The Matt Signal – Episode 93: Growing Pains

Plot summary: Robin takes a shine to a runaway girl with no memories, causing some friction between him and Batman.

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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: ‘Growing Pains’

Original Air Date: February 28th, 1998

Directed: Atsuko Tanaka (1)

Written: Paul Dini (27) (story) and Robert Goodman (2)

This episode is obviously a direct sequel to ‘Mudslide’, and potentially pre-dates ‘Holiday Knights’ despite being produced and aired after it. I still don’t know why a Christmas anthology was the first episode of this series.

The Kane building is named for Bob Kane, the asshole who went to the grave falsely claiming he was solely responsible for the creation of Batman. Bill Finger for life!

Depressingly, Atsuko Tanka is the first and only woman to direct an episode of BTAS/TNBA. She will direct one more episode before the series is up, but despite having 54 animation credits (including Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke!!!), she only got to direct 4 times. FOUR!

Recap

Robin saves a young girl from a biker gang but the would-be victim flees, refusing Tim’s help. He tries to talk Batman into looking for her, but Bruce coldly states there’s nothing they can do for her.

Undeterred, Tim later spots the girl heading into a bus station and again saves her when she almost wanders in front of a bus. The girl (who Tim names Annie) claims to have no memory beyond the fact a man is after her.

Right on cue, an enormous dude claiming to be her father attacks. Batman intervenes, leading to an extended chase sequence, during which the man leaps from a ridiculous height and lands on his feet without slowing down.

Eventually losing their man, the Dynamic Duo go back for Annie but she’s nowhere to be seen. Bruce takes a dirt sample and orders Tim to return home, but he of course refuses and heads out to try and find the girl.

Tim searches all over Gotham and eventually runs into Annie again. She thanks him for his concern with a kiss on the cheek and describes one of her only memories: a lighthouse.

Back at the cave, Bruce finishes analysing the sample and reacts in mild horror, racing off to rescue the kids thanks to a tracking device in Tim’s utility belt.

Journeying to the lighthouse from Annie’s memories and into a network of pipes down by the sea, the pair are confronted by none other than Clayface, who chases them into a chemical facility connected to the pipes.

Annie at last remembers the truth: After washing out to sea at the end of ‘Mudslide’, Clayface was exposed to some chemicals that helped him regain his form, albeit in a weakened state. Thus he split a portion of himself off and sent it to check if the coast was clear, and ‘Annie’ was born.

Robin does his best but Clayface is far too powerful and nearly kills him, so Annie hurls herself at her creator and is reabsorbed into him. Furious, Tim attacks Clayface wildly, inadvertently dousing the floor in a volatile solvent.

Batman rescues his sidekick moments before an explosion and fails to comfort the boy in the aftermath as Clayface is wheeled away in a containment chamber. When the police go over the crimes Hagen committed, Tim mutters “murder” and walks away. Damn, son.

Best Performance

Mathew Valencia continues to be one of the better child voice actors you could hope to encounter, with this episode pairing nicely with ‘Sins of the Father’ to demonstrate why people preferred the second Robin to the first. It’s a difficult thing for a performer of his age to pull of snark without being annoying, but Valencia nails it, with this episode also giving him some nice emotional material to work with in the form of his beau, Annie. Daydreaming, defiance and defeat; he really goes through it here.

Francesca Smith does a decent job as Annie, even if most of her dialogue is frightened exclamations. It’s a tragic little character, and while the design is doing most of the work (see below), Smith is doing everything she can with limited lines.

Ron Perlman is still a menacing Clayface, but it’s pure gruff threats this time, giving him less opportunity to demonstrate his talents.

Ranking

This is one of the better animated episodes in the whole show, with Annie’s design and movements in particular being pretty evocative of Japanese animation, which makes sense given the director’s resume. There’s also just a fluidity of movement that earlier episodes of the show simply weren’t capable of, including some slick ‘camera’ movements during the final confrontation with Clayface. Speaking of the villain,  his appearances have been so limited because of how difficult he is to animate (hence spending over half of his screen time in disguise), but when they do use him, he’s a treat to behold; a completely different animal to the typical Batman villains.

In addition to all that, there are nice little design touches like Tim mussing up his hair when he changes into his Robin costume, and the opening motorcycle fight is a fun deviation from the standard action sequences.

There’s a strong history of Robin spotlight episodes, with ‘Robin’s Reckoning’ winning an Emmy, and while this isn’t as good as that, Tim’s characterisation is very strong. His desperate attempt to rescue Annie from an abusive ‘father’ is in keeping with his own background and also plays nicely into his prickly relationship with Bruce, which Alfred weighs in on for good measure. This kind of focus on the people behind the masks has been the strength of New Batman Adventures so far, and I hope it continues.

  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
  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. Growing Pains (NEW ENTRY)
  32. Holiday Knights
  33. Second Chance
  34. Mad as a Hatter
  35. Heart of Steel Part II
  36. Appointment In Crime Alley
  37. Two-Face Part II
  38. Pretty Poison
  39. Deep Freeze
  40. Harley’s Holiday
  41. Lock-Up
  42. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  43. Feat of Clay Part I
  44. Cold Comfort
  45. His Silicon Soul
  46. Off Balance
  47. Vendetta
  48. Birds of a Feather
  49. Joker’s Millions
  50. Heart of Steel Part I
  51. Never Fear
  52. On Leather Wings
  53. See No Evil
  54. The Clock King
  55. It’s Never Too Late
  56. Make ‘Em Laugh
  57. Joker’s Wild
  58. Eternal Youth
  59. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  60. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  61. Zatanna
  62. Day of the Samurai
  63. Avatar
  64. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  65. The Mechanic
  66. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  67. Terror in the Sky
  68. P.O.V.
  69. Christmas with the Joker
  70. Fear of Victory
  71. Be a Clown
  72. The Worry Men
  73. What is Reality?
  74. Fire From Olympus
  75. Night of the Ninja
  76. Mudslide
  77. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  78. Nothing to Fear
  79. The Lion and the Unicorn
  80. Prophecy of Doom
  81. Tyger, Tyger
  82. Blind as a Bat
  83. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  84. Dreams In Darkness
  85. The Last Laugh
  86. Cat Scratch Fever
  87. Moon of the Wolf
  88. Paging the Crime Doctor
  89. Time Out of Joint
  90. Sideshow
  91. The Under-Dwellers
  92. The Forgotten
  93. Showdown
  94. The Terrible Trio
  95. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Clayface (Ron Perlman) (fifth appearance)

One of the few untouched character designs, the possibilities of Clayface continue to haunt me. You can do virtually anything with him in a fight scene, with even his short appearance in ‘Holiday Knights’ proving that. If only the money and technology had been there to up Hagen’s appearances, he would for sure be a top five villain.

I do think this helps his standing compared to ‘Mudslide’, but not by much, because aside from what a treat he is in fight scenes, there’s not a huge amount going on behind his enormous yellow eyes. He facilitates a compelling story, and his reabsorption of Annie is haunting, but I’d love to see him hatching more schemes, rather than performing so many petty thefts.

  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. Clayface
  14. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  15. Ra’s al Ghul
  16. Lock-Up
  17. Penguin
  18. Lloyd Ventrix
  19. Scarecrow
  20. Killer Croc
  21. Rupert Thorne
  22. Count Vertigo
  23. Clock King
  24. Nivens
  25. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  26. Enrique el Gancho
  27. Josiah Wormwood
  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, has now begun coverage of Loki. New episodes every Monday… obviously.

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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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