Plot summary: When Man-Bat is spotted in the Gotham skies it appears Kirk Langstrom is drinking his formula again… or is he?
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: ‘Terror in the Sky’
Original Air Date: November 12th, 1992
Directed: Boyd Kirkland (11)
Written: Steve Perry (3) (story) & Mark Saraceni (1)
Loosely based on ‘Man-Bat Over Vegas’ aka Detective Comics #429, published in 1972. Indeed the final line of dialogue is directly lifted from the story.
The first and last episode written by Mark Saraceni, who predominantly wrote cartoons but did end up penning a single episode of The Sopranos.
Some dockworkers are attacked by none other than Man-Bat while trying to unload some fruit. In addition to an insatiable hunger for… mangos(?), the series’ very first villain displays a form of echolocation implied to be new. Neat.
After scaring the workers away and making quite a mess of their produce, Man-Bat takes to the skies and then swoops down towards a balcony. We smash-cut to Kirk Langstrom waking up from a nightmare to the concern of his wife, Francine. He denies he’s keeping anything from her, and then steps in some half-eaten fruit…
The dockworkers report the incident to the dubious GCPD. Luckily, a heavily interested Batman was listening in and hops on to his fancy Bat-Bike, which is given some sexy camera angles to show it off as if it were new despite it having appeared in ‘Two-Face Part II’.
Bruce and Alfred exchange some banter about giant man-sized bats as he speeds off in search of answers about Langstrom.
Francine visits her father, Dr. March, concerned that Kirk is experimenting with bat mutagens again after having found the discarded carpet covered in fruit stains. March basically tells her to get lost now that her husband has ended their work partnership.
Speaking of Kirk, he’s rocking some solid 5 o’clock shadow as Francine confronts him in the middle of some kind of experiment. He insists it’s not what she thinks, but Batman calls bull. Kirk denies taking the formula, but Francine storms out tearfully.
Kirk insists his latest experimentation is merely an attempt at a more effective antidote as Batman’s is obviously defective if he’s been on the prowl again. Bruce takes a DNA sample and then leaves as March listens in.
But before Bruce can even start the engine of the Batcycle he is set upon by Man-Bat, who savages him in the snowy laboratory grounds. A chase ensues that spills onto the busy Gotham streets. Bruce is able to hook Man-Bat with his grapple gun, but he lets go in order to avoid being killed by an oncoming train.
Approaching Kirk after running some tests on fibres left on his costume, Batman shares the news that the antidote worked and the recently surfaced Man-Bat is somebody else entirely. Kirk is relieved, but more worried about Francine being missing…
Bats breaks into Dr. March’s office and finds evidence that he had been experimenting with Langstrom’s mutagen. March confronts him, gun in hand, raving about bats being able to survive a cataclysm.
Bruce disarms him and after some interrogation he remembers that Francine cut her hand helping him clean up a chemical spill. A depressed March later burns his notes.
Kirk surprises Francine by being two rows back from her on a flight to… somewhere, and the pair talk it out. Their reconciliation is short-lived however, as Francine sprints to the bathroom not feeling well, and sure enough horrifically transforms into (wo)Man-Bat!
Terrorising the passengers and smashing up the plane, Francine forces the door open, causing the plane to begin rapidly dropping. Batman witnesses Kirk fall right out the open door, but Francine scoops him out of the air and flies away, leaving Bruce to save the remaining passengers.
Giving chase by tracking She-Bat’s distinct wingbeat, Bruce forces her up onto Gotham suspension bridge where she gently lays Kirk down and looks very sad.
Laying eyes on Batman again, Francine snarls and attacks, shrugging off a dart full of antidote, with a full dose apparently not being administered. A second shot (and a flying kick) do the job though and she painfully transforms back to human form.
Confused, Francine nearly falls off the bridge in shock, but Kirk manages to catch her and pull her back up, reassuring her the nightmare is over. Batman would have saved her, if not for the fact she KO’d him in her final moments as (wo)Man-Bat.
Honestly the best vocal in the episode is She-Bat, but I’m reasonably sure that was created by combining recordings of animals and applying various effects. I could credit the entire sound team with the win, I suppose… but nah.
I really don’t think there’s a standout here, and when in doubt I generally go with Kevin Conroy. This is one of his weaker winning performances, as he’s generally just angry at the two scientists, first Langstrom, then March, scolding them for their meddling with nature. It’s fine, but you’ve heard it many times before.
Rene Auberjonois would be a close second as he’s a better actor than either Marc Singer or Meredith MacRae.
We’re in the middle of a run of episodes featuring returning villains, so it’s fitting that we’d revisit the pilot at around the mid-point of the series. Overall it’s obviously not as good of an episode, as it doesn’t contain the strong detective and character elements for Bruce, as well as setting the tone for the entire series, but there is a marked improvement in visual quality and action scenes.
The real highlight of these is the big chase sequence from the lab, to the snowy streets and up onto a train-line. There is a genuine feeling of danger throughout and even a good sense of geography as Batman drives his bike up some stairs and onto the tracks, culminating in him being forced to let the villain go to avoid certain death. This is stronger than most of the action scenes from early episodes combined.
But action alone isn’t enough to secure a high ranking, so I’m placing it around the middle, several places below its predecessor, which boasted more variety and the unenviable task of establishing the tone of the whole show.
- The Laughing Fish
- Heart of Ice
- Robin’s Reckoning Part I
- Perchance to Dream
- Two-Face Part I
- Joker’s Favor
- Feat of Clay Part II
- Robin’s Reckoning Part II
- Beware the Gray Ghost
- Mad as a Hatter
- Heart of Steel Part II
- Appointment In Crime Alley
- Two-Face Part II
- Heart of Steel Part I
- On Leather Wings
- Pretty Poison
- Feat of Clay Part I
- Joker’s Wild
- It’s Never Too Late
- See No Evil
- The Clock King
- The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
- Eternal Youth
- The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
- The Cat and the Claw Part I
- Terror in the Sky
- Christmas with the Joker
- Day of the Samurai
- Fear of Victory
- Be a Clown
- Night of the Ninja
- The Cat and the Claw Part II
- Nothing to Fear
- Prophecy of Doom
- Tyger, Tyger
- If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
- Dreams In Darkness
- The Last Laugh
- Cat Scratch Fever
- Moon of the Wolf
- The Under-Dwellers
- The Forgotten
- I’ve Got Batman in My Basement
She-Bat (Man-Bat) (Meredith MacRae) (second appearance)
Obviously this is technically not the same villain as in ‘On Leather Wings’, but for intents and purposes we’re evaluating a giant mutant bat, as neither of the human counterparts are villainous. The Francine version actually seems stronger, giving Batman more trouble in a physical confrontation and displaying stronger echolocation (demonstrated by the excellent Bat-Vision POV shots), though I would imagine the latter has more to do with production reasons than plot ones. The addition of losing her memory of transforming opens some fun doors too, so up the list she goes.
I find it pretty funny that for all the emphasis on Batman being the World’s Greatest Detective, he’s completely oblivious to the fact Man-Bat is clearly wearing Francine’s ripped clothes before he learns the truth, lending further credence to the idea Bruce has such an aversion to sex that is creates a blindspot.
- The Joker
- Mr. Freeze
- Mad Hatter
- Poison Ivy
- The Riddler
- Clock King
- HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
- Killer Croc
- Rupert Thorne
- Lloyd Ventrix
- Josiah Wormwood
- Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
- Tony Zucco
- Harley Quinn
- Hugo Strange
- Red Claw
- Arnold Stromwell
- Mad Bomber
- Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
- Kyodai Ken
- Nostromos (and Lucas!)
- Cameron Kaiser
- Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
- Professor Milo
- Sewer King
- Boss Biggis
Star Wars week starts on Monday. Stay tuned for podcasts, listicles and reviews.
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 Knives Out.
Kevin & Jerome’s Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul podcast, Reel Bad, will be dropping its final episode (for now) before the end of the month.
Speaking of Jerome (twice), now that he has at last completed his 100 favourite movies of all time, all that remains is to rank them, which will begin this Tuesday, in podcast form.