Home > A-minus, Episode Grades, Episode Reviews, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 43 – “Knight Time”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 43 – “Knight Time”

November 12, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

It's not what it looks like, trust me

Written by Robert Goodman
Directed by Curt Geda
Original Airdate: October 10, 1998
DVD: Superman TAS Season 3

Summary: Superman’s visit to Gotham City takes an unexpected turn when he is forced to fill in for a mysteriously absent Batman.

Arc Note: Third episode to feature Brainiac as a villain, second meeting of Superman and Batman.

Background:

A lot of the appeal of this episode largely lies in the full slate of cameo appearances from some of the less famous – or at least less utilised – Batman villains, so we might as well start there.

When I was mentioning the diminishing returns of Livewire in terms of female villains created specifically for the animated series, the downward progression hit its nadir in the form of one Roxy Rocket, whose gimmick was that she rode a phallic rocket and appeared to be getting very… excited… while, um riding it. Suffice it to say that while she’s an inexplicable favourite of certain fans (well, somewhat explicable), she didn’t really merit too many appearances outside her debut episode, “The Ultimate Thrill.” She appears at the start of this episode seemingly only to emphasize that while some villain gimmicks are well-suited to a Batman villain, just being able to fly around the city isn’t much help against Superman.

The other three villains here are much better known, but all shared the same fate in the DCAU, specifically that they weren’t as heavily utilised as their pop cultural presence would suggest. Heck, two of them even made it to the silver screen… admittedly, to Joel Schumacher’s version, but points for showing up, right?

Bane was created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and Graham Nolan (the three men responsible, with editor Denny O’Neil, for the direction of the Batman books for about ten years) in 1993, and is considered the most recent “A-list” member of the Batman rogues gallery. Bane’s reputation is largely built on both an excellent origin – a young child born in prison who ultimately worked his way to the top of the power structure, then was experimented on by corrupt scientists – and his very strong introductory story, which saw him outthink Batman and then, after wearing him down, breaking his back. This storyline, Knightfall, was incredibly successful, largely because unlike most of Batman’s antagonists, Bane is perfectly sane and more than capable of giving him a fight in the intellectual arena. Bane has rarely been used since, which has maintained an aura about him, and has recently become something of an antihero in Gail Simone’s excellent Secret Six series. The animated Bane is almost identical to his comic counterpart, but due to coming to prominence after the first batch of BTAS epsiodes were in full production, his appearances were limited, although his debut was heavily hyped back in the day. Bane has also made a brief cameo in Batman Beyond, one of only four classic Batman villains to do so.

The second member of the trio is the Riddler, whom you’re likely familiar with. While he does share Bane’s more cultured approach to villainy, he is a bit more of an Arkham client than the strongman. This has recently been turned on its head in the comics, with the result being that a seemingly reformed Riddler has apparently gone straight and is operating in Gotham as a consulting detective. The animated series version was slightly tweaked from the classic straight criminal origins, as in the DCAU Riddler is tormented technological genius who sought vengeance on the people that stole his creations. Riddler’s obviously popular in other media, and I believe Frank Gorshin’s portrayal in the 1960s, which earned him an Emmy nomination, was, prior to Heath Ledger, the only acting role in a Batman live-action production to earn a major award nomination. Thanks to Gorshin, Riddler actually was elevated into the lead villain on the 60s show, although he hasn’t really been as prominent since.

The final member of the trio is the Mad Hatter, who was another significant change when brought to the DCAU. We saw the modern version version of the Hatter when talking about the Haunted Knight collection a couple of weeks ago, but the DCAU version is creepier in a way, a disturbed individual with a talent for robotics and mind control as well as a serious fixation on Alice in Wonderland. This is a rare bad guy that I actually like more in his 60s Batman incarnation, as the portrayal on the TV series was the first episode I watched. Sure, a fixation on hats isn’t as creepy as the DCAU’s psychosis… but, c’mon, he had a hat that shot mind control beams from a pair of eyes!

Of course, none of these guys is the real villain of the episode, but, well, we’ve talked about him enough already, right?

Thoughts on the Episode:

This is another episode that shows the strengths of crossing over two outwardly different characters in Batman and Superman. In this case, the central hook of the episode is Superman actually trying to be Batman, which leads to both comedy and a decently dramatic plot.

As I think I’ve said before, I like the idea of a younger Robin with Batman, which is a line of thought that I share with Bruce Timm:

I think that version of the the Robin character, by splitting him up into two characters – one younger and one older – is much more interesting than the Robin we did in the original Batman: The Animated Series. I always felt like the original Robin… was neither fish nor fowl.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 60

In this case, the writers took an idea that was very common in the modern DC universe, specifically that while Batman doesn’t fully trust Superman, Robin has no such issues with the Man of Steel, and probably has genuine admiration for him. So when Superman shows up looking for Batman, Robin is quick to pal up with him, and then along comes the idea that makes up the remainder of the episode – that Superman should pose as Batman. Tim’s both enthusiastic and gets in some good one-liners (“…he’s smiling!” – a line that’s amusingly called back later when Clark grins at the Hatter and the Hatter is horrified at having to face a smiling Batman), and this episode’s as much about establishing him as competent as it is about the central conceit of Clark’s imitation. Superman gives Robin his nod of approval at the end of the episode, which is a really nice touch.

It’s hard to imagine this being pulled off any better. The bit with Gordon obviously knowing that something is wrong but being unable to put his finger on it is great – Superman does look slightly different in the costume, and his attempts to make his chin look like Bruce’s are hilarious. That scene also starts the gag with Robin having to fill in Superman on various parts of the imitation that Clark doesn’t already know. This episode is easily the only time that Super-ventriloquism actually works. The fight against the trio of villains is especially funny, as Superman takes all their best shots before mopping the floor with Bane, which is expected but still fun to see happening. The way it’s structured, it’s easy to forget that this is a Superman episode… easy, that is, until the final sequence, when suddenly Superman is battling Brainiac’s pocket Kryptonian warship. This is easily the best Superman / Brainiac solo fight, as it lasts a decent amount of time and ends with the slightly disturbing shot of a badly-damaged Brainiac trying and failing to escape from the burning ship.

In terms of overall continuity, this is something of a “lost story” in the Superman / Brainiac saga, as the destruction of Brainiac here obviously doesn’t take, and Brainiac’s next appearance in opposition to Superman references “Ghost in the Machine” and not this episode. It’s easy enough to imagine that this is another one of Brainiac’s alternate versions floating around so it’s not an error, but it’s got enough of the overall story to merit watching if you’re just watching episodes that are essential to the broader stories.

Grade: A-. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age with this run of As, but this is another really fun episode with a ton of nice cameos from bad guys that never got much play.

Random Thoughts:

  • I like how Brainiac was apparently thorough enough to plant evidence that would draw Dick and Babs away to look for Ra’s. Now, kids, don’t speculate on what the two of them would be doing together on an extended vacation in sunny Romania….
  • Robin hanging Riddler by the cage is actually a frequently-used form of torture.
  • “Brainiac leaves a little something of himself behind” would prove to be very prophetic.
  • Even though animated Tim Drake is based heavily on comic Jason Todd, Tim wasn’t included in Jason’s finest moment as Robin, the adaptation of Alan Moore’s famed story “For the Man who has Everything.” Superman’s approval of Tim’s performance in this episode is about as close as he’d get.
  • Superman uses the underwater exit from the Batcave, which echoes how he comes and goes from the Fortress of Solitude. It’s a nice touch.

Line of the Episode: “Kal-El. This development was highly improbable.” Brainiac is quite the deadpan comic when he needs to be.

Next Justice League: A very… weird JLU episode, introducing another semi-classic DC hero.

Next Time: a slightly earlier Superman episode – a two-parter, in this case – as we delve into one of the heaviest episodes in DCAU history, via Apokolips… Now!

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