The Matt Signal: Mask of the Phantasm

Plot summary: A mysterious masked figure is killing gangsters, but Batman is distracted by the return of his former fiancé, Andrea Beaumont. Perhaps the two are connected…

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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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While this is obviously a movie, released between seasons one and two, I’m going to treat it as an episode and count it towards the totals of the writers/directors.

Notes

Movie Title: ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’

Original Release Date: December 24th, 1993

Directed: Eric Radomski & Bruce Timm

Written: Alan Burnett (4), Paul Dini (12), Martin Pasko (3) and Michael Reaves (9)

Warner Bros. infamously gave the film a nigh-impossible eight month production schedule and changed it from direct-to-video to a theatrical release on very short notice, making it a box office flop, but a home video smash hit.

Alan Burnett was tasked with writing the film from its inception, which may be why he has minimal involvement in season one. Martin Pasko was responsible for most of the flashbacks (the best parts). Michael Reaves concentrated on the ending (the worst part). Paul Dini in his own words “filled in holes here and there.”

The first version of the script morphed into the upcoming episode, ‘The Trial’, so Burnett instead adapted a planned two-part episode called ‘Masks’ that would have served as the finale of the show, along with a separate episode telling Batman’s origin from Alfred’s point of view.

The 3D-render of Gotham was supposed to be used for the show to make life easier for the background artists and decrease production times, but that never happened.

Recap

After a tour around Gotham, we begin with Batman taking out a bunch of counterfeiters. Their leader, Chuckie Sol, escapes, but is confronted by a mysterious grim reaper-esque individual, and ends up in a fatal car crash.

Gotham councilman Arthur Reeves lays the blame at Batman’s feet, as the Caped Crusader was spotted at the scene shortly afterward. Gordon defends his vigilante pal and is rewarded with barely being in the rest of the film!

At a fancy soiree, Bruce fends off various female admirers, until a redhead (who Bruce blew off in the episode ‘Joker’s Wild’) warns them off him and throws a drink in his face. Reeves gets a laugh out of it and asks about an old flame, Andrea Beaumont, taking us to a flashback of the two meeting while visiting their respective parents’ graves.

After his cemetery Meet-Cute, the young Bruce breaks up an attempted robbery wearing a balaclava as he has yet to create the Batman persona. He has all of the skills, but lacks the sense of theatricality, complaining to Alfred that the thieves weren’t afraid of him. He does smooch Andrea though, so it’s not all bad.

Back in the present another mobster, Buzz Bronski, meets his end at the hands of The Phantasm while visiting Chuckie Sol’s grave. Batman is again a little late on the scene, resulting in his photograph on the front page as the prime suspect.

Returning to the graveyard to investigate Bronski’s death, Bats stumbles on Andrea talking to her mother’s grave again. She sees our hero next to the Wayne headstone and immediately guesses his identity. It’s just that easy!

Andrea sleepwalks through a dinner date with Reeves while Bruce spies on them from afar. We flashback to him visiting Gotham World’s Fair with her and then meeting her father for the first time, assisted by a young, dorky Arthur Reeves.

The meeting is interrupted by the arrival of obvious criminal Sal Valestra, and the happy couple take a stroll. Happening on a street gang, Bruce does his best to fight them off but catches a beating. Frustrated, he wonders if he’s able to fight crime and maintain a happy relationship, visiting his parents’ grave and pleading to break his vow.

A present day Sal Valestra meets with Reeves in secret, worried that Batman really is killing their people. Sure enough, Batman discovers secret business ties between Sol, Bronski and Valestra. Investigating Valestra’s office, he finds an old group photograph of the three, along with Andrea’s father.

We flash back again, with Bruce proposing to Andi. However the very next day while exploring what will become the Batcave, Bruce is handed the ring and a Dear John from Andrea. Devastated, he soon dons the Cape and Cowl for the first time, terrifying Alfred in the most iconic scene in the movie.

The elderly Valestra visits the abandoned World’s Fair, now a hideout for The Joker. Sal pleads with his old associate to take out Batman once and for all, fearing for his life. Joker instead murders him, leaving a trap for the Phantasm.

Batman and Phantasm briefly battle, but the GCPD interrupt, with Reeves having pressured them to try and arrest Bats. They come very close, with Bruce gravely wounded, only escaping thanks to Andrea picking him up.

Andi reluctantly tells Bruce the truth about her father’s involvement with the criminals; owing the mob a huge sum of cash, the Beaumonts were forced to flee to Europe. Bruce surmises that her father is the Phantasm. They kiss, because nothing is hotter than your ex-boyfriend theorising your father is a murderer.

Alfred hopes that their reconciliation may lead to retiring the Batman persona, but Bruce notices one of the younger mobsters in the old photograph is a pre-transformation Joker!

Speaking of the Clown Prince, he visits Arthur Reeves, trying to find out who has been killing their old crew. Reeves genuinely believes it’s Batman, but Joker suggests Arthur himself could be behind the mask, trying to keep his past associations secret.

Hospitalised with a nasty case of Joker Toxin, Reeves is visited by Batman and made to confess that he sold out Andrea’s father to the mob to fund his re-election campaign for city council.

Andrea is at last revealed as The Phantasm, attacking Joker, as he was the one to carry out the hit on her father years previously. The two battle across The World’s Fair, with Batman eventually joining the fray to save his beloved.

Bruce confronts her over the mob murders, telling her vengeance will solve nothing. She reluctantly leaves the two insane freaks to battle it out amidst a model city… only to reappear and grab Joker ahead of a massive explosion that ostensibly only Bruce survives.

In the aftermath, Bruce mopes (for a change). Alfred comforts him, stating that Andrea was lost to her mission of vengeance years ago. Bruce spots something twinkling in the cave, discovering Andrea’s locket with a picture of the two inside.

Out at sea, a happy chap cracks onto an enigmatic redhead, the very much alive Andrea! Back in Gotham, Batman shrugs off his sadness when he sees the Bat Signal, swinging off to his next adventure.

Best Performance

Kevin Conroy is so fantastic in the series that I didn’t think he would be able to up his game any further. But boy howdy did he put on his movie boots. He’s aged himself down for flashback scenes before, but is even better at it here, with the iconic “I didn’t count on being happy” speech perhaps the finest acting of his career.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. never really gets enough love from me, as Alfred typically only gets a handful of lines per episode. He gets more to do here thanks to the longer runtime, and threatens to steal the show several times with his trademark sarcasm and dry wit. More than that, he gets to truly emote for the first time, highlighting how under-utilised the character is in the series.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say Mark Hamill fails to bring it, but I don’t think he significantly elevated his work above what we’ve heard in the series, while his aforementioned peers do just that. He adds some fun little flourishes to his trademark laugh, though. It’s mind-boggling to me that Bob Hastings and Robert Costanzo are barely present, but there were a lot of characters to juggle, I suppose.

In terms of newcomers, Dana Delaney is outstanding, infusing Andrea with enormous dreamboat energy. She is effortlessly charming, funny and emotionally engaging. Honestly, she was my pick for a while.

Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda and Hart Bochner round the cast out really nicely, with Bochner a particular standout. Also, a shout out to Arleen Sorkin, who Dini snuck in despite Harley not being in the movie.

Ranking

It goes without saying that the increased budget and longer run time afford the story some huge advantages in terms of visuals, soundtrack and pacing compared to a 22-minute episode of television. Indeed, if you could isolate the emotional arc with Bruce’s ill-fated romance with Andrea, and his difficult decision to create Batman, this would be the sure-fire number one.

The show has rarely delved into Bruce’s life before becoming Batman, and they should be commended for finally doing so without depicting his parents’ murder, which has been done to death over the years. Instead we get cute little touches like Harvey Bullock as a beat cop, Alfred with dark hair and Bruce getting inspired by the design of “The Car of the Future” at the World’s Fair. The best part for me is that right when he’s at the point we’re expecting him to create Batman, he’s instead at his closest to giving up on his entire crusade. But when a happy, normal life slips through his fingers, he’s instead finally able to fully commit to his decision by suiting up as Batman, horrifying Alfred in the process.

It’s not that the Phantasm mystery and action scenes aren’t fun, but they simply aren’t as good. Joker feels more of an obligation than a truly organic part of the plot, making it begin to feel like a normal (if slicker) episode of the show after starting out as a something far more ambitious, fitting of the medium. By comparison, ‘The Laughing Fish’ has a plot that revolves entirely around everybody’s favourite Murder Clown, and is better for it. It feels weird to say it, but I think Joker’s presence knocks the film down a spot.

It should also be noted that this is a slightly more adult tale thanks to the relaxed censorship rules that come with film vs television. The Year One-inspired narrow escape from the GCPD is more brutal than anything in the series to date. Likewise Reeves’ reaction to Joker Toxin is far more extreme than the FCC would ever allow. Heck, Batman punches Joker so hard he spits out a bloody tooth. I think Zack Snyder believes this is the kind of value he is adding by having Batman say “fuck” once in Justice League, but this is Actually Good.

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

Villain Watch

The Phantasm (Dana Delaney/Stacey Keach) (first appearance)

I really shouldn’t label Andrea Beaumont as The Phantasm, as that name is never spoken or written anywhere in the film. Also she’s more of an anti-hero, as she only kills the criminals responsible for her father’s death, but hey.

Anyway, she’s awesome. It’s a cool costume, with a smoke-based teleportation trick that’s never actually explained (until a Dini-penned comic), and depressing as it is, it is nice that the male-presenting villain turns out to be a woman. And for once the mystery can’t be solved by simple Scooby-Doo logic, thanks to the film introducing more than one new character! This was all aided by having Stacey Keach voice the character when in costume, as he also provided the voice for Andrea’s father, who was Bruce’s top candidate for the man behind the mask. Cute.

She’s basically the show’s version of Catwoman, but better written and performed. In a world where they stick with their gut instinct to not include Joker (depending on which writers you believe), and Andrea got even more time to develop, she would rank even higher, but as it is, she’s knocking on the door of the elites.

Joker (Mark Hamill) (eleventh appearance)

There are conflicting accounts about wanting to not use Joker at all, but his presence seemed inevitable, and his arrival certainly injects new energy at the end of the first act, terrorising his fellow criminals in a manner that underpins his place as one of fiction’s best villains. I particularly liked both his buffoonery subsiding in favour of murderous rage when Sal tries to threaten him, and him turning up on Reeves’ doorstep to apply pressure in a scene that feels like an homage to The Killing Joke.

But as mentioned earlier, I do feel for as great as he can be in those moments, he slightly detracts from the story they spend most of the runtime telling. I hated how Tim Burton retconned him to be responsible for the death of Bruce’s parents, and while this is executed in a more elegant fashion, I still don’t think that it’s necessary for him to be in the middle of everything.

Paul Dini had to be talked out of including Harley Quinn, with Bruce Timm believing it would make Joker seem more dangerous. I suppose that’s true, but I think he’s been better with her than without in the show, and if nothing else it would have allowed Bruce and Andrea to split up and keep switching dance partners in the final fight, rather than it becoming a prolonged one on one with the woman waiting patiently for the boys to finish their scrap. If this had been the finale to the whole series as planned, then it makes sense for the hero to battle his nemesis in one last epic showdown… but it wasn’t. So instead Joker ostensibly dies and then pops back up later without explanation (again, the aforementioned tie-in comic will explain all.)

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

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.

2 thoughts on “The Matt Signal: Mask of the Phantasm”

  1. Great review as always Matt, loving the write ups!

    I would disagree on the Joker feeling out of place in the film, I found his appearance organic enough to the plot to be exciting, and his involvement in Batman’s genesis (indirectly) perfectly summed up for me their connection. Despite Bruce’s wishes, they are intrinsically linked. While Burton took all of the mystery out of his Joker by revealing his origin and role in Bruce’s life, the fact that Hamills Joker appears fully formed in the series, and his descent from gangster to supervillain is never broached or explained, makes him more akin to a force of nature rather than a run of the mill villain.
    I would agree that having both Andrea and Joker survive down the line removes the stakes from the story somewhat, but viewed in isolation this is the best telling of a Batman story on TV or film to my mind.

    Like

    1. Hey, thanks for reading! I guess I regret saying he didn’t feel organic, as they did very much find a way to tie him into it all, it’s just that for me the more emotionally engaging section of the film is Bruce’s past with Andrea and the mystery of who The Phantasm is, and that we get to see Joker all the time (not that it’s ever not a treat!), so perhaps fully committing to the other stuff could have taken it to even higher heights. Andrea feels like she loses most of her momentum once her secret is out, which is a shame as they had a great character on their hands.

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