DCAU #28: Perchance to Dream

IN THIS ONE... Bruce Wayne awakens into a dream in which he never became Batman.

CREDITS: Written by Joe R. Lansdale (a western horror writer, he turned to comics around this time and wrote a few mature readers Jonah Hex comics), Laren Bright and Michael Reaves; directed by Boyd Kirkland.

REVIEW: The protagonist trapped in a dream of his own making (whether they get "help" or not) can be a most instructive trope, and if they're going to animate it to this level of quality, all the better. What IS Bruce Wayne's dream life? His parents are alive (of course), he's marrying Selina Kyle (Cupid's arrow really did strike that time), and Batman does exist. But does he exist because Bruce still has a deep desire to see justice done, or is the Bat a manifestation of his subconscious, pushing him to realize this reality isn't real? You're almost sorry to see the Mad Hatter turn up as the villain - Batman could have been doing this to himself after an injury of some kind instead - but the combination of mind control and Wonderland ideas is quite correct. He's not in it much, but this could be the best Hatter episode going.

Hatter or not, the real conflict in the story is between Bruce Wayne and is dark alter ego. Bruce wraps all his problems in his other self. Batman is the manifestation of his trauma, and though he can't be blamed for that trauma, he is a persistent reminder of it. Bruce is literally of two minds about the dream reality, and "Batman" is the figure that keeps reminding him that it isn't real, that he must return to a world where this happiness is denied him.

Regardless of the plot, the animation is stupendous and elevates everything. The episode kicks off with an exciting car chase, and ends with a lightning storm around a vertiginous Gothic tower. All the way through, we get a lot of small but crucial details. Selina's playful glove throw. A fight under fire hydrant-created rain. A storm drain trembling under Batman's weight. Just so much INTERACTION between characters, props and atmosphere. It's the kind of thing that happens naturally in live action, but that impresses when someone takes the time to animate it. Beautiful stuff.

IN THE COMICS: The plot isn't unlike For the Man Who Has Everything, an Alan Moore story that did the same thing to Superman (and which will actually be adapted for a Justice League Unlimited episode later). Bruce Wayne DOES marry Selina Kyle on Earth-2; they become parents to the Huntress.

Adrienne Barbeau (Selina) plays double duty as Martha Wayne, just as Kevin Conroy plays Thomas. The only new voice here is Brian Cummings as the reporter; he has done a lot of cartoon voices on shows like Duck Tales, The Snorks, and Denver, the Last Dinosaur.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Gorgeous animation and a strong personal story. The Hatter lucked out.


Anonymous said...

That image you posted ... I'm wondering why there isn't an Internet trope already about "Bruce Wayne's Battle with Dyslexia".

LiamKav said...

Ah, the episode that convinced a generation of children that you can't read during a dream. (You can, but the words don't remain static. If you look away and look back they will say something else.)

This might be my favourite non two-part episode. I'll confirm when we get to "Almost Got 'Im". I'll probably have more to say after I've watched this over dinner tonight, but I love how Conroy changes Bruce's voice in this story, gradually going from his Bruce Wayne voice to his Batman voice as he gets closer to the truth, whilst also giving the fake Batman a different but still recognisable take on his voice.

And yeah, great Mad Hatter story. He doesn't actually want to know who Batman is, or to kill him. He just wants him out of the way.

"You ruined my life! I was willing to give you whatever life you wanted... just to keep you out of mine!"

Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

Damn fine episode. Yeah I thought the same thing, that you couldn't read in a dream, you definitely can, but it was fun and gave us amazing insight to the type of life Bruce would have if his parents weren't murdered. Definitely int he top 3 Mad Hatter episodes, even as ha s been pointed out, he really doesn't show up til the end. Hell, the Scarecrow might've fit just as easily here or even Dr. Hugo Strange.

Didn't know that Mr. Lansdale wrote this though. Very cool, as his Jonah Hex work still holds up today.

LiamKav said...

Bruce's voice actually changes when he sees his parents. He starts "no, it can't be you" with Batman's voice, and finishes it with Bruce Wayne's. And then later, after Bruce realises he can't read anything (and figures out that he's dreaming) he goes back to his Batman voice. Conroy's acting in this episode is superb. The way there's an ever so slight break in Bruce's voice when he says "I've never felt better in my life, sir" is heartbreaking, because even first time around you know that something's wrong and that this can't be reality.

As for this potentially being a Scarecrow episode, maybe, but I don't think it quite works. The unsettling parts of Batman's dream aren't from the Mad Hatter trying to unsettle him, but from his own subconcious trying to warn him. The Scarecrow would want him scared. The Mad Hatter wants him content. But Batman isn't, and can't ever be content.

Finally, there is one hint as to the true villain of the piece... The Mad Hatter's theme plays over the title card, and then a much more dramatic version plays when Bruce gets to the top of the tower.


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