CREDITS: Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell (neither would write an episode again); directed by Frank Paur.
REVIEW: Infamously disowned by Bruce Timm, this episode doesn't quite live up to the hype of being the worst ever. Don't get me wrong, it's not great, but it has a couple elements that do work, including Paul Williams' performance as the Penguin. The Fowl of Perfiditity had just been introduced in Batman Returns, so like the Joker, the show doesn't feel the need to introduce him via an origin story. He just IS. Batman has obviously tangled with him before, and the kids at the center of the story recognize him on sight. And though he's not as gross the Danny DeVito's Penguin (a take I actively dislike), he shares his movie self's deformities, specifically the flipper-like hands. But neither the script nor Williams emphasize his monstrosity. Instead, he comes off as a deadly dangerous snob, taking the time to destroy hack paintings of flower pots. And Williams has a good voice for this, he's well cast. But it's probably telling that the Penguin complains about those "meddling" kids. Weak script.
Because sadly, the Penguin isn't really the star of the show. Nor is Batman. Which would be fine later down the line, but is disappointing as an introduction to the villain. Instead we follow Jr. detective Sherman, his gal pal Roberta, and a couple of bullies who will learn to admire Sherman. The first two follow clues that lead them to the Penguin's hideout and into trouble, and when Batman gets a bad dose of toxic gas, they take him back to their basement to recover. It's all right there in the title, which makes a pretty predictable story even more predictable. I think one of the problems is that the kids don't really seem to live in the Batman's world, but are clearly from ours. They've watched Batman on TV or something. The reference the Batcave, which no one should know about. They have a Joker poster in the room, which would be like having a serial killer's portrait on your wall. They "play" at being Batman, and then get to meet their idol. And when mom finally walks down the interminable stairs down to the deepest basement in the history of houses, Sherman tries to set her up on a date (and she might be into it). So it's not taken seriously. I do like that the four kids become a kind of detective team by the end, a sort of spin-off we'll never see, but getting there is a slog.
The action beats are mostly lackluster, with no great variation once they've committed to a premise. So Batman swordfighting with the Penguin, screwdriver vs. umbrella, is a fun idea, but it doesn't evolve into anything. Likewise the Penguin and his goons stomping on the Batmobile until they get thrown off harmlessly into trash bins. There's just no getting away from how stupid it is for these young kids to drive the car at high speeds like that without injury (mostly by random button pushing), and then even more stupidly leave it on the street for the Penguin to find (and no indication of how they dragged Batman to the basement). And all the stuff with the giant vulture? It shouldn't be this boring.
IN THE COMICS: The Penguin first appeared in Detective Comics #58 (1941), another memorable creation by Kane and Finger that has remained a Top 5 Batman villain. Of course, in the comics, he doesn't have flipper hands, or the long hair taken from the film version current at the time. His refined tastes and upper crust mannerisms are more in line with the comics version.
SOUNDS LIKE: Grammy and Academy Award winner Paul Williams voices the Penguin; seems like there's a joke to be made about the Penguin having written the Love Boat theme, but I don't see it yet. Lindsay Crouse (House of Games, Buffy) plays Sherman's mom.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - A very weak introduction to the animated Penguin, it's not quite as bad as it's made out to be, but still a lower-tier episode.