Monday, July 20, 2015

[Batman: The Animated Series] Episodes 6-10 Review

I am just absolutely floored about this series and I'm only ten episodes in at that. Watching it back in high school, I don't think I was able to grasp how beautifully animated this series was since I can barely remember most of its details. But now that I'm more conscientious of the shows I consume and have decided to pick up this one again, I just realized that Batman: The Animated Series truly holds up as a work of art; it was a grand masterpiece that played up all the greatest elements and strengths of the entire Batman mythos and legacy and mixed them together to come up with this scintillating and endlessly compelling cartoon adaptation that can be watched and enjoyed by anyone regardless of age. The best feature of this show, personally, is the musical accompaniment set composed for each episode. All of the pieces were performed by an orchestra and each song evokes more powerful feelings that also served to enhance the scene it was incorporated into. This becomes even more notable in episodes 6-10 that I sometimes have to turn the speaker up and get the unmistakable sense that I was a part of the world of Gotham; running across its crime-infested streets with Batman by my side, unafraid of anything, eager to be daring and join in his heroic acts. I think the sound direction and musical scoring of this show will never stop to impress me and other people have agreed as well, seeing as they gave awards to the composers themselves, particularly Shirley Walker who contributed to a lot of its pieces.

While the first five episodes of this show showcased Bat-villains as an episode's focal point of the narrative such as the case with the Joker (who made an appearance twice), Man-Bat and Scarecrow, the next five episodes on the rundown (with the exception of the tenth episode featuring Harvey Dent as Two Face for the first time) tackled stories concerning the minor yet just as damaging crimes and exploits in Gotham City. The Under Dwellers, POV and The Forgotten were surprisingly riveting episodes that put Batman in situations where viewers can actually see him make a difference. Batman is not just all about confronting and kicking the asses of costumed freaks and psychopaths; he's also about helping the oppressed factions of his city. Be A Clown is the Joker's third appearance though it had a nice father-son sub-character arc as well. I had vague recollections of the Two Face episode, and I remember bits of it as I watched it. I think it may have  been the very first episode of the show that I have accidentally stumbled upon that fateful night after I got home from school and was flipping through the channels. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's break them all down, shall we?

In this episode, Batman discovers a very literal underground child labor circuit which was pretty horrible in itself so the details of such a nefarious crime left a bad taste in my mouth afterwards. The perpetrator of this crime is some lowlife scum who fancies himself as the caretaker of these orphans whom he may have abducted himself or they decided to go to him because nobody else would take them anyway. To top the heap of his douchebag moves, the unnamed villain for this episode had also commanded the children never to speak in his presence as he kept them in complete darkness since their quarters are in the sewers. If they disobey or did something to offend him, he puts them in a cell with bright lights since these children can no longer see that clearly so blinding them with light was pure evil torture. One of the children who escaped was named Frog and he was taken by Batman and was kept safely within Wayne Manor while Batman investigates. Frog's hilarious interactions with Alfred were a nice touch for the episode. However, I was completely laughing for a different reason because of the fact that the villain can control the crocodiles in the sewers. I theorized he may be using some equipment to get them to obey him but the episode offered no explanation and I was fine dismissing the logic of it because all I want is for the asshole to die a painful death. But he didn't. Oh, well. At least the orphans were rescued by the GCPD and now they can get back to the real world and experience the sun in a positive manner again. The episode ended with Frog uttering a word for the first time which was "the light!", exclaiming it in a victorious way which was a touching moment. I liked this episode because we get to see Batman handle other crimes in his city that don't involve the rogues gallery. The Batman vs. crocodiles action sequence was pretty funny and enjoyable to watch as well.

The first thing that got me excited about this episode's narrative approach and visual execution was the fact that it had a Rashomon vibe from the get-go. The story revolves around a police stakeout gone wrong among Detective Bullock and Officers Montoya and Wilkes as they responded to a sting concerning drug traffickers flocking to a warehouse, probably striking deals. When they were only able to secure one suspect in custody, an internal affairs investigation was held with the three of them giving conflicting stories as to how it all went down. Bullock was obviously lying to save face, considering he went in without a back-up, started a fire, and was promptly rescued by Batman from getting burned alive. I like that while he's in the middle of fabricating his tale, we see the scenes unfold in screen which contradict his official statement. Meanwhile, Officers Wilkes and Montoya's stories do fit well enough together as they each shared their experience and subsequent encounter with Batman while trying to apprehend the criminals. Since IA can't figure out the truth, the three had to be under suspension so they had to give up their badges. Officer Montoya, however, was not discouraged from trying to pursue a lead from the case she's not supposed to be working on. It was good thing she did, since Batman was captured by the thugs during the conflagration in the warehouse. She helped him fight off the fiends and successfully brought them to justice afterwards. It was great that the show introduced Officer Montoya who is one of the recurring GCPD characters from the Batman comics. I was happy that the role she played here was that of a competent law enforcer who had good instincts and was clever enough to aid Batman in catching the criminals. Bullock also had a humble moment and Commissioner Gordon defended his constituents from further IA prosecution.

Much like The Under Dwellers, this episode once again touched upon the transients and discarded members of the Gotham City such as the homeless and a few minimum-wage workers. A crime syndicate has been abducting them and forcing them into labor and Batman goes undercover, wearing a disguise. It was great to see him do detective work that involves this because it was certainly reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes who would also wear disguises and live among the criminal element to get information and observe the dynamics more closely. Unfortunately, during a confrontation with some thugs, Bruce got himself hit on the head, rendering him in a state of temporary memory loss. So, while he was taken to the labor camp, he had no recollection of who he is and what he should be doing. As the episode approached its climax, Bruce's mind rebels against the memory loss and pieces out the fragments of consciousness through dreams. The dream sequence itself was amazingly rendered, showing Bruce walking around mirrors and then ending up seeing a reflection of the Joker. But the real catalyst had to be when he heard one of his fellow workers talk about his family and the possibility he may never see them again. Bruce immediately recalls his own parents and the vow he took to become the city's Dark Knight, its avenging guardian. With Bruce fully aware of who he is, he managed to escape long enough to be found by Alfred who was flying his Bat-jet. He later comes back to the labor camp as Batman and finishes the job. This episode was commendable because it placed Bruce in a vulnerable position much like in the Scarecrow episode Nothing to Fear where he was injected with a fear toxin and started hallucinating his late father. Much like that one, this had enough impressive character moments for Bruce that makes you really root for him and not just as Batman. I should also mention that the musical scoring they used had a great folksy tune to it that really captured the setting where most of this episode happened (a sandy, hot desert).

This installment marks the third appearance of the Joker though the story was less about him and more of the relationship between a politician and his neglected son, Jordan. Busy with running a campaign, his father was relentlessly more focused on his career than his son who is celebrating his birthday. The Joker takes advantage of this and arrives at the party disguised as another clown named Jecko. He captures Jordan's attention instantly since he was already interested in magic tricks himself. As the Joker leaves the party (but not without placing a dynamite on top of the birthday cake), Jordan hides in his truck since he could see that the only way he can find some sort of happiness is from running away and "joining the circus". Distraught over the loss, the father pleads to the GCPD to find his son and vows to himself that if he gets Jordan back, he will do things differently and not take his boy for granted. Meanwhile, the Joker was not pleased to have a child in his secret lair but he adjusts to the situation and treats it as a social experiment. He turns the boy into his assistant as he lures Batman and ensnares him into a trap. Jordan was a good kid though and does not possesses the Joker's sadism in any form so he tries to help Batman, only to be kidnapped by the Joker and led to ride a roller coaster. After a short while, Batman was able to apprehend the Joker and get Jordan safely back home who jumped into his father's welcoming arms. This episode was definitely pleasant for the way it resolved this small family conflict. I also enjoyed the Joker's scenes with Jordan and how he naturally gravitated in turning the boy into his own pet but failed miserably since Jordan is inherently a good and upstanding little boy. Don't worry, Joker. You'll get another chance to corrupt a more susceptible and damaged mind later in the series. And it'd be worth it for everyone.

I just finished reading and reviewing Jeph Loeb's The Long Halloween last week and I wasn't that into it. I didn't care much about Harvey Dent's transformation into Two Face in that story so I was more than pleased to watch this show's version of it which was much more believable and substantial. In this episode, Harvey Dent is running for his third term in the District Attorney's office and he was focused on bringing down the illegal operations of the crook Rupert Thorne. This gangster, however wants to play it smart and so he hired one of his goons to uncover Dent's skeletons in the closet. What he found was Dent's psychological evaluation. It turns out that Dent has a split personality his therapist dubbed as "Big Bad Harv". This personality arose from Dent's longtime repression of his anger and guilt. By not owning up to his negative feelings, his psyche created another personality that expresses such strong emotions quite recklessly. We witnessed this other Harvey taking over every time Dent loses his temper and this other side of him gets crazy and extreme. Thorne tries to use this information to blackmail him but only succeeds in awakening the Big Bad Harv. I like the fact that the show has established a friendship between Dent and Bruce Wayne himself which was why this was very personal for Batman too. Unfortunately he can't do anything to help his friend since the conflict is internal and only Dent himself can fix it. The episode ends with Dent making an escape from the hospital after looking at his new face for the first time since the accident with Thorne where a chemical tank got blown up while he was chasing the crook, and he suffered facial injuries from it. His twisted features now reflect his split personality but eventually the Big Bad Harv might take over for good and this is something I eant to see happen in this show. Dent's conflict with Thorne is unfinished as well and I got the feeling he's coming back for him soon enough. I would also like to see how Batman handles Dent as Two Face.

These had been a great batch of episodes. There is depth and excitement in every installment, ranging from the most action-packed to the most poignant of narratives. 

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