The Matt Signal – Episode 39: Heart of Steel Part II

Plot summary: HARDAC’s plan to replace the human race with duplicants reveals itself, but the murderous AI didn’t account for Barbara Gordon.

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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: ‘Heart of Steel Part II’

Original Air Date: November 17th, 1992

Directed: Kevin Altieri (12)

Written: Brynne Chandler (2)

Rossum’s company is called Cybertron, which was apparently not trademarked at the time.

Barbara guesses a 4-digit code on her first try, though she admittedly knows which four numbers are in the sequence. Still, the odds of getting the right order first time are 1 in 24. Rossum is apparently a simple man and favours ascending numerical order. Look, there’s very little trivia so you get maths.

Recap

Once our reminder of the events of Part I is over, we return to Batman hoisted not by his own petard, but by a robotic arm in the Batcave. He manages to free himself and then yanks out the wiring to disable the rogue arm.

He attempts to trace the source of the Batcomputer’s shenanigans, but HARDAC of course kills the link halfway through. Batman comforts Alfred and endeavours to search Wayne Manor for any clues Randa Duane may have left behind because… sigh… “she’s only human.” The number of barely logical but correct assumptions this man jumps to on an almost weekly basis is staggering. And yet…

‘Jim Gordon’ is sitting in his office having one side of a conversation despite not holding a phone. Barbara asks who he’s talking to so he tells her to go away. He orders a disgruntled Harvey Bullock to go take a statement from Rossum, and then phones Bruce and asks him to meet at the Gotham Club.

Speaking of Rossum, he scolds HARDAC for going rogue, claiming the duplicants were a bad idea. He attempts to reprogram his creation, who defends itself by shooting him with a giant laser! Randa carries Rossum away, with HARDAC claiming he needs to be improved.

Speaking of a need for improvement, Mayor Hamilton Hill is hard at work embezzling taxes (I assume) when a doppelganger walks into his office and electrocutes him, just like we saw Randa do to Alfred. He’s seeing double, four Krusties!

Barbara summons Batman via the signal and shares her suspicions that the man walking around claiming to be her father is an imposter. To his credit, Bats actually listens to her and promises to help.

Suddenly Harvey Bullock attacks, demonstrating the remarkable ability to lift the hero clean overhead and hurl him a good fifteen feet. He looks to do even more damage, but Barbara uses Batman’s grappling hook (dropped during the scuffle) to yank Bullock into the Bat-signal, seemingly killing him.

Except it obviously doesn’t as this is a children’s show. Oh, and Harvey is a duplicant, whose skin melts off revealing a terrifying sci-fi murder-bot below. Now that we’ve established it’s not a person the rules about violence go out the window and Bats decapitates the damn thing with a batarang.

Bruce meets with ‘Mayor Hill’ at the Gotham Club, which amounts to a dark room full of duplicants with glowing red eyes, because again, now the jig is up, there’s no need for subtlety. He at last learns the truth about Randa, who orders her cohorts to attack.

Fleeing to the elevator, Bruce climbs up the suspension cable while an incredibly creepy Ronald Reagan-looking duplicant pursues, crawling on all fours in a manner that would creep out the animation staff of Attack On Titan. Bruce is able to cut the cable, dropping Reagan-bot and a handful of others to their doom.

Determined not to sit idly by as Bats ordered, Barbara deduces that as Harvey went over to Cybertron and came back a robot, Rossum’s lab probably merits investigation. She gets her detective on by blowing make-up onto a security console, revealing the four most commonly pressed numbers. Smort.

Once inside Babs goes all Metal Gear Solid, remaining in the security camera blindspots. Her stealth mission hits an abrupt end though as a seemingly innocuous bin turns out to be another robot in the style of Briefcase-Bot and Mirror-Bot, stalking and eventually grabbing the intruder.

A step behind a teenage girl, the World’s Greatest Detective infiltrates Cybertron next, taking out two guard bots with batarangs, but he stops in his tracks when he realises they have Barbara as a hostage. HARDAC monologues about the fallibility of humanity, following through on Karl Rossum’s grief-driven plan to build a robotic replacement for his deceased daughter, but taking it further.

Luckily it still wants to study the human body, with Jim, Harvey, Hill and Rossum floating in stasis. Who cares about all the others, I guess? Babs begins to struggle, giving Batman an opening to start kick robot butt, freeing the genuine articles in the process.

Bruce goes about tricking the duplicants into taking each other out, including making Jim-Bot play fetch with a grenade in an attempt to prevent damage to HARDAC. Barbara leads the prisoners to safety, with Rossum deactivating some of the security measures.

Randa is of course the last bot standing, but not for long as Bats tosses her in front of an elevator, crushing her. Barbara then returns in time to help Batman escape before HARDAC and Cybertron explode and collects her well-deserved praise from all the helpless men.

Best Performance

Most of the voices in the episode are the bad kind of robotic, and Kevin Conroy is relatively tame by his standards, so I see this as a two-horse race.

By the logic presented in Part I, I should tip my hat to Jeff Bennett again, as his HARDAC voice is just as good as before, but he gets more lines. Not so fast, my HAL-9000 loving friends.

You may recall I sung the praises of Melissa Gilbert in a limited role last time. Well, Barbara Gordon is by far my favourite part of this episode, so she’s getting the nod. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but she breaths so much life into what will end up being the show’s best sidekick character, dunking so hard on Loren Lester’s Robin that the backboard would shatter. It could very easily be generic damsel daughter stuff, but Babs has spunk and is able to play in both the emotional and action spaces.

Ranking

More and more I regret my decision to insist multi-part episodes stand alone. While I do think each of the iterations so far have a clearly superior part, they could probably climb even higher if taken as a single entity. But we’ve come too far now to radically adjust the rankings so much, and I don’t know how well it would go for me if I knocked ‘Heart of Ice’ down another notch.

Anyway, at the risk of being a contrarian, I prefer this episode to the more popular Part I. From what I can tell people like the more atmosphere, less action vibe, and while I don’t disagree with that coda on paper, I keep coming back to the lack of an emotional lightning rod to help move through all that tension. I understand that in a story about an AI deeming humans obsolete a lack of emotion is most likely a deliberate choice, but would you actually want to watch ‘HARDAC: The Animated Series’?

Barbara puzzling everything out before Bruce does and having her own little adventure elevates the episode for me, laying a tremendous amount of groundwork for her eventual promotion to the role of Batgirl. I can’t wait, frankly. Not only does she see through the deception faster, she gets to physically save Batman from peril twice, with the hero still getting to go full Wolverine on the robots once X-Men: The Animated Series rules are in effect.

It’s not that I don’t like the classic sci-fi designs of the robots and sinister creeping plot, it’s just that I think this episode manages to hit those same beats in a more focused and concise manner while also playing the hits of the rest of the series AND setting Barbara up for the future.

  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. Heart of Steel Part II
  12. Vendetta
  13. Appointment In Crime Alley
  14. Two-Face Part II
  15. Heart of Steel Part I
  16. On Leather Wings
  17. Pretty Poison
  18. Feat of Clay Part I
  19. It’s Never Too Late
  20. See No Evil
  21. The Clock King
  22. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  23. Eternal Youth
  24. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  25. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  26. P.O.V.
  27. Christmas with the Joker
  28. Fear of Victory
  29. Be a Clown
  30. Night of the Ninja
  31. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  32. Nothing to Fear
  33. Prophecy of Doom
  34. Dreams In Darkness
  35. The Last Laugh
  36. Cat Scratch Fever
  37. The Under-Dwellers
  38. The Forgotten
  39. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

HARDAC (Jeff Bennett) (second appearance)

This was a much better showing for the AI if for no other reason than all its cards end up on the table. I’m still not sure why it needed to steal AI tech from Bruce as it is clearly already fully functional and highly sophisticated, but I guess it was trying to improve further.

The design remains interesting, as its colossal size is intimidating despite it posing no physical threat to Batman beyond the sick laser that it only used once. We’re extremely used to Bats punching people roughly his size, so it changes the rules entirely to see him face off against what is essentially a sentient building.

The legion of murder-bots helps in that regard; with the cute little stealth units giving way to the body-horror stylings of the duplicants as they smash and scutter around in an unnatural manner. It’s also dope seeing Batman violently kill them because censorship rules are dumb.

  1. Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Mad Hatter
  6. Poison Ivy
  7. Catwoman
  8. Clock King
  9. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  10. Killer Croc
  11. Rupert Thorne
  12. Lloyd Ventrix
  13. Josiah Wormwood
  14. Scarecrow
  15. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  16. Tony Zucco
  17. Harley Quinn
  18. Hugo Strange
  19. Red Claw
  20. Arnold Stromwell
  21. Mad Bomber
  22. Man-Bat
  23. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  24. Kyodai Ken
  25. Penguin
  26. Professor Milo
  27. Sewer King
  28. 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 on Monday with Widows.

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 is taking the month off in order to dip into the archives of Superhero Pantheon, bringing some pre-Reel World episodes to the site.

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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