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Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 97: “Over the Edge”

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Yuichiro Yano
Originally Aired May 23, 1998
DVD: Batman, The Animated Series, Volume Four

Summary: An encounter with the Scarecrow plunges the entire Bat-Family into a nightmarish scenario, as both Batman and Commissioner Gordon are forced to take extreme measures to resolve the matter.

Arc Notes: We learn that Commissioner Gordon knows that Barbara is Batgirl.

Background:

One of the main goals of the revamped Batman TAS was to bring the series a bit closer to the then-contemporary comics, as the Batman books had undergone a renaissance after the animated series had first went into production in 1992. In the aftermath of the 1992-93 “Knightfall” saga, Robin and Nightwing received their own series, both of which lasted over ten years and received a fair share of critical acclaim. Barbara Gordon also returned to prominence around that same time, as her Oracle identity was used to launch a high-profile series entitled “Birds of Prey.”

As a result, when the series returned to airing new episodes, things had changed. Dick Grayson was ‘graduated’ into his contemporary Nightwing role, thankfully skipping over his Elvis years costume. A new Robin was needed, and the producers married the name of the contemporary Robin – Tim Drake – with the background of his predecessor, the late (at the time…) Jason Todd. In a nod to Jason, Dick’s old costume was “retired” in the Batcave in the same manner as Jason’s old Robin uniform was his most prominent memorial in the cave. Barbara Gordon underwent the least changes, aside from modifying her outfit from the Batman tribute of the original to one strongly reminiscent of her stylish all-black look from the 1970s, while adopting the Tim Drake role of combination tech geek and crimefighter. And Batman actually got out ahead of the comics, wearing a Year One-ish outfit that was eventually adopted during the epic No Man’s Land storyline, while Bruce Wayne was turned into a much sharper-looking businessman who actually seemed to have a clue what was going on at Wayne Enterprises. Got all that?

Lastly, this episode positions Bane as a much higher-profile villain than he had previously appeared to be in animated form, which matched his status at the time as, at worst, the #3 villain the Batman books.

Thoughts on the Episode:

[editorial note – I largely ‘wrote’ this one using my voice recorder while driving, and as a result forgot to watch it again with the commentary track on.]

This one starts off about as crazily as an episode can, with the GCPD pursuing Batman and Robin through the bowels of the Batcave of all places, shooting at them all the way, and even shredding one of the DC Universe’s biggest sacred cows in the form of the ‘memorial’ Robin costume, prior to an explosive over-water chase that ends with a last-minute save by Nightwing.  Only after that lengthy cold opening does the action flash back to a confrontation between Batman and the ridiculously scary redesigned version of Scarecrow, which ends with Barbara making a mistake and paying for it with her life.

This double cold opening of sorts is very effective in avoiding the main problem with these types of episodes, namely that the viewer doesn’t think what they’re seeing is real. By flashing forwards and then backwards within the main narrative, the script essentially forces the viewer into an off-balance position. It’s sort of the same thing Nick Meyer did with Star Trek II, where by showing Spock ‘dying’ at the start of the movie, he got people to forget that it was supposed to be the movie where Spock actually died. Here, the viewer expects some sort of swerve after the shocking opening scene, and the cut to the flashback seems as though it’s all the swerves that are going to show up… which means that, to the viewer, the possibility that Batgirl has been killed is real enough to carry the remainder of the episode.

After the first half that sees Batman’s world collapsing around him, the script is also smart enough to touch on the obvious point that Barbara being outed as Batgirl would inevitably cast suspicion on Gordon himself, which places the Commissioner in the position of not only a man who is having serious issues with dealing with his grief – using Barbara’s funeral as a sting operation isn’t the act of a stable personality – but also one who, just like Bruce, sees his entire life collapse around him. It may even be worse because none of what’s happening is obviously Gordon’s fault. The episode gets to the point where Gordon actually doing something as desperate as turning to, and more signficicantly, trusting Bane seems like a reasonable action on his part given what he’s going through. You start to understand why this is truly Barbara’s nightmare scenario.

The Bane / Batman throwdown is as close to a major fight between the two that was ever achieved in animated form (Bane’s debut episode wasn’t nearly as intense, and I don’t recall them going at it like this during Mystery of the Batwoman), with Bane displaying his unique “roided intellectual” personality well. In spite of presumably being on Venom the entire time, he maintains control and detachment, while at the same time Batman fights in a more desperate manner, including resorting to lethal force. This, and Gordon’s trusting of Bane, are really the only clues we get that this isn’t really happening, and even those ‘clues’ are sort of justifiable given the extreme nature of the circumstances in this story.

This story addresses the question of whether Bruce Wayne is truly sane once more. When looked at from Bullock’s or even Gordon’s perspective, it’s entirely possible that Batman would be responsible for Barbara’s murder, as well as questionable things like conscripting not one, but two, young men into his crusade. Although the bit with the bad guys suing Bruce (using Joker’s lawyer from Joker’s Millions, no less – nice touch) is played for comedy, the fact that Batman is likely at least partially responsible for some of the crime he fights is an old theory that has some merit to it, if not maybe in the specific cases shown. And, of course, since this is what Barbara is seeing in her mind, she has to think there’s some truth to it as well.

There are some very minor things about this episode that don’t entirely ring true, most significantly Nightwing’s reaction to the news that Barbara’s been killed. If anything, you’d expect him to side more with Gordon than with Bruce in any situation where her life is in danger, given the past histories of everyone involved, but then again this is Barbara’s nightmare… and the idea that Dick would care less about her than Bruce is probably pretty nightmarish to her.

Although the ending is admittedly a bit cheap, I generally like a dream story like this one a bit more than the earlier Perchance to Dream, which was the type that featured plenty of clues that what the viewer is watching isn’t really happening. By getting the viewer to think, even just for a second, that what might be happening is ‘real’, the script really does shine through as one of the better ones ever put to print in the DCAU, and the animation is also of a really high standard. The ending scene is touching, as we learn that Gordon’s known how his daughter’s been spending her life for a while now, which is good since otherwise he wouldn’t be much of a cop.

Probably one of the two best episodes of the new-style adventures, and easily in the top five overall Batman shows.

Grade: A. I have a somewhat odd choice for my favourite new-era episode, one which we might get to rather soon; this wasn’t it, but it’s very good.

Random Thoughts:

  • Commissioner Gordon apparently knew that Barbara was Batgirl for a very long time in the comics, as well – she let him in on the secret, as well as the fact that she was really Oracle, in the Birds of Prey storyline “Perfect Pitch.” Which also features Black Canary planting a long wet one on Batman. Buy it already.
  • Note that Gordon also likely knows who Batman is in the comic universe – he all but said so in a semi-famous LOTDK issue scripted by Greg Rucka.
  • Weird, and rare, animation goof by TMS at the end of the episode – when Barbara first picks up her costume, it looks a lot more like it’s got the Nightwing logo across the chest than her usual small Bat-symbol.
  • Nice touch to have Bullock immediately think that it’s Batman, and not Scarecrow, who killed Batgirl.

Line of the Episode: “I’m pleased you remembered me, Mr. Wayne. You can’t believe how I’ve look forward to this. Though I was hoping for more of a fight. But what could I expect from a killer of children?” Bane, during the battle with Batman.

Next Time: The Justice League do what Barbara did in this one and confront their worst fears. Plus, Batman visits Starbucks.

Next Side Story: While I’m going to hit some seasonal stuff over the weekend, I suspect that the episodes I have slotted before Maid of Honor are too tempting to resist. So since we had two episodes featuring one of Batman Begins’ villainous duo, it’s only fair to deal with the other. Batman gets to go Bond in “The Demon’s Quest.”

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