The Matt Signal – Episode 36: Cat Scratch Fever

Plot summary: Selina Kyle struggles to keep her promise to leave her Catwoman days behind her thanks to Roland Daggett’s latest nefarious scheme.

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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: ‘Night of the Ninja’

Original Air Date: November 5th, 1992

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (9)

Written: Sean Catherine Derek (7) (story), Buzz Dixon (1)

Buzz Dixon, is a prolific writer of cartoons, in particular G.I. Joe, Transformers and Alvin and the Chipmunks. This was is only Batman script.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a story about Bruce Timm being displeased with the animation, but he allegedly fired AKOM for their work on this episode. In fairness, Catwoman’s clothes change colour at one point, the courtroom extras are haunting and some of the lip-flaps are off.

Recap

We hit the ground running with Selina Kyle pleading guilty for charges brought against her as Catwoman, facing up to 25 years in prison. She instead gets five years of probation due to helping save Gotham in her previous appearance. Continuity!

A condition of her sentence is she never suit up again, to which she of course agrees. The background extras in this scene look so awful I’m legitimately terrified of them.

Alfred playfully jabs at Bruce about the potential of a romance now that Selina has been forced to hang up her costume. Bruce is unconvinced her days as Catwoman are over, and also points out their Spider-Man/Black Cat dynamic, with her only attracted to him as Batman.

Selina returns to her penthouse for the first time since getting out of jail to the awful news that her live-in assistant Maven lost her precious cat, Isis. Still, at least it’s not prison?

Heading out into the cold, Kyle asks around the fish market for Isis and tries her special ‘cat-whistle’ but with no luck. She does witness a pair of cat-snatchers called Jessy and Paunch trying to grab some other strays though, so promptly kicks their asses with an assist from Batman.

The two almost kiss but the cops arrive. Bats splits, leaving Selina victim to false testimony that gets her arrested again. What. A. Coward.

Elsewhere at Daggett Labs, Professor Milo is demonstrating a drug that drives animals feral. Daggett is pleased, wanting this ‘operation’ completed by the next evening. Milo grabs his next subject… Isis!

Bruce bails Selina out and she once again rebuffs his romantic advances. She connects the dots to Daggett, whose lawyer represented the two cat-snatchers, endeavouring to find out more. Bruce warns her of the danger and she responds by essentially admitting she’s about to do some Catwoman things.

Sure enough, she rolls up to the lab in a… Catmobile? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in any Batman media! It’s got suicide doors! Sweet. Anyway, yeah, she cuts her way through one of the fences and heads inside.

She frees Isis, but it bites her arm and runs away. Milo and the crooks confront her but she easily evades them and flees. Upon reaching the roof she begins to feel woozy from the bite, her trademark grace giving way to clumsy swim-head, ultimately passing out in the middle of a road.

Luckily Batman stumbles across her and takes her back to her secret hideout after she states a hospital would rat on her. Examining her scratch, Bruce promises to save Isis.

Heading back to the lab, Bats interrogates one of the goons, leaping to the correct conclusion that Daggett plans to use stray animals to spread a plague he’s already mass-produced an antidote for. I know he’s the World’s Greatest Detective, but I feel there was a piece of information missing here that would allow such a leap in logic.

Daggett confirms the plot and unleashes his men (and one of the rabid dogs) on him. Bruce sprints out into the woods to try and escape the dog, with Daggett sending Milo after him.

Bruce ends up frantically wrestling the dog atop a frozen lake by Selina’s hideout, ultimately managing to spray some of the antitoxin inhaler on the dog, calming it almost instantly. It’s out of the frying pan and into the… ice cold water though, as Bats falls through.

Milo remarks there’s no way anyone could survive that temperature for so long, apparently unfamiliar with the premise of the Batman character. Sure enough, Bruce bursts back up through the ice to grab Milo and Jessy before heading inside to help Selina.

Recovering back at home, Selina brushes off Maven’s assertions that the papers are beginning to think of Catwoman as a hero, missing Isis. Right on cue, Bruce returns the missing feline via an open window.

Best Performance

Most of the usual suspects are off their game this time out, with Conroy not getting enough lines to do much with, and Asner barely even featuring. Ditto Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Treat Williams seemed like he was on to something with his rendition of Professor Milo, but again, not many lines. Denny Dillon’s Jessy is instantly unlikeable as a comically mean-spirited cat snatcher. But it’s pretty one-note.

Adrienne Barbeau is solid enough and dominates the dialogue, so for a lack of true competition if nothing else I’m willing to give it to her. She does a good job of sounding distressed and remorseful, while still throwing in a little of the feisty flirtation when tangling with Batman.

Ranking

You know, I’ve generally felt Bruce Timm’s ire towards some of the animation studios has been overly harsh, but this might be the ugliest episode to date. I don’t think an entire ranking should hinge on that, but it’s a distractingly bad-looking episode, made all the more noticeable when the visual quality has been so much higher of late.

Even if it were well animated, it’s not a terrifically interesting plot. Daggett’s plan is theoretically interesting, with the use of captured strays to spread a plague being quite creative, but that’s lost in the shuffle of what is essentially a Catwoman episode.

I like Catwoman plenty fine, but she was better in the two-parter. It’s not JUST because she’s firmly on the side of the angels this time, it’s more that she doesn’t really get to do much. Sure she beats up Jenny and Paunch, but then Batman has to save her. Sure she breaks into Daggett Labs and uncovers part of the plot, but then Batman has to save her again. And then she’s mostly just unconscious until she gets her cat back. Not a strong backdoor pilot for a spin-off show… which was actually in consideration but never made it past the early planning stages.

Bruce getting knocked back by his crush again, only to damsel her twice doesn’t do him many favours either, and wrestling a dog and then swimming around in a frozen lake aren’t my idea of strong action scenes. So… a bit of a dud all-round.

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

Villain Watch

Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) (third appearance)

We’ve got a crowded house this week so I’ll try and keep it brief. Catwoman is barely a villain in the episodes where she’s actually stealing things, but she’s definitely not one here. But in the broad picture she’s got to be considered one because this is a children’s cartoon and she does steal things sometimes. The character remains strong, regardless of which side of the morality spectrum she’s on, but there’s not enough to move her in the rankings.

Roland Daggett (Ed Asner) (fourth appearance)

This is a bit of a disappointing outing for Daggett, only speaking about twice. I suspect they had Asner in for one of his larger feature episodes and he just knocked these lines out at the end or something. The convoluted get-rich-quick plot is fitting with his character, and weirdly enough he’s the second most recurring villain so far. His previous appearances are strong enough to keep him where he is, but a harsher critic might bump him down.

Professor Milo (Treat Williams) (first appearance)

There isn’t much to set Milo apart from Jessy, the cat snatcher who actually talks and is far meaner (and arguably more effective) than any of the other villains in the episode, except he is a recurring Batman villain, so he’s getting the spot. It’s pretty tame fare though, as he’s a generic scientist with a bad haircut on the payroll of a powerful villain. Experimenting on animals isn’t cool though, so he gets to be above the real clunkers. I refuse to go back and re-evaluate them; Sewer King and Boss Biggis are remaining on the bottom forever.

  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. Tony Zucco
  16. Harley Quinn
  17. Red Claw
  18. Arnold Stromwell
  19. Mad Bomber
  20. Man-Bat
  21. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  22. Kyodai Ken
  23. Penguin
  24. Professor Milo
  25. Sewer King
  26. 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 Monday with Annihilation

Kevin & Jerome’s Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul podcast, Reel Bad, drops new episodes the first Tuesday of each month.

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus returns this week with…

Speaking of Jerome (twice), 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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