Going Through The DCAU Part Four

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Continuing Jimmy and Tom’s rewatch of the DCAU.

“Two-Face Parts 1 and 2”

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When crime boss Rupert Thorne learns of DA Harvey Dent’s psychological problems, he tries to blackmail his way out of trouble. This turns out to be a bad idea, especially when an accident creates the horrifying Two-Face.

jimmy:  I think part one might be my favorite episode so far. Part two is good too, but doesn’t have the same emotional impact. And I’m a sucker for origin stories anyway. Which is funny, because I’ve been so happy they haven’t done the Batman origin. Though it gets mentioned again in a part two dream sequence.

tomk:  I actually think Part One is just a much stronger episode. The animation is better and more ambitious in many ways. Look at the melting ice statue, or Harvey’s facial features. There are times when half his body is in shadow before the accident, and the scarred Two-Face face flashes during a lightning strike when the therapist calls out “Big Bad Harv”.

And as much as we have praised Kevin Conroy for his voice work as Bruce and Batman, I think Richard Moll deserves some props for his work here. Harvey and Two-Face have very distinctive voices considering they come from the same guy.

jimmy:  Moll is awesome, agreed. And as cool as the Two-Face lighting flash was, if you think about it, it made no sense. But we’ll ignore that. 🙂

But yes, lots of great imagery and animation. Also, lots of typical “two’s” stuff once he becomes Two-Face. Besides the names of Thorne’s fronts, the bookies are in room 222. And of course his twin henchmen.

tomk:  The twin henchmen, who look like nasty versions of Jimmy Olsen, were voiced by former Monkee Mickey Dolenz.

But Thorne should diversify his holdings more.

jimmy:  Of yeah? Cool. I did notice the Olsen look.

tomk:  The lightning flash may not make literal sense, but it is artistic foreshadowing, so I dug it.

jimmy:  Oh, I dug it for sure too.

tomk:  Really, after the quality of part one, part two, though still solid, is more of a typical Batman adventure. Two-Face is committing crimes, the underworld is causing problems, and Batman has to wade in and deal with it. End with a philosophical note from Batman chatting with an ally, in this case Commissioner Gordon.

jimmy:  I agree with that. Batman barely appears in part one.

Getting back to the thunder flash for a second, I think one of the reasons we dug all the foreshadowing like that is because we knew what was coming. I wonder how someone completely foreign to Two-Face would feel about it?

tomk:  Interesting thought. I know the dream sequences, with the coin flipping and the shadowy other self, establish a creepy mood, and Two-Face is easily one of the more horrifying of Batman’s foes in terms of where he came from, but to someone seeing the character for the first time, it must be something.

jimmy:  I bet this was the first “kids” show to have a storyline about schizophrenia.

tomk:  That layer of morality is one of the things that made this show so great. We often get asked to actually sympathize with many of Batman’s villains. Two-Face, thanks to his status as a friend to Bruce Wayne pre-accident, certainly qualifies, but I think most of his major opponents get this treatment at some point except for, obviously, the Joker.

And if we want to talk about bad guys who are mirror images of Batman, the split personalities aspect of Two-Face really hammer it home. And considering it wasn’t that long ago Harvey was engaged to Poison Ivy, then he must also be a bit of the playboy to have found another fiancee this quickly.

jimmy:  I thought the same thing. He moves fast. 🙂

tomk:  So does Bruce since he is spotted openly flirting with some random woman at Harvey’s victory party.

jimmy:  Was Thorne a TAS original?

tomk:  I don’t think so off the top of my head. Batman had numerous mob boss enemies over the years. During the 50s, he was more likely to be battling random mobsters and mad scientists than Arkham inmates. But keeping track of all of Batman’s gangster foes isn’t something I’ve taken the time to do.

jimmy:  Our friends at Wikipedia say he appeared in Detective Comics #469 in 1977. Either way, John Vernon does an excellent turn voicing him.

tomk:  He does. Vernon sounds as much at home as a mob boss as he does putting frat brothers on double secret probation.

jimmy:  Haha

But for some reason except for one scene he has no white around his irises.

tomk:  I chalk that up to an animation style choice. He does tend to have beady eyes. He’s the bad guy in the next episode too, so he also has a habit of continually reappearing no matter how many episodes end with what looks like a bust that should bring his whole criminal organization down.

jimmy:  Different twist on the creation of Dent’s scars. And Batman at least inadvertently had a role in it, which is different from the typical “acid in the face in court origin”.

tomk:  Or “half his face got doused with burning gasoline” in The Dark Knight.

It doesn’t much matter how it happens, but his accident is way too symmetrical to be a real accident.

jimmy:  Haha, excellent point.

tomk:  These were a great pair of episodes (in keeping with the Theme of Twos), so was there anything else you felt like adding here, Jimmy?

jimmy:  I got a few things. I’m sure it happened, but cartoons being continued had to be a rarity.

tomk:  I can remember a few instances. G.I. Joe used to have some five parters to last a week, and Transformers would sometimes go for three parts, with the occasional two-parter thrown in. The difference there is in execution. Megatron and Cobra Commander are just evil. Two-Face is tragic.

jimmy:  Yeah, I thought about the potential for Transformers and G.I. Joe after I posted that. It’s crazy to think these shows came on new every day sometimes.

tomk:  Well, I suspect that shows like that had maybe 65 or so episodes, but were produced quickly and it sometimes shows.

jimmy:  In part one, the mirror scene was very reminiscent of the Joker reveal in Burton’s Batman.

tomk:  It was. Though you would have thought the doctor at least would have had an idea what was beneath the bandages.

jimmy:  The box of silver dollars at the beginning of part two was such an obvious set up…but maybe because I know Two-Face in general and have seen the episode before.

tomk:  It still worked. The robbery at the beginning explained Two-Face’s MO perfectly. The coin made the decisions and he loves coins in general.

jimmy:  I’ll finish up with a couple of more humerous points to a couple of very serious episodes.

Batman picked an odd time to bust out the Batcycle for the first time. The worst night of the year for rain and driving with bad ribs.

And lastly, Dent has a credit card in his wallet and Two-Face is the name on it. 🙂

tomk:  Whoa, a Two-Face credit card…the credit companies really should do a more thorough background check.

jimmy:  His credit wasn’t half bad.

tomk:  I’ll end up by observing Batman’s motorcycle helmet looks a lot like the Bat armor helmet from Dark Knight Returns.

jimmy:  Definitely.

“It’s Never Too Late”

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Batman intervenes in a mob war between Rupert Thorn and Arnold Stromwell by trying to reform Stromwell, who’s traumatic past still haunts him.

tomk:  Jimmy, I just want to say this episode in general reminds me of two things, one intentional and one not. The unintentional one is the old 80s anti-drug commercial where a father finds out his son is using drugs because the kid was watching him do drugs. The second was old 30s noir films in which various gangsters often had priests as childhood friends or brothers trying to reform them with varying degrees of success.

jimmy:  I learned it from watching you!

tomk:  That’s the one!

“Parents who use drugs have children who use drugs.”

jimmy:  At least he wasn’t kidnapped.

tomk:  That would have gone against the title and general theme of the episode about it never being too late to redeem yourself. Batman plays some kind of “Ghost of Christmas Pick A Time Period” by showing Stromwell where his son really is.

jimmy:  I guess I should be used to it by now, but kids getting run over by trains is some pretty intense family viewing.

tomk:  I’ll say. My dad worked for the railroad, and he probably would have made some comment about how there should have been a lot less left over of that kid after getting hit by a train. It’s what he does.

jimmy:  It might not have been kid friendly but my eyes were glued to the screen, especially the second time it played out. And it’s one of those episodes I’ve caught a few times flipping channels, so I knew he survived, but still.

tomk:  Yeah, it’s intense. I mean, I knew the kid was the priest grown-up, and the show does let you know the priest has a wooden leg, but that some intense memory work. The washed out colors sell it as an “old” memory, too.

jimmy:  Not quite Harvey Dent close ups sweating bullets and turning into Big Bad Harv, but the animation is solid. Did you notice the excellent Batswipe scene transition?

tomk:  No, and I only watched it last night. I wish I did. This was truly an ambitious episode. The ultimate morality of it may be a bit black-and-white, but you can clearly see the writers and animators were going for something more here.

jimmy:  It worked for me. It’s probably not one of the episodes you’d list in a top 10 or anything, but it is solid and makes you stop and think what a great show this was. And how different and cutting edge it was at the time.

And unlike Thorne, I believe Stromwell was an original character.

tomk:  He may have been. We don’t see him again.

The noir elements were really strong in this one. Stromwell is watching a black-and-white television, which will become another stylistic choice.

So, Jimmy, what were your thoughts on Bullock as comic relief for this episode?

jimmy:  I guess it didn’t stand out to me much since I don’t remember. 🙂

tomk:  It was a little out-of-character, his telling Gordon his hair looked better on TV and so forth. It seemed weird for him. He’s not that kind of comic relief if he’s relief at all.

Also, it seemed like he was in a different episode of the show.

jimmy:  I remember the scene and his character looking off. I had forgot what he said though.

tomk:  Well, I just finished “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement,” and Bullock acting like a comic relief simpleton would have fit that episode better…mostly because of lot of reasons I’ll get to when we get to it.

jimmy:  I haven’t watched that yet; stop building my expectations so high. 🙂

Where’s Thorne’s femme fatale from last two episodes?

tomk:  Oh, I think she comes back later.

jimmy:  Nice.

I love when Bats goes undercover. Usually as a bum or vagrant of some kind.

tomk:  That’s always cool. Not sure how he knew where to go, but you can’t trust any old vagrant in a seedy restaurant anymore. Bullock will really miss that place when it’s gone, too.

jimmy:  They made great cannoli’s (or something)

tomk:  Yeah, that was another instance of some writer thinking Dumb Bullock Is Funny.

On another note, I think this was the first episode to show Batman really trying to reform a criminal. I don’t think other TV shows of this era really did much with that, not even later DCAU cartoons.

jimmy:  Is that a theme that comes up throughout the rest of the series?

tomk:  It does from time to time. Harley, Two-Face, and the Penguin all have episodes where they try to go straight, often with Batman offering some kind of help.

jimmy:  That Bats is a stand up kinda guy.

tomk:  Well, it would make his job easier.

jimmy:  Know what else would make his job easier? Letting Joker fall in one of those vats of acid he keeps saving him from. But that’s another discussion.

tomk:  Yes, it is. Anything else to add here, Jimmy?

jimmy:  No, I think that’s it for me. Time to move on to the requisite Joker episode. Waitaminute…

tomk:  Yeah. No Joker this time. Instead, we have a very embarrassing Penguin story.

“I’ve Got Batman In My Basement”

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Two kids playing junior detective come across a fight between Batman and the Penguin. Batman is gassed, so the kids take him to their basement and hold off the Penguin until Batman wakes up.

jimmy:  Not Sewer King bad, but definitely one you’d like to forget.

tomk:  I think I hated this one on an existential level.

The animation was bad, the story was bad, everything about this one was bad.

jimmy:  I didn’t love it either. It was nice of WB to do some cross promotion and have Batman guest star on Home Alone: The Animated Series.

tomk:  I thought the kid Sherman looked a lot like Mr. Peabody’s boy.

jimmy:  It would not surprise me if that was intentional.

tomk:  Well, really, this episode is embarrassing for all involved. The Penguin should be more formidable than a bunch of obnoxious kids. Batman shouldn’t be that easy to be knocked out by a fat guy with an umbrella. And why was the Penguin making bird noises?

jimmy:  He’s a penguin? 🙂

Seriously though, is this the only time he does that? He has a particular way of talking that is like he is rhyming/punny but it is never consistent.

tomk:  I do not recall him doing that any other times.

Actually, wanna know how much this episode is full of bad stuff? Sherman’s mother is voiced by actress Lindsay Crouse. You know what else her voice was featured in?  Krull. And Krull is terrible.

jimmy:  Haha, I still haven’t managed to get through Krull, but I know the first 28 minutes are horrible.

tomk:  Well, the remaining however many there are aren’t much better.

jimmy:  And how stupid were those kids (that sounds terrible) that they couldn’t figures out the capsule in the visor thing?

tomk:  How stupid was the Penguin and his goons that they let those kids look smart by comparison?

jimmy:  Haha. True.
And I assume Bruce Wayne paid for all the property damage?

tomk:  Hopefully in a way that didn’t arouse suspicion. I suppose he could have just slipped an envelope full of cash through the mailslot at the end of the show, and that was why he was hanging around outside their window.

jimmy:  That part was a little odd, but a lot of episodes seem to end with Batman checking up on the victims or villains of the particular episode.

tomk:  Yeah, well, that didn’t help an overall weak episode. I’m left to wonder if the Penguin ever had a good solo episode before they redesigned him.

The Penguin as a character is a little rough these days. He’s too comical-looking for a serious story. The better Penguin stories I’ve seen portray him as something of a mob boss working behind the scenes.

jimmy:  And you don’t watch Gotham? Tsk tsk.

tomk:  Isn’t he something of an aspiring crime boss there too?

jimmy:  Very much. He is the best part of the show and manipulates all the crime bosses against one another.

tomk:  See, I like that sort of thing, but, as I said, the pilot bored me. Maybe I’ll give it a second chance if and when it comes to Netflix.

So, to say something positive, despite a lot of weak episodes featuring the character, casting singer/songwriter Paul Williams as the Penguin was a stroke of genius. He even looks a little like the guy in real life. He brings that classy edge to the character’s voice, something that suggests the high society man Penguin believes himself to be (another mirror image to the hero of the show, only this time its to Bruce Wayne and not Batman). It’s somewhat hard to believe the Penguin wrote all the songs to the original Muppet Movie, but there you are.

jimmy:  Well, hopefully they make better use of him in the future.

tomk:  I think Penguin works better in ensemble episodes with other villains. On his own, he’s a little tough to manage, for the reasons I stated above.

jimmy:  At least they kept the Joker cameos alive with the poster in Sherman’s basement. I’ll try not to ask why he would have a poster of a maniac on his wall.

tomk:  He probably couldn’t get a Hannibal Lector.

jimmy:  Anything else to add on your least favorite episode?

tomk:  Oh, we haven’t gotten to my least favorite yet.

jimmy:  Least favorite so far…

tomk:  And I don’t mean the Sewer King, well known as the suckiest suck who ever sucked.

No, I think I’m done. The episode is just embarrassing on so many levels.

jimmy:  And off we go from one of the worst, to one of the best…

tomk:  Yes, next time, we start with a genuinely great episode!

NEXT TIME:  Tom and Jimmy indeed go from worst to best with the phenomenal “Heart of Ice,” and then the two-part “The Cat And The Claw” before finishing up with “See No Evil”.

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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