Batman: The Animated Series, “Fire from Olympus”

24Aug11

This is an odd one. Fortunately, it’s also a good one.

When I first saw this episode as a kid, I was sure Maxie Zeus was a new character. I’d never heard of some guy who thought he was an actual god fighting Batman, after all, so they had to invent him, right? That’s not the case, of course-he was a comics character first. But now that I know about both versions, I prefer the Animated Series one, because the comics version would team up with super powered characters to stand in as his pantheon. I prefer this version because it’s a sadder take on the character, of a man in a delusional state, made dangerous by his resources.

Another reason I prefer this version of Maxie Zeus is that he is another dark mirror to Bruce Wayne in this form. He’s shown as a hulking man in great shape, with a great deal of corporate resources at his disposal…and like Bruce Wayne, he has become wrapped up in a persona to deal with the world, in his attempt to remake it into something he likes more. However, where Bruce Wayne can take off the Batman mask and deal with the world outside of his costume (or if you prefer, Batman can put on his Bruce Wayne mask), Maxie can’t. He’s just Zeus all the time, and it’s a very sad state to be in.

Well, mostly sad. I’ll admit that he’s kind of charming here, as he immediately puts everything into the context of his delusion. When Batman comes to look for a missing doomsday weapon (for once not developed by WayneTech), Maxie immediately identifies him as “Lord Hades,” and responds to his lawyer’s identification of Batman by saying that a mere mortal could not survive coming to Olympus, so he’s Hades, so there! Of course, that’s also why he later blows up a police blimp with the weapon Batman is looking for, because mortals aren’t meant to be in the skies. And why he almost murders his lawyer in an attempt to make her divine with the “cleansing fire” of the Electron Discharge Cannon. Which is a little less charming.

The whole episode is an oddly low key affair when Maxie isn’t in the picture. His scenery chewing and bombast dominate any scene he’s in, coming damn close to upstaging Batman’s presence…but when his lawyer reports to Maxie’s two henchmen that Batman has arrived, they’re briefly shocked, then say Maxie will holler if he needs them. The same holds true when Clio tells Batman about Maxie’s backstory. I’m not sure if the contrast between the normal and the “epic” in this episode is deliberate, but it makes for a satisfying effect.

There are a couple of scenes that don’t work as well. The first is when Clio goes to see Maxie one last time, only to have her elevator stopped prematurely, and one of the henchmen tell her this is as high as she can go. She looks fearful of her life-and then it cuts to the two henchmen on the rooftop, watching the blimp get shot, and she comes in through an exit door to the roof. I couldn’t tell if this scene was misplaced, or if something got cut in the script, but I still can’t square it in my head.

The other is when Batman has to fight some animals. This isn’t bad in and of itself, but it happens because he was trying to sneak into the building, and got caught by the security systems. When he’s thrown out a window by a boar, he just grapples to the top. So why wasn’t he able to do that in the first place? And if there was a reason he couldn’t do that before, why can he do it now? I don’t want to take a stance against having any filler, but if you do put in a filler scene, it shouldn’t be so obvious it’s there to eat up time.

The coda helps to redeem any minor issues, though. After surviving a 3 story fall onto concrete onto his head (AFTER being electrocuted by his own gun), Maxie is taken to Arkham…but before it’s identified, he gets to see more established Batman rogues, naming them as gods of the Greek pantheon. Calling the Joker “Hermes, merry trickster of the gods” is probably my favorite. It’s a bit sad that we never see Maxie Zeus in the original series again, but as a one-off villain, he makes a great impression.

I wish I could call this episode a Greek tragedy, just to round out the number of Greek references that are in the episode itself, but I can’t. It doesn’t fit the structure. It’s still good, though, and the fact that it’s a little atypical for the series isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s more a deliberate but respectful pushing of the boundaries, introducing unusual subject matter but making sure it can fit well within Batman’s world. It may not be up there with the best episodes, but it’s highly enjoyable, and beautifully animated. Make sure to watch this one.

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