A Zeus-obsessed megalomaniac threatens Gotham with a superweapon.
Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens
& Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Directed by Dan Riba
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation by Dong Yang
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon
Steve Suskind as Maximillian Zeus
Bess Armstrong as Clio
Nicholas Savalas as Stavros
Vernee Watson-Johnson as Doctor
It is much easier to fall short of intentions or expectations than to exceed them; how refreshing, then, to run across the occasional story that is better than it has any right to be. The premise of "Fire From Olympus," that a shipping magnate several walnuts short in his baklava should dress up like Zeus and throw thunderbolts around, seems dumb beyond belief. To describe selected scenes, like Batman's fight with the Hydra, would only add to the impression of low-grade corn. So why does it work?
Partly, I think, because Maximillian believes in his world so thoroughly that we wonder if it is he that's insane or we who are misguided. His delusions, after all, do not incapacitate him or interfere with his plans, hitherto successful. He embraces Batman as his "brother Hades," while stoutly resisting his interference; as "Zeus" he does not seem the least bit fazed by the obviously technological underpinnings of his power. The result leaves us feeling like we're stuck in that Escher house where the people live at 90-degree angles to each other: Perhaps Maxie's not really mad, perhaps he just sees and interacts with the world in a strikingly different but no less rational way than we do.
The tension between his attitudes and those of his minions is another source of unexpected pleasure. Instead of henchmen who buy into the scheme and dress up accordingly, it gives us lackeys who are either amused or mortified by the boss' delusions. The conceptual and attitudinal miss is so great it sometimes feels like screwball comedy: Maxie and Clio thoroughly exasperate each other because neither will see the world as the other sees iteach one thinks the other is being willfully perverse.
The episode also manages to recapture some of the charm associated with the early comic booksor, at least, it lulls us into a mood that will take innocent pleasure in the goofiest of situations. Let's be honest: a lot of Batman's early adventures were pretty risible (even when they tried to be dark), and it's easy to cop a snarky attitude toward them. But that's just the kind of attitude Clio and Stavros adopt in the face of the ridiculous plot they're trapped in. This has the effect of disarming our own skepticism toward the story: we can no longer feel knowing and superior to the characters in the story when they're already acting knowing and superior to it, and when they get stopped dead in their tracks by Maxie's earnestness we're stopped dead too. When an episode anticipates and bamboozles our suspicions as thoroughly as this one does, there's only one thing we poor, bemused, latter-day cynics can do: Sit back and enjoy the ride.
The episode features a powerful score, too.
Dan Riba: "We were trying to play Maxie Zeus as a looney. With all our other villains you follow their slow descent into madness, but when we come to Maxie, he's just nuts. It's the episode most like the old '60s show, and basically Maxie functions as our King Tut. The real story centers on the people around hiim coming to the realization of just how crazy he is."
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