Batman: The Animated Series, “Blind as a Bat”

10Aug11

Is this the most obvious title for a Batman episode? The answer is yes.

I’ll give it this: the episode is better than it needed to be. That makes it sound like it’s just bad, instead of being a god-awful affair, but it’s actually pretty good. The plot is kind of ridiculous and the solution is far too convenient, but I can ignore those when the episode is fun overall.

It starts with something fairly unusual: a Wayne corporation demonstration for the military of a new helicopter, the Raven. Its primary selling points are stealth components and an advanced tracking system-and while I’m not a military person, I think those are actually pretty good selling points. I have no idea how realistic they are, but at least they’re close enough to reality that I don’t automatically question it, like if they’d given it force fields or teleportation technology. Bruce Wayne isn’t that comfortable with selling weapons to anyone, but the demonstration goes well…up until the Raven suddenly turns around and starts shooting the bleachers the military officers are sitting on. Which can either be taken as proof that Bruce’s misgivings were on the money, or as a brazen selling point. “See how quickly it can destroy a platoon of troops! You wouldn’t want us to sign a contract with China, would you?” I kid, of course-no one dies.

While running from the would-be-a-slaughter-in-the-comics action, two extras discover the helicopter crew, tied up and gagged. And then the Penguin reveals himself as the person behind the theft of the Raven! It’s actually a little jarring to have two Penguin stories so close together in order, even remembering that they were months apart when they actually aired. Of course, the Penguin Problem remains the same as in his last appearance. Mind you, his plan is a good one-steal a fully functional military prototype and hold the city hostage. But it’s not all that personal, and the only thing that sets it apart as a Penguin plan is the name of the helicopter. Not that calling a helicopter some kind of bird name doesn’t make sense. But if it had been called something with a double meaning, or related to clowns, Two-Face or the Joker would be involved instead. Then again, it’s possible that’s what they were going to name it, until Bruce Wayne showed up and basically stared them down for trying to give it such an obviously unfortunate name.

In all the chaos, Bruce Wayne has to save the presenter from being gunned down…and then he’s caught next to an explosion. And in the dramatic reveal of the episode, it’s blinded him! Which is played a little too dramatically, as he declares he doesn’t want the Wayne doctors to look at him, so no one will know he’s blind. That’s a point I’m still puzzled on-he’s blinded by being right next to an explosion, and the flash of light and heat burned both of his retinas. I don’t know how medically accurate that is, but it seems like it’s not highly unusual. He wasn’t blinded due to one of his Batman devices going off at the wrong time, in which case I would understand him not wanting to be caught with it. Unless he believes the company follows the Constantinople model of leadership, and will fire him for any kind of physical impairment or defect, it just seems bizarre and out of character.

Anyway, the twist is that with the Penguin terrorizing the city (including destroying a giant suspension bridge, which is going to take a lot more money to fix than the 100 million he was asking for), Batman isn’t going to sit back, even if he’s blind. So he comes up with the idea of hooking a computer into his optic nerve to see. It’s hard to say if this is his craziest idea, but it’s certainly proof that Batman does not let anything stop him from fighting crime. ANYTHING.

Poor Leslie Thompkins is the one who has to make the VR helmet for him, which seems like it would fall a bit outside of her medical training, even with her testy response of “I know how to follow instructions.” You have to learn a lot to be any kind of medical doctor, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t qualify you to make prototype technology into an experimental way to give sight to the blind. Still, it’s at least not perfect vision, since it’s just silhouettes on a red background. After coordinating with the mayor and the police, Batman sets a trap for the Penguin, and manages to take down the Raven, making this yet another episode where his plan to take out a rogue aircraft is to make it crash. The only two who managed not to get killed-sorry, “knocked out” in the crash are the Penguin and one of his henchment, and the henchman uses the Raven’s laser cannon to shoot down the Batwing.

Let’s back up there a moment.

Stealth components and computer tracking are nice things to have for a military aircraft. But this helicopter has a goddamn laser cannon. It’s like the episode has been trying to one-up itself in how ridiculous the technology can be. You’d think that would be the first thing they’d want to demonstrate to the military! “It’s got a sound cloak, can’t be tracked on radar, and computer imaging. But first, let’s see it shoot lasers that have destructive power. That’s right, we got lasers. You will give us your money now.”

At this point, Batman manages to bring the Batwing down to the ground, then gets out before it can explode. But oh no, the cable connecting his helmet to a power source is broken in the scramble to not die! So now the helmet is starting to fail on him, as the two antagonists follow. The climax of the episode is actually well done, as we get to see the weakened and distracted Batman trying to face two people who, under most circumstances, wouldn’t be any real threat to him. He prevails, of course, but it’s definitely by the skin of his teeth. It also features a remarkably unsafe work environment, since the smelting plant they’re in is operating when no one is around, including have a drop off into a river of molten metal with no railing at the end. I guess that’s what happens when city government is too distracted by the Joker to actually pass legislation about industrial safety standards.

Overall, this is a pretty good episode. Things do get ridiculous with the plot (and with one bizarrely dramatic sequence of the Batwing dropping a payload of small metal spheres on the Raven), but it makes more sense than just having Batman be so amazing that he can fly blind and beat people up without seeing them. Of course, you could point to the fact that he detected a bunch of traps with his eyes closed in “Off-Balance,” but that was a case of still possessing his sight but being unable to trust it. I’d guess it’s easier to remain calm and centered in that situation, than being suddenly struck blind, possibly permanently. I would say to give it a shot, and don’t stress the plot too much.

Except for the laser cannon, of course. Say it with me: “Military laser technology.” Wayne Enterprises has it, and that is just a disaster waiting to happen for Gotham.

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One Response to “Batman: The Animated Series, “Blind as a Bat””

  1. 1 Carlos

    How is it u notice the quality of the episodes? I become completely immersed that I miss all the little glitches and mistakes on the episodes and being able to see the difference in the animation style between the episodes is incredible!

    Keep it up!


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