The Matt Signal – Episode 46: Almost Got ‘Im

Plot summary: The Rogues Gallery get together to play poker and swap stories about times Batman foiled their schemes.

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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: ‘Almost Got ‘Im’

Original Air Date: November 10th, 1992

Directed: Eric Radomski (2)         

Written: Paul Dini (7)

This episode is a bit of an amalgamation of a comic from 1942 featuring three criminals playing poker and swapping story in prison, as well as the four-party story ‘Were Were You on the Night Batman Was Killed’

Only the second instance of Batman bleeding in the series to date.

For as good a writer as Paul Dini is, he originally scripted Poison Ivy to set fire to a bunch of Christmas trees in protest of them being chopped down. Broadcast Standards & Practices objected for obvious pearl-clutchy reasons.

Joker condemns Ivy’s alternative scheme of exploding pumpkins. Mark Hamill went on to voice exploding-pumpkin-aficionado Hobgoblin in the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon.

Recap

Even the music over the title card of this one owns. Joker deals cards to Penguin, Killer Croc and Two-Face while they discuss theories about Batman being horribly disfigured, a robot or actually a team of men under the employ of the GCPD.

Poison Ivy arrives late and asks for a herbal tea. She steals Killer Croc’s chair, kicks his ass for being rude, and then flirts with Harvey a little in reference to them dating in ‘Pretty Poison’. She joins in on the Batman talk and the group argue about who has come closest to beating their shared nemesis.

Joker invites Ivy to make her case first and she narrates a Halloween caper featuring hundreds of pumpkins that emitted toxic gas when exposed to heat. Batman drives up to a pumpkin patch where Ivy promptly gasses him.

Reaching for his mask, Ivy instead gets punched in the damn face. Their scuffle sets of a series of explosions, releasing even more gas, which Ivy points out she is immune.

Batman uses a button on his utility belt to control the Batmobile to drive straight for Ivy. She tries to escape by… climbing a pole that immediately gets driven through, sending her tumbling to the ground in defeat.

The Batmobile U-turns back to Batman and he grabs a gas mask from inside before sauntering up to arrest Ivy. That was her whole story. Joker rightfully mocks it and says he’s saving his own story for last.

Two-Face goes second. In flashback, his gang beat and strap Batman to a giant penny after Harvey strips him of his utility belt. Bats tries to struggle but catches a beat-down for his troubles.

The penny is laid on a make-shift see-saw, with a forklift of gold bars hoisted aloft to provide enough force to flip it into the air. Batman’s worst case scenario is being crushed to death, while the best is simply breaking every bone in his body. Fun!

But Two-Face realises his signature coin is missing, with Batman having pickpocketed it when he struggled earlier. Very cool. Bruce uses it to cut the rope around one of his wrists and frees himself in mid-flip, making short work of Harvey and his goons, two of which get crushed (presumably to death!!!) by the penny.

Batman descends on Two-Face and flips his coin back to him, stating “I owe you a dollar.” They normally write pretty cringe one-liners for him, but that wasn’t bad.

Harvey laments his own coin being his downfall and Killer Croc demands to go next. Only we don’t flash back as the entirety of his story is that he threw a rock at Batman in a quarry. The other four silently deadpan him and the poor guy recoils in shame 😦

Two-Face adds that they let Batman keep the giant penny (which can be seen in the Batcave in an enormous amount of Batman media). Penguin opts to go next.

Oswald (I actually can’t remember if his name has been used in the series before) leaked rumours about his plans to steal some condors from Gotham Zoo, luring Batman into a trap in his “aviary of doom.”

He first lets loose some robotic hummingbirds with poison-tipped beaks that swarm a nectar-drenched Batman. Our hero spots a sprinkler system and tosses a batarang to set it off. You’d think it would be to wash the nectar off, but instead the birds simply fall to the ground when drenched.

But before Batman can administer an antidote to himself an enormous cassowary sets upon him, which in total fairness is one of nature’s more underrated scary animals. Bats grabs one of the downed hummingbirds and stabs his attacker in the leg, sending it squawking off.

Realising he’s done for, Penguin escapes via helicopter-umbrella before Batman can grab him. Joker dismisses his efforts, finally offering up his own story from only one night ago.

Harley Quinn takes over Late Night Gotham Live and introduces her beau as the new host. He hams it up for the crowd as his armed men patrol the studio. Harley provides rim shots to punctuate his jokes. It’s great.

Joker introduces his guest: Batman, who is strapped to an enormous electric chair hooked up to a ‘Laugh-o-meter’. Harley demonstrates with a small fake laugh, zapping Bats a smidge. Joker ups the ante by pumping the studio full of Joker gas, sending the audience into hysterics as Harley literally reads an oversized phone book.

Right in the nick of time, Catwoman swoops in to attack the duo, allowing Bruce to free himself from the chair with only a second to spare before before the voltage became lethal.

Joker runs but Selena trips him. Luckily Harley was able to subdue her, bringing us back to the present, where Joker declares himself the winner of both games thanks to numerous hidden aces and a literal joker card.

Croc asks what they did with Catwoman and Joker elaborates that she’s to be turned into literal cat food at a nearby factory and then shipped to Batman in a few hours.

Having heard enough, Croc stands up and in Batman’s voice reveals his deception, attacking Joker! Unfortunately, Batman finds himself surrounded… except the dozens of random crooks occupying the other tables in the shadows are revealed to be GCPD!!!

Excusing himself, Bruce heads over the factory where Harley taunts Catwoman, awaiting Joker’s return. Batman appears instead but has to choose between apprehending Harley and saving Selena…

Or so it seems! He simply disables the machinery from across the room by yanking out some wiring while keeping hold of Harley. Catwoman propositions Bruce, but he flies away while she’s distracted by sirens. She declares she… “Almost Got ‘Im!”

Best Performance

This is the first time that I’ve struggled to choose because everyone has been so good, rather than from a lack of options. Kevin Conroy was great, but Batman’s dialogue was kept to a minimum as he almost assumes an antagonistic role for most of the story. Diane Pershing, Arleen Sorkin, Adrienne Barbeau and Aron Kincaid are all at about the same level as always.

Richard Moll reaffirms and arguably elevates Two-Face as a recurring threat, though doesn’t have the opportunity to delve into the Big Boy Acting that came with his origin episodes. Paul Williams leans fully into Penguin as a stuffy upper-crust rich dude and it helps a great deal with dragging the character out of the basement.

But Mark Hamill is Mark Hamill, dominating the episode, both by guiding the poker scenes, judging each story’s merits and getting his little pops in at the other villains, and firing on all cylinders in his own segment.

Ranking

For several years, I’ve held the opinion this is the absolute best episode in the show, and in certain ways I do think that’s true. The effortless manner in which it presents four flashbacks and a present-day narrative is sublime script work bolstered by some tremendous visual attention to detail and the story’s overall sense of continuity.

It’s impressive how well all seven villains come off despite having to split the time between them, demonstrating Dini’s superlative command of their characters. Obviously they are better in episodes that they’re the main focus of, but this towers over ‘The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne’, which also presented a villain team-up which Joker utterly dominated.

The entire thing has a Treehouse of Horror vibe (not that The Simpsons invented anthology episodes, but they definitely do them the best), capped off by a legitimately smart conclusion that first-time viewers would not see coming despite Batman doing the exact same thing a few episodes ago in ‘The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy.’

The reveal works so well because we’ve had it firmly established that Batman is a master of disguise, including spot-on impersonations. The low-lit setting of this little hole in the wall throws shadows on all the observers, which not only makes it look cool, but also hides the cops in plain sight. The animators switch Killer Croc’s appearance back and forth to Batman’s signature white-eyed silhouette as a lamp swings overhead. It’s way better than I’m likely making it sound. And to cap it off? Joker’s ‘winning’ hand contained a Joker amidst four aces, mirroring the imposter at the table of five villains. Chef. Kiss.

When I started this series I was awaiting the day I declared this episode had dethroned ‘Heart of Ice’, not expecting to do it much earlier with ‘The Laughing Fish’, which is as good as this show is ever going to get in my opinion. I’m therefore settling this into second place.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Almost Got ‘Im
  3. Heart of Ice
  4. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  5. Perchance to Dream
  6. Two-Face Part I
  7. Joker’s Favor
  8. Feat of Clay Part II
  9. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  10. Beware the Gray Ghost
  11. Mad as a Hatter
  12. Heart of Steel Part II
  13. Vendetta
  14. Appointment In Crime Alley
  15. Two-Face Part II
  16. Heart of Steel Part I
  17. On Leather Wings
  18. Pretty Poison
  19. Feat of Clay Part I
  20. Joker’s Wild
  21. It’s Never Too Late
  22. See No Evil
  23. The Clock King
  24. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  25. Eternal Youth
  26. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  27. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  28. Terror in the Sky
  29. P.O.V.
  30. Christmas with the Joker
  31. Day of the Samurai
  32. Fear of Victory
  33. Be a Clown
  34. Night of the Ninja
  35. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  36. Nothing to Fear
  37. Prophecy of Doom
  38. Tyger, Tyger
  39. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  40. Dreams In Darkness
  41. The Last Laugh
  42. Cat Scratch Fever
  43. Moon of the Wolf
  44. The Under-Dwellers
  45. The Forgotten
  46. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) (third appearance)

Strap the eff in. I’ll tackle them in order of appearance. Ivy gets the shortest shrift despite Dini having written her well in her debut. It starts well, with her owning Killer Croc and later establishing her canonical immunity to poisons and toxins for the first time.

But the original concept of her setting fire to Christmas trees feels so incredibly off, and she is portrayed as a total dumbass by climbing a pole to escape a car driving straight towards her, and she inarguably had the worst claim to ‘almost getting’ Batman.

Two-Face (Richard Moll) (fourth appearance)

While his featured two-parter carries so much emotional weight that would be nearly impossible to replicate, Dini compensates by stuffing his scenes full of Harvey’s signature gimmick. He always has two 2’s and two face cards during the poker game. He puts half-and-half cream in his coffee. He tells his story second, which is about stealing two million in two-dollar bills. He wields two .22 guns. Joker tells him he’s seeing double. All of this is effective and takes almost no time to execute.

Moll also sings as a hyper-aggressive, more dangerous sounding villain. Joker is the ultimate villain and there are several more physically imposing foes, but there’s just something about how Two-Face’s unhinged attitude. I’m also a sucker for the marriage of the campy old giant death-traps era with the more grim-dark 80s treatment, and the fact they manage to make the giant penny not seem utterly ridiculous is quite the achievement.

Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) (second appearance)

Look. It isn’t actually Killer Croc. I get it. But! Bruce’s impression is so good that the other villains suspect nothing, so for all intents and purposes, Dini is writing Killer Croc.

With that in mind, he provides some excellent comedy relief, first by getting his butt kicked by Poison Ivy and then his massively anti-climactic story about throwing a rock at Batman. The Rogues Gallery needs a big dumb oaf who is physically intimidating, and while Croc actually hatched a smart first scheme in ‘Vendetta’, this suits him far better, particularly when you have Joker, Penguin and Ivy in the room.

Penguin (Paul Williams) (third appearance)

At last we have something resembling some personality traits (beyond being obsessed with birds), as Penguin is presented as an aristocrat with an enormous diction. In fairness he wears a tuxedo and sports a monocle, so it’s a logical direction to take him even if it’s largely at odds with the most famous interpretation of the character, a slimy little degenerate played by Danny DeVito.

This also translates to a more cerebral foe when fighting Batman, as he outwits the World’s Greatest Detective, selling his deception by pretending to be a bumbling fool who grabbed the wrong trick umbrella. And he escaped!

So at long last, Penguin cracks the top twenty!

Joker (Mark Hamill) (eighth appearance)

Joker taking over TV broadcasts never gets old, particularly in this series as it allows Mark Hamill to access the over the top charismatic showman shtick that he pulls off so well. Joker shuffles explosives cards, he makes a Bat-Mask daisy chain, he tries to roast a sausage on Batman while he’s being electrocuted. It’s all so good and it’s presented in black and white as the show usually opts for when doing TV broadcasts.

As always, there’s not much more I can say about the second best villain in comic book history (“Doctor Doom does as he pleases!”)

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) (third appearance)

I was in two minds about including Harley as it seemed she was just going to have one line and then hang out in the background, but I liked her double-act with Joker during the pirate broadcast, and she ended up knocking out Catwoman and was technically the last villain standing! Unless you count…

Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) (fifth appearance)

I’m beginning to doubt my own assertion that Selena will end up a villain again, because so far she’s been nothing but a heroic unofficial sidekick for most of her appearances, including literally saving Batman and taking down Joker and Harley.

But nevertheless, we will evaluate her character as presented, which is as a member of the Rogues Gallery. It’s good! While she acts as a damsel to dangle in front of Bruce, that’s offset by how hyper-capable she is most of the time. Obviously nobody is Batman, but she does rescue him while successfully operating solo, and she gets to deliver the final line, which furthers the will they/won’t they subplot which has been handled shockingly well to date.

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

Plugs

Star Wars week starts tomorrow. 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 tomorrow 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.

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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