“See No Evil”
Written by Martin Pasko
Directed by Dan Riba
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Original Airdate – February 24th, 1993
Plot: Kimmy’s imaginary friend Mojo is actually her estranged father, ex-con Lloyd Ventrix, in a stolen invisibility suit, and unless Batman can stop him, Kimmy is going to disappear as well.
This episode is maybe the most disturbing episode of the entire series, because the villain here is so plausible. Not the invisibility part, but most kidnappings are committed by family members, which makes the child abduction plot here so much more chilling than it was in “Be a Clown.” The Joker is a supervillain, and thus unreal, but Ventrix is more like a real person given superpowers, and thus more immediately threatening.
Michael Gross (the dad on Family Ties, continuing Batman: The Animated Series theme of taking beloved sitcom actors and having them play the worst people) captures Lloyd’s unsettling nature in the second best guest performance of the series, after Michael Ansara’s Mr. Freeze. Even when Lloyd is trying to be nice, as Kimmy’s friend Mojo, his need to impress and control Kimmy breaks through. Gross maintains an undertone of violently expressed insecurity in his every line, whether he’s confronting his ex-wife or needlessly taunting Batman.
The guest voice acting is excellent for all of the characters, especially Jean Smart as Ventrix’s long suffering ex-wife and a young Elisabeth Moss as Kimmy. The best character moment in the show is when Ventrix reveals his true identity to his daughter because she’s afraid of strangers, and Kimmy becomes even more scared.
On top of the real world fear of kidnapping, of course, Batman: The Animated Series adds the horror of an invisible man, and right from the top Pasko and Riba use all of the tricks to show the audience a man who isn’t there: a dog barking at nothing; a gate holding open a little too long. Tiny moments that you might see every day but that, when focused on, let the audience fill in the blank. The animation tricks are backed up by one of Shirley Walker’s most nerve-wracking scores, high-pitched xylophone over dread-inducing cello.
That said, for such a dark episode, it also has some of the biggest straight up jokes of the entire series: a guard, biting his lip waiting for the bathroom, only to be smacked in the face by the door when Batman emerges, the construction worker’s “Who, me?” expression when Batman yells at what looks like an empty room, the bum who reacts to seeing Batman clinging to the top of a speeding invisible car by saying “I didn’t know he could fly, too.” It’s as if Riba desperately needed to balance the darkness of this episode with a lot of levity.
This episode is also a great demonstration of how smart Batman is. He never lets the impossibility of an invisible man stop him from fighting one, and is immediately throwing smoke bombs and paint into the air to mark Ventrix, all leading to a fight under a leaking water tower and the most badass delivery of “Peek-a-boo” ever in Western civilization.
This episode also introduces Lucius Fox, voiced by Brock Peters. In the comics, Fox answered the question of who runs Wayne Enterprises while Bruce pretends to be an idiot, and in movies he’s Batman’s answer to Q. Here, he basically provides exposition when necessary, and adds a little diversity to the cast.
“Prophecy of Doom”
Story by Dennis Marks
Teleplay by Sean Catherine Derek
Directed by Frank Paur
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Akom Production Co.
Layout Services by NOA Animation
Original Airdate – October 6th, 1992
Plot: When a psychic saves Bruce Wayne’s friend Ethan Clark from a series of disasters, Batman suspects this Nostromos is actually causing the disasters in a scheme to steal a lot of money. Batman’s right.
This episode is a bunch of good ideas that don’t gel into a good story. The main problem is that Nostromos is not a very compelling villain. He might have been a fun parody of Marvel’s Dr. Strange, but he comes across as a watered down mix of Dr. Orpheus and Zorak. We know right away that he’s a fraud so he’s never truly scary. Maybe if the show had teased the possibility that Nostromos was in some way legit, he could have been more compelling. And there no reason he couldn’t really be psychic, or the sci-fi equivalent, considering that Batman just fought an invisible man.
The weakness of the villain takes away from the good parts. For one thing, this is the first time we explore the social circle Bruce belongs to, and it’s not a pretty picture: uniformly white, overweight, and utterly credulous. These are people like Bruce who have inherited their wealth (“old conservative stock” as Ethan says) and spend their days gambling on cruise ships and worrying that society will collapse. When informed that “the Great Fall” will happen soon, instead of telling the world to possibly prevent it, they form a “Secret Brotherhood” to protect their own wealth and be in a better position to rebuild society, as if they did not have all the power already.
There’s also a critique of religion. Nostromos’s con has very strong religious tones, from the cultish hooded robes his followers wear, to the prosthelytizing Ethan does on Nostromos behalf. When the jig is up, and Nostromos is threatening his life and the life of his daughter, Ethan protests “I believed in you. You saved me,” as if Nostromos is his personal messiah.
The most interesting character here then becomes Ethan’s daughter Lisa, voiced by Heather Locklear, who rejects Nostromos and pleads with her father to be reasonable. In many ways, Lisa acts the way Bruce would if Bruce didn’t pretend to be an idiot. She resembles Julie Madison, Bruce’s original fiancee from the comics, the heiress who wants to do more than inherit her wealth, and might have been an good ongoing love interest for Bruce, but she’s never seen again.
But the good parts don’t work together, and there are moments that just take you out of the episode. Why does Batman change into his bat-costume BEFORE escaping a plummeting elevator? Why con his way into the Secret Brotherhood when he could just tail Ethan there, as Lisa does? Why are the rings on the model of Saturn honed razor sharp? These are little things, but with a villain as boring as Nostromos, the questions just bring the whole thing down. So, in the end, what could have been a great episode ends up being a mess.
Those playing along at home may have noticed that I skipped episode 18, “Beware the Gray Ghost.” To be clear, I started writing that review but it… got away from me. It will be its own post next week and you people are in for a treat.