The Matt Signal – Episode 78: Showdown

Plot summary: Ra’s al Ghul recounts a tale of his battle with relentless bounty hunter Jonah Hex in the old American west.

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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: ‘Showdown’

Original Air Date: September 12th, 1995

Directed: Kevin Altieri (20)

Written: Kevin Altieri (1), Paul Dini (17), Bruce W. Timm (2) (story) and Joe R. Lansdale (3)

This marks the second appearance in the franchise by US Senator Patrick Leahy, who is an enormous Batman fan. He also appears in Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in small roles. He always donates his fees to charity, normally to the library where he read comics as a child.

Unfortunately this was the final acting role for Elizabeth Montgomery of Bewitched fame, who died at only 62 years of age.

Ra’s previously claimed in ‘The Demon’s Quest Part I’ that he had no sons…

Recap

Ra’s al Ghul and a cadre of Society of Shadows agents (who strongly resemble Symbiote Spider-Man) break into a retirement home, knocking out all of the residents with gas. Batman and Robin arrive and engage the henchmen, but Ra’s is able to slip away.

Trailing The Demon in the Batmobile, the Dynamic Duo pop in a convenient exposition cassette tape Ra’s left behind.

In 1883 in an Old West town called Devil’s Hole (lolol), bounty hunter Jonah Hex makes inquiries about Arkady Duvall. After some tension with the sheriff, Hex receives help from a barmaid as Duvall hurt her girls.

She tells Hex about “The Sky Monster”, which began appearing around the same time Duvall arrived in town, as well as some mysterious lights from a nearby cave.

Hex investigates the cave, discovering a small army of workers building an airship for Ra’s al Ghul (dressed in Victorian attire) and Arkady Duvall. Ra’s plans to destroy the expanding railroads and conquer America.

Ra’s men discover and capture Hex, who declares his intention to turn in Duvall and collect his $200 reward for “what [he] done to that girl back East.” Duvall orders his execution but Ra’s overrules him and Hex is instead thrown into a cell.

The next morning, Hex escapes his cell by luring the guard into an ambush. Evading security, Hex is able to board the airship, which begins opening fire on a gathering for the completion of a new rail track.

Hex begins taking out the crew and sabotaging the cannons before engaging Arkady in a duel. Ra’s and the crew abandon the ship, which is on a collision course with a nearby mountain. Hex wins, refuses a bribe, and gets his man.

What did any of that have to do with our present day narrative? Well, as Batman correctly deduces, one of the residents of the retirement home is Arkady Duvall, who was able to survive a lengthy prison sentence thanks to exposure to the Lazarus Pits. Oh, and he’s Ra’s son!

Shockingly, Bruce agrees to Ra’s request that he be allowed to take his “boy” home and just drives away as Ubu wheels Arkady onto a private plane. Episode over.

Best Performance

This is a tough one. Bill McKinney hams it up as Jonah Hex, but unless you’re particularly enamoured with the era, he doesn’t really do much to make the character likeable. It’s just corny cowboy catchphrases and gruff threats. Elizabeth Montgomery and William Bryant come across far more charming in smaller roles.

So really this comes down to David Warner and the legendary Malcolm McDowell. Neither are on top form, but I’m inclined to go with the former on the strength of the final scene as he talks about his son. Warner’s performances have helped elevate Ra’s, even when his writing has been lacking. McDowell is fine, but doesn’t really get enough substantial dialogue to make a mark.

Senator Leahy isn’t much of a voice actor, but it’s still cool he got to make a cameo, in my opinion.

Ranking

I’m honestly tempted to disqualify this episode from contention altogether on account of it basically being a pilot for a non-existent Jonah Hex show that happened to feature a Batman villain. Luckily that decision is made easier for me given it’s not very good.

I guess the intention was for Jonah Hex to be a wild west Batman stand-in, given his strong moral code, resourcefulness and peak physical abilities without having actual superpowers. Heck, the non-deformed half of his face is basically identical to Bruce Wayne’s. The problem is he’s simply not as interesting or as cool as Batman, and despite being a Chattier Cathy, he’s not all that charming either. I don’t know, maybe if you’re really into cowboys he’ll do it for you.

The only half interesting thing to me is seeing Ra’s in a different time period (more on that below), and I was certainly surprised to see Batman let him walk away at the end.

The entire look of the episode is a dramatic departure from the familiar Gotham landscape, and that’s cool, especially 78 episodes in, but a change of scenery alone isn’t enough to make me care. It’s also interesting to me how many writers are credited. Perhaps a case of too many cooks.

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

Villain Watch

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

My interest in this episode lived and died by Ra’s. It was cool to see him immersed in another era, with motivations and costumes fitting of the time. More than that, his vast otherworldly knowledge means he knows how to build an enormous flying gunship, which is pretty cool.

But Jonah Hex’s complete disinterest in him makes him an afterthought, despite the fact he’s literally trying to conquer America.

I’m going to slightly lower his spot on the rankings, because I feel the idea of him has been infinitely more compelling than the execution so far (which may explain why he crops up so much more in the tie-in comics.)

Arkady Duvall (Malcolm McDowell) (first appearance)

People sure do talk about Arkady a lot in this episode, but he really doesn’t do much. Hex tracked him across 14 states, making vague censor-friendly references to his ostensible assault and possible murder of a woman. The townsfolk hate him to such a degree that the barmaid returns Hex’s offered payment for intel. Ra’s himself is furious with his disobedience, and declares him too unstable to ever be his heir (that plus him descending into madness during his prison sentence get Ra’s around his claims of having no male heir.) So much tell, very little show.

Sure, he’s a dick. But not a very compelling or impressive one. Bottom tier villain.

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

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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