The Matt Signal – Episode 57: Shadow of the Bat Part I

Plot summary: When Jim Gordon is arrested on suspicion of corruption Batman & Robin get to work trying to clear his name, with the unexpected assistance of the debuting Batgirl!

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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: ‘Shadow of the Bat Part I’

Original Air Date: September 13th, 1993

Directed: Frank Paur (12)

Written: Brynne Chandler (4)

Every appearance of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl so far has been written by either Brynne Chandler or her now ex-husband, Michael Reaves.

The debut of Batman’s most prolific criminal alias, Matches Malone. Or at least by name; Bruce went undercover in ‘The Forgotten’ and ‘Robin’s Reckoning’, in what may have been intended to be Matches.

Recap

Rupert Thorne’s latest operation is thwarted by the arrival of the GCPD, equipped with a freakin’ mini-tank! Thorne flees, leaving his men to engage the cops in a shootout, but Batman of course takes him down in borderline supernatural fashion.

A debuting Gil Mason, Jim Gordon’s deputy, receives a great deal of media coverage following the arrest, with one report stating he has received tip-offs from a mystery informant.

Bruce obsesses over this reveal, with Alfred remarking on how glum he looks despite finally putting Thorne behind bars. Apparently the rise in criminal busts lately doesn’t sit right with Bats.

Elsewhere Barbara Gordon shows off her gymnastic prowess to her approving father, who tries to fix her up with Gil. Talk of the devil, Mason arrives on Jim’s doorstep… to arrest him!!!

Barbara pleads with the district attorney, Janet Van Dorn, who states the evidence is water tight, with traceable laundered deposits into Jim’s account and witnesses that he took bribes from Thorne.

Harvey Bullock naturally isn’t buying it, and even Gil is on their side despite making the arrest. With a big fundraiser planned to drum up public support for Jim, Barbara schemes about the perfect surprise guest…

Speaking of which, Batman finishes rifling through GCPD evidence and eludes security, firing a transceiver through window of Gordon’s cell. He reports the bank receipts were forgeries and he suspects a new crime outfit in town.

At Jim’s request, Bats checks on Barbara, but his version of that is to browbeat her about her rally idea and then leave. Barbara is undeterred, claiming he will in fact be there “one way or another…”

The rally goes ahead, with Robin preparing to make an appearance in Bruce’s place, but Batman seemingly does show up after all, swooping down, posing, and then running away.

Only it turns out it was Barbara wearing a replica cape and cowl (with boot lifts and shoulder pads).

She’s forced to take further action when Two-Face’s men attack the rally, opening fire on Gil in a driveby. Despite slightly botching her attempt, she causes them to crash.

Chaos ensues, with Robin first trying to catch her (exposing her long red hair, shocking everyone) and then saves her from the recovered goons.

Summer Gleeson (remember her?) filmed the whole incident and reports of a ‘Batgirl’ run rampant. Dick is more intrigued by the footage showing Gil Mason ducking before any guns came into play…

Barbara finds one of the assailants, ‘Mad Dog’, in a book of mugshots and heads over to report her findings to Gil… but the man in question is already there! She plays it cool and leaves ASAP.

Mad Dog heads to The Stacked Deck, a shady bar, to report on the incident to Two-Face over the phone. Bruce, undercover in the shady pool hall as ‘Matches Malone’, lip-reads the conversation.

He tails Mad Dog to Two-Face’s hideout, but trips the security system and is captured. Staying in character, he tries to bluff his way into their operation but Harvey’s coin toss goes against him and he’s knocked unconscious.

Barbara, contemplating her next move, eyes up the tattered remains of her makeshift costume. A few modifications later, and we have ourselves a Batgirl!

To be continued…

Best Performance

This may be the largest voice cast for an episode so far, and everybody was great.

John Vernon kicks things off, doing an excellent job of making Thorne sound desperate to get away and truly terrified when confronted by Batman. Richard Moll continued to excel, albeit in a smaller role than Two-Face usually gets. Rounding out the villains, Greg Burson breathed a lot of life into Mad Dog.

Our series regulars all did fine work, with Kevin Conroy changing his voice up to take on Matches Malone, while also modulating his Batman voice depending on who he was talking to. He continues to be the best. Tim Matheson and Lynette Mettey made relatively strong first impressions as Gil Mason, and Janet Van Dorn..

But this is a two-part Batgirl showcase, and Melissa Gilbert has been outstanding in all of her appearances so far. This is likely her finest work to date, and she rises to the challenge of having the most dialogue (I think.) It’s not hard to top Loren Lester, but Gilbert goes above and beyond.

Ranking

Yay, two-parters! I say that because historically I’ve held the view that if they’re treated as a single entity, they’d all have scored much higher than they have under my system, not because I don’t enjoy them. I’ll withhold judgement on that trend continuing until I watch Part II.

As an episode in a vacuum? Tremendous. It may not have read very well as a recap, because I honestly struggled to convey the events in a concise manner. That can be conducive to the content not being great, but not the case here, as it never threatened to buckle under the breakneck speed of its moving parts. Brynne Chandler’s episodes have all been plotty and atmospheric, and this is easily Frank Paur’s best direction to date.

On that note, holy heck is the opening badass. If you’ve been reading along up to now you know I love it when they draw Batman as a liquid shadow, able to move in ways that seem improbable. His takedown of Thorne is sublime in this respect, as he virtually teleports around the rooftop, and is treated like a truly sinister threat. The scene with him sneaking into the GCPD is a nice addendum, and Barbara’s charade at the rally only serves to boost the effect.

While Robin is iconic, the degree to which Barbara has snatched his spot as the superior sidekick is comical, with her grand debut in the 2.0 version of her costume completely upstaging the Boy Wonder. Better acted, better written. It’s as simple as that. Although Dick stumbling onto Gil’s corruption is as good a moment as he’s had so far.

Finally, I love what the events of the episode do to Bruce. He’s bothered by Gil’s success because he’s not right in the head. He’s furious to learn of Jim’s arrest, but shows compassion when talking to him. He shoots down Barbara in attempt to protect her, but then sends Robin to the rally anyway, because he DOES care about the Gordons. Just some nice little emotional touches for a character not renowned for feelings that aren’t pure rage.

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

Villain Watch

Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) (seventh appearance)

Amazing how less can be more, isn’t it? Thorne has been far more effective when he’s not tasked with being the main villain in an episode. It’s too brief an appearance to move the needle, but he’s great when they need a non-costumed villain to make a return or cameo to help make the world feel consistent.

Two-Face (Richard Moll) (fifth appearance)

Dent’s appearances have been far too brief since his debut two-parter. Perhaps that’s by design, as with Mr. Freeze and Clayface, villains the production staff talked about wanting to protect by limiting their returns. But Harvey is a top-tier Batman antagonist, so he should be appearing more than he has been. He’s been great when he has!

Even if you haven’t seen Part II, you can likely piece together what’s going on here with Dent’s history with Rupert Thorne. Their previous episodes together really are a gift that keep on giving.

Mad Dog (Greg Burson) (first appearance)

A throwaway villain of the week, whose defining features are buck teeth, a strong vocal performance, and sharing an alias with a more notable Batman character. Good enough to best a boring werewolf, but falling short of a talking gorilla and his mad scientist creator.

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

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.

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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