Jimmy and Tom are back for more cartoon talk. This time around, we’re covering the New Adventures of Batman episodes “Legends of the Dark Knight, “Girls’ Night Out,” and “Mad Love”.
“Legends of the Dark Knight”
What does Batman look like to regular people? Three Gotham kids try to figure out what Batman really is!
jimmy: Well, I didn’t expect to be watching an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns this evening.
tomk: Few people do.
jimmy: They did a nice job though.
tomk: They did. Frank Miller even praised it.
jimmy: I wonder does he feel the same way about the more recent full adaptation.
tomk: I don’t know. I only know what the audio commentary for that episode says.
jimmy: Also surprising to hear Batman voiced by Darkseid.
tomk: It was a good choice. I think I prefer Michael Ironsides over Peter Weller from the straight to DVD version. And that one was also pretty faithful to the original.
jimmy: That said, not like Ironsides had a lot he had to say here.
tomk: True, but it does mean Carrie Kelly’s Robin got more screen time than Jason Todd.
jimmy: I think she got more screen time than Batman.
tomk: Only if you count the girl telling the story as the same character.
jimmy: They were very similar looking for sure. And about the story, thinking about it after, it never made sense in terms of the narrative. You want to think Batman is some 50 year old coming out of retirement? Fine. But Gotham obviously wasn’t overrun by mutants. I know it’s not the point, but just something that came to mind.
tomk: Likewise, there probably isn’t a building with giant musical instruments in Gotham.
jimmy: No, that probably happened. 😉
tomk: They did a tribute to the Bill Finger/Dick Sprang era in the same episode as a DKR adaptation. That’s impressive.
jimmy: Agreed. When it first started I was like “WTF is this?” They sure captured the style of animation and changed up the voices to match.
tomk: That was, of course, the late Gary Owens as the Silver Age Batman. He was something of a professional announcer for more comedic work, though he was also the original voice of Space Ghost.
jimmy: Something I’ve never watched.
tomk: How about Dynomutt? He was also the Blue Falcon.
tomk: Well, Dynomutt was a comedic robotic dog superhero that shared a show with Scooby Doo. Blue Falcon was his straight man partner, a Batman-like character.
As for Space Ghost, except when they made him into a talk show host with a different voice, he was a more serious cartoon superhero. The best way to demonstrate Space Ghost would be to show you.
Just watch the first few minutes of this.
YouTube lacked the cold opening for this episode.
jimmy: Brave and The Bold was the first thing I thought of when the 50’s segment of this show started.
tomk: I hope the thing you thought of at the end with the handshake was the opening credits of the old Adam West show.
jimmy: I didn’t, but I hate that show and haven’t seen it in 30 years, so I couldn’t tell you what the opening credits even entailed.
tomk: Cartoon Batman and Robin beating up a bunch of crooks then shaking hands.
jimmy: I kinda remember, but not so much the handshake. I take it this was a nod to that.
tomk: The animation was nearly identical. I’d say so.
jimmy: Not really surprising since at least Timm is a huge fan of the show.
tomk: Many Bat fans are.
But the episode was partially dedicated to Bill Finger, and the Batman and Bill documentary states Finger loved stories with oversized props.
jimmy: The fight with the musical instruments did get a bit ridiculous, but was perfect for the era and style they were going for.
And Batman and Bill comes up again. I really need to watch that…
tomk: Yeah. I don’t know if that segment is referencing a specific story or not, but it got the look and tone right. Plus, they got permission from Sprang himself to copy his distinctive style.
jimmy: Yes, it is very evident, particularly in the Joker design.
tomk: Plus the dialogue that the kids mock.
You better stay on your toes, Jimmy.
jimmy: Thanks, chum.
tomk: It’s not as, shall not we say, meaty as telling a large opponent who the surgeon is in a given scenario.
jimmy: What did you think of Michael McKean’s Joker?
tomk: It was fine, though I think the first time I saw this episode, I was wondering if it was still Hamill. He doesn’t get much to do all told.
jimmy: Classic Robin, different Bat symbol.
tomk: Yes, but it’s awfully close.
jimmy: Most definitely.
tomk: Did you pick up the slam on Joel Schumacher?
jimmy: Maybe, but I might need a reminder…
His name is Joel.
He describes Batman as having big muscles and a car that can drive up buildings.
The other kids quickly dismiss his ideas.
Oh, and the real Schumacher is openly gay, and here’s this kid playing with a pink boa.
jimmy: Heh. No, I guess I missed that. I’m pretty sure that Timm says in the commentary that he came up with this episode after seeing Batman Forever, which was his favorite Batman movie, so maybe homage more than dig.
tomk: Well, having seen Batman and Robin, I thought “dig” rather than “homage”. The fact the kids dismiss him pretty quickly didn’t seem like much of a homage.
Though it’s been a few years since I listened to the commentary. What I do recall is two things they say.
1. Actor Kevin Michael Richardson (who would voice the Joker on The Batman) was a huge comic fan himself and loved being the mutant leader.
2. When the actual Batman shows up to tackle Firefly, Timm and Co. find him rather disappointing compared to the other versions of Batman the episode presents.
jimmy: Don’t tell Kevin Conroy!
tomk: There’s some truth to that. The real Batman seems rather mundane compared to Miller’s brute and that Silver Age oddity.
jimmy: Fair enough. Also, the Dark Knight sequence was storyboarded by the late Darwyn Cooke.
tomk: That guy was just awesome all over.
But overall, this is a fun episode that acts as a homage to past Batman greatness.
jimmy: Definitely one more for the older fans. Kids would have no idea what was going on.
tomk: True, but at this point, we can ask how much this show was meant for kids and how much it was meant for older fans.
Heck, it could be argued by the time we get to Justice League, the show isn’t for kids much at all.
jimmy: True. And more so apparent in the redesigned episodes, so interesting that you mention it being even more so in Justice League.
tomk: And yet, I don’t think Justice League is necessarily unfriendly to kid audiences. I just think there’s more there for older fans than small children.
jimmy: And while this predates the current super hero (movie) boom, it could be argued how much of any of this these days is targeted at anyone under 35 years old.
tomk: Well, it may depend on whether comics in general are aimed at anyone under 35 these days.
Comics and movies these days are made by and for people who grew up reading comics.
That it appeals to younger generations is just a bonus.
tomk: Well, we seem to be heading off on another track, Jimmy. Shall we move on?
jimmy: But we never talked about Firefly becoming their new favorite villain!
tomk: Um, OK.
Firefly just became their new favorite villain.
jimmy: There. I’m glad we got that out of the way.
tomk: Good. He doesn’t come back until Justice League.
jimmy: Well, I’m not 72 years old, so the Dick Sprang section didn’t do much for me, but it was cool to see the first attempt at a Dark Knight Returns adaptation (even if I’ve seen a full adaptation already).
tomk: I like reading old reprints, and the Sprang section was cool in its own way.
jimmy: I can see that, and it was fine, and I appreciated the hat tip, but it never had the resonance for me that Miller’s work would, which was in the beginning of my hay day of comic collecting.
tomk: Well, then, you must have really dug this episode.
jimmy: Well, 1/3 of it anyway. :p
Nah, I did enjoy it.
tomk: We’re coming to the end of the Batman episodes. I would hope the last few were just good stuff, and looking over the five remaining episodes, we do have some real classics ahead. This one was just an experimental bit of fun.
jimmy: So I guess we can’t stop now.
tomk: I should hope not. Maybe we need something with a little less Batman next, though.
jimmy: Less Batman? That sounds just crazy enough to work!
tomk: In that case…
“Girls’ Night Out”
When Livewire breaks out and heads to Gotham, it’s up to Supergirl and Batgirl to bring her in. But Livewire gets some help of her own…
jimmy: So how old are Batgirl and Supergirl? Babs has to be college age. I would think Kara is much younger.
tomk: Kara spent an unknown amount of time in suspended animation, so who can say?
Kara was implied in her first appearance to be roughly Jimmy Olson’s age, and he seems to live on his own, so she’s probably not a teenager. 19 maybe. Barbara is probably close to that.
jimmy: In either case, it seems like neither should be “Girl”. That said, current comic incarnations are probably older again. Kara does come off as younger here, though they seem much the same age when the two are off the clock.
tomk: The “Girl” thing is mostly a Silver Age hold over. Barbara, for one, has never been a juvenile crime fighter. There was a Batwoman first, but Kate Kane had largely disappeared when Batgirl first appeared, but no, she was still Batgirl. Name aside, though, Batgirl was generally treated well for a Silver Age female sidekick.
jimmy: Have there ever been any evil “girl” characters?
tomk: Good question. My answer is “probably ” but I can’t think of any off-hand. I suppose “girl” connotes a “good girl” type, and Supergirl at least was initially under age in the comics where, like Superboy and half the Legion of Superheroes, a “boy” or “girl” code name was seen as appropriate. But even Marvel, which gave Spidey a “man,” had no problem with a “Marvel Girl” for an underage female superhero.
jimmy: Yeah, Spidey does seem to be an exception to the rule in many cases given his age and “man” status. And I couldn’t think of any supervillain “girl” names either. Like here, we have 3 femme fatales with “normal” names. Granted, they are all older than our heroes.
tomk: Probably older. I’m not sure about Livewire.
jimmy: Well, she was an established shock radio host. Which doesn’t mean much, but I’d put her in her early 20’s at least.
tomk: That’s about where I’d stick Barbara actually.
jimmy: Agreed. She does seem a little older. And has permission to drive the Batmobile again.
tomk: And again it gets wrecked. I somehow doubt Batman gives her the keys a third time.
jimmy: I was impressed it held up to Livewire’s voltage as long as it did. But more impressed by the ejecting roof that turned into a Bat-glider.
tomk: An insulated one at that. Batman must be wary of more lightning attacks since he met Maxie Zeus!
jimmy: Heh. Batman’s preparedness is not a surprise. That he always has the right tools at the right time is more of the surprise. I mean, you can’t always be carrying your Bat Shark Repellent.
tomk: The Bat Insulated Roof is another story.
jimmy: That I can see a bit. Once installed, the car is the car.
tomk: So, another wrecked car aside, Batgirl and Supergirl got along much better and much faster than the men in their lives.
jimmy: Is that surprising? Maybe stereotypical, but two strong alphas are bound to butt heads. Especially one the epitome of light and one dark. The girls are also shades in between. Not such extremes.
tomk: The girls are also longtime friends in the old comics. Batgirl eulogized Supergirl in the original Crisis.
Then again, all the Bat and Super people intermingled to one degree or another.
There were even Robin and Jimmy Olson stories.
jimmy: I liked that this episode had that to some degree. A villain that debuted in Superman. Of course Harley and Ivy. We see Metropolis and Gotham. And Batman calling Clark and then trying to be all inconspicuous was hilarious.
tomk: Batman isn’t good at inconspicuous telephone calls.
There are a couple crossover episodes, but this was the only one to be considered a Batman episode. The others are all from Superman’s show.
jimmy: And probably the only one not to feature Bats and Supes.
tomk: Well, not both of them.
jimmy: Well, one was more of a cameo.
tomk: True. Probably a good thing it wasn’t Robin crank calling Supergirl.
And, bizarrely, Batgirl wants to do chores.
jimmy: Yeah, I get the whole “grass is always greener”, city girl wants to be country girl and vice versa, but the chores line was a bit much.
tomk: Well, Barbara is a hard-workin’ gal
Likewise, Harley sure is handy with a giant mallet…or not.
jimmy: That was funny. And Harley was obviously the comic relief, but it seemed to play Harley too dumb. She’s smarter and more capable than that. Her and Livewire were destined not to be BFFs in either case.
tomk: Livewire seemed to see the others as her sidekicks. Harley may be one at times, but nobody puts Ivy in a corner.
jimmy: Heh. Yes, that’s very true.
Oh and is there a superpower with a more glaring and exploited weakness than those that are electricity based?
tomk: The power of sucking. Just ask Sewer King, the suckiest suck who ever sucked.
But you tell me: has that ever worked on Electro?
jimmy: Water? Definitely.
tomk: It always pays to consult an expert.
jimmy: And the girls even managed to impress Bullock.
tomk: No mean feat there.
jimmy: Especially since the girls are not donuts or deli meat sandwiches.
tomk: Or Batman.
jimmy: Even Batman he doesn’t find overly impressive.
tomk: Well, he’s alone on that one.
jimmy: This show, even more so I find than the other Batman/Superman crossovers, really sets up a universe feel going forward. It’s not just the big two (or even the big two villains) but a collection of characters from each series. Well aware of each other, interacting and moving forward together.
tomk: And given we’ve seen characters like the Flash, Lobo, and Etrigan, we know there’s even more out there that we maybe haven’t seen. And there are an awful lot of team-ups in the last batch of Superman episodes.
jimmy: I was going to mention the likes of the Flash. And while it does set up this wider universe as you said, the Flash doesn’t have his own show, so he and Lobo, etc still felt like guest stars. Having the supporting casts of two shows interact lays the groundwork better for a shared universe. And maybe we’ll get that Robin/Jimmy Olsen story.
tomk: I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. Anything more to add here, or have we beaten this one sufficiently with a giant mallet?
tomk: Ok, you can never have too much of Harley and her mallet. Maybe we shouldn’t be laughing at her too hard, though.
Harley Quinn’s origin is finally, tragically told!
jimmy: This episode really highlights the disturbing and dysfunctional relationship between Harley and the Joker.
tomk: Yeah, I don’t think Joker was anywhere near as abusive to Harley as he is in this episode.
jimmy: I may never have noticed it as much if not given our prior conversations, but it really stood out for me now. Especially how much it was played for laughs.
tomk: Even the end where she lapses back is played as more tragic than funny.
jimmy: Exactly. It’s really sad.
tomk: And in such unexpected ways, too. It starts off as a rather standard Joker and Harley plot complete with a Star Wars reference before going into Harley’s head.
jimmy: And the Dr J. Reko nameplate on the dentists door.
I get the feeling this episode has some acclaim. I know the comic story has. I haven’t read it, but I felt like this episode was a kid friendly, toned down version of what it could have been. As such, I didn’t really buy Harley’s transformation. And her narration of the story just seems so out of place.
tomk: It is acclaimed for doing what it could to make Harley deeper in under twenty minutes.
It is also the episode my feminist Batman fan friend who first pointed out to me the “domestic abuse as comedy” angle refused to watch.
jimmy: I can understand that. It’s hard to watch when looking at it from that angle.
Also disturbing? Batman laughing.
He’s not quite this guy, but still creepy.
tomk: The argument I made at the time was the episode addressed all her concerns, but she’d already written Harley off as a character, though I may be horribly misrepresenting her opinion on this subject and won’t say for certain that was her reason.
Of course, the fact the episode to address this situation came years later doesn’t help much.
jimmy: In Harley’s defense, she’s obviously mentally ill. Her rationale for sticking with the Joker doesn’t need to make “sense”. Doesn’t make it any less awkward to watch. Kinda like watching a clown in lingerie.
tomk: One who asks about revving up a Harley no less.
Or one who gets pushed out an upper story window.
For the crime of being the better adversary to Batman no less.
jimmy: Which Batman teases Joker with later and then disturbingly calls him “puddin’”.
tomk: Joker also stopped to follow Harley’s throwaway advice of just shooting Batman.
jimmy: I don’t know if I would go so far as putting Harley above Joker on the villain scale, but this story sure gives her a lot of credit for getting closer to killing Batman than the Joker ever had, and for coming up with good ideas for him to use. Except the false teeth.
tomk: It could be as simple as Harley at least subconsciously used her reputation for being not very bright to her advantage. That Batman only had one avenue out shows how good her plan was but also how much better he is.
jimmy: And how well he knows the personalities and egos and mental problems of Joker and Harley. Also interesting that this episode continues a common Joker meme of him always changing his origin story when he tells it.
tomk: Except here we see he does it deliberately.
jimmy: Oh, I’m sure he always has.
tomk: Hard to say given how so many creators have treated the character over the years.
But as many times as I’ve seen this episode, even if the music is a bit overwrought at times, I still get hit right in the feels when Harley goes out that window.
jimmy: Yeah. That is intense. And all slow-mo’d to drag it out and make it dramatic.
tomk: I mean, we’ve seen Harley getting some cartoon abuse before. But this episode seems over-the-top in comparison, and it should. This is the real relationship. Joker slaps her in front of Batman, the slap coming off-camera though we see the wind-up. And the look of terror on her face as she drops…and doesn’t the music cut out until she hits the ground?
jimmy: I don’t remember, but quite possibly.
tomk: If it doesn’t, it sure seems like it should.
And then the Joker almost lets Batman go.
Heck, Batman is right to taunt Joker at the end there. Harley almost won. Sure, some of the details like the blood rushing to Batman’s head were probably not planned, but she almost won.
She, you know, Almost Got ‘Im.
jimmy: And without the aid of a big rock.
tomk: Or the big mallet.
jimmy: Well, we’ve seen that’s not really effective.
tomk: Heck this episode showed she doesn’t naturally have that Judy Holiday accent.
jimmy: Yes, I noticed that.
And the Harley costume was just something that happened to be at the store she went to.
tomk: While other stuff she swiped from Arkham’s Lost and Found room.
jimmy: And somewhere along the way, plastic explosives.
tomk: You really need to be careful nosing around Arkham’s Lost and Found room.
jimmy: When you think about it, anything from the lost and found should not belong to the inmates. I think some orderlies got some ‘splaing to do.
tomk: It’s still their property. It’s a hospital. Theoretically, the inmates can heal and get out, and then they can reclaim some of their things.
jimmy: Yes, but not from the lost and found.
tomk: True enough. But this episode is near perfect in many ways. It earned its reputation for being among the best of the entire series. Maybe the pacing could work a little better, but this may be the best origin story since “Heart of Ice”.
jimmy: To that point, let me ask you this: prior to this episode (or the comic it is based on) what did we know about Harley’s past? Her origin is so ingrained in me now that I wonder if I would have found this more powerful and tragic if it was my first exposure to it.
tomk: We’d heard many times she was Joker’s therapist and he corrupted her. But we rarely saw her as an intelligent, independent entity. The closest she came was when she hung out with Ivy, but then Ivy supplanted the Joker as the dominant personality in the relationship. She could do some occasional smart sidekick work, like if she had to infiltrate police headquarters, but she’s never been shown to be particularly intelligent. She’s always been a clown, perhaps a better clown than the Joker. Joker’s not really supposed to be funny to anyone but himself. But Harley? I think it was easy to discount her in many ways. She always seemed…harmless. It’s actually one reason I’m not overly enamored by the current, more murderous Harley. She always seemed to be just along for the ride before, someone who probably wouldn’t really hurt anyone but just couldn’t get away from a psychotic clown.
jimmy: Well, it’s no surprise that modern comics and the Suicide Squad movie upped the crazy and Dialing M For Murderousness.
tomk: I preferred the version with Troy McClure. You might remember him from such pre-psycho Harley movies like Here Comes The Coast Guard and The Erotic Adventures of Hercules.
jimmy: Well, we’ve turned to quoting The Simpsons. Anything else to add here Tom?
tomk: You know, I would have thought we’d have a lot to say about this one. But I think given how much we’ve discussed how problematic Harley has been as a character, having it confirmed for us means we’re a bit ahead of the curve. This is a really good episode. But maybe we’ve talked out the greater themes many times over in the past.
jimmy: Agreed. Plus I think there may be a bit of Harley fatigue at this point for us, whereas 20 years ago this would have been cutting edge.
tomk: Also a possibility. Ready to move on? Only three episodes left.
Editor’s Note: Here’s Harley getting pushed out of the window by the Joker. Yes, the music cuts out until she hits the ground. And like many real world battered women, she blames herself for what happened.
NEXT TIME: Well, it looks like we finally have come to the end of the road for Batman. Be back soon for the final three episodes “Chemistry,” “Beware the Creeper,” and “Judgement Day”.