Welcome to Adventure(s) Time’s thirty-eighth installment, an examination of classic animated series and their tie-in comics. These week, we’re looking back on two stories that begin with the premise that Ra’s al Ghul is dead, with Batman and Talia paired on an adventure. (Thanks to reader Gravity Falls Poland for this suggestion. If you have any cartoon/comics pairings you’d like to see, please let me know in the comments.)
Debuting on May 9, 1994, “Avatar” is the sixty-ninth episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Introduced with a stunning title card evoking historical art from ancient Egypt, until you catch the stylized Batman emblems, Carlos Rodriguez’s score draws the audience in with pomp worthy of an old Hollywood epic. Writer Michael Reaves and director Kevin Altieri keep this theme alive throughout “Avatar,” pairing Batman and Talia on a journey across the globe.
Egypt, 1898, is the opening setting, as an adventurer risks his life to navigate the tomb of Thoth Khepera. A silent sequence that emphasizes the show’s confidence in its directors, you’ll notice several sequences in this episode with nearly no scripting at all. Most shows, especially of this era, could never pull this off. The clarity of Batman’s animation, and the simple-yet-emotive character designs, more than compensate for a lack of spoken dialogue.
In the present day, Bruce Wayne has donated the Scroll of Osiris to a Gotham museum. Ra’s al Ghul and his chief flunky Ubu appear later that night, stunning Batman, who believes Ra’s to be dead. Poisoning Batman with a snake bite and stealing the Scroll, the villains disappear. This turns out to be Gotham’s only appearance in “Avatar,” setting the stage for the globetrotting to follow.
Batman’s first stop in tracking Ra’s is to visit his daughter, Talia. She’s shocked her father is alive, and hurt he’s chosen not to contact her. Talia explains the Scroll is the second half of the map Ra’s needs for one of his schemes. Batman believes she’s sincere and Talia joins him on his quest.
It’s not entirely accurate to describe this episode as a romance, although Talia and Batman’s doomed relationship is a running subtext. The rest of the episode has them facing danger together, even from Ra’s himself. The vocal performance of Talia, while a bit of a caricatured “foreign” accent, makes her a sympathetic partner for Batman. Her conflict over her romantic love of Batman and paternal love for her father is an old trope, but doesn’t feel cliché here.
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