The Matt Signal: Mystery of the Batwoman

Plot summary: There’s a new bat-themed vigilante in Gotham, and Batman wants to know who’s behind the mask.

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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

Movie Title: ‘Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman’

Original Release Date: October 31st, 1998

Directed: Curt Geda (8)

Written: Alan Burnett (9) & Michael Reaves (16)

Set after The New Batman Adventures but before the various flashbacks of Batman Beyond, this straight-to-video feature sports TNBA character models, but a much brighter animation style, likely due to being picked back up so many years later. Thus Batman’s costume was shifted closer to his Justice League look.

Kathy Duquesne was intended to be Kathy Kane, the alter ego of the comic book version of Batwoman, but DC refused to sign off on it because they didn’t like her being portrayed as a quasi-villain. Not sure I agree with that, but I am glad, because she and Bruce are typically depicted as cousins…

Moreover there’s no similarity between the Batwoman of this film and the comic book character except the name, with her costume looking more like Terry McGinnis’ in Batman Beyond, and the backstory being radically adjusted.

These were the final voice performances by Bob Hastings and John Vernon as Jim Gordon and Rupert Thorne respectively before their deaths.

There is an excellent little silent film called ‘Chase Me’ included as an extra, featuring Batman pursuing Catwoman across Gotham. Well worth a look!

Recap

The titular Batwoman attacks a criminal convoy transporting all manner of firearms, scattering several of them onto the highway in the process. The chaos attracts Batman & Robin, who save the life of the truck driver.

Bruce stares Batwoman down and we head to some beautifully animated opening credits featuring random action scenes. Not quite the iconic BTAS opening, but I’ll take them.

Rupert Thorne and Carlton Duquesne meet with Penguin to report on the hit in his secret weapons factory below a legitimate business. Oswald is none too happy, insisting Duquesne eliminate the Batwoman.

We run through our list of possible candidates, from Carlton’s spend-happy daughter, Kathy, to a slightly older Barbara Gordon (who immediately takes herself out of the running), to clutsy tech genius Roxanne ‘Rocky’ Ballantine, to Harvey Bullock’s new partner, Detective Sonia Alcana.

Noting a logo on the truck driver’s keys, Batman hits Penguin’s aforementioned legitimate business, but Batwoman is already on the scene, setting off explosives in the weapons facility below. Bruce scolds her for destroying any evidence of the criminal enterprise so she flies off on her glider.

Following her, Batman finds himself at Carlton Duquesne’s penthouse. Naturally, he assumes Kathy is Batwoman, so tails her the next day, helping her escape her unwanted security. They flirt and bond over her dead mother before she reluctantly heads home.

Batwoman sneaks into Penguin’s office while he’s meeting with Thorne to photograph some of his files, but the flash gives away her position so she has to fight her way out. Furious, Cobblepot opts to replace Carlton Duquesne with some “real muscle.”

Bruce takes Kathy out on a date to the Iceberg Lounge while Bullock and Alcana follow. When Batwoman attacks Penguin with Kathy still in eyesight, Batman rules her out as a suspect.

Batman pays Rocky a visit after determining some of her tech was used by Batwoman. She displays some fancy fighting moves and confirms she’s working against Penguin to get her fiancé out of prison, but denies being Batwoman. CCTV footage confirms she was nowhere near the club.

Penguin meets with Bane, who demands total control of their operation. Oswald brushes off this wild demand and shares details on their next shipment as Batwoman listens in.

The plot thickens as Batwoman returns to her hideout, where both Rocky and Kathy are waiting. The vigilante unmasks to reveal herself as Detective Alcana. More accurately, the three trade-off in the role in order to avoid suspicion…

Except Batman is totally onto them, linking the seemingly unconnected Kathy and Rocky via Alcana, who took art classes alongside the former, and was college roommates with the latter. She confirms her own grudge against Thorne for destroying her parents’ business to tie a neat bow on their shared motivations.

Thus all parties descend on the cruise ship full of weapons, as Bane immediately captured Kathy and called in the three mobsters, while Batman, Rocky and Alcana arrive to rescue her with all hell breaking loose.

Carlton saves Kathy, Rocky sinks Penguin & Thorne’s escape boat, and Batman and Bane brawl all over the burning ship, with the mercenary seemingly perishing in the flames.

Alcana rescues Bruce before he falls to his death and has no choice but to reveal herself to her GCPD colleagues, which naturally leads to her immediate termination. Bruce expresses his regret and hands her evidence to get Rocky’s fiancé out of prison.

Kathy is a sad panda watching the lovers reunite while she’s all alone… but oh hey, Bruce is waiting for her and they drive off into the sunset together.

Best Performance

Given there were FOUR voice actors contributing to the titular role, it’s only natural one of them would take home the gold. I lean towards Kimberly Brooks as Kathy, who got more lines than her two accomplices. She was feisty and fun, managing to make a spoiled rich girl remain likeable through charisma and rising to the challenge of the character’s occasional emotional moments, while also working hard to get the ‘twa-la’ catchphrase over. Kevin Conroy repeating it back to her at the end only worked because of her memorable reads of it earlier in the film.

Kelly Ripa was the second best of the trio, nailing the slightly awkward scientist brief without making her a comical loser. She too excelled when asked to explain her backstory. Elisa Gabrielli was much weaker as Alcana, failing to make her material work as well.

Casting Kyra freaking Sedgwick as the voice all three put on while in costume was a very strange decision, as the most famous of the guest stars got the least to say, not to mention it’s highly implausible that three women with very different accents could convincingly adopt the same voice.

Hector Elizondo replaced Henry Silva (who had retired from acting) as Bane and just wasn’t quite as menacing. Likewise Burnett & Geda re-cast Penguin, preferring the more gruff tone provided by David Ogden Stiers. Bruce Timm disagreed with the move and I think I’m with him, as while Stiers was solid in the role, the material wasn’t anything Williams couldn’t have handled.

Ranking

I actually really like the film’s central premise, presenting multiple suspects to be Batwoman, methodically ruling each one out… only to reveal it’s all three of them working together and switching out to provide alibis. It allowed them to be extremely on the nose twice without giving the game away, with Bruce following Batwoman back to Kathy’s house, and Rocky’s tech being used in the attack on Penguin. All three demonstrated the required physicality, and their combined money, intelligence and connections made them a highly effective unit, each with a strong motivation against one of the three main villains. Very tidy stuff.

I also really liked the look, maintaining some of The New Batman Adventures’ art style but throwing more money and polish at it and ditching the permanently red skies I hate so much. If they ever bring the show back in some form I’d like them to follow this style but with 15+ years of animation advances, rather than the generally bleh look of the last decade of DC animated films.

So you’d think a nice strong ranking, right? Well, while I think this may not get enough love, perhaps because it came so long after the end of the show, it is lacking in a few ways that make it the worst of the BTAS films.

Firstly, their choice of villain ensemble is lacking compared to Joker, Phantasm and Mr. Freeze in previous features. I’ll get into that more below, but they needed some sexier names IMO. Secondly, Batwoman is clearly playing in the same wheelhouse as The Phantasm, what with the mystery identity and romantic ties to Bruce, but is nowhere near as good in execution. Three decent characters sharing focus cannot compete with one fantastic one not competing for time. The Phantasm costume was also iconic, while this Batwoman outfit is generally reviled.

Finally, Batman and his allies get precious little attention, with the majority of the screen time going to the three Batwomen and the collection of rogues. Alfred is quippy, Tim is somewhat charming and Barbara makes no bones about her intention to bang Bruce when she returns to Gotham (have never been happy about that romantic pairing, by the by), but these are all tiny moments. Bruce himself gets an inferior version of his romance sub-plot from Mask of the Phantasm, with Kathy Duquesne substituting for Andrea Beaumont, and while I like seeing him play detective, even that aspect was sub-par compared to past efforts.

A detail like Batman saving Alcana’s life years ago, inspiring her to become a cop, only for her to return the favour at the end should really sing and make the universe feel lived-in, but just falls a bit flat. And that’s pretty emblematic of the entire movie, lots of ambition but it just doesn’t quite get there.

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

Villain Watch

The Penguin (David Ogden Stiers) (twelfth appearance)

Moving past the change of voice actors, I simply don’t think they did a good enough job with Penguin throughout the show to warrant him propping up a movie as the main threat. He has general name value, so I get why they did it, but his feature episodes were generally much worse than the other heavy hitters. Perhaps that’s why they gave him three accomplices.

I do like the continued use of the Iceberg Lounge and him running a weapons factory underneath one of his legitimate businesses to try and make it look like he’d gone straight, a plot line they teased a little here and there in TNBA. But really other than bossing the other villains around, he doesn’t do an enormous amount. I’ll give him a little boost to just below Mad Hatter, but even that feels generous.

Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) (tenth appearance)

Long time, no see, Rupes! In fact, as he skipped TNBA, they had to create an entirely new character model for him for the movie. There’s negligible difference, though he’s a little more… trim.

It’s a bit of a shame to see Thorne take a subservient role to Penguin given they were mobsters of equal standing in the series. He’s clearly more trusted than Duquesne, but it very much comes across as he works for Penguin, not with him. And he also doesn’t say or do an awful lot besides constantly shuffle cards and fire off some guns near the end.

His relative irrelevance probably contributes to Detective Alcana feeling the least important of the Batwomen, and maybe a flashback to Thorne destroying her family’s livelihood would have helped them both out.

Carlton Duquesne (Kevin Michael Richardson) (first appearance)

As happy as I am to have Kevin Michael Richardson around, this is the most generic of generic mobster roles that is only memorable because of the vocal performance. He’s angry all the time and is the clear odd man out in the criminal operation, with his role of muscle being handed over to Bane. But he gets to stick around because his daughter is functionally the secondary lead of the movie.

Bane (Héctor Elizondo) (third appearance)

Ehhhhh. Let’s just call this diminishing returns. I like that they keep calling his name when they need somebody to beat the snot out of Batman, with Bruce looking a complete wreck after their big confrontation at the end.

But in terms of the character behind the mask, this is by far the least interesting he’s been. He insists on taking over Penguin’s operation, but they mostly just ignore that and he goes along with them anyway. He captures Batwoman when the others could not, which is good, but then he immediately calls them up as if he works for them and waits for them to come and get her. Why? I thought you were running the show, dog?

I’ll nudge him down a little, but will keep him in the top ten on the strength of those first two appearances.

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

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

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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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