DCAU #9: The Forgotten

IN THIS ONE... Bruce Wayne loses his memory and is taken to work in a gold mine as a slave.

CREDITS: Written by  Jules Dennis, Richard Mueller and Sean Catherine Derek; directed by Boyd Kirkland.

REVIEW: The Forgotten has some good, thematically-linked, hooks, like showing the good Bruce Wayne does as a millionaire philanthropist in Depression-era Gotham City (face it, that's how it's portrayed), and giving him amnesia and the difficult problem of weeding out which of his identities is real. It starts off well, with doves flying over Gotham before we plunge down to the city's underbelly, but unfortunately, nothing else really flies, except for Alfred aboard the Batwing (in its first animated appearance), but that has its own set of problems. Much of my disinterest comes from the animation, which features some of the most sluggish action ever on a DCAU episode. Moves are choreographed and full of dead air, the pacing is flaccid, and even some interesting music - chain gang harmonica stuff - can't save it.

It doesn't help that the one-off villain is a failure. Boss Biggs is meant to be a grotesque character, always eating, an evil "have" who kidnaps and enslaves "have nots", but he's more laughable than monstrous. The camera shot from inside his mouth comes off as silly, and his defeat looks like the end of a Road Runner cartoon. In fact, there's something odd about the setting itself. A gold mine in Monuments Valley? Where does the show think Gotham is situated? It put me in mind of the Simpsons' Smallville or the Silver Age fluidity of Metropolis/Smallville, and though painting the orange canyons on black paper does give the place a hellish, burnt look, those are still distracting thoughts. Biggs it at his best putting people in hot boxes, but quickly devolves into shouting ineffectually. Second episode already to feature the downtrodden kidnapped and used as slaves by lackluster villains, too. That's not good.

Its saving grace should then be the psychological elements relating to Batman's amnesia, and the nightmares leading to his recovery. I'm just not sure how to interpret them here. Everyone tugging at Bruce Wayne as he starts to panic makes it seem like he doesn't like being milked dry, though I suppose it's meant to show he suffers from not being to save everyone with his money. Batman turning into the Joker is a nice image about his fear of being a monster too, but it's wasted because the episode isn't about that. After the funhouse mirrors which represent his confused identity, I'm afraid the symbolism kind of becomes meaningless, and Batman seems to snap out of it because well, the episode is almost over. But then this episode is full of really strange character inconsistencies. I like that Alfred investigates Master Bruce's disappearance, but it's ridiculous that he would climb aboard the Batwing. Half the time, Zimbalist Jr. doesn't even do the voice right. Bruce giving Alfred a silent punch on the arm seems likewise odd, and the snarky Batwing computer cracking wise? Come on.

IN THE COMICS: In the comics, the Batman's aircraft is more commonly called the Batplane. The Batwing - a VTOL (although not so much here, perhaps because of Alfred's inexperience) plane in the shape of the Bat symbol - is an invention of Anton Furst's for the 1989 Tim Burton film. Tracking Batplane designs in the comics, Batman simply doesn't use a plane for more than a decade after that movie, so the first "Batwing" design doesn't show up until 2003's Detective Comics #781 (with a possible sighting in 2002's Hush storyline, but you can't tell what shape the plane takes from that angle).

SOUNDS LIKE: Dorian Harewood plays Dan Riley; he'll go on to voice Ron Troupe on the Superman show, but is also recognizable from roles in Full Metal Jacket (Eightball), China Beach, and Roots: The Next Generations. Boss Biggins is played by George Murdock with his mouth full; you'll remember him as God in Star Trek V. ;-)

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Some good ideas hampered by dodgy animation, a lame villain, and ultimately, the pointlessness of its amnesia subplot.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aw dude, this one is one of my favorites. Sure there are some weak elements, such as the over-the-top bad guy, but at least he isn't a Dickens cosplayer with pet alligators. (And exactly how much nuance is appropriate for a guy who enslaves the homeless?) And the scene of Bruce becoming Batman again (in his own mind if not in costume) is well worth the price of admission.

Showing that Bruce Wayne has interests beyond punching murder clowns, such as investigating the disappearances of "nobodies" and trying to find gainful employment for people ... I would rather watch that than a hundred episodes of Killer Croc or Clayface. In fact, I bet this episode exists precisely so people don't get the wrong idea, that Batman is just a guy who likes punching people in costumes. As such it's vital to painting a fuller picture of Batman.

But Alfred arguing with a sarcastic computer: no thank you.

Siskoid said...

With Trek, Who, B5, X-Files and so on, I seemed to be on the same page as frequent commenters as far as liking/disliking things, so it's interesting that there's far more discrepancy this time around.

I admit to finding rating each episode harder than usual. Sometimes, I don't think much of the story, but want to praise its animation and look; other times, it's the opposite (like it is here). Once the animation and pacing issues are fixed though, the DCAU takes off like a freight train!

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I was gonna say something similar. Gonna lose your audience over these ratings. In fact, we're gonna go start our OWN blog so we can rate these Batmans RIGHT! ;-) But hey- disagreement makes for livelier discussion, right? And it's not like you'd be getting so many comments if people weren't eagerly following your reviews to begin with!


Gonna have to agree with Anonymous here; this one definitely ranks higher for me than it’s sewer-themed counterpart for me. Boss Biggs may be a comedic tyrant, but history been replete with laughable men wielding cruel power over others. Their own physical threat isn’t what makes them serious or absurd villains; rather, the callousness with which they treat life, and the amount of power wielded by such a self-obsessed, greedy little figure.

Okay, so Boss Biggs isn’t exactly Kim Jong-Il. He’s still not the Sewer King, which automatically makes him an improvement. :-)

I also found the mine-fight to be memorable, Bruce using the darkness as a surrogate mantle; letting it replace the cowl and allow him to slip into the role he most naturally is, consciously or not.

For me, the biggest standout, though, is the dream sequence. It is, for me, one of the most powerful and eloquent sequences in BTAS. It communicates so much without saying a word- the glad willingness to use what you have to help others less fortunate than yourself; the shock and dismay as you realize the extent of the problem… the feeling of sadness, and almost shame, when you realize that you can’t help everyone; that everything you’re able to give can’t even make a dent in the vast, seemingly-hopeless problem. ‘The poor, you will always have with you,’ Christ said- yet commanded His followers to give everything they were able, and more, to help them. It’s something I think we’re all commended to; an obligation to use what we have to help those who don’t- but it can seem like a hopeless effort at times. The same dilemma- the emotions that accompany the painful realization that giving your all is the right thing to do, and it can make a difference to those you help, but that there will always be more in need that will be beyond your means, people you can't reach… I’ve felt that frustration and sorrow many a time, and the look on Bruce’s face sums it up perfectly. And the ending, his recognition that he *can’t* help everyone, but he can still help someone, and each person that he makes a difference for still matters, is both an apt mission statement as his role as Batman, and a subtle but meaningful affirmation for those likewise weighed down with the seeming impossibility of the scope of need on this Earth.

So, to me, this episode’s got a few things that the Underdwellers didn’t. :-)

Anonymous said...

About Christ and "The poor, you will always have with you" ... what people forget is that Jesus was quoting the Old Testament (I think Jubilee) about how a nation that keeps its covenant with the Lord will not have any poor. What the Old Testament realized, and the New Testament as well, is that poverty is a matter of the choices society makes. You can try to fight poverty as an individual -- and kudos to you if you do -- but it's not for Moses, or Jesus, or even Batman to defeat singlehandedly.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Whoops. Should’ve known I’d kick off a theological debate. :-)

Not sure about the Jubilees quote; as a Protestant, at least, I don’t believe it’s canonical (therefore not God’s actual word). However, even if that principle is true (may be, may not be; the New Testament certainly wasn’t afraid to quote both the apocrypha and pagan sources, though whether they are doing so because of elements of truth contained within, or merely to illustrate a point through contemporary media the audience was familiar with, I’m not enough of a scholar or theologian to say), in some ways, I think it’s still true-

The poor, we will always have with us, not because it must be so, but because our nature makes it so. A nation that keeps its covenant with the Lord will have no poor- but no nation truly does. In theory, our society could make choices that did not allow poverty… but our society is made up of humans, who are inherently selfish*- and thus, it never will make those choices.

In short, ‘the poor you will always have with you not because it is a fact of the universe, but because it is a fact of the choices you will make.’ It need not be so, and yet, it could never be otherwise- owing to the nature of the peoples and civilizations that have comprised our history.

Which is why I suspect it will never be defeated; because the individual can’t, but the collective won’t. Not that that means the individual should ever stop trying; indeed, if every individual did, things might change. But not every individual will, leaving the problem perpetually beyond our reach… but perpetually our responsibility to *try* and address with the means we have, whether it will ever be a solution or not.



*Where Gene Roddenberry and I part company, of course; a humanist who believes in human goodness says we will one day make better choices, while a theologian tends to believe that these zebras ain’t changing their stripes, ever, because our flaws are inherent to our nature. (The belief which definitely forms my worldview here; hence, YMMV.) I think the idea of humans being inherently good vs. inherently bad may have been a topic of some discussion by a few people, once or twice during the course of history, but I’m not sure… ;-)

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to challenge or debate you, if anything I was trying to build upon what you were saying, that the "poor always" thing

Here's where I get my info on the Old Testamentatudihood of it:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2014/12/10/ignorant-christians-need-to-stfu-about-the-poor-you-will-always-have-with-you-until-they-can-be-bothered-to-understand-what-jesus-actually-said/

It's a little political, but I don't think too objectionable.

Siskoid said...

As a card-carrying humanist, I believe that as a society (or collection of societies) YES we most definitely have made better choices with time, but these trends take time to really take hole, and there will always be regressives who fight the change for a while after it happens, until it does become the norm.

Just go back to the 19th century and concepts such as equal rights and sufferage did not exist in most Western countries. Go back just 25 years, and sensitivity to sexual orientation/identity issues was very poor, as it was towards mental illness, autism, etc. We do change as a whole, even though notable and outspoken opposition exists to contrast the humanist change.

In other words, as a community, whether religious or secular, we CAN temper our individual selfishness and do.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Absolutely. I was just trying to elaborate, lest I was unclear.

As for the article- ah! I see. Deuteronomy is a horse of a different color- and clearly I don't know my Pentateuch as well as I should. :-) But yes, that article puts it perfectly correctly, and much better than I could.

LiamKav said...

I'll derail this highly interesting debate (for what it's worth, I do believe that societies get better over time, but I also think that can temporarily swing back, which I believe is happening in lots of western countries and specifically the UK at the moment. I also am torn between agreeing with the "human nature is to be selfish" argument and thinking that just gives us a handy excuse not to try). So, a random selection of thoughts.

- I love the Batwing, both here and in Batman '89. In fact, one of my favourite things about Batman '89 is that it's literally the exact shape of the bat symbol on Bruce's chest, and that moment where it flies in front of the moon is amazing and silly and awesome. The BTAS Batwing isn't quite as cool, but works better with the overall aesthetic. Also, it makes a really awesome screaming noise when it flies past the camera. (And "Batwing" is a much better name that "Batplane". It's not called the "Batcar", after all.)

- First time we see that Bruce is a master of disguise. Which makes sense, as both Batman and "Bruce Wayne" are performances of a sort. Not entirely sure who shaved him after he was knocked out, but hey.

- And on that fight, Bruce effortlessly takes down the two guys without even taking his hands out of his pockets, but is then distracted by a cat and gets knocked out? Really, Batman? All Two-Face has to do is wave some shiney bauble at you and you'd be distracted enough to shoot?

- When the first prisoner is put in The Box, the music is very jazzy. I almost wonder if that was an executive command to stop the scene being too intense.

- So, his two friends saw this amnesiac homeless guy break out of his box and run off. Shortly after, Batman turns up. Shortly after that, they find out that the homeless guy was actually Bruce Wayne. Billionaire Bruce Wayne, who's extremely good in a fight, built like a brick shithouse, and also in disguise for some reason? The clues are all there, guys...

- I quite like Bruce punching Alfred on the arm. It's affectionate, as is his "son of a gun" on seeing the Batwing.

Siskoid said...

Prefigures his pathological fascination with Catwoman.

I sort of thought he let himself be caught on purpose (as he did in POV) so he could follow the men back to whether all the vagrants were being taken, but it went horribly wrong.

LiamKav said...

I know this twenty years ago, before we understood quite how dangerous blows to the head are, but I'd hope he could come up with a better plan than "let myself get a concussion and hope they take me somewhere relevant".

 

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