Tue
Apr 9 2013 2:00pm
Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Paging the Crime Doctor” & “Zatanna”

Batman Animated Series Rewatch Paging the Crime Doctor Zatanna

Paging the Crime Doctor”
Story by Mike W. Barr, Laren Bright
Teleplay by Randy Rogel, Martin Pasko
Directed by Frank Paur
Episode #053
Music Composed by Shirley Walker
Animation by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.

Original Airdate—September 17th, 1993

Plot: Matthew Thorne grudgingly serves as the doctor for his brother Rupert’s criminal empire. When Rupert needs delicate surgery, Matthew kidnaps his old friend Leslie Thompkins to assist, getting the attention of Batman.

The multiple credited writers imply there were a few revisions to the script, which is probably why the title (and title card) imply the“ crime doctor” is the medically themed costumed villain from the comics, but this Matthew Thorne is a standard film noir protagonist: a good man in a corrupt world, caught between loyalty to his brother and his oath to do no harm. (Not that medically themed crime has been removed entirely, they just been transferred to Thorne’s silent, blonde assistant who throws scalpels like ninja stars and fires a surgery laser like a cannon.)

Batman Animated Series Rewatch Paging the Crime Doctor Zatanna

Thorne also has a personal connection to Bruce Wayne, as he was friends with both Leslie Thompkins and Thomas Wayne. The series hasn’t dealt with Thomas being a doctor, a sharp contrast to the profession Bruce has chosen, and... it doesn’t say much here, either. The emotional gut punch of the episode is the last line, when Bruce begs Matthew, “Tell me about my father.” Kevin Conroy kills, displaying vulnerability we haven’t heard before, a reminder that Batman is still the lost orphan boy looking for his parents and his father’s approval. Unfortunately, it is the last line, and other than that moment, Batman and Matthew Thorne don’t really interact, as Batman plays a tertiary character here. (And also, Bruce is already good friends with Alfred and Leslie, who could tell him anything he wanted to know about his parents.)

Thorne’s real “antagonist” is Leslie Thompkins, who plays her usual role as “scold for justice.” She constantly voices the call for good, for making the hard moral choice of not helping Rupert Thorne and his gang when they need medical attention. She’s a bit of a hypocrite, however, as Leslie performs the same role for Batman that Matthew provides for Rupert: the doctor that heals a wanted outlaw so he doesn’t have to go to the hospital.

The acting’s good, especially Joseph Campanella as the understandably conflicted lead. The animation is good, though the action scenes aren’t about spectacle so Dong Yang doesn’t get much of a chance to show off. The music’s good, the script is good. Everything is good, but not great. “Paging the Crime Doctor” is a solidly entertaining episode, which makes it a little harder to write about than a truly great or just plain awful one.

 

Batman Animated Series Rewatch Paging the Crime Doctor Zatanna

Zatanna”
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Dick Sebast, Dan Riba
Episode #054
Music Composed by Nerida Tyson-Chew, Peter Tomashek
Animation by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.

Original Airdate—February 2nd, 1993

Plot: Batman teams up with Zatanna, a stage magician and former love interest from his training days, to prove she was framed for a major theft.

One cannot write about “Zatanna” without acknowledging that writer Paul Dini has a well established Zatanna-fetish, which culminated in him marrying Misty Lee, a professional stage magician.

With that said, it’s no wonder that Zatanna is the first DC Comics superhero from outside of the Batman mythos to guest star in an episode. Of course, to fit into the established continuity, Zatanna has to be toned down a bit from her comics incarnation. She’s not a superhero, or even a real magician, as other superheroes or real magic don’t exist (yet) in Batman: the Animated Series. Instead, she’s a stage magician forced to fight crime to clear her own name (sort of like the Gray Ghost being an actor who played a superhero). Though her trademark backwards spells are referenced with her magic words “Arba Dacarba.”

It’s always fun to watch Batman interact with people that get under his hard exterior, and an old love interest does the trick nicely. Zatanna is charmingly voiced by Julie Brown as a clever and fun person, but one that knows something very painful happened to the boy she met years ago, even if she doesn’t know what, exactly. And Conroy is delightfully awkward asking if she has a “husband, perhaps” or suggesting she might recognize him because “I just have that kind of face.”

Batman Animated Series Rewatch Paging the Crime Doctor Zatanna

Zatanna is also heavily sexualized, partially by herself. Zatanna refers to herself as a “leggy dame in nylons”—WHERE ARE THE FISHNETS, DINI? WHERE ARE THE FISHNETS?—I’m sorry, where was I? Oh right, like Poison Ivy, Zatanna intentionally dresses in a provocative manner, which makes sense for a stage performer, and the flashback shows she’s been flirty since she was a teenager. On the other hand, her sexuality turns creepy as the camera lingers on her thighs and the villain, Montague Kane, suggests she can live if he’s “properly implored.” Yikes.

Montague Kane is played by Michael York, who may have been one Teutonic note as Vertigo but here is a proper Batman villain. Every line he delivers has theatrical flair. He refers to Batman as “Detective,” which only Ra’s al Ghul has done so far. His home is filled with trapdoors and spiked walls. He shops for canes the same place the Penguin gets his umbrellas. He has his own flying nightclub in which he escapes to countries where the air is warm and the “extradition laws are non-existent” (as if Batman cares about laws).

Batman Animated Series Rewatch Paging the Crime Doctor Zatanna

This is also a continuity heavy episode. Alfred mentions Bruce trained with Zatanna’s father, Zatara, ten or twelve years ago, though it’s probably been longer since Bruce has been Batman for at least nine years now (character actor Vincent Schiavelli has a brief but effective cameo as the older magician). Young Bruce specifically mentions leaving for Japan, referencing the other episode about Bruce’s training that used sepia toned flashbacks. Young Bruce disappears on Young Zatanna, establishing that pattern, and Zatanna returns the favor at the end. And Zatanna ends the episode by saying “Dad would have been proud of you,” so Bruce gets yet another surrogate father to say he’s proud of Bruce. Additionally, the robbery is back at the Gotham Mint, which is still using giant coins as props even after Two-Face tried to kill Batman with one. And once again, Batman is blatantly interfering with a police investigation by breaking out the main suspect.

This is director Dick Sebast’s last episode, and the only one with two credited directors (apparently Sebast left the show in the middle of production). However, dueling directors do not show in the episode itself. The action is fantastic, especially the climactic fight outside of Kane’s enormous sea plane. Chains get used as whips, Batman flies the plane by manhandling the wing flaps, thugs who should be using their guns wield pipe wrenches and fall ten thousand feet into the ocean, a.k.a. to their deaths!

It’s an exciting episode, and the first hint that the DC Animated Universe extends outside of Gotham


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

2 comments
CapeMonkey
1. CapeMonkey
I've heard them comment on why Zatanna (and later, Black Canary) didn't get fishnets... Basically, can you imagine how terrible animating fishnet stockings would be? You're drawing those extra lines every frame, and animating those lines so they don't flicker in and out and don't look terrible.
CapeMonkey
2. reyler
A few interesting bits of trivia:

"Paging the Crime Doctor" firmly takes place in the late 1940s, if not 1947 exactly; Matthew Thorne's class photo is dated 1907, and is referenced in dialogue as being 40 years prior.

"Zatanna" was not Vincent Schiavelli's first excursion into Bat-lore - he played the Organ Grinder, one of Penguin's henchmen, in Batman Returns. By curious coincidence, the very next episode is a whole-plot reference to the biggest plothole in that film.

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