“Almost Got ‘Im”
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Eric Radomski
Music Composed by Stuart V. Balcomb
Animation Services by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Original Airdate—November 10th, 1992
Plot: While playing poker, Batman’s villains swap stories of almost “getting” the Caped Crusader. But one of them isn’t playing fair....
“Almost Got ‘Im” is a showcase episode, where Eric Radomski and Paul Dini use a complicated piece of narrative to highlight and contrast Batman’s main antagonists. Four shorts scenes nested in a frame story that is itself something of a trap.
Okay, so the episode is light on plot, as each short story is the same—villain puts Batman in a deathtrap which he then escapes—and the frame story is ludicrous. Up to now, Batman’s villains could barely stand each other, Ivy openly despises the Joker, and Two-Face has every reason to want to kill Poison Ivy (“We used to date,” Ivy explains in the episode’s best line). And yet, here they are, consentually hanging out together outside the confines of Arkham Asylum. Furthermore, if there were a bar where arch-criminals hang out, wouldn’t the cops stake it out constantly―oh look, they have.
But, once you get past that suspension bridge of disbelief, you have one of the best episodes of the series, and a defining episode, in multiple ways. For one, a poker game with the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc creates the world Batman operates in. These episodes aren’t unrelated adventures, but a cohesive story that the characters themselves are aware of. They know Batman’s taken out the Mad Hatter. They have theories about who Batman is. They have interpersonal relationships with each other based on shared history and mutual respect. And they do things in life other than commit crimes.
The poker game also defines these particular characters as Batman’s A-List villains. (Well, not Killer Croc, but we’ll get to him). They reflect the fearsome foursome for 1966’s Batman movie, with the difference that Batman: the Animated Series’s Riddler immediately left Gotham after debuting, and Catwoman, who makes an appearance here, has been more of a damsel in distress than a supervillain so far (at least she beats up the Joker and his goons before getting suckerpunched and needing to be rescued, again, for the fourth time). So Two-Face, who was deemed too gruesome for the Adam West show, and Poison Ivy, who had just debuted in 1966, take their places in the inner circle.
And then, having defined the villains as a group, the episode focuses on each villain and shows how each is unique.
“Almost Got ‘Im” is the first episode to portray Poison Ivy as a feminist as well as an environmentalist. She literally fights her way into a boys’ club and demands to be treated as an equal. Nevermind that it’s a boys’ club of evil, Ivy’s out to prove that she can be just as bad as the rest of them.
Except, she’s not. She still relies on her sexuality to bait her traps, as the Halloween version of her costume is basically a black version of her regular garb, but with bare legs. And her exploding pumpkin patch has none of the flair of the others’ deathtraps. Yes, it demonstrates her (never explained) superpower of being immune to all toxins (as well as the pain and suffering of others), but she’s also treed by the Batmobile, which is not the most noble of defeats. It’s not clear why she chose this moment as her “Almost Got ‘Im” story, she was a lot closer to killing Batman back in “Pretty Poison.”
Two-Face’s deathtrap is in some ways the most impressive, because his is clearly improvised. He manages to capture Batman while robbing a bank, making his crime Second Degree Deathtrap, I guess, and manages to construct a beautifully on-theme deathtrap from found materials: a barrel, a plank of wood, a forklift, two tons of gold, and one giant novelty penny (The episode also shows the origin of the giant penny in the Batcave). In true Two-Face fashion, the trap only has a 50/50 chance of killing Batman, instead of just breaking every bone in his body. Two-Face even remembers to remove Batman’s belt before setting off the trap.
At the same time, “Almost Got ‘Im” shows that Harvey’s obsession with the number two has gotten worse. He takes an obscene amount of Half-and-Half in his coffee, always draws two guns, keeps a pair of Kings (two faces, get it?) and a deuce, and is rewarded with a two pair. He hires the Two Ton Gang, another two pair as it’s made of two sets of twins. And Batman yet again exploits Harvey’s greatest weakness, his reliance on the scarred two-headed coin. Rather than hide it among other coins, this time Batman just takes it, crippling Two-Face’s decision-making ability, and then uses the coin to cut his own ropes.
Though for sheer sense of style, the Penguin is clearly the best. He’s much smarter than he was in “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement,” as he’s the only one at the table who realizes the Joker is cheating, and his theory that Batman suffered some crime related trauma is dead-on. (Harvey’s idea that there are multiple Batmen is way off, especially for someone who used to work closely with Gordon, and Croc’s theory that Batman’s a robot is supposed to show us Croc is an idiot, but after “Heart of Steel,” it’s utterly plausible). The Penguin’s trap, the AVIARY OF DOOM, is the most dramatic (so much so that Poison Ivy calls him out on it), a trap that not only anticipates Batman’s utility belt, but uses poisonous hummingbirds and a razor-beaked cassowary to render it impotent. The Penguin’s trap is also the closest to actually killing Batman, as it’s the first thing to make Batman bleed since the pilot. And when that fails, he has a helicopter umbrella to escape.
“Almost Got ‘Im” also plays the Penguin’s facade of refinement against his thuggish nature. He drinks coffee out of fine china, is unrelentingly polite, even as he, Riddler-like, mocks Batman over the PA system. He’s even got a handle on his malapropisms, mostly, though his love of alliteration and five dollar words leads to lines like “my latest ornithologically inspired entoilment.” He’s also the villain happiest to let Ivy play with them, though his chivalrous description of her as a “dainty dove” in a “dismal den” ignores that she’s a stone cold killer, because he would like to sleep with her.
Which leaves the Joker. Not that the series needs to say much more about him, but everything we already know is here. Like Two-Face, the Joker caught Batman while committing another crime, but instead of devising a deathtrap on the spot, the Joker goes out and takes an entire studio audience hostage, stages a talk show, and plugs Batman into a laugh powered electric chair, so the Joker can execute Batman on live television. He doesn’t just tell the other villains what happened, he pulls out a mini-television to show them, and that’s what we the audience see. All in black-and-white, and only from the position of the cameras on set. In a literal sense, the Joker takes control of the narrative so that we only see what he wants to show us.
So we’re dealing with the metatextual Joker again, the one who maybe knows he’s a cartoon, who provides his own signage when returning from commercial, who makes his sidekick Harley Quinn imitate Ed McMahon. It’s also the Joker who cares enough about money that he’s willing to cheat four other killers for it. The biggest difference between the Joker and the other villains is that the Joker is willing to hurt the people Batman loves in order to “get” his foe. Considering he’s specifically threatening Catwoman, I consider it a victory of restraint on someone’s part that he didn’t say “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
This is also, unfairly, a defining episode for Killer Croc. This episode establishes that Croc isn’t very bright, his idea of of a good deathtrap is throwing a big rock, and that he’s a Worf, the big guy who gets beat up to prove how scary the new threat is, i.e. Poison Ivy taking him out with a couple of kicks. It’s unfair when you consider how smart and vicious he was in his debut, and how Killer Croc is not actually in this episode. It’s Batman in a very convincing Croc-suit the whole time! Re-watching, you notice how “Croc” guides the conversation the whole time, goading everyone, especially the Joker, into telling their story, and further asking what happened to Catwoman. Again, Batman is willing to take a lot of physical and emotional abuse to rescue his friend.
If anything, Batman as a character is the least defined by this episode, since he’s seen almost entirely through his villains’ eyes. So we see only what they see, his reliance on his toys: the utility belt and the Batmobile, his reluctance to play along: he barely talks in any of the stories, and outright refuses to banter in the Joker’s talk show, and Batman’s intelligence. In each story, Batman is very clever in how he escapes, three out of four times grabbing some element of the trap itself (Two-Face’s coin, the poison hummingbird, the Joker’s hot dog roasting fork) to free himself. And simply turning off the power to the processing plant so he can save Catwoman and beat-up Harley Quinn at the same time is a great moment for showing just how far ahead Batman really is.
Above all, the villains are terrified of Batman, to the point where they avoid saying his name, using “You Know Who” and “Guess Who” and “Our Caped Friend” instead. Like wizards in Harry Potter, there’s a fear that if they say his name out loud, up he’ll pop. It doesn’t help that when the Joker does say “Batman,” yup, Batman immediately stands up.
On top of an incredibly well-written script, each other element of the show is great in this episode. As the episode includes seven separate villains (including Catwoman, Croc, and Harley), this is one of the best collection of voice actors in any episode. The actors especially shine in their bantering over a game of cards. All of them are running a fine line between playful insults and deadly serious threats. Stuart Balcomb backs up the voice actors with a beautifully mercurial score that plays a jazz theme for the card scenes but shifts into each villain’s theme for their set pieces. He even reimagines the Joker’s theme as a late night TV score beautifully, and emphasizes Poison Ivy’s entrance with a gorgeous trumpet sting.
But the stand out is Radomski’s direction. His use of color to set each scene is marvelous, whether it’s the low shadows of the card game, the orange and blacks of Ivy’s Halloween trap, the bright whites against heavy blacks of Two-Face in the vault, the lush greens and blues of the AVIARY OF DOOM, or the N shades of grey for the Joker’s talk show, each story is visually distinct. Radomski also fills the episode which tons of beautiful small moments, characters revealed through just their hands, or just the tips of their weapons. And the swinging overhead light which shows Croc in the light but reveals Batman in the shadows (storyboarded by Glen Murakami) is maybe the best visual gag in the entire series.
It’s a good thing that Radomski has an animation studio that can keep up with him. Dong Yang delivers the best animated episode so far, better than Spectrum’s job on “Robin’s Reckoning, Part 1,” if only because this is a much more action packed script. Each scene is really well done, especially Batman fighting for his life against the monstrous cassowary in the AVIARY OF DOOM (ok, I’ll stop) and Batman loosening his bonds while tied to a giant coin while it is flipping through the air. The whole episode is fluid and graceful and utterly, utterly gorgeous.
This is easily one of the most entertaining episodes, certainly one of the most defining in terms of who these villains are and how they work, and, in a certain sense, a Batman story specific to this series, these versions of these characters. It was a story that really only Batman: the Animated Series could tell, and they tell it as well as they can, which is high praise indeed.