DCAU #34: The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

IN THIS ONE... Professor Hugo Strange discovers Batman's secret identity and tries to sell it to his rogues.

CREDITS: Written by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and David Wise; directed by Frank Paur.

REVIEW: If I were a Gothamite, I wouldn't be going to any resort in the area. And yes, Yucca Springs has to be around there somewhere despite the Arizonan look of it because it's the GCPD who shows up at the end. But yeah, buy yourself some rest and relaxation, and the next thing you know, you're getting turned into a tree, or in this case, being blackmailed for secrets that live only in your mind, but can be put on tape by Hugo Strange. For Bruce Wayne, that means his connection to Batman, in yet another sequence that fails to clearly show his parents' murder, but still resonates strongly. I love the floating gun idea. This is a world without a Joe Chill, a world where anyone might be the killer and where no definitive revenge is ever possible.

Of course, the technique is unreliable so Batman can abuse it to create false memories, which is how he keeps Strange from revealing his identity, and how he can discredit it later. Still, it's a nice way to get several rogues into this episode. I love the Joker's terrifying answering machine message, and how Two-Face finds it impossible to believe Bruce Wayne is Batman because of the personal connection they share. The Penguin, as usual, is just there, and Roland Daggett is name-dropped as Strange's financier, but nothing comes of it. Together, the villains can come up with 53 million bucks and change, which speaks to both their success as criminals and their mad motivations that are quite beyond the concept of money. The episode also makes good use of Alfred and Robin, putting on hold the latter's rebellious subplot for now and letting him be the fun-loving helper Batman needs. The solution to Bruce's secret identity woes requires Robin to be a master impersonator and is a bit of a cheap trick though. Needs must, as they say.

But again, there are some important issues with Akom's animation, though the first act does feature some excellent work with shadows, Batman shockingly appearing out of dark patches, and the action lit very effectively by key lights. It's in the action that things fall apart. Akom routinely skimps on frames, leading to slow, juddery sequences that completely lack fluidity, and sap the energy from the episode.

IN THE COMICS: The story is very loosely based on Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers' Detective Comics #471-472 (1977) in which Hugo Strange learns of Batman's identity. The character was one of Batman's very first villains, from way back in Detective Comics #36 (1940).

SOUNDS LIKE: Hugo Strange is played by Ray Buktenica, whose best known roles were on Rhoda and Life Goes On. Judge Vargas (who will appear again) is voiced by Carmen Zapata, who soap fans will remember from Santa Barbara.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Hampered by perhaps too big a cast, Hugo Strange doesn't quite graduate to the big leagues, and though there are some good visuals, the animation gets progressively worse as the episode proceeds.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

This one was disappointingly lackluster (I'd hoped for more out of Hugo Strange)- and it duplicates the head-scratching plot of Batman Forever: why would a man with a secret identity- and one so closely tied to the most major traumatic event of his life- ever submit to a psychiatric procedure (which might out him by association), or most definitely, ANYTHING THAT COULD READ YOUR MIND??? I know Bruce was being especially unobservant and apparently didn't notice the giant screen visualizing it, but even barring that...

LiamKav said...

I guess we just have to accept that the idea of a machine that can read and record your brain is fantastical enough even for the DCAU that Bruce never considered it. I think it's one of those situations where we have to go with the "cartoon for children" thing. If you accept that this is a lot of people's introduction to Batman, it makes sense that he isn't quite as awesome as the comic version. Especially as "ultra-super prepared for everything" Batman was (I think) partly an invention of Grant Morrison during his JLA run. Beforehand Batman was prepared, but afterwards he was a character who had thought of every possibility well in advance (I mean, he has a back-up personality JUST IN CASE, for pete's sake). It was the only way he could keep up with the people with superpowers.

Still, he does apparently learn his lesson:


(I love the one for "loyal".)

As to the episode itself, I think you're a bit harsh on the Penguin. He does at least as much as Two-Face, getting everyone to pool their money. Although since they're only competitingagainst each other, they could have put any amount in and got what they wanted. And again, we see how thie Joker is very different from the current comic iteration. That version wouldn't care who Batman is. It's irrelevant to him. This one is at least intruiged. Two-Face is kinda used as a generic mob-boss, something that affects a lot of his appearences, but I don't mind. Not every story about him has to deal directly with his "condition". And as I said, I like the practical nature of the Penguin here, although it does sometimes feel like he's struggling for direction, a problem that gets solved in TNBA when he goes legit. Sort of. (And speaking of legit, why are the rogues getting carted off to Arkham at the end? They kidnapped Strange, but that was about it. And he had threatened them with guns.)

Finally, I'm not keen on the idea of Batman wanting "revenge". I have similar issues with "I am vengence". I don't think Batman wants revenge. He "just" wants to stop all crime, forever. "Revenge" doesn't quite capture his motivation, I feel.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

His revenge against crime for taking his parents is putting it out of business, for good. :-) I do think the concept works, in a less tongue-in-cheek way; crime, as a concept (or criminals, in some versions), took his parents from him. His actions are a directing response- *avenging*, more than revenging- striking back at crime/criminals in the name of everyone who's ever been hurt by them. He's not direct, eye-for-eye revenge against the perpetrator, a la Joe Chill... but he is waging a vengeful war against crime and the success of criminals, taking everything away, and it is motivated directly by what was taken from him.

I suspect the criminals were taken back, meanwhile, because every one of them pretty much has life sentences there (i.e. 'until they're cured,' which we all know will be never); hence the only reason they are at large is because they escaped from there- they're being taken back incidentally, rather than because of what they did here. (Expect for Penguin; I assume they'll drop him off at 'sane person jail' on the way back). ;-)

Siskoid said...

Yeah, they're escapees for sure!


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