Sunday, February 19, 2006

Looking To The Stars: Review of Batman: TAS, Volume 4

I came into a slight windfall recently, so I was finally able to complete my collection of Batman: The Animated Series. The fourth and final DVD volume collecting the entire series came out just before Christmas, but I didn't get it in case a friend got it for me. Nobody did. Regardless, this volume collects all 24 episodes (were there really that few?) of the later "Gotham Knights" episodes. I.E. The ones with the streamlined animation and Nightwing.

Disc One

1. Holiday Knights

Cute if flawed in some respects, this episode suffered from being the first of the new batch shown as, chronologically, it follows other episodes. So viewers were lost as to why Clayface was still alive, why Robin was so much younger and why Joker looked like a Grey Alien. Still, it is a serviceable Holiday special. 3 Stars.

2. Sins of the Father

A flat introduction for Tim Drake, with the Jason Todd origin. It's far too sedate and indeed the only really exciting moment comes at the end when Dick Grayson returns just after we find out he was gone. 2 Stars.

3. Cold Comfort

I may stand alone on this, but as far as Mr. Freeze goes, they should have stopped after the classic Heart of Ice. The preceding episodes with the character were horribly inferior, although the Sub Zero Batman movie which preceded this episode concluded the character's story nicely. And then we have this episode... where we find out that after saving his wife's life and recovering his emotions at the end of Sub-Zero... she ditched him, Mr. Freeze regressed into being a cold, emotionless SOB and now he's devoting his life to destroying what matters most to random people. Pointless and Depressing. 1 Star.

4. Double Talk

Created because apparently every one of the major villains had to have a new episode devoted entirely to them, this was a very lackluster Ventriloquist story that just goes to show that a block of wood is more interesting than Arnold Wesker's insanity. 2 Stars.

5. You Scratch My Back

Oddly flat, the plot here is twist upon twist, double-cross upon double-cross and yet you can still see the ending coming about 5 minutes before any of the trained detectives. 2 Stars.

6. Never Fear

I hate the new Scarecrow design, but must admit to this being the best story done with the character since Nothing To Fear. The twist of Scarecrow operating outside his normal MO (making people fearless rather than attacking through phobias) is a novel one. 4 Stars.

Disc Two

1. Joker's Millions

Based off an old Detective Comics story, Paul Dini neatly turns in another episode that is short on Batman but long on laughs. 5 Stars.

2. Growing Pains

What I said about Mr. Freeze and how nothing should have been done after Heart of Ice earlier? The same goes for Clayface and Mudslide regarding this episode. Still, this at least explained why Clayface was back from the dead even if it took its' sweet time in doing so. Painfully slow. 2 stars.

3. Love Is A Croc

Steve Gerber has done a great many things for the comic book industry. His script for this episode was not one of them. While nobody can do a tale of weird romance quite like him (Howard the Duck, anyone?), trying to create twisted romantic comedy starring he annoying Baby Doll and the increasingly feral Killer Croc proves even beyond him. 1 Star.

4. Torch Song

Another one I stand alone on, but I liked this episode even if it did feature one of the lamer Bat-Villains. Rather than being a pyromaniac with a lot of toys, Firefly is portrayed here as a jilted lover who uses his pyrotechnic know-how to get revenge on his singer ex. 3 Stars.

5. The Ultimate Thrill

I don't know how Timm, Dini and company got a villainess who flies around straddling a giant rocket yelling "Yeah! Oh Yeah!" sensuously past the Kids WB censors. I'm just glad they did because Roxy Rocket rocks. 4 Stars.

6. Over The Edge

One of the best. On the odd chance you haven't seen it, I'll say nothing lest I spoil the twist ending. 5 stars.

Disc Three

1. Mean Seasons

One of the two episodes that plays like an Adam West Batman episode. In this case, it's a good thing. Worth seeing just for the satire of WB programming. 4 Stars.

2. Critters

One of the two episodes that plays like an Adam West Batman episode. In this case, it's a bad thing. Easily the worst of the New Batman Adventures, this one is Strike 2 for episode plotter Steve Gerber. 0 Stars.

3. Cult of the Cat

A serviceable Catwoman story, but not much else. Shame she never appeared again after this. 3 Stars.

4. Animal Act

What's the first rule of Batman: The Animated Series? Any episode with animal men or trained animals can be skipped. Not really bad, persay, but very slow and plodding. 1 Star.

5. Old Wounds

Finally, an explanation as to why Dick Grayson disappeared. Probably the best Nightwing origin ever, this was also, in my humble opinion, the best of the new batch of episodes. 5 Stars.

6. The Demon Within

The Kirby enthusiasts will cream their shorts, but everyone else will be bored stiff as The Demon refuses to terrify and Batman is forced into unfamiliar territory in a magic-heavy story that really doesn't suit Batman at all. 2 stars.

Disc Four

1. Legends of the Dark Knight

Doomed to be forever known as "The One With The Dark Knight Returns Scene", this one starts strongly but has a rather weak ending. Still, it's enjoyable enough even without the joke about how flamingly gay Joel Schumacher is. 3 Stars.

2. Girls Night Out

Goofy? Yes, but that's not the problem. For an episode meant to showcase all the "girl power" characters, this episode was subtly sexist. And I'm not even talking the ending where the heroes return home to give each other makeovers. I'm talking the bit where two professional superheroines get pissed off about not getting the respect of fat slob detective Harvey Bullock. It's sad that even Harley can't save this one. 2 Stars.

3. Mad Love

The story that won Paul Dini some awards and some credibility as a comic book writer, this was the perfect balance of horror and comedy as we get the true origin of Harley Quinn. Has possibly the highest "I Can't Believe They Got Away With This" factor of any Timm/Dini produced cartoon, what with all the scenes of violence and Harley prancing around in a nighty asking Joker to "rev up his Harley". 5 Stars.

4. Chemistry

Not a bad story, although the "Bruce Wayne gives up his quest for love" angle was handled a lot better in "Mask of the Phantasm". Still, not bad for the length involved. 3 Stars.

5. Beware The Creeper

Proof that Steve Gerber had at least ONE good episode in him, it's a shame they didn't keep the show going another season or ever use The Creeper in the new Justice League. And his attempts to romance Harley were perfect. 4 Stars.

6. Judgment Day

A much better Two-Face story than "Sins of the Father", the introduction of the overzealous Judge vigilante was well-executed. 4 Stars.

Special Features

The features are somewhat limited with this set, presumably there being very little left to say. Still, the commentaries on this DVD set are the best yet though we are limited to three episodes. Over the Edge, Legends of the Dark Knight and... CRITTERS?!?!

Yes, as a chance of pace, Dini, Timm and company decide to tackle an episode that was... not very well received. And even as Timm talks about the concept and how he thought it would be funny in an Adam West Batman, 3rd Season kind of way... by halfway through the commentary, he is joining the rest of the crew in laughing at the twisted animation and the bad puns. (Holy Cow, indeed Robin...)

The only other Special Feature is an "interactive Arkham Asylum", featuring brief video clip profiles on various villains and comments by the writers, directors, voice casters and other professionals. This only serves to demonstrate what I've said in previous reviews of these episode collections - it would be much better to have footage of Mark Hammill acting out Joker with his body while recording his lines than to have footage of Andrea Romano talking about how great it is. Lets call the extras a solid 4.

All in all, I'll give this set a solid 3 out of 5 stars. It's typical of the WB DVD collections of late and fails to be the sum of its' parts. Still, if you're a completist like me, you'll get it regardless. It's worth it to have the animated version of Mad Love.

One final note: If you haven't already, go and make your voice heard in the nomination process for this year's Comics Nexus Best of 2005 Awards

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

No comments:

Post a Comment