DCAU #17: Beware the Gray Ghost

IN THIS ONE... Batman resurrects his childhood hero, the Gray Ghost, to stop the Mad Bomber

CREDITS: Written by Garin Wolf, Tom Ruegger and Dennis O'Flaherty (also wrote a few episodes of BraveStar and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles); directed by Boyd Kirkland.

REVIEW: I don't really need "logical" reasoning for why someone in a superhero universe would wear a costume, and Beware the Gray Ghost goes slightly too far in that direction. Essentially, Batman's inspiration was a TV superhero, which is a little too on the nose compared to, say, seeing Zorro at the movies on that fateful night. It wouldn't be so bad if the Batcave wasn't apparently an "exact replica" of the lair seen on the show, or if Bruce weren't so damn naive to think the actor was in any way an actual hero, even if he turns him into one.

But buy the premise, buy the bit, and by getting Adam West, 1960s TV's Batman, they make it clear this is a nostalgia piece ABOUT Batman himself and what he means to us, as kids and adults. Batman can't very well have himself as a hero, and so the invention of the Gray Ghost, and West's lovely portrayal of a typecast aging actor with few prospects. Perhaps it felt close to home. And showrunner Bruce Timm must've gotten a kick out of playing the superfan-gone-bad Ted Dymer, who turns out to be the Mad Bomber, in this. They even made Ted look like him! So we have Bruce as the good fan, and Ted as the bad one. One resurrects his hero's career, the other exploits it. I don't mean to make it sound deeper than it is, but it's really what's going on (with perhaps some meta-commentary about the Batman '66 show not being available on video, and the wish fulfillment of it suddenly coming out), and none of the subtext would work if they hadn't scored that casting coup.

There are lots of little touches I want to praise as well. The film noir direction of the too-brief portions of the Gray Ghost show. The spinning newspaper evoking Batman '66. The poster in Bruce's trophy room that poses the Ghost as the BTAS logo Batman. I'm less enthusiastic about the action scenes, which are only okay, and the editing, which isn't as clear as it might be, especially early on.

IN THE COMICS: Though the Gray Ghost is sort of meant as a love letter to the 1960s Batman TV show, his look and his show's tone has comic book and pulp antecedents like the Spirit (mystery man in a suit) and the Shadow (the poster in his apartment). The DC Comics character he is perhaps closest too is the Sandman, who had a similar suit and goggles look. The Grey (not Gray) Ghost did eventually show up in mainstream continuity (but only as recently as 2010) where he was actor Clancy Johnson (not Simon Trent), a criminal turned would-be hero who appeared alongside Batgirl Stephanie Brown, and died less than two years after his introduction. When we see episode titles for his show, several are comic book references, including "Dr. Death" (a Golden Age Batman villain), and "Spy Smashers" (Gray Ghost also looks a little like Golden Age hero Spy Smasher). There may be others. "The Doll Maker", for example, is the name of Super Friends villain, but would only become a comic book villain much later. "Earthquake" can't refer to the "Cataclysm" story arc that almost destroyed Gotham, because that was a few years ahead still. Speaking of destroying Gotham, after the success of the 1989 Batman film and Anton Furst's designs for the city, a mad bomber destroyed a lot of property, "revealing" the more Gothic Gotham hidden by taller buildings.

SOUNDS LIKE: Asked and answered!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A memorable tribute to television heroes of the past and one in particular, though it doesn't have as much lift as I remember. Quite probably, this is because I confuse this episode with the 1990 Flash TV series episode "Ghost in the Machine" where a clearer Sandman stand-in called Nightshade plays a similar role.


snell said...

" It wouldn't be so bad if the Batcave wasn't apparently an "exact replica" of the lair seen on the show..."

Dude, I've long said that when I win the lottery, my first goal would be to build an exact replica of the Batman '66 stately Wayne Manor, Batcave and all. So I can se Bruce doing that with his hero--and he didn't even need to win the lottery!!

Anonymous said...

One of the things I like about the 21st century is that there's no such thing as an "old washed-up actor" any longer; your Adam Wests and William Shatners can find work and their fans love them. I think the Internet has everything to do with it, where all it takes is a friendly tweet or a goofy photo to make the world go "Awww!"

This is my way of saying that Adam West continues to rock and I would give him a piggyback ride if he wanted one.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Nightshade was the best!

...Oh, and Beware the Grey Ghost was fun, too. :-)

Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

This episode right here hit me in the feels man. One of my absolute favorites for all the reasons you mention, like the inclusion of Adam West that was so appropriate it's not even funny, the homage to other Golden Age heroes, everything. About this replacing Zorro...does have to really? There's no reason to believe he didn't watch both, as both included cool caves as their underground base. Just loved this one. And I thought the Mad Bomber looked more like a young Denny O'Neil than Paul Dini. Hmmm, good to know.

Siskoid said...

Not a jot like Dini, but like Bruce Timm!


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