Batman TAS #5: “Pretty Poison”

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Poison Ivy stretches her tendrils round Gotham in the latest episode of Batman: The Animated Series, as an earth breaking ceremony introduces one of the most well known members of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery.

Ivy is one of the characters who is most often credited as being revolutionised by the cartoon series, which is why it’s surprising that this first episode presents her as somewhat bland, predictable, looking like she just stepped out of a 1950s movie – but also acting like it as well. As a result, the episode comes off as a little one-note, with an obvious storyline and uninspiring characterisation.

There is a lot packed into the episode, though. For one thing, Harvey Dent appears for the first time, and we get a calm, patient friend to Bruce Wayne, albeit one with weirdly-drawn lips. So weird, right? It’s a far cry from the crusader that we see in ‘The Long Halloween’, which remains for me the definitive rendition of the character. Here he’s rather innocuous and comedic, his central role here to be a victim for Batman to attempt to save.

This leads to more rounding out for Bruce Wayne, who has spent the last few episodes being developed and warmed up. Far less cold than the current Batman we see, this version of the character shares the gentle sense of humour of Adam West with a contemporary edge. You can see him enjoying a nice silk dressing gown, but he’s also got a faster-paced thought process – in line with the shorter running time of each episode of the cartoon. By giving him friends like Harvey Dent, we get to see the character from a new perspective.

Crucially, we get to see how his friends think of him when he’s not there. We’re very quickly shown that Dent is a laid back sort of character, and the way he can joke around about Bruce also suggests a different side to the Batman. By association, if Harvey is the sort of person whom Bruce Wayne hangs out with and enjoys the company of, then Bruce Wayne himself must be a fairly relaxed sort of person himself, right?

That then develops further as we see Harvey and Bruce chat with one another in a fairly lengthy conversation – the simple plot means there’s a lot more space for character moments and development – and fool around a little. A big question which fans like to toss around is whether Bruce Wayne even exists. Is he real, or is he an invention which allows Batman to cover his tracks, hide his real identity? This episode comes down fairly convincingly against the concept, as Bruce happily tags along as a third wheel on Harvey and Ivy’s date.

Giving Bruce such an expanded role in the series is a huge benefit for episodes like this. The more we see his personal life bleed into the world of Batman, the higher the stakes rise, and the more convincingly the story starts to pressurise. It also makes him, y’know, likeable!

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Ivy’s entrance into the episode is similarly low-key, although obviously in this case it’s a ruse designed to trick everyone else. As soon as she’s rumbled, she drops any pretence immediately and gleefully adopts her iconic role, taking on the costume and sending man-eating plants after Batman with wilful abandon. The thing is that there’s just not that much to her at this point. She’s assigned a number of traits throughout the episode, but she doesn’t really show anything so much as the episode suggests how her character works. She doesn’t even seem all that concerned about winning, or in seeing through her plans.

Perhaps this is something which will be worked through as we get to see more of her, but she spends half the episode pretending to be someone else – only for her actual unveiling to fall anticlimactically, as we get a somewhat cliched, fist-shaking villain rather than a convincing foil for Batman. Perhaps it’s because she’s a female character, but the episode seems to very clearly state that she’s not a match for Batman, and that at this point she’s simply a silly distraction.

Except for her wrist crossbows. Those things are amazing, and a valuable addition for the character – an actual way for her to threaten Batman when she needs to, removing the whole ‘pheromones’ part of the equation, and in turn eliminating one of the more despairing, uninteresting aspects of the character. The episode gives us a dull introduction to one of Batman’s most interesting opponents, a scientist whose intellect is underplayed in order to trick her way into getting what she wants and needs; her agendas disguised as the men of the world struggle to understand just how dangerous she is because they think she’s hot. There’s a lot going on in Ivy’s head, less than I think this episode gives her credit for, and I can only hope that this gets brought more to the fore in future episodes.

The episode is ultimately fairly boring, and I’ve spent a few weeks trying to think of things to say about it. As that’s proved a struggle, and I do want to actually advance this series at some point, this is really all I’ve got to offer. It’s not a great summary, but the episode proved to be pretty uninspiring to me. The only thing I’m really taking from it is that Harvey Dent has the creepiest lips in animated history.

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Batman TAS #3: “Nothing to Fear”

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The third episode of The Animated Series introduces Scarecrow to proceedings. Jonathan Crane is a professor of phobias who gets kicked out of his position after it’s revealed that he went ‘too far’ with his students – a sequence of events which leads to a growing obsession he has with getting revenge on the University. He’s a very simple character here, although that’s how it tends to go for the Scarecrow. He’s got a single agenda, and he can’t achieve it because of Batman, so next time he ramps things up even further.

As a result, Scarecrow is someone who becomes more potent after we’ve seen him several times, and he comes off as more than a little amateur in this episode. His agenda here is to steal money from the university that fired him so they’ll struggle to continue operating – but by the end of the episode, his attention skips from the university to Batman. As in all classic Scarecrow appearances, that focus on Batman will be what starts to really create Scarecrow as a villain, and boost him to higher heights.

As the makers of Arkham Knight learned too late, Scarecrow’s hard to make into anything more than a ‘featured player’ amongst Batman’s enemies. He’s barely had any definitive stories within the comics, usually showing up as part of a group, to provide a brief challenge Batman has to overcome before turning attention to the real enemy – Riddler, Joker, etc. His two biggest roles were in the aforementioned Arkham Knight, where he failed to make a lasting impact as a villain due to a very weak narrative; and Batman Begins, where he was played gleefully by Cillian Murphy.

In the two stories, he comes across in somewhat similar ways to the Scarecrow we find here. He’s always camp – always. Along with Riddler, he’s Batman’s most over-zealous foes, incredibly talkative and keen to let people know what he’s doing. In this episode he off-handedly passes across his entire backstory to his two minions without even a real second though – of course this is interesting for them to learn, so of course he’s going to spout it all out in one go. And the final ‘reveal’ of the episode is also one which was mirrored by the game and the movie: when it’s time for Scarecrow to get a dose of his own medicine, it’s Batman he sees manifested into a monster.

In the movie, seeing this monstrous version of Batman drives Scarecrow insane, as Batman is his greatest actual, real fear. In the TV show and arguably the game, Batman represents a little more. He is the expression of Scarecrow’s failures – his inability to get revenge on the university, or the man who fired him. When he accidentally takes in some of his own fear gas at the end of this episode, the monstrous version of Batman he sees drives him away from his original goals and onto what’ll likely be his newest obsession: proving himself greater than the Bat.

Which is to say, this episode races through the ‘origin’ for Crane to create Scarecrow; but in doing so provides us with the time needed to create ‘The Scarecrow’. He starts the episode as a crook with a mask and a gimmick, but leaves it with a motive and intent. The more doses he gets of Batman’s justice, the more he needs, and the further he’ll go to get more. Scarecrow’s arc is a grasping one, which he’ll never reach up to. All the posturing, schemes, and chemical upgrades all cover up for a man who has an obsession with providing himself against an untouchable foe. That’s what makes Scarecrow an interesting part of Batman’s rogues gallery, and something which has been co-opted by Riddler and Joker as time has gone on and Batman has become more and more undefeated.

In the attempt to build up Riddler, he’s become a mass-murderer. In the attempt to get the biggest and worst laugh of all, Joker’s become a mass-murderer. But really, the character it makes most sense to raise the stakes with isn’t either of them – it’s Scarecrow. His first ever loss, and the one which sets him on a downwards path, isn’t the one he suffers to Batman in this episode. It’s losing his job because of his experiments with students. Batman’s powerless to ever stop the cycle of increasing grandeur for Scarecrow, because (unlike with Joker and Riddler) he wasn’t the one to start the cycle. He came in and distracted Scarecrow away towards grander schemes.

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A common thread in Batman stories is that he is somewhat responsible for the rise of supervillains in the world. In “Nothing to Fear”, you get to see the first steps of the Scarecrow into becoming someone truly worthy of fear – and it’s because Batman exacerbates the problem. He has to in order to save lives and keep Gotham safe, but it is demonstrably Batman’s appearance which pushes Scarecrow from being a goon with a gimmick to becoming a real player in Gotham.

The appearance of Scarecrow invites the series to start offering Batman’s backstory for the first time, as the fear toxins push Batman to hallucinate his father. This is the first time I think it ever happened, but this is an idea which is now all over the comics, films, and games – that Scarecrow can reopen this wound for Bruce Wayne. It’s humanising, but there’s an interesting contrast at play in the way the episode sets things up. Just as Batman stepped in and was the second body blow for Scarecrow; so Scarecrow is only the second body blow to Bruce in the episode.

Right at the start, Bruce speaks to one of the other professors at the university, who says that Bruce is dishonouring the Wayne family name. Scarecrow steps in and his fear toxin exacerbates that fear for Bruce, but it’s something which was always there. Just as Scarecrow can never overcome that original firing from the university; so Batman will never overcome the night in the alley which changed his life forever. They’ll both dance around one another, picking at the wounds, but their scars will never heal because neither want to rest. They have too much they need to do.

White Tiger, Spider-Girl, Ghost Rider and Jason Todd Appear at London Toy Fair 2016

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We’re in the midst of London Toy Fair 2016, with a big no-photos-allowed display for Lego taking up a large space amongst the other toys. And it looks as though all the DC and Marvel Superhero sets for Summer 2016 have been on display, including a lot of new figures never seen before – and for some very unexpected characters!

Brick Fanatics report seeing the following at the event:

Marvel:

Web Warriors Bridge Battle – this set features Spider-Man, Spider-Girl (Mayday, it seems), Scarlet Spider (Amadeus Cho), Aunt May, Green Goblin and the Scorpion.

Ghost Rider’s Bike – with Ghost Rider and his bike, teaming up with Spider-Man against Hobgoblin on his glider.

Doc Ock’s Tentacle Trap with Spiderman, Doc Ock (as a figure and as a giant mech, which may be in line with how the character was seen in ‘Dying Wish), Vulture, White Tiger, and Captain Stacey.

Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Santorum – it appears that this set has Dr Strange, Wong, and possibly Dormammu.

 

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Scarecrow’s Harvest of Fear – this set has Scarecrow and Killer Moth teaming up against Batman (who is wearing some kind of gas mask). There’s also a farmer, and apparently Scarecrow is riding a combine harvester

Killer Croc’s Sewer Smash – Killer Croc returns as a big-fig here, along with a load of villains – Captain Boomerang, Katana (both tying in to Suicide Squad, I guess) and Red Hood!

 

These are just reports at the moment – as we’re still a few weeks away from the European Toy Fairs beginning in earnest, take this with a grain of salt until they get officially unveiled likely in February. Seems like a big year for superhero Lego, though, if we can trust the reporting!

Warner Bros Reveal Logos for their Next Few Movies

Over the week Warner Bros and DC unveiled the logos for their upcoming superhero movies, rolling out through 2020. Included is next year’s Wonder Woman movie – which also debuted first footage at a special event earlier in the week – as well as Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern Corps and Cyborg.

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Each character will be joining the Justice League (although we don’t know what that’ll mean with regards to the Lanterns – likely either one will join the team, or the whole bunch will fight the Justice League, you know how superhero meet-ups tend to work).

Gal Gadot will be Wonder Woman in her movie next Summer, which’ll be set in the past, during the War. She’s also been seen, of course, in the trailers for Batman Vs Superman.

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Jason Momoa’s Aquaman will be in cinemas in Summer 2018, with Blake Lively apparently cast as Mera.

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The Flash will appear just before him, though, in March 2018, with Ezra Miller cast as the fastest man alive.

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2020 will see Ray Fisher to come the screens as Cyborg, Victor Stone.

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Before, as the final part of the movie wave so far revealed, we come to the Green Lantern Corps. No date has been set for this movie yet, and nobody has been cast for it – or even who the lead Green Lantern will be. Hal, John, Guy or Kyle? We’ll have to see.

Steven Moffat to Leave Doctor Who After Series 10, Chris Chibnall Steps In

It took a lot of gin and tonic to talk him into this, but I am beyond delighted that one of the true stars of British television drama will be taking the Time Lord even further into the future. At the start of season 11, Chris Chibnall will become the new showrunner of Doctor Who. And I will be thrown in a skip.

So says Steven Moffat, with the news that the showrunner for Doctor Who since series 5 will be leaving after the next series in 2017, and that Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall will inherit the role subsequently. Moffat has been in charge of the series since the arrival of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, and has seen several companions and two other Doctors introduced in the meantime.

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His final series, the 10th, will not be released until 2017, however, meaning this year all we’ll have of Doctor Who is a Christmas special at the end of the year. This is apparently so as to give Moffat’s big finale a proper send-off, although it seems more likely that the BBC want to keep it off the airwaves for a year in order to rebuild a little interest after declining viewership through 2015.

The current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, has not stated whether he will be staying on to the Chibnall era or leaving with Moffat. There’ll definitely be a new companion by the time we reach 2017, however, following the departure of Jenna Coleman at the end of this year.