Batman: The Animated Series, “Tyger Tyger.”

29May11

And then there was the time Batman launched a thousand furries.

Going into this one, I was pretty sure it would be terrible. I remembered a story that mostly featured Catwoman as a prize for winning a fight, and her being turned into an actual cat-human hybrid. I was mentally preparing myself for how bad this would be.

And it turns out, I was wrong. It’s not a terrible episode for the series. It’s not even a bad one. It’s not a good one, mind you, but it’s middle of the road; too high in quality to write it off completely, too low in quality to remember as a high water mark. It does continue an unfortunate trend of marginalizing Catwoman, but not as much as I remembered. Though that’s all damning with faint praise.

The plot is not the strongest point of the episode here. A crazy biologist has created two animal-human hybrids, and decides to kidnap Selina Kyle to make her into a mate for the more successful one, Tygris. The other is an ape man, who acts just like a generic henchman despite this. This just happens to be on the night when she was going out on a date with Bruce Wayne, so he’s able to find the evidence that she’s kidnapped, and with some help from returning semi-villain Kirk Langstrom, goes to the Island of Doctor More-I mean, Emile Dorian, the crazy biologist behind it all. He reveals the already transformed Selina Kyle to Batman, then forces him to fight Tygris for Selina’s cure.

Now, there are some convenient things at play here, such as Selina and Bruce going out on a date the night she’s kidnapped, and how the apeman henchman was able to find her. But there’s also the question of who the ape man is, and why he still works for the doctor. And the biggest one that hangs over the episode is, if Dr. Dorian made Tygris from scratch, why can’t he make a female hybrid too? Why does he have to kidnap someone to transform her, instead of growing a female from scratch? He makes a comment about Tygris being 20 years of work, so maybe he’s too old to see it through. Or he’s tried before, and it keeps failing for some reason he doesn’t yet understand. None of these explanations require going into deep explanations of fake biology, but there’s no effort made-he thought Catwoman would be a good woman to target, so he goes for it. You could take it as evidence he’s just crazy, but he’s not meant to just be random or absentminded. If anything, he’s rather chilling, so the fact that he doesn’t address this question is even stranger.

Back to the plot, the fight between Batman and Tygris is…kind of silly. It’s not played for laughs, but it tends to be Tygris is presented as being faster and stronger, but Batman defeats him with something from his utility belt, until Tygris attacks again. The closest he gets to winning is when he almost gets them both killed on a rickety rope bridge (not that there’s another kind of rope bridge in any TV show or movie). This combination of stubbornness and stupidity, along with his goofy meowing roars, undercuts the menace the music tries to build for him.

What eventually gets Batman out of trouble is actually Catwoman; she escapes from the doctor while Batman and Tygris are “fighting,” and makes it clear to Tygris that even if he kills Batman, she’s not going to be his prize for winning, which throws the whole thing into doubt for the poor bastard. His dad isn’t happy about this, and when Selina and Batman reappear, he tries to shoot Selina, claiming she’s the reason Tygris is disobeying him. The fact that Tygris might be struggling with the minor ethical issues of kidnapping a woman and turning her into a mutant couldn’t be the real problem, or the fact that Dorian got lazy-no, it’s Selina’s fault, because she still has that damn free will! When Tygris stops him, Dorian says he can unmake Tygris, and that goes as well as you might expect. In the end, the doctor’s lab explodes, Tygris turns his dad over to Batman, and gives Selina the antidote when she reiterates that she doesn’t want to be a furry.

The climax is probably the best part of the episode, as the various plot issues fall away, and we get to focus on Tygris. I said he looks goofy against Batman, but he really does appear to be an apex predator as he trashes his father’s lab, tossing around heavy equipment in his rage. At the same time, he’s closer to the Frankenstein monster in his intelligence-he saves his creator, and decides to remain on the island instead of going with Selina and Batman, saying that he has no real place in the world. For all the issues with the plot, the ending almost earns its power through fine execution. That and ditching the meow roars that did not work earlier.

The animation here is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it looks lovely. It’s certainly the best animated Catwoman to date, even if she never appears in her costume (and spends much of the episode in a very simplified cat design). On the other hand, it doesn’t always make sense when things are actually moving. There was more than one time where I went “Wait, how did this lead to the next frame?”

And then there’s the fact that this is the second episode in a row of Selina Kyle as a damsel in distress. I’ve already noted that the show wasn’t sure what to do with Catwoman when they made her into a ‘shades of grey’ kind of character, but turning her into a known victim to be rescued wasn’t the solution. If anything, it eats away at the idea that she’d be appealing to Batman; you might as well stick a disposable model in there instead, so this week he has to rescue Amber Such-and-such from the Joker. Having said that, Selina does have some agency here, as she gets away from the doctor on her own, and convinces Tygris that she’s not interested in him. Or in being a cat at all. But she’s still the damsel to be rescued, and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So is this episode worth watching? Well….maybe. As I said, it’s decent. But it’s very problematic. I wouldn’t blame anyone for skipping it instead. And if you watch because the cat version of Catwoman is technically naked, I don’t know what to tell you.

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