The Matt Signal – Episode 49: I Am the Night

Plot summary: On another anniversary of his parents’ death, Batman contemplates hanging up his cape and cowl for good when his inaction leaves Jim Gordon fighting for his life.

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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!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘I Am the Night’

Original Air Date: November 9th, 1992

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (12)       

Written: Michael Reaves (7)

Jazzman is potentially based on Jack Palance, who of course featured in Tim Burton’s first live-action Batman movie as Carl Grissom.

The police dispatch mentions the corner of Adams and O’Neil, a reference to Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil, the team responsible for the run of Batman to which the show is most indebted.

Batman’s line to Leslie about having promises to keep may be a reference to Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’.

Recap

Batman is sulking in the Batcave, telling Alfred he’s tired, not just physically, but emotionally. Right on cue, the Gotham Times front page story is that Penguin’s most recent conviction has been overturned on a technicality.

Going full emo, Bruce asks if he’s actually doing any real good in Gotham, feeling that all he’s doing is putting out fires. He turns his attention to a yellow box Alfred brought him, heading out.

Turns out it’s another anniversary of his parents’ death, and the box contains more roses to lay down in crime alley with Leslie Thompkins, much as he did at the end of ‘Appointment in Crime Alley’ one year previously.

His old friend tries to cheer him up with wise words from Santayana, but Bruce is too well read and fires back with a quote of his own to justify his melancholy.

Luckily trouble breaks out across the street, allowing Batman to spring into action. He beats down two of the men and then hands the would-be victim, a cheeky small-time hustler named ‘Wizard’, over to Leslie, who of course works with troubled youth.

Unfortunately while all of this has been going down, Bruce has missed a GCPD stakeout he promised to attend. While Gordon wants to wait for the Caped Crusader, Harvey Bullock gets his way and the raid begins.

Things… do not go overly well, with Jimmy ‘The Jazzman’ Peake clearly ready for the assault, resulting in a huge shootout. Batman arrives amidst the chaos and makes short work of the mobsters, frustrating Bullock.

The Jazzman makes his getaway in a semi-truck but Bats forces him to a halt with his grapple-gun. Our hero steps into the shadows to oversee Bullock put the cuffs on Jazzman… but Jim Gordon was shot in the chaos!

Summer Gleeson (remember her?) reports on the shooting while Gordon clings to life in the hospital. Batman circumvents security to apologise for being late, but Barbara (yay!) tells him not to blame himself.

Bullock does not feel the same way unfortunately, claiming Bats is responsible for the events by failing to anticipate Jazzman being ready for them. Bruce is too sad to respond, swooping away as Harvey yells after him that they’ll settle up later.

Back in the cave, Bruce smashes anything not nailed down and then screams to the heavens… or rather the cave roof, disturbing some bats.

Jazzman is sent to Stone Gate Penitentiary to await a trial. You may remember Stone Gate from ‘Pretty Poison’. Peake fears his all but certain death sentence, but a fellow inmate claims ‘Southside Eddy’ can get anyone out of the prison. How handy!

Dick Grayson returns from college to check on Bruce, with Alfred claiming he’s never seen him so despondent. Sure enough, Bats continues to torture himself, pointing out Gordon is the same age his father would have been by now.

Bruce admits that he chose this path and that when his time comes he’ll have no regrets, but he can’t live with others getting hurt because of his mistakes, feeling he’s better for tourism than justice, tossing his cowl into the depths of the cave! Jeeeeeez.

Sure enough, Jazzman goes full Shawshank and makes his daring escape through a storm drain, making front page news. Barbara fears the worst for her father given Peake’s longstanding grudge against him.

Dick keeps trying to get through to Bruce, who has moved his moping up to the main house. Frustrated, Robin suits up to head out and catch Jazzman himself, but Bats of course won’t allow this either, and snaps out of his funk, declaring this is his hunt.

Bullock arrives at the hospital a little too late as Jazzman, posing as a window cleaner, has Gordon in his sights. Luckily a Batarang knocks his gun away and Bruce wrestles him on the hanging platform. Unfortunately Peake gets the upper hand, smashing through the window, with Gordon seemingly dead to rights.

We move to slow motion as Batman barely manages to toss another Batarang at the gun JUST as Jazzman pulls the trigger, causing him to drop the gun in agony. Bullock bursts in and arrests Peake as Gordon at last regains consciousness. Jim tells Batman how he wishes he were younger so he could be a hero like Batman, who chokes up and tells him he IS a hero.

Bats returns to patrolling Gotham, swooping in on the kid from earlier, thinking he’s caught him in the act of stealing a suitcase. Turns out it does in fact belong to Wizard who is leaving Gotham to return home after Bruce and Leslie’s help. He thanks Batman for steering him in the right direction.

Batman looks out over the city and… SMILES!!!

Best Performance

I don’t know if this is the best episode for voice acting in the show so far, but it’s damn close. Everybody brought it. In any other episode Robert Costanzo would handily take this given how well he plays the scene where Gordon gets shot. Speaking of Gordon, this is Bob Hastings’ best work to date as well, but no dice for him either. Heck, Seth Green and Brian George are both excellent in their smaller roles as Wizard and Jazzman. But it’s not them either.

Kevin Conroy crushes this into a fine powder. There’s no other way to put it. It’s a difficult thing to take material that essentially amounts to one of fiction’s mopiest characters sulking for 20 minutes and performing it in such a way that is emotionally engaging and devastatingly human. But here we are, with a toss up for Conroy’s best performance between this and ‘Robin’s Reckoning’.

All of this is supported by nice little continuity-serving cameos from Diana Muldaur and Melissa Gilbert, as well as Loren Lester and Efrem Zimbalist getting their stuff in to boot.

Ranking

This episode feels reasonably essential viewing for the show’s general pitch for Batman as a character. It’s nothing incredibly revolutionary, and you may even feel like you’ve seen/read this story dozens of times, but every aspect of the execution is sublime.

It’s a phenomenal follow-up to ‘Appointment in Crime Alley’, with both demonstrating Bruce’s unwavering resolve by offering a rare look into his more vulnerable human side. His dead parents are an eye-rolling plot device at this point, so it’s hard to tell stories that lean so heavily into that, but I have zero gripes here. It’s not that Bruce needs to ‘just get over’ his dead parents; it’s that there is a crushing accumulated emotional toll bubbling beneath the surface that he does a good job of covering up for the other 364 days of the year… and then his surrogate father figure is shot on his watch. There’s no world in which that isn’t compelling.

This would have made for an outstanding finale for the whole series given the existential question of how long Bruce can keep this up for, with Batman redoubling his resolve at the end and smiling as he looks out at his city, reaffirmed that he is making a difference.

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

Villain Watch

Jimmy ‘Jazzman Peake (Brian George) (first appearance)

In a lot of ways this could have been absolutely any Batman villain and the episode still would have worked. And while Jazzman is just a generic mobster, there’s something nice about giving Gordon a nemesis of his own rather than having Joker or Two-Face decide they’ve had enough of him.

Brian George does an awful lot with very few lines, and his dialogue sings, with a few nice little puns. Heck, he comes pretty close to murdering Jim Gordon, and Batman struggles to take him down, so that’s got to be worth something.

  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. Penguin
  11. Killer Croc
  12. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  13. Rupert Thorne
  14. Lloyd Ventrix
  15. Harley Quinn
  16. Josiah Wormwood
  17. Scarecrow
  18. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  19. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  20. Tony Zucco
  21. Man-Bat
  22. Hugo Strange
  23. Red Claw
  24. Arnold Stromwell
  25. Mad Bomber
  26. Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
  27. Kyodai Ken
  28. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  29. Cameron Kaiser
  30. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  31. Professor Milo
  32. Romulus
  33. Sewer King
  34. Boss Biggis

Plugs

Christmas may be over, but me and Mike’s fourth annual Christmas Special is timeless! This year: Lethal Weapon & Happiest Season!

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 concludes its second volume on Monday with Parasite.

Kevin & Jerome’s Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul podcast, Reel Bad, will be dropping its final episode on Tuesday.

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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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