The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 18: Bloodsport

Plot summary: The artificially enhanced ‘ Stalker’ come to Gotham for the ultimate big game hunt: Batman.

After completing the original run of Batman The Animated Series, Matt Waters looks to the future each Saturday and Sunday with recaps of every episode of Batman Beyond, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Bloodsport’

Original Air Date: October 23rd, 1999

Directed: Dan Riba (5)

Written: Rich Fogel (3)

This episode aired after ‘Hidden Agenda’, in which Max learns Terry’s secret for the first time. This is one of the many reasons I’m following Production Order, not TV schedule.

The second of four roles for Carl Lumbly in the DCAU after playing the Mayor of Metropolis in Superman the Animated Series, but before his iconic work as Martian Manhunter in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. He also played Anansi in Static Shock.

Recap

An enigmatic individual checks into the penthouse of Gotham’s most comically swanky hotel. We know he’s a bad guy because he doesn’t tip his bellhop. He also kills a mosquito with a blowdart.

He radically redecorates the suite in an African tribal aesthetic, and performs some kind of ritual, marking his body, painting a bat and heading out into the city to hunt.

Speaking of which, Batman heads to the scene of a break-in at Casemore Tribal Arts Gallery and makes note of the deliberately sloppy entry. Sure enough, ‘Stalker’ springs his trap and the two brawl.

Terry sort of wins, but is late to take his little brother off his mother’s hands. He takes Matt to an arcade, but has to entrust his classmate, Max, to look after him when he spots Stalker… stalking him.

The two play cat and mouse across Gotham, with Stalker utilising pheromones to track our hero. Terry runs into the police and tries to alert them, but Stalker takes both cops down and the chase continues.

Terry makes it onto a train and Bruce delivers exposition about Stalker via cell phone. Terry manages to give the hunter the slip by giving his coat to a houseless person.

Returning to the arcade, Terry finds Stalker has abducted Matt. After cleaning off a phosphorus powder that made him easier to track, he heads to Stalker’s penthouse per invitation.

Matt asks Stalker about the huge scar on his back and learns after an incident with a ‘panther’ he had his spine replaced, enhancing his strength and reflexes in the process. He now seeks the ultimate challenge, believing it to be Batman.

Ask and you shall receive, as Terry attacks. It goes his way at first, but he quickly falls into a series of elaborate traps set by Stalker.

Stealth again proves to be his edge and he electrocutes Stalker, frying his artificial spine and causing him to hallucinate his way into the path of a train!

Best Performance

Carl Lumbly is the only legitimate candidate, but while I like that he gives Stalker an emotionally cold, arrogant edge rather than the generic western idea of an African tribesman, knowing what he’s capable of from Justice League, made this disappointing by comparison. But that’s an unfair comparison anyway; a guest role as a quiet villain is not the same as a recurring feature role as a character whose emotional journey is one of the major pillars of the show. He’s good, let’s leave it there!

Everyone else is perfectly fine, but nobody manages to stand out.

Ranking

This is one of those episodes that’s hard to talk about without cannibalising the villain section but I’ll try my best. It’s a tightly directed and animated story, establishing Stalker, having him fight the villain and get away, chasing him all over the city, abducting his brother, a flashback and then a fun final face-off. All of this has a sense of urgency and style, and I particularly liked how Terry had to evade Stalker without his suit, continuing the themes of the previous episode.

The penthouse made for a heck of a setting, immediately standing out in the Gotham skyline with its lush vegetation and rooftop lake, and that’s before Stalker kitted it out with tribal garb and extensive traps. Seeing Terry tumble through a grass-covered pit, fifty feet into the water below, brawling with Stalker the whole way, was the highlight for me. Everywhere tends to look the same in these high churn cartoons, so when you get a really good location, it sticks in your mind.

But the most stylish part of the episode was Stalker’s flashback sequence with everything bathed in red light, turning a fundamentally gross origin story into a powerful two minutes of exposition. Stalker hallucinating the ‘panther’ that maimed him in Terry’s colours was theoretically cool… but drifts into slightly racist territory, with the African character thinking somebody is the devil and running away. They did a relatively good job of staying out of those waters up until then, with Matt McGinnis asking Stalker if he was going to eat his heart, to which the hunter replies “Don’t be dramatic.” The music rules, though.

The only thing keeping it out of the top six is that most of those episodes feature slightly better villains, slightly more emotional stakes or slightly better B-stories. Here, Terry keeps letting his mother down, but it doesn’t really matter in the end. Fun, but pure action spectacle.

  1. Meltdown
  2. Disappearing Inque
  3. Spellbound
  4. A Touch of Curaré
  5. Shriek
  6. Rebirth Part I
  7. Bloodsport (NEW ENTRY)
  8. Splicers
  9. Lost Soul
  10. Earth Mover
  11. Black Out
  12. Rebirth Part II
  13. Dead Man’s Hand
  14. Heroes
  15. The Winning Edge
  16. Ascension
  17. Joyride
  18. Golem

Villain Watch

Stalker (Carl Lumbly) (first appearance)

You may recall at some point I cited Chris Sims’ assertion that Batman Beyond is so good because it’s essentially Peter Parker being mentored by Bruce Wayne. Well, here’s Kraven the Hunter, but with a Batman style ‘tragic’ origin. I say tragic, he’s a poacher, so he can get in the bin.

But theoretically an enhanced big game hunter setting his sights on our hero is compelling, and made for an exciting set of chase scenes all across the city, bolstered by his fun mix of gadgets and traditional weaponry. The smoke grenade that covered Terry in trackable pheromones was neat, but it would appear Stalker can only activate his artificial eye with concentration, otherwise Terry’s trick to throw him off the scene would never have worked. Good to have weaknesses, I suppose, and in the end Terry takes him out pretty easily.

  1.  Inque
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Shriek
  4. Spellbinder
  5. Curaré
  6. Derek Powers/Blight
  7. Stalker (NEW ENTRY)
  8. The Jokerz
  9. Earthmover
  10. Robert Vance
  11. Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
  12. The Terrific Trio
  13. The Royal Flush Gang
  14. Willie Watt
  15. Dr. Stephanie Lake
  16. Howard Hodges & General Norman
  17. Paxton Powers
  18. Jackson Chappell
  19. Mr. Fixx

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 including Return of the Joker.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, is on hiatus until Hawkeye.

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. Grab your multipass because you’ve won an all expenses paid trip to our episode on The Fifth Element. Super Green.

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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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