Batman: The Animated Series, “Appointment in Crime Alley”

02Apr11

I’ve talked about how much I like Roland Daggett as a villain when he appeared in “Clayface,” but this is actually a much better showcase for him. Not that trying to push a dangerous drug as cosmetics and turning a man into a monster doesn’t make him pretty villainous already, but he had to give most of the stage to Matt Hagen. Here, on the other hand, he’s allowed to be as slimy and terrible as he can be. We also get to see just how angry he makes Batman, which is nice.

The show opens with a dramatic demonstration of what Daggett has planned-bombing an entire neighborhood to clear out its tenant and buildings, so he can redevelop the area. It’s just a scale model that’s blown up, but his obvious enthusiasm at the destruction is a disturbing sign of how he thinks. So is the fact that he specifies it should happen while he’s making his speech to the Better Business Bureau. We then cut to a somewhat clumsier bit of exposition, as Bruce Wayne works out while a TV report spells out the neighborhood’s history, the local opposition to Daggett, and his public arguments about how it should be destroyed. It’s saved from being an awkward scene by Bruce’s obvious anger about the situation coming through in his exercise.

Batman goes out for an unnamed appointment, and runs into some of Daggett’s men trying to forcibly evict a mother and daughter. Batman, of course, objects with his fists, and starts to get a picture for what’s going on when he asks the mother who her attackers were. We then cut to Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who is actually making her first appearance in the series. She stumbles upon Daggett’s henchmen setting explosives in the buildings, and they kidnap her to keep from being discovered. This is also when it’s established that she and Batman know each other, though in what way isn’t clear yet.

While he’s searching for Dr. Thompkins, Batman is delayed several times-first by a hostage situation with someone frustrated by Daggett’s corporation trying to force him out, and then by a runaway trolley car, which ends up wrecking the Batmobile in the process of stopping it. There’s even a moment where Batman lets his frustration at having to keep saving people come out. In between, we get to see some of Dr. Thompkins and Batman’s connection, as he goes through her scrapbook. Finally he manages to find Daggett’s hired bomber (Easter Egg-their truck has a sign for J. Olsen photography equipment on the side), and through him where Dr. Thompkins is. And she immediately proves her own mettle, as her first words to Batman are to tel him about the bomb in the hotel.

As Batman finds the bombs in the neighborhood, we hear Daggett’s BBB speech, here he’s unrepentantly arrogant about how he’s rich, so screw everyone below him. And then he has the gall to appear at the scene of his own crime to give a speech about how it must have been caused by the residents of Crime Alley. This leads to what is one of my favorite scenes in the whole series, as Batman publicly calls Daggett out on his complicity, and Daggett walks away with a smile on his face. The episode ends with Dr. Thompkins and Batman, marking the death of his parents.

In some ways, this is one of the most unassuming episodes in the whole series so far. The villain has a grand scheme, but no desire to somehow involve Batman or Wayne Enterprises-even the kidnapping and attempted murder of Dr. Thompkins is just an attempt to avoid having any witnesses, rather than a personal attack on Batman/Bruce Wayne. And the fact that the ultimate goal is just urban redevelopment by illegal means can make it seem like a low stakes affair, compared to more colorful villains like the Joker. But at the same time, it’s a great example of how Batman works to protect the city, even in the area where he lost his parents. It’s mostly luck that brings Batman in to halt even some of the bombing…and it should be noted that while he defuses several bombs, most of the buildings are still destroyed. But he’s still able to save lives that the police wouldn’t have known were in danger until they had already died. Daggett’s exit from the scene makes the point even more explicit-Batman and the audience know he’s as guilty as sin, but there’s no evidence that can be used to prove it, at least not yet.

The animation for this episode is a little dodgy compared to some, but it’s not bad. The only consistent issue is with quick motion, such as the fight scene in the darkened apartment…but at the same time, they did a great job with the trolley rescue. So while it might not be the most beautiful episode, there’s nothing really wrong with it.

Believe it or not, there are actually two episodes about Batman going to honor his parent’s death in Crime Alley, and this is probably the lesser of the two. But the fact that they made even one such episode for a kid’s cartoon is pretty surprising. And even if you think (as I do) that this is weak in comparison to the episodes before and after it, it’s still a good episode overall, and holds up well to repeated viewings. Later episodes will go deeper into Batman’s relationship with Leslie Thompkins, but this makes for a good starting point. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely give it a shot.

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