Tue
Feb 12 2013 2:00pm

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Cat Scratch Fever” & “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Cat Scratch Fever & The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

“Cat Scratch Fever”
Story by Sean Catherine Derek
Teleplay by Buzz Dixon
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
Episode #035
Music composed by Harvey R. Cohen
Animation Services by Akom Production Co.
Original Airdate—November 5th, 1992

Plot: Newly released from prison, Selina Kyle searches for her missing cat, but finds Roland Daggett and a plot to infect Gotham with rabies.

Blerg.

There are two good moments in “Cat Scratch Fever,” and only one is intentional. Batman returning Selena’s cat in a basket is one of the sweetest, most romantic acts Batman ever does in the cartoon. The other moment is cutting from footage of Selena’s release to an apparently naked Bruce Wayne doing some very sweaty sit ups. We get it, Batman: the Animated Series, Bruce has found other releases for his sexual energy.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Cat Scratch Fever & The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

Other than that, this episode is just awful. Not that naming your episode after a Ted Nugent album is the best place to start, but it only gets worse from there.

The main problem is that it sets out to establish Selina Kyle’s new status quo, that of a former supervillain trying to do good, but undercuts her agency by knocking her out half way through the action. In the end, she’s not a villain, or a hero, or even a sidekick, but just another damsel in distress for Batman to rescue.

Not that Selina does so well before her own cat poisons her. She has no motivation other than “Flirt with Batman” and “Find my cat,” like a blonde Holly Golightly. She has trouble fighting off dog catchers Ponch and Jessy, not exactly Kyodai Ken level martial artists. And when Bruce warns her not to be seen around Daggett’s facility, Selena goes there dressed as Catwoman, even though all of Gotham now knows Catwoman is Selena Kyle. So instead of being the ass-kicking burglar, Catwoman is now a helpless ninny.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Cat Scratch Fever & The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

The actual villains of the piece aren’t any great shakes either. Roland Daggett (still free and alive despite Clayface) would be menacing, if he didn’t start monologuing before killing Batman. Ponch and Jessy are morons. And Treat Williams as Professor Milo, a.k.a. Doctor Bowlcut, combines an annoying voice with a terrible, terrible haircut. We haven’t seen the last of him, unfortunately.

On top of the writing problems, the animation is bad too, and in some very basic ways. The main characters are off model. The movements are blocky and stiff. The backgrounds don’t seem finished. Selena looks like she was sentenced in front of a Goya painting. The whole thing adds up to being a boring chore to sit through.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Cat Scratch Fever & The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

Moving on

 

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Cat Scratch Fever & The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”
Story by David Wise
Teleplay by Judith & Garfield Reaves-Stevens
Directed by Frank Paur
Episode #036
Music Composed by Lolita Ritmanis
Animation Services by Akom Production Co.
Original Airdate—October 29th 1992

Plot: To investigate a blackmailing ring, Bruce Wayne visits the health spa of Dr. Hugo Strange, not knowing Strange has a machine that can read minds. Strange then auctions off Bruce Wayne’s greatest secret to Batman’s worst enemies.

Apparently one should never leave Gotham for a health spa. At least Bruce Wayne went himself this time, instead of sending Alfred into danger alone.

Like “The Laughing Fish,” “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is based on comics by Steve Engelhart and Marhsall Rogers. Evil psychiatrist Hugo Strange is one of Batman’s oldest foes, predating the Joker by a few months, but he remained unused for thirty years before Engelhart and Rogers brought him back to accidentally learn Batman’s secret identity and use it to wreck havoc on Bruce Wayne’s life, including the auction that happens here.

This episode shows Batman's personal growth. Bruce has clearly learned his lessons from “Dreams in Darkness” and “Night of the Ninja,” as he’s much quicker to call in Alfred, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon for help. The ending relies on Batman not only trusting Robin to save the day, but to literally be Bruce Wayne, which Dick does with aplomb. Bruce is also able to banter with Robin about needing a vacation, assuring Alfred that everything’s going according to plan (and Alfred, apparently, can take quite an interrogation). Batman even sticks around long enough to let Gordon see him leave, as opposed to his usual disappearing trick. Bruce seems to be learning how to actually connect to people.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Cat Scratch Fever & The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

At the same time, “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” shows an evolution in his enemies too. This is the first episode to show Batman’s costumed villains working together. Sure, the Joker can only insult Two-Face and Penguin, and Two-Face can only get angry, but the Penguin, surprisingly, makes an effective peace maker that allows his “fellow miscreants” to pool their resources before attacking Dr. Strange.

(Never mind that making one big bid is a stupid plan. As they are the only three bidders, their best play is to collectively bid one dollar, or just threaten to kill Strange if he didn’t give up the details. But then, as we’ve seen, the Joker is just terrible with money.)

The unexpected member of this terrible trio is Two-Face. In the original story, Strange auctioned off Batman’s identity to The Joker, the Penguin, and Rupert Thorne, and that would make more sense as those are the established criminals that Batman has repeatedly thwarted. The last time we saw Harvey Dent outside of Arkham, he was only interested in destroying Thorne and his fiancé Grace was going to get him the help he needed. Some time between then and now, (or perhaps between then and “Dreams in Darkness,”) Harvey decided to become a straight up criminal. Unlike Poison Ivy and the Scarecrow, whose initial motivations were clearly just excuses for crimes they were going to commit anyway, it’s not clear why Harvey Dent would choose to be a villain and hate Batman now. That is an important moment for Two-Face, and it’s a shame we never see him make that choice in the cartoon.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Cat Scratch Fever & The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

That’s not really a complaint about this episode, though. This episode is full of great villainous moments, especially with the Joker as the comic relief, playing the role for Two-Face and Penguin that Harley Quinn usually plays for him. He has popcorn for the auction, and a pilot’s outfit ready to wear. Leaping to safety out of the already crashed airplane is a gag so good they’ll repeat it in “Harlequinade.” And when the Penguin and Two-Face pull out their guns, he pulls out a bouquet. And Two-Face’s dismissal of Strange’s claim that Bruce Wayne is Batman drives home how unbelievable that idea is in Gotham. If anyone was going to figure it out, it would be the man who knows both Batman and Bruce Wayne extremely well.

As with previous episodes, the influence of Alfred Hitchcock is very strong here, especially in the score and the shot choices. Lots of high and low angles. The dream sequences from Strange’s mind reading device seem influenced by the Salvador Dali directed sequences from Spellbound. Once again, we get a peek into Bruce’s psyche via hallucination (Hello, Thomas and Martha, we haven’t seen you since “Perchance to Dream”) but we don’t learn much new, except maybe that Bruce considers Batman to be revenge, rather than justice.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Cat Scratch Fever & The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

The tech in this episode is all over the map. Bruce is surprised that Strange has a device to read minds, but not astounded that such a device even exists. I guess it’s not that big a surprise, since apparently the Mad Hatter made a dream making machine in his spare time. But Strange’s future tech device records said dreams on good old VHS (in color, no less). Meanwhile, all the cars, planes, and fashions are still from the 1940s. Usually the show does a better job of creating its neverwas time setting, but here the contrast in technology is a little too glaring.

Ray Buktenica does a good enough job as the mad scientist Hugo Strange and it would have been nice to see more of him. Besides learning Bruce Wayne’s secret, Strange’s other tricks include creating monster men, perfect for a cartoon with Man-Bat and Clayface, and impersonating Batman, also perfect for a show where many of the villains are dark reflections of the hero. But he never returns and has to settle for being the crappy villain of Batman: Arkham City.


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

5 comments
Christopher Bennett
1. ChristopherLBennett
Hugo Strange does briefly return to the DC Animated Universe, as part of the Project Cadmus braintrust in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Doomsday Sanction," but has no dialogue. Strange was also a significant recurring character in The Batman, initially voiced by Frank Gorshin and later by Richard Green after Gorshin's death. There, he's the chief psychologist at Arkham Asylum and conducts experiments on the inmates that make them worse rather than better. He plays a similar role in Young Justice (played by Adrian Pasdar) as the corrupt warden of Belle Reve prison.
John R. Ellis
2. John R. Ellis
In The Batman Adventures tie-in comic, they reveal part of the reason why Hugo Strange dropped off the map for so long was because he'd been using his device on his own brain, trying to erase painful memories....causing an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind situation where the clueless Strange then tried obsessively to find out who'd been stealing his memories.
John R. Ellis
3. Earl Rogers
The thing you seem to forget is, the earlier Two Face episodes went at great length to make clear that Two Face is -not- the same guy as Harvey, only scarred. He's not necessarily just the "Big Bad Harv" personality set lose, either. He's someone new, and this new person is increasingly growing distant from the goals and sanity that either Harvey or Big Bad Harv had.

I'm thinking this is far from a flaw in the writers handling the character, it's more you keep insisting this the same character only with more physical and emotional baggage. He's not. Not anymore.

Heck, by the time we reach the Kids WB era shows, NEW personalities begin to emerge in addition to Two Face.

You can't really judge him only by his original goals. Those have been lost and they -did- lay the groundwork.
John R. Ellis
4. Tumas-Muscat
@ 3: I agree completely. Personally, I would say that Harvey Dent was already unstable by having "Big Bad Harv" around. Becoming Two-Face by scarring rendered him even more unstable and liable to further fracture. Much like Joker re-inventing himself now and again in the comics, Harvey Dent became liable to change behind the scenes, making his character and motivation periodically different. One could even argue there's a linear progression of Dent's mental state which can explain his changing motivation, if one looks closely.

By having an external mark (the scarring) with which to identify with, his personality initially changed into a mixture of both Harvey and Big Bad Harv, basically the former with the lack of inhibitions of the latter. Much as in The Long Halloween comic story, Harvey initially only became a vigilante known as Two-Face. In this episode Two-Face seems to have emerged as a dominant persoanlity with still a hint of Harvey (he says "I know Bruce Wayne"). Later episodes hint at Harvey and Two-Face having become two separate entities altogether, by having Two-Face conspiring against Harvey's surgery to reconstruct his face, to survive. Harvey is still in there somewhere, and, unable to fight back against Two-Face himself, creates a stronger personality in the form of "The Judge". His last scene in the animated series is particularly telling, with the Judge still passing judgement in his mind while he appears visibly shaken and of unsound mind.
John R. Ellis
5. The Doc
Wow, my opinion of these 2 episodes was diametrically opposite of yours: I thought "Cat Scratch Fever" was an OK episode--nothing special, but at least watchable--and thought "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne" was just ridiculous and awful.

So much in "Strange Secret..." was beyond my capacity to suspend disbelief--from the hi-fidelity VHS tapes of people's memories (when memories pop in my head, I don't see the entire landscape of the scene, complete with lightning and wind, etc.--but maybe that's just me) to the completely nonsensical "bidding" for Batman's tape. Like you mentioned in the review, it makes no sense at all for them to pool their money--they should've just shot Dr. Strange and took the damn thing. Gotham deserves a better class of criminal than the ones on display here.

To me, it felt like a classic "this is just a kid's show and they won't notice if the plot is incoherent" tripey cartoon.

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