Monday, July 22, 2013

LEGO Arkham Asylum: A Story told through Vignettes and Music

For my birthday last week, my friends all chipped in and got me the amazing new LEGO Arkham Asylum set #10937. As I was putting it together, I snapped some pictures with my phone to document the process (known in the AFOL world as "vignettes"), which, for LEGO, is just as important, if not more so, as the end result. Then, based on the success of my Batman: The Animated Series Power Hour on YouTube (6,300 views and counting), I thought I'd present those pictures on this blog, accompanied by a corresponding narrative and some music from my favorite Batman stories. Just hit play on the embedded video before starting to read each section and enjoy Chapter 1 of my first ever LEGO multimedia project!

The Joker has just stood trial for his latest crime. What crime it might have been isn't important - whether it was flooding the Riverfront District with toxic laughing gas and going on a looting spree, or the attempted murder of a casino magnate as retaliation for modeling his latest establishment after the Joker, or the psychological torture of some poor sap who just found himself on the wrong freeway at the wrong time - the conclusion is always the same. Joker's court-appointed public defender, the only attorneys who will go near the clown, filed a standard cut-and-dry insanity plea, which the judge was all too eager to grant. This was not because his honor believed the eccentric supervillain would be better rehabilitated in a psychiatric facility, but because in Gotham, the criminally insane are taken to the most secure place in the city: Arkham Asylum.

The date and time of Joker's transfer from the courthouse holding cells to Arkham was kept a secret until the last minute to discourage media attention/breakout attempts, and when the time came, Arkham  guards Aaron Cash and Frank Boles were on the case. Cash had lost his hand in a scuffle with Killer Croc months ago, but fortunately he didn't lose any of the hard-nosed grit and instincts that made him one of the best officers in Arkham's security corps; and the grisly hook that took the place of his left hand made him an even more fearsome opponent to any inmates who attempt to escape. Boles came from a troubled past and had a reputation as a hard and irresponsible drinker, but no guard except Cash could match him for pure toughness.

As they secured Joker into his Hannibal Lecter-style restraints and loaded him into the back of the armored van, a smile crept across his twisted blood-red lips and a grim chuckle slowly built into a full-on gleeful cackle. Boles and Cash shared an uneasy glance, certain that this night had more in store for them than meets the eye.

An armored van bearing the "Arkham Asylum" insignia pulled up to a pair of intricately carved and heavily barred iron gates. A security camera swept over the vehicle, verifying its inhabitants, and the gates automatically started to swing inwards. On either side of the opening, menacing winged and hooded figures stood guard, each holding a symbolic key and a very real and intimidating polearm. As the van passed through, the driver beheld the magnificent gothic architecture of Arkham Asylum: floor-to-ceiling reinforced plate glass windows framed by ornate columns, gargoyle-dotted spires towering above ivy-covered walls, and a foreboding atmosphere like you wouldn't believe.

Dr. Harleen Quinzell watches from her second floor office window as the van approaches, returning her most dangerous and high profile patient into her care once more. Quinzell had been treating the Joker for months now, as he bounced in and out of Arkham's revolving door. During that time, she had developed quite the rapport with the Clown Prince of Crime - one that her some of her fellow doctors worry perhaps bordered on obsession. If they only knew how right they were...

Deep in the basement below the medical building, Dr. Quinzell had fashioned a makeshift shrine to the Joker. It was to here she ran when she saw her puddin' coming through the main gate. Taking a page out of his stylistic book, she plastered her face with white makeup, put on the harlequin-style hat she fashioned herself, and gathered up the makeshift weapons she had put together using only materials found inside the asylum and prepared to debut her very own supervillain persona.

Aaron Cash and Frank Boles wheeled the Joker into the main entrance of Arkham Asylum only to find the front desk completely unmanned. In the guard's place was a note that read "Went to tinkle, Ollie, XOXO."

"I never knew North to sign his letters in lipstick," remarked a curious Boles, upon reading the note. "Something doesn't seem right."

"I agree. But you'd better man the desk, though," said Cash. "The control system for the entire cell block is housed in there. I'll be fine taking this animal upstairs by myself. He hasn't made a peep all night."

"Sounds good to me," replied Boles, as he made himself comfortable at the desk. As he watched Cash take his prisoner into the secure elevator, he opened up his emergency whiskey stash and poured some into a regulation plastic polymer mug. "This is gonna be a long night," he muttered to himself.

Upstairs, Cash found the examination room empty as well. "Dr. Quinzell, I have your prisoner here!" he shouted into the office.

"Thank you, Guard Cash," replied the doctor's voice from the intercom. "You can transfer the patient to the chair. I have a strong sedative ready."

"Copy that, Dr. Quinzell," replied Cash as he began to remove the restraints. "But I'd be careful if I were you. Something doesn't seem right tonight...."

But before he could finish, Cash felt a sharp jab in the back of his neck. As the sedative began to take hold he was just able to catch a glimpse of Dr. Quinzell's face, which was hardly recognizable under the clownish makeup and domino mask that concealed the truly sinister visage of the Joker's newest minion, Harley Quinn!

Tune in next week to see what happens!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Keepin Up w the Kaeperdashians

It's amazing how just two days without baseball can really get you excited for the fantasy football season. While reading Matthew Berry's Draft Day Manifesto and pondering strategies for not only how to construct the best lineup, but also how to put forth the best possible team presence, I came up with my squad's new name: Keepin Up w the Kaeperdashians. (It would have been the more complete "Keeping Up with the Kaeperdashians" but the grammatically correct version exceeds ESPN's character limit for team names.) This name is perfect because a) it combines one of the NFL's breakout stars with the show I'm currently working on and b) no one's ever done it before. (A quick something search shows that this particular name mashup is indeed a novel concept.)

What makes it more perfect is that both of these celebrities posed nude in magazines that reflect their various professions (ESPN The Magazine and Playboy, respectively) giving me plenty of fodder for creating a team image. One is above, the other (probably the best choice) is below. This mashup seems like pretty low hanging fruit, so I just wanted to put it out there as soon as it's ready to prove it was me what thought of it. Now, back to baseball!

If Kim K wasn't already in a committed relationship, this would
 have made such a great celebrity couple name in the tabloids.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Liveblogging: All-Star Futures Game, 7/14/13

I'll only be able to get through the first four innings of this game, because then it will be time to see Guillermo del Toro's sci-fi action epic Pacific Rim! Here are the starting lineups for the two Ryder Cup-esque competing clubs: Team USA and Team World, then I'll say a little bit about some of the notable players on the rosters.

The top story should be the two starting pitchers, Noah Syndergaard from Texas and Rafael Montero from the Dominican Republic. The two of them might someday pitch in the same rotation with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheele, which projects to be an absolute powerhouse in the NL East. But since each pitcher is only scheduled to pitch one inning, the story quickly developed into Red Sox SS prospect Xander Bogaerts, making his second Futures Game appearance, who already has 2 hits and a run, which put Team World on top 2-1. His run chased scheduled 4th inning pitcher Anthony Ranaudo out of the game after just 2 outs (he also gave up a home run to Arismendy Alcantara (another Dominican, but with a seemingly Cuban name). The Red Sox prospect gave way to Phillies prospect Jesse Biddle, who finished the inning just fine.

The next guy coming in to pitch for Team World is one of two Oakland representatives, frequently injured Class A hurler Michael Ynoa. The other representative - USA Class A SS Addison Russell, who struck out in his first at-bat. Meanwhile, Ynoa just gave up a 2-run HR to D-Backs 3B prospect Matt Davidson to put Team USA back in the lead and put them in a better position to go for their 5th straight win in this contest. Not the way you want to see your team contribute to your country's prospect in this exhibition game. Check out's Gameday coverage of the rest of the XM All-Stars Futures game from Citi Field in New York!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Batman Power Hour Companion: Act 6

You're almost there! It's the home stretch: the last ten minutes of my Batman: The Animated Series Video Power Hour! Get ready for some action-packed clips, the introduction of a few new heroes and villains, and one very special minute that holds a special place in my heart.

Clip 51: Trial
Air: 69 (May 16, 1994)
DVD: 203

In a scene that's straight out of Batman's worst fear-toxin induced nightmares, our hero has been captured by a group of his most fearsome adversaries and is being forced to stand trial for acting as the catalyst that led to the creation of his supervillain enemies. It's an interesting philosophical quandary that seems to haunt Batman through all his adventures. Two-Face's opening statement is enough to set the scene, but in the rest of the episode, the arguments posed by Batman's defender - Gotham City's post-Harvey Dent D.A. Janet Van Dorn - are compelling enough for the jury of Arkham inmates to arrive at a "Not Guilty" verdict. Not surprisingly, the criminals go back on their word and plan to carry out the Dark Knight's execution regardless. If you want to find out how he escapes, this episode can be found on Volume 3 of the DVD collection.

Clip 52: Beware the Gray Ghost
Air: 32 (November 4, 1992)
DVD: 118

Recognize the voice of Batman's scene partner in this clip? It's Adam West, the actor who portrayed the Caped Crusader in the iconic campy 60s film and TV show. In a meta-moment, West guest stars as washed up actor Simon Trent, whose claim to fame was playing the Gray Ghost, a TV superhero that young Bruce Wayne used to watch with his father as a child. When a nefarious fanboy starts modeling his crimes on the long-lost plots of the show, Trent is the only person Batman can turn to for help. After some initial trepidation (illustrated in this clip), the actor agrees to don his old costume one last time to help Batman catch the "Mad Bomber" (voiced by Bruce Timm himself). It's a touching nod, not only to one of the bat-giants on whose shoulders this show stands, but also to the impact that masked crime fighters on television can have on our lives.

Clip 53: His Silicon Soul
Air: 43 (November 20, 1992)
DVD: 162

Remember the duplicants from back in Act 4? Well, it turns out the master computer secretly made one of Batman before being destroyed, and now the proverbial prodigal robot is coming home to roost. This episode rivals "What Is Reality?" for the most sci-fi influenced one of the series, forcing its characters and viewers alike to wrestle with some tough epistemological questions regarding the nature of humanity itself. For example, the M. Emmet Walsh voiced Karl Rossum makes the distinction between memories - and their emotional attachments - and knowledge - which can be implanted as data - and it's partly that realization that causes Robo-Bat to embrace his computer-creator's mission of replacing all humans with machines. In the thrilling finale, it's revealed that the Bat-duplicant was a more accurate copy of the original than even its creator imagined - after it mistakenly believes it had violated Batman's one rule by killing the original, its robo-conscience kicks in and it destroys itself.

Clip 54: The Clock King
Air: 14 (September 21, 1992)
DVD: 125

This is one of the earlier episodes in the series and the Clock King actually earns himself a second episode in season 2. But he's so gimmicky and utterly unknown in the Batman Universe that I relegated his lone appearance to the very end of the power hour. The Clock King also has one of the more wacky origin stories of any Batman villain: during his morning commute, efficiency expert Temple Fugate (like tempus fugit, see what they did there?) runs into a young Hamilton Hill who suggests he break his rigid routine in an effort to relieve stress. This deviation of course proves to be a disaster that leads to Fugate's financial ruin, and now years later, the newly-minted supervillain is out to take his revenge on the man who has become mayor of Gotham. During this minute of my first screening with an audience, two of the more devoted fans quoted along with this line:
Batman: Give it up, Fugate! Hill committed no crime against you!
Clock King: He did worse: he made me late!

Clip 55: Baby Doll
Air: 74 (October 1, 1994)
DVD: 211

In one of writer Paul Dini's more twisted creations we have Mary Dahl, a washed-up actress with a rare condition (termed systemic hypoplasia) that kept her from aging. In an effort to re-live her glory days as the lead in a successful sitcom, she captures her supporting cast in order to celebrate her birthday. This clip takes place during one of her kidnappings where the villainess tries to use her deceiving appearance to draw attention away from her nefarious plot. And she would have gotten away with it, too, if she had been able to resist dropping her trademark catchphrase from her show: "I didn't mean to!" I dare anyone to watch this episode all the way through and not find themselves repeating it unconsciously. I also dare anyone to watch Baby Doll's episode from The New Batman Adventures, where she sparks up a one-sided relationship with Killer Croc, and not feel sick to their stomachs afterwards...

Clip 56: Make 'Em Laugh
Air: 77 (November 5, 1994)
DVD: 218

This episode features without a doubt the most talented and handsome voice actor to ever guest star on the show: the indomitable Stuart Pankin! This clip is taken from the opening sequence, where a comically absurd Condiment King attempts to rob a high-end restaurant but is foiled by Batman. It's revealed that the Joker has stolen the Mad Hatter's mind control technology to brainwash three comedians (the Condiment King is actually TV comic Buddy Standler, who sadly doesn't have any lines beyond his encounter with the Dark Knight) for the sake of winning the annual Laff Off comedy competition. Ultimately the Joker ends up with the trophy... except he ends up with it stuck on his head while his pants are around his ankles. Looks like it's the witnesses of his failed heist who have the last laugh in this one.

Clip 57: Christmas With The Joker
Air: 38 (November 13, 1992)
DVD: 102

According to the DVD order, this was the second episode produced, which is a little hard to believe, given its campy nature as compared with the decidedly gritty pilot "On Leather Wings," and the presence of Robin, who doesn't appear again for another 20 episodes. The only compelling piece of evidence is that the voice of Alfred is done by Clive Revill, in one of the three episodes he did before being replaced by Efrem Zimbalist. It's a decidedly uneven episode, but of the stand out moments, I've included my two favorites in the power hour: the expertly arranged minor key version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite underscoring the fight with giant nutcrackers and the expertly timed pun delivered by Robin after Batman uses a baseball bat to fend off remote controlled Joker planes: "They don't call you Bat-man for nothing!"

Clip 58: The Forgotten
Air: 12 (September 17, 1992)
DVD: 126

In early versions of this power hour, this spot was occupied by a scene from "A Bullet for Bullock" showcasing the jazzy arrangement of the title theme that led to the episode's Emmy for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition. But then I realized that the hour was sorely lacking in Alfred screen time, so at the last second, I added in this scene of him flying the Batwing (or, rather, overseeing the Batwing's autopilot as it flies itself). This sleek and stylish version of the Batwing is one of my all time favorite vehicles in his arsenal, not least because of the memories associated with the Kenner action figure version I owned in my childhood. Although Bruce Wayne truly accomplished an amazing feat when he designed a computer with the ability to operate an aircraft with little to no input from a human pilot, I find it more impressive that he was able to give the computer the capacity for sarcasm.

Clips 59 and 60: The Demon's Quest, Part 2
Air: 58 (May 4, 1993)
DVD: 161

Remember Ra's al Ghul's episode back in Act 4? Well, we finally get to the thrilling conclusion, and to end the power hour, no less! We're now in Ra's's desert stronghold, where he's plotting to use a satellite to detonate a series of bombs placed in Lazarus Pits across the globe in order to bring the world closer to a state of nature. But none of that backstory is really important to enjoy the exciting Errol Flynn/Basil Rathbone-esque fight between the two shirtless adversaries that occurs in the power hour's penultimate minute. Between the clips, Batman disables the satellite and bests the original eco-terrorist, who ends up plummeting to his presumed doom into the Lazarus Pit he loves so well. With her father's plan foiled, poor Talia is left alone and directionless, prompting Batman to express his undying love with the third kiss he receives in this power hour, but the first that he willingly initiates. (Bonus points if you can name the other two.)

Tell me this image wouldn't be great on the cover of a comic book...

And, again, it wouldn't be a story about Ra's al Ghul without him dramatically rising from the dead, which explains the very last image of the power hour.

So there you have it: 60 minute(ish)-long clips that, in my estimation, best encapsulate the spirit of this show while also giving a loose chronology of the timeline that kicked off the DC Animated Universe. During the last week, the YouTube video has eclipsed 4,000 views, which makes me feel pretty good about my contribution to the spread of Batman-related knowledge and (hopefully) positive emotions as well. And as with all the content I present on this blog, I hope you all enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed putting it all together.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Batman Power Hour Companion: Act 5

Just two more acts until the end of my Batman: The Animated Series Video Power Hour! I'll try to keep the rest of my commentary short and sweet (while including plenty of pretty pictures), since you're probably all pretty sloshed at this point...

Clips 41 and 42: Almost Got 'Im
Air: 35 (November 10, 1992)
DVD: 146

Pop Quiz: In what year was this giant penny minted?
Make your guesses in the comment section or tweet @Hunter_S_Batman!
With all the major villains introduced and all the most interesting origin stories revealed, it's time to go back to the veritable buffet table of Batman's rogue's gallery and grab a second heaping plate full of bad guys. And what better way to start our second run through than with one of the most clever episodes of the whole series, featuring some of our favorite antagonists swapping stories over a high stakes poker game. I picked Two-Face's story because not only is it the most action-packed, but it shows yet another instance of his trademark coin leading to his downfall. Also, die-hard fans intimately familiar with the Batcave of the 1940s will recognize a ret-con of the giant penny that originally belonged to a little-known villain called the Penny Plunderer.

Clip 43: Joker's Wild
Air: 42 (November 19, 1992)
DVD: 141

In my opinion, this is one of the deepest and most clever episodes of the series, complete with a decidedly grown-up plot involving insurance fraud, and no fewer than four noteworthy sequences in addition to the high-flying hang glider antics featured in the power hour. I would have especially liked to include the battle of wits (and sleight-of-hand abilities) between Bruce Wayne and the Joker, who was able to blend in perfectly with the blackjack dealers, but it would have taken far too long to explain why the casino was Joker-themed in the first place. Also, the haunting laugh of the spinning Joker head is a much more iconic and memorable image for this clip to go out on.

Clip 44: Birds of a Feather
Air: 52 (February 8, 1993)
DVD: 147

This episode really delves deep into Penguin's character, depicting him as a failed socialite who is genuinely ready to forsake his criminal ways when he is accepted into the upper echelon of Gotham's social strata, but who falls back into his old habits when his status revealed to be nothing more than a practical joke. It's a tragically moving character arc for old Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot that offers a rare glimpse into the human element behind all the heists and umbrellas and bird-related puns. So of course the clip I choose involves him wearing a Vakyrie helmet and riding around on a prop dragon... What can I say, society is to blame: high society.

Clip 45: Cat Scratch Fever
Air: 33 (November 5, 1992)
DVD: 136

The title of this episode should be enough to explain why Catwoman is seen blearily stumbling through a snow-covered forest: she's got the cat scratch fever! In fact, she's been infected by an animal-borne poison that was engineered in a nefarious plot by Roland Daggett to create demand for his anti-toxin, but that's far too complicated a plotline for this late in a power hour. The main thing I wanted to emphasize with this clip is Catwoman's flowing blonde hair, another aspect that's in direct contrast with The Dark Knight Rises, although I don't mind the discrepancy at all since Anne Hathaway was one of my favorite parts of the movie. (See? I can say nice things about a Christopher Nolan movie!) There's also this brilliant joke that ends the minute:
Batman (feeling Catwoman's forehead): You're hot!
Catwoman: Now you notice...
The only problem is that people tend to find the setup so funny that they laugh right through the punch line. Come to think of it, a similar problem occurs in the first minute of this act during an exchange between Poison Ivy and Two-Face: In my screenings, her line, "You're still looking halfway decent" gets a big enough reaction to undermine the setup for this exchange:
Two-Face: Half of me wants to strangle you.
Poison Ivy: And what does the other half want?
Two-Face: To hit you with a truck!
Remember that they used to date...

Clip 46: What is Reality?
Air: 45 (November 24, 1992)
DVD: 148

The only thing better than a Riddler episode is a Riddler episode involving virtual reality! Whereas the climactic battle in Edward Nygma's first appearance was taken directly from a video game, this episode sends the Dark Knight into a video game with a piece of ludicrously advanced technology - how can you justify the existence of a cordless modem in a world where TVs are still in black and white? But it's worth the anachronisms to be able to see a computerized Batman solve puzzles that can only exist in a virtual world. All the sci-fi overtones of this episode actually hide a deeper, character-driven plot: The Riddler has been trying to eradicate all traces of his alter ego Edward Nygma (destroying his birth certificate, DMV records, etc.) - but who needs to see all that? Give me more red-tinted Batman in knight's armor riding a Pegasus, please!

Clip 47: Mudslide
Air: 63 (September 15, 1993)
DVD: 152

Including both parts of his two-part origin story, Clayface only appears in three episodes of this series (he would go on to tally two more in the 24-episode "3rd season" The New Batman Adventures). He apparently kept a low profile since bursting onto the scene because his chemically-enhanced cellular structure has been slowly decaying. A medical consultant on one of Matt Hagen's films (named Stella just so they could re-create the famous scene from Streetcar Named Desire) has fallen in love with the villain and is illegally working on a cure, but sparks fly when Batman tries to interfere. This clip is replete with theatrical puns and a truly disturbing attempt on Batman's life, elements of which are taken for the final boss battle in Arkham City.

Clip 48: The Man Who Killed Batman
Air: 49 (February 1, 1993)
DVD: 151

It's hard to establish whether Batman truly created the Joker in this universe, since the show does not origin story for the villain (for a good one, I would suggest the 2010 animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood, featuring Star Trek's Bruce Greenwood as Batman and Futurama's John DiMaggio as the Joker) - but there is no question that the Clown Prince of Crime could not function without the Caped Crusader. This clip shows how Joker's criminal instincts are rooted more in a rivalry with Batman than a desire to cause mayhem, and that with no prospect of a conflict arising between the two, Joker has no motivation to even finish the crime spree he started.

Clip 49: Harley and Ivy
Air: 47 (January 18, 1993)
DVD: 156

Although Harley Quinn - a character who was created for this show, but who was subsequently added to the official comic book canon - has two standalone episodes all to herself ("Harley's Holiday" and "Harlequinade"), there's nothing like a conversation with a fellow super villainess to delve into the psychological underpinnings behind her association with her abusive employer. Plus in this clip we get to see Harley blow up an Archie Bunker lookalike's car with a personalized bazooka. All I can say that it was darn nice of her to give her victims ample time to run to safety before pulling the trigger...

Clip 50: Heart of Ice
Air: 3 (September 7, 1992)
DVD: 114

This image ended up being the YouTube thumbnail pic.
Not ideal, but not terrible either, as it is one of the show's finer episodes.
Mr. Freeze does have a second episode, but to be honest, it doesn't really add anything either to the show overall nor to the character's story. But since the tragic backstory established for this episode basically went on to redefine the character of Mr. Freeze, it felt fitting to let him finish out this act with a heart-wrenching monologue that still brings the occasional single tear to my eye, even after all these watchings. Speaking of tears, here's a bit of trivia about this sequence: Bruce Timm has stated that one of his biggest regrets about this series was not having Mr. Freeze's tears turn into icicles halfway down his cheek. But even without that bit of minutiae, "Heart of Ice" is still one of the all-time great episodes of the series.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Batman Power Hour Companion: Act 4

If you followed along with the previous three posts in this series, you should be half way through this Power Hour and roughly 2.5 beers in. I hope you're enjoying the experience and that you're ready for more of my insightful commentary!

Clip 31: Dreams in Darkness
Air: 31 (November 3, 1992)
DVD: 128

This image (you can barely see Batman there on the far right) is at the exact
midpoint of the power hour, and was almost the thumbnail pic on YouTube.
Series creator Bruce Timm made a conscious choice not to retell the story of how young Bruce Wayne's parents were gunned down before his helpless eyes, but luckily he didn't have any objections to showing the scene in dream sequences, coma fantasies, or drug-induced hallucinations. "Dreams in Darkness" features one of the show's most interesting storytelling tropes as we hear Batman narrate the plot from the confines of his cell in Arkham Asylum, in which he's been locked after receiving yet another dose of Scarecrow's fear toxin. Given that he's in such a state, it's only natural that his mind would revisit the most traumatic event of his life, complete with remarkably emotional and evocative imagery. A fitting backstory-related clip to mark the halfway point!

Clip 32: I Am the Night
Air: 34 (November 9, 1992)
DVD: 149

Staying with the parents death theme, this clip shows Batman performing his annual ritual of returning to Crime Alley to commemorate what happened on that fateful night all those years ago. Joining him on the scene is Dr. Leslie Thompkins, an old colleague of Bruce's parents and a sort of surrogate mother figure, in the same way that Alfred/Commissioner Gordon play the dual role of father figures. (It's revealed later in this episode that Jim Gordon is the same age Thomas Wayne would have been if he hadn't met an untimely end.) This is one of the more cerebral episodes of Batman: in addition to the two Santayana quotes, Batman also utters a line from Nietzsche ("When you look too long into the abyss, the abyss looks back through you") during a moment of personal crisis. It's not often that you get such philosophical depth in a children's cartoon show, and it's one of the reasons why it will always stand as not only one of the most compelling shows to grace the small screen, but also one of the most thought-provoking.

Clip 33 and 34: The Demon's Quest, Part 1
Air: 57 (May 3, 1993)
DVD: 160

The next two clips return us to the Ra's/Talia al Ghul storyline that ended the last act. A couple things to point out right away that contradict the character's most recent cinematic portrayal: he's not the one who trains Bruce Wayne in his quest to become the Bat, he doesn't make any attempt to hide his true identity behind a red herring decoy figurehead, and he doesn't pronounce his name like a girl character on Frasier ("roz"), but rather a much more masculine "raysh" (like "race" with an "sh" on the end). I don't know how it would be pronounced in the original Arabic (it does in fact mean "The Demon's Head"), and not to keep harping on our good friend Chris Nolan, but I definitely prefer the animated version. Also, as much as I admire Liam Neeson, I must say that the vocal majesty of David Warner is unparalleled in terms of capturing the life of the 600-year-old criminal mastermind. Although, who knows what Neeson might have been able to do if he didn't have to spend half the movie pretending to be a different character...

In the first clip, Ra's introduces himself and the problem: both his daughter Talia and Batman's sidekick Robin have been abducted. Between the clips, most of the action happens: hero and villain join forces and embark on a mission to rescue their loved ones, before it's revealed that Ra's had masterminded the whole thing as a test to see if Batman was ready to lead his forces to a new age. When Batman refuses, Ra's goes into conniptions and dies, requiring his resurrection by way of the mysterious Lazarus Pit. Let me just say, and I promise this is the last negative point I'll make about Nolan's trilogy, but to have a story about Ra's al Ghul without the Lazarus Pit is like having a story about Batman without the Batcave. While there is a sequel to this episode, we won't see clips from it until much later in the hour.

Clips 35 and 36: Robin's Reckoning, Part 1
Air: 51 (February 7, 1993)
DVD: 132

While Bruce Timm put a pin in showing the story of Bruce Wayne's death, he put no such restrictions on the death of Dick Grayson's parents. The demise of the Flying Graysons is one of the most emotionally powerful sequences in the show, so much so that this episode won the Emmy for Most Outstanding Half Hour or Less Program. There's something about that single frayed trapeze wire swinging into frame that just evokes a much greater sense of loss than if we'd actually seen them splat on the circus floor. The second clip shows how Bruce and Dick begin to bond through shared tragedy, and more importantly we see how the orphaned Bruce becomes somewhat of an adoptive father to his soon-to-be sidekick. This of course undercuts some of the more perverse sexual undertones between the two that critics and subversives are quick to bring up... despite an overly-playful fencing scene that takes place in Part 2.

Clip 37: Robin's Reckoning, Part 2
Air: 53 (February 14, 1993)
DVD: 133

The backstory here, if it's not obvious, is that Robin has tracked down the crook who caused the death of his parents (played by the incomparable Thomas F. Wilson, aka Biff Tannen) and is ready to return the favor. I feel bad about having to cut this clip before the full extent of Batman and Robin's dialogue where the Caped Crusader convinces the Boy Wonder not to take matters into his own hands, but I only had a minute and had to use the first part of it to adequately showcase Robin's signature bulletproof motorcycle, another sequence that made it into the opening title when the show became The Adventures of Batman and Robin.

Clip 38: Heart of Steel, Part 2
Air: 41 (November 18, 1992)
DVD: 140

Knowing the plot of this two-part episode isn't really important for what I needed this clip to accomplish; it's enough to know that it involves incredibly life-like robots called "Duplicants" (not to be confused with Blade Runner's "Replicants," even though M. Emmet Walsh plays an important part in both). And that Commissioner Gordon's daughter Barbara, who turns out to be a very capable adventurer even before donning the Batgirl costume (SPOILER ALERT), is instrumental in both uncovering the villain/CPU's master plan and in orchestrating its ultimate destruction. Also note that the censors couldn't say anything about the sexy blonde Duplicant getting brutally crushed by an elevator, since she's not technically a human after all...

Clip 39: Shadow of the Bat, Part 1
Air: 61 (September 13, 1993)
DVD: 157

Staying with the Barbara Gordon theme, this clip represents the first time the adventurous coed dons what would eventually become the Batgirl costume, only this time she puts on the cape and cowl in an effort to impersonate Batman to make it seem like he showed up to endorse a rally in support of her father. It's one of those long, drawn-out, complex political storylines that you can afford to let breathe over the space of a two-parter, but for our purposes, it's enough to show how the Dynamic Duo's newest partner burst onto the scene - and that what appears to be a fashion choice of letting her auburn hair flow out the back of her cowl was actually a result of her first interaction with the Boy Wonder... at least in this universe.

Clip 40: Shadow of the Bat, Part 2
Air: 62 (September 14, 1993)
DVD: 158

It strikes me that of the three Bat-allies that appear in this show, only Batgirl makes the conscious choice to become a crime fighter, i.e. she is the only one that wasn't thrust into the life with some childhood crime-related trauma. Her father is still alive and well (if in constant danger) and although her mother is never depicted (maybe she picked up and moved to Ohio like she did in TDKR - maybe the town of Springdale where witness protection placed our friend Charlie in "Joker's Favor"), there's nothing in the show to suggest that she met with a violent end. Either way, Batgirl is by far the least committed to the costumed hero lifestyle, as she only appears in three total episodes. In this clip, she performs her first competent heroic act (using some gadgets borrowed from Batman and Robin and stolen from police headquarters) by rescuing her father, who somehow doesn't recognize her, despite the close quarters lines of dialogue they share. Although with all the commotion in the background and the bullets flying, I can imagine it's very hard to distinguish voices...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Batman Power Hour Companion: Act 3

Continuing the Official Companion to my Batman: The Animated Series video power hour, here's commentary on Act 3 (of 6):

Clip 21: Night of the Ninja
Air: 28 (October 26, 1992)
DVD: 135

I sent us on a flashback to young Bruce Wayne's pre-Batman training in Japan to start this act, as I like each act to begin with something personal about our hero rather than just jumping into the action. Although there is plenty of action when Bruce faces another student in his dojo, Kyodai Ken, a villain who (I believe) was created for the series rather than being drawn from the comics. Their matchup reveals that Wayne wasn't always at the top of his game in terms of fighting style and that he could consistently be defeated by this cocky, bald student with a gnarly Asian soul patch. I wonder what would happen if they were ever to meet up again...

Clip 22: Day of the Samurai
Air: 55 (February 23, 1993)
DVD: 144

There's a lot of backstory that isn't described going into this clip, but even without knowing all the details, it still makes for an extremely well-executed hand-to-hand combat scene. First of all, Kyodai knows the Dark Knight's secret identity because he has fought both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and fighting styles are like fingerprints: no two are alike. Hence the lack of ceremony when our hero casually removes his mask. This knowledge allowed him to target Alfred in order to lure Wayne/Batman to this dangerously epic (epicly dangerous?) fighting ground next to an active volcano. Secondly, Kyodai has acquired knowledge of the ancient forbidden fighting style "kiba no hoko" (the way of the fang), which includes a deadly "killing touch" making him that much more dangerous of an adversary. To see who ends up winning the fight, you'll have to get your hands on Volume 2 of the DVD collection.

Clips 23 and 24: The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
Air: 29 (October 29, 1992)
DVD: 137

Staying with the theme of villains who know Batman's secret identity, the next two clips are from Professor Hugo Strange's only appearance in the series. Although Strange predates the Joker in the comic book context, the diminutive, demonic psychotherapist has been largely left out of the modern Bat-lexicon until he got a starring role in 2011's Batman: Arkham City. In the first clip, we see how Strange gains this critical piece of information: through the use of a high-tech mind-reading device that he operates under the guise of providing hypnotic relaxation therapy to the rich and famous. In a flourish of iconic imagery (which puts a similar sequence associated with the Riddler in Batman Forever to shame), Bruce Wayne unwittingly reveals his darkest secret to someone who's well-suited to use it against him. Between the clips, Batman thwarts Strange's plan, but it's not so easy dealing with the fact that a dangerous evil genius now knows his biggest secret. For that, he has to engage in some cloak and dagger tactics involving his sidekick wearing a mask straight out of Mission: Impossible. Whenever I watch this scenario play out, I always wonder: wouldn't it have been easier for Dick Grayson to disguise himself as Batman, who already wears a mask, and to have the real Bruce Wayne just play himself? Maybe it's just the case that between Batman and Bruce Wayne, the Dark Knight is actually the more recognizable figure in Gotham City...

Clips 25 and 26: If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?
Air: 41 (November 18, 1992)
DVD: 140

This episode marks the Riddler's origin story, and the first clip shows the first time we see the villain in full costume - a gorgeous fully painted, rather than drawn, cell that also serves as the first act out in the actual episode. I've always thought the Riddler's episodes are some of the most entertaining, because his challenges require Batman to apply his intellect to clever puzzles while still maintaining an element of action. Also, Robin appears in each episode with the Riddler, which makes for some good back and forth as the Dynamic Duo work out the brain teasers. Plus, John Glover's conservative yet very effective version of the Riddler is yet another example of how this show puts Batman Forever to shame.

Another reason I'm partial to this particular episode is because of its focus on video games: the maze that Batman and Robin are navigating in the second clip is modeled after the Edward Nygma-created "Riddle of the Minotaur" game that Dick Grayson plays earlier in the episode (complete with sound effects stolen directly from Super Mario Bros.). This episode also introduces Batman's palm-top computer, a device that's far advanced beyond even the technology of our time, let alone the retro-1940s universe in which the show is set. But in a world where villains have remote-controlled flying hands, our heroes need technological weapons advanced enough to combat them.

Clips 27 and 28: Read My Lips
Air: 59 (May 10, 1993)
DVD: 164

The Ventriloquist has one of the screwiest gimmicks (serious psychiatric disorders?) in all of Batman's rogue's gallery, as reflected by our hero's reaction upon seeing the dummy Scarface for the first time. Fans of the original Law & Order will recognize the voice(s) of George Dzundza - who played Sergeant Max Greevey on the show's first season - as both personalities of the villain. In a bit of a cheat, you also hear Dzundza's voice when Batman uses his own ventriloquism ability to trick his foe in their climactic confrontation in the second clip. This same voice-over cheat was also employed in "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne" when Dick Grayson disguises himself (and his voice) as Bruce Wayne to trick Hugo Strange. I understand that there probably isn't another way to make these scenes work, but they always kind of bump me whenever I hear them.

What's not included in this power hour, since it happens after a lengthy fight sequence following the second clip, is the untimely and brutal death of the Scarface puppet at the hands of about 500 rogue bullets from a henchman's tommy gun. Series creator Bruce Timm said that they always destroyed the dummy in the most gruesome ways possible because it's technically just an intricately carved piece of wood, and the censors weren't able to stop them. True to form, in the other two episodes in which the Ventriloquist appears, his trademark prop is ground up by a wood chipper and decapitated by Scarecrow's scythe.

Clip 29: Bane
Air: 71 (September 10, 1994)
DVD: 210

The first episode in this power hour from the show's second season (which inexplicably had less than 1/3 the amount of episodes as Season 1), is also the show's first and only appearance of the episode's title character. Although Bane is one of Batman's most formidable physical opponents, he does not have a great deal of depth: he's basically a huge chemically-enhanced muscle-bound guy who shouts "I WILL BREAK YOU!!!1" This is why I never understood Christopher Nolan's decision to make him such a cerebral character in The Dark Knight Rises. I understand that Bane is supposed to be a smart guy, but in his traditional appearances he uses his intellect to study fighting styles and strategy, not develop intricate terrorist plots. Because the thing about villains with intricate plans is that they have to menacingly explain their inner workings to the heroes, and having a character with a giant mask covering his mouth try to explain anything makes for some very frustrating movie watching.

Anyway, in this clip (which required some internal cuts to remove the awkward and pointless storyline of shirtless Robin swim-fighting with Rupert Thorne's "secretary" Candace) Batman, on the verge of utter defeat, bests Bane in the only logical way possible: he disables the supply of Venom linked to his adversary's brain, with amazingly effective and dramatic results. This is the main reason why a character like Bane frankly doesn't deserve multiple episodes: he has one very clear weakness, and once it's been exploited, there are very few ways to make another interesting story out of him. It's still a great clip and a very good episode, but let's just say that after the credits rolled I wasn't eager for more Bane.

Clip 30: Off Balance
Air: 44 (November 23, 1992)
DVD: 150

Staying with the theme of characters that appear in Christopher Nolan's third and most recent Batman movie, this clip shows Batman's first interaction with Talia. That's right, Talia. She introduces herself directly, there's no mistaken identity red herring, and they begin their relationship by working together in a heroic setting - which kindles the most meaningful romance in Batman's career. Most importantly though, notice that Batman meets Talia before he meets her father, Ra's al Ghul - that way the fact that they know each other becomes an important plot point when he meets the Demon's Head for the first time (as you'll see in the next act). Not much going on in this clip other than the meeting, but it serves as the act out just to remind fans of TDKR how misguided the use (not to mention the casting choice) of Talia was in the film.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Batman Power Hour Companion: Act 2

Here's the commentary for Act 2 (of 6) of my Batman: The Animated Series video power hour. The full video is embedded in the first post in this series or you can go directly to the YouTube link. Please enjoy!

Clips 11 and 12: Pretty Poison
Air: 9 (September 14, 1992)
DVD: 105

Even though Two-Face is one of the most iconic villains in the Batman universe (he appears in seven episodes, tied with Catwoman and trailing only the Joker and Harley Quinn), his two-part origin story has to happen later in the timeline than Clayface's, because his pre-Two-Face character plays a pivotal role in the origin of another villain: Poison Ivy. The first of two clips from this episode not only sets up Pamela Isley's dastardly attack on Gotham's dashing district attorney, it also offers a rare glimpse into Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent's relationship. I think having those two be close friends adds much more to the Batman/Two-Face dynamic than making them rivals for the same girl's affection, to which they were reduced in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. It adds an extra reason for the hero to want to save/rehabilitate the villain over and above the traditional reasons, like the two being opposed on the good/evil spectrum.

Poison Ivy's introduction - as in the Clayface clip that ended "Act 1" of the Power Hour - is the first time we hear the character's villain name, both times spoken by the villain his/herself. Like the preceding clip, this one is less about action and more about Poison Ivy's origin story, which she courteously narrates to Batman while he's immobilized by a perverse Little Shop of Horrors-esque giant fly trap. Some incarnations of Poison Ivy give her the power of controlling her victims with mind-affecting pheromones, but I find her a plenty powerful enough force given just her army of mutated plants and her natural immunity to poisons and toxins; not to mention that she's skilled enough in botany which allows her to use her nasty poisonous lipsticks (and their corresponding antidotes, of course).

Clips 13 and 14: Two-Face, Part 1
Air: 17 (September 25, 199)
DVD: 110

It's appropriate that the second two-part origin story in the show's timeline centers on a character with a predilection for all things binary. The first clip from this episode shows the tragic chemical plant explosion that transformed Harvey Dent into Two-Face - a departure from the villain's comic book origin where he is disfigured by a vial of acid thrown in his face during a trial. The second clip is arguably the most emotional and frightening reveal of the entire show, when the audience (along with Harvey Dent's fiancée Grace) first sees Two-Face in all his blue-tinted glory. But what's not included in the power hour is as important as what is: Harvey Dent's slow journey to insanity, due to the pressures of fighting crime while on the campaign trail, the destructive psychiatric effect of deep seated repressed anger issues, and the threat of blackmail from one of Gotham City's most notorious crime bosses. Again, check out the episodes on Amazon if you want the full story.

Speaking of the last plot point, one thing I find especially poignant about the two two-part origin stories we've seen so far, is that they both symbolize a changing of the guard from Gotham's old school crime bosses to the costumed extremists that populate Batman's rogue's gallery. In Feat of Clay, pharmaceutical magnate Roland Daggett (not to be confused with John Daggett from The Dark Knight Rises) produces the chemical that turns Matt Hagen into Clayface. And in Two-Face, Rupert Thorne is the driving force behind Harvey Dent's transformation, both mentally and physically. Thorne and Daggett both continue to play important roles as the series progresses, but it's interesting to see this type of escalation (mentioned by Jim Gordon at the end of Batman Begins) at work.

Clip 15: Two-Face, Part 2
Air: 18 (September 28, 1992)
DVD: 111

In the exciting conclusion of the two-parter, Two-Face has his arch enemy in his sights and is about to put his fate in the hands of "the great equalizer," his trademark two-headed coin. It's never fully explained why the merged psyche of Harvey Dent and Big Bad Harv has an obsession with chance, beyond the fact that his new dual nature makes his life "a dichotomy of order and chaos." Not to keep comparing these episodes with The Dark Knight, but the coin is one plot points, albeit a minor one, that I felt was handled better in Christopher Nolan's movie (although I would have liked to have seen the villain actively scratch off one side of the coin, rather than just having it be passively damaged). Speaking of the movies, Batman's method of foiling his foe - confusing him mid coin flip by tossing a conveniently placed crate of silver dollars at him - was lifted directly for Batman Forever, where Val Kilmer's Batman makes strategic use of his coin purse to defeat Two-Face in the climactic battle.

Clip 16: The Mechanic
Air: 48 (January 24, 1993)
DVD: 155

Again with stories from the movies, anyone who's familiar with Tim Burton's 1992 classic Batman Returns should recognize this plotline, where the Penguin takes control of the Batmobile and drives it around remotely with a helpless Batman trapped inside. Only, this episode uses the backstory and subsequent blackmail of Earl, the mechanic who designed and maintains the current Batmobile, to get into this sequence. And also Robin is there too. This clip is the first (unjustified) departure from my rule of using each villain's first appearance in the series, because the Penguin's debut episode, I've Got Batman in my Basement, has no redeeming qualities except the music (where the Penguin leitmotif is revealed). Oh, and also maybe that scene where the episode's pre-teen protagonists ineffectually try to use the Batmobile's weapons, like an unfunny trip to Q Branch in a James Bond flick.

Clip 17: Vendetta
Air: 21 (October 5, 1992)
DVD: 123

Unlike The Mechanic, this clip from Vendetta is completely by the book: the episode is Killer Croc's first appearance, the clip features his first encounter with Batman, and we even get the villain referring to himself by name. Croc is a difficult character to pin down: in the Arkham Asylum video game, he's portrayed as little more than an overgrown scaly cannibal, while this episode paints him as a gangster with a personal grudge against Harvey Bullock. When he shows up in later shows (he appears in five altogether, one less than the Penguin and Poison Ivy), it's mostly for comic relief. On the technical side, I had to do some clever internal cutting to get around the commercial break between Acts 2 and 3, which stings out with the cliffhanger of Batman being held underwater. Go ahead and watch it again to see if you can spot the edits.

Clip 18: Mad as a Hatter
Air: 24 (October 12, 1992)
DVD: 127

Those of you who are die-hard fans of the series will notice a discrepancy in the music played over this title card. That's because it's actually the Mad Hatter's musical leitmotif from the opening of "Perchance to Dream," the episode that aired two spots after this one. "Perchance" might be my favorite of the episodes not included in the power hour (vying with "Fire from Olympus"), but since its high-concept premise is too complex to capture in even two minute-long clips (no spoilers!), I decided to keep the spirit of the episode alive by using some of its music. Also, it's more descriptive than the eerie atmospheric tones that introduce the actual episode. Although this, his debut appearance, is the only Hatter-centric episode featured in the power hour, his trademark mind-control technique is often co-opted by other villains as a part of their more complex schemes, as evidenced by his five total appearances.

Clip 19: Fear of Victory
Air: 19 (September 29, 1992)
DVD: 124

Although it's admittedly pretty early in the hour to be repeating villains (there are still no fewer than six classic antagonists yet to be introduced), this is a seminal episode because it's the first on-air appearance of Batman's trusty sidekick Robin. Not only that, but it's also the first time we see Scarecrow's visual makeover that will remain through the rest of the series. It's not evident from this clip, but the Boy Wonder has been re-imagined as the College Student Wonder, and earlier in the episode he was dosed by a special variation of Scarecrow's fear toxin that is activated by adrenaline, so his ability to keep it together during his high-flying antics is all the more impressive. In addition, Robin's perfectly-timed circus catch would become one of the clips used in the Season 2 Adventures of Batman and Robin opening title sequence.

Clip 20: Joker's Favor
Air: 7 (September 11, 1992)
DVD: 122

For the end of Act 2, I used a rare clip that doesn't include any villains, but rather allows us to explore the relationship between Batman and another one of his most trusted allies: Commissioner Gordon. It's established early in the show that Gordon is always firmly on the side of the Bat, even when his colleagues on the Gotham Police Force are less than convinced of the masked vigilante's good intentions. It's also established early that Batman is so super stealthy that he can sneak out of a room through a window without even the only other person in the room noticing that he's gone (another trope that was expertly co-opted for Nolan's films). And this is the first episode where that happens.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Batman Power Hour Companion: Act 1

So, I consider myself somewhat of a creative person. And one of the ways that I express my creativity (at least for the past six years) is by assembling and editing Power Hours - the age-old musical drinking game comprised of 60 one-minute-long clips, after each of which the participants all drink a shot of beer. A few years ago, and for a different publication, I outlined my general philosophy behind creating a power hour mix. I still hold to this philosophy for the most part in terms of purely musical power hours, but this past winter I took my first foray into expanding the visual realm, which presents additional concerns and challenges to a familiar format.

After months of tinkering, I presented the fruits of my labor on the YouTubes: a video power hour featuring some of the best, most iconic clips from the masterful 1990s WB show Batman: The Animated Series. I would venture to say it's been pretty well received, at least for a YouTube rookie, with more than 3,100 views over the past two months. My hope is that this project serves as an entertaining and educational trip through my favorite depiction of the Batman universe, and that it both appeals to the tastes of hardcore fans and encourages Bat-n00bs to get into the world of the caped crusader. And if my creation has the added benefit of inspiring a few people to purchase the DVD collections of Batman: The Animated Series (which I wholeheartedly recommend, especially volumes 1 through 3), then hopefully Warner Home Video will allow it to live on the internet unmolested for everyone to enjoy.

Below is the full video of the power hour followed by some of my personal commentary for what I've designated as Act 1 - minutes one thru ten. Five more installments will follow until I've created the official companion to my Batman: The Animated Series Video Power Hour:

Clips 1, 2, and 3: On Leather Wings
Air: 2 (September 6, 1992)
DVD: 101

The first minute of a Batman: The Animated Series power hour has to be the conveniently minute-long Opening Sequence. While this particular minute was taken from the Pilot episode (which was actually second to air), this minute is repeated at the top of every episode of Batman until it was rebranded The Adventures of Batman and Robin part-way through Season 2. That means I've watched this minute at least 70 times when it aired, another 70 times when the DVDs came out, and again 70 times when I re-watched the entire series with my girlfriend. (We've been introducing each other to our favorite shows. So far I've contributed Batman and Arrested Development, she's brought The Wire and Alias. I think we're pretty even at this point...) And even after more than 200 viewings, plus untold reruns and rewatchings, this minute will never get old.

The A.V. Club concisely summarizes the opening within this great feature chronicling the whole series, but suffice it to say it's a brilliantly staged, tonally perfect vignette of a typical Batman situation. Composer Shirley Walker's beautiful orchestration of Danny Elfman's "movie theme" also sets the musical tone for the entire series, and since power hours were originally musical in nature, it's fitting to start with a primarily musical minute. The next minute is predominantly musical as well, as we now get our first taste of the "animated theme" that Walker composed for the series. But going beyond the music, this clip also gives us our first look at two of Batman's most iconic tools: the Batmobile and his all-important grapple gun. This is the first time that Batman uses his signature device in the show's chronology, but he will fire it countless hundreds of times over the course of the series... and he will NEVER MISS. Whether he's standing on the top of a skyscraper or balancing atop a vehicle travelling well in excess of the local speed limit or hurtling through the air in a blind freefall, Batman can whip it out of his utility belt and instantly attach it to the nearest streetlamp or windowsill without even breaking a sweat. Never fails.

The next minute, the third one taken from the Pilot, continues the musical theme, while also continuing the grapple gun theme. In another crack shot, Batman fastens his grappling hook around the ankle of his dark inversion, Man-Bat, and the two of them go flying through the skies. Although the preceding scene - where Kirk Langstrom transforms into Man-Bat - is brilliant and terrifying in its own right, this minute is more visually stunning, and it also provides a better sample of Walker's Man-Bat leitmotif, the first of many such musical themes that we will hear throughout the hour. Also, pay attention to the voice of the pilot of the police blimp (a timeless invention of the show's producers) - it's Kevin Conroy showing his vocal range. Not only does he create distinct voices for Bruce Wayne and Batman (for the first time in the character's filmed history) he also portrays Bruce's father Thomas and lends his talents to the occasional bit part.

Clips 4 and 5: The Cat and the Claw
Air: 1 (September 5, 1992)
DVD: 115

Many think it was strange to feature such an unheralded villain as Man-Bat in the pilot episode, but I understand the producers' motivation for not wanting the pressure of portraying an iconic character in their very first show. The first show to air, however (and thus America's first look at the animated caped crusader) introduced a character who can only be described as an anti-hero. Catwoman (she's not referred to by that name in the episode, nor in Christopher Nolan's most recent movie) never outwardly schemes against Batman and their relationship is always steeped in mutual respect and romantic potential. The first clip shows the first meeting between the two, while also showcasing Catwoman's musical leitmotif, and the second clip features a bit of timely heroics by Batman, followed up by what might be the most awkward rejection in comic book hero history.
Catwoman: You can't deny there's something between us.
Batman: Yes, and I'm afraid it's the law.
A big part of this two-part episode was the juxtaposition between Bruce Wayne's schoolboy crush on Selina Kyle and Catwoman's romantic interest in Batman, playing on how their different identities almost amount to different personalities. This idea was loosely adapted for Nicole Kidman's character in Batman: Forever, except it's much less effective when the love interest is a cut and dry damsel-in-distress rather than a costumed extremist in her own right. Obviously there wasn't enough time in the scope of this power hour to do this plot device justice, which is one reason I think it acts as such an effective marketing tool for the series as a whole.

Clip 6: The Last Laugh
Air: 15 (September 22, 1992)
DVD: 104

With the first two chronological episodes out of the way, it's time to introduce Batman's primary arch-nemesis, the Joker. This was neither the Clown Prince of Crime's first appearance on the air (both Joker's Favor and Be a Clown aired before it) nor on the DVDs (Christmas with the Joker precedes it by two spots), but I thought it was ideal to place first in the power hour for no fewer than three reasons. Number one, this episode features the Joker on his own, without his sidekick Harley Quinn (who was introduced to the world by this series, much like the police blimps). While she has gone on to become a popular character in Batman's rogue's gallery, it makes sense that the Joker should predate her. Number two, it's the most complete and comprehensive version of Joker's musical leitmotif that defines the character through the 12 episodes in which he appears (the most for any villain on the series, naturally). And number three, sometimes it's fun to spend some time with the Joker and his goons as they pull off a heist - cf. the riveting first six minutes of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.

Clip 7: Heart of Ice
Air: 3 (September 7, 1992)
DVD: 114

This 20-minute episode did more to define the character of Mr. Freeze than his campy appearances in the 1960s TV show and his laughable portrayal in 1997's Batman and Robin could do to drag him down. Later in the power hour, we'll see more relating to his tragic origin that was imagined for the show rather than taken from the comics. In fact, the character was originally known as Mr. Zero in the comics and didn't become Mr. Freeze until the aforementioned TV series. But this clip serves the purpose of showing the villain in action, as well as getting to hear his punny self-introduction, which amounts to the last vestige of humor to exist in the character. This episode marks one of the four episodes to be directed by series co-creator Bruce Timm, clips from three of which are featured in this power hour.

Clips 8 and 9: Nothing to Fear
Air: 10 (September 15, 1992)
DVD: 103

The first clip from Scarecrow's debut appearance is another great example of how this show uses music to introduce its characters. Although they consciously left out a Batman origin story, our hero meets nearly every villain onscreen - the only ones who are taken for granted as existing before they're introduced during the show are Joker and Penguin. Whenever possible, I tried to showcase these introductions in the power hour, whether they're the villains introducing themselves, their first encounter with Batman, or their first major sequence. And Scarecrow's first use of his hallucinogenic fear toxin - where he induces an attack of acute arachnophobia in an unsuspecting security guard - is top-notch.

In the time between the two clips taken from this episode, Batman gets himself dosed with some time-released fear toxin and has to deal with a reaction in the worst possible circumstances: while hanging from a damaged blimp hundreds of feet above the city. Naturally, Batman's worst fear involves his parents, as he's beset with images of his father calling him a disgrace to the family name. In a display of sheer willpower, our hero talks himself out of the bad trip, dispelling his ghostly tormentor by uttering one of the most iconic self-descriptive lines in his long history: "I am vengeance! I am the night! I AM BATMAN!"

Clip 10: Feat of Clay, Part 2
Air: 5 (September 9, 1992)
DVD: 121

This climactic battle against Clayface happens near the end of his two-part origin story, the first of two villains to receive such treatment. In an interesting twist, the man who becomes Clayface in the show shares characteristics of both the golden age (1940s) and silver age (1960s) versions of the character: he starts out as a B-movie actor, like the golden age Basil Karlo, but he has the name of the silver age Matt Hagen. This sequence doesn't tell us much about Clayface's story, whatever his name happens to be, but it features some top-notch action - illustrated by the fact that every attack he throws at Batman in the episode became part of his moveset as the final boss of 2011's award winning video game Batman: Arkham City. And if this encounter is good enough to end one of the greatest video games of all times, it's good enough to be the first act-out of my power hour.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Liveblogging: BOS @ LAA, 7/7/13

This is a different model than the one that drove by me on the 405 today.
As I was driving towards the westside of LA from the Valley this morning, I was startled to see out of my window, fast approaching from the rear, Mike Trout's giant torso. The medium close up of the Angels All-Star outfielder was at least 12' tall, plastered to the side of a party bus, and posed as if he was ready to tee up on the car next to me on the freeway. Yes, the Halo Express was charging full speed down towards Anaheim in The O.C. in preparation for the Angels' big match against the Boston Red Sox. After getting over the initial sense of startledness at the sight of half a giant advancing on me, I didn't fail to notice the irony that a bus supporting a team whose name somehow includes Los Angeles was going about as fast as it could away from Los Angeles. Then I thought it was a sign that I should do one more roster project this weekend for tonight's ESPN Sunday Night Baseball matchup.

Tonight's visiting starter is John Lackey, the former Angel who apparently maintains a friendship with the Angels' projected ace Jered Weaver. Boston's lineup has four discrepancies with its Sports Illustrated projected lineup: Shane Victorino is getting a day off in favor of benchwarmer Mike Carp. Jonny Gomes is out of left field in favor of Daniel Nava, a borderline All-Star snub this year. Will Middlebrooks has been demoted to the minors and Stephen Drew is out with an injury, which takes care of the whole left side of the infield. The Angels have three: Mark Trumbo is out with veteran non-roster invitee Brad Hawpe taking his place at first base. Center fielder Peter Bourjos reinjured himself almost immediately after returning from the DL, and another NRI J.B. Shuck takes his place at the top of the lineup, forcing Trout back to CF.

First Pitch was at 8:05 ET, right at the start of primetime, so let's see how the teams fare. Stay tuned for the lineups.

Middle of the 4th inning (6:19pm PT) - BOS 0, LAA 1

Mike Trout's home run is still the difference in this game as both Weaver and Lackey are pitching well. My gut tells me that Lackey has more command today, but the Boston bats just have to wake up behind him. Angels try to add on as I give you the active roster of the visiting Boston Red Sox:

If there's a primary reason why this team is leading the AL East, it's not their starting staff. Lackey, projected to be the fifth starter, leads all active Red Sox in points and PPG. Of course the real story of this pitching staff is All-Star Clay Buchholz - what you don't see above, since he's on the 15-Day DL, is that Buchholz is running a fantasy line of 1,188 with 99.0 PPG, potentially Cy Young Award caliber. Taking his place is a tenuous combination of bad egg Alfredo Aceves (recalled and optioned start by start) and the team's #4 (MLB) prospect (#49 overall, BA) Allen Webster. Their next-highest ranked prospect, Jose Iglesias (#6 on the team, not in Baseball America's top 100) is currently playing double duty, filing in for the ineffective Will Middlebrooks at 3B injured J.D. Drew at SS - Brock Holt, late of the Pirates, was called up to start at the hot corner tonight.

Holt is the only active piece of the trade that brought the Red Sox their projected closer Joel Hanrahan, who is currently languishing on the 60-Day DL and not part of the team's 40-man roster. Surprisingly though former setup man Koji Uehara is getting more recent save situations than former Rookie of the Year closer Andrew Bailey, but you have to go with who's hot. Speaking of who's hot, this team's offense has two AL All-Stars and one notable snub. David Ortiz has gotten his groove back and will start at DH. Dustin Pedroia has been playing better than Robinson Cano, but will have to be content with a bench spot behind his New York rival. But overall points leader Jacoby Ellsbury was passed up in favor of two sub-1,000-point reserve outfielders: Alex Gordon and Torii Hunter, Detroit's SIXTH All-Star, so it's not like they needed a representative. And can we talk about how the AL is carrying THREE catchers? And Ben Zobrist is on the team over Josh Donaldson (or Evan Longoria, for that matter). I think the Commissioner's Office is stacking this thing for the NL. You heard it here first.

End of the 8th inning (7:50pm PT) - BOS 0, LAA 3

The Angels have tacked on a couple of insurance runs and as we head to the last six outs of the game, it's time to check out their roster:

After the giant free agent contract they awarded Josh Hamilton, the Angels were consensus favorites to run away with the AL West this year. Instead they're languishing in third place, 8.5 games behind the A's. A big part of this disappointment is a cobbled together pitching rotation that hasn't been able to find adequate replacements for Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson when they went down with injuries. And while Ernesto Frieri has developed into the only competent member of this bullpen, he wasn't even supposed to fill that role, but Ryan Madson just hasn't been able to recover from last year's Tommy John surgery.

Trout is their top player, although not quite living up to his #1 rank. He deserves to be this train wreck of a team's lone All-Star representative, although Howie Kendrick could be considered a snub in some circles. Mark Trumbo is the team's other 1,000 point contributor as the pure power hitter has taken over 1B with Albert Pujols relegated to mostly DH duties with a chronic case of oldness. Two bench roles are occupied by mid-season acquisitions: Brad Hawpe was signed after being released by Pittsburgh, and Collin Cowgill came over in a trade with the Mets, who got him from the A's before the season started.

Well, Frieri has closed it out, giving the Angels a 2-1 series victory. Let's hope this doesn't signal any kind of boost in momentum for the Halos, cuz it would sure be nice if the A's could go into the All-Star break leading the division. In the meantime, watch this space for a very special birthday post tomorrow morning!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Liveblogging: Athletics @ Royals, 7/6/13

Middle of the 6th inning (12:50pm) - OAK 3, KCR 2

Every day of the baseball season, releases one game for free viewing, for the benefit of us spendthrifts who are too cheap to pay for either a cable package or a subscription to premium. Today's free game happens to feature the Oakland Athletics returning to their former haunting grounds of Kansas City to face the Royals. It's a fitting matchup, as the A's are currently embroiled in a legal battle with Major League Baseball for permission to make the franchise's third move in its 112-year history. I'll take this opportunity to examine each team's active roster, starting with the visitors:

1,000 fantasy points is an important milestone at the halfway point of the season, and the A's roster features three players who have reached it, one from each player category: starter, reliever, and position player. Bartolo Colon has turned into the improbable ace of this staff at age 40 and in the year after his 50-game suspension for PED use. Colon's been implicated in the Biogenesis scandal, so if that case is resolved before the end of the season, Oakland could be scrambling to find another starter on the waiver wire. Australian closer Grant Balfour has just tied Dennis Eckersley's franchise record for most consecutive saves, but he's long since broken the record for profanities uttered on the air. Josh Donaldson has been the biggest story of this offense, and while all three of these players have legitimate All-Star aspirations, the converted catcher might have the hardest road to New York, as he'll have to compete with such top hot cornermen as Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, and Manny Machado.

For all Donaldson's brilliance, he trails speedy center fielder Coco Crisp by 1.0 PPG for the team lead in that column. Had Crisp not missed time with various injuries, his hot start would have definitely netted him an All-Star berth, if not a starting spot - we'll find out if he will be included in the festivities tonight at 6:30pm ET. Looking at the Pos 2 column, we can catch a glimpse of manager Bob Melvin's lineup construction strategy, as he uses the DH slot as a revolving door for his banged-up outfielders (and John Jaso, who may or may not be the player who unintentionally bared his unmentionables during a locker room interview with Josh Donaldson last month).

As Donaldson just gave the A's the lead with a solo home run in the top of the 6th inning, it's time to pause long enough for me to do some research into Kansas City's lineup. See you in a couple of innings!

Bottom of the 8th inning (1:30pm) - OAK 3, KCR 3

Turns out it took me about two innings to do the due diligence on the Royals, which is just as much time it took them to tie the game at 3. Here's how the third place team in the AL Central stacks up:

A quick glance at the all-important points column shows that KC has just two players past the 1,000 point barrier, and they're both pitchers: fellow surprising staff ace Ervin Santana and closer Greg Holland. Their big offseason acquisition James Shields and top offensive performer Alex Gordon are very close to the milestone with just under 20 and just under 50 points to go, respectively. Gordon just returned to action today after undergoing extensive concussion-related tests resulting from a crash into the outfield wall. Gordon actually started his career as a third baseman, but was shifted to the outfield after breaking his hand early in his career, and he's responded well to the positional shift.

Despite the impression that this team is constantly rebuilding, they are carrying only one rookie on their roster: outfielder David Lough (pronounced LOW) who takes the place of recently-DFA'd veteran Jeff Francoeur. I'm sure A's fans will be disappointed by his cut, as he has forged a relationship with Coliseum dwellers through his self-funded promotional day "Bacon Tuesday." In another roster shift, projected starting second baseman Chris Getz has been sent down in favor of youngster Johnny Giavotella, who tore it up in the Pacific Coast League last year (not necessarily a tough feat). However, neither he nor projected starting shortstop Alcides Escobar are in the lineup tonight, as they give way to former A Miguel Tejada and Elliot Johnson, respectively.

As Josh Donaldson fails to produce with a runner on base, we head to the bottom of the 8th inning with this game still tied.

End of the 9th (1:57pm) - OAK 3, KCR 4

So it goes: the Royals add to their league lead in come-from-behind victories, as a combination Yoenis Cespedes's failure to score from first on a two-out double early on and a costly Adam Rosales fielding error cost Ryan Cook and the A's the game. Rubber game tomorrow as this series is now tied at a game apiece, but I won't be able to watch it because's free game is the Reds hosting the Mariners in a historic "Ken Griffey-off". Now all we can do is watch the scoreboard and hope Erik Bedard and the Astros somehow keep Texas from pulling a half game ahead of the A's tonight.