The Matt Signal – Episode 69: Avatar

Plot summary: Ra’s al Ghul seeks out an ancient scroll with hopes of gaining the powers of an immortal Egyptian queen.

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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: ‘Avatar’

Original Air Date: May 9th, 1994

Directed: Kevin Altieri (17)

Written: Michael Reaves (12)

This is the first (and possibly only) time Batman is depicted as willing to kill a sentient being in the series.

It’s a Star Trek reunion, as Nichelle Nichols, David Warner and Brock Peters starred together in the sixth movie, The Undiscovered Country.

The archaeologist in the opening is modelled after Peter Cushing in The Mummy (1959).

Thoth’s little dalliance with Ra’s may be a reference to The Shining.

Recap

We begin with an archaeological dig in Egypt, 1898, and some white dude is looking to plunder another culture to fill the coffers of a museum. Fortunately for said culture, the man sees bright lights, and when his colleagues on the surface attempt to pull him out, they wind up with nothing but frayed rope!

In the present, Bruce Wayne prepares to open a pharaoh exhibit at one of Gotham’s museums. Lucius Fox admires the ‘treasures’, remarking on The Scroll of Osiris, an incomplete document, and the oldest in the world.

Surprise, surprise, a masked individual breaks into the museum after dark and steals the scroll. Luckily, Batman anticipates the theft and puts a stop to it, unmasking the culprit to reveal Ubu, Ra’s al Ghul’s bodyguard.

Talk of the devil, or rather The Demon, he arrives to chuck a damn cobra at Bruce, who passes out almost immediately after being bitten, but does manage to administer an anti-venom before losing consciousness. Ra’s makes off with the scroll.

After recovering, Bruce heads for Gibraltar to find Talia, who reveals the scroll is a map to the tomb of Queen Thoth, but she doesn’t know why her father wants to find it. Bruce and Talia embrace.

The next day, she flies Bruce to Cairo, home to one of her father’s old safe-houses, which contains the completed scroll… as well as Ra’s and Ubu, who instantly capture them.

Revealing Thoth ruled two continents for 1,000 years thanks to her command over life and death, Ra’s states his plan to replicate the feat by claiming her powers. Bruce gets in a nice dig about Ra’s chauvinism and gets imprisoned in a glass box for his troubles.

Escaping thanks to a sonic emitter that shatters the glass, the lovers head for the tomb, which Bruce memorised the location of despite only getting a quick glance at the completed map. Because of course he did.

Walking into another trap, Batman and Talia can only watch as Ra’s discovers a secret entrance to a sub-chamber, leaving the others to battle.

Thoth rises from what looks like but is probably not a Lazarus Pit surrounded by scores of corpses, which Ra’s doesn’t take as a red flag. They begin making out, but Thoth’s true zombie appearance is revealed, as she drains Ra’s of his life force!

Batman and Talia interrupt and rescue Ra’s, but can do nothing to harm the Zombie Queen. Bruce topples an enormous statue, triggering a full-on collapse of the tomb, burying Thoth.

A recuperated Ra’s apologises for his treatment of Talia, which is all she needs to hear to pull a gun on Batman, steal his horse, and leave him in the desert. Oh, Talia.

Best Performance

Shrug. Kevin Conroy? Helen Slater? Let’s say the latter for the sake of mixing things up. Bruce & Talia are the only characters with substantial dialogue, and I’ll go for Slater because Talia goes through more of an emotional journey. She seemed to change the accent up a little, to the point I wondered if it was a different actor.

David Warner turns in his typical Ra’s performance, which is fun, but has diminishing returns. Nichelle Nichols is in the episode for less than two minutes, unfortunately.

Ranking

It amuses me that the producers nixed a number of pitched stories in the past because they contained supernatural elements they considered inappropriate for the tone of the series, and yet this episode features two immortals seeking world domination. Heck, Thoth summons sentient slime, warps her appearance and drains Ra’s’ life force.

That aside, this is fun enough. I found it less problematic than previous globetrotting episodes, but obviously nothing in it could match Bruce and Ra’s having a topless sword fight. There’s also a bit of a pacing issue with Bruce and Talia getting captured twice in just over a minute. I would also fully understand if a Zombie Queen is simply too #NotMyBatman for you.

I enjoyed Bruce and Talia’s reunion, even if her routine of betraying him at the last minute is getting a little tired (even more so given the MANY tie-in comic books I was reading around the time of this writing that repeat the trick a lot.)

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

Villain Watch

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

As mentioned in the voice acting section, I’ve found Ra’s to have diminishing returns. He’s ancient and wants to radically lower the world’s population. That’s cool. But he has been drifting a bit too close towards generic mwahaha villain for my liking.

I’ll leave him where he is for now, but if his final episode continues on this trajectory, he’s going down.

Ubu (George Dicenzo) (third appearance)

What can I say? He and Batman seem to finally settle their grudge? I probably should never have ranked him as he’s a mostly mute bodyguard? All of the above?

Talia al Ghul (Helen Slater) (fourth appearance)

This is Talia’s final appearance in the series, and she went out doing what she loves: betraying Bruce for her father. The concept of a hero falling for a villain who isn’t all the way evil is a popular one across all fiction, and Batman is no exception. After multiple episodes casting Catwoman in the role, and then Andrea Beaumont filling it for Mask of the Phantasm, we’re back to the second most enduring version.

She displays slightly more agency here than in the two-part episode ‘The Demon’s Quest’, so I’m willing to boost her back up to what was probably her rightful place in the first place. It’s a shame they couldn’t find more to do with her though.

(Swipe for a surprise)

Thoth Khepera (Nichelle Nichols) (first appearance)

Listen, we all enjoy The Mummy. Thoth emerging as a bodacious undead babe before revealing herself as a withered zombie crone is good stuff too. It’s just a shame that she appears so late in the episode and gets dispatched relatively easily despite being invulnerable.

She might have been a better character for a straight-to-video film, giving all three villains more time to develop. But as she is, I like her, but can’t go too far.

  1. The Joker
  2. Poison Ivy
  3. Mr. Freeze
  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. Lloyd Ventrix
  17. Count Vertigo
  18. Killer Croc
  19. Nivens
  20. Josiah Wormwood
  21. Scarecrow
  22. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  23. Rupert Thorne
  24. Talia al Ghul
  25. Sid the Squid
  26. Thoth Khepera (NEW ENTRY)
  27. Maxie Zeus
  28. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  29. Tony Zucco
  30. Man-Bat
  31. Hugo Strange
  32. Red Claw
  33. Arnold Stromwell
  34. Mad Bomber
  35. Tygrus
  36. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  37. Kyodai Ken
  38. Gil Mason
  39. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  40. Cameron Kaiser
  41. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  42. Mad Dog
  43. Ubu
  44. Professor Milo
  45. Romulus
  46. Sewer King
  47. Boss Biggis
  48. 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.

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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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