Blind as a Bat

   The Penguin steals a helicopter gunship and blinds Batman.
  Original Airdate: February 22, 1993
  Episode # 58
  Rating: * * 1/2




Credits Cast

Story by Mike Underwood & Len Wein
Teleplay by Len Wein
Directed by Dan Riba
Music by Steve Chesne & James Stemple
Animation by Studio Junio

Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon
Lloyd Bochner as Mayor Hill
Robert Constanzo as Bullock
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred
Diana Muldaur as Dr. Leslie Thompkins

Paul Williams as The Penguin
Jeff Bennett as Computer
John Delancie as Eagleton
Haunani Mann as Dr. Lee
Walter Olkewicz as Falcone
Barry Gordon as Sheldrake

There is a deep and unresolved ambiguity in the way BTAS handles the Penguin: a tension between his manner and his appearance, and between his personality and his career. On the one hand we have Oswald Cobblepot, urban sophisticate: intelligent, witty, ironic, prone to snobbery and sarcasm. He is, if not a descendent, then at least a cousin of those malevolent epicures Sydney Greenstreet used to specialize in. But Cobblepot isn't "The Fat Man"; he is "The Penguin," and labors under the freakish appearance inherited from Burton's design for the second movie. Worse still, he lives in the sewers and commits inelegant robberries for a living. What we have, then, is a character whose persona and life-stye are wholly at odds with each other and a series that cannot make up its mind how it wants to play him.

The Sixties TV show had a similar problem, but Burgess Meredith brilliantly reconciled the Penguin's two halves by striking campy comic sparks off their essential incompatability. His Penguin was a twinkly-eyed monster whose cupidity actually enhanced his good taste and whose good taste was only a pose designed to further his grubby little plots. It was Meredith's amazing capacity to find subtle ways of overplaying a character—the sophisticated taunts delivered while fencing with an umbrella, the urbane manners systematically demolished by the famous squawks— that took the series to its apogee as an admiring celebration of comic book sensibilities delivered in the form of a fond send-up. Because Meredith's Penguin never took himself seriously, neither he nor the viewers were ever bothered by the foolish conception.

Such balance is not be found in the animated series, alas. Paul Williams does a splendid job of capturing the Penguin's sinister urbanity, but the personality he brings is not well-served by the plot devices of "I've Got Batman in My Basement," "The Mechanic," or "Birds of a Feather." His Penguin has the persona of a fixer, a manipulator, a boss; he is not the sort of person to be hiding in sewers and fighting the Joker for a bit of swag. And certainly he should not be physically implicated in the jobs he is orchestrating.

But if he is to be physically implicated, there must be a more satisfying way of introducing and handling it than we get in "Blind as a Bat." The idea of handicapping Batman is certainly promising—and the sonar scope is a lovely solution. And the Penguin, being so essentially a non-physical character, would be the appropriate antagonist to figure in such a scenario. But "Blind as a Bat" does not quite take it to its full potential. The helicopter is just a plot device, and not enough is done with it to justify postponing the final confrontation. Even when quarters are closed, much of the fighting is between Batman and a henchman. One longs for a more intense game of cat-and-mouse (or bat-and-bird) between antagonists who are suddenly much more evenly matched.

POSTSCRIPT: Clearly, the above reflections (which apply only to the BTAS episodes) have been long overtaken by the redesign for The New Batman Adventures. But the Greenstreet comparison still holds: If Gotham were Casablanca, Cobblepot would be Ferrari.


Production Notes
Dan Riba on rewrites: "We kind of lost track of what the characters' motivations were ... Suddenly, I realized we had turned Wayne into an arms merchant, which he shouldn't be. He doesn't like guns. He would never manufacture guns. There was a line in the script where he gloats about how much money he would make on the sale of this copter. We altered that to him expressing his reservations about the sale. ... We implied that not only had he been blind physically, but he had been blind to what his company was doing."

Related Episodes
   * The Mechanic
   * Joyride
   * Lost Soul

What Others Are Saying ...
" One of the best written, best animated, best scored and generally best episodes of the whole series. "World's Finest


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