This is my attempt to determine a ranking of Warhammer Fantasy's finest warriors, ideally getting to a Top 100 or so. By "warrior" in this case, I refer to characters that fight chiefly with melee weapons, though I will also include characters like Malekith who are adept with both magic and melee weapons. Generics will not be included, as this is named characters only. I will be excluding ranged fighters like Markus Wulfhart in addition to magical powerhouses like Kroak. Those will be separate rankings :)
I will also be taking into account the warrior's overall formidableness. I am not as of now making an attempt to distinguish between strength and skill. Just whatever warriors would come out on top in a mass free-for-all, or else who would kill the same character or characters the quickest.
As my knowledge of WHF is actually not as dense as I'd like, I expect to make mistakes and errors, but that is the purpose of this first blog; figuring out just who goes where. Needless to say, feedback is appreciated.
Abhorash (Vampire Counts)
Aenarion the Defender (High Elves)
Arbaal the Undefeated (Khorne)
Archaon the Everchosen (Chaos Undivided)
Asavar Kul the Everchosen (Chaos Undivided)
Be'lakor the First-Damned (Chaos Undivided)
Caledor the Conqueror (High Elves)
Dechala the Denied One (Slaanesh)
Gor-Rok the Great White Lizard (Lizardmen)
Gotrek Gurnisson with one or both Axes of Grimnir (Dwarfs)
Green Knight / Giles (Bretonnia)
Grimgor Ironhide (Greenskins)
Grombrindal the White Dwarf (Dwarfs)
King Louen Leoncoeur (Bretonnia)
Malekith the Witch-King (Dark Elves)
Mallobaude the Black Knight (Vampire Counts)
Malus Darkblade when amped by Tzarkan and possessing Warpsword (Dark Elves)
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:
...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:
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:
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:
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:
...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":
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, alwaysthe 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?:
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:
OK, first off, Midi-Chlorians are not a "view of the Force", because they're not actually the Force:
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:
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:
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 notborn 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Obviously. This guy has been heavilyrequested 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
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
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
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
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
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:
DLC Character 7: Lex Luthor
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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, evertalk 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
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
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
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
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
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 lovethis 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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
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+
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-
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
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
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".
Final Grade: B+
S309: Cash for Toys
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-
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
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
"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
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
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 notin 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.
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
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.