Batman: The Animated Series, “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement”

06Feb11

Nostalgia is a tricky thing to wrestle with sometimes. For example, I used to watch Transformers as a kid. Not willingly, though-I actually preferred Inspector Gadget to it, and my brother and I fought over it. As I grew up, I wished that it had been different, and that we’d both liked Transformers so we got to watch it all. But I watched just a little of the old Transformers cartoon when I was an adult…and I had to stop. It was just too terrible to go on.

That happens with a lot of things, obviously. Whether we were just younger when we watched/read/played something, or we got the toys and made our own stories, it’s usually best in the past. Few things hold up when we’re adults. That’s actually one of the reasons for my reviews; the Animated Series is one of the few shows that did hold up (mostly) on watching it again. Unfortunately, “I’ve got Batman in my basement” is one of the low notes of the whole series. And I mean low. This is such a-but I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s get into the episode properly.

The episode starts with two men stealing a jeweled egg from a high rise building-an egg with a continuous red glow around it, to give that hint of radioactivity to the item. Batman tries to capture them, but he’s attacked by a vulture out of the blue, giving them time to escape. We then cut to the kids who will be our main focus for the episode. They spot the vulture as well, and the two smaller ones decide to follow it, because “it’s a mystery!” They find the two men from the opening, and then the Penguin enters.

I’ve always loved the character designs for the Animated Series, including their revisions of old Batman villains into a new and more respectable form, but the Penguin is the one who got the short end of the stick. The design isn’t bad, mind you, but they were trying to emulate the version from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, and it makes him stick out in the worst way. It’s a bad sign when you’re too distorted to fit in a cartoon.

Sherman (the small kid with glasses) gives us an exposition dump on what the egg is, thus serving no purpose. Batman then appears, because the show didn’t actually forget who its star is supposed to be yet. However, while he’s able to take the egg back from the Penguin, he’s delayed by having to save the kids from their own incompetence. Literally, they turn on a conveyor belt that would kill them, and neither one thinks to even stand up and try to run. Batman then walks straight into a gas attack from the Penguin. He’s able to get outside and flop into the Batmobile, but it’s up to the kids to save him!

This is the start of a long, depressing slide in the plot. The kids are dumb, the criminals are dumber, and they get away by dumb luck, almost killing everyone in the process and damaging the Batmobile as well. They get Batman home, and then try to reassure him that they can take care of them, because….well, there’s no good reason. One of the kids actually suggests calling the police about this, and Sherman specifically says no, because they have to “protect their client.” This includes lying to his mother, and getting angry when his friend tries to tell the truth.

Meanwhile, the two bullies from earlier uncover the Batmobile under its disguise of empty cardboard boxes. I’ll be fair and admit that this was probably the only option to them for hiding something that distinctive, but I’m puzzled as to how they managed to bring it into the neighborhood without someone noticing the goddamn Batmobile pulling in. The vulture manages to find them, and then the kids decide to stage Home Alone with Batman’s utility belt. This goes entirely too well, until the Penguin stops playing along and the kids start to realize they’re actually in trouble. Of course, just before the Penguin can kill Batman, he finally recovers from the gas and beats up the Penguin and his thugs.

There are a number of issues with this episode, but it all comes back to the kids. I don’t want to argue that you need Batman as the focus in every episode or comic-if anything, he works better as a reactive character than a proactive one, at least in episodic storytelling. But if you’re going to remove your normal protagonist, then you need to have a good reason to use another one, such as bringing a different viewpoint on the situation. Here, it’s just a Home Alone rehash with Batman involved, and a thoroughly degrading introduction for the Penguin. I know I wouldn’t take him seriously if he was defeated by a prepubescent version of the Scooby Doo gang, as he almost is here. This is an episode to skip unless you’re just a huge Penguin fan…and even then, I think you should skip it. It’s not worth the stupidity.

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