Plot summary: An ageing mob boss is torn between his ongoing war with Rupert Thorne, and the repercussions his son faces due to his drug business, while Batman tries to save his soul.
Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!
Episode Title: ‘It’s Never Too Late’
Directed: Boyd Kirkland (4)
Written: Tom Ruegger (3) (story) & Garin Wolf (1)
Original Air Date: September 10th, 1992
Bruce Timm praised Boyd Kirkland’s direction and storyboarding, in particular his establishment of a sense of geography to Gotham.
Inspiration was drawn from Angels with Dirty Faces, A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Stromwell will return in a flashback down the line.
Rupert Thorne and Arnold Stromwell’s mob rivalry is covered in a news report, with Jim Gordon stating that youth has the edge and Stromwell is in danger of being retired, despite Thorne being drawn to look older.
Actually, why would a police commissioner make this kind of a statement? Is he trying to tell the people of Gotham that they can rest easy because one crime family is probably going to kill the other soon?
Anyway, Stromwell goes from angry to furious when the news turns to his missing son, Joseph. So much so, that he has his men set up a meeting with Thorne so that they can stop the war that he was just enraged about possibly losing. And THEN he decides Thorne must have kidnapped his son. This guy is all over the place!
Speaking of Thorne, he has a drunk, dishevelled looking individual tossed from his restaurant so that he can speak openly about the impending meeting with Stromwell. He tells his men to act peaceful at first, but then kill Stromwell once he’s relaxed and the lights go out. If you couldn’t pick out Kevin Conroy’s voice when the vagrant was being ejected, it becomes clear it was indeed Bruce Wayne in disguise and that he is now listening in thanks to a listening device he planted under the table. Sneaky.
On the way to the meeting Stomwell bitterly laments about how he made Gotham what it is, leading us into a flashback to his childhood. Young Arnie is nearly struck by a train while playing with his friend Michael and… we don’t see how it ends, because Stromwell snaps out of it.
Batman watches on from atop a nearby church. Heading inside, he tells a priest that “it’s coming down tonight” and that “he’s going to need you” in reference to Arnold. The priest states how he wishes he could give up on him, but Batman pleads with him to be there. Who’s got money on the priest being Mike?
Stromwell’s crew arrive at the restaurant and he and Thorne agree to talk alone, sending their men for a stroll. After a moment of pleasantries, Arnold demands to know where his son is, tossing Thorne around a little. Thorne is adamant he doesn’t mess with family and convinces Stromwell to take a seat. Arnold smells the set-up, but a moment too late, as Thorne switches the lights off and leaves the room, and moments later his men witness the restaurant explode.
Thorne celebrates his victory, unaware that Batman got to Arnold in time, carrying him to safety across the rooftops as the GCPD and fire department gather and determine it to be a case of arson. Thorne gets wind of Batman’s presence and sends his men out looking for him and Stromwell.
Bats escorts Stromwell to the neighbourhood he started out in as the mobster denies his involvement in the drug trade, instead claiming he makes candy. Batman drags him into a rehab facility where low and behold, Joseph is a patient.
Stromwell swears vengeance on whoever got his son hooked, but his estranged wife states he should look in the mirror, and that his drug operation is why she left him. Batman tells him to dismantle his operation and turn in all his records.
Stromwell takes Batman to his office and hands him some records, but it turns out they’re fake as he grabs a rifle and tells Batman he’s a fool to think he’d go down easy.
Thorne’s men teargas the office, but Batman always packs a gas mask and works his way through the building taking their attackers out one at a time.
During the chaos, Stromwell flees into the railyard with both sides giving chase. Batman continues to pick off Thorne’s men. Arnold trips in the same spot as his earlier flashback, with the priest offering his hand.
Stromwell’s flashback replays, but this time with Michael behaving more virtuously, shoving Arnold out of the way of a train but losing his leg in the process.
The priest confirms he is indeed Michael, and that he is Arnold’s younger brother (despite also looking older than him), and the two embrace. Thorne tries to ruin the moment, but Batman disarms him.
The GCPD arrive and Arnold tells Gordon he’d like to give a statement as Batman looks on from the rooftops and then over toward the church.
Eugene Roche takes centre stage in this one as a mob boss desperately trying to deny the fact he’s on the way out. He sounds suitably in the mould of the old timey gangster, while also flying into fits of passion that might have been cringey if not for Roche’s delivery. Most importantly Stromwell doesn’t feel like he’s done a complete 180 when Batman, his estranged wife and his brother start to get through to him, and even before the turn comes, there’s enough quiet depression to hint at him possibly being redeemable.
Everybody brought it in this episode, but Roche did the most.
This was the show’s first attempt at a mob war episode and I think they mostly pulled it off, while also flirting with doing an After School Special on saying no to drugs. But at the same time it’s surprisingly adult, with Thorne plotting a Godfather-esque hit on his rival in clear, plain language rather than censor-friendly innuendo. Stomwell’s past and complex family dynamics are also more sophisticated than you might expect after a pretty inconsistent opening scene.
The most impressive part of the episode is the visual iconography, from the huge iron gates with an ‘S’ logo on them at the Stromwell estate, to the mob movie restaurant, to the enormous gothic church for Batman to skulk among the gargoyles. There’s far more camera panning than we’ve seen previously, and Batman looking on from up high makes it feel like a real location rather than just amorphous backgrounds.
Speaking of Batman, his little game of shadows is superb, playing dress up so he can plant a bug, moving across the rooftops, appearing out of nowhere once the lights go out in the restaurant, and standing around with his cape wrapped around him so he cuts an intimidating outline. His stealth takedowns on Thorne’s men in the final scene might be the best, most on-brand action in the show to date.
All of that works really well, but there are some issues with Stomwell’s erratic behaviour (though that’s arguably deliberate and attributable to his waning position in Gotham), and I think the flashback scene could have been a touch longer, or perhaps seen in three parts instead of two.
Part of me thinks this was better than ‘On Leather Wings’, but instinctively I think it’s not as good as ‘Pretty Poison’, so maybe I ranked THOSE two episodes wrong in the first place… I’ll leave the rankings where they are though, as the pilot achieved a lot without feeling too piloty, and for as good as the best moments in this episode are, it’s missing an extra something overall.
- Two-Face Part I
- On Leather Wings
- Two-Face Part II
- Pretty Poison
- It’s Never Too Late
- Christmas with the Joker
- Be a Clown
- Nothing to Fear
- The Last Laugh
- The Under-Dwellers
- The Forgotten
Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche) (first appearance)
I would call this about as good as a one-off villain appearance gets, but Stromwell will be back, albeit in a much smaller flashback role. While I think he was written and performed better in this episode than his recurring rival, I’m not prepared to put him ahead of Thorne on the overall rankings. Stromwell is certainly a villain, but he’s less villainous than Thorne, who has an additional two episodes on him. It’s still kind of crazy to me they didn’t opt for Maroni vs Falcone, but Stromwell is executed well enough that he feels like he belongs and has a believable history in the city despite this being his first appearance.
Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) (third appearance)
Three episodes of Thorne in a row and he remains a solid villain who will come in handy whenever they want to take a break from the more colourful rogues. Inevitably in a battle of two villains you end up siding with the lesser of two evils, and Thorne is the more despicable and underhanded. His ploy to betray his rival during a peace talk and attempt to gun him down even when it’s all over are excellent shitbaggery.
- Poison Ivy
- Rupert Thorne
- Arnold Stromwell
- Sewer King
- Boss Biggis
Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.
Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies returns tomorrow with a review of Zero Dark Thirty.
Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, uploads new episodes every Thursday.
Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus has moved on from fantasy and sci-fi to comedy with Beverly Hills Cop
Speaking of Jerome, he will be bringing you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.