Home > A-plus, Batman: The Animated Series, Episode Reviews > Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 18 – “Beware the Grey Ghost”

Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 18 – “Beware the Grey Ghost”

October 30, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Beware the Grey Ghost

Story D. O’Flaherty & T. Ruegger
Teleplay G. Wolf & T. Ruegger
Directed by B. Kirkland
Original Airdate: November 4th, 1992
DVD: Batman, TAS, Volume One

Summary: When a series of bombings reminds Bruce Wayne of a childhood memory, he is forced to locate the star of his favourite television show and enlist his help to save Gotham’s landmarks.

Debuting Characters: Simon Trent / The Grey Ghost

Background:

The inspirations for the Batman character are varied, with numerous older pulp heroes all contributing something. This episode references a bunch of them, especially in terms of the look of the Grey Ghost.

One of the recurring elements in the Batman mythos has been that Bruce Wayne and his parents were leaving a screening of a Zorro movie when Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered (Chris Nolan changed this to an opera in Batman Begins, which is one of the only things about that movie that I don’t like). Zorro’s most common depiction is that he’s a masked vigilante with a base of operations in a cave and who pretends to be an incompetent layabout in his secret identity to hide his heroic persona, which is pretty much Batman. Batman’s Batcave is the most enduring link to Zorro in the mythos, and that inspiration is acknowledged in this episode, albeit with the Grey Ghost replacing Zorro as the originator of the Batcave idea in Bruce’s mind. Zorro’s floppy hat and cape resemble the Grey Ghost’s, but that’s not the most obvious inspiration.

That honour is probably split between a couple of characters – in this case, The Shadow and the Crimson Avenger. The Shadow you probably know, as it’s become a seminal character via nostalgia for old time radio. You’re less likely to remember the live-action movie, which was a brilliantly comedic take on pulp heroes, but it’s well worth tracking down if you can find it (it’s also much easier to take the entire thing as tongue-in-cheek now that Alec Baldwin is better known for being a comedic actor on 30 Rock).

The Crimson Avenger is a bit more obscure, being one of the last characters to be featured in Detective Comics before Batman took over the title a mere seven issues later. As the first (continuity-wise; Superman predates him chronologically) costumed hero at DC, the Crimson Avenger was Lee Travis, a newspaper publisher devoted to social causes who wound up stopping a group of thugs who had robbed and murdered a woman at a charity event he was hosting. Keeping his Zorro-inspired costume from that night, Travis fought crime first as a mystery man in the vein of the Shadow, then later as a full-fledged superhero, complete with costume. Various DC writers over the years have placed the Crimson into a prominent role in the history of the DCU, with Grant Morrison revealing that when a new member is initiated into the JLA, he must swear an oath in front of Travis’ original costume.

(Amusingly, the Crimson’s origin was borrowed for Batman, with the exception that it was Bruce’s dad in the costume.)

The Grey Ghost’s outfit is almost equal parts Crimson Avenger and Shadow, and even shares his two-gun approach to crimefighting with both heroes. The Crimson Avenger will make some cameo appearances in Justice League Unlimited, but since his main one is in an episode with a mob of other heroes, this is all you’re going to get on him.

Thoughts on the Episode:

This is Batman: The Animated Series at its absolute, indisputable, peak – a taut, superbly constructed storyline that features perfect animation, voice work and music, and is genuinely heartbreaking before a superb finish.

The concept of pairing up the modern Batman with Adam West – who of course does the voice work for Simon Trent – was pretty genius, but by having Trent basically be West, an actor who’s too tied to his most famous role and unable to get work, this episode manages to have an emotional heart that is more significant than just about every other Batman episode. Trent’s character is brilliantly, and tragically, drawn, a man unable to afford even his meagre lifestyle and resorting to selling his last few worldly possessions to make it through another night. And when he says that he’s “not the Grey Ghost”, it echoes the words of numerous actors typecast in roles that they’d rather get past and move on from.

The actual structure of this episode is quite different than a conventional one – there isn’t much in the way of action beats during the show, as Batman is more in detective mode than superhero mode throughout (which is always more fun, especially as here he’s doing a lot of the foowork as Bruce). Virtually the entire first half is setup of both Bruce’s obsession with the Grey Ghost, and Trent’s circumstances. It’s only after Trent’s descent from fame is properly chronicled that even a small amount of the action is shown – probably only because they needed a pre-commercial cliffhanger – and it’s back to Bruce talking things over with Trent, albeit now in their costumed identities. Trent is pretty capable for an old guy, as it turns out, fitting right in as the killer toys come after him. With all the conversations and character development, this episode feels more like a prime time drama… which, it’s important to remember, B:TAS basically was in its early days.

Since this episode is all about Batman meeting his childhood hero, the fact that the villain (voiced by Bruce Timm!) isn’t much – kind of like a modern version of the Toyman – doesn’t really effect it. This one’s all about reverence for heroes, both Batman’s and any fans watching this episodes. For all the analysis that Bruce Wayne “died” when his parents were shot and only Batman was left behind, it’s great to see Bruce still having some connection to his happier childhood via his reverence for the Ghost.

The black-and-white opening to the episode is spectacularly presented, and I love the image of Bruce dressed up in the costume with his dad reading the paper in the background. That then cuts to the modern image of Batman, and, again, although I generally ignore animation quality, this one’s just so much better than most other B:TAS episodes, a symphony of oranges and browns that give great character to all the action. This muted colour palette makes an easier transition to the flashbacks (it’s best seen in the consecutive shots of first Batman, then the Ghost, jumping off the rooftop), which makes the entire thing more coherent. Sure, it would be nicer without the ugly brown-suited Bruce Wayne, but the creators would eventually figure that out.

I’d be remiss in not mentioning Adam West’s performance as Trent – he’s not in his campy style, and in fact I didn’t even know he’d done the role until reading about it years after the fact. For what must have been a tough ask for him, he does a spectacular job.

Grade: A+. Hands-down my favourite B:TAS episode.

Other Thoughts:

  • The Grey Ghost costume would make a re-appearance in the Batcave in Batman Beyond, where Bruce actually donned the mask on one occasion (to disguise his identity when Inque infiltrated the cave).
  • Although it’s not strictly in continuity, the Grey Ghost returned in spirit in an issue of Gotham Adventures (the tie-in comic to the redesigned series), featuring a great cover:
    08200868764.3
    (Sadly, I don’t believe there’s ever been an actual Grey Ghost Figure made, which just goes to show how evil Hasbro was when they had the Batman license and produced all of this crap instead. Also note how Batgirl was in this version of the New Adventures logo – which looks like one of Timm’s prototypes shown in Modern Masters – but wasn’t in the final one that appeared on the toys.)
  • The second, and more direct, sequel to the episode appeared in Batman Adventures (v2) #13:07299854803.14
    (This one’s a great issue, with a Batman / Clayface story written by Dan Slott as the lead and a story of Bruce Wayne’s childhood by the original Adventures team of Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett as the backup. In fact, if you want to get really cute with your continuity, the movie made in the lead story is probably the one the McGinnises  are seen leaving in the JLU episode “Epilogue”… but further discussion of that will have to wait.)
  • Notice how Trent’s shadow on the People cover is Batman’s? Nice nod to Adam West.

Next Justice League: Green Lantern goes through much the same thing as Batman does in this episode, only with a much more tragic conclusion, in “Legends.”

Next Time: I’ve actually got a few things to get to before that – first up will be “Legends of the Dark Knight”, then the Loeb / Sale Halloween specials for the weekend, and then… something special for Monday, assuming I can get some screen captures done.

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