Batman: The Animated Series, “The Forgotten”

13Jan11

Like “The Underdwellers,” “The Forgotten” is an episode about Batman exposing some social ill. Unlike “The Underdwellers,” though, it’s not completely bizarre, and does a much better job of striking the tone it wants to. That’s not to say it works perfectly-the villain here is just as cartoonish as the Sewer King, even if he’s not so obviously insane as Pirate Boots Fagin was. But there’s a much stronger central concept, and things are generally toned down for most of the story.

It opens with a shot of a bad neighborhood in Gotham, before we zoom in on a building marked “Mission,” which turns out to be a soup kitchen. While volunteering there, Bruce Wayne hears that many of the homeless people who come to the kitchen have been disappearing-and so has one of the other regular volunteers. The person who runs the kitchen remarks that “homeless people disappearing’s not big news.” So Bruce Wayne decides to investigate on his own.

Both the opening and the disguise scene are nice touches, to me. You could argue that it’s silly or weird for Bruce Wayne to be volunteering personally in a soup kitchen, but I like to think it’s a way for him to remain personally involved in bettering the city, outside of just cutting big checks. And the disguise works well because it’s still clearly Bruce Wayne. It’s good enough that you could see him fooling strangers, but anyone who personally knows him would go “Bruce? Why is your hair white now?”

Eventually he’s able to find people who approach him for a “job,” and he almost takes them out-until he gets overconfident and gets knocked out from behind. He wakes up chained to a bed somewhere, and then we find out that he’s lost his memory. Yes, it’s one of the oldest plots ever written! And yet, I don’t mind that here. Sure, it makes no medical sense. But really, if you’re trying to imprison Batman, you’d better hope he’s lost his memory, or else he is going to escape in 5 minutes flat and start taking people down. In fact, that’s almost exactly what he does in this episode, but that’s later.

After meeting our friendly supporting characters (the previously mentioned Dan Reilly and “Salvo” Smith), we get to meet the unnamed villain, who apparently needs to have it explained that people other than him need food. I briefly wondered why this guy is running an illegal gold mining operation in the Gotham Badlands, but maybe it didn’t start that way. Maybe he just let most of the legitimate miners starve to death, then started kidnapping transients so his investors wouldn’t discover his horrific negligence.

While the amnestic Wayne is mining, Alfred tries to find him, using the tracking device in the car Wayne had used to go out on his investigations…and Wayne has a series of disturbing dreams, hinting at both of his identities, before he and Reilly get thrown in “the Box” to be roasted by the desert sun. Alfred is able to find both the missing car and the kidnappers, and astutely transfers the tracking device from one to the other. Meanwhile, Reilly accidentally jogs Wayne’s memory, and he busts out of the box to escape into the canyons of the Gotham Badlands. And no, it’s never named as the Gotham Badlands, but if the operation relies on transporting people from the East Coast to the American Southwest, it would make even less sense than it does.

Alfred’s subplot collides with Wayne’s escape as Alfred uses the Batplane to find him/the truck, in the only part of the episode I didn’t like. Alfred as comic relief works best when he’s employed for his dry British wit. Laughing at him for being panicked about flying a plane doesn’t work, especially when it would make perfect sense to be terrified when flying a jetplane regularly used to fight crime. Having the computer say “Your funeral” to Alfred’s demand to land doesn’t make it any better. Fortunately it’s short, and it’s certainly better to establish a credible reason why he’s able to act as Batman than pretending he somehow pulled the costume out of his pants.

The episode then cuts to the fat man threatening to eat his guards (something I would not put past the man, considering how ridiculously he’s written overall), before Batman shows up to put the fear of God into everyone. This involves leading everyone into the mines and picking them off one by one. Which, of course, is the worst possible way to engage Batman-go into a place where you can’t see, against someone who uses darkness to intimidate people. It’s like trying to lure Satan into Hell to exorcise him, and being surprised that he’s growing stronger. Smartly, the director doesn’t try to show this as a challenge. Batman just dominates all of the people the fat man sends after him, before having to rescue the porcine bastard from his own stupidity and fear causing an explosion. The episode ends with Reilly reunited with his family, and offering both Salvo and Bruce Wayne a place to stay-but then Alfred shows up, and Wayne notes that if either of them need a job, he can probably help.

Last time, I opened the review of “P.O.V.” by saying it’s the kind of baseline episode that the Animated Series was built on, and I think the same applies to “The Forgotten.” The concept couldn’t take it any higher than it went, and the characterization of the villain makes the episode a little too ridiculous for the chain gang concept to work well (even if it makes him very, very memorable). But it’s done well, and we get to see Batman be a stone cold badass, so it’s one I enjoy.

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