The Matt Signal – Episode 32: Robin’s Reckoning Part I

Plot summary: Batman and Robin are each haunted by their past when the man responsible for killing the Graysons resurfaces.

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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: ‘Robin’s Reckoning Part I’

Original Air Date: February 7th, 1993

Directed: Dick Sebast (5)

Written: Randy Rogel (3)

This episode won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, making it the only episode to do so, as ‘Heart of Ice’ won a Daytime Emmy.

It is also the first episode so far that premiered in primetime ahead of its regular weekday slot.

The death of the Graysons was originally far more graphic but this naturally got nixed by the censors. Bruce Timm actually felt this led to a more effective scene due to having to find a creative way around the restrictions.

Laren Bright goes uncredited despite writing several of the key scenes in the episode.

Recap

Batman & Robin are hours deep into a stakeout at a construction site, with Robin making remarks about his homework to remind us that he’s young… although he was established as being in college in ‘Nothing to Fear’, so he’s apparently the only university student who uses the word homework.

Robin is thrilled when it’s finally time to spring into action, cockily taking on a man twice his size while Bats handles another two henchmen. There are many antics with narrow beams and precarious platforms and even a nail gun! It’s neat.

Some of the goons get away but Batman is nonplussed as they still have a spare, who clings onto a metal beam for dear life. The Dynamic Duo demand to know who he works for and even begin to walk away as if to leave him there when he refuses.

Naturally this changes his tune and he squeals on his employer, Billy Marin. Robin stops him from falling and tries to pressure him further, but Batman intervenes and firmly insists he go wait by the Batmobile.

After finishing up the torture session solo, Bats drops Dick back at the Cave and grunts that he is working alone tonight and does not always have to give a reason, speeding away as a bemused Alfred wonders what is going on.

Robin complains about what an asshole Batman is to Alfred, who plays the good employee in response. Dick looks up ‘Billy Marin’ in the Batcomputer, which reveals it as one of several aliases for… Tony Zucco.

In flashback we see Dick as a part of The Flying Graysons at Haly’s Circus. The young boy overhears an argument between Jack Haly and Tony Zucco about protection money.

Zucco is undeterred by Haly’s refusal to pay up, sabotaging one of the trapeze lines just before the Graysons’ next show, which is sponsored tonight by bumbling billionaire Bruce Wayne. Cute.

Dick tries to tell his parents about Zucco, who he recognises from earlier on, but there’s no time and the show begins. Even if you weren’t familiar with this story (some of the dialogue is nearly identical to Batman Forever, as both are lifting from the same iconic 1940 comic) you can guess what happens next.

A younger, red-headed Jim Gordon and uniformed Harvey Bullock talk to Dick who tells them about Zucco. Bruce Wayne naturally takes pity on the boy, with Gordon warning that Zucco may try and silence him.

Bidding goodbye to his friends at the circus, Dick is dropped off at Wayne Manor by Gordon. Bruce and Alfred are exceptionally nice to him, but he’s a tiny orphaned boy in an enormous empty house, so is of course sad as hell.

Back in the present, Batman continues driving angrily, hearing Young Dick’s voice in his head, setting us up for more flashbacks, where a despondent Dick asks Alfred about Bruce’s regular absences.

One such absence featured Wayne in his small-time-crook get-up, rolling dice with a bunch of dirty rotten crims. He does a less than stellar job of being subtle asking about Zucco and eventually says ‘screw this’ and starts beating them up instead.

Learning Zucco is hiding out with his uncle, Arnold Stromwell (remember him?), the Caped Crusader descends on his mansion. Planting a listening device under the guise of threatening Stromwell, Bats leaves while the mobster berates his nephew.

Batman fights off some guards and returns to the cave to argue with Alfred, who points out that his all-consuming desire to avenge the boy’s parents is making things worse by making him feel isolated.

Realising Alfred is right (as he usually is), Bruce sits down to try and comfort the tearful child, promising to take him to a football game. Dick is more interested in torturing himself for not doing more to save his parents.

The two bond over their shared tragedy, and Bruce promises it’ll get better eventually, embracing him in a legitimately touching moment.

Back in the present Robin radios Batman and scolds him for hiding the truth from him. Bats sticks to his guns and tells him to stay out of it. Furious, Robin races off on a motorbike as Alfred shakes his head.

To be continued…

Best Performance

Not to be a broken record, but it’s Kevin Conroy. In many incarnations of Batman he’s always angry, and while he’s more cerebral in this series, he’s still often playing in that wheelhouse. So asking Conroy to turn the fury up to 11 could easily have been too tall an order. Instead we get some of his best work to date, with his entire demeanour changing from the moment he hears Zucco’s alias. Crucially, this is juxtaposed by some dry smiles and banter with Robin during the stakeout, and some of the warmest Bruce Wayne scenes in the whole show.

Loren Lester doesn’t come close to matching him despite this being his showcase episode, though to be fair he’s predominantly stuck with whiney teenage dialogue that hits the ear a little wrong (Stan Lee writing for kids syndrome), and half the episode features a child actor in the role instead. We’ll see if he can up his game for Part II.

There’s also a fun cameo from Tom F. Wilson (aka Biff) playing Tony Zucco, and Eugene Roche returns as Arnold Stromwell.

Ranking

This was a towering achievement for animated television and easily the most emotionally gripping episode in the show up to now. I have a hard time thinking anything will top it in that regard, and in my opinion, it’s actually far more mature and easy to digest than ‘Heart of Ice’, which has a little bit of wackiness to it. The animation has also massively improved over the course of production, with this looking like a more confident second season compared to the other Emmy winner.

Where ‘Heart of Ice’ ran the gamut, checking off virtually every facet of what makes the entire show work, ‘Robin’s Reckoning’ focuses in on a few key areas and gives them more time to breath. The result is an extremely difficult internal battle for yours truly.

I endeavoured to review multi-parters in a bubble, and as of this writing I haven’t watched Part II recently enough to have any opinions on it, but my feeling is that the two together would trump ‘Heart of Ice’, but Part I on its own is an incomplete story, and thus loses out on the top spot.

But that’s not to take anything away from one of the low-key best action scenes in the construction site battle, the powerful handling of the death of the Graysons, and Batman’s compelling cautionary slide towards all-consuming vengeance that he pulls back from just in time. It’s truly sublime character work.

  1. Heart of Ice
  2. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  3. Perchance to Dream
  4. Two-Face Part I
  5. Joker’s Favor
  6. Feat of Clay Part II
  7. Beware the Gray Ghost
  8. Mad as a Hatter
  9. Vendetta
  10. Appointment In Crime Alley
  11. Two-Face Part II
  12. On Leather Wings
  13. Pretty Poison
  14. Feat of Clay Part I
  15. It’s Never Too Late
  16. See No Evil
  17. The Clock King
  18. Eternal Youth
  19. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  20. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  21. P.O.V.
  22. Christmas with the Joker
  23. Fear of Victory
  24. Be a Clown
  25. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  26. Nothing to Fear
  27. Prophecy of Doom
  28. Dreams In Darkness
  29. The Last Laugh
  30. The Under-Dwellers
  31. The Forgotten
  32. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Tony Zucco (Tom F. Wilson) (first appearance)

We don’t really get much of a chance to learn anything about who Tony Zucco is beyond generic mobster who murdered Dick’s parents, but we don’t really need much more than that given the mystery element of the episode.

Wilson is a good casting for a loud mouthed bully, naturally, but there’s not really a great deal for him to do in Part I, so again, hoping for better in Part II.

Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche) (second appearance)

This is basically a cameo as he tells Batman off for breaking into his house, gets intimidated by him (but not enough to rat on his nephew) and then gives Zucco a dressing down for his reckless behaviour. Still, it’s nice to see him back given the quality of his featured episode, and it does help the show feel like it has real history and consequence. Nothing to affect his ranking though.

  1. Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Mad Hatter
  6. Poison Ivy
  7. Catwoman
  8. Clock King
  9. Killer Croc
  10. Rupert Thorne
  11. Lloyd Ventrix
  12. Josiah Wormwood
  13. Scarecrow
  14. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  15. Red Claw
  16. Arnold Stromwell
  17. Mad Bomber
  18. Man-Bat
  19. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  20. Harley Quinn
  21. Tony Zucco
  22. Penguin
  23. Sewer King
  24. Boss Biggis

Plugs

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 Call Me By Your Name.

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus concludes its Autumn Apocalypse with Mad Max: Fury Road this Tuesday.

Speaking of Jerome, he continues to bring you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

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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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