It’s time for another thrilling (?) installment of Jimmy and Tom Talk Old Cartoons.
This time around, we’re covering “The Lion and the Unicorn,” “Showdown,” and “Riddler’s Reform” from Batman the Animated Series.
“The Lion and the Unicorn”
Alfred’s past as a spy comes back to haunt him when he and an old colleague are kidnapped by Red Claw! Can Batman and Robin save the old men before Red Claw gets the information she wants?
jimmy: For me, this one started with the old opening and theme. I was forging a theory that non-Robin episodes used the original instead of the New Adventures of Batman and Robin intro…but then Dick Grayson was the first character we see in the show and that theory is blown all to hell.
tomk: Yeah, I had the same theory. But Red Claw ruins everything, so what are you going to do?
jimmy: I’m not sure why, but I get this feeling that you don’t like Red Claw. Just call it a hunch.
tomk: In the grand scheme of things Red Claw just makes no sense.
She’s a terrorist the same way Cobra Commander is a terrorist, except he at least had the political goal of world domination. Red Claw was the faceless terror when we first hear about her and they didn’t even know she was a woman. Now she’s making videos. What’s her cause? Does she just like people dying? She makes no sense.
jimmy: Wait, are you dissing the almighty Cobra Commander?
tomk: Well, he always lost and none of his people ever got shot, so you tell me?
I’ve no love for Red Claw, but not your burning hatred. I will agree it makes no sense.
tomk: I don’t actually hate her. I’m indifferent. You felt stronger about Baby-Doll.
The episode itself is fine for all practical purposes. Robin was effective instead of captured, Batman saved the day, and we got Alfred back. How long has it been since we last saw Alfred?
Granted, I am not sure why we needed Alfred to have a backstory like that. It’s faithful to the source material, but doesn’t come close to explaining how Alfred went from “secret agent” to “butler”.
jimmy: It has been awhile now that you mention it. The background does kind of come out of nowhere, but being familiar with it from other sources, it didn’t really seem out of place. It could easily be a “WTF?” moment for the uninitiated.
tomk: Yeah, more or less.
My understanding is Alfred started as a spy (and in some older stories, a member of the French Resistance during WWII), then went into his true passion of acting. But his dying father made him go into the family business of being a butler for, apparently, the Wayne family.
jimmy: Yes, I remember his father was the butler for the Waynes before Alfred. But there have been so many versions of the backstory I don’t remember which is which.
tomk: Most stories seem to agree, even Mask of the Phantasm, which show the early years, say Alfred was the family butler when Bruce’s parents were killed, and he’s taken care of Bruce ever since. Though not without a feisty and sarcastic sense of humor.
jimmy: The whole point is that Alfred has had some pretty excessive training, but could Red Claw’s henchmen be more inept?
tomk: Well, one of them may have been voiced by 80s rocker Adam Ant…so yes,.
Alfred was quick, but he couldn’t evade those guys for long. I did like how they saw two guys come out of a hotel and somehow knew Bruce and Dick were investigating Alfred’s room.
jimmy: Yes. And of course could not put 2 and 2 together to at least be suspicious about Batman and Robin showing up.
I laughed when I saw one of them was voiced by Mr Goody Two Shoes himself.
tomk: Well, let me just say…wait until you see the next episode’s cast list.
But look, the thing with Red Claw here is, like many a Penguin episode, it could have been any villain. She brought nothing distinct to the table except that weird accent she has, and that tendency to karate chop people in the back of the neck.
jimmy: You could probably say the same for many villains in many episodes, but I see your point. You could easily swap her for Penguin and probably not even have to change the script besides a search and replace on their names.
tomk: Exactly. Take the Joker for instance. Whenever Joker is on the show, it’s a clear Joker plot. You couldn’t give a Joker plot to Two-Face or Croc or anyone else. Maybe Harley can take a part of it, but it’s basically a Joker plot. Penguin’s fate improves with the redesign, but for now, he’s fairly generic. Catwoman was too for a majority of her episodes.
Red Claw doesn’t even have the advantage of being a classic Bat foe that everyone knows and recognizes. She’s not as bad as Nostromos, or Sewer King, the suckiest suck who ever sucked, or even the Terrible Trio, but she has no clear motives other than to do stuff that would, if this weren’t a kids show, get a lot of people killed for no clear reason.
jimmy: But that’s what makes her evil!
tomk: Well, she certainly is evil, but that lack of motivation makes her stand out for a show where the bad guys often do have at least an initial motivation. Is she out for revenge? Nope. She wants money, but before that didn’t seem to be the case. The problem, for me, is the “terrorist” label they gave her. It makes no sense given what I know about terrorism now than what I knew then. A terrorist is someone using violence or the threat of violence to force political change, but Red Claw has no politics, not even some sort of patriotism to a fictional country.
jimmy: Maybe they were saving it for a big Red Claw movie that never got made.
tomk: Actually, when doing some research last week, I did come across a little information that said Red Claw and Baby-Doll were the only new characters not to cross over to the comics.
tomk: But Red Claw aside, how did you feel about this one, Jimmy?
jimmy: It was a perfectly cromulent episode. Nice to see Alfred in action and Bruce and Dick doing some detective work and working as a team. Nice to see how much they care for Alfred as well.
tomk: Nice to see Robin not get captured or injured so badly he had to stay on the Batwing.
jimmy: Yes. That too.
tomk: I’m not sure we had much to say about this one, Jimmy…but the next one may very well be the best Ra’s al-Ghul episode of the bunch.
jimmy: Let’s do it.
Ra’s al-Ghul comes to Gotham to claim an old man. What story from his past sheds light upon his motives?
jimmy: This almost seemed like a backdoor pilot for a Jonah Hex show.
tomk: Yeah, but it isn’t. Which is too bad, because Jonah’s actually more compelling for this episode than either Batman or Robin. The framing story is very by-the-numbers, but that’s OK since the whole point is to showcase a cool Western story.
jimmy: Batman and Robin are barely in this one. It was a bit of a strange episode. I know the western story had the Ra’s tie, but unlike other episodes that feature villains/supporting cast more prominent than Batman, at last they are in the same “universe”, well, time period at least.
tomk: Ah, but Batman is a pulp hero at his root, and so was Jonah Hex. Truth be told, Jonah Hex might be more of a pulp hero than Batman. And besides, even if this was a backdoor pilot, wouldn’t you want to see more of Hex? I know I would.
jimmy: Sure. I was pretty excited when I realized who it was. And that it wasn’t Josh Brolin.
tomk: I think everyone is excited when they realize who it is and it isn’t Josh Brolin. That includes Josh Brolin.
jimmy: Always a risk to have a show where the guy(s) whose name is in the title barely appear. But it works.
tomk: It worked very well. The only problematic thing in a small casting note. The territorial governor was voiced by one Patrick Leahy. Now, Leahy is a longtime Batman fan who appeared in The Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, and Batsoup, but he isn’t is an actor. This show should never have pandered to a United States Senator like that.
jimmy: Really? I never knew that.
jimmy: So he’s just some senator that likes Batman?
tomk: He’s the old guy Heath Ledger threatens with a knife at the Harvey Dent fundraiser, then in Rises he’s a member of the Wayne Enterprises board, and he’s the senator seated next to Holly Hunter during the explosive hearing in Batsoup.
And he’s a huge Batman fan. I’ve heard he also appeared in Batman and Robin, but we won’t hold that against him.
But I do think he has a better film career going than Donald Trump seeing as most of what I just listed is better than Home Alone 2.
jimmy: Was any of the Hex story taken from comics canon?
tomk: Not that I know of. Hex is a bit of an anti-hero, and some stories had him time travel to a post-apocalyptic future, but mostly he had these one-off adventures that had him going against really bad people who often didn’t survive the end of the story.
He was also a loner, so sidekicks and reoccurring villains really weren’t his thing.
jimmy: I was wondering if this was the first whore house on a Saturday morning cartoon show?
tomk: Well, the woman (voiced by Bewitched‘s Elizabeth Montgomery from the looks of things) only refers to them as her “girls”. That could theoretically mean other things you could sneak past the censors.
tomk: Look, it just had to fool kids.
She could have been talking about her barmaids.
jimmy: I found the animation (the Batman sequence at least) to be very cartoon-y. More so than the series usually is. I don’t know if that was intentional to contrast the Hex story, a by-product of the whole “more Robin, make it more for kids” agenda, or just complete coincidence. Either way, it seemed off.
tomk: Well, Robin did pop a guy in the dick, Jimmy. Is that the first dick punch (from Dick or anyone else) in a Saturday morning cartoon? And to a black-costumed Spider-Man to boot!
jimmy: Haha, might be a first as well.
tomk: So, perhaps, this episode was all about the gentilia.
Actually, the cast was rather impressive, and not just because of a sitting United States Senator.
Malcolm McDowell is always a great villain, and David Warner has the right level of condescending evil as always with Ra’s.
Plus Joe R. Lansdale’s script is about as good as a Western cartoon can get.
jimmy: Agreed on all counts. Anything else that Lansdale has done that we’d be familiar with?
tomk: I know he was the go-to guy if Bruce Timm wanted a country or western-themed script.
jimmy: Anything else to add to this episode of The Adventures of Jonah Hex, Tom?
tomk: I feel like there should be, but this was just a damn good episode all around.
jimmy: I know. Just one of those you just sit and watch and enjoy. We usually have more to talk about when we can pick them apart.
tomk: There really wasn’t anything to pick apart unless you get really picky, like how Arcady was whipping his armored goons in what was apparently a bulletproof suit.
jimmy: Or that it is like an episode of the A-Team with round after round of bullets being fired and no one getting hit.
tomk: No, we saw the bullets get deflected by the armor!
jimmy: Haha, besides those.
tomk: Well, yes, the other bullets clearly missed every living thing in that town or on that armored blimp.
jimmy: Have the comics ever mentioned Ra’s having a son?
tomk: Not to my knowledge. Here’s a question…were you expecting the old guy Ra’s kidnapped to be Hex?
jimmy: I didn’t, but I hadn’t given it much thought. Plus, Hex would be like 150 years young.
tomk: Well, that would depend on what year the show is set in. Remember the Crime Doctor episode listed said title doctor as graduating from medical school decades before the show would air, so it could only be the 40s in Batman’s world.
jimmy: The 40’s? But where does Bats get those wonderful toys? And didn’t the Riddler trap Commission Gordon in a virtual reality game?
tomk: The gangsters still carry tommy guns and wear hats outdoors. The TVs are all in black and white.
It’s a nebulous time period at best.
jimmy: Just like the TVs from the 40’s.
tomk: If you had a TV in the 40s, which were around, it wasn’t running in color.
jimmy: And you were probably rich and flipping channel saying there was nothing on.
tomk: Well, true. Or, you know, nebulous time period. Bruce watched Grey Ghost on TV when he was a kid.
jimmy: I don’t think we are supposed to know when the series takes place. Hence the mix of the old and the new. The Gotham TV show does the same thing.
tomk: Yes, well, at least the cartoon actually has a Batman in it.
jimmy: True. Anything more to add?
tomk: No, I think we should go check in on the Riddler now.
The Riddler is out of Arkham, has a job with a toy company, and claims he is reformed. Batman doesn’t believe him. Will the Dark Knight catch the Riddler red-handed before it’s too late?
jimmy: Another “But I’m reformed! But I don’t believe it!” episode, but this one gives the Riddler no benefit of the doubt for the get go.
tomk: Well, they namedrop the Penguin at a trial, so maybe that had something to do with it.
jimmy: And I was confused at first why a just out of jail, reformed Nygma would immediately be dressed as the Riddler…but then they explained…marketing!
tomk: Yes, they were tricky that way. It’s not like with the Penguin who only has the one change of clothes.
jimmy: And did he want to be caught? His riddles seemed rather easy this go round.
tomk: Well, writing riddles is hard.
You could argue there is always a part of the Riddler that wants to get caught or else he wouldn’t bother with riddles at all.
jimmy: Very true.
tomk: The Riddler is, at best, a condescending jackass. He believes he’s smarter than everybody. Even if he were successful in killing Batman, you really think he’d quit for good?
jimmy: No. As you say, it is all about the thrill and the superiority complex for him. How long can he keep one, two, ten steps ahead of Batman or whomever.
tomk: Of course, part of the thing is the Riddler isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.
jimmy: They never are.
And can Robin go an episode without getting injured?
tomk: I want to say yes but can’t think of one.
Oh, yes, if there’s an extensive flashback!
jimmy: Haha. He would have got hurt eventually.
tomk: Probably. Those circus acrobats are so damn clumsy sometimes.
jimmy: He just needs more experience. The kinda experience that tells you to survive an explosion by climbing into a steel safe. Guess we know where Indiana Jones got his ideas from. At least this explosion wasn’t nuclear.
tomk: I dunno. Depending on the strength of the blast, a solid steel safe could have been good enough protection to keep Batman safe from the shrapnel and whatnot.
jimmy: Oh, I’m not arguing that. It just made me think of that horrible scene on Crystal Skull.
You think the Riddler ever figured out how Batman escaped?
tomk: Well, he’s not a raving crazy person in his short appearance in the redesign.
jimmy: Joker and Two-Face probably had a little conversation with him in the cafeteria.
tomk: Yeah, or he got some Hatter therapy with a new chapeau.
jimmy: We don’t seem to be getting much traction on a conversation for this episode. Have we grown tired of Riddler’s antics? Does this episode simply offer nothing new and noteworthy?
tomk: Actually, the Riddler seems to have had some development. He was the guy who got away the first time, then he got caught, and here Batman found a way to really drive him crazy.
jimmy: Was that intentional though, or did he just roll with it after the fact?
tomk: Batman? Oh, I’m sure he just rolled with it.
jimmy: He can be a jerk like that.
tomk: But we’re talking about the Riddler. Hardly someone we can sympathize with in a case like this.
jimmy: Yeah, never a doubt if him going straight of all the characters in the show that have attempted it. That said, was it Rucka that turned him into an ally in Detective Comics?
tomk: Dini did it. And he wasn’t much of an ally.
It was more like everyone, including at times the Riddler, seemed to understand his reform was at best temporary and at worst a scam.
jimmy: I thought it was Dini after I posted. More fitting given our context.
And I want to punch the Riddler out too after doing all those stupid challenges in Batman: Arkham Knight!
tomk: Well, he’s no Clock King. Or Maxie Zeus.
jimmy: One each of those guys is more than enough.
tomk: Perhaps, but you probably wanted to punch the two of them out more.
Oh well, the Riddler is the Riddler, and his obsessions with his own cleverness will never allow him peace as long as someone out there knows more than he does.
jimmy: Not a bad episode, just doesn’t seem to be much to gab about.
tomk: True enough. Maybe we should check in on a guy Batman thinks can reform. I wonder where Two-Face has been lately…
NEXT TIME: Tom and Jimmy may have some interesting things to say about “Second Chance,” “Harley’s Holiday” or “Lock-Up”. Or, they may not. Check back in later to find out!