The Matt Signal – Episode 101: Animal Act

Plot summary: Nightwing is reluctant to believe the animals from his old circus are being used for a string of robberies, creating tension between him and Batman.

Site Banner

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!

Follow The Matt Signal on Twitter!

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Animal Act’

Original Air Date: September 26th, 1998

Directed: Curt Geda (4)

Written: Hilary J. Bader (5)

Bruce Timm feels this is one of the very worst cartoon episodes in the entire DCAU.

Batman and Nightwing recycle their technique of dealing with bears from Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero. If it ain’t broke…

The colours of Mad Hatter’s wig and real hair are briefly switched during his reveal. This is also the second time a villain has hidden in plain sight as a clown.

Recap

Nightwing drops in on Batman and Robin during their patrolling, and they spot an enormous man in a trench coat easily climbing a telecoms tower on a nearby rooftop and stealing some kind of circuit board.

Batman attempts to stop him, but gets his butt handed to him in record time. Nightwing and Robin try their hand, and after a brief rooftop chase, it’s revealed the thief is 1) not male, 2) a gorilla named Peaches, and 3) Dick used to perform with her in the circus! What an opener.

Visiting Haly’s Circus, Dick introduces Tim to some of his old colleagues, including Peaches, but they’re warned off by Miranda Kane, an animal trainer Dick knew as a child. She insists the animals are kept safely locked up at all times.

Dick mopes over an old family photo album, until Batman arrives to flatly accuse Miranda of using the animals to perform a string of robberies that correlate with Haly’s tour stops. Tim interrupts their argument with a  report of another break-in nearby.

The former Dynamic Duo swing into action, stumbling upon a pair of bears rampaging through an auto-shop! Our heroes split up and engage in separate ursine brawls, with Bruce of course winning his first.

Harvey Bullock drops the bears off at Haly’s, and Miranda leads them back into their cage. Bullock cracks wise and threatens to return in the morning, but gets his comeuppance from a cheeky clown.

Dick goes to Miranda as a friend and tries to find out what really happened, but she triples down on her assertion that she had nothing to do with either incident.

Bruce again lets himself into Dick’s loft apartment and shows him security footage of the bear break-in, showing them entering the freakin’ security code by hand paw!

All is revealed a moment later, as the cheeky clown is revealed to be Mad Hatter, who has turned his mind control tech toward the circus animals. Miranda attempts to get rid of him, but her own enormous python attacks her…

When Batman and Nightwing arrive on the scene she’s trapped in the lion cage. They spring into action using bolo ties, a whip and a wooden chair and manage to get her out of the cage.

Heading into the big top, the trio confront the villain… who immediately seizes control of Miranda and the other circus performers, setting them on the vigilantes. After a big brawl against strongmen, sword throwers, fire breathers and more, Tetch’s top hat gets burned, breaking his hold.

Hatter tries to escape but is taken down by Peaches while Miranda and the boys watch. Bruce and Dick later attend the circus in their civilian clothes, getting a laugh out of Tim being put to work cleaning out animal cages.

Best Performance

It’s arguably been broadly the same thing every time with Roddy McDowall, delivering Caroll tongue-twisters with gusto, but he’s inarguably hypnotic. Fitting! So even with comparatively fewer lines and not much in the way of an engaging narrative compared to his previous appearances, he still steals the show.

Loren Lester has been so much better as Nightwing than Robin, mocking Bruce and flirting with ladies with reckless abandon. This was one of his better outings in both regards. Speaking of ladies, Jane Wiedlin sounded so much like Tara Strong to me I was surprised to learn who voiced Miranda Kane.

Ranking

Every single frosty barb between former mentor and protégé is so juicy. Bruce has criticised some aspect of Dick’s technique in almost every episode they’ve been in together, while Dick continues to deliver cutting remarks about Bruce being a sociopath. It’s great. Their tense standoff after arguing about Miranda’s potential guilt was electric, quite frankly.

But the main focus of the episode was the animal shenanigans, which only had limited mileage. The gorilla made sense, allowing them to use a hat and trench coat for a fake-out, and locking Miranda in the lions’ cage works too. But the bears were a little overmuch for me, and I personally find it uncomfortable watching superheroes fight regular animals. There’s a shocking amount of it in the tie-in comics, and there’s been quite a run of it in the show in recent episodes now too.

Thankfully, they switched over to the human performers for the final showdown, which featured a good amount of variety thanks to the range of different skillsets. Dick stopping throwing axes with a taught whip and lighting reflexes was badass, and the fire-breather acting as Tetch’s undoing was clever.

In the end though, this episode is less than the sum of its parts, as the handful of fun moments didn’t gel together into an overall compelling narrative. Not as awful as Bruce Timm thinks, but not good, either.

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

Villain Watch

Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall) (fifth appearance)

I’m firmly in the middle when it comes to this re-design. His costume change brings him more in line with traditional depictions of the character, but I don’t really care for the impish makeover of his facial features and much preferred him as a straw-haired goof.

In terms of his deployment here, it’s a huge step up from Worry Men, but still can’t touch his iconic first outings. There’s definitely fertile ground in him finding animals easier to control at a distance than humans, but I’m pretty sure we’ve seen several of his past victims continue to act under his orders from across the city. I did like the touch that Dick didn’t recognise him when he was in his clown attire at the beginning.

So he’s just good enough to maintain his ranking, but some potential continuity errors prevent him from rising. Nice and easy.

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

There Will Be Movies continues its journey through the 90s on Wednesday with The Silence of the Lambs.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s