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The Genre Batman: The Animated Series Probably Should’ve Avoided

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
The Genre Batman: The Animated Series Probably Should’ve Avoided

Welcome to the eleventh installment of Adventure(s) Time, where we examine an episode of a classic animated series and an issue of its tie-in comic, which may or may not be its equal in quality. This week, we’re looking at an issue of “Batman Adventures” that actually serves as a sequel to several episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series.” This suggestion comes from Daniel DeAngelo, who left a comment in a previous installment.

“Tyger, Tyger” is the forty-second episode of “Batman: The Animated Series” (based on production number), featuring a plot by Michael Reaves & Randy Rogel, and a teleplay by another animation veteran, Cherie Wilkerson. According to IMDB, this was Wilkerson’s last television script, after years of writing everything from “Transformers” to “Ducktales.” Frank Paur, who worked on numerous “Batman” episodes in the early years, is the director and Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD. provides the animation. Visually, there isn’t much to set the episode apart from the average episode from this era. (Although you might notice that Batman’s nose has been transformed into a beak once again, and his already prominent chin has grown to excessive lengths in the first act.) Dong Yang episodes tend to be less stiff and more at ease with the show’s idiosyncratic designs, but “Tyger, Tyger” is a bit sluggish, and the new designs for the mutated Catwoman and her would-be man-feline lover are just bland.

Yes, this is the episode that has mad scientist Dr. Emile Dorian kidnapping Catwoman and dragging her to his personal island, where she’s expected to birth a new species with his creation, Tygrus. (Voiced by Jim Cummings, who’s provided the voices for Winnie the Pooh and Darkwing Duck in the past.) It’s utterly silly, expecting the “The Island of Dr. Moreau” riff to carry much of the story, and a tacked on acknowledgement of the William Blake poem at the end to add some gravitas. Silly, but not irredeemable.

The opening establishes that Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have arranged a date in their civilian identities, acknowledging one of the few bits of episode-to-episode continuity from the early years — Bruce and Selina are supposed to be a couple, or at least heading in that direction. Opening the episode with Selina’s ambush at the zoo, and Bruce investigating why she stood him up, does create some intrigue. And while the story grows increasingly absurd, like when Catwoman is transformed into a literal Cat-Woman, there are enough action sequences to keep things interesting. The ending also helps to redeem the more absurd moments of the script, when Tygrus is fleshed out as more than a plot device. His realization that not only has he lost his “father,” Dr. Dorian, but that Selina is also leaving the island, actually does make you care for the furry guy.

The very next episode of the series, however, isn’t likely to rate as “Silly, but Entertaining” by most viewers. Actually, it’s one of the more unpopular episodes of the series. “Moon of the Wolf” is written by comics legend Len Wein and directed by Dick Sebast, who did some of the best episodes from this run, such as “Zatanna.” So why does this episode look like it was grinded out on a $4.98 budget? Because it was animated by Akom Studios, a notoriously cheap animation house that the producers never wanted to use, and dropped at the first opportunity.

Some episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series” have questionable premises, but the animation is so stunning that the audience is likely to forgive the more ridiculous elements of the script. The Scarecrow episode that focuses on his college sports gambling scheme would be the easiest example of this phenomenon. Some fans have speculated that the producers intentionally paired weak scripts with high-quality animation firms in order to elevate what would likely be a mediocre episode. Bruce Timm has denied this, stating that the producers would much rather have solid story and art on one fantastic episode than split the two and have a pair of middling episodes. “Moon of the Wolf” is a case of a script that desperately needed a rewrite, and features mediocre-at-best animation, so the evidence is in Timm’s favor here.

“Moon of the Wolf” is a story of, well, Batman facing a werewolf. Just like “Tyger, Tyger” it opens with a security guard monitoring the Gotham Zoo (which, I’ll note again, has a shockingly bland design considering how stylish the rest of the city is usually portrayed). This time, Batman is actually patrolling the zoo, for reasons unknown, and rescues the guard from what Batman is convinced is a mugger dressed like a wolf. Well, no, Batman. You just encountered a living cat creature, approached a scientist who regularly morphs into a six-foot bat for a consultation, and watched your girlfriend mutate into a human feline, all in the last episode. Werewolves are now in your wheelhouse.

The only element of the plot that might offer some redemption is the revelation that the werewolf is in fact Bruce Wayne’s buddy Anthony Romulus, a respected athlete famous for his role in the “Autumn Games.” (Remember, the term “Olympics” is copyrighted, folks.) We should also reflect on the sheer oddity of Anthony Romulus’ face…

We can bet that Batman is going to face some reluctance when facing his foe after learning the wolf’s identity, correct? Or maybe we’ll discover that Anthony Romulus isn’t so bad after all, and is deserving of at least some small measure of our sympathy. The plot tries to sell these ideas, but really, it’s impossible to care. It’s a trifling episode that muddles along for far too long, incorporating an inexplicable electric guitar score, and some of the worst Batman jokes in the run of the series.

I’ve mentioned earlier that Batman is surprisingly talkative in several of these episodes, but in this installment, he’s outright quippy. He nicknames the werewolf “Harry,” repeats the dad-joke far too often, and even attempts small talk with the security guard he rescues in the opening. I’m not a fan of the utterly inhuman, constantly tortured, isolated ninja weirdo Batman…but this is too far on the other end of the spectrum. In Len Wein’s defense, I will say that Batman was consistently portrayed as fairly talkative in the comics up until the mid-1980s, so Wein is only writing the Batman that he’s always known. However, even the more conversational Batman we saw in the early episodes of this series shouldn’t be this chatty, and the characterization just stands out as odd.

One thing going in the episode’s defense is the design of the werewolf. Admittedly, Akom usually does a poor job animating the creature, but it’s clear that the design is strong, and it’s able to look as convincing as a werewolf can be in Batman’s world. Conversely, the designs of Tygrus and the mutated Catwoman from the previous episode just look refugees from another series.

An odd design that does make its way into “Moon of the Wolf” is that of Dr. Milo, the scientist responsible for transforming Anthony into the creature. His laughable haircut and bizarre nose design likely wouldn’t have made their way into a later episode of the series; he stands as a representative of the awkward designs assigned to minor characters during the early days of development. You might remember Dr. Milo from a previous episode, “Cat Scratch Fever,” where he infected Catwoman with a virus while in the employee of Roland Daggett. Given his history with the character, you’d think Dr. Milo might’ve been the villain in “Tyger, Tyger” instead, but I suppose that’s a minor complaint given the other sins of the episode.

So, this leaves “Batman: The Animated Series” with three humanoid monster creatures — Man-Bat, Tygrus, and Romulus the Werewolf. Surely no one would be crazy enough to insert all three into one story…?

“Batman Adventures” #21 (June 1994) is just that crazy. Featuring a plot by Michael Reeves, dialogue by regular writer Kelley Puckett, and pencils by Mike Parobeck, “House of Dorian” presents the story of Dr. Dorian’s escape from prison, Romulus’ search for a cure, and the doctor’s zany scheme that involves not only the three monsters, but also Batman and Catwoman. Given that Michael Reeves was also a writer for the animated series, it’s very possible that this story began as a pitch for the TV show.

Probably the most absurd moment from the issue comes in the opening two pages, when a lightning bolt strikes Dr. Dorian’s cell in Arkham Asylum, allowing him easy escape from the institution (since the issue relies so heavily on established continuity anyway, should we assume Maxie Zeus was involved?) Dorian immediately begins work on his villainous plot, which involves injecting his former associate Kirk Langstrom with a variation of the Man-Bat serum that will leave Langstrom as his mindless slave. Man-Bat, who once again looks incredible under Parobeck’s pencils, is ordered to locate Batman.

Elsewhere, Anthony Romulus is searching for Dr. Dorian on his private island, under the assumption that Dorian is the only man who can cure him of werewolfism. Mike Parobeck keeps Romulus’ uni-brow consistent from his appearance in the cartoon, but he’s reimagined the details of Romulus’ face, dropping that Jeff Goldblum look and turning Romulus generically handsome. Romulus runs into Tygrus, who’s been alone on the island ever since the ending of “Tyger, Tyger.” Romulus promises to take Tygrus to Selina Kyle’s home if Tygrus will use his senses to locate Dr. Dorian in the city.

Meanwhile, Man-Bat has successfully kidnapped Batman and taken him to Dorian’s private lab. Amazingly, Dorian has what would appear to be hours to unmask Batman while holding him captive, but the thought never even occurs to him. (As it turns out, both “Moon of the Wolf” and “Tyger, Tyger” feature moments where Batman could be easily unmasked, yet no one bothered to do so.) We discover that Dorian also wants revenge on Catwoman, so Man-Bat is sent out like an Uber driver once again to fetch Selina Kyle. At the moment Man-Bat reaches her apartment, Romulus and Tygrus have arrived on a nearby rooftop. This leads to our first instance of monster-on-monster action, as Tygrus chases Man-Bat to save his unrequited love interest.

Within moments, Tygrus has tracked Man-Bat and Selina to Dorian’s lab, where Dorian presents the cat-creature with an offer he can’t refuse — agree to a mind transference with Batman, and he’ll be free to live his life with Selina as an actual human. Despite her protests, Tygrus agrees. Nearby, a full moon (the second in two nights) has turned Romulus back into a werewolf. Romulus makes his own dramatic entrance inside Dorian’s lab and faces off against Man-Bat. The resulting battle causes a fire to break out, and Dr. Dorian is placed in the path of a blood-hungry Romulus. Tygrus, still maintaining his air of nobility, urges Batman to escape with Selina while he takes care of his “father.”

More explosions, more monster fights, and Batman and Selina are safe on a nearby rooftop. Batman promises to check the building for survivors, but the story only provides “you never know…” as an answer.

The Wrap-Up

Design-y

The distinctive design sense of the show is mostly absent from these episodes, but the look of Dr. Dorian’s lab in “Tyger, Tyger” is pretty nice.

Continuity Notes

  • Selina never appears as Catwoman in either of these stories, outside of the cover of “Batman Adventures” #21.
  • The video game “Batman: Arkham Knight,” has an Easter egg tribute to “Tyger, Tyger.” A poster for a fictional film entitled “Dr. Dorian’s Island of Mutants” can be found, depicting a recreation of the last shot of the episode.
  • “Moon of the Wolf” is based on the comics story of the same name (“Batman” #255, April 1974), also by Len Wein. I believe the producers have acknowledged that the Neal Adams art made the issue a favorite, and the absence of that style hurt the episode tremendously.
  • Dr. Milo will later reappear in “Justice League Unlimited” as a member of Cadmus. He’s given a redesigned face to better fit the evolving look of Bruce Timm’s designs.

I Love the ’90s

Bruce Wayne uses a cellphone, still viewed as a luxury of the rich during this time, in “Tyger, Tyger” when he’s calling to check on Selina. The animators had to decide how to render a cellphone in the show’s retro-style, and this is the result…

Approved By Broadcast Standards & Practices

Selina Kyle’s nightie from “Batman Adventures” #21 likely wouldn’t have made it past FOX Kids’ censors, but the Comics Code had no issue with it. Of course, the Code was also approving Jim Balent’s “Catwoman” run at the same time, so it wasn’t exactly prudish by this point.

Battle of the Monster Tales

Without question, the story from “Batman Adventures” #21 is far more entertaining than either episode of the series. Admittedly, it’s a story that requires Batman and Selina to do nothing outside of being captured, but that’s not really the point. It’s a tribute to Universal monster movies of the past and not specifically a Batman story; given the monthly grind of comics production, the occasional diversion is forgivable. What the story does have in its favor is a clever use of established continuity, a sharp script (Puckett’s version of Dr. Dorian is far wittier than his animated counterpart), and beautiful art from the much-missed Mike Parobeck. It’s entertaining enough to merit its own adaptation in the series…provided certain animation houses were kept far away.

Thanks to Daniel DeAngelo for his suggestion. If there’s an episode an animated series you’d like to see paired with its comics tie-in, let me know on Twitter or just leave a comment below.

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