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.