Tue
Apr 23 2013 1:00pm

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Shadow of the Bat: Part 1 & 2”

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Shadow of the Bat 1 & 2

Shadow of the Bat Part 1”
Written by Brynne Stephens
Directed by Frank Paur
Episode #057
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Original Airdate—September 13th, 1993

Plot: When deputy commissioner Gil Mason arrests Jim Gordon on corruption charges, Barbara Gordon begs Batman to attend a public rally in support of her father. When Batman refuses, Barbara pretends to be Batman, just as the rally is attacked by thugs....

And so, at last, we have our first real superhero on the show other than Batman and Robin. While we have had a couple of non-super versions of other heroes, and several villains that are dark reflections of Batman, Batgirl is the first character Batman directly inspires to put on a costume and find crime.

In some ways, Batgirl’s introduction is done very well. Brynne Stephens also wrote Barbara’s first episode, “Heart of Steel,” and has a good understanding of the character. Having already established that Barbara is brave and loyal, this episode adds that Barbara is an accomplished gymnast, as we first see her flipping around the gigantic gymnasium the Gordons apparently have in their basement (No wonder people believe Gordon is on the take). Her athletic skills lead to a very bouncy fighting style, jumping all over the place, grabbing passing banners and such. That’s helpful, as this Barbara has no combat training at all (in the comics, she at least had a brown belt in judo).

Unfortunately, Barbara’s motivations for putting on a costume make no sense. Whatsoever. Of course Batman refuses to appear at a rally. Batman avoids the media like the plague and tries not to even go out in daylight. Of course he’d think actually finding the man who’s framing Gordon is a better use of his time. And why would an appearance by Batman help Gordon? Wouldn’t it just remind the public that Gordon is a guy who uses extra-legal vigilante tactics to bring down his enemies?

On the other hand, Barbara’s right, “Batman” appearing at the rally does gather support, but it’s only because the animation cheats. She looks just like Batman while she’s swinging in public, but as soon as she lands it’s clear that a) Barbara is a head shorter than Bruce and b) she’s much curvier than Batman, even her face. Why would anyone say “Hey, that’s Batman” and not “Hey, that’s a short woman dressed as Batman”? Why does Robin have to see her hair before he realizes she’s a woman?

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Shadow of the Bat 1 & 2

But then it makes no sense for Barbara to continue to go from pretending to be a superhero to really being one. After discovering that Gil Mason is behind her father’s frame job, Barbara says (to her previously introduced teddy bear Woobie) that “there’s no one I can trust.” But Gil is relatively new. How about trusting some of Gordon’s older friends on the force, like Bullock or Montoya? Also, Barbara doesn’t know that Batman’s been captured by this point, why wouldn’t she try going to him?

In the larger sense, why does Barbara become a vigilante at all? It makes sense for Bruce and Dick. They both have immediate tragedies in their lives that the police failed to resolve. They have reasons not to trust the cops, and to instead trust their own ten years of training. If Barbara wants to fight crime, out of duty and for the thrill, why wouldn’t she follow her father’s footsteps and become a cop herself? (In fact, later on, much later on, she will).

Besides our hero, this episode introduces two other important names. The first is Matches Malone, Bruce’s go-to alias when he’s undercover in the underworld. One may wonder why Matches keeps getting hired, because you’d think he’d start to get a reputation as Bat-Bait. This is his only appearance in the cartoon, but it’s a fairly memorable one, especially the well done bar scene where his lip reading skills are conveyed through shot choices, music, and Matches narrowing his eyes.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Shadow of the Bat 1 & 2

The second intro is district attorney Janet Van Dorn. She only has one scene, but it’s clear she strictly adheres to the law. And though they don’t say it, that puts her on a collision course with Batman.

Frank Paur really takes advantage of the two-part structure to deliberately pace this episode to set up the mystery. He gives the viewer the full half hour to figure out what’s going on. Clues are placed, some subtle—Gil ducking before shots are fired—some not—a building that is perfectly new on its left face, run down on its right—allowing the viewer to guess who’s behind the crime. And it’s fun watching the three heroes follow three different paths to get to the same conclusion. Batman uses boots on the ground undercover work. Robin rewatches footage of the crime. Batgirl does research at the police station.

But all roads lead to Two-Face.

 

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Shadow of the Bat 1 & 2

Shadow of the Bat Part 2”
Written by Brynne Stephens
Directed by Frank Paur
Episode #061
Music by Harvey Cohen
Animation Services by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Original Airdate—September 14th, 1993

Plot: When Two-Face and deputy commissioner Gil Mason capture Batman and Gordon, Robin and the new Batgirl must rescue them.

As part 2 has the same writer, director, and animation studio as part 1, the only difference between the two halves of “Shadow of the Bat” is the music. Harvey Cohen takes over for Shirley Walker, and he brings a noticeably jazzier score, especially when Two-Face is blasting away at the Dynamic Trio in the subway.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Shadow of the Bat 1 & 2

As he has only appeared as a supporting character in couple of episodes, this is the first episode about Two-Face since his origin. We get a lot more of how he works as a villain here than we had before. For one, he has completely rejected the name Harvey Dent, screaming in rage when Gil calls him Harvey. (Of course, Poison Ivy and the Joker call him Harvey all the time). He’s interested in corruption, lies, and deceit, framing a good man for being corrupt, setting up a corrupt man as a paragon of virtue. He’s got back up plans for his back up plans. Shooting Batman and Robin, then blowing them up, then drowning them. And giant prop coins continue to be his undoing, as this one flips him in the air then cartoonishly flattens him.

His scheme, by the way, is perfect for Two-Face and Two-Face alone. On the one hand, he is doing good by helping the police bring down other ganglords (including Rupert Thorne, for an extra bit of revenge). On the other, scarred, hand, he’s using the police to take out his rivals, thus giving his own gang more power and moving his puppet into a position of power. That kind of grand, Machiavellian scheming seems beyond the other Arkham inmates, who are more interested in the immediate crime, and too complicated for the “mundane” mob bosses. If his plan had succeeded, Two-Face would have been controlling both the cops and the robbers in Gotham.

A city where the cops are just as corrupt as the crooks might have been an interesting setting for Batman, and that the ending nips that idea in the bud shows how far the series has come since the pilot. “On Leather Wings” implied Mayor Hill was super corrupt and Harvey Bullock was openly gunning for Gordon’s job. Now, Bullock is Gordon’s most loyal attack dog, and the citizens of Gotham are shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that Gordon has been accused of corruption.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Shadow of the Bat 1 & 2

But really this episode is about Batgirl and Robin. I’d hesitate to say they “team up,” since they spend the first half of the episode dramatically not working together, and Robin spends the second half not drowning, but the tension between the characters is palpable. As soon as he meets her, Robin is immediately flirt/fighting with her, talking about “girls in his club” and telling her to go home, this is too dangerous.

And he never gets comeuppance for his patronizing attitude because, in a sense, he’s right. Batgirl doesn’t know what she’s doing, almost kills herself swinging across the street, and messes up Robin’s rescue of Batman by tripping. Instead of giving Robin a lot of attitude, she should have said “Oh hey, established superhero with years of training and Batman’s ear, here’s everything I know about Gil Mason and the mole-faced goon.”

Maybe Robin’s attitude was to contrast his years of training with Batgirl’s “can-do attitude,” but really it just comes across as sexism. Which brings us to the sexism of calling her “Batgirl” instead of “Batwoman.” Barbara is no more a “girl” than Dick Grayson is a “boy.” She’s old enough for her father to be setting her up with his second in command. She just can’t be “Batwoman” because that would set her up as the equal of Batman, and we can’t have that. At least she’s still not fighting crime with cosmetics... as she did in “Heart of Steel.”

They set up a Robin/Batgirl relationship (Robin negs Batgirl for half an episode, disappears, then jerkily asks “Miss me?” and it turns out that yes, she did) but they’re also setting up the Robin/Batgirl/Batman love triangle that really gets going in the New Batman Adventures. Both Batman and Robin assume Batgirl is the other one’s date—“I thought she was with you. She’s got your taste in clothes”—and Batgirl is definitely excited to see Bruce change into his Batman clothes for more than just crime fighting reasons. Though, look at that hairless chest. Wouldn’t you be?

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: Shadow of the Bat 1 & 2

Robin is more quippy than usual this episode. Not only is he constantly flirting with Batgirl, he openly laughs about their chances from escaping a flood, complains about subways getting more dangerous after they crash through a wall, and nonchalantly takes out Two-Face’s goons in a way that reminds you, oh, yeah, circus acrobat.

As for Batgirl, it’s not clear how her secret identity survives the ending. Gil pulls off her mask before crashing and ending up in a coma, setting up his return. But since he never comes back, I guess he died in that coma? On the other hand, Jim Gordon meets Batgirl face to face. Even if the costume is that good, he also hears her voice. Why aren’t his first words, “Barbara, what are you doing in that costume?”

 


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

6 comments
Christopher Bennett
1. ChristopherLBennett
There's a typo: The heading for Part II says the music is by Walker even though it's correctly attributed to Cohen two paragraphs later.

I like it that Batgirl doesn't have some tragedy motivating her. That's always been the defining thing about her character: She's not someone trying to deal with her personal demons, she's someone who's inspired by Batman's example and chooses to become a hero herself. It's a symbol of the positive effect Batman has on the world: Even though he was the product of an act of evil, he helps make Gotham better by inspiring good in others.

Not to mention that Babs is the daughter of James Gordon, the most honest, heroic cop you'll ever meet. So her desire to do good just for the sake of doing good is understandable -- it's simply how she was raised. As for why she'd emulate Batman rather than becoming a cop, it's because she's young and adventurous and drawn to the romance of what Batman does. She does it because it's fun, and that's a key part of what differentiates Batgirl from her predecessors in the Bat-family. As is the fact that she's so naturally intelligent and physically gifted that she's able to hold her own even without the extensive training and resources Batman has. Although her youth and inexperience can explain some of the odd decisions mentioned in the review.

In this version, it's also because she realizes that Batman is a symbol that inspires the people of Gotham -- basically the same logic that led her father to introduce the Batsignal. At first she's just trying to fill the void for a public appearance (and the reason she thought she could pass is that she was only seen from a distance and in the darkness -- she didn't expect to meet Robin in the alley), but then she enjoys it so much that she decides to give it a try for real.

To be honest, though, B:TAS's version of Batgirl was never one of my favorites. Her character design here, both in and out of costume, wasn't particularly flattering, and Melissa Gilbert never did much for me as her voice. I liked her much better in The New Batman Adventures, where she had a much more striking character and costume design and the lovely and gifted voice of Tara Charendoff (now better known as Tara Strong). She also got a lot more to do on TNBA than she did in B:TAS, where she only made one return appearance after this, in the final episode of the series to boot. I liked her theme music here, though.

When Part I of this debuted, I was out with a friend and lost track of time, so I missed it. But my father was kind enough to watch it for me and gave me a pretty thorough summary of Part I when I got home, so I was caught up for Part II the next day. I'm not sure why he didn't just tape it for me, but I appreciated the effort.
Rancho Unicorno
2. Rancho Unicorno
Don't forget - Robin is the Boy Wonder. Setting Barbara up as Batgirl further establishes her as his peer, operating under the wiser guidance of Batman.
Rancho Unicorno
3. John C. Bunnell
It's kind of amusing, in light of this review and Christopher's response, how the Barbara Gordon character eventually evolved into the version we see later in Batman Beyond....
Andrew Timm
4. csurge
@Christopher

You're trying too hard. Really. ;-) I'm not going to go into this because it's a hot beer can that rolled down a long flight of steps. No thanks. But I will say the triangle is creepy ...and doesn't make anyone look good. And I don't like Barbara Gordon. Not. One. Bit.
Christopher Bennett
5. ChristopherLBennett
@4: I have no idea what you mean. "Trying too hard" to do what? All I'm doing is summing up my understanding of the Batgirl character, much of which is merely repeating other people's analyses which I've read. As for the rest, I don't have to try very hard at all -- it comes pretty naturally from what we know about her character as it's been established over the decades.
Andrew Timm
6. csurge
Okay. I didn't mean to imply anything other than that was a long response... and a well written one, as always. I'm not complaining. Cool?

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