Batman: The Animated Series, “Terror In The Sky.”

16Jun11

It’s another Man-Bat episode! That’s…good, I suppose?

I kid. Despite all of my ragging on Man-Bat in the very first episode, I’ve come to appreciate the character more since then, mostly by reflecting on how they’re more of a mirror to Batman than I’d originally thought. After all, they both initially choose to become something more than human, then find themselves trapped in the role; Batman because crime is far too entrenched for him to give up on being Batman, and Man-bat by his biological change taking him over. That’s where this episode begins, as we see Man-bat blatantly stealing fruit on the Gotham docks, before returning home-and Doctor Kirk Langstrom wakes up from a nightmare, only to discover his rug, half destroyed by fruit and claw marks. He lies about it to his wife, but naturally it worries him. He’s supposed to be cured of his transformations, after all. What if it didn’t take?

Batman has the same worry after he overhears the report the dockworkers give. The police dismiss the story, either forgetting the giant task force Bullock got for this very purpose back in the first episode, or deliberately suppressing those memories for some reason, but Batman knows who to call on. But when he confronts Langstrom about it, Langstrom fires back about how the cure must not have worked, and now he’s back to changing against his will. It’s a nice response that we don’t often see-someone angry at Batman, and maybe having a point. Sure, Langstrom took the bat serum of his own free will, so his protests ring a little hollow…but at the same time, he’s clearly tormented by the thought that he’s becoming the Man-bat again. And it’s not surprising, considering his wife yells at both of them about how she can’t take it before storming out. What is surprising is that after Batman tries to leave, the Man-bat ambushes him and tries to kill him, and does a pretty credible job.

The episode moves pretty quickly from there: Batman confirms that the Man-bat isn’t Kirk Langstrom, confronts Mr. Red Herring (Langstrom’s stepfather), and then it’s revealed that Francine, Langstrom’s wife, was exposed to the serum. Which is kind of a horrifying thought, and not for the intended reason. After all, she cut her finger a little bit and got exposed, and that’s enough for her to keep transforming sporadically. This is comic book science anyway, but that means one vial in the water supply could give you thousands of Man-bats. This also brings up the question of why the stepfather would be trying to make more of the stuff. He believes that it’s the only way humanity will survive the next cataclysm, but why? Is there a specific kind of disaster he’s expecting? Will flight be the only way to survive? I don’t want to say this is a huge plot hole, since he’s never been shown to be all that stable, but it’s still a weird thing when you think about it. Dr. Emile Dorian might have been crazy in “Tyger, Tyger,” but at least his reasoning boiled down to “Cats are great, humans suck.” Something that simple would have worked better here.

The ambush and resulting fight scene was a pretty great set of visuals, and so is the climax, as Langstrom, unaware that his wife is the culprit, confronts her on board an airplane, to explain that they’ve proven he isn’t transforming anymore. This somehow triggers Francine’s transformation inside the cabin, where she puts everyone at risk by breaking down the door and flying away, though she does have the presence of mind to save her husband when he falls out. Batman has to save the stewardess and close the door for them, before going after Francine and her husband by repeatedly divebombing them in midair. So far, Batman is 0-3 for survivable air fights involving hostages, and the only reason he doesn’t end up killing them both is because Francine lands on a bridge to put Kirk down. Batman actually wins the fight in a way I didn’t remember-after seeing him bring out a dart gun with the antidote, I was sure it would get lost and he’d have to punch her out, or Kirk would end up having to shoot his wife. Instead, Batman defies the tropes and uses it effectively on her, though Kirk still has to save her from falling off the bridge before the credits roll.

The animation here is pretty adequate. There isn’t much wrong with it (aside from one small mistake of a recycled frame making the stewardess rescue look unnecessary), but it doesn’t reach the heights of the pilot episode. On the other hand, the fights use the air capabilities of the Man-bat (well, Woman-bat in this case) well to make them great spectacles. And if Francine’s transformation isn’t as visually stunning as Kirk’s was, it’s still done well. Really, I’m fine with the episodes when they look like this, because I’d much rather have animation that gets out of the way than flashy visuals trying to mask a weak story. Also, Francine has hair from the 1930s. Which isn’t good or bad, but it’s kind of funny to see it.

Is this one I’d watch again? Well….once in a while. It holds together well, the fights are good, and it’s a good sequel for the Man-bat that doesn’t try to make him into a regularly recurring villain. And considering the character is kind of limited in what it can do, that’s a good thing. If you liked the first Man-bat episode, this is a good sequel. But if you didn’t, nothing here is good enough to change your mind.

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