CREDITS: Written by Gerry Conway (real comic book writer, killer of Gwen Stacy, creator for Firestorm); directed by Boyd Kirkland.
REVIEW: On the anniversary of his parents' death, Batman tries to reach Crime Alley and pay his respects, but things get in the way - mooks strong-arming families to move out of the neighborhood, sabotaged trams going out of control, and a bombing scheme that could cost many lives - and STILL they resist the urge to show us Batman's origin. We all know it. It would be a waste of time. And yet... It would have looked gorgeous, so I sort of miss it. The animation in this episode is so strong, it's very much a pity that particular studio (Don Yang Animation) didn't get a crack at it. Beautiful use of shadows, a graceful acrobatic Batman, exciting choreography, small details like the guys who want autographs, outstanding explosions (even if it was juts a model), palpable emotion... Just gorgeous. And the music! A lovely theme that's got the driving beats required of an action show, but also a melancholy feeling.
Bad things happen to good people in Crime Alley, and Batman knows because it happened to him. And despite the name, there are still a lot of good people who live there, some that have no choice, and some like Leslie who do and choose to make a positive difference. Her good works predate Park Row turning into Crime Alley, and as a friend of the Wayne family, she was there for young Bruce, just as she's there for the impoverished community today. And she knows who Batman is, clearly. But the episode never condescends to its audience. We're not overtly told this. There are many largely silent sequences. We see newspaper clippings that reveal their connection. She's obviously there for him emotionally when he must visit the site of his parents' deaths. But nothing needs to be verbalized or explained. And it's one of the most adult episodes we've yet gotten because of it.
Evil businessman Roland Daggett makes a return appearance, but mostly acts through underlings, more of a great Satan smiling as the city burns. The show continues to give us distinctive henchmen too. The sniveling bomb expert Nitro and the old-fashioned mobster Crocker, who cares if Leslie is comfortable while he puts her in a death trap, are fine creations. After this story, I really, really want Daggett to get his comeuppance.
IN THE COMICS: Loosely based on Dennis O'Neil's "There Is No Hope in Crime Alley" (Detective Comics #457, 1976), which likewise introduces Bruce Wayne's surrogate mother, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, though the story doesn't feature Daggett's bombing scheme. Originally, Leslie didn't know why Batman came to check on her every year, but she eventually became a Batman Family insider, which is how the episode chooses to picture her.
SOUNDS LIKE: Leslie Thompkins is recognizably played by Diana Muldaur (another famous fictional doctor, Katherine Pulaski on Star Trek TNG). Crocker is also quite recognizable; he's voiced by Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show, Arrested Development, Transparent). Nitro is played by David Lander, that's right, Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley.
REWATCHABILITY: High - The highest standard of animation and an intimate personal story that somehow manages to be action-packed.