Batman: The Animated Series, “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy”


In case I haven’t beaten this horse enough: the original villains for the Animated Series are just not that good. They’re not uniformly bad so far, but very few have been worth being in their one episode, let alone possibly returning for another one. However, we’ve got a good one here, at least in theory. Sure, every Batman villain has used deathtraps in some incarnation, and even the Animated Series ones have been pretty heavy users of them, with the exception of Catwoman. But having someone who specializes in their use, and for people other than the hero, is a niche that could work very well. It’s a shame that he’s in an episode that doesn’t live up to its potential.

The episode opens without even mentioning Batman, instead starting on a man in a trenchcoat, trying to find someone who’s sent him something like a ransom note. He makes some noise about if the person who sent it is really his contact or not, but this doesn’t sufficiently answer the first question here. Namely, why would anyone see such a note and think “Strange. I believe I shall follow these directions into the unknown and see what happens!” In that sense, the man shouldn’t be so surprised when he starts sinking into quicksand, and has to confess where he’s got some money hidden. We then cut to some definitively awkward exposition between Batman and Commissioner Gordon, where they lay out who the man in the trenchcoat was, who trapped him, that it’s his MO, and that they know the man by name, yet somehow can’t get anything to stick to him. They might as well have played a montage of his past attempted murders to cement how strange this is.

That very odd tone is a weak point for the entire episode. Batman mentions an associate of Wormwood, and then we see him ambush the man at a fancy dinner. But instead of being frightened by Batman’s sudden assault on their guest speaker, everyone starts laughing, because he got splattered with cake as he’s flown around the room against his will. It reminded me of the Batman live action TV show. Whether you think that series was a terrible thing for Batman as a character, or it had a strange but compelling vision on Batman and/or comics in general, it’s not the tone that the Animated Series has been shooting for. Having it appear so strongly here doesn’t make for a refreshing change of pace. Instead, it makes the whole plot feel like it was a rejected pitch on the old series that got buffed up and tweaked for this cartoon. This is reinforced by Commissioner Gordon’s inability to solve the very simple rhyming puzzles in Wormwood’s letters, which just undermines Gordon as an ally to Batman.

I will admit that the traps Batman is put into are fairly interesting, and the first one at least gives Batman a clear reason to walk into it, though the second does not. And while I liked the second deathtrap better, it’s also fairly ridiculous, at least in Batman’s reactions. There’s also the variable physics at work-somehow he can’t break the light with his utility belt, which makes sense, but he can break glass thick enough to obscure who’s behind it. And then he growls once he’s inside, as though he’s suddenly finding this strange “hu-mon” speech too complicated.

However, there is one genuinely great moment in the episode, which almost redeems the whole thing-the reveal that the Baron, who commissioned Wormwood, was actually Batman in disguise the whole time. As a kid, I remember my frustration at Batman being beaten by melting wax fading away, as I realized how the whole thing was a set up. Unfortunately, the moment is undermined by Wormwood putting up far too much of a fight. He’s a skinny guy who never confronts his victims…and yet he’s able to throw Batman around? It’s just filling time, even if it gives us the great visual of a stunned Wormwood handing the key to Batman without a word.

The animation here is subpar as well. It’s decent enough-at least no one goes off model-but character’s mouths move inconsistently. Which is something of a problem when there seem to be a lot of close-ups on people talking. Seriously, the director loved zooming in on Wormwood’s face.

With “Eternal Youth,” I had to admit that something I remembered as below average was actually much better than I thought. Here, the opposite is in effect. I loved the Cape and Cowl Conspiracy as I remembered it, but the actual episode is a lot weaker, even though the theory remains strong. It’s worth watching once for the concept, but that’s it.

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