And we’re back with more cartoon superhero talk with Tom and Jimmy.
This week, we’re covering “Zatanna,” “The Mechanic,” and “Harley and Ivy”.
Zatanna, an old friend of Bruce’s from his youth, is framed for robbery! Can Batman and the plucky stage magician catch the real criminal?
jimmy: We haven’t really had much in the way of appearances from other non-Bat, non-villain, existing DC characters. Not that Zantanna seemed to do much more than play damsel in distress.
tomk: Yeah, she didn’t seem to be all that helpful here. I know Bruce bonded with her, and it was implied they might have been more than friends, but I think the kid in “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement” had more of a credible reason for Batman to keep him nearby than Zatanna did.
I mean, Paul Dini wrote the script, and Zatanna is apparently his favorite character, and this show is trying to avoid much in the way of superpowers. Superweapons are OK, but superpowers…
jimmy: Outside of the name, some magic and some short shorts, she didn’t really much resemble the strong confident comics character. Did she even use backwards “spells”? I couldn’t tell.
tomk: She might have said abbra kadabra backwards when she was on stage.
jimmy: In either case, much like the Crime Doctor, she was more of a reasonably hand drawn facsimile than the actual Zantanna.
tomk: Yeah, but unlike the Crime Doctor, this one bothered me. Probably because she didn’t seem to be doing more than just hanging out with Batman.
jimmy: Well, who wouldn’t?
But yeah, they seemed to miss out on setting up a strong character. But I keep thinking about your point about the lack of powers on the show. Never really thought of it that way. Even someone like say Killer Croc is a mutation as opposed to anyone flying around and shooting freakin’ laser beams out of their eyes.
tomk: The show seems to prefer the feel of old pulp stories that would have been the original inspiration for Batman. So, superpowers aren’t really a thing for the most part. Croc, Man-Bat, Tygrus, and Clayface are exceptions.
And then the powers tend towards physical strength.
jimmy: And again, are more mutations of science. Not aliens or finding a green ring.
tomk: Right. Superpowers have to have some kind of semi-plausible explanation. Even a super weapon like Freeze’s gun has that going for it. Magic? Not a chance.
jimmy: Well, magic in terms of real world illusions and such are ok, as depicted in the show, but not a master of the supernatural like she is in the comics.
And the whole magic angle seemed to have little point outside of the two minutes showing Bruce training with her father. Otherwise, could have been anyone he was saving from any villian.
tomk: She did help him pick a lock.
jimmy: …which he knew how to do…
tomk: The way he was tied up suggested he couldn’t reach the lock right.
Granted, he wouldn’t need to pick a lock if she doesn’t get caught by the bad guy.
jimmy: Exactly. And I sound like I am being too harsh, but I had no trouble with Zantanna here. I just expected something different.
tomk: Well, “classic” Zatanna teams up with Batman for another memorable episode, though that’ll be on Justice League. I think Paul Dini wrote the script for that one too.
jimmy: I would think once we get into the Superman and Justice League eras, all bets are off for powers.
tomk: Well, the tone changes. Even Gotham is a more modern city.
jimmy: On a side note, I assume the villain would later go on to appear as the masked magician on all those Fox specials.
tomk: Homer Simpson did refer to him as the jerk that revealed all the magician’s secrets.
jimmy: And how was it that Batman figured out the trick for stealing the money? I guess he is the great detective, but you would think Zantanna would have some idea.
tomk: She was distraught.
Or she needed more clues she already knew Batman.
Actually, odd thing. This episode implies Bruce maybe had a fling with Zatanna when they were younger. I’m watching Young Justice on Netflix, where Zatanna was younger when she first popped up, mostly so they could stick her dad on the Justice League. And it was slipped in that she had a fling with Nightwing.
jimmy: I found that part a bit odd…she seemed way too young for Bruce. I can see school girl crush, but I don’t know about them actually hooking up.
tomk: Well, she was flirting. And Bruce was rather young there too. You must have been at least a little pleased when it came up his next stop was Japan.
jimmy: It was a great scene with him training. One of many stops (including Japan) along his long journey to becoming the Bat.
tomk: And somehow, they didn’t know who he was…
jimmy: Yes they did. John Smith.
At least he’s not like James Bond…the super secret undercover spy who always gives his real name.
tomk: Well, I was thinking a well-known billionaire playboy might have looked familiar to Zatanna at some point before they met again.
jimmy: It was a bit surprising (for reasons of plot I’m sure) to have Bats call her Zanna and give his identity away. He’s too smart for that. The only reason to do that would be (plot, like I said) that he was telling her who he was.
tomk: The plot suggested she didn’t quite know why to trust him at that moment. Besides, she still didn’t know his real name.
jimmy: I suppose.
tomk: It’s hard to justify Zatanna being there as it is if she doesn’t pop off a magic spell.
jimmy: Bats could have easily been rescuing Vicki Vale or Summer Gleason or Nicole Kidman or anyone.
tomk: Yeah, but it isn’t one of them. It’s Zatanna. Justice Leaguer. Powerful superhero. And she doesn’t come across that way. And this episode was written by a huge Zatanna fan.
jimmy: Suffice it to say, a let down from the Zatanna perspective.
tomk: She does better when we see her in Justice League. Until then…
Whenever Batman needs his car fixed, he takes it to Earl Cooper. When the Penguin figures that out, will Batman and Robin survive a sabotaged Batmobile?
jimmy: First, let me say that I thought the concept of this show was horrible and incredibly sloppy on Batman’s part. Of all the shows we’ve watched so far this, to me, came off as the most “Throw away Saturday morning cartoon-y”, if that makes any sense.
tomk: It makes perfect sense. I didn’t care one bit about Earl or his daughter. The Penguin is once again in a bad episode as the solo bad guy. And the plot he came up with was ripped off from Batman Returns.
jimmy: As was the giant duck.
tomk: I mean, I know the show was at least partially inspired by the look of those movies, which is why we never get a Penguin or Joker origin story like we do every other bad guy, but this was going too far.
jimmy: And you think Bats would just let Earl order all his parts from Batmobiles R Us?
tomk: I would have thought Bats would have set up the dummy corporations thing before. Or even just made sure Earl didn’t order all the parts from the same company.
jimmy: Exactly. The whole episode seemed like Bats was a complete amateur. Even him not picking up on the whole “basement”/”air conditioner button” thing.
tomk: Well, fortunately for Earl, neither did the crook watching him.
I can somewhat recall this episode boring me the first time I saw it twenty odd years ago.
jimmy: True. Even that was amateur hour though. And the kid was so cliched. Even her voice. Ugh. I hope these two never show up again.
tomk: I don’t believe they do.
jimmy: Thank God.
tomk: Which is a shame on one hand because Earl was voiced by actor Paul Winfield, who got around. The only guy I know of to do both original Star Trek (Chekov’s captain in Wrath of Khan) and Next Generation (an alien captain who could only speak in metaphor) as different characters.
Oh, and he was killed by the Terminator.
jimmy: Yes, I like Winfield. Q also made an appearance.
tomk: Not as Trek-y as Gargoyles, but close.
jimmy: Is there anything positive to say about his episode?
tomk: It wasn’t a two parter?
jimmy: Haha, good answer!
tomk: I mean, I can see where there may be some questions about the Batmobile. I remember reading some old recount of Batman’s origin and all sorts of related stuff where it came up the Batmobile was a specialty job done by a Hollywood stuntman as a favor to Batman, but that’s about all I care to say.
jimmy: Granted, it seems a little far fetched alternatively if Bruce and Alfred do all the repairs. There is Lucius at some point as well I guess.
tomk: Lucius is generally completely in the dark outside the Nolan films. It’s why he plays such a small role on this show.
Actually, about all I can say about this episode is I didn’t find it bad, like say Sewer King bad. It was just dull. They even had to toss in Batman Origins: Earl in the middle of it, and it was just dull.
jimmy: Agreed. Not Sewer King bad but just so cookie cutter and throw away. Bats acting uncharacteristically stupid, the Batman Returns “homage”, just nothing to really grab you.
tomk: Like I said, I always remembered this one as one I didn’t like, but there’s nothing there to actively hate. The show has many much worse episodes, but also many much, much better ones. And we just went through a bunch of better ones, and the next one is a really good one, so…
jimmy: Let’s get to it.
“Harley and Ivy”
After being kicked out of the gang by the Joker, Harley Quinn teams up with Poison Ivy where they become the new queens of the underworld. Can Batman bring them in before the Joker finds them first?
tomk: OK, so, a while back when Harley first popped up, I said I had some thoughts on the character and this is the episode to bring them up. A feminist friend of mine, who is also a big Batman fan, told me once she could never enjoy anything with Harley Quinn in it. That was a bit baffling to me at the time because Arleen Sorkin makes the character such a goofy delight, and Paul Dini writes some really good Batman adventures. But then she explained the problem is Harley is basically a victim of domestic abuse, the show often holds that up as funny, and domestic abuse just should never be seen as funny. I countered that the episode “Mad Love,” which she apparently had never seen, does touch on that in a serious manner and makes Harley a lot more sympathetic, but her point stands. Look at this episode here. Everything Ivy says to Harley about how the Joker treats Harley is absolutely true, and Harley acts exactly like a battered woman who can’t accept that the man who abuses her doesn’t do it out of love. The last line of the show, where Harley says she thinks she and Mr. J can work it out only to get a splat of dirt to the face, is played for laughs. That sort of thing should be more disturbing than funny. How much should we find a Harley episode funny?
jimmy: I agree with your friend here. It is a very abusive relationship, and I picked up on that immediately in this episode and throughout. On the flip side, they are both completely psychotic, so anything either of them does is not surprising. That said, you do tend to feel bad for Harley and wish she’d spend less time with the Joker and more with Ivy. Whether she spends a lot more time with Ivy as per the comics is another story, but they do tend to spend a lot of their free time with just shirts on and no pants.
tomk: You’ve never seen Bruce Timm’s semi-private sketch book when it comes to those two.
jimmy: I suppose not…but now I want to!
tomk: Down, Jimmy.
Besides, this episode is hardly without its innuendo, when you consider what Ivy and Harley were wearing around the house when they weren’t in-costume.
I’d also question how psychotic Harley is. She seems a lot more harmless in this incarnation most of the time. Psycho Harley is more of a New 52 thing.
jimmy: As bad as Convergence was, it did have a nice Gotham Sirens story where Harley, away from the Joker for a year, completely reforms. She has a normal job, a normal life, a normal boyfriend. Of course, as these things have to go, eventually she is brought back to being psycho Harley. It’s really quite heartbreaking.
tomk: Yes, but cartoon Harley was generally treated as a clown and a goofball. Joker’s scary. Harley not so much.
jimmy: True. Even the innocent Harlequin outfit from the show has turned into a super sexualized corset and whatever else in the comics and upcoming movie.
tomk: Exactly. If Harley weren’t being abused by the Joker, she’d be a simple comic relief villain, and the show doesn’t actually have too many of those all things being equal. Paul Dini writes some good comedy, but Harley is something of a problematic figure.
jimmy: I think we touched on this before (you mentioned Jimmy Olsen coming from the radio show I think) but has there been a more popular “comic” character that wasn’t created in the comics? And now with the movie her popularity continues to soar, as evident by usually holding down 4-5 of our top 10 post slots.
tomk: Well, of recent characters I don’t think there are any more popular.
Alfred and Jimmy Olsen were both from other sources. Same with the Batcave and Kryptonite.
jimmy: Cool. I would suspect this is the first teaming of Harley and Ivy since Harley was not in the comics at that point (I don’t think). A pairing that has lasted quite a long time.
tomk: Oh yeah, the pairing came from here. And the two play off each other well. Ivy’s half-assed feminism seems determined to run into every stereotype confirming she’s right, and Harley needs the confidence boost.
And I believe the guys in the car were designed to look like Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and one other guy.
jimmy: Probably Ryan.
But a men’s adventure club? Not as messed up as the one from South Park, but those things don’t exist anymore last I checked.
jimmy: Yeah. I guess they just literally needed a “boys club” to contrast with Harley and Ivy’s girl club.
tomk: It seemed like something out of a Three Stooges short.
But Gotham seems to reassert Ivy’s impressions of men. The Joker is sexist on top of everything else. The only really enlightened man in the whole episode is Batman, and he disappears for a long stretch.
How did you feel about Batman sitting out so much of the story, Jimmy?
jimmy: Funny, that was going to be my next question to you. I didn’t mind it. I think it shows a lot of guts and trust in the audience to have the title character take a backseat. It also speaks to the strength of the supporting cast/rogues gallery.
tomk: Yeah, it didn’t bother me at all. The first half of the episode is mostly there to develop the Ivy/Harley relationship. Batman is almost an afterthought.
jimmy: Conversation seems to be slow going now on this good episode. Shall we move on?
tomk: Well, we probably should, Jimmy. I think next we have a two parter…featuring one Batgirl…
jimmy: Only one? Sigh. If we must.
tomk: Well, one may be enough.
NEXT TIME: Jimmy and Tom cover a pair of two parters, with “Shadow of the Bat” and “The Demon’s Quest” plus “Blind as a Bat” where Batman apparently goes blind.
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