The Matt Signal – Episode 50: Off Balance

Plot summary: Batman finds himself caught in the middle of in-fighting in the Society of Shadows as Count Vertigo attempts to unleash an experimental weapon.

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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: ‘Off Balance’

Original Air Date: November 23rd, 1992

Directed: Kevin Altieri (13)          

Written: Len Wein (2)

This is another Len Wein script that directly adapts a comic story, this one being ‘Into the Den of the Death-Dealers’ (1971) by Denny O’Neil.

A surprisingly death-heavy episode, as while two apparent suicides are explained away, both Twitch and Vertigo himself apparently perish.

Recap

Up on the torch of the Statue of Liberty a big statue in Gotham harbour, Batman presses a squealer named Twitch for information on The League The Society of Shadows. Their ears burning, the Society send two agents to silence Twitch, and while Batman manages to fight one of them off, another hurls Twitch into the water below.

The duo flee to the head of the statue but Batman gives chase. Cornered, the agents gas themselves as a mysterious woman looks on through binoculars…

Jim Gordon gets his gun off at a police shooting range when Batman appears, blending in perfectly with one of the targets. An extremely cocky move. He informs Gordon that the Society agents used gas to “erase their own minds.” Cowards!

Batman suspects the group will target a Wayne Tech sonic drill based on Twitch’s intel, imploring Jim to add more security to Harvey Bullock’s security detail. Gordon is astonished, both at Bats for knowing about the assignment and for vanishing into thin air.

Sure enough, when the drill arrives from Chicago via train, the Society of Shadows strike, with their leader, Count Vertigo, disorienting Bullock’s men to the point of nausea. The effect looks fantastic.

Batman swoops in to battle the thieves, able to fight through the effects of Vertigo’s rays. Just as he looks to have the upper hand, the pair are distracted by a dart that, fired by the mysterious woman from before. Vertigo’s henchmen knock Bats out and they flee with the drill.

Analysing the dart back in the Batcave, Bruce asserts the woman must be working with Vertigo. He puzzles out the possible headquarters of the Society, some kind of old castle-like monastery east of Gotham.

His first theory blows up in his face though, as he observes the woman get attacked by Society agents. Having seen enough, he intervenes and between them they’re able to take down all of her attackers. Bruce tries a meet cute with the woman, but they fall victim to a sonic cannon and wind up in a dungeon.

Bruce awakens to the woman tending to his wounds and freaks the eff out as she removed his mask. She reveals her name is Talia and that she has personal business with the Society. She picks the lock to their cell with a hairpin (Batman lost his utility belt in the previous skirmish).

Talia tells Batman that Vertigo once worked for her father, but he strayed too far from their cause, so she’s been sent to take him down. The two stealthily incapacitate guards on their way into the main lab, where the drill resides.

Entering despite knowing it’s a trap, Bruce and Talia immediately fall victim to Vertigo’s… vertigo. Batman asserts that he can still get to the villain despite the effects, but the Count points out the lab is full of traps and scrams with the drill.

Batman perfectly navigates them across the lab, leading Talia by the hand and avoids every trap. When asked how he managed it the lunatic reveals he simply closed his eyes and trusted his other senses. Because of course he did.

Spotting Vertigo’s aircraft circling the bell tower, Batman and Talia hurry up the spiral stairs, which is made more difficult by the combined effects of Vertigo’s disorientation rays and the sonic drill wrecking the stairs.

Talia responds by leaping off the stairs and grabbing one of the ropes from the bells, deafening Vertigo. Batman does the same, expounding the effect to such a degree that the villain falls to his apparent death! Gnarly.

Bruce endeavours to take the drill back to Gotham, realising a little too late that Talia has been using very selective language throughout the episode, and she of course turns on him. Tampering with the drill in secret, he hands it over and Talia flees in the plane.

Informing her father of her success, Talia is tasked with testing the drill. Luckily for a nearby mountain range, Bats’ meddling causes the drill the short circuit when fired. Talia’s father is unbothered, remarking how ‘The Detective’ managed to salvage victory in the face of defeat, vowing this is not over…

Best Performance

I once again find myself spoiled for choice, as the trio of villains were all excellent, and even the Society grunts have a suitably creepy whisper-voice that I’m half tempted to honour. I would ultimately rule in favour of Michael Yorke, slumming it a little here on a children’s cartoon. He’s able to give Vertigo a sense of theatricality and bombast that’s quite frankly delightful.

If Chuck Vennera had more lines as Twitch, I’d consider putting him in the mix too, as he’s perfect as a weasely little informant. Oh, and Kevin Conroy is good as always.

Ranking

Coming off the back of a heavy emotional tale, this kind of dumb (in a good way) caper was exactly what the doctor ordered. Sometimes you just need to see Batman in a castle punching some cultists to foil a mad scientist from using a super weapon, ya know? Plus seeing Ra’s and Talia debut is fun if you’re a fan.

The real highlight was the animation on the vertigo effect, twisting, turning and distorting the visuals in a way that perfectly communicates how debilitating the Count’s trick is. Also I might be crazy but it seemed like Twitch was drawn in a slightly more realistic manner than the average character.

There’s a really nice moment where Bats leans forward enough to cast an enormous shadow, waiting until his target sees it and freaks out before descending from the trees in intimidating fashion. It’s a neat touch that demonstrates the much-monologued-about idea of Bruce using fear as a weapon.

Also now that we’re 50 episodes in I’m adjusting some rankings as there are a couple that haven’t been sitting right with me as I’ve tried to slot new episodes in around them. ‘Pretty Poison’ and ‘Feat of Clay Part I’ have been a few spots too low for a while now. Conversely ‘It’s Never Too Late’ ‘Vendetta’ and ‘The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne’ were a little too high. I’ll take another look when we hit 65.

  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. Appointment In Crime Alley
  15. Two-Face Part II
  16. Pretty Poison
  17. Feat of Clay Part I
  18. Off Balance
  19. Vendetta
  20. Birds of a Feather
  21. Heart of Steel Part I
  22. On Leather Wings
  23. See No Evil
  24. The Clock King
  25. It’s Never Too Late
  26. Joker’s Wild
  27. Eternal Youth
  28. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  29. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  30. Day of the Samurai
  31. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  32. Terror in the Sky
  33. P.O.V.
  34. Christmas with the Joker
  35. Fear of Victory
  36. Be a Clown
  37. What is Reality?
  38. Night of the Ninja
  39. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  40. Nothing to Fear
  41. Prophecy of Doom
  42. Tyger, Tyger
  43. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  44. Dreams In Darkness
  45. The Last Laugh
  46. Cat Scratch Fever
  47. Moon of the Wolf
  48. The Under-Dwellers
  49. The Forgotten
  50. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Count Vertigo (Michael Yorke) (first appearance)

You may have seen two different versions of Vertigo in Arrow, reimagined as a drug dealer. You might then be a little taken aback to see him portrayed as a borderline Nazi here, a nod to his roots as an Eastern European royal, I suppose. I actually dig the idea of Batman storming a Nazi compound to stop them from using a mad science weapon (albeit one Bruce himself designed).

His incredibly striking visual design works excellently with his power-set, as his piercing stare goes hand in hand with a disorientation effect generated by his eye patch. I’ve given Scarecrow credit for the visual effects that come with his fear gas, so I have to do the same with Vertigo and his… vertigo. Just a super fun one-and-done villain, made all the more impressive when you consider he’s a borderline distraction from the true foes…

Talia al Ghul (Helen Slater) (first appearance)

While not as flirtatious as Catwoman, Talia is another of the fantastically well-written women in Bruce’s life who act as equal parts love interest and bitter foe. She doesn’t get a huge amount of character here, but that’s largely because she has to remain enigmatic in order to keep the plot going.

The character manages to overcome these limitations well enough, with a badass spy lady in a jumpsuit generally always working. She watches, she smiles, she fights, she outfoxes people, it’s great. I think my favourite aspect is her careful choice of words that simultaneously make it obvious she’s secretly evil to the audience, but not so obvious that Batman looks stupid.

Ra’s al Ghul (David Warner) (first appearance)

While Ra’s is somewhat of a household name thanks to Batman Begins, that’s arguably due to the series’ excellent handling of him, as he had not appeared outside of the comics before this episode. He wasn’t exactly in vogue in print at the time either, enjoying a larger role again after the upcoming episode ‘The Demon’s Quest’.

This is all just a long way to say while this first appearance is entirely set-up for his next one, he’s a suitably sinister figure even in this limited capacity. What is essentially just a man in a cloak saying ominous things from far away really works thanks to the character design, Warner’s voice work and the way Talia builds him up.

  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. Count Vertigo
  17. Josiah Wormwood
  18. Scarecrow
  19. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  20. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  21. Tony Zucco
  22. Man-Bat
  23. Hugo Strange
  24. Red Claw
  25. Arnold Stromwell
  26. Mad Bomber
  27. Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
  28. Kyodai Ken
  29. Talia al Ghul
  30. Ra’s al Ghul
  31. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  32. Cameron Kaiser
  33. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  34. Professor Milo
  35. Romulus
  36. Sewer King
  37. 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 tomorrow with Parasite.

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

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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