“Terror In The Sky” (season 1, episode 45; originally aired November 9, 1992)
The best episodes of B:TAS focus on interpersonal relationships, and “Terror In The Sky” uses Dr. Kirk Langstrom's (Marc Singer) Man-Bat serum as a metaphor for the secrets couples keep from each other and the ways that those secrets can deteriorate a marriage. With a story by Steve Perry and Marc Saraceni (who also contributes the teleplay), the episode combines emotional drama with high-flying action, and it's an impressive continuation of the themes introduced in Man-Bat's first appearance, “On Leather Wings.” Although the animation isn't as sharp as that first appearance (it's hard to compete with TMS), director Boyd Kirkland and Dong Yang studio turn in strong work, particularly during the episode's multiple aerial sequences.
When a humanoid bat-creature attacks the Gotham docks, Batman assumes Kirk has transformed into Man-Bat again, and claw marks on the rug and the pulpy evidence of the dock attack convince the doctor of the same. When Kirk's wife Francine (Meredith MacRae) discovers the remnants of the previous night in the trash, she confronts her husband, who insists that he is not intentionally transforming, but Francine is not convinced. The scene where Francine tells Kirk that she can't go through the drama again could easily be about a mistress or addiction, but instead it's about a serum that turns people into half-bat monsters. The fact that Perry and Saraceni are able to convey strong, human emotions in the fantastic context is admirable, and they're greatly assisted by Singer and MacRae's strong voice work. We haven't really seen a married couple dynamic on the series yet, and the Langstroms' emotional journey is a riveting one, with Francine leaving her husband because she's lost her trust in him.
Batman's investigation leads him to Francine's father Dr. March (Rene Auberjonois), who is still convinced that the Man-Bat serum is the only way that humanity can survive the forthcoming evolutionary shift and has been working on refining the formula, inadvertently infecting his own daughter when she helps him clean up a broken vial. Despite the unlikelihood that Francine would get infected from such a tiny dosage, the plot development serves as another metaphor, this time for the negative effects that an over-involved parent can have on their child as well as that child's relationships. Francine is literally transformed by her jackass father's interference in her life, and when his influence is removed, she is able to have a happy life with her husband again. Unfortunately that doesn't happen until after she almost kills a plane full of people.
There are some superb chase scenes in this episode, from She-Bat's attack on a motorcycle riding Batman to the final climactic air sequence, and the animators at Dong Yang outdo themselves, providing slick animation that is sharper than their usual work (not counting the episodes done with Spectrum because those are breathtaking). It must be incredibly difficult to accurately depict the crazy perspective shifts that come with aerial fight choreography, but Dong Yang and Boyd Kirkland nail it, with Kirkland also turning in stronger, more dynamic action staging than his past episodes. Kirkland excels at emotional storytelling, so the scenes focusing on the relationships work very well, but it's good to see him refining his action chops, too, and this episode is a success for the director.
“Almost Got ‘Im” (season 1, episode 46, originally aired November 11, 1992)
We've seen Batman's rogues intersect in the past, but we've seen nowhere near the level of interaction as we do in “Almost Got 'Im,” Paul Dini's brilliant love letter to the over-the-top deathtraps that characterized early Batman stories. During a game of poker, Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Penguin, and Killer Croc share stories about how they nearly killed Batman, and the episode's vignette structure allows each villain time in the spotlight, crystallizing their roles in Batman's rogues gallery. Everything works this episode, from Dini's spot-on dialogue (tried to get the best quotes in Stray Observations, but I'm sure I missed a few) to Eric Radomski's slick direction and Stuart V. Balcomb's jazz-influenced score, and it's a nice, light diversion from the heavy stories of the last few episodes. Dong Yang and Spectrum contribute animation, and they continue to establish themselves as one of the finest creative pairings on the series as they meticulously capture Batman's series of daring escapes.
The first villain to share her story is Poison Ivy, who runs into Batman after poisoning Gotham with exploding pumpkins filled with Poison Ivy gas. As Batman chokes on the gas, we learn of Ivy's natural immunity to poisons and toxins for the first time, but it doesn't help her when Batman has the Batmobile mow her down. It's a really beautiful sequence that uses bold orange and red to create striking visuals, and the entire episode uses color wonderfully to create the atmosphere, often replacing backgrounds with expressionistic gradients that set the mood. This is also the first time we've seen Poison Ivy and Two-Face acknowledge their history with each other, and the rogues' reactions to learning their past relationship is priceless.
Following Poison Ivy's story is Two-Face, whose trap provides the origin for the Bat-cave's giant penny when Batman is tied to it and catapulted through the air. It's a straight-forward warehouse action sequence, but it looks great, especially the image of Batman once the catapult has been launched, with beautiful storyboarding from Radomski that keeps the action interesting despite being a scenario we've seen Batman in plenty of times before. Dini takes Harvey's obsession with the number two to the extreme, having him drink from a carton of half and half and always holding two deuces and two face cards in his poker hand, and it's the kind of clever sight gag that is perfectly in line with the character's personality.
The next villain to offer up a story is Killer Croc, who tells the gang, “I threw a rock at him!” which garners a long pause of empty stares from his comrades. His follow-up that “It was really big rock” fails to impress, but it's a comic highlight in an episode full of hilarious lines. After Croc, it's Penguin's turn, and this episode is easily Penguin's best appearance so far, as he traps Batman in his aviary of doom. While poison-tipped hummingbirds probably aren't the most menacing of opponents, the action moves quickly and watching Batman stab a cassowary with the beak of one of those little birds is a totally badass moment of animal cruelty.
The best deathtrap is saved for last, as Joker tells the gang about the previous night's filming of a Gotham talk show, where Batman was tied to an electric chair fueled by laughter, which can be pretty dangerous when Joker's laughing gas is being pumped through the vents. As Harley Quinn reads from the phonebook, the audience's laughter fries Batman until Catwoman appears to save his hide. Like Penguin, Catwoman gets her first truly memorable appearance this episode, flirting and fighting alongside Batman until Harley uses her signature boxing glove gun to knock Catwoman out. Harley ties up Catwoman in the cat food factory, preparing her to be ground up for cat food, and this is a Paul Dini episode, so there's some tantalizing wriggling for any bondage fetishists that just so happen to be watching. There's a strong female presence this episode with Harley, Ivy, and Catwoman all given ample screen time, and it's always refreshing to see more powerful ladies in the testosterone-heavy B:TAS.
The episode ends with the reveal that Killer Croc has actually been Batman in disguise the entire time, and besides the switch from Croc to Batman's voice, storyboarder Glen Murakami throws in a great visual of Croc's silhouette transforming to Batman's in the shadow of the hanging light. Having set a trap of his own, Batman has the GCPD waiting in the bar to take the rogues back to Arkham, and he heads to the factory to save Catwoman before she's minced. The coda features Batman and Catwoman on the rooftop in a familiar situation: She wants to get frisky, and Batman has other plans. As he heads off into whatever death trap Mr. Freeze or Clayface have waiting for him, Catwoman repeats the words that have driven the episode, “Almost got 'im.” One thing is for sure: This episode definitely gets it.
- Bat Beatdown: Tied to a giant penny, Batman breaks free using the jagged edges of Two-Face's coin, leaving the penny to crush Two-Face's henchmen. Ouch.
- “The end of a perfect day.”
- Batman's kind of a dick in “Terror In The Sky.”
- If there are train tracks, there's going to be an oncoming train. That's B:TAS logic.
- “Don't you get it yet, Batman? You failed!”
- “Is that what it's going to take? Your daughter's life, before you end this insanity?”
- The actors voicing the rogues (sans Barbeau) actually met in person to record this episode, and it shows. The chemistry between them all is electric.
- “I want a nice clean game, gentlemen.”
- “You're always seeing double.”
- “Sure, he could be all gross and disgusting under that mask! Uh, no offense, Harv.”
- “Not the robot theory again.”
- Why does Spectrum always give Batman such a hooked nose on his cowl?
- “Half of me wants to strangle you.” “And what does the other half want?” “To hit you with a truck!”
- “I’d say ladies first, but since we don't have any, we'll start with you, Pam.”
- “Smaller words, please. You're losing Croc.”
- “Good evening, folks, I'm the Joker. Living proof that you don't have to be crazy to host this show—but it helps!”
- Joker cooks a hot dog on Batman's electrified body. Perfect.