DCAU #35: Heart of Steel

IN THIS ONE... The sentient computer HARDAC tries to replace humanity with robots. First appearance of Barbara Gordon. (Two-parter)

CREDITS: Written by Brynne Stephens (story editor on such fare as Moon Dreamers, My Little Pony 'n Friends, and Beverly Hills Teens); directed by Kevin Altieri.

REVIEW: This was the very first episode I ever saw, or at least Part 2 was, and it left quite an impression. Still does. Whoa Nelly! Though the story owes more to something like Colossus: The Forbin Project than straight up horror fare, Heart of Steel uses the fact that its villains are robots to crank up the creep factor and comes off as almost gory. Businessmen all twisted up like something out of The Thing. Robot Bullock twitching gruesomely after falling into the Bat-signal. Randa with half her face torn off. The action beats work very well whether they go for horror or not. There are no less than three sequences with falling elevators, and they all look different, and they're all cool. Attention to detail is the order of the day too. The way Batman prevents elevator doors from closing during a fight. How the tide washes over him after he crashes into the ocean. His bringing his crashed glider back to the cave, where usually it would have been abandoned (it sets up a later sequence, so it's clever). The violence of the taser hits. Gordon blushing. Lucius tapping his pen in response to Bruce Wayne denying his date with Randa is anything but professional. "Please let go of my cape." Just lovely - and intense! - stuff.

HARDAC is really one of the strongest original menaces created for the show. Sure, he looks like a train with animal ears, but he's a memorable variation on HAL 9000. But "Colossus" still remains a good reference, what with the way he takes over the Bat-computer! And his robot stooges include a femme fatale who looks like Marilyn Munroe and wears X-ray specs. And clever mechanical servants hidden in suitcases and trash bins, each one providing a fun and clever sequence. There's just too much awesome in this two-parter!

And we're introduced to Barbara Gordon to boot! To my surprise, she doesn't become Batgirl by the end of the story, but resourceful? Yes. Intelligent? Yes. Sassy? Definitely. And thrilled by danger? Yup! Gordon's daughter - no matter how much he infantilizes her with that teddy bear business (but again, this sappy throwaway becomes an important plot point) - is a hero whether she wears a costume or not. So bring Batgirl on, but I'd take more Barbara too!

IN THE COMICS: HARDAC does not exist in the comics. Barbara Gordon, of course, does, and the details of her life shown here aren't in contradiction to her mainstream comics portrayal. Originally, her first appearance back in Detective Comics #359 (1967) led immediately to her taking on the Batgirl persona. They didn't waste time back then. Besides, it was part of a cross-promotional arrangement with the television show that they introduce a female counterpart to Batman simultaneously. Barbara was nevertheless created on the comics side, by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, though the show's producer William Dozier did suggest some basic elements.

SOUNDS LIKE: Melissa Gilbert plays Barbara; I don't think she needs an introduction, but for the heck of it, let's mention Laura Engels on Little House on the Prairie and Sheridan's wife on Babylon 5. HARDAC is voiced by Jeff Bennett, who was also the voice of Brooklyn on Gargoyles and would lend his voice to many, many characters in practically every DC-related animated show to come. Randa Duane is played by Leslie Easterbrook, Officer Debbie Callahan in the Police Academy movies. But the most on-point casting is William Sanderson who played an eccentric robot maker just like Karl Rossum in Blade Runner (and of course was Larry in Newhart).

REWATCHABILITY: High - The number of times I went "holy crap" or cracked a wide smile... Truly one of the greats.


Dale Bagwell said...

Definitely one of my favorite episodes ever. We got a unique story, new characters in Hardak and his creator, and we got a sequel/follow-up out of this, with that Batman robot and the ending. Damn that ending....It pretty much shows the viewer again what makes Batman, batman.

American Hawkman said...

It always amused me that we did the robot duplicate bit immediately after meeting Hugo Strange, since my introduction to the good Professor was his creation of robot duplicates of all of the Bat-Family as part of a plan to kill and replace Bruce.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

This one was impressive, and pretty shocking- one of my wife's top five.

LiamKav said...

After the issues with previous two parters having much worse animation for one part than the other (mainly "Feet of Clay" and "The Cat and the Claw", but also "Two-Face" to a degree), the producers decided where possible they were going to get both episodes of a two-parter done by the same animation studio. Sunrise do both parts here, and it helps tremendously.

Although "Ultra-Super-Prepared Batman" was still a couple of years away in the comics, this episode certainly seems to be using the same idea. Either that or Bruce has stashed gliders on every rooftop in Gotham and installed hidden doorways in every building that he ever visits.

It's also notable that 1993 was a real low-point for the Transformers brand. At that point it was in danger of "doing a He-Man", just playing the same song for the same old fans. Eventually Beast Wars would arrive and give it a massive shot in the arm, but at this point Hasbro just didn't care. Which is why I assume DC/WB were able to get away with calling Rossum's company "Cybertron".

LiamKav said...

There's only one bit of this two parter that annoys me, and that's Robot Gordon. He's all stilted lines and cold emotions. He acts differently enough that everyone at GCPD should notice something's off, not just Barbara. That would be fine, except that all the other duplicates show plenty of emotion. Robot Bollock snearing at Batman and Barbara, and Robot Hill schmoozing with Bruce Wayne. And, most obviously, Miranda is perfectly capable of passing herself off as a regular human. Was there just a glitch in Jim Gordon's programming?


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