Saturday, June 16, 2012

offhand viewing + off-the-cuff thoughts: Batman: The Animated Series Season One, episode #406-508 -- "On Leather Wings"

As much as I like the idea of complete TV series DVD collections, I'm very slow to make my way through the entirety of those that I own. By slow, I mean that I've owned Batman: The Animated Series Volume One for at least several months -- possibly over a year! -- and earlier this week, finally made it to Disc Two.

Besides the fluid, exquisite animation of "On Leather Wings", I'd found Disc One to be underwhelming. The other episodes struck me as routine mechanical action-oriented animated daytime TV fare ... which I'm sure seems to defy conventional reputation, given the series' reputation for being exceptionable and classy, and having raised the bar, when it first came on the scene. Chalk it up to the production team not having found their footing yet? Given that the Joker of "Christmas with the Joker" and "The Last Laugh" doesn't sizzle the way that he later would, it would indeed seem that the writers and Hamill hadn't quite found their groove yet.

Though on the one hand melodramatic and overwrought with cliches, the first episode on Disc Two, "The Forgotten", was a pleasant change of pace.

Synopses: when Bruce gets wind of a recent wave of impoverished men having gone missing, he pursues the matter undercover. He ends up one of the abductees, he and the other victims being  used as slave labor in a crooked mining operation.

Here's Bruce in his disguise:

I contend that this episode may well have been inspired by DC comic book stories from the early `40's with the same mistreated-workers-overcome-corrupt-fat cat-racketeering-bosses-and-justi...ce-is-achieved premise, such as "The Blakely Mine Disaster" from Action Comics #3 (Aug. 1938) and the untitled Green Lantern lead story from All-American Comics #25 (Apr. 1941). Given the vintage of such stories, then the uniformly stylized, heightened, retro `30's/early `40's trappings of B:TAS make such a homage very appropriate.

Two panels from an early scene in "The Blakely Mine Disaster", in which Clark seeks info from one of the victims of the titular incident:

And here's an entire page from All-American #25 on which GL takes on the thugs who have been sabotaging a steel mill, terrorizing the workers.

The "retro" aspect of "The Forgotten" is driven home with the villain, a true-to-form "fat cat" boss heading up the illegal slave-driven mining operation.  He's the expected haughty, blustering, gaudy-suit-attired type. (Fox Kids probably objected to seeing him smoking cigars, so instead, we tend to find him tearing his way through a hambuger or a hoagie.)

Though there are obligatory fist fight and brawl scenes, "The Forgotten" at its core is the antithesis of a  Supervillain of the Day episode. It's down-to-earth, appealing to "human interest", and melancholy. It certainly has its hamfisted moments ... but who am I kidding, I'm a sucker for almost all of them!

And lastly, the character of Riley quickly earns, and sustains, our admiration and sympathy ... just as the writers had intended. ;)


  1. One thing’s for sure, Ryan… as the series progresses, “The Forgotten” is the type of episode you’d NEVER see later on.

    They did a number of different things early on, as they found their way. …Sometimes, even correcting (or tweaking) things as they went, The Joker being a great example, not to mention the addition of Harley Quinn. I, too, enjoyed “The Forgotten” as a change of pace.

    In this way BATMAN TAS and DUCKTALES had several similarities.

    Each was the “Franchise Series” for its respective studio.

    Each did not begin their studio’s entry into quality TV animation, but quickly became the standard to beat.

    Each ran longer than most (if not all) of their studio’s productions.

    And, as seen here, each had a more widely-sweeping approach to its earliest efforts – soon narrowing in scope to the things each became best known for.

  2. Joe,

    Yes, years ago, I'd seen some of the later Joker/Harley episodes, and hence, "Christmas with the Joker" and "Last Laugh" fell short of my expectations! Looking forward to getting around to, and revisiting, the later ones, though.

    That's an excellent, perceptive comparison of DuckTales and Batman: The Animated Series. And let's not forget, both studios' innaugural, flaship "franchise series" were both based on classic, long-running comics!

    -- Ryan