Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 94 – “Growing Pains”
Written by: Robert Goodman
Story by: Paul Dini & Robert Goodman
Directed by: Atsuko Tanaka
Originally Aired: February 28, 1998
DVD: Batman: TAS, Volume 4
Summary: Robin becomes involved with a young girl, only to find that her father is hiding a dark secret.
Arc Notes: Clayface is captured by the authorities at the end of this episode; he eventually finds his way to crime boss Morgan Edge’s private collection at some point between this episode and Justice League.
I was passed a request for this episode, and since Clayface also plays a key role in “Secret Society,” this is as good a time as any to talk about him.
Clayface is an interesting case as a villain, as he’s got a longer history than all but a few Batman villains. In fact, the famous Detective Comics #40 – which technically features the first appearance of The Joker on its cover – actually boasts a Clayface story within. The original Clayface, Basil Karlo, was an actor upset at a remake of his most famous horror movie who put on a mask and went on a murder spree before being stopped by Batman.
The Clayface name was revived in the sci-fi influenced 1950s. The new Clayface, Matt Hagen, became one of Batman’s first regular foes to boast a set of super-powers. Hagen’s origin in the comics was reminiscent of Eclipso, in that he was an explorer who was given vast shape-shifting powers and resiliency by exposure to “radioactive protoplasm,” Originally, he was limited in his use of the Clayface powers, but eventually turned into a permanent version. Hagan was Clayface for a number of years, until he was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
There have been a number of other Clayfaces over the years (including a female version), but, against all odds, the “current” Clayface is once again Basil Karlo, who acquired Hagen’s powers and turned into kind of an “Ultimate” Clayface. Ironically, the DCAU Clayface is the other way around, as Matt Hagan was an actor before being exposed to chemicals and transforming into Clayface.
(Clayface was one of the few things The Batman did right during its troublesome first season, but I’m not going to delve too deeply into that.)
Thoughts on the Episode:
The DCAU’s team longstanding issues with the very idea of Robin are well-documented (they took a page out of O’Neil / Adams Batman by sending Dick off to college in the early episodes of BTAS, but when the new episodes started that decision was reversed, as Tim Drake was brought in as the new Robin, albeit with a character based more on post-Crisis Jason Todd than Tim’s “athletic fanboy made good” origin. This was Jason’s showcase episode, much like “Robin’s Reckoning” was for Dick, and what’s most impressive is that it largely lives up to that very high standard.
At its heart, this story is a classic tragedy, with Tim falling for a girl who he can’t be involved with. The setup is a good example of the series leveraging its own continuity to create an interesting situation, as while Clayface had been off screen for quite some time it was obvious that his ‘death’ was ambiguous enough to leave the door open to bring him back. While the actual plot certainly isn’t the most complicated ever presented in 22 minutes, it does create a great amount of pathos for Annie before reaching the climax. The story isn’t high on action, but it does build very well, and there’s a lot of nice thematic and character work that effectively carries the episode in lieu of any spectacular combat sequences.
One of the bigger issues in the comic world recently has been the conflict between Batman’s trust issues and his desire to build a family around him. This episode builds off that, as we see that Bruce isn’t entirely trusting of Tim even though he’s been with him for a while. While the actual conflict doesn’t remain for too long – Tim exhibits some independence, but doesn’t actually rebel like Dick did in “Robin’s Reckoning ” – Tim’s more rebellious nature is a fundamental point of this episode. It’s part of what makes it work; from what we know of Dick, this story would have seemed a bit wrong for him. The script is clearly built around Tim, and that’s what makes it so good.
The other underlying theme of this episode is substantially heavier, as it delves into issues of child abuse – the early Clayface confrontations are positively dripping with subtext in that regard, while we also have to question Batman’s motives regarding putting a child in danger as he does with Tim. In fact, Tim attributes his interest in Annie partially to his bad treatment at the hands of his own father (which was chronicled in “Sins of the Father.”) While it may be considered exploitative to put such obviously innocent characters as Tim and Annie in a heavy situation such as this, the story largely treats the subject with an appropriate amount of deference.
One last very positive note about this episode: it takes great care to not tip its hand regarding the revelation of Clayface as the villain. When originally watching this episode, I had “Growing Pains” pegged as a Poison Ivy episode (my mistake; they’d already done something similar with Ivy in “House and Garden”). Instead, the hints are nicely obscured, especially with Robin going out of his way to refer to the evidence Batman collects as ‘dirt’ rather than ‘clay.’
While “Growing Pains” probably could stand to have a bit more narrative in the chase-heavy first half, it’s a very effective story overall.
Grade: A-. A very solid characterization episode for Tim, with a good twist and some nice animation.
- This is a very clear example of inter-episode continuity, as it directly traces back to Clayface’s previous appearance in “Mudslide.” While the producers liked him, he was allegedly too expensive to animate on a regular basis in his original form.
- Well, technically “Holiday Knights” aired first, but since Tim’s origin story actually aired after that, it’s safe to say that the Christmas episode just aired out of order.
- By this point, don’t you think mooks like the biker gang would know about Robin instead of just mocking him for being dressed in a costume? The whole “urban legend” thing only gets one so far.
- Speaking of which, the DCAU wiki assumes that the bikers are going to rape Annie, which is… an interesting interpretation.
Line of the Episode: “Glad my Barbara is past her wild years.” Although you need Batman raising the People’s Eyebrow to really complete the effect.
Next Side Story: Well, the Christmas Side Stories are already done, so in preparation for “Wild Cards” it’s time for Harley-fest 2010! Kicking things off will be “Harelequinade”, followed by “Mad Love.”
Next Time: Explore how an episode tries to be significant and falls flat on its face, via “Secret Society.”