Batman: The Animated Series, “The Clock King”

31Mar11

Oh, man. The Clock King.

This was probably my favorite episode as a kid. I know I said that “The Joker’s Favor” was my favorite episode-and it is. But when I was a kid, the first time I saw this, it was just so different from everything else that I went “What? They have to bring him back! I NEED MORE CLOCK KING.” It was also one of the few times when finding out a character wasn’t original to the show was a real disappointment, since the original Clock King is another goofy Silver Age character…but more importantly, this amazing guy from the cartoon wasn’t a completely new idea. It’s hard to say what grabbed me about him when I was a child-was it the idea of someone being able to fight Batman toe to toe not because they’re just as physical, but because they’ve timed Batman down to fractions of a second? Was it the relatively subtle cues in his dress, such as the watch hands on his otherwise normal glasses? It’s hard to say now, but there’s still a lot of lingering affection for him in my heart.

It’s been a while since Mayor Hill showed up in the series, and here he makes a reappearance, as an acquaintance of Temple Fugate. He’s only Councilman Hill, though, as Fugate talks about how he’s looking at a legal judgement that will ruin his company. Hill recommends that he try to relax before the court appointment, but when Fugate gives this a shot, it all goes horribly wrong, like an especially wacky (or these days, an especially dark) sitcom. Rather than getting big laughs out of someone as tightly controlled as Fugate being a mess in the court room itself, the judge decides to destroy everything Fugit has built.

Seven years later, we cut to now Mayor Hill, on his way to a re-election fundraiser. After Alfred has delivered this information to Bruce while chauffering (though it’s done artfully, as Alfred urges his employer to eat something before the fundraiser), he gets into a traffic accident. But it doesn’t take long to realize the signals are at fault-and as the gathering crowd starts to blame Mayor Hill, a giant banner is unfurled to mock him. Realizing this is obviously planned to go along with the traffic stoppage, Bruce manages to slip away and change into his costume on the way up the stairs, demonstrated by his silhouette changing during the ascent. And when he gets to the roof, he meets the Clock King.

The Clock King remains an arresting villain, as he mixes some of the smirking disregard for rules of the Joker with a tight control over time and events. That’s not to say he mugs for Batman, but his tone shows he’s clearly amused by Batman’s appearance. When he first tries to escape, he doesn’t run, but calmly walks away-and then when Batman corners him again, he deliberately tumbles off a building right onto a passing train to escape. Does it make sense? No. Is it stylish as hell? Yes. It’s not really clear why Batman can’t pursue him on the train, but it’s still a great escape.

Deciding to check on how this person sabotaged the traffic system, Batman finds that an explosive watch was used to blow up the controls…and the watch alone cost over 2,000 dollars. He’s able to track it down to an address full of clocks, and information on a clock tower. But he’s distracted by a particularly opportune black out that affects a bank. He goes to investigate, only to fall into a rather clever trap-the Clock King seals him inside the vault, and rather than using a bomb or gas, uses a vacuum pump to suck all the oxygen out of the room. Of course, this plan does fall apart somewhat when you start to wonder if the small box the pump is in could actually hold all the air in the room…and Batman’s response is to use the tape from the recorded message as a way to lift the box (which will explode when moved) up and over to the vault door. This raises the question of why he couldn’t just gently lift it to the door himself, or why he doesn’t use one of his much sturdier ropes to suspend it instead of magnetic tape. Meanwhile, Hill is trying to open a new subway station, but the Clock King has planned things for that location, and two trains end up running into each other at full speed. In the confusion, he takes Hill as the police assess the dead and injured.

Having successfully completed his unnecessarily elaborate plan to blow open the bank vault, Batman deduces where Hill has probably been taken. This is where the Clock King has tied Hill to the giant hour hand, where it will crush him at 3:15. He also reminds Hill of why he’s doing this, and adds the information that Hill’s law firm represented the plaintiffs against him, though Hill claims he wasn’t involved. Batman interrupts the Clock King before Hill can be crushed, and they have an exciting but all-too-short battle inside the tower. In the end, the Clock King appears to commit suicide when he lets a clock gear fall on his location, leaving Batman to save the Mayor before he can fall from the clock hands.

The best way to sum up “The Clock King” is that it has a good first act, a decent second, and an amazing third. The action is slow to start at the beginning, and Batman’s escape from the bank vault is too silly to make any sense. But both of his confrontations with the Clock King are exciting for different reasons, and the visual spectacle of the finale is great. The whole episode is well animated, but especially with the different moving parts Batman and the Clock King fight upon, and the carnage from the clock tower destroying itself is an arresting scene. While the episode doesn’t quite live up to my childhood expectations, the character does. This is one that’s worth seeing more than once, and it’s part of what will be an especially strong ending for the first season.

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