Batman: The Animated Series, “Heart of Steel I+II”


Very short review: (Terminator –  Time Travel) X (Invasion of the Bodysnatchers – Aliens) + Batman = Heart of Steel.

Okay, so there’s a little more at play here.

This is a weird story for Batman, but it’s not a bad one for him. We’re not talking about something that would work better for Superman, or more obscure DC heroes. But Batman’s not really a robot fighter most of the time, at least not in the Animated Series. Of course, that’s mostly because of the realistic tone they shoot for-there’s no issue with Batman fighting robots in The Brave and the Bold, that’s for sure. Thankfully, it’s very well done, and the threat is actually heightened by reducing the numbers.

The action kicks off with a high tech theft from Wayne Enterprises, and it’s a long sequence, much longer than I remembered. In fact, it takes up the first third of the episode. It’s started by a woman leaving a briefcase at the security desk-and when the security guards are out of the room, it opens up to reveal an eye and four limbs, along with a host of tools to get around. It’s able to get up to the top of the building and steal a number of microchips, then holds Batman the security guards off long enough to shoot a rocket filled with the chips to a drop location. Batman is able to follow in a glider, but the mysterious woman manages to shoot him out of the sky (with an anti aircraft gun hidden in the car’s trunk), forcing him to go home and figure out who could be behind it. It’s easy to note that the robo briefcase contains far too many tools to make sense, but it’s at least a different kind of thief to face, and I like that it sacrificed itself to fire the rocket. If you’re making a robot for a one-time use, why try to preserve it after it accomplishes the mission?

This sets up the plot for the rest of the story. After talking with the police and Lucius Fox about the theft (and introducing Barbara Gordon), Bruce talks to one of his mentors, and the mystery woman just so happens to be Rossum’s assistant, who is also working with and for Rossum’s giant AI, HARDAC. And really, it’s rare to find any story where a warehouse sized computer is the good guy. Sure enough, HARDAC starts to replace people with robotic duplicates. It’s a somewhat bizarre attempt to cover his tracks for the theft, but it almost makes sense. Well, except for all the social interactions that the duplicates can’t handle. It’s one thing for Barbara to tell Batman something is off about her dad. It’s quite another to watch him sit stock still at the dinner table, not even looking at his food, and not wonder why your father will make a meal for two people, and then leave his half completely untouched.

The climax comes after Batman defeats an attempt to replace himself (or Bruce Wayne, anyway) with a duplicate as well, and goes to confront Rossum. That’s when we learn the reasoning behind HARDAC’s actions-Rossum lost his daughter in a car accident, and managed to create a robotic duplicate as a way to replace her. HARDAC took those two things and decided that if humans can kill one another, he might as well replace all humans to fix the problem. Naturally, Batman objects, and with the help of Barbara, shuts the whole thing down and saves the replaced humans, who had all been kept alive by HARDAC for study.

This is a strange mix of story and action. On the one hand, it’s some of the densest plotting for the show to date. Not that this is saying much-it’s still a Saturday morning cartoon. But you have a man who’s lost his daughter, which leads to his creation that goes out of control, and a plot to take over the world that is chilling not because it almost succeeds (let’s face it, this is not a situation only Batman could stop-pulling the power on HARDAC would have been pretty easy when it’s so huge), but because it’s so cold. There’s no real malice to HARDAC’s actions, but the fact that he’s deliberately working behind his creator’s back means it’s not innocent either. It’s also nice that we aren’t introduced to a conspiracy that’s already taking over all of Gotham. We’re in at the ground floor of it starting, and Batman stops it before it can advance much further. It’s much easier to believe that, and certainly easier to justify why HARDAC has kept his victims alive when Batman intervenes.

Plus, there is a LOT of action. The long theft scene, Batman killing the Robot Bullock (and showing very little hesitation about it, so you have to wonder if he suspected this wasn’t the real Bullock, or if it was just him indulging himself), and then not one, but TWO fights between Batman and a pack of robots…there wasn’t more action than in other two parters, but it feels denser, at least. Plus, there’s the nice involvement of Barbara Gordon, foreshadowing her becoming Batgirl, or at least trying to be.

Of course, part of the reason the story might feel like it has a lot of action is the quality of the animation. It’s not the best of the series, but it’s pretty high-and for once, this is a two part story that doesn’t change studios in the middle. The people who made the first episode made the second, and it helps things flow a lot better. It also helps the fights pop, and sells the alien nature of the robots. They’re strong and fast, but seeing them scuttle around like spiders, or twist their heads 180 degrees, is a far more unsettling visual when it’s this well animated.

In the end, “Heart of Steel” is a pair of episodes where you almost wish they’d made it into three parts. Both the first and second halves are good, and the resolution is satisfyingly over the top. It’s one of the higher marks for the show overall, and it’s a damn good story I highly recommend.


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