a war that had already killed a large number of people throughout the Galaxy, and involved an enemy with a fanatical aversion to surrender who had made it clear at that point that they would not stop until they had been utterly defeated. Now, was the Exile's activation of the Mass Shadow Generator a very violent and destructive decision? Yes, and it did kill many on both sides, as the article says. But acting as though this was the act of a heartless war criminal, is kind of disingenuous. It completely ignores the fact that that Exile had a very sympathetic motive for doing it, and that it was not a cut-and-dry war crime so much as an extreme, desperate decision in the middle of a devastating battle designed to end a war, and in so doing save the Republic. Considering how much the article sympathizes with the villain Kreia (more on that later), I find it rather disappointing that the article refuses to extend the same sympathy and understanding to the Exile, even though her motives were no less sympathetic than Kreia's.

Besides that, if the Exile were actually nothing more than a simple war criminal as this description suggests, then that would be less morally gray then what she actually was; a woman whose good intentions and desperation led her to do something terrible for what she honestly believed at the time was the greater good.

So this is an example of something that is misleading. But it's the next part that goes beyond being merely misleading into straight up unfair and disingenuous interpretation:

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Alright, I'm going to be honest, this was one of two parts in the article that really annoyed me. While it's assessment of Hanharr, HK, GO-TO, Atton, and Canderous is pretty correct, the underlined parts are (again), wrong. It disregards a massive amount of context and additional facts, and in so doing really fails to give many of the characters the credit they deserve.

First off, yes, Bao-Dur designed the Mass Shadow Generator, but to simply say that and nothing more completely overlooks the fact that he not only feels incredibly guilty about doing it, but since that time has been doing everything he can to make up for it. This includes aiding in the Restoration Efforts of Telos, an action that I would hardly constitute as "gray" and would very much consider altruistic despite the article considering only Mical and T3-M4 to be so. Added to that, he is, to be frank, just as much of a Pro-Republic, Anti-Mandalorian boy scout as Carth from the first game; he consistently approves of Light Side decisions (even showing mercy to the helpless Mandalorian Kumus), consistently disapproves of Dark Side decisions, and again, is completely Pro-Republic and committed to helping restore Telos to it's former glory. To classify all of that as "not truly altruistic" seems, to me at least, kind of ridiculous. Simply put, I don't consider Bao-Dur to be "gray", and certainly not any moreso than Mical or T3-M4.

The article's assessment of Visas, Brianna, and Mira is similarly misleading and disregarding important bits of context; for Mira, being a Mandalorian does not automatically make you bad or even gray, and honestly, there isn't much to indicate that Mira has ever embraced the Mandalorian way despite being briefly accepted by them as one of them. In fact, (and the article utterly fails to mention this), Mira has a strong aversion to killing people. She is quite possibly one of the very few non-Jedi Star Wars heroes who rigidly tries to avoid killing before joining the Exile, and expresses unhappiness over how much more killing she's done since joining the Exile. She has even repeatedly refused to kill Hanharr despite both everything he's done, and his constantly trying to kill her, which to me feels more like a Superhero and their arch-enemy then a character whose in "shades of gray". And like Bao-Dur, she also consistently approves of Light Side decisions and dislikes Dark Side ones. To simply say "she's a Mandalorian bounty hunter" and leave it at that overlooks all of this. Mira is not Boba Fett or Jango Fett; she's a woman who was enslaved by the Mandalorians, only briefly accepted by them as one of their own, and ultimately is a woman who, in many ways, goes in the completely opposite direction of a Mandalorian as a woman with a strong aversion to killing. Again, I don't see how this could be construed as "gray" or "not truly altruistic".

Likewise, merely calling Visas Marr the "Sith Apprentice of Darth Nihilus" and nothing more also disregards context. Visas is really more Nihilus' slave then genuine apprentice, being forced to serve him against her will and suffering regular abuse from him. Upon being defeated by the Exile she joins them immediately so as to escape from her enslavement, and does not exhibit the kind of cruelty, sadism, or power and bloodlust of a Sith Apprentice, unless being influenced by a Dark Side player character. But for the most part, Visas is incredibly mellow, shy, and un-confrontational. Simply put, this is not Darth Maul or Darth Vader we're talking about. One could still call her gray maybe, but not because she's a bad person or regularly does bad. Rather, Visas is "gray" because she lacks a strong moral identity in either direction, only getting one by spending prolonged time with the Jedi Exile. This is reflected when she revisits her old room on The Ravager near the end of the game and either embraces the Dark Side for real, or rejects it and embraces the Light Side. But prior to this, Visas was just going whichever way the wind blew, especially when it led her away from her abusive master who she really had no genuine loyalty to. This is clearly not the same thing as what the article insinuates by simply mentioning that she's a Sith Apprentice and nothing more, as if to suggest she's gray because she's a violent, unstable, psycho anti-hero. This is not the case.

And finally, there's Brianna, and once again, the overly simplistic assessment of her in the article completely disregards context:

1) Brianna's belief that violence and combat are a way of expressing one's self is not without limits; Brianna believes in fair and honorable combat, and abhors gratuitous cruelty or slaughter of the defenseless. For instance, if the player does things like kill the aforementioned Kumus or side with Azkul and his mercenaries in front of her, she expresses shock, horror, and disgust, and rightly so. Conversely, if you spare Kumus, she is impressed that you would show mercy to a member of your war-time enemies. She also praises you for, among other things, giving a Starport visa to a widow and her children on Onderon so they can get off the planet. So believe in violence and combat as a form of expression she may, but she's not a bloodthirsty psychopath in "shades of gray".

2) Continuing from the above, like Bao-Dur and Mira, Brianna consistently approves of Light Side decisions, and disapproves of Dark Side decisions. In fact, Brianna makes a point of lecturing you regularly if you behave in any way that is not 100%, perfect model Jedi as Brianna understands it. In essence, exactly what Bastila Shan did to the player in the first game. Now, this can be annoying, but it's not really the same as being "gray", and it's certainly not some kind of violence-loving psychopath who only values combat and nothing else.

So to summarize, this part of the article was almost completely wrong. Bao-Dur, Mira, and especially Brianna, are not "morally gray" or in "shades of gray", they're among the more solidly good/noble/Light Side characters in the game, and this is further reflected by how when they first join the party, their alignment screens have them all on or inching towards, the Light Side. They are no less altruistic, benevolent, or Pro-Republic/Jedi then Mical and T3-M4 are, so citing the latter two as the "only truly altruistic" party members is ridiculous.

Again, how a man who professes to love KotoR II's story so much could so utterly misrepresent so many of it's characters (in an unflattering way no less), is kind of hard to fathom, and yet here we are. But then, this is what I meant when I said that the article praises the game for the wrong reasons, claiming that the entire cast is in shades of gray when, in reality, they mostly aren't. After all, I could argue that Hanharr, HK-47, and GO-TO aren't actually gray; they're solidly bad. I would say that the only truly gray members of your party are Kreia, Atton, Mandalore, and Visas, and that last one is not for the reason the article says. So in fact, the party is not all in shades of gray; some are altruistic, noble, and Light Side-aligned, others are the opposite, and some are in the middle.

So, now that I'm almost 2,000 words into this, I figure it's time to actually address my problems with how the article praises the story. Like many who have praised KotoR II's story, the author is attracted to the apparent moral grayness of the tale relative to most other Star Wars materials. Except...well, that supposed "grayness" isn't as present as one might think.

To be honest, I might just tell you all to read this:

https://www.reddit.com/r/kotor/comments/9a48qw/kotor_ii_is_not_about_moral_ambiguity/

...and be done with it, as that piece rebuffs the idea that KotoR II is supposed to be about moral ambiguity much better than I could ever hope to pull off. But all the same, I'll attempt to do a bit of it myself. I apologize in advance if it sounds like I'm merely echoing what that above piece says, but it really is right about a lot of things regarding KotoR II (much more so than the IGN article is).

To start, let's look at how the author highlights Nar Shadda as an example of the game's "hopelessness" or "grayness":

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There are two major problems with this. The first, is in how it doesn't acknowledge that, on the same planet, you also get the chance to convince a criminal who kidnapped a child to let her go...or sell her into slavery. Now, how anyone could try and paint this is a gray choice or a "lose-lose situation" is beyond me. In my experience, people always point to the above example in the text of a man who asks for money as "proof" that Kreia is right or that the game is depressingly gray, but this is cherrypicking; it completely ignores how, on the same planet, you are presented with an extremely black and white moral choice; save an innocent child, or sell her into slavery. How anyone could paint that as gray (and the game doesn't try to I might add), is beyond me. Yes, life as a poor refugee on Nar Shadda sucks, but as anyone who has studied American slavery alone will tell you, being a slave sucks much, much more than being poor. Granted, slavery on Nal Hutta isn't exactly the same, but I'd imagine it's still a miserable existence.

Likewise, the game consistently presents binary choices over and over that reward either Light Side or Dark Side points. So the claim that the game is "gray", or that it's "lose lose situations" is silly; there are only two ways to deal with the situations on Peragus, Telos, Dantooine, and Onderon. And to highlight just the Dantooine example, I am hard-pressed to see what is "gray" about helping an obviously evil and sadistic mercenary and ex-Sith Trooper massacre the defenseless inhabitants of Khoonda who are also Republic-aligned. If you abet this, you get Dark Side points, and rightly so. Especially when (again), the game doesn't even pretend that it's gray; your only voiced motives for helping Azkul are 1) Greed, 2) A desire to kill a Jedi Master, and 3) Just because you felt like it. None of those are remotely sympathetic reasons for helping Azkul, and appropriately, the game doesn't even pretend that they are. Some of your so-called "shades of gray" and "not truly altruistic" party members will rightly admonish you for siding with Azkul against innocent people.

Then there's the Jedi Masters. What motive does the Dark Exile have for killing them beyond a petty desire for revenge and power-lust, and to gratify their utter selfishness? Near as I can tell, none. So once again, this is not a gray decision, and indeed the game doesn't even pretend that it is. You get DS points for every Jedi Master you murder, after all. Plus extra points for going out of your way to sadistically taunt Master Vrook before killing him. Where is the grayness here?

Ultimately, the morality in KotoR II is little different from the morality in KotoR I, or for that matter in the rest of the franchise. As with the rest of the lore, Light Side choices may have lots of short term struggling and difficulty, but eventual long-term benefits for the greatest number of people, while Dark Side choices lead to instant gratification and short-term gains for the individual, but devastating consequences for the masses both immediately and in the long term. KotoR II does not subvert this, much as Kreia (and her fanboys), do their damndest to convince you that it does.

But there is another way in which the above piece of text doesn't think things through, and that is something that the Reddit article I provided a link for also notes: that Kreia is always, always, always the one who colors things with a gray paint brush. She is always the one who questions your motives behind your actions and tries to frame things as a hopeless, lose-lose scenario. She approves of more carefully planned actions and greater shrewdness, but cares not for the morality of the acts; only the planning, thought, and motives. Kreia exists to challenge the player's motives but this doesn't actually mean that the conflicts you're presented with are all that gray. Again, I don't think too many people would argue with a straight face that there is any reason to do things like sell children into slavery or help mercenaries slaughter innocents beyond selfish greed or petty sadism. Whereas there is a very compelling reason to fight against such behavior, and that is to promote and safeguard life and liberty (which, incidentally, is what the Jedi have always been sworn to do).

Now, to go back to the beggar example, Kreia attempts to make you doubt every move you make, but again, this is her function. She exists to provide that challenge to keep one on one's toes, but that doesn't make her nihilistic perspective correct. Again, the game rewards you if you stay true to your decisions, and it's clear that the purpose of the game, is not to promote "grayness" or an arbitrary middle, but to encourage you to make choices and not flounder in the middle. But it also urges you to make them for the right reasons. So, for example, the Exile is encouraged to do the right thing not because the Jedi way or Jedi dogma tells her it's right, but because she recognizes on her own that it's right and wants to do what is right. This is the true meaning of KotoR II. And to prove it, I would point out that there is no true way to be wholly gray or "neutral" in the game beyond jumping wildly and erratically between Light Side and Dark Side decisions, or closing off important sections of the game. Now, you can be a mostly evil character who sometimes shows compassion, or a mostly good character who sometimes does the wrong thing, but the game doesn't actually reward you for this, and in any event, you're still aligned with the Dark Side or the Light Side. Maybe not 100%, but still ultimately one or the other. The game will judge you for your moral choices, and this is because the boundaries of morality (which in the game and greater SW lore is represented by the Force), need to be there in order for life and society to function, and that is more important than the freedom of having your actions judged, which is the carrot Kreia dangles in front of your nose.

And of course, that brings me nicely to the next point, which is addressing the article's obsession with, and absolute worship, of Kreia. Or didn't you hear?:

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Now, that sort of thing is mostly a matter of personal taste, but one thing I think I do want to address and push back against, is how the article not only likes Kreia, but really seems to take her side:

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OK, first off, Midi-Chlorians are not a "view of the Force", because they're not actually the Force:

https://comicvine.gamespot.com/profile/silver2467/blog/force-misconceptions-midi-chlorians/120267/

That annoying misconception out of the way, this here is yet another example of liking the game for the wrong reasons. Because despite what the article insists, Kreia is not actually right. Her whole perspective is based on something factually not true, that the Force is a fully sapient deity, and a malevolent one at that. For a counter-argument (one that, unlike the IGN article, relies on cited sources and objective evidence), I direct you to something from our own community:

https://comicvine.gamespot.com/profile/silver2467/blog/force-misconceptions-deification-of-the-force/118096/#comments-block-1734859

Besides that, there is also something else to consider; the Exile herself. The Exile is the only person who has achieved what Kreia desires to bring to the entire Galaxy...and it was horrible for her. It is made very clear that the Exile found life totally cut off from the Force agonizing, depressing, empty, and unendurable. So, if Kreia had her way, everyone who survived the death of the Force would likely end up like the Exile. Added to that, is two other things that really make her point of view questionable:

1) The Galaxy has, in no way, benefitted from the loss of the Jedi. Not even a little bit. That the player gets Light Side points by, essentially, stepping into the role of a Jedi and doing as the Jedi have always done, should pretty definitively prove this all on it's own. Well, without the Force, there would be no Jedi, and thus no order of relentlessly altruistic mystic warriors to protect people, which leads nicely to point number 2...

2) ...that the game also shows a massive number of characters who haven't a jot of Force power in them, yet still manage to be horrible to everyone around them. Azkul and his mercenaries, the Exchange, Czerka Corporation, the HK-50 Assassin droids, the myriad criminals, thugs, and psychopaths you run into, etc. None of them need any Force power whatever to treat their fellows horribly. In fact, most of the places you go to in the Galaxy are not teeming with Dark Siders. Telos, Nar Shadda, Dantooine, and Onderon prior to the big war are, in essence, almost examples of what Kreia wants; worlds without people who can harness the Force or use it. And yet, have any of these places benefitted? Are any of these worlds truly better off for not having protection from the Jedi? It doesn't seem like it, and again, when you behave in the role of a traditional Jedi, people tend to be very grateful, and you accordingly get Light Side points. None of these worlds need the heartlessness of the Sith to be miserable, but it does really seem that they could all stand to have the Jedi around to save them.

So between it all, however sympathetic Kreia's perspective might be (and it is, given everything she's been through), it is not in the end a right one, and at this point it frankly annoys me to see people treat it like it's correct without actually taking the time to consider it. That Kreia was badly burned by both the Jedi and the Sith makes her cynicism understandable, but that by itself doesn't justify her. Not only is her interpretation of the Force factually wrong (no matter how much the IGN article enjoys said interpretation), but even if one agrees or sympathizes with Kreia's hatred of the Force, it's clear that life can't exist in any state worth admiring without it. The Exile is proof of that (as are the Yuuzhan Vong, characters who exist outside of the Force and are, at least initially, incredibly destructive, genocidal, religious fanatic monsters. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for getting rid of the Force).

One last thing I think I'd like to address also, is how the article, to be frank, goes out of it's way to compare other Star Wars villains unfavorably to Kreia. Now, what do characters like Count Dooku or Anakin have to do with KotoR II? Well, frankly nothing, but since the article decided to needlessly throw stones at great villains, I thought it only right to rebuff that:

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Let's start with that last one. Now, admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of Snoke, but calling him "largely pointless" is, to me at least, not really fair; Snoke isn't a very interesting character, but he does serve a valid role in the story, being the person who corrupted Ben Solo and set him on the path to becoming Kylo Ren, as well as manipulating his interactions with Rey throughout Episode VIII, which culminates in Kylo turning on him and in so doing furthering his own character arc. Moreover, as the Supreme Leader of the First Order, Snoke directs them in their actions. So in other words, pretty much all of the main villains in the Sequel Trilogy trace back to Snoke. Literally the entire conflict in those movies would not exist if not for Snoke's actions. Now, one could accuse him of being more plot device than character, and that wouldn't be an invalid perspective. But to say that he's "largely pointless" disregards his legitimate importance to the narrative. I'm not saying Snoke is a very interesting character, or better than Kreia (he isn't), but I wouldn't use the word "pointless" to describe him. That descriptor better fits Captain Phasma, and even she has a somewhat legitimate role in the story, if only because of her connection to Finn.

As for Dooku and Anakin, this is the other part that really annoyed me. I don't think those criticisms in the above text are fair to the characters, and I especially dislike how it gives a much easier pass to Kylo Ren.

First off, Count Dooku's fall to the Dark Side was not born out of simple power-lust. As detailed at length in among other sources the Revenge of the Sith novelization and "The Conversion of Darth Tyranus" from Jedi Vs. Sith: The Essential Chronology of the Force, Dooku left the Jedi Order behind because, like Kreia, he had become disillusioned, albeit for different reasons. Where Kreia felt betrayed and scapegoated by the Jedi, Dooku had come to believe that the Jedi Order had become nothing more than servants to a corrupt, incompetent, and decadent Republic, and that the Sith were the better alternative. Dooku genuinely believed that the Sith under Palpatine and himself could bring a better, more genuine order and peace to the Galaxy that would be superior to the Republic. And by the way, before people inevitably play the "that's not the movies!" card, even the movie alludes to this somewhat:

Now, much of what Dooku says to Obi-Wan in that scene is intended to deceive him (and the audience), but his disdain for the Republic's corruption is genuine. So to portray Count Dooku as someone motivated only by simple power-lust and nothing more is yet another disingenuous argument by the article that disregards evidence.

In any event, going even a little bit easier on Kylo Ren, or acting as though he has more nuance to him is...well, wrong. Kylo Ren has never on any occasion to my knowledge exhibited the good intentions that Dooku had of improving the Galaxy by replacing an inefficient democracy with a competent empire. As shown by among other things his massacre of the Jakku villagers for no reason other than to be cruel, his childish temper tantrums throughout TFA, and his seeking to rule over the First Order for no real reason beyond thinking he deserves to, there's a pettiness to Kylo Ren that the article accuses Count Dooku of. Likewise, to describe Anakin as "naive, dim-witted, and easily manipulated" doesn't acknowledge that the man who manipulated him spent 13 years working on him. By the time Anakin was hanging on Palpatine's every word, they had known each-other for over ten years and Palpatine had long ingratiated himself to Anakin as a father figure. There's also the fact that, at the time, he was desperate to keep his pregnant wife from dying after having already lost his beloved mother, and this is reflected in how when he submits to Palpatine, he's outright begging for his help.

Compare that to how Ben was being corrupted by Snoke by the time he turned on Luke; there is no evidence that Snoke had ever ingratiated himself in Ben's life to the degree that Palpatine had with Anakin. So the fact that Ben trusted a complete stranger more than his own parents and uncle makes him, and there's no real nice way to put this, a terrible judge of character. And yet it is Kylo Ren that the article goes easier on than Anakin and Dooku, both of whom it dismisses rather derisively.

Now look, I hate Hayden Christiansen's terrible acting as much as the next guy, but still, acting as though trusting a stranger more than your parents and uncle, is less dubious then listening to a man who spent over a decade winning your trust, is just silly. Again, there's a pettiness to Kylo Ren that the article accuses both Anakin and Dooku of. Now to be fair, much of Dooku's nuance isn't in the movies, and again, Hayden Christiansen's acting is terrible. But even so, citing Kylo Ren as a more thoughtful and sympathetic villain? Yeah, sorry, I don't buy it. Again, trusting a complete stranger over your own uncle and parents, is not more sympathetic or any less dubious then reluctantly making a devil's pact to save the woman you love with a man who spent 13 years getting your trust. If the latter makes one "naive, dim-witted, and easily manipulated", then why is the former any better? I'd be curious to see what a "difficult to manipulate but can still be tricked" character would look like in the author's mind. We all knew that Anakin would be manipulated by Palpatine into becoming evil, so with that in mind, what would the author have preferred? The acting may have been terrible for that character, but his reason for becoming evil, is really not any worse than Kylo Ren going evil out of a mix of a misunderstanding and trusting the wrong person, or even honestly Kreia's cynicism born out of bad experiences. Kreia's story is a sad one, but no less than Anakin's.

So ultimately, when it's not needlessly taking shots at the movies or Star Wars lore in general, the article can basically be summed up as liking KotoR II primarily because of a perceived grayness, moral ambiguity, and lack of genuine goodness in the characters, the settings, the choices, and the story itself. But as I think I have now shown at length, that really isn't the case; the cast is not universally or overwhelmingly gray or morally bankrupt, the morality choices are still binary and largely black and white, the Galaxy is one that clearly needs the Jedi in direct defiance of Kreia's cynical appraisal of them and the Force at large, and yes, Kreia is actually wrong. Now, none of this means that one shouldn't love KotoR II's story; it has excellent writing, dialogue, character work, and gets some things right that even the first game didn't (mostly in regards to its villains). But its one thing to love a good video game, its another to love it for the wrong reasons. IGN's article, at least in my opinion, does the latter.

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What I want out of Marvel's "What If...?" Cartoon (and what I don't want)

OK, so now that I know that Marvel is doing a What If...? series, I figured I should take the time to say what I would like to see versus what I would not like to see. I should first note that I love What If...? to death and regard it as one of my all-time favorite Marvel comics ever. Yes, there have been many, many, many, MANY terrible What If...? tales over the years, but there have also been many excellent ones, and in any case I can scarcely think of any other comic series besides Exiles that has done more for the Marvel Multiverse than What If...?

With that in mind, what would I, the lifelong What If...? fan, looking for in an animated TV version? What do I NOT want to see? Well, I think in both cases, we can (and should), consult the comic series for ideas, as I think that gives a nice blueprint of both what to do and what to avoid.

Good Idea: Uatu the Watcher

This is a no-brainer. Uatu the Watcher is the main character of What If...?, and while many What If...? tales were able to work without him, I still feel like he is such a pivotal and important character to the series and to the concept, that trying to do a What If...? TV series without him would just not work as well. And, we know that the Watchers exist in the MCU per GotG Vol. 2, and that Disney has bought out Fox (and with it the rights to all FF characters). So there is absolutely no reason to not include Uatu the Watcher. Now, could they do some episodes without his involvement? Certainly. Just as some great What If...? issues did not involve him. But having said that, I do think that the majority of episodes at least, would be much better off featuring him. And it doesn't need to be substantially; just serve as each episode's introduction and ending, as he does in the comics. He doesn't need to hold the audience's hand and explain everything (that wouldn't work), but if he introduces each episode and explains the moment where events are diverging, that can work.

Bad Idea: An excess of depressing, "everybody dies" stories

If What If...? (especially What If...? from about 2006-now), has a major, recurring sin, it's this. While many modern What If...? tales are great (What If Peter Parker became the Punisher, What If? Annihilation Wave, What If Daredevil died saving Elektra?, What If Thor was raised by Frost Giants?, etc.), many other What If...? tales are just lazy, overly depressing, "everybody gets killed horribly because the heroes lost when they weren't meant to" tales. While I do not want the series to condescend to the audience or be the overly-censored affairs many Marvel cartoons are (more on that later), I do not think the show should always go for the most depressing, soul grinding endings or plots possible. I mean, who really wants to see Chris Evan's Captain America or RDJ's Iron Man die horrible, awful deaths over and over?

On second thought, maybe I shouldn't ask that...

Good Idea: Versatility

One of the great things about What If...? is how it had such a robust variety of tales. You never knew what you were going to get in a given story; one issue could have Daredevil going mad after killing Kingpin, while another could be the X-Men duking it out in Asgard, while yet a third story could be someone other than Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk. There's no shortage of possibilities, and at this point the MCU (which the alternate realities in the What If...? cartoon will be divergents of), has no shortage of movies and TV to pull from for ideas. They need not all diverge from just the Avengers movies, for example. Obviously those films offer plenty of ideas for divergent tales, but that shouldn't be the only thing the writers draw from.

Bad Idea: Censorship / Condescension

If What If...?'s cardinal sin is often being too damn depressing for it's own good, the cardinal sin of most Marvel cartoons is that, frankly, they're toothless. Whether it's the painful censorship of the 90s cartoons or the juvenile schlock of Avengers Assemble, Ultimate Spider-Man, and the other cartoons from that universe, a lot of Marvel shows neither take themselves seriously enough nor have the level of intelligence, craftsmanship, and frankly, darkness of a lot of DC's efforts (especially the DCAU). Now again, it doesn't ALWAYS have to be dark (and it shouldn't be), but if the series is written like the god-awful Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble, Agents of SMASH, and Guardians of the Galaxy cartoons, or even the current Spider-Man and Kamala Khan cartoons, I'll be...disappointed, to put it mildly. What If...? doesn't always have to be ultra dark (and in fact is often bad when it is), but this just means there needs to be a balance between excessive grimness and Game of Thrones-esque character slaughter, and the condescending, juvenile, censored bilge of so many previous Marvel cartoons.

Good Idea: Respect some fan ideas

Now I do not mean by this that the writers should make the cartoon into a pandering machine. But having said that, many fans of the MCU have conceived of "What If?" tales already, such as What If Cap and Peggy had stayed together?, What If "x" character died, etc. And I think that looking at what those stories, and seeing what "What If...?" scenarios the fandom seems most attracted to, could really benefit the show. Again, I don't mean to suggest that the cartoon should just do nothing but mindless pandering, but I also don't think it would necessarily be a bad idea to look at the What If...? tales the fans have already come up with, and take advantage.

I know I for one would want to see a "What If Captain America hadn't vanished in WWII?" story. ;)

Bad Idea: Giving characters roles that make no sense for them

OK, so here's the thing about this one; while stories like Rick Jones becoming Hulk, Flash Thompson becoming Spider-Man (one they've done three separate times now), and even Professor X becoming Juggernaut and Punisher becoming Venom, are fun tales that also make logical sense given that the characters are related to the mainstream bearer of the alias in the primary universe. They're the sort of stories that What If...? is meant for. But conversely, things like Logan becoming Wendigo (which, I kid you not, happened in one What If...? story), or something equally nonsensical like Stephen Strange becoming Falcon or Matt Murdock becoming Star-Lord, just doesn't work. While I do find "alias switching" stories to be fun and am admittedly a sucker for them, they don't always work. They have to make some degree of sense. Matt Murdock becoming Star-Lord or, for yet another hypothetical, Nick Fury becoming the Hulk, simply doesn't work.

While this list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive, I do think it's a good start as far as giving some valid ideas of what the upcoming What If...? series should strive for, and what it should avoid like the plague. Now, given that Marvel's track record with cartoons has, with only a handful of exceptions, ranged from overly-censored and mega-corny shlock to juvenile and hyper-caffeinated shlock, I have reason to be skeptical that this new show will succeed. But at the same time, I really do believe that with this What If...? series, Marvel has something potentially very special on it's hands, and I think they should take full advantage. People love the MCU, and I think showing the ways in which the movies and shows we've (mostly) loved could have gone differently would make for a very excellent addition indeed.

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Batman: Gotham by Gaslight Movie Review (SPOILER WARNING!!!)

So, after waiting what felt like an ungodly length of time, I finally got to see the animated Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, and I thought it only right and proper to do a review for it, especially since there don't seem to be that many reviews for it as of now. So without further ado, here it is.

And, it goes without saying, that as much as I try to avoid it in this review, there are some SPOILERS. You have been warned.

First thing's first, it needs to be understood that this movie is really more inspired by the graphic novel of the same name rather than a direct adaptation. The only things the movie has in common with the comic are the Batman costume, the setting, the premise of Jack the Ripper Vs. Batman, and Bruce Wayne being framed and jailed for the Ripper murders. That's it. Everything else is completely different (right down to who Jack the Ripper actually is). But you know what? That's okay. Because I loved it anyway.

First off, one thing the animated film has over the comic is that it feels more like a "full" adaptation of Batman's world in 1889. In the original story, only a handful of characters besides Batman made it over into the comic. Here, numerous characters make the transfer. Albeit, some of them are little more than glorified cameos (such as Cyrus Gold), but their presence is still appreciated, because (again), it feels like more of a true adaptation of Batman's world, not limiting itself to just Bats, Alfred, and Gordon. Selina Kyle in particular is a standout, capturing almost everything I love about the character at her best even with this being a non-costumed version (though she's still quite the classy dresser). Her concern for the prostitutes and other voiceless people of Gotham City feels like it's taken straight out of the Ed Brubaker Catwoman series, and that's definitely a good thing.

Also, she sings!

The art style in the movie bears pretty much no resemblance to Mignola's distinct panels, but that honestly doesn't bother me, because the film looks great and the animation is smooth and pleasing, and overall as well done as we expect things from Bruce Timm and co. to be. The fight scenes in particular are all top notch, being appropriately grisly and brutal and beautifully choreographed. I especially love the greater emphasis on boxing type punches, which is appropriate for the time period and setting.

Voice acting is mostly good. Bruce Greenwood gives arguably his best vocal performance as Batman yet (though I still consider Under the Red Hood to be the best Batman thing he was in overall). He's got the right level of seriousness and menace as Batman, but as Bruce Wayne shows the appropriate level of charm, which really shines through in his interactions with Selina Kyle (voiced to perfection here by Jennifer Carpenter). Alfred's VA proves the latest in a long line of great deadpan British performances, and everyone else is perfectly fine, save that Grey DeLisle as young Jason Todd simply doesn't work because the voice is obviously female, lacking the "deceptive" quality of say, Bart Simpson and Timmy Turner (both of whom were voiced by women but still convincingly sound like young boys, Jason in this film does not).

So in action, voice acting, animation, and just plain having fun with translating all the major Batman characters save Joker, Penguin, and Riddler into a Victorian setting, the movie scores high marks. To be honest, I think that much of what worked about another great DC Animated Original Movie, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, works here. Like in that film, the dark tone, evident fun the writers have with playing around and showing how all the characters are now different in their own ways, and the reveal of who the villain is that in both worked as a legitimate surprise, work in BGbG's favor. Jack the Ripper's identity is one that I definitely did not see coming. From all the evidence I had picked up on, it seemed almost certain that Harvey Dent was the killer. Indeed, towards the climax of the film, as Harvey shows himself to be a duplicitous, misogynistic hypocrite, it seems like the writers are not only showing their hand, but shoving it in your face. And then the reveal comes of who the killer really is, and it turns out the writers had me completely fooled (and likely others too).

If I have any one complaint about the film (aside from a plot-hole late in the story where Bruce escapes prison by disguising himself as a policeman when his face should still be recognizable), it's that it's ending is much too abrupt. I mean seriously, it ends without any confirmation that the framed Bruce Wayne will be exonerated, no follow-up to the fiery death of Jack the Ripper and destruction of the World's Fair along with him, nothing. To me, that's kind of lame, and feels like a real cop-out. But, that one admitted flaw can't keep this film down entirely. Now to re-iterate, this film is almost entirely different from the graphic novel it shares a name and basic premise with. So, if you are hoping for a faithful adaptation, look elsewhere. But if you're willing to enjoy a very good animated Batman film on it's own merits, then I definitely recommend this one. It's not The Lego Batman Movie, Under the Red Hood, or Mask of the Phantasm, but to be honest, I'd say it's the next one down as far as how I'd rank my animated Batman films.

Grade: A-

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Top 5 Villains I want to see in Batman: The Telltale Series

So, Season 2 of Batman: The Telltale Series has been announced, and even better, it's coming sooner than I had thought it would! Now, I am an unapologetic fan of the first season. I actually think it's right up there with the Arkhamverse and Nolanverse as one of the best non-comic Batman depictions ever. That in mind, what villains would I most want to see show up, either in Season 2 or in any possible subsequent seasons? Well, here are my choices. Please note that these choices were made through a combination of who I'd really want to see, and also who I think has a legitimately good chance of appearing (as opposed to say, Deathstroke, who I regard as being unlikely to appear):

Number 5: Mr. Freeze

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One of the many things that Telltale's take on Batman's world did right was in giving us tragic villains; not only was Two-Face the same tragic villain he usually is, but Penguin and Lady Arkham are also not without their own tragic backstories that make their descents into evil more understandable. Well, few Batman villains are as tragic as Mr. Freeze, so he'd be a natural fit for a Batman setting that seems to favor sympathetic and nuanced villains. Not only that, but his ice-gun and his power-set could lead to some cool quick-time events. And given all of the hyper-advanced tech in Season 1, it doesn't strike me as unbelievable to think that they could do Mr. Freeze's cryogenic weaponry easily enough. The trick would be to keep his tragic nature intact without necessarily just rehashing his DCAU origin again without any big differences (remember that though his origins are similar to his comic counterpart's, Telltale Two-Face still had a few things about him unique to that version). Arkham Origin's DLC gave Freeze an origin near-identical to the DCAU and comic versions, but there were still a few subtle differences to make it stand out. Hopefully, if Telltale does Mr. Freeze they can follow that example and do a Freeze who is on the whole the same tragic villain he always is, but with just enough that's different to make him stand out.

Number 4: Deadshot

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While they could easily bring Deadshot in in his usual "someone's paying me to kill you/someone important" capacity, I feel like Telltale has an opportunity to do more with Deadshot; as much as I've enjoyed the majority of his cartoon and video game depictions (the DCAU and Arkhamverse versions especially), the character actually has a very tragic backstory in the comics that to my knowledge no adaptation has ever really touched on (not even other sympathetic portrayals of the character such as the Arkhamverse, Arrowverse, and DCEU versions). It would be nice to see a version of Deadshot that makes reference to how the accidental death of his brother and his abusive upbringing both drove him to the life of a nihilistic assassin. Telltale made Penguin into much more of a tragic villain then he usually is, and they did right by the tragedy of Two-Face. If anyone can do an adaptation of Deadshot that doesn't forget the tragedy of this hitman, I think it's Telltale.

And yes, I'd love to see some quick-time events featuring Batman dodging Deadshot's gunfire before getting in close for some gun-fu/martial arts combat.

Number 3: Bane

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No surprises here. As one of Batman's most popular and challenging enemies, Bane is a natural choice for a villain in pretty much any Batman work, and I'd love to see Telltale try their hand. Once again, Bane already being a tragic villain would play to the Telltale Series' clear preference for sympathetic supervillains, and given that they did a beautiful job choreographing the fights between Batman and Lady Arkham, I'd really love to see them give us a similar visual display in a brutal Batman Vs. Bane throw down.

And yes, I wouldn't mind seeing Telltale do a loose adaptation of the Batman: Knightfall story either, where the player maybe has the opportunity to avoid the infamous back-breaking moment if they play their cards right.

Number 2: Scarecrow

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For all this talk of action and quick-time events, Telltale games are usually much more story and choice-driven than being obsessed with action and set-pieces. So a more cerebral foe that challenges Batman's mind rather than his muscle might be a better choice, or at least as good of one. Well, as we saw in Arkham Asylum in 2009, video games have a lot of potential to go off-kilter with Scarecrow and use his Fear Gas for some truly nightmare-inducing sequences. I'd love to see Telltale try that, and see how they can both evoke those scenes from the 2009 classic, but also do them differently. Now, because the Arkham games did Scarecrow so well, it would be a task to make their version measure up, but I feel like Telltale is up to the challenge. And really, Scarecrow is one of my all-time favorite Batman villains, so I'd love to see him get his due.

Number 1: The Court of Owls

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One of the things about Batman: The Telltale Series' story is that it gave us a sort of "Gotham Conspiracy"; the idea that the Waynes were in fact corrupt, and that Lady Arkham is the legacy of the wronged Arkham family and is out for blood regarding the sins of the past perpetrated by the Waynes, the Mayor, and Falcone. The thing is, the Court of Owls are the ultimate Gotham conspiracy, and so a perfect fit for a series that has already shown they can do well with that kind of story. And really, Thomas Wayne, Hill, and Falcone as their own little trio running Gotham City as their own private kingdom has shades of the Court of Owls and what they've always done in the comics, so it wouldn't be too hard to suggest that those three were themselves part of an even bigger conspiracy.

The Court of Owls would be perfect as arc villains; they've got the resources, they've got the secrecy, they've got the Talons for quick-time fight events, they've got everything the writers would need to have compelling villains for a whole season of Batman: The Telltale Series. And besides that, given that so far the only adaptations of the Court have been their sub-par depictions in both Gotham and Batman Vs. Robin, they could really do to have a non-comic version that does them right. And if anyone can do it, I think it's Telltale Games.

And those are my choices. I hope you agree with them and my given reasons for them.

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Injustice 2 DLC Predictions-Who are the Nine? (UPDATED)

May 11th UPDATE:

Just five more days until Injustice 2 (finally) arrives. By this time the entire base roster for Injustice 2 has been confirmed, plus the first three DLC characters. In what should be a surprise to no one, Red Hood, Starfire, and Sub-Zero were indeed confirmed, and more recently, Jay Garrick, Vixen, and Grid were confirmed as Premiere Skins alongside Mr. Freeze, Reverse Flash, John Stewart, and Power Girl. There are six more DLC characters who have yet to be announced. Now, of those six, two of the silhouettes seem very blatantly Raiden and Black Manta. It seems doubtful to me that these silhouettes are mere trolling (unlike the dummy silhouettes in early looks at Injustice 2's character select roster). No, I think it more likely that these silhouettes are just a bit more credible. That in mind, who could the remaining four possibly be? These are my guesses:

Ambiguous Silhouette 1: Beast Boy

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This silhouette is of a smaller individual. Nothing in the silhouette suggests a female or someone with a cape. Of all the potential "small" male characters they could have gone with, Beast Boy seems the most probable to me. A lot of other people have guessed it may be him, and for good reason. He's also just a good character, and his power-set would make for a very unique (and fun) gameplay experience. It may not be him, but I still feel like this is a respectable prediction.

Ambiguous Silhouette 2: Wildcat or an MK Ninja

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Though the silhouette doesn't have too many distinct details, it's top does seem a little bit like Wildcat's weird-looking mask, and he's also got about the right build too. But there is another possibility: a second MK Ninja. I mean, MKX had four guest characters, so the notion that Injustice 2 could have more than one or two does not strike me as outrageous. And consider, that the silhouette's shape looks a bit like Injustice 2 Sub-Zero, particularly the head, which looks vaguely like a hood of some sort. While Scorpion being a guest fighter for two DC games in a row seems unlikely, there are many other MK Ninjas besides those two. Either Ermac or Reptile could easily end up coming in as a third MK guest fighter after Sub-Zero and Raiden. Personally, my money's on Reptile.

Ambiguous Silhouette 3: Spawn, Azrael, or Lex Luthor

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This silhouette is clearly big and bulky, which could indicate Lex in his Warsuit (and as already noted, I'd be very disappointed if Luthor got cheated out of Injustice 2 and it's gear system). But, many people are speculating Azrael on the account of the head shape, which seems to suggest a hood, and the large gauntlets that could be as much Azrael's as Luthor's. But, there is a third possibility: Spawn. NRS got temporary rights to Spawn (as I've now stressed repeatedly), he's dominated polls along with Sub-Zero, and he is often depicted as fairly buff and with a cape, and all of that could conceivably fit the silhouette. Even the fact that it seems to be someone with a hood doesn't preclude Spawn; it could just indicate a redesign where Spawn's cape now has a hood instead of a high collar. But most likely, it's one of the three. I'd be pretty surprised if it was none of them (and disappointed, frankly).

Ambiguous Silhouette 4: Lady Shiva, Kitana, or Star Sapphire

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I'm not gonna lie; this last one is more wishful thinking than anything else. No, I think either Shiva or Kitana seems the most likely, mainly on the account of how the female silhouette seems to have a sash of some kind, which I don't associate with Star Sapphire, but more "ninja"/martial artist characters in the vein of Shiva and Kitana. In some ways the latter is more likely to me, since Injustice 2 already has a lot of Batman characters, plus a female martial artist in Black Canary. Kitana was in the MK Guest Character poll, so perhaps that ensured that she, like Sub-Zero and Raiden will be in the game. Personally, I wouldn't mind that at all (she is my favorite MK female, plus my main in MKX), so it's not the worst thing.

But honestly, I can't think of any other female character it could be; Doctor Light seems unlikely on the account of lacking either trademark cape or crest, Star-Girl wouldn't fit because of her lacking the star-rod plus her seeming to be more "adult" than Star-Girl is usually depicted as being, and Raven and Zatanna also don't seem likely owing to (respectively), the lack of the hooded cape, and the lack of the top hat (and again, that sash). So, just by process of elimination, I sort of figure that this "sash woman" is probably a female martial artist, and of the ones springing to mind that aren't a Batman Family member, Shiva and Kitana are the only ones I can think of.

Those are my predictions anyway. Tell me what you think (respectfully), in the comments below.

Original Blog Post:

So, at this point, the base roster for Injustice 2 has been laid bare before our feet. Only one character in the 28-person base roster remains to be announced, and I am 90% sure it's going to be Joker (10% sure it might be Red Hood). We know that there will be nine DLC characters for those who get the Ultimate Edition (as I have). But who could these characters be? This is my attempt to guess.

DLC Character 1: Red Hood

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Obviously. This guy has been heavily requested ever since IGAU. Lot of people wanted him in IGAU, he was heavily desired as DLC for that game, and polls Ed Boon and the rest of NRS have conducted basically confirm that he remains highly requested. I just can't imagine NRS ignoring all of that and just not doing him. Albeit, it would be hard to make his moveset feel distinct from Deadshot, but there is always the possibility of making Red Hood a "premiere skin" for Deadshot. But whether as a Premiere Skin or his own character, Red Hood's gotta happen. NRS has to be aware by now just how much the fans want him. And, NRS is generally pretty good about giving fans what they want, so...

DLC Character 2: Starfire

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She won a poll Ed Boon held asking people which of the DC characters in the poll people most wanted in the game. Just from that, it seems likely to me that she will become DLC, either soon or later. Her powerset of flight, superhuman physicality, and starbolts also make her a good fit for a fighting game, so in all, I think this one's a safe bet. Much like with Red Hood, I would be really shocked (and disappointed), if NRS ignored the feedback they were getting.

DLC Character 3: Vixen

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Let's see...somewhat lesser known DC hero, which Injustice 2 is fond of? Check. Cool and unique powers that would translate to a cool and unique moveset in-game? Check. Increased popularity courtesy of the CW? Check. I don't think Vixen's as likely as Red Hood and Starfire, but I do still think that she's got a chance at least. And really, I'd love to see her.

DLC Character 4: Hawkgirl

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As a character who was in Injustice 1's base-roster plus being a natural for a fighting game (which was why she was in the first game to begin with), I could conceivably see Hawkgirl returning for the sequel in DLC form, not unlike how Cyrax and Sektor kind-of-sort-of returned for MKX as "Tri-Borg". Not as likely as Red Hood or Starfire, but I don't think it's a longshot either, and as far as returning characters from the first game go, I think she's more probable than say, Killer Frost or Solomon Grundy.

DLC Character 5: Star Sapphire Carol Ferris

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Another less likely but still possible choice. The thing about Lanterns is that because they can create almost anything they want, you can have multiple Lanterns in a DC fighting game and still have their fighting styles feel distinct. While more than two different Lanterns has yet to be attempted by NRS (or anyone else), that's all the more reason for the already ambitious Injustice 2 to give it a try. And, Carol fits the bill of "lesser known DC character", which is something that NRS clearly prioritized when choosing characters for the roster. So, while perhaps the least likely of all my DLC predictions here, I could still see this one happening.

DLC Character 6: Sinestro or Larfleeze

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More or less the same reasons as Star Sapphire. That, and as a major ally of Superman's in the first game plus a playable character in it, I could see him escaping from the Guardian's prison for DLC purposes. Like Carol, he's less likely to show up again, but fingers crossed.

Alternatively, Larfleeze of the Orange Lantern Corps is also a possibility, with his power of summoning orange constructs of his victims being a cool power that would help him better stand out among the other Lantern characters:

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DLC Character 7: Lex Luthor

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Lex is such a major and iconic DC villain (second only to Joker in this respect), that it would just feel wrong if he was totally absent fron Injustice 2. I am aware that he is dead in the Injustice-verse, but his presence in the sequel could still happen if it was the same as Green Arrow; he's an alternate Luthor having come to the Injustice-verse. Between that, and his being perfect for both a fighting game and the gear system, it just seems only right that Lex should return for the sequel, and DLC seems like a good way to make it happen.

DLC Character 8/Guest Character 1: Spawn

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NRS got temporary rights to the character, and as such a lot of people are already speculating that he'll be in the game as a DLC guest character. It's a sound assumption, especially with the odds of a third MKX DLC Character pack being remote at this point.

DLC Character 9/Guest Character 2: Sub-Zero

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Another one that's already been heavily speculated, and with good reason: Scorpion was a guest fighter in the first game, and Ed Boon has strongly suggested that an MK character will guest-star in Injustice 2. He even had a poll asking people which MK character they wanted, and unsurprisingly, Sub-Zero won it. I think this one is almost guaranteed, and if not him, either Johnny Cage or Raiden.

And those are my predictions. Who do you think is likely to be DLC for Injustice 2?

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The Batman Series in Review-Season 4

Been a while, but now I'm finally doing my review of the fourth (and in my opinion best), season of The Batman.

S401: A Matter of Family

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Coming from someone who did not at all mind Batgirl coming in before Robin and actually really liked the show's take on Batgirl, I think we all knew that we were going to get Robin sooner or later. And man, what an intro episode it is.

Now, it's clear that this episode owes a huge debt to the BtAS two-parter "Robin's Reckoning", as this episode borrows heavily from that two-parter in terms of how it tells the Robin origin story. On the one hand, this may seem like a lazy choice, but on the other hand, those episodes did the origin story so well that I can't really fault the writers for not wanting to mess with a classic (especially considering how, when this show did try to be different, it often got flack for it).

No, I appreciate that this episode is overall pretty faithful to "Robin's Reckoning", at least the flashback parts of those episodes. The story here, being only one episode long, is simpler, but much of the emotional weight remains intact and a lot of what was done right in Robin's Reckoning was done here. Obviously, Robin's Reckoning will always be superior, but this is a perfectly adequate re-telling of the Robin origin that also serves it's purpose within the confines of the show: it introduces this show's version of Robin and does it with the right amount of tact and tragedy. It's also hard to go wrong casting Mark Hamill (well known as The Joker in the DCAU) as here a different Batman villain, one who he makes much more memorably sinister than usual (Tony Zucco not exactly being a household name in Batman's Rogues Gallery). Similarly, having John Grayson be voiced by the great Kevin Conroy is a wonderful touch, as the two veterans again voice Gothamites, but different ones this time around. And though it wouldn't come until later, I also like how Mary Grayson is voiced by Grey DeLisle, Catwoman's future Arkhamverse and IGAU actress.

I also have to give them credit for doing Robin's costume right. Not that it would be hard, as Tim Drake in the comics at the time plus Robin in the Teen Titans cartoon had both set the precedent by then, but even so, I do love his costume here. The "split cape" actually looks kind of nifty, and helps to further contrast it from Batman's cape.

While I find it rather difficult to believe that Batman could ever be endangered by someone like Tony Zucco, I did still like the action here well enough, the big highlight being the fight in the nightclub as an understandably very angry Batman makes it clear he's out for the Zucco's blood. Truth be told, I almost wish the fight had been even more vicious to highlight Batman's righteous anger, but I suppose that even this cartoon could only get away with so much.

In all, while it's inferior to "Robin's Reckoning", this episode is by no means a pale substitue. Rather, it's a well done retelling of that episode's story, and it does a bang-up job of bringing Robin into a cartoon he was arguably overdue to appear in, while also having some nice guest voices from DCAU veterans.

Final Grade: A

S402: Team Penguin

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Sometimes, episodes in a serious show built around comedy fail or are just plain a bad idea. Other times, they work.

This is one such time.

I had mentioned in my assessment of Season 3 that, after "The Icy Depths" none of Penguin's subsequent appearances warranted keeping him alive. Well, when I said that, I had completely forgotten about this episode, and I now rescind my earlier statement, because this is one of (if not the best), of Penguin's appearances throughout the series.

Firstly, the notion of several Batman villains coming together to bring down the Dark Knight is such a perfectly logical move it's a wonder it doesn't happen in either the show or the comics more often. Second, I like how it was mostly less major villains working with Penguin, as it gave such characters another moment to shine. Considering Firefly's next major appearance is the disappointing "Phosphorus" episode in Season 5, this is pretty much the character's last real highlight (I especially love when he suggests the villains call themselves "The Gotham Gangsters", only for Penguin to lay down the law). Killer Croc going from "smarter than you look" to "team brute" may seem a disappointing step backwards, but at the same time, his incredulousness regarding Penguin's wanting them to steal a penguin statue was great, and so was his "you couldn't lead us out of a paper bag!" line. Ragdoll was just nice to see again after his being the villain in the best Catwoman episode in the show, and Killer Moth's transformation into Charaxes led to one of the stronger character redesigns in this show, not to mention some good action. I also love how he remains a total doofus/Penguin's sycophant even after mutating into a giant monster. Makes sense though; it was only his body that got changed, not his mind.

On the hero side, we got the first meeting between Batgirl and Robin. Some predictable bickering and in-fighting ensued, but I actually thought the episode could have been much worse in that regard, and I honestly loved some of their back-and-forth, and how Batman has become basically the "parent figure" to these two bickering kids. The back-and-forth between the two sidekicks will remain a consistent high-point of Season 4, so it's nice that that starts here.

As already noted, the action was good. A team of heroes Vs. a team of villains is an easy recipe for success, and I like how Team Penguin was more formidable than the tensions between members would suggest. As Batman himself notes, they handled themselves well, and we got some cool teamwork moments from them during the battle involving the oil barrels in particular.

As a side-note, I did enjoy the movie Penguin was fond of, and I especially like how all of the Team Penguin VAs voiced one of the thieves in the movie, but that it was ones who's roles were different from their's (Ron Pearlman, for instance, voices the leader of the thieves, not Tom Kenny). Nice touch that also shows better creativity than just going the predictable route of each villain and each corresponding thief having the same VA.

For more good humor moments, I loved Ragdoll's mockery of Killer Moth and Batgirl's brief moment of one-upmanship over Robin being foiled when Batman casually reveals her secret identity to him.

In all, I really enjoyed this episode. I understand that comedy stories and Batman tend not to mix, but every now and then one can pull off something fun and entertaining. This was definitely that, as well as bringing Batman and his two different sidekicks together as one fighting force. In all, the episode was, to quote Penguin's inspiration here: "A blueprint for success".

Final Grade: A

S403: Clayfaces

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Following two home-run episodes, Season 4 takes a slight step back in quality with it's third episode that introduces who is for many Batman fans the Clayface. By no means is this episode bad, but it is also not on the level of most of the other Season 4 episodes. For one, as much as I'm happy that Ethan Bennet finally got his redemption in this episode, it does seem a bit awkward after the episode "Meltdown" which seemed to suggest that Ethan Bennet was gone for good. So not only is this episode almost a retcon in that regard, but the absence of Ellen Yin (who had as strong a bond with Bennet as Bruce), is also perplexing.

All of that out of the way, there was still a lot to like about this episode: like "Team Penguin", this episode is overall more comedic in tone, but it works. Basil Karlo is supposed to be hammy and over-the-top, and this show's conception of him as exactly that is pretty on-point. Truth be told, he's such a spotlight lover here, I don't think it would have been out of the question to have him use shapeshifting to give himself a costume (such as the one worn by the third Clayface in the comics). After all, he lives for the spotlight, why not wear something visually distinct and elaborate to go along with his over-the-top nature? This is, after all, part of why it makes sense for superheroes and villains to wear the costumes in the first place; elaborate and distinct clothes for larger than life people.

But besides nailing Basil Karlo Clayface, the episode also deserves credit for some visually impressive Clayface action, including a fight between the two Clayfaces that this episode would not have been complete without. I also have to admit to loving this, having even recited it multiple times just because I enjoy it so much:

Judy: (In a fancy British accent): Pardon me, sir...you're plan, how does one put it? Stinks on ice.

Punch: (Also in a fancy British accent): I must concur, Jude

Joker: Okay, one: you never, ever talk to me like that, and two: when do you two ever talk at all?

So, like I said, this episode wasn't perfect, and it just doesn't quite reach the highs of nearly all the other Season 4 episodes, but having said that, I still enjoyed this episode. It does make it seem like the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it too where Ethan Bennet's time as a villain was concerned, but even so it was a nice enough episode. It's just a pity that we never see Ethan again after this, he like Ellen Yin sadly vanishing without a trace. More's the pity.

Final Grade: B

S404: The Everywhere Man

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Ah. Back on track.

Funny enough, this episode was written by the guy who did most of the previous Clayface episodes (the great Greg Weisman). As it is, this is a much stronger and more fun episode than the solid-but-not-great "Clayfaces", and returns Season 4 to it's winning streak.

Yes, "The Everywhere Man" has a weird costume, though I must confess to having a certain soft spot for it myself (I like the orange/white color scheme and usually enjoy full-face covering masks). And, it's not as though Marvel's Multiple Man ever really wore much better. And in any case, he's a fun villain with a great premise, especially considering it leads to one of the absolute best fight scenes in the series as Batman, Robin, and a small army of clones of the latter engage the Everywhere Men in a very nicely designed environment that so far as I can tell is some kind of garden. And, Brandon Routh does a good job with the voice, this being a far better turn for him in DC media than the dreadful "Superman Returns" (though also losing out to his later turn as Ray Palmer in the Arrowverse).

The story has a smartly written quality to it, and I feel that this episode more than others does a great job capturing Batman's cerebral/detective nature. Truth be told I almost got a bit of a Sherlock Holmes vibe off of him here, which is a good thing. I especially love how he outsmarts Everywhere Man not once, but twice. Just goes to show that Greg has a solid handle on Batman's character that would serve him well when he later did Young Justice.

I must say I also liked the characterization of the "real" John Marlowe. He's not necessarily a character who would work as a recurring presence, but as a one-off ally he wasn't bad. I kind of like the juxtaposition of "science nerd" and "art lover", as you don't generally see the two go together.

In all, this was a fun episode with a cool one-shot villain. Much like the man he/they are clones of, the Everywhere Man/Men would probably not work as recurring villains, but as a one-off baddie that Batman defeats once and for good, he/they works very well. Almost wish we'd gotten other similar such episodes. Sometimes a cool one-off villain can be a fun change of pace.

Final Grade: A

S405: The Breakout

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Remember how I mentioned that the interactions between Robin and Batgirl where a consistent high-point for Season 4? Well, nowhere is that more true than here, as this episode focuses much more on Batman's proteges than on Batman himself.

Instead of their mostly bickering relationship in "Team Penguin", here Robin and Batgirl work together and trade banter near-effortlessly, and their teamwork gets it's high point in this episode as they do their best to keep back an army of specialized goons from laying siege to the GCPD. There's definitely a "desperate last stand" quality to that, but Batgirl and Robin also show themselves to be capable and resourceful in their own right, holding firm even as they threaten to crack under pressure. Some may roll their eyes at how two kids do so well against a bunch of adults, but Batgirl and Robin are supposed to be competent sidekicks, and this episode does a better job than almost any other at driving that point home.

That, and their banter and chemistry here is excellent. I especially love their getting snacks inside the GCPD (they are teenagers, after all), while simultaneously wondering how a criminal with a mugshot got his eyepatch. Batgirl's finish of "he probably just thinks eyepatches are cool" is hilarious, and on the other end of the spectrum, there's also a nice moment where Batgirl consoles a steadily panicking Robin and reassures him, showing these two are good for more than just kicking butt and cracking wise; when push comes to shove, they know how to get serious. Honestly, I really wish we had seen more such "quiet/serious" moments with these two, as what little we got here suggests the actors were capable of even more if they'd been given the opportunity.

As for Black Mask, he was an acceptable villain. I thought it odd that he of all people would get the role of "kingpin with hi-tech goons and private mercenary force", but I suppose he's not that inappropriate a choice. In any case, his voice actor does a great job giving him the appropriate amount of anger and humorlessness, and I must say I do love how he first congratulates his "Number One" for rescuing him only to then immediately turn on him for "letting children slow him down". Obviously nowhere near as bad as what comic Black Mask is known to do, but such things would never get past even Cartoon Network's relatively lax S&P. He was still a suitably nasty villain who served his purpose for the episode. That, and his henchmen look totally badass, and I especially love the sort of "orange lightsaber clubs/tonfas" they were packing. Cool.

In all, this is one of many gems of Season 4. As someone who loves Batman's proteges as well as Batman himself, this was arguably their finest hour in this entire series. Dick and Babs may not have ever shown any romantic interest in each-other in this series, but their relationship still reaches new depths here that it had previously lacked, and ensures that the two of them are really at their best together instead of just one without the other.

Final Grade: A

S406: Strange New World

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Now this was a fun one. Not that other episodes aren't fun you understand, but this one in particular was a highlight (you may have caught on by now, that Season 4 is filled to the brim with these).

For obvious reasons, this is an especially dark episode, completely the opposite of Team Penguin in tone, but that's actually a good thing. Much as I loved that episode, darkness is still the preferred tone for Batman most of the time, and this episode absolutely delivers in that regard. Zombie apocalypse stories are nothing new, but this one has the hook of it being Batman and Robin (and then just Batman), against a city filled with zombies, becoming increasingly addled, desperate, and almost crazed. The scene where Robin begins to suffer similarly under the stress is a great moment that highlights just how dark and serious this episode is. And of course, even better, there's a nice twist at the end. I won't spoil what that twist is (even though most people by now have probably seen the episode and know exactly what it is), but I will say that for me at least, the twist was one I didn't see coming and worked as a surprise. So that's good.

Yes, the zombie designs are freaky and grotesque...but that's a good thing! They're zombies! They ain't supposed to look pretty. And they certainly don't. The awkward, creepy movements in their fighting style is also nice, because it sets them apart visually from all the other fights in this cartoon. And of course, the "fiery" color palette to the present day parts of the story give Gotham an appropriately hellish/apocalyptic vibe that is just right for the story. And yes, I do love the "Apocalyptic Log" nature of Batman's journal narration. I'm a sucker for that particular trope.

In all, this was yet another home-run for a Season filled with them, as good of a dark episode as "Team Penguin" was a light-hearted romp.

Final Grade: A

S407: Artifacts

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This should have been the series finale.

No, seriously. As an episode where both parts of it take place in the future, and it ends with the note that Batman's legacy will live on even 1,000 years into the future, it's just such a powerful and awesome note to end a Batman series on. Especially when the actual Series Finale was, while not bad, not holding a candle to this episode.

One of the things I love about this episode is in how it not only goes for an appropriately dark and almost apocalyptic tone in how this is Batman and Mr. Freeze's "final fight", but we also get various little things that emphasize how different Gotham is by 2027; Ellen Yin and Ethan Bennet are in the GCPD with the former as Commissioner (a nice nod to a character who should have never been written out of the series). Barbara is Oracle and Richard is Nightwing. Batman has a scar over one eye. It's all these little details that enhance the story. I also think it was smart to keep everything focused on the airport, because it allows the writers to avoid showing too much of Gotham City and thus not having to spend time guessing (probably incorrectly), what a future city would actually look like. Of course, what little we do see makes it seem like not much time at all has passed, but to be fair Gotham is a sort of "frozen in time" city anyway.

And yes, Mr. Freeze's "The Dark Knight Returns" line is pure badass.

As always, the action is good, and Mr. Freeze's "upgraded suit" is pretty awesome. Myself I prefer his standard design, but this "V2" ain't bad either. Seeing Nightwing in action was also fun, even if he sadly didn't do much (though I did like the joke of how both Batman and Oracle still call him "Robin").

The stuff set even farther into the future is also cool. I love seeing a scenario where Batman has become a figure of legend akin almost to classic fairy tales or perhaps King Arthur. It's amusing the different ways these scientists get things wrong (mistaking Bruce Wayne for Robin for instance), but my favorite parts would be their mistaking Oracle's wheelchair for Alfred's (since it leads into the reveal that she is indeed crippled), and the female scientist noting that no one knows or remembers how Batman finally died (a nice way to keep our hero's fate open-ended).

To stress again, this absolutely should have been the series finale. Especially since "The Joining" being the solid season finale that it was plus leading into the theme of Season 5 precludes this episode taking it's place as the Season 4 finale. This is one of my all-time favorite episodes of the show, and definitely the best episode of this season (and that is really saying something).

Final Grade: A

S408: Two of a Kind

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Oh look, yet another episode that's a home-run. But then, when it's the only episode Paul Dini actually wrote, that isn't surprising.

Fittingly, Paul's one writing turn is giving us an alternate take on the fan-favorite character he made for BtAS in what was now over a quarter-century ago (amazing how time flies, huh?). While the "classic" Harley Quinn origin story will always reign supreme, this is a great "alternate take", and I give Paul Dini credit for being able to come up with a different Harley Quinn origin that still pays homage to her cartoon/comic roots as he imagined them. So again, not the best Harley Quinn or Harley Quinn origin story, but a perfectly acceptable alternative.

That, and I must say that Hynden Walch does a pretty good job imitating the voice of Harley's original VA. She's not Arleen Sorkin, but she still sells the role.

That, and this episode is just plain hilarious. Honestly, I might even argue this is the single funniest episode in the entire show. For the highlights:

Joker (After watching a bit of Harley's talk show): Pop psychology at it's worst! That girl's theories are unfounded, her professional manner's a joke, and her training, if any, is shoddy at best! (Beat) I love this show!

After Batgirl and Robin see Bruce on Harley's show:

  • Batgirl: He's faced some bad sneak-attacks, but nothing like this.
  • Robin: We have to help him!
  • Batgirl: It's too late, Robin. There's nothing we can do.

Batgirl (After Batman deduces Joker's motives for seeking out Harleen): And join us again next week when Batman analyzes the Freudian implications of Penguin's umbrella!

Joker (As he and and Harley are plummeting, and Harley is screaming): Fear not, my dear! Salvation is at hand! (Takes out an umbrella. Harley screams louder).

Yeah. This episode is pure comedy gold, even better than "Team Penguin" in this regard. And, it must be said, that Joker and Harley's "falling in love montage" to the song "Setting the Woods on Fire" is one of my Top 5 favorite moments in the entire show. So...yeah. I think this episode's getting the grade that it does is pretty obvious at this point.

Final Grade: A

S409: Seconds

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And on the winning streak goes! While this episode doesn't rank quite as high with me as most of the others, it's still an excellent episode, giving us the closest thing this show had to Clock King (truth be told, I've always thought of "Francis" here as being this DCU's Clock King). His ability to turn back time to repeat something until he succeeds is a neat trick to be sure, and one that makes him a deceptively powerful foe for Batman and company despite the absence of a cool costume or code-name. He actually technically wins in the end, though arguably owing to some jobbing on Batman's part. Still, he was another good one-shot villain, and also one who makes the right choice in the end when offered a second chance. Kudos also to Dave Foley for doing a nice job with the role, and I especially love how some of his rewinds are to undo terrible one-liners that he's said! Sure, the explanation for how he got his powers is pretty weak, but his origin story is sympathetic (though I must say that the accidental disaster he causes just from trying to steal a watch is pretty funny, whether intentionally so or not).

As always, Batgirl and Robin bounce off of each-other well, and I especially like the more "casual" moment where everyone's out of costume and just chilling in Wayne Manor. I also love how Batgirl notes that poisons always seem to be green and openly wonders why they can't be pink. I wonder the same thing, Babs (whoops, forgot she doesn't like being called that!)

For obvious reasons, the action takes a bit of a backseat in this episode, but that actually isn't a bad thing. I kind of like how Batman actually gets just a bit of a mystery to solve here, if only the question of how a common thief can so easily (or seemingly easily) outmaneuver him. I may accept that "The Batman" is an action-oriented show, and I don't begrudge it for focusing on the action, but this episode is a good example of how sometimes, it's better for even an action show to focus more on story and less on fisticuffs.

Final Grade: A-

S410: Riddler's Revenge

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As someone who loved this take on the Riddler and really wished he had more appearances, it would be no surprise I took to this episode. And as written by the great Stan Berkowitz, Riddler's last major appearance on the show is a great send-off, perhaps fittingly, ending with how it all began.

First off, I should say I love the scenario of "hero and villain are trapped and forced to work together". And with this one, we get to see Riddler lower his guard for a moment and open up to ironically his chief nemesis as he explains how and why he came to be what he is. Now, either you'll feel sorry for Riddler or you won't based on his origins. I myself felt just a little sorry for him. He's no DCAU Mr. Freeze, but I still think that Stan Berkowitz did a good job of making him sympathetic, and Robert Englund did an equally good job voicing the usual sinister and sadistic Riddler, but also a more vulnerable Edward Nygma. And, I have to say, if you're gonna hear a narrated story, Robert Englund's voice is a nice one to listen to. The flashback to Batman's first fight with Edward Nygma was also nice. As always, the riddles are fun.

The twist regarding Riddler's betrayal is predictable, but it does add to the tragedy of the character (seeing as the one person he really loved stabbed him in the back), but to be fair, Batman does lampshade the obviousness of it.

While the Riddler origin story/revenge attempt is the meat of this episode, I must say I did love Richard Grayson's deadpan teacher. Whoever voiced him nailed it perfectly, and I particularly got a kick out of the "rat poison" bit of sarcasm.

As I mentioned repeatedly, Riddler deserved more episodes. Robert Englund did such a terrific job voicing him and the writers usually made sure to give him some great lines, including in this episode. He really deserved more than what he got. Still, we should be thankful for what little we got, especially when it includes an episode this good. Definitely the best of Stan Berkowitz's few writing credits on this show in my mind.

Also, I must say, I'm surprised they got a name as big as Brooke Shields in on this.

Final Grade: A

S411: Rumors

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This here is an episode that, while not as good as most of the other Season 4 episodes, was nevertheless still better upon second viewing.

Firstly, yes, the reveal of who Rumor is is predictable, and yes, the writing's a bit heavy-handed in regards to the whole "it's morally right to spare even the bad guy's lives" bit, as well as Rumor being motivated more by guilt than good intentions, but having said that, Rumor was a reasonably cool vigilante villain, and I especially loved his 1) Electrified staff, 2) Invisibility, and 3) Ron Pearlman doing the voice. Concerning that last one, I find it amusing that the first villain we see him bring down is the same one Ron Pearlman voices (Killer Croc).

It was also nice to see so many Batman villains active all at once. While it feels like Joker and Croc got captured much too easily, seeing so many villains fighting as one was cool, and I also like how the writers were able to make Batman and Robin's taking them down feel convincing rather than making it seem like the villains were jobbing. Things such as tricking Mr. Freeze into freezing a lot of his fellows for instance, helped even the odds and make it more believable that Batman and Robin could beat so many villains at once. The visual of Joker and Harley each fighting one of the Dynamic Duo as the latter went back-to-back was also pretty cool.

And yes, it was nice to see Catwoman again, even if her inclusion didn't amount to much. I did however, love how after Rumor revealed his identity and motivations, Catwoman noted that she should have known it would be the Joker's fault, which is by far the funniest moment in the episode. Still, that this is Catwoman's final appearance (and the final appearance of many of these other villains too for that matter), leaves a rotten taste in the mouth.

So, in all, this was in no way a terrible episode, and I did enjoy it much more the second time around, but at the same time I still feel that it could have been better (less heavy-handedness with some of the writing and more of Catwoman namely). But still, it's not bad, and if this is one of the weakest episodes Season 4 had to offer, then I'd say it was in good shape.

Final Grade: B

S412 and S413: The Joining

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Now this was one heck of a finale!

Firstly, the introduction of Martian Manhunter was awesome. He was well-voiced and well-written as a strange, new presence in Gotham, but one who could easily hold his own in a verbal exchange with Bruce Wayne/Batman (truth be told their scene in the diner was actually my very favorite of their interactions in the entire series). His power was definitely nerfed, but that's probably only right given the nature of the story. But, much like how Season 2 ended with major changes to the status quo, Season 4 does the same thing here; with the introduction of MMH in Part 1, and the reveal of the Justice League in Part 2, this particular DCU officially expands beyond just Batman's corner, and I like that a lot. Definitely the show has come a long way from the relatively grounded nature of Season 1, and while some people may frown upon that, I actually like it. The DCU is a big place, so I like how this show took it's time but ultimately got around to expanding.

On the villain side, the Joining were nothing remarkable as alien villains. They were basically just an excuse to have an alien invasion story, but to be fair they did serve that role admirably. Even so, I might have preferred seeing the comic book "Dominators" instead.

Once again, the Batgirl/Robin dynamic was great. The scene the above image is from is hilarious, because of how it reminds us that, they may be badass superheroes, but they're still ultimately kids too, and they're attempts to come to grips with Batman's over-protectiveness together as well as their temporary suspicions that Alfred might be an alien robot, are hilarious. Alfred's response to the latter too is also great, as is his interaction with Lucius Fox during the big battle (who finally makes his debut here in what is for me a solid take on the character. I especially like his interactions with his robot counterpart).

Seeing the villains team up with the police to beat back the aliens was a lot of fun, and their only mistake is not doing more with that. I'd have loved to have seen more villains such as Catwoman (who has an altruistic streak in general), Man-Bat, Harley, and others pitch in, along with perhaps at least one of them noting that it's their city too. But, that's neither here nor there.

The "value of teamwork" message in Part 2 is laid on a little thick and is a tad heavy-handed, but at this point it's a Batman-storytelling tradition for the obstinately "friend-phobic" Dark Knight to be taught the hard way that he has friends and disciples for a reason. So, on the one hand, it could have been handled with just a bit less bluntness, but on the other hand, I appreciate it's presence. And, I love the dynamic between Batman and his pseudo-kids here so much that I'm willing to let it slide.

In all, while not perfect, this two-parter is still excellent, and a great way to finish off a strong season while also paving the way for the next season's (actually dubious) status quo.

Final Grade: A- for both parts

Overall:

This, my friends, is the golden season. No seriously. Season 2 was excellent, Season 1 was mostly good, and Season 3 was rocky but overall still pretty good. This Season though, is just on a whole other level. I mean, the overwhelming majority of the episodes got the highest grade out of me! Eight A grade episodes! Add to that the three A- grade episodes, and hardly any episodes of the season weren't in the A-range! And the only ones that were were both Bs. Simply put, that's a winning streak no other season matched.

There was just a strong sense of confidence in this season; nearly every episode had a clear hook that was executed extremely well and competently, and the presence of such names as Greg Weisman, Paul Dini, and Stan Berkowitz was clearly an asset. One of the biggest problems of the series as a whole (over-usage of Penguin), was less pronounced here, as one of his only appearances this season was a great episode and in fact his best one. Suffice to say, it's clear that, after three seasons of trial and (some) error, the writers had really refined the show to the high point on display here. I regret to say, that the following season proved to be nowhere near a worthy follow-up, making The Batman a good example of a show that perhaps lasted one season too many. But, however mixed a bag the final season was, at least we had this season first.

Final Grade for Season: A

Top 10 Episodes:

1. Artifacts

2. A Matter of Family

3. The Breakout

4. Riddler's Revenge

5. Two of a Kind

6. The Everywhere Man

7. Strange New World

8. Team Penguin

9. The Joining

10. Seconds

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The Batman Series in Review-Season 3

And so, after a hiatus on my part owing to a combination of school, personal writing, and just plain other stuff to do, I've finally gotten around to continuing my assessment of "The Batman", beginning with Season 3:

S301 and S302: Batgirl Begins Two-Parter

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Season 3 opens up pretty strong with a two-parter that introduces not only Batgirl, but also this show's take on Poison Ivy.

Now, before I go any farther, I should take the time to stress that I usually have a fairly "neutral" opinion of Poison Ivy, in the sense that I am neither one of her hardcore fans (of which she has many), nor am I a hater. I tend to just see her as a simply "okay" Batman villain. Good, but not great. So what is my assessment of this show's take on Poison Ivy?

She's okay.

Part of it is, she's actually a very faithful adaptation of the character. Her being roughly Barbara Gordon's age and a former friend of her's gone bad notwithstanding, her overall personality and characterization, not to mention her character design upon becoming Poison Ivy, is all pretty on-point to be honest. Her younger age does make any sexual/flirtatious interactions with Batman rather gross, but fortunately the cartoon doesn't have too much of that. In all, she's a pretty on-point take on the character in my mind, and that's exactly why my assessment of her is as lukewarm as it's ever been.

That out of the way, I thought this episode pair worked well as a "dual origin story" for Batgirl and the villain who I almost feel was meant to be her arch-enemy (something the cartoon really didn't capitalize on at all). For her part, Barbara Gordon is well written and well-voiced here. Her "peppy teen girl who wants to be a hero" mold will likely grate on some viewer's nerves, but I for one found it to be a fairly accurate portrayal of who Barbara was when she was first trying to be Batgirl. And what's more, the character is funny. Though most of her best comedy gold in this show will be in her interactions and banter with Robin, Batgirl is still pretty funny on her own, and really, this is why Batman is usually paired with such light-hearted sidekicks in both the comics and the cartoons: because they're a good foil to him. And it's no different here.

Special praise should also be given to the Batgirl costume here. It's not my favorite Batgirl costume (that would be the Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown Batgirl costumes), but it does make my Top 10, and it also feels right for this take on the character. Also, those very expressive whited out eyes that she has when she wears the cowl, are all kinds of adorable (and add to her comedic appeal).

Having spent so much time talking about Batgirl and Poison Ivy as they are portrayed here, I haven't actually spent much time talking about these episode's story. Well, they are (as already noted), a good two-parter to open the season with. Ellen Yin's inexplicable absence is irritating, but beyond that there's no real flaws to the two-parter that I can see. My not being a huge Poison Ivy fan keeps me from loving these episodes as much as, say, a well-done Joker, Catwoman, or Riddler episode, but nevertheless the story serves it's purpose, complete with just a twinge of tragedy as Barbara finally sees just how bad a friend Ivy really was.

Like it or not, these episodes marked a shift in the status quo for "The Batman". With each new season from now on, the show would get less and less grounded as it incorporated more and more major DC heroes, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Ellen Yin's absence is regrettable, but Batgirl makes a strong debut here, and will remain an enjoyable presence throughout.

Final Grade: B+ (Both parts)

S303: A Dark Knight to Remember

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I had earlier noted in my Season 2 reviews that Catwoman was criminally underutilized in this show, especially in comparison to say, Penguin. But, that in mind, if Penguin was overused in the show (and he was), then which episodes featuring him should not have been done?

And one of the answers that first springs to mind, is this episode.

Look, this isn't a terrible episode. In fact, the premise of Batman with amnesia is an intriguing one (and earlier explored in a decent BtAS episode). But the trouble is, it's another Penguin episode. And there is absolutely no reason for Penguin to be the villain here. Any other Batman villain could have been used in this episode whilst retaining the premise of "Bruce has forgotten he's Batman". So making Penguin the villain again just feels unnecessary, especially when (again), many other villains had hardly any appearances in this show (Man-Bat, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and especially Killer Croc and Catwoman).

Honestly, this should have been a Riddler episode. Imagine how fun a premise it could be, to put Bruce in a situation where he's not only forgotten he's Batman, but while a villain who relies on his mind rather than muscle to commit crime is running amok? It would be the worst possible time for our hero's own mind to not be at it's best, and that's why it would make for such a fun premise (not to mention giving Batgirl the opportunity to try and match wits with Riddler).

But, instead of Riddler Vs. Amnesiac Batman and a Batgirl who could get to show off her intellect, which could have been a ton of fun, or perhaps Clayface taking advantage of the situation to impersonate Batman via shapeshifting, we got...another Penguin episode. Because Lord knows we didn't have enough of those.

Again, the episode itself is not terrible. Everything about it is competently executed, from the handling of the amnesia plot to the action to the dialogue. All of it is perfectly serviceable, if not the show's absolute best. It's just so frustrating to see Penguin get yet another episode dedicated to him when there were (again), so many other villains that were just as good or better who got only a handful of appearances at most. Catwoman and Riddler are just as major in Batman's world as Penguin, but he had more appearances in the show than both of them put together, and in my own mind, I can't justify that. Some of Penguin's episodes should have gone to someone else, and this is one of them.

Final Grade: B-

S304: A Fistful of Felt

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As I've noted previously, I have a soft spot for the Ventriloquitst/Scarface duo, and this is by far their best appearance in the show proper. Enough so that part of me wishes it had been their final appearance.

Yes, I did just get through saying that I wish that more non-Penguin villains got more screentime, but to be fair, Ventriloquist's story ends on a nicely bittersweet/open-ended note in this episode that is completely derailed with how, in "Rumors" and "The End of the Batman" in Seasons 4 and 5, he's gone right back to crime. Disappointing, as I much preferred how this episode ended with the idea that maybe, just maybe, Arnold Wesker wasn't totally lost. Figures later episodes had to ruin that.

But, that being said, this is still a great episode. Ventriloquist is at his most sympathetic by far as he makes an earnest attempt to go straight, and then when Scarface returns he snaps and yells at him about how he was happy for once in his life, which is actually my single favorite scene in the episode. All the tragedy of Arnold Wesker is well conveyed, and highlighted by how we also finally get this version's origin story in this episode. It's no Mr. Freeze origin, but it serves it's purpose well, along with providing a credible explanation for how he could actually be a Ventriloquist.

This episode is also the one that fully confirms that Hugo Strange is indeed a villain, same as usual. His going out of his way to try and help Ventriloquist only to then sabotage his own patient's progress is a little difficult to believe, but the show does try to offer up a credible explanation. Regardless, Hugo is used sparingly here, but subsequent appearances will really give him a chance to shine as a villain (including, I might add, the series finale).

Also, I really liked the little bit where, after the Arkham inmates are asked to listen to their "inner self", Joker notes: "Mine's not talking. Must be a mime."

In all, this was a solid Ventriloquist/Scarface episode, and, as noted, the best one the series gave us. It's also a nice rebound after the previous episode being a disappointing example of the Penguin over-usage that hindered this series.

Final Grade: B+

S305: RPM

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Now this was a fun one.

Not that other episodes aren't fun of course, but this one definitely was aiming for a very action-packed, "thrills heavy" episode. It actually changes up the status quo of the show a bit by getting rid of the original Batmobile and making way for a new one.

For the record, I hadn't really ever paid much attention to the Batmobile in this cartoon, but maybe that was why this episode was done: to demand that audiences finally pay more attention to and respect, Batman's signature vehicle. And I have to admit, it was fun seeing Bruce build his new and improved Batmobile, which itself had an awesome design and with visually stunning blue fire effects that were previously used for Batman's (also quite awesome), jetpack from Season 1.

Between all of that, and lots of fun race-car driving and car chases, this was a vehicle-heavy episode and a good showing for the Batmobile. Pretty much it's best moment in the entire series, actually. For those who grumbled about the heavy usage of the Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight, perhaps it's usage in this cartoon episode will better suit their fancy.

Gearhead's vehicles were also pretty awesome looking, and for that matter, so was Gearhead himself. Believe it or not, this guy is an actual Batman villain from the comics (and the show people noted as much), but they definitely gave him a rehaul. This Gearhead has little in common with his comics counterpart, but you know what? That's just as well. Comic Gearhead was a fairly lame/sub-par Batman villain, and this version has not only a much better power-set and characterization as a speed-freak/hedonist, but also a far cooler looking design (racecar driver uniforms already look like superhero costumes, so having a supervillain that has a variant as his costume makes perfect sense). Not to mention, that Will Freidle (ironically Batman Beyond's voice actor), does a solid job voicing him.

Batgirl's involvement in this episode was welcome but mostly inconsequential. As I said, this episode is really more of a good showing for the Batmobile than it is for Batman's sidekick, but given how great a turn it is for the Batmobile, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Again, this was a fun episode. Nothing ambitious, but it didn't need to be. It took a lame, minor Batman villain from the comics and made him cool, gave the Batmobile a chance to shine, and had some good vehicular action. For me, that's my money's worth.

Final Grade: A-

S306: Brawn

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Another fun episode. Gimmicky as hell, but fun.

For the record I'm a little surprised it took Season 3 this long to have a Joker-centric episode, considering how major a presence he was in Season 2 (and to a lesser extent, Season 1). But, I think it was better to wait it out and let other villains have the spotlight for a while. Especially when it makes the arrival of "Venom Joker" more impactful and exciting.

Yes, Venom-Joker is gimmicky as hell, as I've already noted. But I have also already noted in my reviews for this series so far, that "gimmicky" isn't necessarily a bad thing. And while Joker on Venom is not something I would ever, ever want as a recurring thing, it works as a one-time gimmick, especially when this episode honestly did a better job with it than Batman: Arkham Asylum did with the anticlimactic "Titan Joker". The fiendish delight Joker takes in invoking cliched bully stereotypes and abusing his newfound strength is entertaining, and while his design is definitely grotesque, I think that was sort of the point (and also no worse than Bane's own design in this cartoon, which was awful).

Not surprisingly for a "Joker on Venom" episode, there's plenty of action to be had, and it's very good action to be sure. Seeing Batgirl get the hang of the Bat-Bot was also fun, as was Batman's "She didn't..." line. I do also love the way Batgirl finally takes Venom-Joker down, as well as this priceless little exchange:

Joker (after being de-powered): I'm still bigger than you

Batman (getting his attention from behind): But not me...bully

(Batman punches him out)

Admittedly, Batgirl spelling out the moral of the episode's story to the audience (as if we were too stupid to get it on our own), is a little annoying, but that one quibble aside this was a fun action-based episode that marked yet another time the Joker opted for a specific, one-off gimmick with which to challenge Batman. By this point, it's become almost standard for Joker on this show, but I also think that's a good thing for how it makes each Joker episode feel different from the others. Like "RPM", this episode is nothing ambitious, but it is fun.

Final Grade: B

S307: The Laughing Cats

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I had noted in the past how "The Laughing Cats" was a weak Catwoman episode in my mind. Well, I stand by that here, and here's why: the characterization is poorer.

One of the many things I dislike about the BtAS version of Catwoman, is their turning her into an animal rights-obsessed individual. Not only is this unnecessary (Catwoman was sympathetic and nuanced as was without having that sort of thing tacked onto her character), but it also makes her feel too similar to Poison Ivy and her "the environment first" rhetoric, or even Ra's al Ghul, who often has a similar worldview. So, deciding to have Catwoman's characterization here be blatantly akin to her BtAS portrayal, was an unwelcome change of pace. I didn't like it in Batman: The Animated Series, and I don't like it here.

Not only that, but the episode's ending, which is basically Batgirl losing all of her faith in Catwoman's capacity for good in a very heavy-handed and poorly written way, also makes Catwoman a more shallow character in turn. One of my favorite parts of the "Ragdolls to Riches" episode in Season 2 was in how it ended with a subversion of expectations: with Catwoman not doing the shallow criminal thing but instead something more noble. It also emphasized that she cares about animals without being heavy-handed about it (as is the case here and in BtAS).

So between it all, this is a terrible turn for this show's take on Catwoman, and actually the worst turn in the show proper. Catwoman's at her best when she's the thieving but noble Anti-Hero or neutral, rather than a straight-up, shallow crook or the "animal rights zealot" she is here and in BtAS.

All that being said, it's hard to enjoy this episode as a whole. The notion of Batman, Batgirl, and Catwoman having to navigate a maze without their toys is a fun idea, but one that I don't think the episode capitalized on very well. Joker as always is a fun villain, but this is hardly his most exciting or fun turn (that would be his Greg Weisman written appearances, as Greg just has a very firm handle on that character in general). The action is solid, but not this show's best (though seeing Catwoman do well against Batgirl was nice). In all, nothing about this episode feels representative of the show's A-game.

Credit where credit is due though: Joker's hyenas taking a liking to Catwoman and licking her instead of attacking her, was a pretty funny moment (and also consistent with how in the comics, Krypto the Superdog liked her too despite her being a Cat-themed character).

In all, this was a weak and disappointing episode, and also the worst of Catwoman's appearances in this show hands-down. I wish I could say that this was also the worst episode of the season, but sadly it's not. No, the episode after the next one is even worse, and let me tell you, I am not looking forward to talking about that.

Final Grade: C+

S308: Fleurs du Mal

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As I've already noted, my assessment of Poison Ivy tends to be lukewarm, and that's no different here. This was a solid Poison Ivy-centric episode, and the notion of her replacing people with plant copies does have a nice "invasion of the body snatchers" vibe to it, but it does also simultaneously reinforce why I rarely sympathize with this character. Fact is, for a villain I'm supposed to consider sympathetic or even view as a misunderstood anti-hero or a would-be hero that goes too far...I just don't. To me there is nothing sympathetic about a sadistic, violently anti-human eco-terrorist who tries to kill or hurt people for any destruction of plant-life, no matter how small. It gets to the point where her fake GCPD try to arrest Batman for accidentally stepping on a single flower. Seriously.

But, I may not find Poison Ivy sympathetic at all, but I do think she's a solid enough villain (again, neutral opinion on her), and this episode gave us a good bit of plant-based action. The highlight action scene of course is Batman and Batgirl's fight with their "bushy" opposite numbers. This actually won't be the last time Batman fights an evil copy of himself either. The fight between Barbara and her "not-dad" in the kitchen was also pretty well done despite the lack of costumes or gadgets, and Batman's fairly brutal fight with an army of "plant police" was also really nice, and one of my favorite "Batman Vs. a lot of fodder" scenes in the show.

But, for all the good action and the "invasion of the body snatchers" type plot, this episode is not without it's weaknesses. For one, Penguin is once again shoe-horned into an episode he doesn't need to be in, his role as Ivy's glorified pawn being one that any one of a number of other Batman villains could have filled (I for one would have loved the irony of the fire-based Firefly helping the plant-based Poison Ivy against his will). In addition, the ending is a bit abrupt, and Batman's way of escaping Poison Ivy's trap feels borderline Deus Ex Machina.

But, those quibbles aside, this isn't a bad episode, and it reinforces my belief that Poison Ivy could have been Batgirl's arch-enemy on this show, and that it would not necessarily have hurt. I suppose the writers couldn't think of too many different ways to do the Poison Ivy plot, but one does get the impression that they still could have made the effort, especially given how many unnecessary Penguin appearances there were (sorry, I just can't get over how rampantly overused Penguin was in this show).

But, I should enjoy this episode while it's here, because next one is "Cash for Toys".

Oy vey.

Final Grade: B+

S309: Cash for Toys

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To it's credit, "The Batman" usually does humor very well between Alfred, Joker, and especially Batgirl and Robin. I understand that Batman doesn't exactly lend himself to humor very well, being as he is such a dark Anti-Hero most of the time, but his world does actually have a fair number of characters with a great capacity for humor (Alfred, Catwoman, Barbara Gordon, the Robins, Joker, etc.). And, as BVS proved, too little humor can hurt even a story that's meant to be serious. So, even Batman can stand to have humor.

But "Cash for Toys", ladies and gentlemen, is an example of going too far in the opposite direction, and also not doing it well.

Firstly, the villain pictured above is completely unnecessary and unwanted. Not only am I not feeling the design minus the blue hair, but in terms of MO/role, this feels in every way like a blatant rip-off of Toyman, with absolutely nothing to make him feel worthwhile or meaningfully distinct in any way from Toyman. So why not just use Toyman? Yes, he's a Superman villain, but non-Batman characters featured in this show now and again (albeit all after this episode). I don't see why they couldn't include Toyman. Failing that, perhaps just not do this episode at all? That wouldn't have been so bad, because honestly, even apart from the bad Toyman clone being used here, this episode is just not very good. It's a comedy episode that fails to be all that funny, and besides the (again), uninspired Toyman clone, there's another big reason for that.

That's right: Cash Tankenson is back.

Suffice to say, Cash is just as unwelcome a presence as ever. If anything, he was even more grating here because, unlike in his first appearance where the show rightly punishes, humiliates, and mocks the character in the form of Yin's exasperation and Joker's actions, here we're apparently meant to take his appearance as a good thing. That Bruce is taking this guy even remotely seriously is really hard to ignore, and the fact that he's even getting a return appearance while Ellen Yin remains nowhere to be found is just plain wrong.

I would like to point out that this is the only episode of the cartoon I ever saw that I did not bother to finish. That's right. This one was so bad that I didn't even finish it because it was so awful. Annoying instead of funny, leaning too heavily on the comedy for it's own good without actually being funny, and above all, sandwiching Batman between a woefully misguided return by Cash Tankenson return and a bland Toyman clone all combine to make this one of the two worst episodes in the entire series. In fact, I would probably say this is the single worst episode in the series period (it's certainly the worst episode of the first four seasons by far).

To think, we got this crap instead of another good Catwoman or Riddler episode. What a waste.

Final Grade: D-

S310: Thunder

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Hooray.

After the painfully bad and insultingly stupid "Cash for Toys" fiasco, "Thunder" is not only a nice return to form, it's one of the best episodes of this season by far.

Firstly, the redesign of Maxie Zeus will likely rub purists the wrong way, but I like it myself. The black, red, and gold color scheme is pretty rocking, and the cape and helmet definitely add to the whole "badass makeover" that the show-people clearly wanted to give Maxie Zeus. And while this take on the character lacks the tragic quality of his BtAS portrayal, he is at least more of a badass, not to mention well-voiced by Phil LaMarr (who is always a welcome presence in any superhero cartoon).

Not only is this re-imagining of Maxie Zeus a cool one, but the addition of an airship is a very fun change of pace that feels like something straight out of a 1980s or 90s cartoon in all the right ways. It also gives some nice action scenes too, both in the air, and on the ship itself as Batgirl plays saboteur, and Batman gets to plow through Maxie's cool-looking goons that for my money remind me just a bit of Emperor Palpatine's Royal Guards (though nowhere near as skilled).

I must say I also really love Batman's flight-suit and, like his wetsuit in the Killer Croc episode from Season 2, I kind of wish this had just been his default batsuit. In any case, it's a nice outfit to see.

I also love how this episode ends with Batman finally accepting Batgirl, officially, as his sidekick. That she never actually wears the belt he gives her ever again makes it's inclusion here seem kind of pointless, but the symbolism of the gesture is still felt, and appreciated. In that sense, this episode marks a slight but meaningful change in their relationship, and by extension the status quo of the show as a whole, and that's one more point in this episode's favor.

Could have used a scene of Maxie Zeus electrocuting Cash Tankenson though. Just saying.

Final Grade: A-

S311: The Apprentice

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To be honest, if I had to name another episode involving Penguin and/or Joker that should have been replaced with an episode featuring a less-used Batman villain, it would be this one. By no means is this episode bad, but compared to so many of the other Joker episodes it just failed to excite, and for the most part lacked the sense of fun that so many of the other Joker episodes had. That said, this episode was not without it's merits: for one, Joker in a firefighter variant of his usual outfit was actually a cool visual, and I also liked all the different references to BtAS sprinkled throughout this episode: for one, Joker taking in a would-be protege who turns on him after being horrified by Joker's evil is very similar to the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Be a Clown", and Joker's line of "too Riddler" in response to one of Prank's suggestions for an evil plain, is exactly what Joker said of one of his own plans in the classic episode "Mad Love". So those were appreciated.

Also, while Prank's journey was extremely predictable in every beat and he's ultimately not worth much as a villain, his costume was actually pretty nice, and appropriately bringing to mind Harley Quinn (who would later get an excellent rendition in this show in Season 4, but we're still getting to that). I also loved Batgirl's "why don't we have that kind of relationship?" line to Batman upon her realizing that Prank has been in Joker's lair while she hasn't been in Batman's.

So again, there was a lot to like about this episode, and it is in no way poor (especially compared to the disappointing "Laughing Cats", and the atrocious "Cash for Toys"). It's just that, like "A Dark Knight to Remember", this is an episode that's just one more appearance for a villain who wasn't wanting for appearances, and if it was a choice between this episode and say, another appearance by one of the more underused villains, I would choose the latter. But, at least what we got instead isn't half bad.

Final Grade: B

S312: The Icy Depths

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"Your demise may warm even my heart"

Sadly, Mr. Freeze didn't get to kill Penguin here, which would have been awesome (especially since none of Penguin's subsequent appearances in this show were worth anything), but this is still one of the highlights of Season 3, not to mention a case of a Penguin appearance that's actually warranted, rather than shoehorned (since, after all, the treasure is of Cobblepot origin).

This episode is actually much more cerebral than most other episodes in this show, given that most of the plot revolves around an actually pretty cool treasure hunt that even has some historical context. It's a refreshing change of pace that helps to break up all the action-heavy episodes (which are usually fun, but there is a danger in having too many in a sitting), and the treasure hunt itself is fun and well-done. The end result (that the treasure is lost shortly after being found) is predictable, but at least we get a nice fight scene between Freeze and Penguin beforehand.

Special mention should be given to both Alfred and his "old friend" here. The latter is a decent pseudo-villain who's given the appropriate charm and wit that the late Ian Abercrombie's voice acting definitely helps. The former gets what is arguably his best episode in the series here. Usually relegated to Wayne Manor in most episodes, it was nice to see Alfred "get out of the house" for a change. Don't get me wrong, I do love Alred as the "snarky supporter", but again, a change of pace isn't a bad thing now and again.

Also, how can you not love Mr. Freeze's response to Penguin's whining?

"Oh shut up."

So yeah. Of all of Penguin's appearances in Season 3, this is the only one that didn't feel forced, shoehorned, or unnecessary. That alone makes it worthwhile, to say nothing for the nice "treasure hunting plot", a good turn for Mr. Freeze, and a guest appearance by the late and great Ian Abercrombie.

Final Grade: A-

S313: Gotham's Ultimate Criminal Mastermind

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What a finish.

After a season of inconsistent quality and some noticeably weak and/or disappointing episodes, Season 3 gets to end on a very high note.

First things first, DAVE is awesome. His design, Jeff Bennet's superbly smug and appropriately over-the-top voice acting, his "I'm smarter than you" personality, and his being such a potent mix of brains and brawn all combine to make him a villain who is, while not my favorite Batman villain, definitely a favorite (enough so that I will be including him in a future list of 52 greatest Batman villains). That he's able to outsmart Batman and figure out his secret identity is pretty awesome, but the way Batman turns the tables on DAVE and outsmarts him by asking him the one question he couldn't answer, is epic. And yes, DAVE getting crushed by the giant penny is also an awesome finish.

The action in this episode overall is pretty good, particularly the fight on the Gotham rooftops in the rain (I'm a sucker for rain-soaked battles in general). Hugo Strange was also much more well-used in this episode than in the Ventriloquist/Scarface episode from earlier in this season, and out of all of his appearances in the show, this one feels the closest to his characterization in the comics, with how Strange uses another villain to fight Batman on his behalf while simultaneously acknowledging that Batman intrigues him. And, his "The Dark Knight Returns" line is an awesome reference to that classic Batman story (which will get referenced again, much more overtly, in a Season 4 highlight).

That much of the episode takes place on a rain-soaked, overcast gray night does a great job of creating a gloomy mood and atmosphere, which in turn highlights the seriousness of the threat that DAVE poses. Good thing too, because the premise of a robot that shamelessly imitates pre-existing Batman villains could have turned comical, or else DAVE could have come off as a cheap pretender rather than a legitimate threat. But he doesn't. DAVE comes off as legitimately intimidating, powerful, and a worthy foe for Batman, rather than a parody, and that's a good thing.

If this episode has any one weakness, it's that Batgirl's absence is felt. Given that this is the season that went out of it's way to introduce her and is more or less the "Batgirl season", it's odd that she be so totally absent from the finale, especially when she wasn't in the previous episode either. Not to mention that her particular brand of humor could have been a nice counter to DAVE's sardonic sadism. I certainly wouldn't have minded seeing Batgirl's reaction to DAVE, and vice-versa.

But that one small thing doesn't do much to detract from what is otherwise an excellent episode. I always like it when even a rough season of a TV show ends on a high note, and that was definitely the case here.

Final Grade: A

Overall:

I regret to say that, following the mostly good Season 1 and the exemplary Season 2, this season was a lot rougher in overall quality. It wasn't terrible overall, but the worst episode in the whole series being here, plus another sub-par episode and two more that were not bad but could have gone to other villains who needed more appearances, are all hard things to ignore.

For the record, I do not in any way blame the inclusion of Batgirl. While it is true that my two favorite episodes of this season did not involve her, and all but one of the four worst episodes did, that is mere coincidence. Consider also that my absolute least favorite episode did not feature her, and what's more, many of the best Season 4 and 5 episodes involved her. But really, Batgirl's inclusion did not necessarily mark any kind of significant quality change in either direction. She was simply a fun addition that shook up the status quo, which is not wrong. I also noted from the start that I liked this show's take on Batgirl, and I do. No, this season being weaker has nothing to do with Batgirl.

All that being said, this is indeed a weaker season. It is not a terrible season, and I certainly don't view it in relation to Seasons 1 and 2 that, say, most Arrow fans view that show's third season, but overall this season was indeed weaker than it's two predecessors. It still had plenty of good episodes and moments and a lot to love, however. Tune in next time for when I tackle what is to me the absolute best of the seasons: Season 4.

Thank God we're never going to see Cash Tankenson ever again.

Final Grade: B

Top 10 Episodes:

1. Gotham's Ultimate Criminal Mastermind

2. The Icy Depths

3. Thunder

4. RPM

5. A Fistful of Felt

6. Batgirl Begins Two-Parter

7. Fleurs Du Mal

8. Brawn

9. The Apprentice

10. A Dark Knight to Remember

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The Batman Series in Review-"The Batman Vs. Dracula"

Coming out in 2005 (which would have also been around the time of The Batman's second season), "The Batman Vs. Dracula" is the only animated movie made for the show. Supposedly, there were plans to do another one that was "The Batman Vs. Hush" and would feature Catwoman (hopefully giving the character the attention she was so rarely shown in the cartoon proper). But of course, that animated movie never saw the light of day. This one did though, and in keeping with my review of "The Batman" overall, here is my review of the film:

The Batman Vs. Dracula

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Much of what worked to the cartoon's favor works for this movie; while the absence of Ellen Yin is felt (and conspicuous), the movie overall has the same sensibilities, aesthetic, and good action and voice acting that made the cartoon so good. And, it also has Batman adopting specific tools to counter a specific foe, in this case vampires whose superhuman physicality is more than what Batman is used to. And of course, there's the matter of the king of the Vampires.

There are so many depictions of Dracula at this point, but most would agree that the more faithful to Bram Stoker's original iteration, the better. As it is, this take is more based off of the Lugosi and Christopher Lee versions (as the show people admitted). It's not necessarily a bad thing, and while Dracula is here a much more physical presence than he is in the bulk of his live action appearances, that just makes sense here. The Batman is first and foremost an action-oriented cartoon, and it's also a superhero cartoon. A Dracula that gives a lot of talk but not much fight would simply not fit with the format or tone of the show. And so, we get a Dracula who, to put it simply, is made into more of a badass.

It does work though; the superhuman speed and strength is well-conveyed, and at times the count feels almost like a living shadow (especially with how he often wraps his black cape around his person). His fighting style contrasts nicely with Batman's martial arts, and sells the idea that it's two very different creatures of the night doing battle here. The voice actor for Dracula chews the scenery something fierce, but I don't think we really expected anything less, did we?

The rest of the cast is as strong as it is in the cartoon. KMR remains a fun Joker, Tom Kenny is an appropriately obnoxious Penguin, and the voice actors for Batman and Alfred (Rino Romano and Alistair McDuncan) are also just as good. Tara Strong's Vicki Vale really doesn't make much of an impact, but then Vicki Vale is almost always a boring character, so what else is new?

Watching the movie, one gets the impression that the S&P was just a little less strict. Granted, "The Batman" could always get away with it's share of violence (which was good), but the use of blood, blood-sucking, and the staking of Count Dracula in flashback (even if the latter was semi-censored), all make this movie feel just a tad darker than the show, and given the nature of the villains, that's appropriate.

As always, the action is stellar. As I've already mentioned, the power of Dracula is well-conveyed, and Batman's fights with the Vampires in general are good. But the fight between Batman and Vampire Joker in a blood-bank is by far the stand-out. The eerie lighting of the run-down, dilapidated building, Joker's feral nature, and the ending of Vampire Joker going ecstatic after being completely doused in blood, all make for a gleefully dark and appropriately creepy scene. Batman's final fight with Dracula is actually not quite as good overall, mostly being Batman either getting the crap beaten out of him or trying to run away from, the Count. But the pay-off, which has Batman incinerating Dracula before punching him into dust, is an epic finish, and I love the visual of Dracula's skull clattering to the floor, Vampire fangs still intact. Here's hoping that came to be on display in the Batcave.

Special mention should also be given to the visuals overall: the cemetery's design is nicely off-kilter and unsettling (the abundance of crosses actually increasing this effect rather than decreasing it), the elaborate nature of Dracula's coffin being suspended by large chains in the shape of the cross is also an eye-catcher, and of course, the designs for Dracula and the "lost ones" are appropriately menacing. I'm especially fond of the flashback to Dracula's death in Transylvania; the angry mob with torches, the violence of the deed, and the red lighting that gives it a violent and merciless quality, all combine to almost make us sympathize with the villain. Truth be told, some more insight into this Dracula's origins would not have been unwelcome, and certainly would or could have gone some lengths to fleshing out Dracula's character. As it is, he's a fairly stock characterization of Dracula. Cool and menacing to be sure, but one gets the impression that an explanation for how he came to be what he is, and more time dedicated to his late wife who, as Alfred put it, was cupid's arrow piercing his black heart, might have helped make him more interesting.

But, as I mentioned before, this is an action-oriented superhero cartoon we're talking about, and so I guess the writers wanted a more "simple but effective" take on the villain. Fair enough, and again, he is a badass to be sure.

In all, I enjoyed "The Batman Vs. Dracula". The plot is straight-forward but enjoyable, it's an appropriate length, the action, acting, and visuals are all top-notch for the series, and really just the premise of Batman fighting another bat-themed creature of the night for Gotham's soul is such a winning one that I'm all-too happy to sign on. Batman and Vampires mix really well, and this movie is good proof of that.

Final Grade: B+

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The Batman Series in Review-Season 2

And so I begin the next round of reviews for "The Batman", this time for what it is to me the second best of all the seasons: Season 2. Let's dive right into it:

And so I begin the next round of reviews for "The Batman", this time for what it is to me the second best of all the seasons: Season 2. Let's dive right into it:

S201: The Cat, The Bat, and the Very Ugly

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Season 2 opens on a relatively light/fun note, which is perhaps only right given the bittersweet note Season 1 ended on. While Catwoman planning to betray Penguin and break his heart only to then act offended when he betrays her first is this version of the character at her most unlikable, it's quickly amended when she's forced to work with Batman after they're chained together, at which point she shifts back to her more fun, banter-heavy self. Ignoring for a moment how ridiculously easy it was for them to knock Batman out in the first place, the pay-off is as good as expected. Seeing Batman and Catwoman work together usually makes me happy, and this time is no different. The addition of them being chained together is especially fun for how it forces them to work together in a particular way (for instance they can't ever go too far from one another, which affects their fighting styles and forces them to improvise).

As was the case in her debut episode, Catwoman is in top form where all aspects of the character are concerned: fighting skill, sex appeal, and above all, snark. I especially love her "he gives his number to all the girls" line, as well as this:

Catwoman: You read Ancient Egyptian?

Batman: The pictures help.

The action remains just as good as always. The battle on the lighthouse is the obvious highlight, and given that I'm not crazy about the Kabuki Twins, I can't exactly claim to mind seeing them get a beatdown from my two favorite DC characters.

Penguin for his part is at his arguably most menacing and evil in this episode, given that he's not only trying to use a solar-powered super-laser to blackmail all of Gotham, but also threatens to blow up a children's hospital just to get his foes to stand down. A pretty cliched villain move, threatening to destroy a building full of kids, but I don't think we really expected anything less from Penguin. As it is, I like that it was technically Catwoman who saved said children's hospital by using her whip to grab one of the statues powering the weapon. I suppose you could be cynical and argue that it was just because she wanted the statue for herself, but I prefer to think that it was at least partially because she had some scruples.

The ending is a bit disappointing (and hard to imagine considering the mutual betrayals and resentment Penguin and Catwoman have for each-other at this point), but a somewhat sub-par finish doesn't detract too much from the meat of this episode. As I've noted before and elsewhere, a good Batman/Catwoman team-up story is liable to get my vote, and this fits the bill.

Final Grade: A-

S202: Riddled

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"Bravo! Someone is very bright. Step into the light...so The Riddler, can see you."

Robert Englund is an awesome Riddler. It's such a true statement that it deserves to be said right away. While his design is definitely a bit on the weird side and to me inferior to the classy green tuxedo with bowler hat and purple mask, it's better than his goofy Pre-Crisis outfit, and in any event, it matters little, because Robert Englund is an awesome Riddler. He nails the character's taunting, narcissistic, "I'm smarter than you" quality dead-on, but while making him a simultaneously fun and menacing villain, rather than an annoying or insufferable one. Kudos to the show also for giving some legitimately good riddles for Riddler to use (which every good Riddler story needs). The "riddle with no answer" was especially good, and it was a nice touch for Batman to note that Riddler can't resist leaving riddles or clues even when he shouldn't, and that he leaves them within other riddles. Another great moment is in the climax, where Riddler has gone berserk and is screaming out random yes/no questions to Batman while simultaneously trying to kill him.

Besides it's home-run take on Riddler though, this episode was a good showing for Ellen Yin. Even granting that Batman did most of the brainwork in this episode, Yin still distinguished herself multiple times, also impressing with her willingness to let herself be tortured to protect Batman's secret. She gets to kick some butt too. Chief Rojas meanwhile, is made even more painfully stupid than before, which makes him look more pathetic than amusing. But, the character was already designed on purpose to be as unlikable as possible, so it's not as if we're really lamenting the writing decision. Still, it's hard to imagine that any police chief could be so stupid, even a sub-par one.

This episode is noteworthy for making use of a large variety of different sets, but the underground databanks is obviously the best one. The action is okay, but not the show's best, especially considering Riddler and his goons bring Batman down and capture him way too easily. But, that low showing for Batman aside, the action's serviceable. But really, this is a rare case where the action takes a bit of a back-seat to the mind games, but it wouldn't be a good Riddler story otherwise. And not every episode could be action-centric.

In all, this episode did a fantastic job introducing it's special take on The Riddler. I think I might be prepared to say that this is the single best cartoon Riddler I've yet seen discounting his portrayal in the "Assault on Arkham" animated movie. Even the BtAS version is not unambiguously better in my mind (though that is also a great portrayal). This one's a winner in my book, and along with the previous episode, a good start for a season filled to the brim with excellent episodes.

Final Grade: A

S203: Fire and Ice

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This was a fun episode just for the change in scenery, or more accurately, the change in weather. You rarely see seasons change in cartoons and comics except for holiday specials. So to see a non-Christmas episode set in the dead of winter is nice. Mr. Freeze and Firefly teaming up is also fun, even if they're turning on each-other at the end is painfully predictable. I like the irony of how Firefly would be in on a plan involving freezing a city, and his laid-back and flippant nature contrasts nicely with Mr. Freeze's utter lack of a sense of humor beyond occasional sadism (which is also on full display in this episode).

I do find it kind of ridiculous that Batman wasn't vaporized by an oil-filled truck getting blown up though.

That nitpick aside, I enjoyed this episode well enough. As I've mentioned in my review of "The Big Chill", I don't like this Mr. Freeze's characterization anywhere near as much as his characterizations elsewhere, but everything else about him is cool, and that continues to be the case here. His plan is fairly uninspired (freeze all of Gotham, what a shock), but at least the manner in which he tries to go about it is fairly well-thought out. And, the action is good as always.

Honestly though, I think it was actually some stuff not involving the villains that I liked best about this episode. Yin realizing that Bruce really does care about his charity work was a nice, quieter moment between the two, and almost makes you wish that something had come of their relationship beyond being partners in crime-fighting. The scene of the police (except for the ever-imbecilic Rojas), applauding Batman was a nice moment as well. Batman may not be the celebrity that Superman is in-universe, but that doesn't mean it's not nice to see him get the respect and admiration that he deserves.

Basically, as a "Mr. Freeze teams up with another villain to threaten all of Gotham" type story goes, this beats the pants off "Batman and Robin".

Final Grade: B+

S204: The Laughing Bat

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Gimmicky, thy name is "The Batman". But, when the gimmicks are fun (and they usually are in this show), who am I to say no?

This episode definitely goes for a blatant gimmick with Joker deciding to impersonate Batman. But, once again, it's the show doing a fun gimmick. Joker as a wannabe Batman who is really just as twisted and sadistic in the batsuit as he is out of it was a fun twist, and the writers clearly enjoyed themselves having Joker torment the most minor offenses imaginable under the disguise of "heroism". I also have to admit that there is something kind of cool about seeing Joker in the Batman costume, and of two Batmen duking it out (a concept the DCAU did twice with the HARDAC Batman episode and the Justice Lord two-parter "A Better World"). An especially nice touch is that we also get a special Joker variant of the "suit up" montages that this cartoon is so fond of (and ones I've neglected to mention up to this point).

Penguin's inclusion felt almost entirely arbitrary to me, though there was admittedly some comedic pay-off from it (I still feel that they could have afforded to have him show up just a little less often though). The three-way fight between Batman, Joker-Batman, and Penguin was certainly fun, and almost makes one wish that more three-way fights had shown up in the cartoon.

Less entertaining though, was Bruce Wayne steadily being turned into a new Joker. They were clearly trying to go for "funny" with that, but Joker as Batman already has a lot of comedic value, and tacking on Bruce Wayne laughing hysterically with a wide-eyed, open-mouthed smile that's more goofy than disturbing feels a bit too much. That we also never got to see Bruce Wayne or Batman adopt Joker's color scheme also feels like a wasted opportunity. What a cool visual would it have been, to see a Jokerized Batman fighting Joker dressed up as Batman? But instead, the premise of Batman becoming Joker as a counter to Joker becoming Batman, was wasted.

Still, that missed opportunity and unnecessary attempt at humor aside, this was a fun enough episode. Joker running around in a Batman costume obviously couldn't have stuck around for long, but as a one-off thing it's pretty fun. This will also not be the last time Joker has a one-off gimmick, as he gets another one in Season 3 (but that's for another blog!)

Final Grade: B+

S205: Swamped

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Yes, I know, that picture is awful, but it was all I could find for this episode. Fortunately, the episode in question was anything but awful.

Once again, we get a take on a major Batman villain that's fairly different from the norm. But in this case, it really serves the character. Killer Croc in the comics was long a pathetic, incompetent, and often just plain dumb jobber who got his butt kicked by everyone from Batman, Wildcat, and Bane without Venom, to the likes of Harley Quinn, Huntress, and even Two-Face. There's a reason why hardly anyone here on Comicvine takes him even remotely seriously.

This take on Killer Croc though, is something different. Not only is he a much more worthy foe for Batman where combat is concerned, but he's also got brains to complement the brawn. His scheme in this episode is the most intelligent I've ever seen Killer Croc (though his debut episode in BtAS also gave us a smart Croc), and Ron Pearlman also does an admirable job giving Croc a deceptively friendly Southern accent and speech patterns, that only add to his menace. I love that he has a tail here too, which is only right for a humanoid crocodile monster. In all, this may just be my single favorite take on Killer Croc ever (rivaled only by the Arkhamverse portrayal in this respect).

Even outside of that, the writing in this episode just feels "smarter" for lack of a better word. Not that the writing in earlier episodes was dumb by any stretch (though it was usually fairly simplistic and straightforward), but this episode still feels like it had an especially tight script. One that portrays both Croc and Batman as people with brains and brawn (as shown with how Batman beats Croc in the end). The visual of a flooded Gotham City that Batman and his enemies are traversing in ski-boats is really cool, especially given how the water level is so high that the upper halves of buildings are now all that's visible. Also praise-worthy in the visuals department is Batman's wetsuit, which frankly is the costume I wish he wore as his default. It's a much better looking outfit than the underwear-on-the-front look.

This episode also begins the longstanding tradition in Batman lore of the Batcave being filled with trophies taken from the villains, which is yet another point in it's favor. In all, this episode is a winner, and one of the best of this or any season. DC should really get around to making comic book Croc more like this one (if they haven't already).

Final Grade: A

S206: Pets

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Oh look, another Penguin episode. But also one with a fun twist, as well as the second (and last), major appearance of Man-Bat on the show.

If I had to name the moment when Penguin in this show went from fairly menacing villain to mostly comic-relief, it would be this episode. Having said that, unlike most of Penguin's comic-relief appearances in this show, this one is actually funny. At risk to my credibility, Penguin's lecturing/browbeating each of his pet birds one by one was kind of funny, and the notion of him controlling Man-Bat via a sonic-emitter device was interesting enough. I also did like the brief interaction between Penguin and Langstrom, and the clear fun Penguin has in having a giant bat monster at his literal beck and call.

The action scenes are as good as they were in the first Man-Bat episode, and in fact I prefer the way this episode ends: with Batman taking control of Man-Bat and turning him on Penguin in a particularly satisfying "shoe is on the other foot" type moment. The touch-and-go that comes before that, with Batman having to play keep-away from Man-Bat in a fairly enclosed area, is also a good action scene.

On the weaker side of things, the B-plot of a raccoon that finds it's way into the Batcave is an attempt at humor that just falls flat. I didn't find it painfully bad or anything like that, but I also wasn't laughing, or even chuckling. Again, Penguin's yelling at his pet birds was funnier than anything involving the raccoon, which to me felt almost like the episode's attempt at padding due to not having enough with the Man-Bat/Penguin story to fill their 22 minutes.

But, that one quibble aside, this is a fun enough episode. Maybe it's just my soft spot for Man-Bat, but I really liked this one, and in fact regard it as a bit stronger than the first Man-Bat episode, if only because of it's superior ending and less of the Kirk Langstrom I view as a step-down from the classic version.

Final Grade: B+

S207: Meltdown

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Greg Weisman returns to give us another episode featuring the Clayface he helped to create. This episode proves a major turning point in Ethan Bennet's story, and while a subsequent episode did try to undo the damage done in this installment, there's still a good, tragic punch to this tale.

Admittedly, Ethan's embracing of Clayface and rejection of his old self seems just a little forced (basically chalked up to the idea that the more he uses the power, the more addicted he becomes to it, almost like a Jedi using the Dark Side). But, it's not so contrived that I'm not still buying Ethan Bennet's fall from grace. If "The Clayface of Tragedy" was a bittersweet ending, this episode ends on a full-on downer note. In fact, this episode has an arguably sadder ending than any other one in the series. Yin being forced to take down her now feral and villainous former friend is a poignant moment, and Ethan's struggle to resist the dark temptation before slowly but surely succumbing is well done enough that even if it is a little forced, it's still mostly believable. It works because we want Ethan to do the right thing and succeed, so his failure to do so is especially tragic.

Switching gears before I risk rehashing what I've already said, this is also another good Joker episode. His viewing Clayface as a sort of symbolic "son" speaks to a recurring theme in Greg Weisman's works (Thailog as a "son" to Goliath, Superboy as a "son" to Superman, etc.), but it does actually work here. And having Joker as the devil on Ethan Bennet's shoulder is only right for obvious reasons. And while I wouldn't want to see those "Stilt-Man"-esque extending mechanical legs to become a recurring thing, they work as a one-off gimmick (something this version of Joker is very fond of). I also love his sarcastic "they grow up so fast" line towards the end of the episode.

For some other good moments, the trial of Ethan Bennet, which was a nice change of pace for the show (more courtroom drama in Batman's world would not be unwelcome methinks), Batman briefly remembering his slain parents when Clayface/Ethan appeals to his desire for justice, and the big fight scene in the elevator shaft (and also just the action in general, as Clayface lends himself so well to fight scenes).

Final Grade: A

S208: JTV

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Two Joker episodes in a row? Fair enough, when they're this good.

Once again, Joker brings a specific gimmick to the table, but it's also a pretty brilliant one from a writing perspective. The Joker turning his crimes into a demented and deliberately horrible TV show is a pretty fun twist, and has more than a few moments of comedic pay-off. The "Me and the Mayor" segment alone is pretty funny, and I do also appreciate the references to the 1960s Batman show sprinkled throughout the episode: from Adam West's Mayor Grange being a major character in the episode, to Joker's "same Joker-Crime, same Joker-Channel" line, to the "Biff!" "Pow!" sound effects in the construction site battle, this whole episode feels almost like a love-letter to that iconic (and extremely corny), show. I may not love the 1960s Batman show, but I can still appreciate a well-done love-letter like this one.

Once again, Kevin Michael Richardson gives a great performance as the Joker. Joker is a perfect character for this sort of story, and KMR gives the appropriate level of hamminess as the villain basks in his own self-created spotlight.

Also noteworthy is Alfred's quips in this episode, which are especially good:

(After Joker first announces his JTV): "Shall I tape it for you, sir?"

(When Batman asks him how things are going): "The Gators are trailing miserably, sir"

But, for all of the fun that Joker running his own TV show brings, plus reliably good action and some especially strong humor all around, there is one major flaw to this episode; and that is Ellen Yin's one-time new partner. I get that he's supposed to add to the comic relief, but...he doesn't. He's annoying. Insufferable, even. I'm well aware that that was a deliberate move on the writer's part, but it was also clearly deliberate that he be funny, and he just isn't. Almost like the show's Jar-Jar Binks, he's an obnoxious and irritating (and incompetent), waste of space whose simply not as funny as he's intended to be. Truth be told, I actually kind of wanted the dose of laughing gas he got from Joker to be fatal, especially since it would have prevented his horribly misguided return appearance in Season 3 (not looking forward to talking about that).

But, not even the pretentious idiot cop can ruin an otherwise fun Joker episode. Even with it's seemingly light tone, the Joker's sadism and cruelty still shine through, but that's why it's such a good episode for the character; it captures that right balance of humor and horror that makes the Joker one of the best villains ever. And for me personally, that's my money's worth.

Final Grade: B+

S209: Ragdolls to Riches

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Who'd have thought an episode involving Ragdoll of all characters would get my vote?

In fairness, it's really more to do with Catwoman's presence, but having said that, Ragdoll may not be the coolest of Batman villains, but the episode did a great job writing him as an "Affably Evil" lovable rogue, whose also voiced pitch-perfectly by Jeff Bennet. All of this is of course to make him more of a rival to Catwoman, and it does work. Everything about him from his outwardly sophisticated and friendly tone, to his greed, to his lean and slick nature, make him seem like the evil(er) counterpart to Catwoman, and that also highlights the rivalry they have in this episode. Honestly, I like this take on Ragdoll better than the Complete Monster he is in the comics (a role much more well-suited to Joker and Black Mask).

For her part, Catwoman finally gets to meet and interact with Bruce Wayne as Selina Kyle. Not much comes of it, but it's still nice to see, and much like with Bruce Wayne and Yin's scene in the "Fire and Ice" episode, one really feels from watching it that the show had the opportunity to tell a good love story (or two), and totally missed it. I've never liked it when Batman is made celibate, and this is no exception. Especially when (again), this episode does a nice job of teasing a growing attraction/fascination on Bruce's end without there ever being a real follow-up. Disappointing, but not really this episode's fault.

As it is, Catwoman is as good here as ever, and in fact I can pretty easily say this is the best of her (sadly limited) appearances in the show by far. I particularly love how the episode ends with a delightful subversion of expectations. Call me cynical, but I for one fully expected the show to go the predictable route, and have Selina make off with the money like a true thief-to-the-core. But, to my (and Bruce's) pleasant surprise, she actually donated the money and in turn rewarded Bruce's faith in her. A nice moment, and one more thing that makes the lack of any real follow-up for Catwoman's story in the series very disappointing. That she also chose to not run off with the jewels when Batman demanded she give them to him earlier, is also to her credit (even if she did it very begrudgingly).

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the fight scene inside the clock-tower, which to me is easily one of the five best action scenes in the entire series. The setting is great, the back-and-forth game of "keep away"/hot potato with the jewels is incredibly fun, and it's also an excellent three-way fight that sees Batman, Catwoman, and Ragdoll taking turns duking it out among themselves, and having temporary alliances against the common foe. Even the fact that it goes on for a while doesn't bother me, because it deserves to. This is a Batman cartoon that is heavy on the action (as I've already noted), so for this one action scene to be one of the Top 5 is saying a lot.

In all, this is (as I've already noted), the best Catwoman episode in the show by far, and proof positive that she should have shown up more, and her story with Bruce/Batman develop more than it did. Her subsequent appearance unfortunately, goes in a much poorer direction, and her final appearance doesn't amount to much. But, at least we got this episode. And it's a gem.

Final Grade: A

S210: The Butler Did It

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This was a very trippy episode, one that made good use of a minor Batman villain, and also gave Alfred a little bit more to do (even if most of it was technically in service to a villain controlling him).

First off, I love the design they gave Spellbinder, and the voice actor did a terrific job giving him an appropriately cold-blooded and soulless tone that added to his ghost-like design and mystical powers. The illusions he summons also gave the animators an excuse to cut loose and put in all manner of things that wouldn't normally fly in the setting, such as a fire breathing dragon and flaming demon monkeys. It's very off-kilter, fun stuff. A case could be made that Batman overcomes Spellbinder a little too quickly and easily in the end, but it's still a fun acid trip that he gets put on in the meantime.

A good thing too, since the plot of the episode is actually nothing special. Spellbinder's motives are pretty ho-hum/stock for a villain, and he is ultimately more interesting for his powers, design, and backstory than any kind of deep or compelling motives. His mind controlling rich people's butlers to steal from their bosses is an interesting idea, and it did put Batman in the unenviable (but interesting), position of having to fight his longtime friend.

I will say though, that the scene where Alfred solves the mystery of who Spellbinder is and how he's going about doing what he's doing, is kind of corny, in the sense that Alfred says the whole thing out loud for the audience's benefit, but with no clear in-universe explanation for why he would blurt out such a lengthy bit of exposition to an empty room. I get that it would have been tough to convey it any other way, but perhaps having it be Alfred's inner thoughts rather than him saying it out loud? Just an idea.

In any case, that's my only real quibble with this episode. Otherwise, it's a solid, fun episode that is (again), a nicely trippy adventure for Batman, and thus a fun change of pace. It's not every day that Batman fights more mystically-oriented villains, so that alone makes it stand out.

Final Grade: B+

S211: Grundy's Night

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Batman needs more Halloween stories.

No, seriously. Given the nature of the character and his city, Batman is the most perfect superhero there is for a Halloween-based story. In fact, "The Long Halloween" is generally considered one of the best Batman stories ever, so I think that goes a long way towards proving my point. And so does this episode (even if it is, admittedly, no "Long Halloween").

I used to not like Solomon Grundy very much, but I've since warmed up to him as a character. I think I prefer him as a Batman villain then as a Justice League or Superman villain, and I especially love this episode's take on the character. Not only is his design pretty good (going for a less "I'm Evil-DC Hulk!" look), but I also found his backstory very interesting. I'm a history geek almost as much as I am a superhero one (and that includes fictional histories as well as real-life ones), so an origin story rooted in Gotham City's 19th Century history is going to get my attention. It was interesting, and also recasting Grundy as more of a "supernatural avenger" instead of an evil expy of the Hulk, and the former is to me more compelling (even though I can live with the latter too).

Of course, the big reveal is that Solomon Grundy is really just Clayface in disguise, a twist I admittedly didn't see coming and for my money works as not only a legitimate surprise, but also a clever writing move. Certainly Clayface's reasons for doing it are pretty well justified, and it also gives the story a nice "unmasking the culprit" feel. From there, the episode becomes another Batman Vs. Clayface affair, but the setting of a horror-oriented wax figure museum makes it feel fresh (along with the fact that, for once the Joker is not involved in Clayface's activities).

You also can't go wrong with Alfred dressing up as Sherlock Holmes, however briefly.

In all, this was a fun episode, and one that reinforces my belief that Batman is the best superhero by far to do Halloween stories for.

Final Grade: A

S212: Strange Minds

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Now this was a very fun episode.

Not that the other episodes were not fun, mind you. But this one still stands out. The notion of Batman going inside the Joker's mind is the kind of premise that immediately gets one's attention, and just thinking of what the Joker's demented imagination is like on the inside causes our own to go wild with possibilities. It's clear that Greg Weisman had a ton of fun writing this episode, giving us a look inside the Joker's head that's plenty twisted and crazy, but still managing to be darkly amusing and entertaining, as is only right for the character (again, that balance of humor and horror is key for the Joker). From Joker's face being on the moon (and talking to Batman), the streets and opera house being filled with Joker copies, peeled off mouths laughing on their own, a Joker chicken asking Hugo Strange why he does in fact, cross the road, and Gotham City re-imagined as Joker's personal domain, there was a lot of loving, manic detail put into this interpretation of the Joker's mind. Special mention should also be given to the brief glimpse we get of the Joker before he became the Joker, which was a particularly nice touch.

This episode is also noteworthy for being the first real appearance of Hugo Strange sans the earlier episode with Clayface. He's definitely plenty over-the-top himself, but still a solid take on the character. Honestly, he may be a lot "heavier" here, but his characterization is actually pretty close to the comic version, right down to his unhealthy obsession with Batman (as revealed at the end of the episode).

But perhaps one of the best parts of the episode, is when Batman turns the tables on Joker and tricks him into unintentionally revealing Yin's whereabouts to him. It's a great moment in how it fools the audience as much as it does the Joker (or at least is supposed to). It's always nice to see Batman make use of his wits as well as his fighting skill, and this is one such moment.

And, because I find it hilarious, a particular high-light of the episode:

(After Hugo Strange enters Joker's mind and notices "kid Joker")

Hugo Strange: Little boy, come here! I have questions to ask you!

Random Joker Copy #1: He didn't even ask about Yin-In-The-Box!

Random Joker Copy #2: What's with that?

Final Grade: A

S213: Night and the City

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Given how good the Clayface two-parter that ended Season 1 was, Season 2 was going to have a tough act to follow. But "Night and the City" is just as good as that two-parter, and also stands on it's own as a one-part finale that introduces some big changes to the status quo of "The Batman". It is also (sadly), the final appearance of Ellen Yin, but more on that later.

Firstly, the three-way contest between Joker, Penguin, and Riddler was a very fun premise, as the three of them each tried to first remake a section of Gotham in their own image, and then each took turns trying to bring down Batman, all the while making use of whatever advantages they could. The brief face-off between the Kabuki Twins and Punch and Judy was an especially nice little touch, as was Penguin and Joker teaming up against Riddler and his men.

That Ellen Yin's alliance with Batman was exposed, and Rojas' irrational hatred of Batman escalated to the point that he was devoting more energy and resources to chasing him instead of the villains, added to the tension as Batman and Yin found themselves truly alone and on the run with so many different parties gunning for them. Add to that the power-outage Gotham gets hit with, and there's a nice sense of the deck being stacked against our two heroes. There was never a good time for Yin to lose her badge and she and Batman to become full-blown fugitives, but with Gotham's three A-List supervillains all duking it out for Batman's head and cutting the power, it comes at the worst possible time, and from a writing perspective that's just brilliant.

Of course, the two come out pretty unscathed in the end, but even so, the sense of tension and overwhelming odds is still there, and the final fight on Riddler's boat is pretty well-done as Batman and Yin work together to bring down all three of his arch-foes (who also do a pretty good job of bringing each-other down too).

And of course, how can we not mention the introduction of James Gordon and the Bat-Signal? (Discounting a flashback cameo by the former earlier). Two of the most iconic parts of Batman's world finally make their debut on the show, and while purists may grumble that they weren't there from the start, I think their inclusion here is pretty organic and well-done, and I don't think that the show was at all the lesser for having waited to include Gordon and the Bat-Signal. It's especially nice to see Gordon finally shut down the bumbling Rojas and give Ellen Yin her badge back.

Which leads me to those changes to the status quo: Gordon is now the major police ally to Batman that he always is elsewhere. The Bat-Signal now shines in the sky. And Ellen Yin lost her badge only to get it back after Rojas is at last swept aside. The only downside? This is the very last we see of Ellen Yin.

While I do understand that having both her and Gordon as "Batman's main police ally" would seem a bit redundant, and Batgirl would soon become Batman's new female partner in crime-fighting, even so, I do wish that Yin had been written out of the show much more organically than she was. Instead, after this episode, she vanishes without a trace and is never even mentioned again except in the episode "Artifacts". It's very disappointing, and more than that, jarring. I understand that Yin's story arc had sort of run it's course by this episode, but again, they should have at least tried to give some reason for why she was gone. It wouldn't have taken much. And it's that lack of an effort that frustrates me.

But, none of that is this episode's fault. No, this episode gives Ellen Yin's story a pretty good conclusion, and it's also just a very well done episode in general. Definitely ending Season 2 on a high note.

Final Grade: A

Overall:

Season 2 was, perhaps unsurprisingly, an improvement over Season 1. While Season 1 was not bad by any means, Season 2 was still stronger on the whole: the animation was at least good if not slightly better, the same was true of the action, and the stories were overall better, more well-written, and just plain more interesting. This season also introduced fantastic takes on Riddler and Killer Croc, a fairly comic-accurate Hugo Strange, and even a solid Ragdoll! Add to that it's containing the best of Catwoman's episodes by far, a solid (and tragic) Clayface episode, a well-done Halloween episode, a very well done "Batman in Joker's mind" episode, and an excellent finale that changes up the status quo for the show, and you've got a superior season. One of the two best in the show's run, in fact.

Final Grade: A-

Top 10 Episodes:

1. Night and the City

2. Ragdolls to Riches

3. Strange Minds

4. Riddled

5. Swamped

6. Grundy's Night

7. Meltdown

8. The Cat, the Bat, and the Very Ugly

9. Pets

10. Fire and Ice

And that's all for now. The next blog, will take a slight detour away from the main show, and review the (excellent) tie-in movie: The Batman Vs. Dracula.

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The Batman Series in Review-Season 1

Recently I went through pretty much the entirety of the Kids WB cartoon "The Batman", and decided to write up a series of reviews. This first one is for Season 1, but I will be looking at each of the other seasons in turn plus the "Batman Vs. Dracula" movie. Lot to go through, so bear with me here:

First, some background info:

"The Batman" debuted on Kids WB in 2004, and starred Rino Romano as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Due to the fact that Christopher Nolan's first two Batman movies were in production at the time, it meant that the show was not allowed to use Scarecrow or Ra's al Ghul (or, apparently, Two-Face). The show also came under criticism for it's apparent inferiority to Batman: The Animated Series (even though saying it's not as good as a classic seems a bit silly to me).

So how good is the show? Did it manage to do anything right? Well, I'm going to take a look at the episodes and see:

S101: A Bat in the Belfry

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This is it. This is the episode that started it all. And, it's being the first episode is readily apparent. While not terrible or awful, it definitely shows itself to be a work-in-progress. The quality of the animation is not as good, there's a "rough" feeling to not only said animation but also the fairly simplistic story, and to put it simply, Joker's initial design doesn't really impress (the look he changes to later in the season and sticks with is much better).

Granted, his design is a bit crazy in general. The wild, anime-esque green hair, grotesque yellow teeth, and red eyes will likely upset purists who wanted a Joker more in line with the classic look, but this episode makes it clear from the get-go that the Batman cartoon wanted to do some things differently. "Re-inventing the wheel", if you will. Given that Marvel was doing something very similar in it's Ultimate Marvel comics at the very same time, and that frankly, this take on Joker is much better than the dreadful Ultimate Green Goblin, I'm willing to roll with it. Especially when, Kevin Michael Richardson does a terrific job voicing the character. He normally uses a very deep voice for voicing various "dark" characters, such as Shredder in the ongoing Turtles cartoon, Sarevok in Baldur's Gate, and so on. Seeing him adopt a very high-pitched voice for his take on Joker was fun just to see the voice actor do something so different from what he normally does.

Another thing the show did well right from the start was the action. While this episode does not have the best fight scenes in the series by any stretch, there's still some good action to be had, though I do think that Batman's opening fight scene with Rupert Thorne's men was trying way too hard to insert an anime influence into the show. The brawls with Joker are more well-done.

On the storytelling side, the episode also introduces the purposefully unlikable Chief Rojas, and the detective duo Ellen Yin and Ethan Bennet, who will become two of the standout characters in the series. As of just this episode, it's hard to get much of a sense of them, but it's only the first episode, so I'm willing to let that slide too. Their character arcs are ultimately quite rewarding.

In all, this is definitely not the best episode of the series, or even just this season, but I don't think anyone reasonably expected it to be. Not too many shows are "A" quality with just the first episode, so I think that, as far as beginnings go, this was a solid enough one.

Final Grade: B-

S102: Traction

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This is a much stronger second episode that already shows improvement on the part of the show. It also begins a little tradition of the series that I'll address in a moment. But first, let's get the bad out of the way:

Yes, Bane's redesign is awful. His "not on Venom" look is actually pretty cool, reminding me of the more minor Batman villain Onomatopoeia. But his "Demon Luchador" look when on Venom is pretty ugly looking, and almost unintentionally cartoonish.

Having said that, his characterization was fairly on-point. That twisted code of honor mixed with sadistic brutality seems about right for Bane, and while some might be disappointed to see him as a hitman instead of the one pulling the strings, I personally had no problem with that departure (it's certainly better than the mindless brute he was in "Batman and Robin"). Also, the fight scenes were well-done, and the show took a nicely dark turn when Batman was left broken and beaten in a manner that clearly (but appropriately), evokes "Knightfall". Batman's urging Alfred to take him home and not to a hospital was a great moment, and I also loved the later scene where, despite his being appalled that Bruce would want to go out and fight Bane again, decides to help him anyway. As always, Alfred's loyalty to Batman is undying, and it's nice to see (even if it maybe could have come just a little later in the show).

The reference to the 2002 Spider-Man movie where Batman hides by clinging to an overhead only for a drop to fall to the floor and get someone else's attention was a particularly nice touch.

The fight scenes are as good as can be expected; Bane gives Batman the beatdown we all knew that he would, and Round 2 is an especially fun break from the norm when Batman dons his own Hulkbuster-esque suit of armor to even the playing field. And this brings me to the start of that "tradition" of the show that I mentioned: in numerous episodes throughout the series (and to a certain extent in "The Batman Vs. Dracula" movie), Batman will adopt specific tools, gadgets, or costumes to counter specific villains. While the action-figure marketing vibe of this is very transparent (and another thing that got the show criticism), from a writing perspective, it's not only a fun way to shake up the formula every episode and make each of the episodes and fights feel more distinct, it also makes perfect sense for Batman's character: he's always prepared. He always knows how to bring the right tools for the job. Why wouldn't he want specific gear and weapons for specific villains? So, yes, it's a rather shameless move for marketing and selling toys, but it is also something that someone with Batman's resources, sense of planning, and sense of prudence would do. So I'm totally fine with it myself.

And, that "Bat-Bot" is pure awesome.

So, overall, a good episode. As will become standard with this show, the fight scenes are good, the use of the Bat-Bot is gimmicky but warranted given the context, and the episode's darker tone is to it's benefit. If only they could have given Bane a better design (and also used him as something other than a bit-role in subsequent appearances).

Final Grade: A-

S103: Call of the Cobblepot

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Another episode that dramatically re-imagines one of Batman's most major villains with mixed results. As voiced by Tom Kenny (Spongebob), this Penguin is younger, vastly more combat capable, and every bit as obnoxious, elitist, and sadistic as he is in the comics. These personality similarities are to the character's benefit. It means that, even younger and turned into more of a badass, Penguin still feels like Penguin. I could argue that this version is still closer to the comic character than his portrayals in either Gotham or Batman: The Telltale Series (even if I did enjoy both of those characterizations). And, he does get in some great fight scenes with Batman, including in this episode. His frequent referring to Asia as "The Orient" will likely ruffle the feathers of the more politically-correct, but keep in mind, Penguin is supposed to be rude, tactless, and obnoxious, so I'd call it appropriate characterization.

All this talk of Penguin out of the way, how did the episode as a whole fare? Well, learning that the Pennyworths and the Cobblepots had history with each-other was an interesting piece of in-universe history (something I'm a bit of a sucker for), and by just this third episode I'm really loving this show's take on Alfred. He's very stuffy and outwardly humorless, but in a very amusing and endearing sort of way. And, Alistair McDuncan does a great job voicing him. In all, I think this is a fine take on Alfred, though I wouldn't call this his single best episode (The Season 3 episode "The Icy Depths" is probably closer to being his best appearance).

This episode is also noteworthy for introducing Penguin's henchwomen in this series, the Kabuki Twins. Not my favorite Batman villains by any stretch, and beginning a bit of a pattern in this show of the main villains resorting to decent-but-not-great henchmen characters (both Joker and Riddler will do this too). The weird sounds that play whenever they show up also don't really add much to their appeal, and I get the impression that they were trying a little too hard to make them "creepy twins". They're also arguably ethnic stereotypes. I can live with them as villains, but they're definitely not favorites (small wonder they've never made the switch to the comic books).

In all, this was a decent debut episode for the Penguin. Nothing terribly remarkable, but nothing poor or bad either. Get used to seeing Penguin though, because he shows up more than any other villain except the Joker.

Final Grade: B

S104: The Man who would be Bat

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Apologies for the crummy quality of the picture. Moving on.

It must be said, that Man-Bat has long been one of my all-time favorite Batman villains. Not quite in the Top 10, but just shy of it. I've always had a huge soft spot for this character, in no small part because of his awesome design and premise. So how does "The Batman" handle one of my favorites? The answer: it's OK.

Firstly, giving Man-Bat an albino make-over was something I just took at face-value. I neither love nor loathe the change. He's still a giant bat creature, and that's what I want to see. The scene where he swoops down and grabs a zoo animal to suck it's blood dry is a delightfully dark direction, and while censorship does intervene so we don't see any blooddrinking on-screen, the scene is done in such a way that anyone with a brain can tell what's going on (even as a little kid watching this episode I knew what had happened). Alfred's noting later that multiple animals have been sucked of their blood further drives home the point. I also love how Batman bemoans the discovery with: "Why couldn't Langstrom use fruit bats?"

As per usual, the action scenes are good. The visual of Batman using glider wings to match Man-Bat in an aerial race through the sewers is a really awesome moment, and one of the better action moments in the first season (though it gets a worthy rival in the Firefly episode coming later).

If there's any one weakness to the episode, it's in the handling of Kirk Langstrom. In the comics, Langstrom is usually the Curt Connors to Batman's Spider-Man. That is to say, a nice, perfectly sane and reasonable scientist who is even sometimes an ally, but transforms into a monstrous creature now and again often against his will. In the cartoon however, Langstrom is more of a moustache-twirling mad scientist who deliberately turned himself into Man-Bat purely because he wanted the power. So in other words, he's a much more shallow villain here. That said, his voice actor does a great job hamming it up and giving him the appropriate "mad scientist" vibe. So, it's not a direction I love, but at least it was well-executed if nothing else.

In all, this was a solid episode, with an OK-but-not-great take on one of my favorite Batman villains. Or rather, it's take on Man-Bat was perfectly fine. It was it's take on Langstrom that was suspect.

Final Grade: B

S105: The Big Chill

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It's funny, because a lot of my feelings on Man-Bat in the last episode reflect my thoughts on Mr. Freeze in this one: namely, that it's an overall great take on the character hindered by making him a more shallow villain.

I'm not really sure why the cartoon seemed to be so against having sympathetic and tragic villains, but this is another one who really isn't meant to be a moustache-twirler. "Heart of Ice" is considered a classic Batman story that completely revamped Mr. Freeze's character and made him an A-List Batman villain that he really hadn't been up to that point. It proved such a well-received and acclaimed writing move, that the comic writers even went back and retconned Freeze's origins to make them more like the BtAS version.

So, to see Mr. Freeze here be just a glorified jewel thief with a power upgrade and a sadistic streak seems a much inferior take on the character, and a surprising move from Greg Weisman, whose main writing credits (Gargoyles, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Young Justice), are filled with sympathetic and nuanced villains. Weird.

Having said all of that, this take on Mr. Freeze is not without his merits. For one, his design is in running for the best one of any take on the character, and his ability to shoot ice out of his hands naturally is a nice change of pace from the cold-gun that also makes him seem like a more powerful and daunting threat (the use of Star Wars sound-effects for his ice blasts is weird though). And, Clancy Brown does an awesome job voicing him. Much like with Langstrom's voice actor, I may not like the direction the character was taken in, but at least they got an actor who gives the appropriate performance (in this case, a callous, remorseless sociopath whose heart is truly frozen).

Batman's cold-weather batsuit was awesome, and of all the alternate costumes he had in the show, one of my favorites. The fight scenes are good (as usual), and Batman's using a flamethrower to counter Mr. Freeze's ice blasts was especially fun. I also love how he finally beats him via the Batmobile's exhaust flames. Awesome.

If the episode has one other weakness besides it's more shallow take on Freeze's characterization, it's in Batman's self-doubt. I sort of get that his feeling responsible for Freeze becoming what he is might give him pause, but the high level of self-doubt and momentary loss of confidence seems really forced to me, and then undergoing too swift and tidy a resolution. Batman: The Animated Series actually dedicated an entire episode to Batman briefly losing faith in his mission, and it was better than what we get here. Really, if they wanted to tackle that kind of story, it should have been the main focus, rather than having to share time with/be awkwardly tacked onto, a Mr. Freeze story.

Still, good action, a nice new costume and toys for Batman to battle Mr. Freeze with, and a Mr. Freeze that's great in everything except characterization makes for a solid episode of "The Batman", but not the best one.

Final Grade: B

S106: The Cat and the Bat

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It must be said, that other than Batman himself, Catwoman is pretty much my favorite DC Comics character (and just one of my favorite characters period). Smart, sexy, snarky, and a skilled fighter, she's got it all. That in mind, I have to say that, while Batman: The Animated Series might be considered superior to this cartoon, it's take on Catwoman is not.

I did not like Catwoman in BtAS. Her gray costume was awful, her being turned into an animal-rights obsessed individual felt completely unnecessary and also too similar to Poison Ivy's "plants matter too!" rhetoric, and a lot of the sympathetic and nuanced qualities of the character felt lacking to me.

Granted, that last one could be said of this version as well, though she does have benevolent moments in most of her appearances, including this one. And, her costume is much better, her fighting skills and sense of humor vastly so, and the voice actress Gina Gershon does a great job capturing the sultry and snarky qualities of the character (certainly much better than her actress in BtAS did).

So, all that out of the way, it was no surprise that I enjoyed this episode. Any solidly done take on Catwoman is going to get my vote, and this episode delivers. The idea of her stealing Batman's utility belt is interesting, even if the pay-off isn't entirely there. It seems the writers went with mostly comedic hy-jinks where Catwoman having Batman's belt was concerned. Although, to be fair, her accidentally causing chaos in the Batcave by unintentionally turning on the Bat-Bot and having it attack Batman and Alfred was pretty amusing.

The last big fight scene is definitely a highlight. You can't go wrong with martial arts-oriented superheroes beating up legions of ninjas, but the nice thing is that these ones actually seemed at least mildly competent. In any case, the multi-floored building where the fight is taking place adds a fun element to the chaotic brawl, and makes it more exciting then if Batman and Catwoman were just mowing them all down on a flat plain or some kind of arena (something the Batman Arkham games do well, but it would not have been as fun here). And yes, the end moment where Catwoman shows she has some honor and saves Batman from a ninja (even sacrificing her prize to do so), is a great moment.

In all, there wasn't a whole lot to the story of this one, but it was a fun action episode and a good showing for this take on Catwoman with a solid dose of humor mixed in as well. It's really disappointing that Catwoman had so few appearances (only one episode for each of the first four seasons plus an extra episode in Season 2), as the show's take on her was very good, and really should have shown up much, much more. I don't really think Penguin would have been hurt by having one or two fewer episodes than the insane number he got.

Final Grade: A-

S107: The Big Heat

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Much like Man-Bat, Firefly is one of those lesser-known B-List Batman villains that I just love. The armor, jetpack, flamethrower, and cool helmet all combine to form a pretty awesome Batman villain, and from the looks of it, "The Batman" was as in love with the character as I was.

This episode gives us a Firefly with a sleek, incredibly cool take on his outfit complete with wrist-lasers instead of a full-on flamethrower. While the latter change does seem less appropriate for the character than full-on flamethrowers, they do still fit the whole "heat" premise. Re-imagining him as a work-for-hire saboteur was also interesting, and I actually in some ways prefer this "cocky but skilled mercenary" to the whackjob sociopath arsonist he is in the comics and Arkham games (though that's okay too!)

But more than just giving us a fancy, sleek new Firefly, this episode is also noteworthy for doing something very few (if any) of the other episodes in the series did: it gave Bruce Wayne something to fight for too. While it's not surprising that a Batman cartoon geared towards kids would spend less time on the Bruce Wayne side of things, this episode shows that having a little more conflict for Bruce Wayne wouldn't have hurt. Here it is Bruce fighting to keep the legacy of his parents and their charity work alive, and making sure that the Gotham Children's hospital gets the financial backing it deserves. Honestly, this is Bruce Wayne at his most interesting precisely because what is going on is as much his fight as it is Batman's. Again, I can't recall any other episodes that really try to give Bruce Wayne anything special or interesting to do, so that makes this episode stand out all the more.

And of course, the action scenes are good as always. Batman once again brings the appropriate (and toy selling), counter to his enemy in the form of an awesome jetpack that I really wish had shown up more often (especially considering how many times Firefly appeared in the show). The aerial battle between Batman and Firefly is just as good as Batman's tussle with Man-Bat in the sewers a few episodes ago, and the contrast of Batman's jetpack's blue flames against Firefly's orange-yellow trail is a cool visual. And, when Batman finally grounds Firefly, his effortless beatdown on the villain is oh-so-satisfying. Firefly may be cool, but he's no martial artist, and that scene drives it home.

And, on an unrelated note, this episode (I think), marks the debut of the Gotham mayor, who is voiced by none other than Adam West in a fun casting gag. He never really stood out much as a character, but it was cool that they got Adam West to voice him.

Final Grade: A-

S108: Q&A

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This was an episode that had some interesting ideas, but was ultimately ham-strung by multiple problems: first, the opening scene of this episode was just plain silly, in a way that it's being in a cartoon can't entirely excuse. And, to put it simply, the villain's motive for wanting revenge is...laughable. I understand that we're not necessarily supposed to think the villain is right to want revenge, but ideally we should at least be able to sympathize to some degree, and understand why someone could conceivably try and seek it. But here...I just don't. The idea that a kid who got upstaged once in his life would drop out of school, sequester himself from the outside world, and turn into a deranged, morbidly obese revenge-obsessed wannabe supervillain is a really tough pill to swallow. I've seen some weak villain motives in my day, but this has to be one of the weakest. And again, I am well aware that we're not supposed to agree with him, but I don't agree with Lady Arkham in Telltale's Batman either, but I could still understand how she could come to be what she was. I don't agree with Two-Face in The Dark Knight, but I could still understand and sympathize with his motives. Cluemaster here, I just don't.

Still, the idea of someone who was once on a game-show trying to recreate it with a murderous twist was kind of neat, and Batman's way of outsmarting Cluemaster was okay. I also have to admit to liking Cluemaster's voice actor and finding amusing his acknowledging that the life-time supply of candy bars he got are rather delicious. Back on the bad side though, his henchmen are just plain stupid, and the idea that Batman would struggle so much against a bunch of dwarves with essentially numbered blankets over their bodies, is kind of hard to imagine.

Beyond that, I'm really not sure of what else to say about this episode. The quality of the writing in terms of dialogue is nothing terrible, the animation is as good as any other episode, and it doesn't strike me as glaringly or painfully bad, but overall this is still a weak episode to me, and I'd even go as far as to argue one of the worst episodes in the series as a whole.

Final Grade: C

S109: The Big Dummy

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Ventriloquist and Scarface are one of those villain duos that I have long had a soft spot for, and this episode is largely the cause of that, as it was one of my first exposures to them. And this episode, while not as good to me upon re-watching it, still captures everything I love about the duo; the premise of a neurotic, conflict-averse man torturously bonded to a homicidal, Al Capone-esque mobster puppet. And of course with it being ambiguous who the real puppet is. While this episode seems to suggest that Scarface is real, other episodes suggest the opposite (that Wesker is just crazy). Personally, I always think it's better when it's ambiguous, but that's just me.

In any case, the episode is a solid Ventriloquist episode that, as already noted, hits the right beats for a story involving the villain duo. Giant robot Scarface was definitely a weird twist, and I'm not sure I love it, but I can live with it as a one-time thing. As a nice touch, the duo's henchmen are the same thugs who worked for them in Batman: The Animated Series, with said thugs being made into basically superhuman brutes that can challenge Batman way more than they probably should. But, that does mean there's some solid action.

The sub-plot of Alfred trying to find a date for Bruce Wayne did nothing for me. It was pretty blatantly the show's way of letting the audience know that this Batman would be celibate, something they stuck to throughout the series (which I for one found disappointing given that both he and Catwoman and he and Yin had potential). Bruce's rationale for not going on the date also seemed weak to me, and really, Alfred's way of summing it up was better: he's married to his work.

In all, the episode was nothing remarkable except that it was a Ventriloquist/Scarface episode that captured the essence of those characters really well. And that's the episode's main selling point. Other than that, it's nothing special.

Final Grade: B-

S110: Topsy Turvy

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Kind of surprising that it took us this long to get a second Joker episode. But it was worth the wait, as this one was much better than the first: the animation is better, the action is better, and the writing is smarter. The Joker's cunning nature is also captured much better in this episode, given that he actually manages to outsmart Batman for a little while. The whole "trapping people in playing cards" thing is definitely weird, but that's also just about my only criticism with this episode. Otherwise, Joker's revenge scheme was fun, and Kevin Michael Richardson once again kills it voicing the character. Mark Hamill will always be the best Joker voice actor, but KMR still does a great job, especially when he's listing his "grievances" with the people he's seeking revenge against.

I actually don't have much more to say about this episode, but there isn't much more that needs to be said. It's a Batman Vs. Joker story where the latter's devious cunning is retained, the action is good, and plenty of fun gimmicks to keep things interesting, such as a Joker imposter and Batman having to pretend to be the Joker after getting locked up in Arkham. Fortunately, this won't be the last time we see Joker this season, and his next (and final) appearance in the season will be one of his absolute best in this, or any season.

Final Grade: A

S111: Bird of Prey

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And, right after an excellent Joker episode, we get what is one of the best of the Penguin episodes. It's actually hard to say just what it is about this Penguin episode that makes me like it more than most of his other many, many appearances. Part of it is definitely the fight scenes, which feel especially strong in this episode, the last one in particular being an awesome visual of Batman steadily getting the upper hand on Penguin in a battle in the rain (a type of action scene that usually gets my vote). The fights inside Wayne Manor are pretty good too, and actually, that choice of setting likely influences my enjoyment of the scenes as well. That, and Penguin trying to steal the wealth of Bruce Wayne is a pretty logical move for the character, so there's also that. I also have to admit that the red robe is a good look for Penguin (it is hard to go wrong with red after all). The rain-soaked overcast gray atmosphere also adds to my enjoyment of the episode.

The sub-plot of Bruce Wayne being pestered by a paparazzi-esque reporter could have been a disaster, but I myself actually didn't mind it. I didn't love it, but I didn't find it to be any kind of detriment to the episode as a whole. Similarly, Alfred dressing up as Batman while Bruce Wayne is present may be a familiar trope in superhero storytelling as far as deflecting suspicion regarding the hero's identity, but that familiarity doesn't put me off either. Basically, I just found this to be a fun action-oriented episode, that makes good use of the show's more combat-capable take on Penguin. It's a shame so many subsequent episodes diminished his menace in favor of turning him into crude (and unfunny), comic-relief.

Final Grade: A-

S112: The Rubber Face of Comedy

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The second episode of "The Batman" written by Greg Weisman, this is also a much, much stronger effort that is also one of the best episodes of the show period. While Joker's "Joker putty" is a blatant plot-device, it is a fun one, and the pay-off involving it is that we finally get this cartoon's take on Clayface.

But more than that, the stories of Ethan Bennet and Ellen Yin, who up to this point have been mostly background characters, really come to a head in a big way. Ethan Bennet's story of conflicted loyalties takes a very dark turn that's only going to get darker in the subsequent episode. Ellen Yin decides to let Batman go in a move that will foreshadow her later acceptance of him, and even Chief Rojas gets some forward momentum, albeit in a way that makes him into a total jerk. But, I guess you have to have at least one of those, right?

If there was any lingering doubts as to how good a Joker Kevin Michael Richardson is, this episode should lay those doubts firmly to rest. Of course, I've been reviewing his performance favorably from the start, but this episode in particular is a highlight. The sadistic delight he takes in driving Ethan Bennet mad, along with some nicely inserted references to "The Killing Joke", are both excellent, and he has also by this point refined his Joker laugh. It's got nothing on Mark Hamill's, but it's still pretty terrifyingly good.

But really, this episode just has a very, very dark tone and takes itself very seriously, and as was the case with "Traction", that is to the show's benefit. Not that it's attempts at humor all fall flat, but even so, Batman is a darker kind of superhero, so episodes that play to that are often pretty good. And this is a great example of that (I'm also rather impressed that the show was able to get away with any kind of torture on a Kids WB program, even torture as bloodless as what we see here). Honestly, the writing and dark tone of this episode are such that I am even tempted to argue that it's worthy of Batman: The Animated Series (and frankly much better than the weaker episodes in that show).

Final Grade: A

S113: The Clay Face of Tragedy

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An excellent follow-up to the last episode that also picks up right where Part 1 left off. Purists will likely grumble that this Clayface is not one from the comics, but I like it myself. Honestly, I find Ethan Bennet as Clayface to be a better character than pretty much all of the comic book characters to bear the name except for Basil Karlo, as there is a very tragic quality to the character of Ethan Bennet Clayface that most other characters to use the name don't have. And, the powers that make Clayface a fun villain are just as present with this version as with any other, so between it all I see no real reason to dislike him. The scene where he shapeshifts into Ellen Yin and then into Bruce Wayne and then into Joker makes for a pretty fun "shapeshifter guilt trip". And the action is pretty good too, as is always the case with this show.

Ellen Yin's conflict with Batman comes to a predictable but pleasing resolution, as she finally comes to recognize that Batman is needed, and she replaces Bennet as his main ally within the GCPD. In fact, she will go on to be a much stronger ally than Ethan Bennet ever was, and really come into her own throughout Season 2. But it begins with this episode. I also do like how it took the tragedy of losing her pro-Batman partner for her to become pro-Batman herself. The very bittersweet and not "happy" note that the episode ends on is also noteworthy, and I must say I approve. Not that I shun happy endings, but given the episode's title, that's really not what would be warranted here.

In all, this was a great way to end a season; it gives us a good new, recurring villain, the tone is dark, and the ending bittersweet but hopeful in the form of a new alliance being formed between Batman and Yin. Not to mention that it shakes up the status quo, which, to it's credit, the cartoon did just a little bit with every season.

Final Grade: A

Overall:

The first season of "The Batman" got off to a rough but decent start, but then quickly improved before settling into a general quality of "solid but not great", with a few really good episodes sprinkled throughout the season, but most of them concentrated in the latter half. It is definitely action-oriented, but we could hardly expect a superhero cartoon for kids to be anything less. The use of so many Batman costumes and gadgets has a shameless "marketing toys for kids" quality, but it's also completely justified in-universe given Batman's character and his approach to fighting supervillains (not to mention making each episode's action scenes feel unique and fun). It's anime-flavored art style and redesigns will doubtlessly be off-putting to traditionalists and purists, but some of them were actually very good. It definitely plays "fast and loose" with much of it's source material, but on their own merits most of the episodes and character depictions are good, and even when they fall short (Man-Bat, Bane, Mr. Freeze), there's still usually something to like.

Basically, "The Batman" is a different kind of Batman cartoon. It's not something for purists or traditionalists, or people who prefer a more "grounded" take on Batman. But for those who are up for some good action, interesting and daring reimaginings of different characters that sometimes work, sometimes don't, and lots of different batsuits, weapons, and gadgets for our hero, you could do much worse than "The Batman".

Final Grade for Season: B+

Top 10 Episodes:

1. Clayface Two-Parter

2. Topsy Turvy

3. The Cat and the Bat

4. The Big Heat

5. Traction

6. Bird of Prey

7. The Man who would be Bat

8. The Big Chill

9. Call of the Cobblepot

10. The Big Dummy

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