The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 41: Ace in the Hole

Plot summary: When Ace goes missing, Bruce recounts how he came to own the faithful Bat-Hound in the first place.

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: ‘Ace in the Hole’

Original Air Date: August 19th, 2000

Directed: James Tucker (3)

Written: Hilary J. Bader (10)

Cerestone makes a quick return following ‘Big Time’ a few episodes ago. Bruce and Terry already knowing what it is here is yet more proof that production order is preferable to airdate, as this one aired first but was created second.

The mutated dogs bear a similarity to Farmer Brown’s wacky animals from ‘Critters’.

Big episode for Ace as he is officially established as a Dane cross, and receives some training in the back room of The Stacked Deck, a criminal hangout seen many times throughout BTAS.

Recap

Terry drops Bruce off at the chiropractor and then walks Ace around the block. The faithful Bat-Hound does not like the smell of a shady looking pedestrian, chasing him down and trying to bite him.

The unknown man wildly fires his gun at both Ace and Terry and eventually manages to get into a car and get away, but Ace runs off in pursuit and Terry loses him!

Bruce orders Terry to track down the man before attempting to find Ace, claiming he’s a survivor. They trace the gun and run a profile, identifying him as Ronny Boxer, who runs dog fighting rings.

We learn via flashback that Boxer bought Ace as a puppy and cruelly trained him to fight. The GCPD raided the ring before Ace’s first fight, and he ran off into the streets where Bruce happened upon him during his annual tradition of laying flowers on the spot where his parents died, adopting him.

Back in the present, Terry tricks some of Boxer’s associates into giving him his phone number under the guise of auditioning a dog. Tracing the number to the criminal’s home, Terry finds the chemicals required to make Cerestone, the growth hormone from ‘Big Time’.

Boxer attacks and wildly fires a gun at Batman, triggering a huge chemical fire that Terry has to put out, allowing Boxer to escape.

Meanwhile, Ace eventually got caught by a corrupt animal control worker, who hands him straight back to Boxer ahead of another dog fight.

Bruce learns the next event is taking place on a barge, which Terry infiltrates, discovering a number of angry, mutated dogs.

Accidentally wandering into the middle of the fighting pit, Batman finds himself battling the largest of the Cerestone experiments, which he tries to bring down as humanely as possible.

Ace breaks free and knocks Boxer overboard before returning to save Terry from the monster, which they finally pacify before returning home to an elated (by his standards) Bruce.

Best Performance

What better opportunity to celebrate the immense talents of Frank Welker, one of the longest tenured voice actors who specialises in animal impressions. As many reading this may know, I’m an enormous Futurama fan, and the entire voice cast of that show would sing Welker’s praises at any given opportunity, so it only feels right in an episode about Ace to recognise his voice actor.

Kevin Conroy softens his Old Man Bruce voice a little when worrying about Ace, but I’m not sure the script took this quite far enough for him to take the honours.

The various lowlifes involved in the dog fights all do a good job at being bad, including Bill Smitrovich as the main villain, and Peter Onorati and Jim Wise as his cohorts, but they don’t really stand out from each other.

Ranking

I get what they were going for here, shining a spotlight onto Bruce’s faithful hound in an effort to humanise the old grump a little, as well as demonstrating how far Ace and Terry’s relationship has come. It just isn’t all that interesting.

The strongest moments were Bruce quietly expressing his worry for his dog when Terry isn’t around, and the flashback to how he ended up adopting him in the first place. Is it a little too cutesy that Ace happened to wander into Crime Alley on the night that Bruce was laying flowers on the spot where his parents died? Maybe? Who is to say, really? Having him defend Bruce from a Joker was a nice touch though, as it demonstrated despite Boxer’s treatment of him, he was still a Good Boy who protects people. Big fan of Bruce’s rage when the punk injured Ace in retaliation, too, with that leading to the adoption.

It’s just that the rest of it gets a bit wishy-washy, from the clumsy execution of Ace going missing while chasing Boxer down despite Terry not being THAT far behind him, to the way they go about identifying Boxer, to the raid of his house and then the final showdown with the mutant. Bringing Cerestone back to explain the giant animals was nice continuity, and I’m glad they didn’t have Terry fighting regular dogs.

Perhaps the most damning moment of the episode was Bruce’s decision that Terry should pursue this random man Ace went after as a higher priority than recovering his dog, especially given the legwork required to even identify Boxer. If they’d gotten a more clear-cut lead or stronger evidence this is a person Batman should tirelessly track down at all costs, I might have bought it. Instead, it works in direct opposition to the aim of showing Bruce’s softer side in my opinion.

  1. Meltdown
  2. Eyewitness
  3. Babel
  4. Final Cut
  5. Disappearing Inque
  6. Spellbound
  7. A Touch of Curaré
  8. Shriek
  9. Rebirth Part I
  10. Bloodsport
  11. Splicers
  12. Zeta
  13. Armory
  14. Hidden Agenda
  15. Lost Soul
  16. Earth Mover
  17. Black Out
  18. Dead Man’s Hand
  19. Where’s Terry?
  20. Sneak Peek
  21. Rebirth Part II
  22. Once Burned
  23. Big Time
  24. Revenant
  25. Untouchable
  26. Sentries of the Last Cosmos
  27. April Moon
  28. Heroes
  29. The Eggbaby
  30. Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot
  31. Mind Games
  32. Hooked Up
  33. The Winning Edge
  34. Ascension
  35. Joyride
  36. Golem
  37. Ace in the Hole (NEW ENTRY)
  38. The Last Resort
  39. Plague
  40. Payback
  41. Rats

Villain Watch

Ronny Boxer (Bill Smitrovich) (first appearance)

On the one hand, this is just Some Guy. On the other, unless you’re a monster, animal cruelty should intensely bother you. From that perspective, Boxer is a detestable human being, with even the PG-friendly version of him ‘training’ Ace by hitting him with a newspaper eliciting anger. The part where he’s also conducting science experiments to create bigger, meaner dogs is almost secondary.

So much like Rat Boy and Dr. Wheeler, I’m left to consider ‘most evil’ versus ‘worst villain’. Dude sucks. Massively. But if we’re ranking the quality of Batman’s various foes… he’s got to be near the bottom.

  1. Inque
  2. Curaré
  3. Shriek
  4. Mr. Freeze
  5. Spellbinder
  6. The Jokerz
  7. Derek Powers/Blight
  8. Stalker
  9. The Royal Flush Gang
  10. Armory
  11. Ian Peek
  12. Repeller
  13. Earthmover
  14. Willie Watt
  15. Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
  16. Mad Stan
  17. Robert Vance
  18. The Terrific Trio
  19. Karros
  20. Bullwhip’s Gang
  21. Charlie ‘Big Time’ Bigelow
  22. Simon Harper (and the Sentries!)
  23. The Mayhem Family
  24. Payback
  25. Agent Bennet
  26. The Brain Trust
  27. Kobra
  28. Dr. Stephanie Lake
  29. Howard Hodges & General Norman
  30. Paxton Powers
  31. Jackson Chappell
  32. Cynthia
  33. Falseface
  34. Mr. Fixx
  35. The T’s
  36. Ronny Boxer (NEW ENTRY)
  37. Ratboy
  38. Dr. Wheeler

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 Moon Knight begins. I miiiight drop a column or two before then, but given I did an accidental racism last time, I probably won’t.

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.

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