Home > B, Batman: The Animated Series > Batman: The Animated Series, Episodes 39-40 – “Heart of Steel”

Batman: The Animated Series, Episodes 39-40 – “Heart of Steel”

December 5, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by Brynne Stephens
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Original Airdates: November 16 & 17, 1992
DVD: Batman, The Animated Series, Volume Two

Summary: A series of mysterious technology thefts is traced back to a technology company run by a recluse who has created a supercomputer that may be self-aware… and as anyone who has ever encountered a self-aware computer in a work of fiction can tell you, that isn’t good.

Debuting Characters: This is Barbara Gordon’s first appearance, and HARDAC’s debut.

Background:

ROBOTS ARE ALWAYS EVIL AND ARE GOING TO DESTROY US ALL.

Whaddya want, it’s an original villain as the bad guy in this one who didn’t even make a return appearance in a comic or videogame to the best of my knowledge. I should have done the Zeta episodes.

I should point out the similarity of this arc to Superman III. No Richard Pryor here, obviously.

Thoughts on the Episode:

Yikes, I had a big thing ready to go about how this episode had unusually ugly animation for a company as professional as Sunrise, but then I realised that the PS3 had kept my upscaling settings from “Twilight.” Whoops. Although this is a very ugly print on the DVD version, with the scene of Batman repairing the glider standing out as looking like it got worked over with some sandpaper..

One of the defining features of the first run of Batman: The Animated Series was the state of technology in society, which was… well, let’s just agree that they weren’t ever really shooting for consistency. Between the Ra’s episode revolving around satellite technology, lasers everywhere, but hardly anyone owning a colour television, the early years of Batman were a mashup of different eras and looks. The actual style wasn’t originated in this series… but the original version will be the subject of that mystery review slot I still have on the schedule page. Here, the entire episode is dealing with computers, but it all kind of works since, well, a true AI may well have to be a 1950s room-sized supercomputer. Of course, then you have robots popping out of suitcases and flesh-covered exoskeletons. It all somehow works as long as you don’t think about it too hard.

This story, as noted earlier, should be familiar to anyone who’s watched any sci-fi storyline involving a new type of computer. It starts off very strongly, with the unconventional break-in at WayneTech that’s littered with a lot of neat sight gags, from the robot’s movements to Bruce’s hidden passages and equipment throughout the WayneTech building to Batman stopping the elvator with his hand (in one of those things that’s funny because Batman doing something mundane is always funny – we’ll see a great example a couple of JL episodes down the line). The entire show is rather light on action overall, with the first episode cliffhanger dealt with as quickly as it appeared, but it does build to a reasonably entertaining climax, as long as you don’t ask why the only person HARDAC bothered to target with the superlaser was a really old man.

The issue with the episode, however, is that it kind of doesn’t know what to make of itself. Part of it wants to go down the path of Batman-as-James-Bond, with Bruce investigating Cybertron (heh) and romancing Rossum’s assistant, chasing a car in a glider, and a headquarters that blows up in spectacular fashion at the end. On the other hand, part of it wants to be a typically atmospheric BTAS storyline, with shadowy conspiracies and Batman in jeopardy even within the Batcave itself (which I assume is the invasion I missed when talking about it in Black Out – it’s so obviously a “whoops, we need a cliffhanger” moment, or a sequel setup, that I’d totally forgotten about it). And with all the robots wandering around, it’s got a healthy dash of madcap 60s-era Batman. In the end, it’s more of a Bond-style episode (Batman doesn’t get the girl, but the evil female sidekick is killed off in suitably Bondian fashion) but it doesn’t really feature anything remarkable in the action at the conclusion, aside from maybe the elevator crushing the Marilyn Monroe lookalike.

Aside from setting up the memorable sequel, the other main purpose of the story is to introduce Barbara Gordon to the animated universe. It’s effective in that role; while she’s not as assertive as she would be later, it does hit all the “she’s going to be Batgirl someday” points, such as making her capable of holding her own in some relatively hairy situations and showing a decent fondness for gadgets. I liked how they actually tried to develop her relationship with her father a little bit in this one; even if the teddy bear never showed up again, most of her important plotlines would involve her dad, and as a result the work done here would pay off later.

The introduction of Barbara lifts a fairly standard two-parter to at least be somewhat noteworthy, but even if you somehow have avoided this type of story before, it’s a bit too easy to get out ahead of the plot and frustrated with Batman for not figuring out what’s going on.

Grade: B. Not a bad story, but it doesn’t have a lot of depth in the narrative. That would show up in spades in the sequel.

Random Thoughts:

  • This episode features different Batcave entrance than what was settled on later, with the staircase hidden behind a grandfather clock. Bruce also uses the rarely-seen elevator to the Batcave, which is normally Alfred’s method of entering.
  • That repair machine is a very obvious plot device – why the heck would Batman need a pair of robot arms just to repair his glider?
  • Batman uses most of his equipment as seen in the famed Adventures of Batman and Robin SNES game, between the high-explosive grenade, the throwing star, and the staple batarangs and grapple gun. If you haven’t heard about the game before… well, you won’t be holding your breath too long.
  • Although there’s clearly more than four robots in the scene at the Gotham Club, only Hill, Gordon, Rossum and Bullock are rescued from Cybertron before it blows up. Maybe HARDAC was creating jobber robots?
  • Barbara using the contents of her purse to battle crime is likely a throwback to the original version of the Batgirl costume, which featured a not-sexist-at-all utility purse.

Line of the Episode: “Stay put? I don’t think so.” Not all that impressive, until you hear it live – Conroy does the first part as Bruce, and the second as Batman.

Next Time: Well, might as well do a weekend aside, but the next episode will be “His Silicon Soul.”

Next Justice League: The Luthor arc continues with the introduction of Amazo in “Tabula Rasa”, which is also a significant J’onn-focused episode.

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  1. JFink
    December 6, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    What do you mean we never see Woobie again. I could have swore he showed up again in the first Batgirl episodes.

  2. beauwight
    February 8, 2011 at 1:28 am

    I was expecting some sort of Blade Runner reference with William Sanderson semi-reprising the role of android maker J.F. Sebastian. Just me?

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