DCAU #29: The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy

IN THIS ONE... A con man wants a master of death traps to get him Batman's cape and cowl.

CREDITS: Written by Elliot S. Maggin (big Bronze Age Superman writer); directed by Frank Paur.

I thought for sure the villains in this story were original to the show, but see In the Comics. Still, it's a little weird that Wormwood uses riddles to lure his targets to death traps (usually built into Gotham's decaying pleasure industry), just like the Riddler might. And so... Almost 30 episodes in, where the heck is the Riddler?! Of course, this turns out to be a completely different story in which Batman actually cons the criminal to trick a confession out of him. It's a long con too, though if Wormwood hadn't used what turned out to be a holographic damsel in distress on the train tracks, he might have given him his cape and cowl earlier. A fun trick, which you almost expect given the episode's title, though his identity as the Baron is such a different body type, you can easily miss it. Is it even playing fair with the audience?

Though he isn't a big name, Wormwood "the Interrogator" is a good foil for Batman. He might even have deserved a costume identity. The traps are complex and worthy of Batman's proper rogues, and he can handle himself in a fight. The improvised whip fight is a good example of his resourcefulness and intensity. Batman gloating over his capture by sending a cape and cowl to prison doesn't feel right, but the villain himself definitely fits the world. Come to think of it, Batman exposing himself to bright lights by violently crashing a gala dinner also doesn't seem in character. You'd think a true blue DC Comics writer would have a better handle on him, but then, there have been quite a few permutations of the character. Perhaps this was Maggin's.

Oh and we should mention this is the first appearance of the Bat-signal, here installed by Gordon knowing he might get some guff from the Mayor. The show isn't really built for continuing subplots, but it is a shame that this strand couldn't have been explored more. The police force's acceptance of the Bat just seems to progress off-screen, with Gordon allowing man hunts for the vigilante in early episodes, but soon acting like they're trusted friends. It deserved to at least be tracked more clearly. Ah well.

IN THE COMICS: The episode is based on "The Cape and Cowl Death Trap!" from Detective Comics #450 (1975), also by Elliot S. Maggin. In that story, Jeremy Wormwood is an assassin who's killed a senator (too violent a crime for the animated series), and Josek "The Baron" is a role played by a criminal mastermind called Harcourt. As in this episode, a poem written by Wormwood (received by phone) lures Batman to a wax museum where a hot lamp death trap awaits him. When Batman reveals himself to be Harcourt, he uses the same line about his cape and cowl, "I'm going to wear them." The other death traps were created for the episode. As this is the introduction of the Bat-signal to BTAS, let's also note that its first appearance in the comics was Detective Comics #60 (1942).

SOUNDS LIKE: The Baron is played by John Rhys-Davies (do I really need to say it? Indiana Jones, Sliders, Lord of the Rings!), while Wormwood is voiced by Bud Cort who'll later play the Toyman, but was also Harold of Harold & Maude, and Brewster McCloud. Mark Taylor plays the first victim, McWirther; he would go on to play Jimmy Olsen in the Superman animated series.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A pretty good adaptation of a 70s comics story, but never more than that.


American Hawkman said...

I was genuinely shocked when I learned Wormwood was a comics villain first... That guy really needs to show up as a Riddler partner someday.

LiamKav said...

The original writer's bible states specifically states:

"Batman does not work directly with the police. He's not a member of the force or a deputized agent. There's no Bat-Signal or hotline, they can't contact him."

I recall an interview with either Timm or Dini (or possibly someone else) where they said why they changed their mind, but I can't find it anywhere so I might be mistaken. I seem to recall it was a combination of them realising they were being more stubborn than they needed to be, that the bat-signal could be used to speed up stories, and that it was too good a visual NOT to use. All of which are true (but, again, take my dodgy memory with a grain of salt.) In any case, it wasn't designed to show Batman's increasingly close links with the police/Gordon, but it was a "whoops, we made a mistake, let's correct it".

LiamKav said...

- Batman says that he's not even sure if Wormwood's "in town". Between this and Robin's Reckoning, I'm really getting the impression that Batman does not give two shits about what goes on outside of Gotham. The moment someone has left town, it's Someone Else's Problem. Either that or he hates communiting.

- Batman is a massive, massive dick to Gordon in this episode. The "Do you know what it means?" "Don't you" line and "DeLarue's Wax Museum, what else?" are dripping in smugness. I'm frankly astonished he doesn't do a "disappear whilst Gordon's back is turned" trick.

- I know the show is set in a nebulous time frame, but the hologram felt a bit too sciene fictiony for me (in a way that the Batwing and Batcomputer don't).


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