It’s time again for another discussion of cartoons with Jimmy and Tom.
This installment will cover the Batman the Animated Series episodes “His Silicon Soul,” “Fire from Olympus,” and “Read My Lips”.
“His Silicon Soul”
Another Batman is roaming the streets of Gotham…and he’s a robot! What happens when his programming is overridden by HARDAC to take over the city? Can the real Batman stop him?
tomk: Well, Jimmy, you being the huge Terminator fan, if the first time we saw HARDAC was the original movie, this episode had much more of a T2 vibe.
jimmy: Where was the kid and the Guns N’ Roses soundtrack?
tomk: Kid hasn’t been born yet. Same with Axl. Clearly the show is set in the 30s.
jimmy: Quite the technology they had back then.
tomk: It’s Earth-2.
If Termibator has a download of information from the Batcomputer, would he really have this incredible emotional reaction to killing the real Bats?
tomk: He had that before the download. He saved Rossum’s life before he downloaded HARDAC.
jimmy: Yes, but that supposedly came from him “being Batman”. All he knows are what was in computer files. Could that translate or be interpreted into emotions? I guess that is the whole point.
tomk: Yes, HARDAC did too good a job on this one. The Termibator (good name) knew what it meant to be Batman and did everything Batman would do.
jimmy: The show did a great job with the reveal of who he really was and making you care for him.
tomk: Yes. They even played a bit with the idea it was maybe really Batman on a really weird stakeout at first.
jimmy: Yeah, I thought it was weird at first. So, Bats somehow knows in advance that the creeps are going to break into the place, so he gets there first and somehow nails himself into a crate to catch the criminals by surprise. Not exactly the tactic I’d use, but effective.
tomk: In the past, my dear Jimmy, you have wondered about Batman’s ability to always be where the trouble is. So, how is this a stretch?
jimmy: Well, Vision tells me that Batman is the reason that the trouble exists.
tomk: He’s in a different universe, and he dresses like Ward Cleaver.
jimmy: They reveal right off he top that he is Robo-Bats. Alternatively they could have played it so that we only know Bats gets injured from the gunfire and the reveal comes when he arrives at the mansion and is confronted by Alfred. I guess the biggest con of keeping it a mystery is that the scene where real Batman shows up and says, Shaggy style, “It wasn’t me” could be incredibly confusing.
tomk: They could have also kept real Bats out of the story and let the viewer think Bats’ mind really was in a robot body for a bit.
jimmy: Yes, excellent point.
I know we are talking about a super hero cartoon, but I found it a bit of a stretch that the Termibator could have such a strong personality and believe himself Batman, including having all of Batman’s moves, from reading computer files. They do touch on this a little bit with Alfred asking him to remember his first kiss, etc. So we know he is not a perfect copy.
tomk: Was it Alfred or Rossum who asked that?
I think the point was HARDAC did too good a job on Termibator.
jimmy: Not sure, thought it was Alfred, but no matter. HARDAC could make a mean replicant, no doubt.
tomk: Oh great, now we’re into Blade Runner territory.
jimmy: Dear God, I hope not!
tomk: You were the one that brought in the replicants, Jimmy. Or should I say…Roy Batty!
jimmy: Deftly changes subject. So, Alfred, he’s pretty resourceful?
tomk: You don’t hire a guy like Alfred if he can’t do the job of fifteen people by himself.
jimmy: And how does Robo-Bat not know how to open the secret clock entrance?
tomk: That wasn’t in the files. Batman just knows that stuff, like the last time he had a really good steak.
Or the combo is, in fact, the measurements of the woman who was Bruce’s first kiss.
jimmy: Not in the files was what I was thinking. Funny what Bruce does and doesn’t keep on the Bat-computer. Personal journal as well apparently, but not too personal as you (and the show) elude to.
Does HARDAC return again? Because, it seems he knows all Bruce’s secrets.
tomk: I don’t think so. There wasn’t enough left of HARDAC to do much more than what he did here, and unlike other villains, as he is a computer, they can “kill” him off.
jimmy: Good episode overall. Anything stand out to you good or bad?
tomk: No. I felt like I’d seen this sort of story many times before. The replacement that replaces the hero too well.
jimmy: Agreed. It was good, but nothing new. I like your idea of having the Termibator think he is Batman for a more extended period of time and not having Bats appear (until maybe the finale or something).
tomk: Yeah, having his mind transferred is at least as realistic as Hugo Strange’s mind reading machine, or the Sewer King having hot gourmet meals produced somehow. And Sewer King is the suckiest suck who ever sucked.
jimmy: No doubt. BTW, you are right that it was Rossim and not Alfred with the “do you remember you first kiss” stuff.
Robo-Bats tearing off his face was pretty creepy. His repair module is pretty good though, even fixed his suit perfectly in seconds.
tomk: But couldn’t correct for the red eye color. Some things are still giveaways.
jimmy: I was a bit surprised they fixed his outfit since they did other things like the red eyes and real Bats torn cape to let users keep track of who’s who. Just easier on the animators probably.
jimmy: Any more to add for this one?
tomk: No, I think we’re good here. Might be time to start praying.
“Fire From Olympus”
Shipping magnate Maximilian “Maxie” Zeus thinks he’s the king of the Greek Gods! Can Batman stop him before he uses a stolen lightning weapon to cause problems for the mortals of Gotham City?
jimmy: I’ve heard of fill-in issues for comics, but does it apply to cartoons as well?
tomk: This was an odd one. The animation was actually rather good. If anything, the real problem is Maxie Zeus is perhaps the lamest Batman villain that wasn’t made up for the show.
jimmy: Wait…he is from the comics?
tomk: Yes. Yes, he is.
Normally, he’s a lot scrawnier.
jimmy: Does he think he is from Olympus?
jimmy: Damn. Not regretting missing those.
tomk: The biggest difference is comic Maxie started off as a history teacher who went nuts when his wife left him.
Quite frankly, the best Maxie Zeus moment I ever read was during “Knightfall”. After Bane released all the Arkham inmates, Maxie was so pleased and screaming nonsense that he didn’t look where he was going, ran into a tree, and knocked himself out. He didn’t appear again for the entire storyline.
jimmy: LOL, I was just going to comment that he sounds like someone that showed up in a Crisis event for like one panel and was immediately killed. I was close.
tomk: Oh, there were a few extended story lines. Once he had a female assistant that got smacked around while he was locked up. She went nuts and came back as the Harpy, where she was suddenly lethally dangerous to disobedient henchmen.
And Grant Morrison and Dave McKean did give him a somewhat cool make-over for their really creepy Arkham Asylum graphic novel.
jimmy: I really need to reread Arkham Asylum. Don’t think I have since it was released.
tomk: And just so you know…the next episode’s villain was also from the comics.
jimmy: Well…he looks…different.
tomk: He looks better than Clayface did in that story.
jimmy: Was there anything worthwhile about this episode?
tomk: Some nice references to Greek myth?
Maxie clearly the most buff guy who isn’t a crocodile man in Gotham.
jimmy: Flaming blimps wins.
tomk: And the cops even got out before it exploded.
Maxie also gets points for having relatively sane henchmen who knew that what he was doing was downright stupid.
jimmy: Good point. Though they paid the price, they at least weren’t “Yes men”.
tomk: Yeah, Maxie may have been nuts, but his two Greek-accented associates knew it was a really bad idea to shoot down the cops.
jimmy: I’m struggling to say much of anything about this one. It was just completely ridiculous.
tomk: Well, with that in mind…wait until you see the next one!
jimmy: Oh dear.
“Read My Lips”
A new gang in Gotham is pulling off fantastic heists! When Batman tracks down the mastermind behind it all, he’ll soon find out Scarface is no regular dummy!
jimmy: You didn’t like this one?
tomk: I did like this one. But it sure is weird.
Ridiculous, you could say.
But in the finest tradition of ridiculous. We are talking about a show where the hero is a guy in a skin tight bat suit.
jimmy: It is definitely ridiculous, especially during the Ventriloquist/Scarface argument, but it is much more fun than Mount Olympus.
tomk: I can agree to that. The Ventriloquist is a much better villain in the comics and the cartoons than Maxie Zeus will ever be.
jimmy: Yes. They both suffer from a mental illness, but the Ventriloquist is much more interesting. And even with the “zaniness” it is still a very grounded episode. Not firing lightning bolts at blimps.
tomk: The dialogue is great too.
jimmy: Oh yeah. And how can you not smile at that last shot?
tomk: The teleplay was by Joe R. Lansdale. Listen to the various commentaries, and they tend to praise him as a guy with a real gift for dialogue, particularly Western stuff, but his 30s gangster talk is also top notch, like how Scarface mispronounced “premonitions”.
jimmy: Don’t put words in his mouth!
Funny thing, the comics generally depict Arnold Wesker as a bad ventriloquist. He’s every bit as crazy, but he’s not good at the whole puppet thing. Generally, Scarface can’t pronounce words that begin with the letter “B” correctly.
He tends to say things like, “It’s GATMAN!”
jimmy: Haha, really?
tomk: Yeah. The idea that he’s an awesome ventriloquist is actually something done for this cartoon.
Though later comics stories would say Scarface actually was some sort of supernatural entity or something. And Wesker would get killed but new Ventriloquists (often female) would appear with Scarface in tow.
jimmy: Speaking of ventriloquists, Batman does quite the job himself to instigate the Ventriloquist/Scarface fight.
tomk: He was taught by Zatara the magician. You have to admire the foresight that he saw this was a skill he might need one day. You almost have to wonder what other tricks he learned.
BATMAN: You and your goons may have me surrounded without my utility belt, Joker, but I have one trick up my sleeve…pick a card!
jimmy: Haha, yeah. Totally a case of Batman being prepared for anything that the plot needs, no matter how unpredictable.
tomk: I mean, the escape stuff makes sense, but how did he think ventriloquism would be a skill he’d need?
jimmy: Wait until the episode when he makes an escape using balloon animals.
tomk: Or pulls Bugs Bunny out of his cowl.
jimmy: Ha. That said, I thought it was a nice touch of continuity to mention his having trained with Zatarra.
tomk: I did too.
But say, Jimmy, big Terminator fan that you are, did you catch the connection between this episode and the first three movies?
jimmy: Had to be Joe Piscipo I guess.
See, Scarface has a henchman named Rhino who has appeared consistently in both comics and cartoons as a regular member of Scarface’s gang, almost Harley to Scarface’s Joker if you remove the romantic aspect.
Rhino here is voiced by an actor named Earl Boen, who you may recognize as the only guy besides Swartzenegger to appear in the first three films.
jimmy: The shrink guy?
tomk: The shrink guy.
jimmy: Yeah. He was Rhino? Wow.
tomk: Doesn’t look very intimidating in real life, does he?
jimmy: I never would have known his real name. Good catch.
tomk: I caught it somewhere, possibly on an audio commentary. He comes back for Justice League as a different character.
Looking over his Wikipedia page, I see a lot of voice work.
I didn’t know he did the racial introductions for World of Warcraft…
jimmy: Is that a movie?
tomk: Not yet.
The MMORPG. I used to play. When you select a character’s race, you go to a starting area and a narrator tells you what’s going on before you start play. Turns out it was him.*
jimmy: I’ve never played it.
tomk: But in cartoons, I see he did both Colossus and Magneto in different X-Men works, and the Beyonder for the 90s Spider-Man cartoon.
jimmy: One of the best cartoon series ever.
tomk: You should review that one if you ever finish the timeline.
jimmy: 2027 I’ll be all set.
tomk: By then, perhaps Watson will be back to the Box Office report.
Speaking of counting money…Did you notice that when the Scarface gang was getting off the boat to break into the liner to get the platinum…the boat was already full of the bars?
tomk: Not before…
But now that you mention it…no, because I am not rewatching the episode at the time of this typing.
jimmy: I just happened to notice it. I was thinking “what is all that in their boat?” And then they break in the liner and we see all the bars. When they start handing them out they get added to the pile.
tomk: Maybe they hit another boat first.
But I wanted to say something about actor George Dzundza. He does really good work as both Ventriloquist and Scarface. You’d almost think they really were different actors.
And he’ll be back for Superman The Animated Series as Perry White.
jimmy: Really? I never knew that. Yeah, he does a great job. I was almost surprised both characters were done by the same actor.
tomk: I mean, it makes sense that this would be the case, but the two characters are so different in so many ways. They’re supposed to be, too. Wesker is one of those pathetic bad guys that you tend to feel bad for. And Fox censors didn’t care what happened to Scarface since he’s made of wood, so the animators could shoot him up and destroy him all they want.
Scarface’s regular destruction is a very cathartic thing, too. You know that won’t be happening to the Penguin no matter how lame his schemes are.
jimmy: I was thinking that too, Scarface really get’s shot up pretty badly. To the point I was like “uh, bad guy, you couldn’t have stopped pulling the trigger by now?”
tomk: Well, everyone either hated or feared that guy. He’d be an X-Men character in another universe.
jimmy: That seems like the mutant power I would have gotten. People shooting lasers from their eyes or controlling the weather. I’d get…master of ventriloquism!
tomk: You’re Canadian. It might come with a healing factor.
tomk: Though it occurs to me, I like to point out various Batman foes represent different aspects of the character. Does anyone represent the split nature of Bruce Wayne better than Arnold Wesker? You have the wimpy normal guy, and then the more dangerous persona. Yeah, Two-Face represents a split persona too, but not the same was the Ventriloquist does.
jimmy: Interesting take. Though I think Bruce is more of a mask that Batman wears as a means to an end as opposed to a warring personality.
tomk: True, but Batman is generally mentally healthier than his various opponents.
He’s the guy who was strong enough to withstand great emotional trauma and come out a man who wants to make sure no one else goes through what he did.
jimmy: If Batman is mentally healthy, that doesn’t say much for the villains you are comparing him with.
tomk: He does tend to take them to a hospital instead of jail.
Unless we’re talking about the Penguin. That guy can go right to jail.
And Robin is clearly much more well-adjusted than Batman.
tomk: But you know who may be the most mentally unhealthy now that I think about it? Batgirl. No trauma, just the need to put on a suit, swing around the city, and beat up criminals. She has no excuse for that! She’s just some eager thrill seeker!
jimmy: Good point. How many of these do-gooders simply do it for the thrill/it is the right thing to do? I’m sure we could name lots, but so many have a backstory marred in tragedy.
tomk: Or superpowers make it actively less dangerous.
I’m sure the thrill of it was something that was a factor for half the protagonists of Watchmen.
jimmy: Careful, we don’t want to anger Watson by talking about Batman and Watchmen in the same article.
tomk: I don’t think it would be the first time. Besides, its not like we advocating team-ups or something. That would be wrong, and no one would be that foolish.
jimmy: Heh. After I wrote that I thought that it is probably hard to find a Watchmen article that doesn’t mention The Dark Knight Returns.
tomk: Probably true, though I feel like Watchmen holds up much better now than Dark Knight.
jimmy: Perhaps. But we’ve gotten a little sidetracked (as usual). I was thinking that even though he works here, and in the comics, Scarface would be a disaster if they ever tried a live action version.
tomk: Maybe. I think he’d work out better depending on the tone of the show. We’re about to see Killer Croc in a movie. If you can make that guy work, a guy taking orders from a puppet should be no big deal. He’d just be an evil Jim Henson.
But allow me to say…good villains get good commentary. Bad villains get next to nothing. Hence how we had little to say about Maxie Zeus and more to say about the Ventriloquist.
jimmy: True….was Zeus worse than Sewer King?
tomk: No. Sewer King was much worse.
tomk: Maxie’s plan at least made sense.
jimmy: Well, more sense.
tomk: Maxie’s episode had better animation and in-story continuity. His plan was to reassert his dominance (as the real Zeus) over the sky and make mortals tremble. Sewer King never made a lick of sense, going from how he got hot meals underground to where this endless parade of alligators came from. I’m also a sucker for mythology, of which Maxie knew a lot about and referenced largely correctly. True, Maxie’s episode is a lot more formulaic after many other standard episodes introducing a character from the comics complete with a worried loved one, but that still puts it miles ahead of the Sewer King, the suckiest suck who ever sucked.
But I’d take the Scarface and Ventriloquist episode easily over both Maxie and Sewer King any time.
jimmy: For sure.
tomk: Well, unless you have something else to add, Jimmy, it may be time to move on. We may need a return visit from the Mad Hatter…
jimmy: Let’s go down the rabbit hole…
NEXT TIME: Tom and Jimmy will be back at some point in the near future with the episodes “The Worry Men,” “Sideshow,” and “A Bullet for Bullock”.
*NOTE: Some of Earl Boen’s World of Warcraft voice work can be heard here.