The Matt Signal – Episode 102: Old Wounds

Plot summary: Dick Grayson at last tells the story of how he and Batman parted ways and he adopted the Nightwing identity.

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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: ‘Old Wounds’

Original Air Date: October 3rd, 1998

Directed: Curt Geda (5)

Written: Rich Fogel (4)

The events of this episode (and ‘Sins of the Father’) are also told in the 5-part mini-series ‘The Batman Adventures: The Lost Years’, written by Hilary J. Bader, which released earlier in the year.

The second of three episodes to feature the entire Bat-Family in the same episode.

Recap

Robin takes out two thugs but a third gets the drop on him and escapes… only to run straight into Nightwing. Tim at last asks what happened between Dick and Bruce, as the latter has refused to open up about the subject.

Dick is more willing though, recounting his college graduation, attended by Barbara, Alfred and even Lucius Fox, but no Bruce, who was busy doing Batman Things.

Making matters worse, Dick was forced to leave an intimate dinner with Barbara shortly after to assist, teaming up with his grouchy mentor to battle The Joker… who gets away.

Chasing down one of Joker’s henchmen, Bruce is a little too brutal with him in front of his wife and young son. Dick pleads for him to ease up and then splits when he refuses.

A distraught Dick tried to talk to Barbara about the problem, but he couldn’t really say much without revealing his secret identity. Concerned, Babs asks Bruce what’s going on, so he reveals the Batcave to her and that he had deduced she was Batgirl too!

Thus the pair teamed up to stop Joker and his stolen experimental military weapon while Dick was off pouting. Thankfully he arrives on the scene just in time to save her life.

The trio take out Mistah J and then bicker about secrets and putting Barbara in harm’s way. Dick goes as far as to punch his mentor out, storming off and leaving his Robin costume behind.

Back in the present, Dick realises the mugging victim from earlier was the same henchman that Bruce was too rough on in the past. The man reveals Bruce gave him a job and turned his life around. After holding a grudge for five years, this is apparently enough for Dick to at last forgive Bruce.

Best Performance

In an episode that’s entirely about Dick Grayson declaring that enough is enough and breaking out on his own… it’s Tara Strong that shines brightest. Afforded the opportunity to show off her range, she is playful and sultry at dinner with Dick, before shifting over to the emotional maturity of going to Bruce for help, then back into the trademark sass of Batgirl, before finally matching the energy of Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester’s argument. It’s an understate, flawless performance.

This is some of Loren Lester’s best emotional work, but he’s always better at the slightly douchey ladies’ man stuff, and can’t do quite enough to boost Dick’s sympathy levels to maximum.

Mark Hamill is on top form and had he appeared for a few more minutes, he’d probably have stolen this one.

Ranking

I can’t help but compare this to ‘The Lost Years’, which works a little better as it has more time to play out, making the ‘break-up’ more of a slow boil, and also delves into Dick’s extensive training to develop his own set of skills beyond what Bruce taught him. Plus Bruce deduces Barbara is Batgirl by playing tennis against her, and that’s pretty rad!

Most of the major beats still play though, primarily the inherent tragedy of Dick suffering under Bruce’s rules, but still obeying them, leaving his dinner with Barbara to help fight Joker, and not revealing their secret even when he desperately needed to open up to her… only for Bruce himself to casually spill the beans. Everything is on his terms. Always.

Worse still, Barbara has always been enthralled by Batman, and seemingly chooses him over Dick, even if that isn’t literally the case. It’s a classic blame game where nobody is right and emotions are running too high for anybody to listen to reason. Bruce knew about Barbara and never told Dick, who only confronts the truth about his own messed up situation now that it’s re-framed for him with his girlfriend being the one placed in the line of fire.

It’s also full of little details like Dick living off a trust fund after parting ways with his billionaire benefactor thanks to the settlement over his parents’ ‘accident’, Joker having never met Batgirl before due to her sporadic outings, and providing an origin for Bruce beginning to look to Barbara as his main sidekick even before Dick quits.

For me the moment that doesn’t quite play is Dick punching Bruce to end their partnership, which works much better in the comic. They’ve absolutely teased some friction between Bruce and Dick in the past, and the events of this episode alone make Batman look bad, but the punch comes across a little unnecessary, with Bruce legitimately dumbstruck and looking like the innocent victim despite how messed up their dynamic has always been. You should be saying ‘Good For Her Him’.

I also don’t really like the ending as to me it in no way rebalances the scales. Dick had witnessed any number of acts of kindness on Bruce’s part, and his general altruism was never in doubt. The grudge was about his personal treatment of Dick, and without a true kiss and make up scene, I don’t buy Nightwing just letting go of his resentment.

This is another ranking that may raise eyebrows, because if you’re making a highlight reel of the show’s biggest moments and ongoing themes (perhaps something for me to do when I finally wrap all of this…), this is ENORMOUS, and the episode does provide plenty of fun character analysis, but there are too many little things tugging it downward in my opinion.

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

Villain Watch

The Joker (Mark Hamill) (seventeenth appearance)

Need I do more than offer up the quote “Do I hit your kids? … Oh… actually, I do…”?

Joker is theoretically an afterthought of this episode, which is devoted to the downfall of Bruce and Dick’s relationship, but being the delightful Murder Clown he is, he’s able to shine in spite of having such minimalist material, commanding audience attention.

It’s fitting that the Dynamic Duo’s greatest adversary would be the last one they faced together, while also acting as a trial by fire for Barbara as her capability as Batgirl begins to rise. He is the Alpha and the Omega… or something like that.

  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, concludes coverage of Loki this week with an overall series review.

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week it’s Boyz n the Hood.

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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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