Going Through The DCAU Part Twenty-Seven

Jimmy and Tom may be done with the original run of Batman the Animated Series, but there’s still plenty of cartoons to cover.

And now, they continue with two movies, Batman:  Mask of the Phantasm and Batman and Mr. Freeze:  Subzero.

“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”

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Mobsters start dying, and Batman is the prime suspect! But who is the mysterious Phantasm? And what will Bruce do when the love of his life returns to Gotham City?

jimmy:  Well, where do we start with this? How about by saying it was awesome.

tomk:  Yes, yes it was.

And I got to see it in a 35mm print at the Yonkers Drafthouse. The manager came out before the movie to say that it was one of maybe two such prints in existence. The audience laughed at every funny Alfred line, applauded the Joker’s first appearance, and further applauded Kevin Conroy, Abe Vigoda, and especially Mark Hamill’s names during the closing credits.

jimmy:  That sounds awesome. I watched a pan and scan DVD version alone in my basement. I think you win.

tomk:  We can’t all be winners.

jimmy:  I did see it in theatres during it’s initial theatrical release back in 1993.

tomk:  On the plus side, we also can’t all be Watsons.

jimmy:  Thank God.

tomk:  Actually, the Drafthouse ran two vintage trailers before the movie, too. The first was for We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story, and then there was 3 Ninjas.

jimmy:  We’ll be discussing those next I guess.

tomk:  I’d prefer not to…

But if I remember right, Bruce Timm and company were basically making a long pilot episode for the show and the suits at Warner Brothers decided to release it theatrically instead, so they padded it out a little and the rest is history.

jimmy:  From what I read it was always meant to be a full length feature but direct to video. Then WB decided to release it in theatres and the whole thing became a huge rush job. But WB also threw a lot of money at it. Hence things like the 3D crawl through Gotham for the opening. It’s amazing it wasn’t a disaster from the get go, though it was pretty much a bomb at the box office making just over 5 million in it’s entire run.

tomk:  But I think it holds up over time.

jimmy:  Definitely holds up. As does the series in general anyway.

tomk:  More than, say, any of the contemporary Batman films that came out before and after.

jimmy:  Even Batman And Robin?

tomk:  Actually, the Drafthouse used a clip from Batman and Robin to remind people not to talk during the movie. In the clip, Mr. Freeze is sadly watching home movies when a minion interrupts, so he freezes the guy and says, “I hate it when people talk during the movie.”

jimmy:  Lol

tomk:  So, someone found a use out of it.

jimmy:  To back up a little bit, it is easy to find many reviews and Lists Of Truths that place Phantasm at or near the top of all theatrical Batman appearances. It’s that good, and hard to argue with that.

tomk:  I remember both the local newspaper review at the time (and it was a good review) actually saying the Joker was the funniest character out of Warner Brothers animation since Daffy Duck. Plus, when both Siskel and Ebert were both still alive and on TV, they routinely placed this movie at first or second place if they ranked the Bat-films. They also loved Subzero, but that’s for another viewing.

jimmy:  With it’s PG rating it was also able to do things the regular show had never done. They never really pushed that too far, but has anyone died on the show before? Mobsters are dropping left and right here.

tomk:  Um…Joker actually kills a couple folks in the redesign, but that’s about all I can think of.

jimmy:  Yes, but we’re not there yet. When I watched it (even though I had seen it before) I was a bit surprised when Chuckie Sol was actually dead.

tomk:  And that was Dick Miller again. Any gangster that sounds like him should stay out of Gotham.

jimmy:  Heh. Some great voice talent here besides the usual suspects. Miller, Vigoda, future Lois Lane Dana Delany and Stacy Keach in two roles, Carl Beaumont and in a move that makes all kinds of sense after the fact, Phantasm.

tomk:  True, plus the usual stellar work from Conroy, Hamill, and Zimbalist.

jimmy:  Of course.

tomk:  But one thing struck me…besides the fact composer Hans Zimmer’s name is listed in the closing credits as a “synthesist”…is the idea that Bruce would give up the whole Batman thing for the right woman. Nolan played with that idea in his films, but it seems any time that’s done, we need to bring in a new character. If an existing character could do that, they would have by now.

jimmy:  When I was watching it first reminded it me of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service where Bond appears to find the love of his life, only for it to end in tragedy.

tomk:  Well, it is still something of a tragedy all told. Bruce is still devastated all the same, and Andrea isn’t much better off.

jimmy:  At the same time, this is really pre-Batman Bruce, so he is still clinging to a little bit of hope of finding happiness…until he puts the mask on.

tomk:  I’m referring to the ending. He found a little happiness once again, toys with the idea of giving up Batman, and the only comfort he gets in the last few minutes is he finds the locket she left for him.

So, he knows she’s alive…and that’s all he knows.

jimmy:  Well, at that point he has no idea where she (or the Joker) is in either case. I know there was a comic that followed up on this story (which I haven’t read) but I assume Andrea Beaumont is never mentioned again? And Joker just appears again without explanation of course.

tomk:  Andreas Beaumont comes back, exactly once, though the scene in question is rather awesome and I will say no more.

jimmy:  Cool. That’s once more than I expected.

tomk:  Let’s just say when I saw the scene in question, it was a great way of connecting the character to other things, and it’s in an incredibly appropriate episode for the series it appears in.

jimmy:  I’m looking forward to it.

So, I’ll just throw this out there knowing the answer…where’s Robin? Just your typical “away at college” situation?

tomk:  We could ask the same question about Harley if we go that route.

Actually, Batman never cleared his name with the police if you think about it.

jimmy:  Hmm…well, I’m sure it is just one of those things you assume happens after the fact, but you’re right. And it’s not like he hands Phantasm or anyone with knowledge of Phantasm over to them.

tomk:  The only real witnesses to the Phantasm are dead or missing.

jimmy:  Excellent point. I wonder how he does clear his name? Especially since I’m sure he won’t reveal the identity of Phantasm.

Speaking of which, there is a slight joy you lose watching this subsequent times knowing Phantasm’s identity. Such a great twist.

tomk:  It is a great twist, though I remember the first time I saw the Phantasm possibly on a TV ad and well before I saw the movie, I thought it was Azrael.

jimmy:  Well, that makes sense seeing he’d been Batman for a while just prior to this release.

I’m surprised Batman never figured it out though. More so contrasted with the fact that Joker figured it out without even having any contact with her. Batman and Phantasm actually fought. But Joker’s no fool, and also probably had the knowledge that Carl Beaumont was dead, which Bats didn’t have.

tomk:  Joker was the one who killed her father, remember?

Who else would it be?

jimmy:  Do they explicitly say that? I know that is the (probably correct) assumption.

tomk:  Well, the nameless hitman who was seen exited the house when Andrea came home to find her father was the same one Bruce realized was the Joker, hence the reason Sid told Joker he was as deep in the mess as the other mobsters.

jimmy:  Right, right, I remember that now.

It was nice to see them give the Joker a small bit of backstory without it being the Red Hood/Killing Joke version and without getting into him falling into a vat of chemicals.

tomk:  Or giving him a name.

Heck, he doesn’t even talk in those scenes.

jimmy:  Just a cat call.

tomk:  But we also got more of Bruce’s backstory than ever before. Maybe we didn’t see the Waynes die, but we did see his first attempts to go out, accidentally messing with Bullock, and the evolution of the costume, one which even spooked Alfred.

jimmy:  Yes. The creators stuck to their “never show the Wayne’s murder” guns. I’m a sucker for origin story, so I enjoyed seeing green Bruce out on the prowl and how ineffective his appearance was. Leading to the suit and imitation factor.

The bats coming up through the crack when Bruce was at his happiest was a nice twist on the usual “bat flies in the window” cliche.

tomk:  Bruce actually celebrating a little his initial success made him seem more Robin than Batman.

So, to answer your question, that’s where Robin was.

jimmy:  Ha. Well, Bruce is probably not much older than Dick at that point.

tomk:  True, and in the Silver Age, Bruce was Robin first.

jimmy:  That’s not true.

tomk:  Nope. It is.

Some Silver Age stories said Bruce learned detective work from a private eye, and he designed the Robin costume to keep his identity hidden since he was still a kid. The private detective might have even named him since the suit was as bright as a Robin Redbreast.

jimmy:  Well, I never knew that.

tomk:  Well, some facts are better off not being known.

jimmy:  Speaking of the passage of time, how long is it between the flashbacks and the current time? I don’t know that they say specifically, but I’ve read 10 years. Either way, those mobsters aged badly.

tomk:  Well, one showed the true dangers of smoking.

And the other characters didn’t age as badly.

Ten years seems good. Bruce needs to be old enough to be able to adopt and raise Dick.

jimmy:  Alfred has greyed. Bruce obviously looks older. Andrea looks the same. She takes good care of her skin.

tomk:  So has the Joker. No wrinkles on that guy.

The mobsters, to be fair, weren’t exactly young men to begin with.

jimmy:  True. But over the course of 10 years they now look ancient.

tomk:  Sal did, but again, he was sick. Sol was just a bit grayer. Bronski didn’t look too good to begin with.

jimmy:  I guess I just see the guy with the mask struggling to breath, but he was the extreme.

To switch gears, the running gag of Alfred bringing in the tea at inappropriate times and turning around and leaving immediately was hilarious.

tomk:  Alfred has the best and worst timing ever.

And then there was a bit later where a shirtless Bruce seems to be talking to a bottomless Andrea.

jimmy:  Yeah, that was a bit of a sexy scene. After they had clearly spent the night together.

tomk:  Well, they were at least indoors. Not like the first time Alfred walked in and they were rolling around on the grass.

jimmy:  Ok, let’s talk about Andrea for a bit. So, Phantasm kills Sol, and then she is seen flyng into Gotham sometime shortly afterward by plane. Did she kill him and leave town and then fly back?

tomk:  Um…yes?

jimmy:  Heh.

After the reveal, when you look back at it, does it make sense that she was able to do the things she did as Phantasm? They established early that she could handle herself in a fight. And some of the appearing and disappearing she does as Phantasm is to the point of being supernatural and probably best not to think about. And she can run on rooftops really, really, really fast.

tomk:  Her father died well before the movie started. She saw Bruce’s regimen even if she didn’t know he was Batman yet, so having her get herself into shape after a couple years can happen. If anything, she wasn’t quite as good as Bruce, mostly due to not having the experience.

Remember: the death of her father occurred before the Joker got his current look, so there’s a good chance she had a couple years to get into shape. Plus, that’s assuming she only started training then. How does Bruce always slip away when someone has their back turned?

jimmy:  He’s the god damn Batman!

tomk:  Frank Miller has so much to answer for…

jimmy:  Speaking of, the scene where the cops trap Batman in the building was super reminiscent of Year One. All it was missing was the bats showing up at the end to save him. Such a great scene.

tomk:  Yeah, and your anti-jodhpur sentiments must have loved the Swat Team’s pants.

jimmy:  Argh. Let’s not talk about that.

tomk:  Fair enough.

Can I just say, Bruce didn’t bat an eyelash when Andrea knew who Batman was. He didn’t even try to argue.

jimmy:  Well, him standing nearby his parents grave was obvious proof. There was no other possible explanation.

tomk:  Still he never worried about her knowing. He never voiced a concern about it to anyone, and when she made some comments about knowing, he didn’t deny it or look even a little shocked. He just accepted it and moved on.

jimmy:  He probably wanted to tell her anyway. But you have a point.

The ending is pretty downbeat. I know we have Batman swinging off to continue his war on crime, but otherwise everything else is pretty depressing.

tomk:  It’s not uncommon for the show to have a downer ending, but the downer is usually a bad guy in a low place where we might feel sorry for him, or else the threat is still there of a different bad guy.

This one is different in that it’s Batman having the downer ending. He can’t stop being Batman. That was an option before he found out who the Phantasm was, but not after.

jimmy:  It’s a very fitting ending, but few stories end that way.

tomk:  Which may be why the movie is so much better than many others. The hero has a melancholy fate ahead of him. It’s appropriate for Batman, obviously, but he doesn’t get the girl or his name cleared or even a chance to smile again when the closing credits roll.

jimmy:  I wondered if this would come up organically, but have you read Batman: Year Two?

tomk:  Actually, no. Not yet.

jimmy:  Ok, well, I won’t spoil it for you. Phantasm is not an adaptation, but let’s just say it takes a lot of cues from that story.

tomk:  I wouldn’t be surprised.

jimmy:  But Phantasm leaves out the batshit insane aspects of it and makes it, well, actually good.

tomk:  Huh.

Have you read Long Halloween? I’ve heard it referred to as Year Three.

jimmy:  I have, but not in a long time. Can’t remember the timeline, but it definitely builds on Year One. Year Two was pretty much retconned away prior to Long Halloween I think.

tomk:  I see.

Well, I just want to say this was a damn good Batman movie, and it just goes to show how you can make a good Batman film if you respect the character and the source material.

jimmy:  Unlike, say, Batsoup.

tomk:  Hey, there are all kinds of way to respect source material. They could have done this too.

jimmy:  12:00, otherwise known as the Martha Hour.

tomk:  Admit it…The Brave and the Bold cartoon did a better job of handling the Ma Kent angle than Batsoup.

jimmy:  Anything handled it better than Batsoup. But let’s not ruin the discussion of this great movie by segueing into that…whatever Batsoup is.

tomk:  A movie that wishes it was as good as a twenty or so year old cartoon at half the length?

jimmy:  Yes, that exactly.

Any additional thoughts Tom? I think we both really enjoyed this.

tomk:  Yes, I think so too. We said a good deal. Will we have as much to say on other movies? We’ll just have to wait and see.

“Batman: Subzero”

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When an accident shattered Nora Fries’ cryogenics tube, her husband Victor will do anything to save her life. That means kidnapping Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon for a forced organ transplant! Can Batman and Robin save both Barbara and Nora from death?

jimmy:  I thought that Phantasm had a better story to tell, but this was still quite good and the action was fantastic.

tomk:  I agree there, but this one had some good moments even outside the action when you consider something that jumped out to me: this movie showed a distinct difference between Bruce and Dick in terms of their out-of-costume personality.

And by that, I mean Dick is capable of a committed relationship while Bruce just pretends all the time.

jimmy:  True. But he also seems to be more “identity be damned, I’m saving my woman!” He held nothing back trying to keep Barbara from being kidnapped. To the point that I’m sure a non-comic, non-Gordon cop would have stopped to say, “and how exactly were you able to do all that you did Mr. Grayson? It was quite extraordinary.” Instead, Gordon just says “thanks” and we move on.

tomk:  Hey, that uniformed cop that watched Dick vault over the multi-car pile up looked awfully impressed!

Besides, Dick is a world class gymnast going back to his childhood.

That much could even be publicly known.

jimmy:  It probably is, you would still have to be blown away by what he did during the chase. Even if not suspecting him of being Robin. A bit more than “thanks” seemed due, Gordon! 🙂

tomk:  Hey, that car chase was probably the highlight of the film!

I’d be impressed too.

Imagine now much more impressive it would be if Dick had been successful!

jimmy:  But then it would have just been an episode of BTAS instead of a movie.

tomk:  Exactly!

Though, in terms of plot structure, I think Bruce would have failed then, too.

jimmy:  Sure.

And speaking of Bruce, for a long time I thought this should have been called “Batgirl and Mr. Freeze: Subzero”. He pretty much takes a back seat until the oil rig finale.

tomk:  Heck, it could be called “Robin, Batgirl and Mr. Freeze: Subzero”.

jimmy:  Exactly

tomk:  Both Robin and Batgirl shine in this one, more than they do in the regular series.

jimmy:  Gives the last couple of episodes an even deeper perspective.

tomk:  Yeah, we can say those two got better.

jimmy:  But, I guess that is kind of the point if this was the “real world”. They may never be Batman, but both would have an improvement arc that we would never see from Bruce outside of that sequence in Phantasm before he has adopted the Bat identity.

tomk:  Good point.

You’re good at this, Jimmy.

jimmy:  Aw shucks.

tomk:  There’s something to that.

I mean, when the series comes back, Robin has become Nightwing and Batgirl is a regular character and not a clumsy, occasional guest star.

jimmy:  With that in mind, I assume this was released after the end of the series? We have a new voice for Batgirl, would this carry over to the redesign?

tomk:  Um, yes and no.

I do think it came when the regular series was over, and Batgirl was recast, but actress Mary Kay Bergman only voiced Batgirl this one time.

jimmy:  Does it say much that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference, not like say they replace Conroy, Hamill, Lester or other main characters. I guess maybe because she only appeared a couple of times previously.

tomk:  It helps a little that Bergman sounded a little like Melissa Gilbert.

But Bergman is a tragic case, actually. Her best known roles were probably when she voiced most of the female characters on South Park, but she committed suicide in 1999.

jimmy:  Really? Wow, that is sad.

tomk:  Yeah.

jimmy:  I know we wouldn’t have had much of a movie otherwise, but the fact that in all of Gotham, Barbara Gordon was the best match for Nora was a little eye-roll inducing.

tomk:  Except she wasn’t! There were sixteen or so other matches. Freeze just chose Barbara at random.

jimmy:  I can’t remember exactly. I thought she was the best candidate of the 17 based on sex, weight, etc. I’ll stick to that as him randomly choosing her makes it more eye-roll worthy. 🙂

tomk:  Well, yes, but if he’d just picked someone else, then Batman might not have been as motivated to look…or even known about it right away.

jimmy:  Or Robin, who seemed to be the bigger catalyst.

tomk:  Well, if Robin hadn’t, Batman was sure to hear about it from Gordon.

jimmy:  True. And Gordon seemed to be pretty approving of Dick and Barbara’s relationship.

tomk:  Why not? Dick’s a clean cut, respectful young man who knows how to ride a motorcycle in an emergency.

jimmy:  While she fantasizes about Batman…

tomk:  Hey, not in this episode! Maybe she learned the Watson-approved advantages of dating the circus acrobat!

jimmy:  Haha, quite possibly.

tomk:  What does seem weird is neither Dick nor Barbara realize they have two identities. You’d think Barbara would notice too, given she’s spent more time with “Robin” than he perhaps has with “Batgirl”.

jimmy:  I was just going to ask you about that. I didn’t think they knew each other’s identities. Does Bruce know who she is?

tomk:  Well, all I will say there is…wait and see. Those answers will eventually be revealed.

jimmy:  I figured.

It’s not like it’s obvious or anything…

tomk:  At least Bruce disguises his voice.

jimmy:  He’s the only one.

tomk:  Well, the Phantasm had a hell of vocal disguise.

jimmy:  Well, yes. But of the regulars.

tomk:  Well, he’s Batman. He’s automatically better than everyone around him.

jimmy:  That’s why he’s the second best hero ever.

tomk:  Behind Mighty Mouse, right?

jimmy:  I was thinking Madame Xanadu.

tomk:  Oh yeah.

You know who should play Madame Xanadu in a movie? Brie Larson.

jimmy:  Don’t tell Jenny!

tomk:  Let her read it!

jimmy:  Ok, we’re getting off track. So, Veronica Vreeland…basically unrecognizable here.

tomk:  Eh, she hangs around.

At least she didn’t fall for some scam. That Frank Sinatra-looking doctor might have gotten the cash he needed for his bad investments just by scamming her.

jimmy:  There’s no precedence for that…

But when I watched it I was thinking it was weird she wasn’t at the socialite party, then the credits told me she was “Ronnie”, I was surprised. Maybe they started the redesign early with her.

tomk:  Maybe, though I think she was called “Ronnie” in the past, and I’m not sure she even appears in the redesign.

jimmy:  It’s not a big deal either way, just was surprised she was so “off model”. Almost like the animators made a mistake and they “fixed” it via dialogue.

tomk:  Maybe they just forgot what she looked like.

jimmy:  Well, she is just a generic friend of Bruce Wayne’s that only shows up to get in trouble that Batman needs to bail her out of. Except here, of course…

tomk:  She’s the combination of every Bruce Wayne friend that gets in trouble. She’s a consolidation.

jimmy:  How do you feel about Freeze? The show/movie tries to make him a sympathetic character, but at the end of the day he was still willing to sacrifice Barbara (among others) to save his wife. Even his helping Batman was only to save Nora.

tomk:  He also murdered that submarine crew.

But I was wondering if that shifty Sintra-looking doctor was more of a villain than Freeze was here.

jimmy:  It’s definitely played that way, but I can’t give Freeze a pass, even if his ambitions are a little more “moral”.

tomk:  Well, intentions seem to count. Freeze is more the tragic villain than anything else. He doesn’t commit crimes out of greed or a sense of superiority. It’s always about his wife on some level. That doesn’t excuse his actions. In fact, Batman is probably unaware Freeze murdered the submarine crew. But, if this were the original Secret Wars, the Beyonder would stick Freeze on the same ship as Magneto and the heroes.

jimmy:  Nice analogy.

tomk:  That motivation is also why in these last two outings Freeze ends up assisting Batman instead of trying to kill him.

jimmy:  There’s no doubt he is more tragic, but still villainous. The submarine crew is a perfect example.

tomk:  Yes, but as a tragic villain, we can feel a little sorry for the guy. As it is, Subzero ends with the closest Freeze can have to a happy ending. Nora is OK, but he still has to live a solitary life in the middle of nowhere.

jimmy:  I assume he shows up in the redesign?

It’s interesting though that they cured her. Seems like something that would need to be perpetual to motivate Freeze in subsequent appearances.

tomk:  Well, he does come back. And he does have a motivation of sorts connected to Nora, though she never comes back for the show.

jimmy:  As usual, I feel like I am focusing on the negative. But this movie has some of the best action of the series. The aforementioned chase scene and the entire finale on the oil rig are spectacular.

tomk:  Yes, but we shouldn’t ignore the negatives either. As much as the action was good, and the movie was a great showcase for both Robin and Batgirl in ways that didn’t happen much on the regular series, there are still negatives worth considering. The forgiveness of Freeze is a problem. He’s a sympathetic villain, but he’s still a villain.

jimmy:  I guess technically they probably think he is dead at the end.

Btw, today (Sept 5th) is the 24th anniversary of the premiere episode of BTAS.

tomk:  Well, we better hurry and finish this…nah, let’s not. No need to rush. There’s plenty of fine material all over Gabbing Geek. I’m sure folks reading this would love to see, I dunno, a list of all the flaws in a popular movie or a discussion on what will win the Oscar in 2013.

jimmy:  Heh

That said, you have much else to add here? I was pleasantly surprised. As I had mentioned when we finished up the regular series I had thought that this would be direct to video throwaway garbage, but it was quite good. A worthy successor. It has some flaws we picked on but it otherwise solid. It currently sits at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, behind only The Dark Knight in terms of Bat-films.

tomk:  When you watched it, were there somewhat long blackout moments between some scenes?

jimmy:  Hmm…not that I recall. I watched it on DVD.

tomk:  Well, I watched a digital copy of Amazon. Actually paid to buy it since it was the one thing from the DCAU I didn’t already have somewhere, and there were some long blackouts. I think those were for moments that would have been for commercials when it ran on TV, but can’t be sure.

jimmy:  That would be my guess as well.

tomk:  Well, Jimmy, I think we may have talked out the movies. Do you have anything else to add?

jimmy:  No, I think I’m good. Looking forward to the redesign, but also to taking a break from the Bat and seeing how the Man of Steel measures up.

tomk:  In that case, let us move up, up, and away!

NEXT TIME:  Tom and Jimmy step away from Batman for a time to look to the Man of Tomorrow, SUPERMAN!  Be back soon for the beginning of Superman the Animated Series.

tomk74

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

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