Home > B-plus, Batman: The Animated Series, Episode Reviews > Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 96 – “The Demon Within”

Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 96 – “The Demon Within”

November 5, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Demon Within

Story by Rusti Bjornhoel
Written by Stan Berkowitz
Original Airdate: May 9, 1998
DVD: Batman: TAS, Volume 4

Summary: Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake attend an auction of ancient artifacts and are drawn into the midst of an ancient conflict between Jason Blood and the witch boy Klarion, with the fate of Blood’s alter ego Etrigan hanging in the balance.

Debuting Characters: This is the animated debut of Jason Blood, Etrigan, and Klarion (BUM BUM BUM*) the Witch Boy.

Background:

Back to Kirby history for a moment now. Along with the Fourth World characters, Kirby drew on old Prince Valiant comic strips as inspiration to create Etrigan, The Demon, a much more magic-based character than the science-fiction influenced New Gods. Although he wasn’t Timm’s favourite character, geographic closeness made Etrigan a logical guest-star in Batman, as he explains:

It’s not so much that he was a favourite chraracter, it’s just that I’m such a Kirby fan. I mean, I like the Demon comics… I always kind of liked The Demon and the fact that he was based in Gotham City… it just seemed interesting to team them up.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 62

Although I’m once again going to defer talking about Etrigan here (since his origin is actually shown in his next appearance, with only the briefest character exposition given here), the interesting thing about this episode is that it’s essentially a direct sequel to the Batman Adventures story I covered last time. That type of thing is… uncommon, to say the least; the only other example I can immediately think of is how Dick and Barbara’s romance largely happened off-panel in the animated series, with the creators choosing to leave it up to the fans to fill in the blanks. In this case, it’s even more unusual, as Timm points out:

The comic book animated continuity is actually different than the actual animated continuity – they’ll do things that contradict what we do and vise versa. But for the sake of the Demon story we did in the animated show, we subsumed the annual we had done into the animated continuity just to get things moving faster. We didn’t have to have them meet and slow the story down. The story starts as a fait accompli, they’ve already met each other off-stage and have some history together.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 62

Thoughts on the Episode:

A common theme in recent years is that many of DC’s biggest heroes have problems whenever faced with threats that are magical or mystical in nature. This makes some sense when you think that most trace their modern origins to the sci-fi influenced 1950s, but the fact that one of Superman’s catchphrases these days is “I hate magic” certainly shows that it goes beyond the sci-fi revival characters. Therefore, putting one of DC’s big guns with a magic character provides for an interesting story opportunity, one which the creators took full advantage of in this very fun episode.

The idea of separating Etrigan from Blood may seem like it’s reaching back to an old well, but as powerful as Klarion obviously is in this episode it would make it much more difficult to have Batman going into combat against what looks to be a small child rather than being up against the more physically imposing character in Etrigan. Jason playing “mission control” and helping Batman magically makes the fight more plausible, and the reverse happening – Klarion directing Etrigan against Blood’s desperate defence – is also effective. Although the actual action in this episode isn’t all that much, consisting as it does of a brief skirmish early, a short chase scene, and then Batman ambushing Klarion while Tim gets the crud kicked out of him by Etrigan, the episode certainly feels like there’s a lot going on.

I haven’t really had a chance to talk about Tim Drake much – he was absent from both of the prior new format episodes I’ve reviewed – but this episode almost is a better chance for him to shine than it is Batman. I still don’t think that his street urchin origins in this animated form are much to write home about – especially compared to his “tech geek made good” background in comic form – but compared to the dour, ageing Jason Blood and the dour-by-definition Bruce, Tim’s energy really carries a lot of this episode. Playing the role of Blood’s apprentice / errand boy is a good utilisation of him without him necessarily getting into the Robin outfit, and most of his quips work. He also shows why Robin is a necessary part of the Batman mythos from a narrative perspective, as his presence allows for a lot of exposition to be delivered in a small amount of time.

(Plus, Tim also genuinely seems to like all the magical craziness going on, which as noted is something of a change of pace from DC hero standard.)

Klarion is an interesting choice for an antagonist, as he’s often portrayed as a lot more neutral of a character than the strictly villainous characterization here, but it’s not that far off Kirby’s original idea. This would wind up being Klarion’s only appearance of significance, as the next two times Etrigan would feature prominently in the DCAU, he’d be up against an antaonist whose existence was hinted at in this episode: Morgan LeFey. The animators certainly got the unsettling nature of the character down right, as even while he plays a somewhat impish role, he’s straight-out creepy.

However, his childish nature holds throughout, and getting so frustrated that he tries to physically attach Batman at the end of the episode (only to find himself to be too short to do any real damage) makes it clear that he’s only a threat as long as something else isn’t distracting him. While he doesn’t have to carry the episode thanks to the great work with Tim (and it’s a shame they only had one scene together), he’s a good bad guy in a good episode, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Grade: B+. Fun, good design work, and some slick animation make this a winner.

Random Thoughts:

  • The transformations of Etrigan and Klarion’s cat Teekl feature Kirby’s classic “Kirby dots” technique that he used as a shorthand for mysterious energies of any source.
  • The movie Klarion attends is “Devestator 3”, in case you missed it. Given what happened in Legends of the Dark Knight, you get the impression that the Bat-team didn’t like threequels much.
  • Does every ice cream truck in the DCAU play “Pop Goes the Weasel”?
  • As another example of the looser Broadcast Standards & Practices of this series, Tim actually uses the word “killing” literally, followed by Klarion giving an unequivocal “kill” order to Etrigan, which would almost never happen in the old days.
  • Sadly, Etrigan doesn’t feature his rhyming speech in his DCAU incarnation. “Clerks” director Kevin Smith had a great deal of fun with that gimmick when he wrote Etrigan into his Green Arrow story Quiver.

Line of the Episode: “No strawberry, Master.” – Etrigan, epicurean.

Next time: Another gem from the New Adventures era, as Superman guest-stars in the continuation of an ongoing plotline from his show in “Knight Time.”

Next Justice League: Even more Kirbyesque action, in what’s the closest thing to a DCAU Halloween episode, “A Knight In Shadows”

* I don’t normally do inside jokes, but readers of Peter David’s Young Justice should appreciate that.

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