Batman: The Animated Series, “His Silicon Soul”

19Aug11

Whenever I think about the synopsis of this episode, it seems like something that shouldn’t work within the series so far. “Batman fights a robot Batman” is a Silver Age concept at its heart-hell, that was part of an original JLA plotline. It should be goofy as hell, not at all appropriate to the more realistic and darker world of the Animated Series. Well, dark as far as kid’s shows go. At the same time, something like this doesn’t have to be goofy or lighthearted, which is why this episode works well.

Things open with some crooks breaking into a warehouse…only to have Batman break out of the crate they try to open. Strangely enough, rather than running in terror from Surprise Crate Batman, they fight back. This leads to the early reveal that something isn’t right, as rather than him bleeding from some gunshot wounds,they show metal and sparking wires beneath his skin. Naturally this bothers both the criminals and Batman, who doesn’t remember being a robot.

There’s a brief attempt to maybe present this as something that’s been done to Batman, but while the robot Batman has gone to the Batcave in search of answers, we get to meet the real one, who admits to Commissioner Gordon that he didn’t catch the criminals at the warehouse. That means we get to move from the Silver Age “Who is the Real Batman/What’s Happened To Batman?” version of this plot, and into the more contemplative idea of what defines a person. Since this whole episode is a sequel or epilogue of sorts to “Heart of Steel,” that means checking in with the only character from that episodes who’s still alive: Hardac’s creator, Rossum. He actually ends up talking with both Batmen. He’s clearly still hurt by the loss of his company and his greatest creation when the first, real Batman arrives. But when the second comes, Rossum bursts the bubble on his hope that he’s somehow been put in a robot body, pointing out that his “memories” are just information copied from the real Batman somehow. And then the two Batmen fight, because the real Batman decided to kick his duplicate in the face before trying to talk with it.

After escaping from the real Batman (and saving Rossum from a collapsing greenhouse), the robot Batman ends up getting a part that allows him to repair himself, restores his missing memories…and puts the late HARDAC in his head, so he’s now on a mission to replace all humanity with robots. Despite this, though, he gets an interesting ending. In the final confrontation, he actually wins out over Batman, apparently killing him in the process…and it sends him off the deep end, shocking him back to his more ethical programming over HARDAC’s mission. So Robot Batman actually saves the day, sacrificing himself in the process. Of course, Batman isn’t dead, for he is immortal, though it’s unclear if this was somehow his plan or just luck on his part.

What makes his episode work is that move away from questioning what’s going on with Robot Batman, and exploring, however briefly, the idea of someone who thinks they’re Batman when they’re not. It wasn’t a new idea, at least as far as the comics go, but this is the first time it’s shown up in the show. Batgirl might have been inspired to take up crime fighting by imitating Batman, but she was never confused about her own identity. At the same time, we don’t get any long speeches about what it means to be a duplicate of someone else. He just is, and that’s why he gets angry with those who try to convince him otherwise, even though it’s the obvious truth. And that’s a sadly realistic take on the idea. He can’t imagine being anything other than Batman, no matter what evidence is presented. It’s only when his mind is literally rewritten that he can accept the truth, and even after that, what he wants to be bubbles up from below and kills him.

Having said all that, this is not an episode that needs to be watched. For one thing, you need to have seen the “Heart of Steel” two parter-hardly a problem, but it’s one of the few times where continuity is actually needed in the series. The HARDAC exposition dump is an attempt to get around that, but there’s no explanation in here for how HARDAC would know who Batman really was, where the Batcave is, or anything else. That is explained in “Heart of Steel,” so watching it will resolve what could otherwise be viewed as a major plothole. What’s never explained is how the duplicate came packaged with a working utility belt, but that’s a minor thing. For another, there are some glaring examples of people taking action without thinking, to move the plot along. I mentioned Batman deciding to kick his robot duplicate in the face instead of trying to talk with it first, but there’s also poor Alfred. He recognizes that there’s a robot dressed like Batman, and to defend himself…he puts on a gas mask and floods the Batcave with gas. To stop a robot. If he’d used a bucket of water, the whole episode would have ended in 5 minutes.

To wrap up, “His Silicon Soul” is a good episode, well worth watching if you’ve already seen “Heart of Steel,” and a nice epilogue to a story that could have been considered over and done with. But it’s not essential viewing, so if you don’t like robots, it’s okay to give it a pass.

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