Welcome to "Adventure(s) Time's" 67th installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. Our entry this week comes from a suggestion by Emmet O'Brien, who asked to see some of the cartoon-to-comics creations. So, let's examine the debut of a Batman: The Animated Series villain ... very much of his time.
Airing on Nov. 19, 1994, "Lock-Up" introduces its titular villain, in a nicely animated episode from director Dan Riba and the Dong Yang animation studio. Like many of the episodes from this era, the plot is by Paul Dini. Writing team, and huge comics fans, Marty Isenberg & Robert N. Skir provide the script.
Surprisingly, the first act essentially has no action scenes, opening with Batman and Robin hauling a terrified Scarecrow back to Arkham Asylum. That's actually a great hook for beginning a story -- what could possibly cause the Scarecrow to be so afraid?
We discover the answer is Lyle Bolton, Arkham's new head of security. Unlike the previous regimes, Bolton is a hardcase when it comes to discipline. He's also pretty darn good at actually keeping these dangerous felons locked away. Scarecrow is the first escapee during his tenure. Bolton promises Batman he'll do better.
Batman senses something's off about Bolton. As Bruce Wayne, he convenes a hearing with Commissioner Gordon, Mayor Hill, and Arkham's Dr. Bartholomew. This sequence is one of the few moments that truly feel like a Dini episode. Scarecrow, Harley Quinn, and Ventriloquist all provide testimonies, the joke being none of them are willing to publicly call out Bolton. Bruce calls their bluff and announces a plan to extend Bolton's contract. The inmates then drop the facade, listing Bolton's various abuses. (Still, it has the feel of a lighter Dini episode. Almost as if it's being played for laughs.) Bolton snaps under their accusations, openly displaying his unbalanced behavior.
Bolton is fired--not unlike several villains with Dini origin stories. What Bolton's origin lacks, however, is anything to make him sympathetic. There is a brief moment in his lonely apartment, as he broods on the unfairness of his persecution, that comes close. Watching reporter Summer Gleeson give a perky report on Poison Ivy's latest crime spree, Bolton fumes. He rails about the "permissive, liberal media" that glamorizes criminals.
Now, there could be a way to bend the story, to play up the idea that maybe Bolton has a point. For all we know, the Gotham media really does have a fascination with costumed criminals. If Bolton felt unfairly punished for ensuring they stay behind bars, while the media paints glowing portraits of the scum, there could be an angle there.
Instead, we see Bolton reappear six months later as the costumed vigilante Lock-Up. (Jumping ahead months in the narrative is another familiar element in Dini origin stories.) He's already firmly crazy, and unjustly kidnapping Summer Gleeson after her date with Bruce Wayne.
He slips into his Batman tights, granting us the first real action sequence nearly ten minutes into the episode. Lock-Up escapes with Summer, and within hours, has kidnapped Dr. Bartholomew and Commissioner Gordon.
Batman doesn't have to strain himself to discern Lock-Up's identity. And, oh yeah, since this aired during the Adventures of Batman & Robin era, that means Robin has to be around for the fun. FOX says so. Truthfully, he has some of the best lines this episode. "Another fine villain made possible by a grant from the Wayne Foundation," he quips, much to Batman's agitation.
The heroes locate Lock-Up at a decommissioned naval vessel (once a temporary replacement for Stonegate Penitentiary), where he's now keeping his victims prisoner. It's not the most exciting of climatic battles, but the animation is steady and impressive. In the end, Bolton is defeated off-camera during an underwater confrontation with Batman. Some have griped about this...but, eh. He's Batman. You've got to let Batman slide on this kind of stuff.
The final shot has Bolton welcomed with jeers and laughter as Arkham's newest inmate. Bolton doesn't care, though. He's where he can keep an eye on the criminals. A bit comics fans had already seen with the Punisher. And Rorschach.