Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Batman: The Animated Series Re-Watch: Episode Nineteen, Prophecy of Doom

Plot: when Bruce Wayne's friend Ethan Clark tells Bruce that a psychic saved him from a series of disasters, Batman suspects this Nostromos is actually causing the disasters in a scheme to steal a lot of money. Turns out Batman's right.

This episode is a mixed bag of some good ideas that don't quite gel into a good story. That's probably because the villains, Nostromos and his right hand man Lucas, are not very compelling villains. Lucas is a non-entity who is surprisingly good at fighting Batman. And Nostromos 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.

Nostromos lacks interest because we know right away that he's a fraud. We see the time bomb that sinks the gambling ship, so we know that was sabotage. Ethan's daughter Lisa states her suspicion that Nostromos is behind the disasters almost immediately. Maybe if they had teased the possibility that Nostromos was in some way legit, he would be more compelling. And there no reason he couldn't be, considering that Batman fought an invisible man two episodes ago.

Which is kind of a shame, because there are a lot of good ideas here. For one thing, this is the first time we really 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 subtle 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. Even 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. When Bruce quotes Shakespeare at the end, "the fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves," that's the voice of reason saying Ethan, and no one or thing else, is responsible of Ethan's life.

The most interesting character here then becomes Lisa Clark, 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 when he's in civilian clothes. She resemble Julie Madison, Bruce's original fiancee from the comics, as the heiress who wants to do more than inherit her wealth, and might have been an good on-going love interest for Bruce, but she's never seen again after this episode.

This episode is full of missed opportunities like that. After almost being killed, Bruce decides to run a con on the con-man, which might have been fun. But the con only lasts for one scene where Bruce can't even pretend to be surprised when Nostromos flies. When dropped into a spotlight, Batman and Lucas are animated in a Sin City-esque high contrast, black and white style and when the models of planets start crashing into each other, the music becomes a riff on Mars, the Bringer of War by Gustav Holst. But both of these moments last just long enough to see what they're doing, but are not explored in anyway. Even Batman being an entertaining dick, flinging Nostromos around on his string like a puppet or dropping a planet on him, could have been done better, perhaps embarrassing Nostromos in front of all of his followers, and not just the one he was about to kill anyway.

And then there's the questions 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 in an episode as weak as this, it just brings the whole thing down. So, in the end, what could have been a great episode ends up being eh, at best.

One final note, the Gotham Observatory is modeled on the Griffith Park Observatory, famously seen in Rebel Without a Cause. We last saw it in Christmas with the Joker, where it had been turned into a giant cannon. Presumably that was cleaned out before Nostromos moved in.

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