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"The Batman" Finally Worthy of the Cape and Cowl?

It’s amazing what twelve episodes can do for a series. It worked wonders for X-Men: Evolution and now it’s doing the same for The Batman. After an almost embarrassing pilot episode and a season full of mediocre-to-average episodes, the show takes a giant leap forward in quality with the two part season finale.

The episodes, called “The Rubberface of Comedy, Part 1,” and “The Clayface of Tragedy, Part 2,” bring popular villain Clayface into The Batman‘s ever-expanding rogue gallery with successful results. While the first part is weaker than the conclusion, together they add up to a vast improvement overall for the series.

The BatmanA word of warning: to review the first season finale, spoilers will be involved. There’s simply no way to discuss the second part of this episode without dropping a spoiler or two. And given that The Batman was actually brave enough to alter the status quo, the plot merits discussion.

As in the pilot, The Joker is the focal point for the opening half of the finale. This time around the criminal is out to remake artifacts and landmarks to fit his own twisted vision using his newly created “Joker Putty,” a substance that allows him to melt and alter the texture of any surface. Both the police and The Batman are hot on his tail, with Chief Rosa demanding that both The Joker and The Batman be brought to justice like common criminals.

During the excitement, The Batman decides to let best friend Officer Ethan Bennett in on the secret, to gain a new ally in his fight against Gotham’s underworld.

This eventually leads to a dramatic showdown, in a “fun house” no less, between The Joker, The Batman, Officer Ellen Yin, and a captive Officer Bennett. During the struggle, Bennett inhales fumes from a broken canister of “Joker Putty” and instantly begins showing signs of its ill effect. In the end The Joker is captured, The Batman disappears, and Bennett is suspended for crediting The Batman with The Joker’s capture and failing to apprehend the Dark Knight.

Later that evening at Bennett’s apartment, we find him still feeling ill from the gas inhalation earlier in the day. After receiving a phone call from Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. The Batman, to meet tomorrow to discuss some important matters, we see him stumble towards the bathroom. He peers in the mirror, looking sickly. He rubs his face and is shocked to discover his skin beginning to melt.

That nifty cliffhanger ends the first part. We pick up seconds after in part two, with Bennett falling apart, his skin transforming into a clay-like substance. He freaks out, and runs around begging for help. Given his new ghastly appearance, he’s turned away by everyone. Angry and alone, Bennett, now dubbed Clayface by onlookers, lashes out.

I don’t know how the show managed to jump in quality so suddenly, but I’m glad it did. The majority of the show’s first season was riddled with mediocrity and flat, one-dimensional characterization. Villains were terrible and the supporting characters barely serviceable. But almost all of that changes with this finale.

The Joker is still barely tolerable and handled ridiculously. Thankfully he’s pretty much gone by the end of part one save for a quick cameo in the second. The Joker and Chief Rojas stay the same – boring and one-note.

The remaining supporting cast featured in the episode has greatly improved. Alfred is handled much better in this episode and actually encourages The Batman instead of ridiculing his nighttime activities. Both Officer Yin and Bennett are given more material to work with, and actually rise above their clichéd cop stereotypes. Even Bruce Wayne shows more depth. Writer Greg Weisman makes up for “The Big Chill” with his character work here.

As usual, the animation is top notch. Characters move with fluidity and grace, and action sequences are fast and solid. This cartoon excelled early on with great animation, and that continues with these finale episodes. Having the animation actually paired with good writing makes a big difference. That said, the initial fight between The Batman and Clayface isn’t as well animated or executed as the similar tussle in Batman: The Animated Series‘ “Feat of Clay, Part 2.” It lacks the ferocity of Ron Perlman’s amazing vocal work on the character.

Click Here for More Images Still, The Batman does add a few nice touches. When Bennett initially becomes Clayface, his speech is garbled and barely understandable. We see him figure out how to adapt his lung work to compensate. We see him struggle to understand his new body, resulting in some fascinating animation and some interesting defensive measures.

Still, this finale does suffer from a few problems. The cause of Bennett’s new morphing abilities is weak and almost illogical. Early on, The Joker says he is unsure of the effects the putty would have on people, and then he uses his fingers (ungloved at the tip of each) to do some painting. Now, seeing as how Bennett only inhaled the fumes of the putty, shouldn’t touching the stuff have a far worse effect? And how did The Joker concoct this brew in the first place?

Secondly, despite a bit of detective work, both The Batman and Officer Yin come to discover Clayface’s identity way too easily. It’s almost comes out of left field, and is more guess than deduction.

The show still has a few shortcomings, but the finale easily tops every episode that came before it. Amazing animation, better character exploration, and improved writing show this cartoon may actually have some depth. If season two continues the trends from the first season finale, The Batman may finally be worthy of the cape and cowl.

‘The Batman’ season finale is scheduled to air in Spring 2005 on Kids’WB!.

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