The Matt Signal – Episode 18: Beware the Gray Ghost

Plot summary: A copycat Mad Bomber terrorises Gotham by mimicking Bruce’s favourite childhood TV show, The Gray Ghost, and only the washed-up star can help crack the case.

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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!

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Beware the Gray Ghost’

Original Air Date: November 4th, 1992

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (5)

Written: Dennis O’Flaherty (1) (story), Garin Wolf (2) & Tom Reugger (4)

This episode is most famous for Adam West’s guest starring role but had he turned the part down the whole thing would have been scrapped for fear of offending him.

Bruce Timm allegedly paid West $25,000 and gifted him the original Batman ‘66 costume as thanks for appearing in the episode.

Furthermore The Mad Bomber is drawn to look like Timm.

Bruce Wayne still has his Gray Ghost memorabilia in the Batcave during Batman Beyond, set 50 years after this series.

Recap

The episode begins in black and white with the opening of an episode of The Gray Ghost – a pulpier version of this very show – called ‘The Mad Bomber’, which a young Bruce Wayne is utterly transfixed by. He’s got a little hat and a Gray Ghost doll. It’s cute as heck.

A full-colour explosion mirroring the one from the old show brings down a building, with Batman leaping into action in the exact same way Gray Ghost did. Likewise, he’s handed a note demanding one million dollars or the bank will be targeted next, signed by ‘The Mad Bomber’. Save for the city names, the two notes are word for word identical. An adult Bruce awakes in the middle of the night, realising why the whole situation feels familiar.

Bruce visits a man who claims to have tapes of every show ever made… except ‘The Gray Ghost’. He states nobody has any tapes and the studio that made the show burned down 20 years ago. This clerk is supposedly modelled after Paul Dini and seeing the unkind portrayal motivated him to lose weight. Gross.

Looking through some old books, Bruce identifies the star of the show, Simon Trent. Alfred boasts that he doesn’t watch television but Bruce (rightfully) ignores him.

Trent lives in Gotham in an apartment he’s behind the rent on and fails to book acting jobs because of being typecast. Despondent, he smashes up his Gray Ghost memorabilia.

Desperate for the money, Trent sells the original costume and a box of other memorabilia to an enthusiastic collector drawn to look like and voiced by Bruce Timm. He doesn’t even get much for it, because nobody buys the merch he’s already sold.

Dozing off in his chair by an open window, Simon awakens the next morning to find all of his sold goods back on their shelf, including a repaired poster frame, along with a note that asks him to meet “A Friend” at the Gotham Arts School that evening.

Quite obviously, it’s Batman. Trent runs away, terrified, but Bruce catches up to him and explains the slate of bombings that seem to be mimicking an episode of The Gray Ghost. Simon claims to remember nothing about the show and wants to be left alone, with another explosion providing him a distraction to get away.

Returning to his apartment, Trent is lucky to not have a heart attack as Batman is waiting for him in the dark. Bruce finally gets through to Trent, who reveals his pristine collection of film reels. Bats takes the Mad Bomber episode and leaves, but not before getting in a dig about Trent not living up to his childhood expectations. Bit mean, mate.

Alfred and a beaming Bruce review the episode, which reveals the Mad Bomber used little remote control cars to carry out his attacks. Bruce recalls hearing a similar noise to the one that car makes during his meeting with Trent and warns the GCPD.

Jim Gordon and an excessive number of his men stake out the library ahead of the threatened attack, and sure enough a trio of little cars speed towards them. Snipers take out the first car, while Batman uses a freakin’ flamethrower on the second. The third races off but ends up overturning and “The World’s Greatest Detective” casually picks it up and starts examining it, despite it carrying a remote-controlled explosive payload. Fortunately it’s a decoy.

The three additional ones aren’t though! Just before Batman can die via humiliation (and triple explosion, I guess), a rope drops down and he clambers to safety, where he finds a fully-costumed Gray Ghost waiting. Trent thanks him for getting his stuff back and they endeavour to check the decoy car for fingerprints.

Easier said than done though, as a further little fleet of cars gives chase to the Batmobile. Bruce lets Trent operate some of the defensive gadgetry which gives him a real kick. As does the Batcave, including a side-room full of Gray Ghost collectibles. Simon says that Batman being a fan of the show means his most iconic role wasn’t for nothing. Way to kiss his ass, man.

Bruce immediately turns on his idol though, as the only prints on the car belong to Trent, who points out he sold all the cars he had months ago. Again, Batman is “The World’s Greatest Detective” but a washed up actor puts it together quicker than him.

Batman confronts Not Bruce Timm, who delivers a supervillain monologue about how he needs to acquire more toys that rings more true than anything Hollywood has written in the last decade. In true The Incredibles fashion it was all a ploy on the part of the heroes though, and Gray Ghost bursts through the window to take him down. The duo pull him to safety just before his shop explodes.

Some time later Summer Gleeson (remember her?) reports on the massively popular video release of The Gray Ghost series, with a costumed Trent signing merchandise for a huge line of fans, including Bruce Wayne. Cuuuute.

Best Performance

In what universe could it not be the late great Adam West? I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to call this one of the most charming casting homages in the history of pop culture, and West is absolutely game for it, attacking his lines with an earnest warmth. He already had a lot of experience in the realm of voice acting, and would go on to rack up a massive number of animation and video game credits right up until his passing in 2017, and that sincere passion for the medium can be heard in every scene.

While West worked steadily after Batman ended in 1968, he is more than up to the task of portraying a has-been actor unable to follow up on a huge role. Simon Trent’s story demands sympathy, and Adam West ensures audience compliance.

But the real joy is in how exuberant West sounds when he gets to don his costume for one last hurrah teaming up with Batman. I don’t know what else I can say. If this doesn’t make you smile you may be dead inside.

Props to Kevin Conroy too though, as he demonstrates a great deal of emotional range, utterly elated to meet somebody so intrinsic to his sense of self. But come on, it’s Adam West.

Ranking

This episode isn’t defined solely by Adam West’s phenomenal guest appearance though, as it’s easily the best looking outing for the show so far. A number of episodes were rushed by Bruce Timm’s own admission, with some shoddy work that he’d rather hadn’t aired. But this one was clearly incredibly important to Timm, who likely ensured they pulled out all the stops.

Beyond the beautiful design of The Gray Ghost’s costume and paraphernalia and the show-within-a-show aesthetic (including a replication of BtAS’ logo with Gray Ghost in Batman’s place), the episode is full of little flourishes that we don’t often see. One that really stood out to me was the usually static camera swooping over Jim Gordon’s shoulder towards a GCPD sniper.

The metatextuality extends beyond West’s involvement, with Gray Ghost styled after the character that inspired Batman in the first place: The Shadow. This is echoed in the narrative, which affords another compelling look into Bruce’s past and psyche.

While it’s somewhat pitiable that Bruce Wayne remained frozen in childhood, dressing up like the heroes of his youth to enact a juvenile war on crime, it’s undeniably heart-warming to see the big moody billionaire unable to stop a huge grin from creeping across his face when watching his beloved show as an adult. Just as the episode means a lot to Timm, the events within it mean a lot to Batman, and that’s just lovely.

  1. Heart of Ice
  2. Two-Face Part I
  3. Beware the Gray Ghost
  4. On Leather Wings
  5. Pretty Poison
  6. Two-Face Part II
  7. It’s Never Too Late
  8. See No Evil
  9. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  10. P.O.V.
  11. Christmas with the Joker
  12. Be a Clown
  13. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  14. Nothing to Fear
  15. The Last Laugh
  16. The Under-Dwellers
  17. The Forgotten
  18. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

The Mad Bomber (Bruce Timm) (first appearance)

In many ways this villain rings truer now than it did in 1992; An emotionally stunted nerd desperate to acquire more toys by any means necessary mimics something he saw on television, oblivious to the consequences. I feel seen.

Obviously he’s not much of a foil for Bruce once his identity is uncovered, but he does manage to string everyone along with his Mad Bomber plot until then, and does have Batman dead to rights in the alley before for Gray Ghost’s interference. That’s all WAY more than was necessary given how much of the focus is on Simon Trent and Bruce’s childhood memories.

But his minimal screen time and lack of emotional pathos hurt his ability to rank all that high, even if it is fun that he’s played by the show’s creator.

  1. Mr. Freeze
  2. Joker
  3. Two-Face
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. Catwoman
  6. Rupert Thorne
  7. Lloyd Ventrix
  8. Scarecrow
  9. Red Claw
  10. Arnold Stromwell
  11. Mad Bomber
  12. Man-Bat
  13. Penguin
  14. Sewer King
  15. Boss Biggis

Plugs

While the movie may only be about 30% complete that didn’t stop me from posting a list of 10 Hopes and Fears for The Batman.

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 continues tomorrow with Chef.

Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, uploads new episodes every Thursday.

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus continues its run of road trip movies with Midnight Run

Speaking of Jerome, he will be bringing you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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