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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- The Laughing Fish
- Mask of the Phantasm
- Almost Got ‘im
- Heart of Ice
- Shadow of the Bat Part I
- I Am the Night
- Robin’s Reckoning Part I
- The Man Who Killed Batman
- Perchance to Dream
- Two-Face Part I
- Joker’s Favor
- Read My Lips
- Feat of Clay Part II
- The Demon’s Quest Part II
- Harley and Ivy
- Robin’s Reckoning Part II
- Beware the Gray Ghost
- Mad as a Hatter
- Heart of Steel Part II
- Appointment In Crime Alley
- Two-Face Part II
- Pretty Poison
- Shadow of the Bat Part II
- Feat of Clay Part I
- His Silicon Soul
- Off Balance
- Birds of a Feather
- Heart of Steel Part I
- On Leather Wings
- See No Evil
- The Clock King
- It’s Never Too Late
- Joker’s Wild
- Eternal Youth
- The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
- The Cat and the Claw Part I
- Day of the Samurai
- The Demon’s Quest Part I
- The Mechanic
- The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
- Terror in the Sky
- Christmas with the Joker
- Fear of Victory
- Be a Clown
- The Worry Men
- What is Reality?
- Fire From Olympus
- Night of the Ninja
- The Cat and the Claw Part II
- Nothing to Fear
- Prophecy of Doom
- Tyger, Tyger
- Blind as a Bat
- If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
- Dreams In Darkness
- The Last Laugh
- Cat Scratch Fever
- Moon of the Wolf
- Paging the Crime Doctor
- The Under-Dwellers
- The Forgotten
- I’ve Got Batman in My Basement
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.)
- The Joker
- Mr. Freeze
- Poison Ivy
- Harley Quinn
- The Ventriloquist
- The Phantasm
- Mad Hatter
- HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
- Ra’s al Ghul
- The Riddler
- Clock King
- Killer Croc
- Lloyd Ventrix
- Count Vertigo
- Josiah Wormwood
- Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
- Rupert Thorne
- Sid the Squid
- Maxie Zeus
- Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
- Tony Zucco
- Hugo Strange
- Red Claw
- Arnold Stromwell
- Mad Bomber
- Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
- Kyodai Ken
- Gil Mason
- Nostromos (and Lucas!)
- Cameron Kaiser
- Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
- Talia al Ghul
- Mad Dog
- Professor Milo
- Sewer King
- Boss Biggis
- Montague Kane
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.