“Blind as a Bat”
Story by Mike Underwood, Len Wein
Teleplay by Len Wein
Directed by Dan Riba
Music composed by Steve Chesne, James Stemple
Animation by Studio Junio
Original Airdate—February 22nd, 1993
Plot: The Penguin steals a military stealth helicopter and in the process temporarily blinds Bruce Wayne. To stop the Penguin from holding the city ransom, Batman eschews bedrest, uses experimental technology to help him see, and risks losing his sight forever.
Batman’s greatest virtue is his willingness to sacrifice himself to protect others. His worst flaw is that he thinks that he always has to.
This is an ongoing theme in Batman: the Animated Series, and will be the motivating tragedy of Batman Beyond: Bruce Wayne will continue to be Batman until his body breaks down, then he will use fantastic technology to keep going, breaking his body even further. And he will not ask for help, even when he desperately needs it.
“Blind as a Bat” follows the same plot trajectory as “Dreams in Darkness”: doctor tells Batman he needs to rest for a couple days, Batman says “Fuck that noise, I’ve got crime to fight,” chaos ensues. Actually, “Blind as a Bat” does a better job, because it goes out of its way to show that the police and the military cannot deal with the Penguin’s super copter, and the episode has the decency to pretend that Robin isn’t a person who exists.
On the other hand, it’s still not clear why Batman resting for the weekend and kicking the Penguin’s ass on Monday is out of the question, and “Dreams in Darkness” punishes Bruce for ignoring his doctor’s advice, whereas here his reckless behavior has no negative consequences at all. He’s punished more for relying on technology than he is for risking his life and the lives of millions by literally flying blind.
Presumably, if you tell enough stories about someone named, “Batman,” he will eventually have to be as blind as his namesake. (They’re not, by the way. Bats actually have excellent night vision to accompany their sonar capability).
The last five minutes or so, with a blinded Batman having to escape the merciless hunt of the Penguin and his goons, is viscerally thrilling, scary in a nightmarish sort of way. It’s also hilarious. Batman repeatedly smacks himself in the head to make his special lens work, and the Penguin’s bug-eyed stare of disbelief as Batman stumbles around is laugh out loud funny. And Batman using steam to blind the Penguin and level the playing field, then using the Penguin’s cough to find the Penguin and jump on his head, is both clever and triumphant.
But it’s also inevitable. We know Batman will fight the Penguin blind, so we know the sonar technology Batman wires into his head will fail as soon as scold for justice Leslie Thompkins warns Batman to watch his battery pack. Which means the entire dogfight between the Batplane and the Penguin-Copter is just time wasting filler before the main event.
Animation wise, each frame is beautifully drawn, but the movements seem stiff. That seems like a good description of the whole episode. Lots of good ideas that don’t really move.
Batman relying on cyborg technology that not only simulates, but maybe even improves on human ability might have been an interesting idea, but we know the lenses are there just to break when Batman needs them most. (Also, the red eyes and sonar-vision are a call out to famously blind superhero and sometimes Batman-impersonator, Daredevil).
The Penguin doesn’t seem to be having as much fun here as he did torturing Batman and Robin in “The Mechanic.” He destroys a bridge, the biggest act of terrorism the shows shown so far, but he spends most of his time threatening his own goons (and suggestively cutting off their shirt buttons? Interrobang?). He only really comes to life at the end, mocking the poor sightless vigilante.
And then there are the minor questions that would not matter in a better episode, but are more obvious and therefore more annoying in a mediocre one. Why is it important for Bruce Wayne to hide that he’s temporarily blind? Will he lose his place on the board of directors? If he has “serious misgivings” about building a military copter, why did Bruce approve construction? Why doesn’t Bruce Wayne pony up the one hundred million dollar ransom to buy the city and himself time to catch the Penguin? No, really, where is Robin and why can’t he sub in when Bruce needs a sick day?
This is an okay episode, maybe a good one, but it’s strongest when Batman’s weakest. If it had spent more time on a blind Batman relying on his four other senses (maybe not taste) to escape the Penguin, or more time on Batman weighing the moral implications of giving himself time to fully recover, it might have been a great episode. Instead, it wastes too much time on random technology that ends up being useless.
Sorry for the short week. I’m going on vacation and the two-parters screw up the double-feature schedule. Stay tuned next week for Batman’s most epic quest!