The Matt Signal – Episode 86: Holiday Knights

Plot summary: The New Batman Adventures kick off as the Bat Family have to contend with Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Clayface and Joker in a series of short Christmas capers.

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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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Let’s nip something in the bud right now: The New Batman Adventures is a different television show to Batman: The Animated Series, despite Warner Bros. trying to sell it as the final season of the original show. BUT, given it’s a direct continuation, I’m going to keep adding to the existing rankings.

On that note, this series is notable for its revamped art style intended to make life easier on the animators, reduce the budget, and better match the new Superman: The Animated Series. Anachronistic Art Deco is out, with Gotham lightened up and modernised. Most of the heroes and villains got modified appearances with even Bruce Wayne’s face getting an overhaul. Plus the sky is almost always red for some reason.

Writing wise, it’s now firmly an ensemble show, with Tim Drake replacing Dick Grayson as Robin, and Batgirl elevated to become Bruce’s main sidekick. The toy companies and production staff were VERY into the expanded cast, particularly Barbara, who had a big role in Batman & Robin.

Finally, the show moved from Fox to WB Kids, who were dramatically more laid back about censorship than their predecessors. Heck, they even gave them the old titles back. No more Title Cards though 😦

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Holiday Knights’

Original Air Date: September 13th, 1997

Directed: Dan Riba (11)

Written: Paul Dini (25)

This episode is a direct adaptation of Dini’s The Batman Adventures Holiday Special which I praised highly in my review of that comic. Notable by its absence is Mr. Freeze’s story, because of the events of Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, which ended with Nora Fries revived, making his story redundant.

The timeline is a little wonky here, as the events of upcoming episodes ‘Sins of the Father’ and ‘Growing Pains’ must have taken place first.

The trio singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ are send-ups of Bruce Timm and artists Glen Murakami and Shane Glines.

Recap

We open on December 22nd with Harley lamenting the lack of Christmas spirit she feels hiding out with Poison Ivy, who promises to improve the situation, but naturally objects to getting a Christmas tree. (In the comic she also pointed out Harley is Jewish.)

Bruce Wayne fends off a group of admirers at a Christmas party but a shadowy figure manages to plant one on him. It was Poison Ivy, and just like Batman & Robin, Bruce is now under her control.

Ivy forces the billionaire to take her and her girlfriend gal pal on an enormous spending spree. You know what that means: fashion montage!!!!

The effects begin to wear off and Bruce falls down an elevator shaft, emerging moments later as Batman and chasing the femme fatales to a toy store. Harley & Ivy nearly murder him but he’s able to knock an enormous Christmas tree onto them.

On December 24th, Barbara Gordon is shopping at a mall where Harvey Bullock and Rene Montoya are working undercover trying to catch whoever has been hitting the stores so hard lately.

Babs notices a small child shoplifting and tries to grab his hand… which comes clean off and turns to goo!

Sure enough, a series of light-fingered kids converge and become Clayface who makes short work of the cops. Barbara takes cover to perform a quick change into her gorgeous new costume.

Taking things outside, Batgirl instructs Bullock & Montoya to shoot out some hanging lights so that they fall on and electrocute the villain.

Next, on New Year’s Eve, Joker hijacks TV broadcasts to reveal his resolution: no murders for a whole year! However, to compensate, he’s going to kill as many people by midnight as possible!

Batman and the new Robin, Tim Drake, learn from Jim Gordon that Mistah J has thus far only bumped off a man who pioneered a ‘sonic bomb.’ Bats thus deduces Joker’s plan is to unleash the device during the midnight countdown.

As predicted, the Clown Prince and his henchmen make final preparations by handing out hundreds of Joker masks to the drunken crowd, making him impossible to spot… if not for the fact the genuine article is sitting on a stage playing a damn piano flanked by three heavies, all wearing earmuffs…

The Dynamic Duo take out the goons and Batman fires a champagne cork into Joker’s freakin’ eye before spraying the control console for the device with booze, disabling it. Oh, and a giant bell falls on Joker for good measure.

Finally, Batman meets Commissioner Gordon at a little bar near Harley & Ivy’s hideout from the start of the episode for their annual tradition of a New Year’s coffee at the end of Jim’s shift.

Naturally, Batman vanishes almost as quickly as he arrives, leaving behind the money to cover their order, much to Gordon’s chagrin.

Best Performance

This is the last time Kevin Conroy was asked to make Bruce and Batman sound distinct from each other, so pour one out that strong tradition as well.

It’s difficult to pick an MVP in an anthology style episode as the usual heavy hitters like Conroy, Arleen Sorkin, Diane Pershing, Ron Perlman and even Mark Hamill don’t feature for long enough to stand out. Hamill comes the closest of course.

But I have to give it up to Robert Costanza for his portrayal of a disgruntled Harvey Bullock forced to work as a Mall Santa and doing an utterly terrible job, scaring the kids, belching and drawing attention to his gun. Best of all, when confronted with the daughter of the imprisoned ‘Mad Dog’ (presumably the same one from ‘Shadow of the Bat’), he can’t find the right words and eventually caves and gives her some cash. It’s among the strongest character moments in the episode, and Costanza crams a lot of range into a short space of time.

Also of note, Tara Strong makes her debut as Batgirl, replacing Melissa Gilbert and Mary Kay Bergman. It’s an incredibly brief first appearance, but so far while she definitely sounds much younger, the acting isn’t up to snuff yet.

Ranking

What a bizarre choice for a first episode of this season, given it’s set after two later episodes AND didn’t premiere at Christmas. And not to be that guy, but the comic is better. They do a decent job adapting it, but the short runtime was never going to make it an easy task.

Harley & Ivy’s section got a disproportionate amount of the runtime, but their shopping montage and general shenanigans are the most iconic part of the episode. In fact, Paul Dini has stated he has a still from said montage framed on his wall. Such a weird coincidence that we keep catching these friends in nothing more in their underwear…

I adore the concept of the Clayface segment, and it gives Bullock and Montoya a chance to steal the show (with fan favourite Babs’ help of course!), as well as putting a neat little twist on the villain. I only wish it got more time.

Joker’s story having such a simple resolution was the only real way to pull off a mystery in five minutes, though long-time viewers may have been shocked to see Joker brandishing a regular-ass gun and actually winging Batman with a shot. Welcome to the WB, Kids!

Finally, the little epilogue would make for fertile ground for a longer drawn out scene but as it exists, it’s simply too short to be effective.

Overall it’s probably stronger as a collection than any of its individual segments, and it would have been nice to see them try and make anthologies an annual tradition.

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

Villain Watch

Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) (seventh appearance)

Enjoying one of the stronger redesigns, Ivy’s skin tone makes her look a little less human, and her costume is a touch less campy.

Props to Riba & Dini for finding a way to condense half the plot of Batman & Robin into such a short amount of time! Ivy mind controlling hapless men into doing her bidding is an enormous amount of the character’s appeal, and she continues to come across as an underrated criminal genius, though for now she’s remaining in fourth.

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) (ninth appearance)

Sliding into more of a sidekick role while Ivy takes the lead, Harley still gets in her yucks and almost murders Batman in the toy store, so props there. She’s also one of the few characters to maintain their look from BTAS, which I have to imagine is due to her being an original creation.

Clayface (Ron Perlman) (fourth appearance)

The ability to split into multiple pieces, each doing his bidding was an interesting direction to push Clayface’s wildly diverse power-set, and it opens the door to all manner of future applications. But he is taken out pretty easily.

Joker (Mark Hamill) (fifteenth appearance)

The redesign of Gotham’s number one Murder Clown is nothing short of a tragedy; the complete opposite of a glow-up. The eyes. The lips. The hair. All terrible. I can live with the subtle changes to his iconic purple suit, but I will never get used to his face.

Anyway, it’s a fun plan by him, and it’s one of his most effective appearances (knocking Batman out with a bottle and then shooting him)… until it isn’t. It’s nothing to lower his ranking though.

  1. The Joker
  2. Harley Quinn
  3. Mr. Freeze
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. Two-Face
  6. The Ventriloquist
  7. Catwoman
  8. The Riddler
  9. The Phantasm
  10. Baby-Doll
  11. Bane
  12. Mad Hatter
  13. Penguin
  14. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  15. Clayface
  16. Ra’s al Ghul
  17. Lock-Up
  18. Lloyd Ventrix
  19. Killer Croc
  20. Rupert Thorne
  21. Count Vertigo
  22. Clock King
  23. Nivens
  24. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  25. Josiah Wormwood
  26. Scarecrow
  27. Talia al Ghul
  28. Sid the Squid
  29. Queen Thoth Khepera
  30. Maxie Zeus
  31. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  32. Tony Zucco
  33. Man-Bat
  34. Hugo Strange
  35. Red Claw
  36. Arnold Stromwell
  37. Mad Bomber
  38. Tygrus
  39. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  40. Kyodai Ken
  41. Condiment King/Pack Rat/Mighty Mom
  42. Grant Walker
  43. Gil Mason
  44. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  45. Cameron Kaiser
  46. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  47. Mad Dog
  48. Ubu
  49. Professor Milo
  50. Romulus
  51. Arkady Duvall
  52. Sewer King
  53. Boss Biggis
  54. Montague Kane
  55. 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.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, just finished coverage of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. To fill the time before Loki begins, I’ll be going back to WandaVision, with two episodes per week. Injustice corrected!

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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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