Thursday, October 27, 2011

Back to the Batcave Part 2

And we're back.

When we left off, Batman was drugged at the wheel, and Robin's demise seemed eminent.

Now the concluding episode: Smack in the Middle

Act I

So it begins. Batman resorts to deceiving his and Robin's mother figure. The Riddler, it turns out, only wants to use Robin as a mechanism to give Batman further clues, so as to lure Batman into the real trap. When Riddler believes that Robin is afraid, he specifically says that the fear is that he will "outwit" Batman. This is a dual of intellects, as it always is with the Riddler. I believe that this is an aspect of Batman stories that this show defines as well as it is defined anywhere. Batman and his foes, at their best, don't just trade blows and one liners. They engage in grand duels of body, mind, and soul. The point of Riddler crimes, and Joker and even Two-Face crimes needn't have anything to do with their explicitly literal financial or even psychological ends. The supercrook's true calling is, as often, to enjoy the ride while forcing Batman and by extension Gotham City to dance to the beat they set. Batman's strength, as we'll see, is to understand where that beat is going and covertly replace it with his own. Also, Riddler sure has prepared some handy sprays. With his lovely female assistant ready to insinuate herself as a faux Robin, he almost has Batman in the snare. The Riddler's plan so far employs bondage and transvestism, let's see where things go from here. How many bends will this labyrinth throw at our heroes?

Personal favorite riddle this two-parter: What was Joan of Arc made of?

Act II

Just when Riddler and Molly think they have Batman, he proves to have had it figured out all along, though in this case he might wish he hadn't. What do you call a heap of uranium? Atomic pile. And what's this? Batman uses actual detective skills to figure out where Robin's being held, or at least the Batmobile does. It does it via wireless even. I guess Riddler's plan was to murder Batman after all, but humiliation is still an important part of his scheme. Being shot in your own Batcave by a woman disguised as your sidekick is an end no superhero would desire. The riddles Robin overhears while captive were, no doubt, intended precisely to confound Batman and Robin, should Robin have escaped, or Batman have avoided death. Once again Riddler's most jubilant emotional responses occur in due to Batman's humiliation or embarrassment rather than concrete physical harm done.


Once again we see that it's what's inside that counts. We see Riddler, in a suggestive elephant mask and a  nice tartan jacket, transforming a dignified soiree into a vulger vaudeville vantage for his great heist. In the vehicular Mindless Ones post linked to in the last episode, there is some thought given to the idea that Batman and his foes, to some extent all superfolks, project TAZ's, and I tend to agree. In one fell swoop the Riddler has taken his identity and transmitted it into the outside world, stealing the mammoth may be the frosting, but knocking out the crowd with his act is the Riddler's cake. Then, just as the Riddler thinks he's sidestepped Batman's box, he finds he's actually Smack! Pow! in the middle of it. Batman and Robin's re-breathers almost mask the fact that West and Ward have been replaced by stuntmen, as does the Riddler's elephant mask. Batman and Robin win, and the Riddler is foiled, but they can't be entirely satisfied. The Riddler has left them with nothing but a huge question mark, and Bruce pines over Molly's tragic end, caused by the Bat-reactor, in an almost light noir scene.

The elements that can be found in most any Batman story are found in this show. They're just present at different volumes and frequencies than most modern Bat-fans expect, or are prepared to engage with. Which is too bad, because they so often perfectly demonstrate the thrill of that moment when Batman reveals that he's turned the tables on an adversary during that split second that they let their guard down. My only disappointment with this episode is the lack of an out and out death trap, but we can talk about those some other day.

Next: Beneath the helmet of the most magnetic mutant of all.

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