DCAU #74: Trial

IN THIS ONE... Batman is put on trial by his Rogues' gallery.

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm; directed by Dan Riba.

REVIEW: My brain kind of won't let me ignore it, but it's probably best to leave it alone. I'm talking about the show's timeline, of course. Let's just say this occurs before Poison Ivy "reforms" and disappears, and before "Croc" is sent to another prison (is he really criminally insane though?). The point is, this is an episode with almost ALL the rogues, and it's fun in a super-villain team-up kind of way. Nitpickers need not apply. The story was almost used for the theatrical movie, in fact, but probably does work better as a short episode. In theaters, I imagine the creators would have felt the need to flash back to the events merely referenced in the episode, most of which had been seen before. (One exception: Harley refers to her past as an Arkham psychologist, which is new information at this point.)

Aside from the villains, which I'll get to in a moment, the episode is about Gotham's newish D.A. Janet Van Dorn, whose crusade against Batman - not so much because he interrupts due process, but because she believes he "created" these crazy villains by example - grabs the attention of Arkham's inmates who have, incidentally taken over the asylum. Kidnapped so she can perversely be put to the task of defending Batman in the Joker's kangaroo court, she will come to realize, through the defense she devises, that Batman didn't create these psychopaths so much as they created a need for him to exist. That while their outlandish costumes might have been encouraged by the Bat, they would nevertheless has been up to no good, and probably done more damage, had Batman never put on the cowl. The ending, where she and Batman agree on the same mission - to create a world that doesn't need Batman - is perfect.

The rogues' tribunal is a lot of fun, even if Two-Face isn't allowed to play both defense and prosecution. Harley batting her eyes at Judge Joker. Killer Croc wanting to sentence Batman to death by thrown rock. The Ventriloquist/Scarface acting as bailiff (and later losing a head). The bad guys acting as witnesses AND jury, and surprisingly coming up with an irrelevant verdict of "not guilty" reflecting their insanity... All great bits, even if we sometimes get the sense the episode is playing for time. And the final fight in deep darkness isn't murky the way the show usually is when it takes the lights down; it's done with sharp lighting cues and shadows that look gorgeous, and make the Batman look even more badass than usual.

IN THE COMICS: The Joker acting as the judge in the Batman's trial is a trope that goes back to Batman #163 (1964). Not sure how many times it came up with the Joker or other villains (such as Two-Face in one or both attorneys' roles), but it's definitely the basis for the short adventure scenario in the Batman RPG put out by Mayfair using their DC Heroes rules. The Jemmy Levitz comic the Joker is reading (above) is at once a reference to DC writer and editor Paul Levitz (that even looks like him on the cover) and references the Adventures of Jerry Lewis comic published by DC from 1957 to 1971 (or from 1952 if you count the previous 40 issues which co-starred Dean Martin).

SOUNDS LIKE: Stephanie Zimbalist replaces Lynette Mettey as the voice of Janet Van Dorn; the daughter of Efram Jr. - the voice of Alfred - she is best known as the lead in Remington Steele that didn't become James Bond. Likewise, Renee Montoya's voice has changed, to that of Liane Schirmer. This was her first job; she went on to voice Alicia Diaz in the Ghost Recon video games.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Not quite perfect - some weaker dialog, for example - but highly entertaining, with a meaningful statement made about Batman's quest.


Dale Bagwell said...

Wow, I'd actually forgotten about this one, but reading your review definitely brought back some of the hazy memories of it. That verdict tho, ha ha.

LiamKav said...

I'd never seen this episode until today (in fact, I have a lot less familiarity with the second half of the series than the first), and it was pretty great! I agree with all your points, so I'll just do my usual lazy bullet list. :)

- Batman's rogue's gallery has really expanded since the last time we did this in "Almost Got 'im", hasn't it? Riddler, Scarface, Mad Hatter... the show continues to grow. Although it does lead to something that always annoyed me, even as a kid...
- ... prominant characters who get no lines! I've just read that Henry Polic II was having throat surgery and so couldn't do his lines (which apparently were in the script), but what about John Glover? It's especially weird since the note that lured Batman in was in the form of a riddle. (Also, he barely moves throughout the entire trial. I thought he might have been a carboard cutout.)
- There's a couple of points where I think bad guys are slightly out of character for the sake of expediency. For instance, I don't think the Riddler would think of himself as a "freak" or "monster". Likewise, I believe that once the jury had found Batman "not guilty", Two-Face would have respected it. Once a decision has been made, he goes along with it. It's the core of his character. However, with only 20 mins to play with I can see why they made those decisions.
- Hey, it's Dr. Bartholomew from "Dream in Darkness"! Those are the sort of cameos I like.
- Montoya isn't wearing the standard GCPD uniform. She's still credited as "officer", but this is one of the first steps marking her out from the rank and file.
- The plot and Van Dorn's motivation comes from the fact that they can't give Ivy and others life imprisonment because Batman caught them. I'm not sure that's how it works. Either Batman's involvement throws the whole trial out, or doesn't affect it? (Likewise, I'm not sure there's actually much difference between "life imprisonment" and "confined to an asylum until you're no longer insane". Presumably in the former you'd at least be allowed out in the fresh air to play sports and stuff.)
- If the episode is trying to tell us that Batman didn't create the Rogues, it's an odd decision to have Arkham jam-packed with inmates. 10-20 insane costumes villains in one city is one thing, but hundreds?! (The Arkham Asylum video game got around this by saying that Arkham was also being forced to hold Blackgate's prisoners at the time.)
- There's a lot less tip-toeing around death and stuff by this point in the series. The first season was full of implication and innuendo. Here, we get "shoot him", "hang him", and "I'd have killed her first!" (Also, Batman may not be causing the criminals, but Arkham isn't doing much good for them. Tetch has gone from regret and denial over what he did to Alice to wishing outright murder.)
- Ivy's evil grin after she shoots Batman in the back made me feel funny in my man regions. I'm sorry.

Oh, and this episode had a bunch of great lines. "Is someone suppossed to be writing this down?", "Nobody panic!" *everyone sees Harley tied up* "Okay, start panicing", "Guilty!" "I was promised a chance to defend my client!" "Oh, very well. Like it'll make a difference", "He should have let me bump off Harvey Dent. We'd all have been better off. Wouldn't we, Harv?"

LiamKav said...

One more thing... Janet Van Dorn's name bugged me for years, and I've only just realised how close it is to Janet Van Dyne. A weird coincidence. (It surely can't be deliberate, as the characters are nothing alike.)

Siskoid said...

The Riddler even disappears in the third act, his seat on the jury just empty.

LiamKav said...

Maybe his disappearance is the greatest riddle of them all.


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