DCAU #46: Off Balance

IN THIS ONE... The League of Shadows, Vertigo, Talia, Ra's al Ghul, everyone wants WayneTech's new sonic drill.

CREDITS: Written by Len Wein; directed by Kevin Altieri.

REVIEW: Well, Vertigo is certainly not the best of villains to begin with, and I certainly don't think this paramilitary redesign is more dramatic than the comics original. There is a nice attempt, at least initially, to represent his powers with distorted landscapes turning into a weird vortex, but they can't keep it up. It's mostly a yellow effect on top of the action, and obscures the art. And of course, he is defeated like the chump he is in the end, falling off a bell tower. A bell tower? Is that a Hitchcock joke from "Vertigo"? I'm sure it is. The opening sequence on Gotham's Statue of Liberty--whaaa??? it's the Statue of Freedom, slightly different, folks--is from the comics (see below) and leads to a Saboteur riff with "Snitch" falling off the torch in a scene reminiscent of that earlier Hitchcock film. So, did the statue sequence inspire the use of Vertigo in the first place?!

If I'm down on the villain, it's because the episode also introduces Talia, and at the very end, Ra's al Ghul. And while I appreciate the slow build-up - a truly new threat as the al Ghuls had never before appeared in alt-media - I don't like that they have to play second fiddle to the likes of Vertigo. And though Talia is written as a badass, the fight choreography is sometimes clunky, this episode. The moves are good, but the heroes are always waiting for the next attack instead of going on the offensive, and that means Batman gets knocked out not once, but twice! The use of the rather unfortunately-shaped sonic drill creates a hole in the ground that seems to indicate Gotham is built on a giant cave system (well, it sort of is), but then we wake up in Vertigo's European castle on the outskirts of town... Has he been using his powers on me? Why am I disoriented?

The episode did start off on a strong note. The way Snitch falls in the water and seems to drown, and then the suicide-by-gas-goggles of the assassins, I thought for sure they were lifting the ban on death in the show! They all survive - though the assassins still "erased their minds" - but in later dialog. Was this a show that went too far, and had to be "tweaked"? With some irony, the revelation arrives in a Gordon scene taking place in a shooting range, a reminder that people in this universe must die, at least off-stage. And I prefer to see it as a sequel to I Am the Night, with a recuperating Gordon getting re-certified. Another sequel of sorts: Alfred polishing the giant penny. What a chore! But we'll have to wait a while longer before Talia and Ra's fulfill their promise. For now, Talia is a mysterious Catwoman type Batman can't trust and who most definitely knows his secret identity. Even if he has the last laugh, so to speak, that's bound to become a problem.

IN THE COMICS: The episode is loosely based on the comics story "Batman: Into the Den of the Death-Dealers" from Detective Comics #411 (May 1971) by Dennis O'Neil and Bob Brown, chronicling the first meeting between Talia and Batman. Her father Ra's al Ghul would wait one more month before showing up in Batman #232 (June 1971) by O'Neil and Neal Adams. The story also starts with a fight atop the "Statue of Freedom" and features the innocent unmasking of Batman, but the details are otherwise quite different (no Vertigo, no betrayal by Talia...). The League of Shadows' original name was the League of Assassins (first seen in Strange Adventures' Deadman strip from a few years before). Vertigo, or in the comics, Count Vertigo, was not a member. This is a very different design for the character, as the original, actually a Black Canary and Green Arrow villain (1st appearance World's Finest Comics #251, 1978), does not have a high-tech eye-patch to motivate his powers, and is a deposed aristocrat from Vlatava. His vertigo affects the inner ear rather than the eyes. He eventually joins the Suicide Squad, raising his very low profile considerably.

SOUNDS LIKE: Vertigo is voiced by Michael York of Logan's Run fame. Talia is Helen Slater, the movie Supergirl (currently Kara's human mom). Ra's al Ghul is played by the amazing David Warner, who's been a number of geek-worthy roles, so let's just name Councilor Gorkon in Star Trek VI.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some interesting set pieces, but Vertigo gets in the way of a proper introduction to much more interesting characters.


LiamKav said...

Ah, the beginning of me pronouncing "Ra's" wrong for at least a decade. Or right. I'm still not sure.

Siskoid said...

Still saying it the English way (RAHZ) no matter what, but the show has it correct. In Arabic, this grammatical construction does exist and is pronounced RAYSH, or so I'm told.

LiamKav said...

I wonder if they asked Denny O'Neil.

Siskoid said...

They might have. I know that's how HE says it.

But he could have been wrong. Like Marv Wolfman and his LexCORE. (It's not a military unit, Marv!)

LiamKav said...

Does remind me about how I said "Darkseed" instead of "Darkside" for ages...

Apparently Twitch is supposed to look like Tim Burton. He's animated a bit off-model though, so it doesn't really come across. There were also issues with the vertigo effects. This is an interview with Timm from an old fanzine:

"The distortion vertigo sequences weren't disorienting enough so we did retakes," said producer Bruce Timm of Sunrise's animation. "While we were waiting for them, we did effects in video with a computer that were real wobbly and quite nauseating. It worked great, but, we did that to just get the show on the air. When we got the retakes back, the film editors cut them into the episode, but dropped the video distortion effects on the whole sequence and that ran. We told them to put the effects back in, which is the version now airing.

I do wonder if the correct version is on the DVD.

Siskoid said...

That's how I'm watching them. I don't think there's a DVD extra to this effect.

LiamKav said...

Rewatching it, I still can't work out wha happens to Twitch. Batman's "You'll pay for that" strongly implies that they've just killed him. But then Gordon says "I heard Snitch got away, thanks to a couple of Shadow agents." What does that actually mean? It can't be that there were another two that we didn't see that rescue him, because Gordon and Batman are clearly referring to the two that wipe their own minds. Does "got away" have another meaning?

I do love how Batman determines which of the clocktowers is the correct one by the apparent process of "whichever one looks most supervillainy".

I had fond memories of this episode. Talia's "It would have been... sweet" had stuck in my head. Watching it back now, I'm a bit less impressed. As you say, the fight scenes are a bit clunky, and I kinda wish the voice actors weren't putting on accents. It makes the usually reliable Michael York sound a bit silly, and as for Talia... I don't want to be mean, but I don't think that Helen Slater is very good. Lines like "I can't take much more of this" sound horrible stilted. Thank god Ra's turns up at the end to show everyone else what a good villain should sound like. (I really hope Slater improves for "The Demon's Quest". We've had other VAs who have grown into their roles, so I have hopes for her.)

I'm also hoping that Ra's doesn't figure out who Batman is just because his daughter has been the only person clever enough to remove his mask when he's unconscious. It makes Ra's significantly less clever.


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