The Matt Signal – Episode 90: You Scratch My Back

Plot summary: Dick Grayson takes flight as Nightwing, doing his best to dismantle a smuggling operation while navigating a trio of love triangles with Batman, Catwoman and Batgirl.

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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: ‘You Scratch My Back’

Original Air Date: November 15th, 1997

Directed: Butch Lukic (1)

Written: Hilary J. Bader (2)

The first episode of the season suggested relaxed censorship rules, but this one really hammers that idea home by showing two instances of blood, twice as much as any episode of BTAS allowed.

Selina’s change of hairstyle and colour was explained in Batman: Gotham Adventures, this season’s tie-in comic. Review coming in a few weeks!

The explosion from the speedboat at the end of the episode was re-used in the same episode of Superman: The Animated Series as the recycled bridge explosion from ‘Double Talk.’ I feel like I need to see this Superman episode so I can check out all these recycled explosions.

Recap

Dick Grayson, debuting his Nightwing persona, stakes out some gunrunners at the docks. Batman & Batgirl arrive to muscle in, much to Dick’s irritation as he has a demonstrable handle on the situation.

In an unexpected twist, Catwoman takes out the last goon as a “gift” to Dick and even blows him a kiss for good measure. Barbara later expresses some jealousy, but Dick mostly ignores her. Aww, Babs.

Following a lead to the man behind the smuggling operation, Nightwing spies on Enrique ‘El Gancho’ (Ricky ‘The Hook’), when Catwoman shows up again to flirt and offer a team-up.

They sneak into Ricky’s penthouse and steal his shipping schedule, fighting their way out and fleeing from gunfire.

Jealous, Bruce visits Selina and warns her off Nightwing. Dick arrives and tells him to go screw, and after a tense standoff, Bats leaves.

Once he’s gone they uncover a tracking device planted on Selina, who affixes it to one of her cats, sending Bruce & Babs on a wild goose-chase.

Launching a stealth mission to infiltrate a ship full of smuggled artefacts, Dick and Selina’s partnership quickly disintegrates as Catwoman was playing both sides all along, having stashed a jewel in among Ricky’s goods to get it into Gotham and manipulating Dick to help her retrieve it.

She plants one on the young hero to try and talk him out of taking her down, but he declines. Batman and Batgirl arrive and Dick reveals he and Bruce suspected her true motives all along, ‘faking’ their friction.

Ricky’s men arrive and we get an all-out brawl. The trio take down the henchmen and then Batman brawls with Enrique, ripping off his hook prosthetic and then dropping a crate on him. Jeez.

Dick chases Catwoman, fighting with her on a speedboat until it crashes. Batgirl scoops them up in the Bat Boat, with Dick expressing his gratitude.

Best Performance

Loren Lester is far more suited for the older, lone wolf Dick Grayson than he was trying to take over a decade off his voice for the teenage version. No judgement on Mr. Lester, but he sounds far more at home as a cocky yet mopey twenty-something trying to prove he’s an adult than he did as an exuberant, optimistic sidekick.

Adrienne Barbeau’s work as Catwoman has historically been great, but this wasn’t one of her better outings. She’s great when she’s turning up Selina’s sex appeal to 11, with her distinct purr working overtime, but she seems to lose the character’s tone a few times in the episode.

Tara Strong continues to quietly improve with each appearance as Batgirl, managing to communicate how wounded Barbara is by Dick’s flirtationship with Selina while maintaining a sense of independent strength.

Ranking

This was Nightwing’s grand debut and went to great lengths to establish how much cooler he is than (original) Robin. From his wing-suit, to his douchey converted warehouse apartment, to his dope secret motorcycle tunnel, he’s written and drawn to be a badass. The mullet… was of its era. I like that his fighting style remains acrobatic, but his increased muscle mass makes him more effective.

The interpersonal dynamics between Bruce, Dick, Selina and Barbara here are superlative fun. Bruce is jealous of Selina’s attraction towards Dick, while simultaneously resenting her rapport with his estranged apprentice. Yet even though we know they’re secretly in cahoots the whole time, he can’t help but stand in judgement during the opening bust, going as far as to stand by and make a snide comment as Dick pursues an escaped goon.

Meanwhile Dick is caught in two separate love triangles, one with Selina and Bruce, wherein he’s being treated as an adult by the former and a child by the latter, and one with Selina and Barbara. They haven’t done much to highlight it outside Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero, but Dick and Barbara were supposed to have been in a relationship in college. I’m not a huge fan of his treatment of Babs here, blowing her off for the older, more sultry woman, but him freezing up with Selina after spotting Barbara watching them is a nice touch. Speaking of which, his attempt to play at being a grown-up is severely tested by Catwoman’s openly sexual advances, which clearly intimidate him. Heck, we can throw in a third triangle, as Barbara has been shown to have a crush on Bruce (or more specifically Batman) too!

An unfortunate shadow is literally cast over the episode though, as both Dick and Selina’s redesigned costumes are predominantly black, making the mostly excellent action unclear at times. Throw in a misty effect at the docks in the third act, and it makes for some less than ideal viewing in places.

But that’s not enough to detract from the top notch character development and surprising number of creative, well-executed fight scenes, which combine to make it top twenty material… for now.

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

Villain Watch

Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) (eighth appearance)

I like 90% of Selina’s redesign, with the short, dark hair and black costume definite improvements on BTAS. The only part I’m not into is how her skin is basically pale blue (but only when in costume), making her look a little inhuman. An odd choice.

She continues her rehabilitation tour, remaining firmly in opposition to our heroes without being an out and out villain. Selina is at her best when she’s using her feminine wiles to distract from her master planning, playing a long game with the stolen gem and then targeting the more naïve Dick Grayson to help her get it back rather than the less trusting Batman or Barbara, who would of course still hold a grudge following ‘Batgirl Returns’.

Her spycraft team-ups with Dick are fantastic, moving through the shadows and trading off attacks when things get physical. Honestly, she rules, and she’s overtaken Two-Face in the rankings.

Enrique el Gancho (Sal Lopez) (first appearance)

While he may have limited screen time and borrows Bruce Wayne’s original face (many of the male characters in the series do this), Ricky ‘The Hook’ is a surprisingly fun villain and one of the stronger one-off, non-costumed crooks. A smuggler with a prosthetic hook is good campy fun, and he gives our heroes (and Catwoman) quite a fight. The brutality of the beating Bruce gives him is p. great, too.

  1. The Joker
  2. Harley Quinn
  3. Mr. Freeze
  4. Poison Ivy
  5. The Ventriloquist
  6. Catwoman
  7. Two-Face
  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. Enrique el Gancho (NEW ENTRY)
  26. Josiah Wormwood
  27. Scarecrow
  28. Talia al Ghul
  29. Sid the Squid
  30. Queen Thoth Khepera
  31. Maxie Zeus
  32. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  33. Tony Zucco
  34. Man-Bat
  35. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  36. Hugo Strange
  37. Red Claw
  38. Arnold Stromwell
  39. Mad Bomber
  40. Tygrus
  41. Kyodai Ken
  42. Condiment King/Pack Rat/Mighty Mom
  43. Grant Walker
  44. Gil Mason
  45. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  46. Cameron Kaiser
  47. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  48. Mad Dog
  49. Ubu
  50. Professor Milo
  51. Romulus
  52. Arkady Duvall
  53. Sewer King
  54. Boss Biggis
  55. Montague Kane
  56. 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, begins coverage of Loki this week.

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.

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