Episode Distraction 1: “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and a satellite being thrown into space

The implicit message of most of Star Trek has been the value of reason against the immobile force of logic. The triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy almost always allowed for a series of differing viewpoints that contrasted humanism, hubris and duty as it applied to the survival of an elite group of men and women.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture” gets a lot of shit for being really, brutally dull. It’s one of those barely justified opinions, such as people who damn “Spider-Man 3” for being “emo” or people who say that “Aliens” is better than “Alien” because there are fucking guns in it. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is a deeply flawed, incredibly dated, overly trippy near-masterpiece, one that has received more flack than it could ever possibly deserve.

“The Motion Picture” makes almost no attempt to draw in new fans but it’s almost better for it. It’s a movie that is so dramatically different from the show that came before it that giving newbies a working base is almost pointless. Characters are introduced and reintroduced all over the place, with characters such as Chekov and Sulu barely being introduced at all.

It’s a movie that’s more about atmosphere than characters or plot and it actively challenges the viewers to care about what’s going on. This is a movie that wants to be about three characters, Spock, V’ger and Decker but it becomes more about stoic logic bumping up against an unknowable universe.

The beginning of every episode of Star Trek has Kirk, and by extension the audience, standing against the unknown. We’re boldly going where no one has ever been but in a show that went as long as Star Trek in its varied incarnations, a lot of the gaps slowly get filled in. I have a pretty solid idea about almost everything that happens in the Alpha Quadrant. The Klingons and the Romulans both have understandable, even predictable goals and societies, the future is almost written. What “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” tried to do was to give audiences a look at something they hadn’t seen and couldn’t understand. It was a bold move, one the movie doesn’t entirely pull off. The big third act reveal is far too similar to “The Changeling,” the idea of a semi-sentient space cloud is a threat that has come up a few too many times and the threat of a consuming machine is one that Star Trek bumped up against far too many times.

What I’m trying to say is that the less audiences analyze “The Motion Picture,” the more fulfilling it is. Much like the film it drew from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” this coasts on atmosphere. There are near 10 minute, masturbatory shots of the outside of the Enterprise, an 8 minute sequence of the ship entering the cloud paired with silent reaction shots and a series of garbled audio cues that contrast with the crisp, clean and beautiful revamped musical score and terse dialogue. As I said earlier, it’s a film about contradictions. The dissonance isn’t something that distracts from the film as much as one that helps to create a compelling product.

The dissonance is clear from the beginning. As Spock finds himself without the Enterprise, he’s embraced his Vulcan obsessions. He’s tried to fully immerse himself in logic and still struggles with what he’s taken from his time with Kirk. As he returns to his ship and friends, he’s cold, disinterested and trying to get back into who he wants to be. The further he goes, the more he has to embrace who he is, trying to mind meld with the alien ship, dealing with the inhumanity of the herald of V’ger and facing off with a challenge he hates how much he cares about. Spock’s realization of what he needs to be to help the crew is heartening and lovely, a great transformation for a character experimenting with who he wants and needs to be.

Dekker and Ilia’s relationship is possibly the weakest aspect of the film. We receive hints of a past they once had her transformation into a herald of the V’ger is a tragic moment for both. That being said, it’s hard to buy into Decker’s decision at the climax. We’re meant to believe that his love of Ilia drives him into their sacrificial bond and it’s clear that he has feelings for her even after her rebirth. It’s just a little much. When he makes it clear that he’s dreamed of being a part of a new life-form, it’s hard to believe that he’s anything other than horny.

I adore most of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” mostly for the reasons that others hate it. It’s a trippy, bizarre film, filled with a distinct lack of humanity and a focus on the unexplainable. It’s a movie rich with meaningless subtext, visual flourishes and style for its own sake. It’s dated, meandering, and reeking of an over-budget, over-blown mess. It is, however, in these moments that it shines as a piece of unadulterated, unbearably earnest piece of space age melodrama.

Next Up: We’re back to the series proper with “The Deadly Years,” which is like The Wonder Years but deadlier.

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“You know what a grifter is, flame face?” – Liefeld gives a solid issue of Grifter but is it enough?

I despise Rob Liefeld. I think he actively dumbed down comics, jump started the collapse of the industry in the ’90s and has never written or drawn an issue that’s worth reading. That’s what made him taking over Grifter such a shame for me. The first 8 issues were an intriguing Bourne-meets-alien invasion action series, filled with awesome shoot outs, great escapes and memorable character interactions. It wasn’t the best new thing out there but it was fun, different and a neat new series.

Liefeld’s takeover was noticeable. Suddenly, Cole Cash was shooting aliens upside down from snowboards, his psychic powers were suddenly at damn near Jean Grey levels of power and his supporting cast was suddenly filled with meat head gun nuts and  katana wielding girls in bikinis.

I don’t think issue 12 really assuaged my negative feelings about Liefeld’s direction for the series. There are a lot of sudden twists that don’t have any impact, the action sequences just aren’t much fun, the messy panels that are intended to make the sequences more intense give the book an unprofessional look and Lord Helspont’s plan still doesn’t make a ton of sense. I mean, isn’t Synge just an elite daemonite? Why would he work for Helspont?

Frank Tieri, who doesn’t get a credit on the cover for unknown and entirely unfair reasons, still rights some really great grizzled dialogue for the narcissistic killers that populate the book and I’m a sucker for the kind of escape sequences that take up much of the back half of the book. It makes for one of the better issues of Liefeld’s run on the series but it really isn’t enough. I’m sticking with Grifter to see what he’ll do in a second arc but how many options really are there?

Its really a shame what has happened to the most wanted man in the DC universe. What started out as a series about a low key hero having to do the impossible has turned into a universe spanning super hero tale where a guy with a gun has to fight an enemy that Superman couldn’t take down. For now, it might be time to start getting excited about Grifter joining up with Team 7 for the new Third Wave series and leave this one behind.

Summer Classes: Angel season 1

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, I start the first season of Joss Whedon’s spinoff series, “Angel.”  

There really was nowhere left to go with Angel. After his return in the third season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” he became a tedious extra, left to do little but brood and occasionally fight monsters. He didn’t really have much of a reason to still be there and the writers  consistently had to figure out new reasons why Buffy would still stay with him. By the time he realizes that he has to leave Sunnydale late in the season, the writing was already on the wall that we were going to be seeing much less of the character.

Let me say this immediately. Of all the Buffy characters that could possibly have merited a spinoff series, Angel was among the least worthy. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense why he was given his own show but even now, it seems like a pity that the honor didn’t go to Spike, the true breakout character of the show. Angel’s broody, quiet, reserved and suppressed. Essentially, he’s a slightly less whiny Buffy. Why would we possibly want that?

The first 5 episodes of “Angel” don’t even try to answer that point. What we have instead are a series of vastly stand alone episodes, setting some pieces together and introducing the major and minor players. Cordelia is thankfully back, giving some actual levity to the darker show and we meet Drunk-Irish McPlot-Device, also known as Doyle, and inevitable love interest, Kate. Whedon’s been long known as a creator who’s able to flesh out characters but everyone new here is little more than an archetype. Its vastly the same problems that I had with Firefly but we’re just starting out here.

What initially sets “Angel” apart from its source material is in style and tone. Moving the show to LA naturally gave the series a noir-ish feel, particularly having Angel and company setting up a detective agency. It leads the whole endeavor to have a more episodic feel. Where Buffy is always hunting and patrolling, running into threats that are intevitably connected to the season’s big bad, “Angel” so far just deals with the women who inevitably come running. Call it sexism, call it a genre homage or call it lazy writing but there sure are plenty of women who are oh so scared of the big bad men in these first few episodes.

The second issue is tone. It was clear from the series premier where Angel stops a rape attempt that rapidly becomes a vampire attack that this was going to be a considerably darker show. From there, the darker, more profane tone shines through. Cordelia thinks that a producer wants to have sex with her. A beaten woman is threatened at gunpoint by her crack addled boyfriend. A vampire torturer reveals that he’s also a pedophile. A boy is sealed inside of a wall by his insane mother. I’m not saying that “Buffy” never got mature, and the fourth season particularly made the show a much smarter more adult series, but Angel feels much more like a show aiming to shock. When its done well, particularly in the hard to remember “Rm w/a Vw,” the more mature content makes for a compelling monster of the week episode but it feels messy in the sex-murder demon worm filled “Lonely Hearts.”

My biggest issue so far is that the cast is just too damn small. Even from the first episode of Buffy, we had Giles, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Angel and more. Nothing felt too somber just because there were more people to bounce off of. I’m sure, by the end of the season, Angel Investigations will be filled in with more employees but for now, it feels empty and bereft of the character that a full cast can bring.

On its own, I don’t know that these first few episodes would do anything for someone who isn’t already thoroughly into the Buffy-verse. Each is a fairly standard standalone adventure but do nothing to show off what Whedon’s supernatural shows can do well. Surely, its too early to really pass judgement so we’ll have to really just wait and see.

Next Class: We’ve got 6 more issues of “Angel” before the end of the week which will put me at the half way point.

“The war goes on” – Holy crap, check out “The Dark Knight Returns” animated trailer!

I know I said some negative things about Frank Miller’s influence on the Batman universe but I didn’t realize I’d be so excited to see the first trailer for the animated version of “The Dark Knight Returns.” I mean, holy god. In this first part of a pair of films, we’ve got the iconic battle between the Bat-tank and the mutants, the “operating table” scene and a loving homage to Batman’s battle with Two-Face. I mean, check out the link above, just watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Summer Classes: “The Producers”

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, I take on Mel Brooks’ theatrical comedy, “The Producers.” 


While watching “The Producers,” all I could really think about was the ways that progressive, transgressive comedy becomes the cliché of tomorrow. I remember how fresh, controversial and thought-provoking the obscenity of “Mr. Show” felt in the late ’90s, the raw fusion of boundary pushing jokes with ’60s zaniness in “The Sarah Silverman Program” and the way that “Louie” has fused the urban jungle of New York City with the familiarly skewed headscape of the titular comedian. I was saddened thinking about the comedy that pushes borders now being looked back on as something hokey, repetitive or worst of all, unfunny.

Mel Brooks’ 1968 film is revered in theater circles mostly, I assume, for its slightly meta premise. It naturally led to a remake, albeit an unbearable musical one, in 2005 and has run in theaters forever. It totally makes sense why. Its a film that claims to be offensive and crass and in bad taste where really its a bold concept pushed into a slapdash slapstick caper comedy.

Part of the problem is how little there really is to the movie. This is really clearly a first movie script, with it barely lasting to 84 minutes and much of that running time is devoted to Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel engaging in really broad slap stick. Brooks excelled at writing genre parodies where he had less of a need to write characters and needed to just write jokes. The whole thing plods through every scene that doesn’t feature jokes about Hitler. I was consistently reminded of pop culture aficionado Nathan Rabin’s description of Robert Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror.” We’re waiting for them to bust out that machine gun leg and when they do, it is going to be glorious.

I’m personally sort of mystified by what comes after that. As the eponymous producers prepare to reap in the profits from their sure fire flop, the musical moves into its second act, in which L.S.D., played by Dick Shawn, plays Hitler as a bizarre combination of a mincing homosexual stereotype with an amalgam of hippy singer-songwriter traits. Hitler is all grooves and swinging hips and the crowd eats it up for no discernible reason. Its not clear if Brooks is making fun of musicals, their audiences or the ridiculousness of it all but it just doesn’t land.

Its abundantly clear that Trey Parker and Matt Stone learned a lot from the first song of “Springtime for Hitler.” Combining the most garish clichés of the classic musical with the ridiculous excess of fascism and a portrayal of Hitler as an overall just misunderstood guy is hysterical, if solely because of the combination of form and lyrics. The overall surreal stylings of the second act lessen the impact of the dissonance of form and function.

When “The Producers” clicks, its almost unbearably funny but everything else is stuck in a movie that feels like a relic. There are lisping gay theater stars, unnecessarily long static scenes, strange shifts of momentum and tone and a bit of a predictable cop-out ending but that’s not what I’m going to remember of the whole thing. Its a fun film in retrospect but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh a lot more at “Spaceballs” when i watched it minutes later.

Next Class: The Summer of Whedon is coming to a close so it looks like we’ll be exploring the least deserving spinoff show since “Joey,” the LA supernatural kung-fu noir of “Angel.”

“The Spin Zone” – 12 lazy, petty, vindictive, lying pop culture media members with a motive

There’s a reason the media rarely is portrayed in popular culture. Where the government, the military, the police and criminals can all be portrayed as proactive forces, the media is very reactive. As such, they can be portrayed as easily manipulable, lazy, elitist, pretentions or just plain bothersome to those who actually have good honest work to do. This leads to the media taking a lot of flack in popular culture but, interestingly, most negative portrayals of the media end up saying far more about the creators and editors than the reporters they skewer.

1. Battlestar Galactica – “Final Cut”

“Battlestar Galactica” was a great show with a mess of storytelling problems, namely some of its more fascist tendencies. The show never had much tolerance for the pacifistic, meddling media but nowhere is this clearer than in the second season’s “Final Cut.” There, the Galactica excepts a well known journalist to make a newscast about the men and women who keep the battleship running. Of course, the reporter, Diana, turns out to be a Cylon, solely interested in collecting intel about the surviving humans. Its barely a twist and its a cruel one if you want to consider it that.

2. “Spider-Man”

J. Jonah Jameson doesn’t speak too much of anything but necessity. There was a desperate need for Peter Parker to have a villain that was able to hold a candle to the villains that Spider-Man routinely faced and the biased editor of The Daily Bugle served just that role. Jameson’s campaign against Spider-Man put Peter in a quandary and provided a solid enemy that was both untouchable and necessary.

3. NewsRadio – “The Real Deal”

NewsRadio had a lot too say about the vain, narcissistic, self-mythologizing and just plain mean men and women that made the news but it was always in service of humor. In one memorable episode, on-air columnist Bill McNeal, played by the late great Phil Hartman, has to nab a great interview to keep his show on the air. Naturally, his narcissism and inability to, y’know, talk to people, gets in the way of his interview with Jerry Seinfeld, so he gets creative in delivering his story.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Earshot”

By season three, Joss Whedon had ironed most of the problems out of his supernatural teen soap opera but the flaws are apparent in “Earshot.” Delayed because of the Columbine Massacre, Buffy becomes aware of someone planning a killing spree at Sunnydale High. The episode’s great red herring is the slightly goth school newspaper editor, a guy who’s writen nothing but negative, extremely pessimistic about the people and institutions of the school. Even when its revealed that he’s not behind the plot, there’s still an bitter taste left in the mouth.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Adam Jensen’s been dealing with the very worst of global corporations and espionage by the time he heads to Montreal to find some answers. There, he’s attacked by mercenaries and left to try to find newscaster Eliza Cassan who’s been manipulating satellites to hide several people Jensen thought dead.  In the world of “Deus Ex,” its not that the media is innately evil, more that they can be bought and sold by anyone with the credits or enough strength to take what they want.

6. Mr. Show with Bob and David – Scams and Flams

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross had done their fair share of parodies of the emptiness and shallow reporting that characterized the daily news. One of their best was the “Scams and Flams” sketch, focusing on a gullible local features reporter sent to investigate businesses that might be scams. He’s, however, bought off by a man running a wishing well/ice cream parlor. Mixing a parody of local news with one of gotcha journalism, its a dark and witty satire.

7. Blitz

Jason Statham vehicle, “Blitz” has a lot of incoherent things to say about police brutality, serial killers and stardom but its main message is one focused on serial killers wanting the fame that accompanies their killings. Its a popular belief, one that many conservatives have bought into as a way to assign a motive to shooters and the film makes the media complicit in the killer’s crimes, feeding his actions.

8.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling’s consistent portrayal of the Daily Prophet as a near faceless antagonist is one of the most troublesome aspects of her series. Where she turns writers such as Rita Skeeter into reporters more interested in an entertaining piece than a truthful one, she focuses most of his ire on the paper to their view on Voldemort. By “Order of the Phoenix,” the Prophet has been reduced to a mouthpiece for the Ministry of Magic. The only possible explanation for her choice was laziness. With an inability to clearly show the government’s denial of the dark lord’s return, she blamed much of the propaganda on the Prophet, even reducing them to cartoonish villains willing to run a smear campaign.

9. That Mitchell and Webb Look – What do you reckon?

As newspapers and network news gasp against user created media and online news, they’ve attempted to integrate community feedback, often to insane levels. A fantastic sketch from across the pond, Robert Mitchell and David Webb set up a news team that wants to hear whatever the viewer “reckons” about nearly anything and they’ll read it on the air just because they feel like they have to. As the sketch escalates, their boredom makes everything funnier, showing the ridiculousness of losing the professional line of separation.

10. Parks and Recreation – “The Reporter”

In the underrated first season of “Parks,” Leslie’s enthusiastic attempts to do something with the pit is thrown up against a never ending line of red tape. In “The Reporter” she faces the media as well as problems within her own team as Mark tells a reporter after sex that the pit will never be fixed. The episode affixes plenty of blame on the reporter for her unscrupulous reporting techniques and the Parks’ departments mistrust of the newspaper continues well past the episode. I mean, they still really hate the library, but they’re not in love with The Pawnee Sun.

11. Dr. Who – “The Long Game”

The problem with “The Long Game” is that the targeting of the media doesn’t quite go far enough. After Rose and the Ninth Doctor jump far into the future, they come across a media outlet that’s broadcasting programming for Earth in an attempt to keep the people of the planet complacent. Its kind of a weak plot, with a monster that isn’t intimidating enough or make enough sense making it another not quite cooked relic of the Eccleston era.

12. 24 – “9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.”

After the first season of FOX’s groundbreaking action series, viewers were left to deal with the international drama inherent in Palmer becoming president. The writers show their view of snooty, truth seeking reporters early when, after failing to bribe him, President Palmer imprisons correspondent Ron Wieland in a government facility. In the world of “24,” you either let the brave, strong, patriotic men do their work or you’re going to jail.

“Almost one year ago, I died” – DC gives readers a great horror one-shot

Perhaps the biggest surprise of DC’s New 52 is their return to horror comics. Seemingly regulated to Vertigo and Image, DC has embraced the darker side of superhero comics and has managed to really make tense and scary books.

Jeff Lemire has really been pushing this more so than any of the other writers. His work on Animal Man has been one of the biggest success stories of the relaunch and understandably so. Lemire has always been a disciple of Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, the great British pioneers in American horror comics and Lemire is clearly going back to these early Bronze Age roots with the release this week’s one-shot of National Comics Eternity.

Lemire’s been given the chance to revamp Kid Eternity’s origin story as a result of Flashpoint and he plays it safe, simplifying the 20-something’s powers into something that can be easily digested and introducing plenty of opportunities for further adventures. In a neat twist, Christopher Freeman doesn’t really want to be or consider himself a superhero. He’s just a guy with a crush on a girl, insomnia and a desire to feel like he’s not a failure.

The real fun to be had here is in the procedural. Freeman’s ability to resurrect the dead helps him to solve murder mysteries and he’s a fast talking occult detective in the John Constantine mold. Its something that I will always get behind and the amount of earnest care that Freeman shows as he figures out the who dun’ it and tries to protect a maybe-innocent victim is a lot of fun to behold.

Penciller Cully Hamner turns in some great work here too. His version of an alternate dimension filled with the dead is dark and unique, avoiding the zombie cliches that have infected comics lately and the level of detail from bright police offices to bustling punk rock clubs to empty coronners’ offices to overloaded antique stores all have an admirable lived-in feel. He clearly separates the world of the dead with the one of the living, heightening the dark and distinct differences between the two.

I really forgot how much I missed reading a genuine mystery in mainstream comics and Lemire does it here admirably, even setting up a great future case should the series continue. He’s admirably fused a golden age character with all the gory charm of modern comics and I would love to get more of this twisted tale.

“I won’t bury another Wayne” – a goodbye to Nolan’s Batman trilogy

I will always be fascinated by the attempts that “nerdy” subject material will make in order to be perceived as art. Memorably, video game fans attempted to rake Roger Ebert over the coals when he claimed (rightfully) that video games will never be art. I never questioned the logic of either side, as interesting points were often presented, but I was more intrigued by why these fans were obsessed with having one of their favorite mediums be recognized as something more than mindless entertainment.

There have been untold of thoughtless news stories focusing on the ways in which comic books have grown up, with many recent ones focusing on the financial success of darker comic book films such as 2008’s “Watchmen” adaptation and Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy. That being said, I have the same view about this as I did about the aforementioned video game discussion. Did we ever really need these movies to justify comics? Did Nolan’s movies accomplish anything in the culture at large that actually needed to be done?

For me the answer will always be a definitive no. Don’t get me wrong, I vastly enjoyed all of Nolan’s films, particularly “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises” but everyone seems to be focusing on how Nolan’s work somehow legitimized something that had been missing. I just don’t think that was the case. Nolan’s films did a great job giving people exactly what they didn’t realize they wanted: a darker, excessively mature comic book movie that made non-comics fans feel like they understood comic books.

Because I’m an extremely petty and narcissistic person, I was deeply upset when people started saying that they liked Batman after the release of “The Dark Knight.” They didn’t understand the intricacies of the conflict between the Joker and Batman like I did. They didn’t understand the complex moral and ethical chess match for the soul of Harvey Dent like I did. To me, if you didn’t understand what made the film work so well under the hood, you didn’t really have the right to enjoy it like I did.

Nolan succeeded by making the labyrinthine power structures of Gotham City into something that the layman could understand. He didn’t dumb anything down, rather he introduced easily digestible nuggets of world-building that enabled anyone to understand the motivations of all the characters that made “The Dark Knight” work. People didn’t leave loving the film for what it was. They left thinking they had seen a movie that let them feel like they had it all figured out. “The Dark Knight” let viewers feel like they had just passed a test they didn’t study for.

In hindsight, I’m glad that people ended up liking Batman from “The Dark Knight.” I still think it may be the least satisfying and necessary film in the trilogy but it accomplished a very necessary end. Nolan was able to make a superhero film that used neither the structure nor the formulas of other films and was able to do something unique. It was an admirable work and an innovative one and it paved the way for the ambition of “The Dark Knight Rises” (which I will not be reviewing as to avoid spoilers).

Nolan excelled at making a trilogy of films that made its nerdy viewers feel like researchers and neophytes feel like experts. All the while, he was able to craft a brooding series focused on fear that never was bogged down into misery or undo complications. Its an admirable effort, one DC needed to learn. That being said, I still have concerns for his next work “The Man of Steel” which appears as if it could be attempting the same self-serious tone that the Batman films effortlessly attained. Hopefully, Nolan will be able to help director Zach Snyder make something that dodges the problems their other films have had. And hopefully, not feature too many slow motion bone crunches.

“A rope stretched between bat and Batman” – 11 uncharacteristically adult episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series”

“Batman: The Animated Series” may be one of the most technically accomplished, innovative and well written animated series of all time, able to appeal to both adults and children alike. The show would occasionally handle this balance masterfully with classics such as “Heart of Ice,” “The Man Who Killed Batman,” “Trial” and “POV” but other times, they didn’t quite hit the mark. That, however, is when we really get into the head of the dark knight, exposing children to the mind-set of an aging billionaire who dresses up in leather to punch out psychopaths. For whatever reason, whether it be the aforementioned psychological content, sexual themes, long spanning Bat-style or plain old uber-violence, these are the episodes that should have gotten a second look before plopping the kids in front of the TV and might just have been more entertaining and well-rounded for their parents.

1. “Dreams in Darkness”

Clearly inspired by Grant Morrison’s “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth,” this episode finds Batman being checked into Arkham and having to confront the futility of his quest for justice as well as his own psychosis. Although there’s the copout of having Scarecrow being behind his enemy’s incarceration, the dream sequence in which Batman watches an amorphous blob morph into his enemies in disgusting ways is a standout sequence in the entire series.

2. “Mad Love”

“Mad Love” is a bit of an adult episode for an entirely different reason. While it does succinctly explain the origin of Harley Quinn and her obsession with the Joker, it is most remembered for a sequence in which Harley petitions the clown for sex, asking him if he’d like to “rev up his Harley” and then making the above shown motorcycle motion. There’s a difference between the innuendos that the show trafficked in early in the run and this one that makes the character’s relationship a bit too explicit.

3. “Two Face Part 1”

In what might be my favorite episode of the animated series and in my opinion, one of the most important moments in DC’s TV future, “Two Face Part 1” shows Dini’s genius by fundamentally changing Harvey Dent to make him an even more tragically flawed character. Here, Dent has been fighting a losing battle with schizophrenia, trying to hold back an angry and violent alter-ego. Dini is able to balance the idea that Dent may have always been damned to become a villain with the fact that he’s another character, much like Batman and the Joker, who just had a single terrible day.

4. “Sideshow”

Batman’s goal is to stop crime and his sole tools have always been fear and brute force. “Sideshow” is the first episode of the series to posit the idea that a villain could voluntarily leave crime behind. After a train escape, Killer Croc is on the run and he teams up with a rogue group of sideshow freaks. The entire episode focuses on his turmoil over whether he’ll be able to find a new life in a community that accepts him or if he craves anarchy.

5. “Harley’s Holiday”

Dini always adored writing Harley Quinn and it was rarely done as well as it was here. When Harley tries to go straight after being discharged from Arkham, she struggles to change the way she reacts to people, leaving beside her psychotic violence and cruel treatment of other people. The episode concludes with an incredible action sequence that sees all of Gotham turning against Harley but that’s nothing to the way Batman associates with and feels sorry for a girl who he sees much of himself in.

6. “Perchance to Dream”

One of the theories that fans love to debate is whether Batman is the alter ego of Bruce Wayne or the other way around. “Perchance to Dream” doesn’t try to answer the question definitively but it does show the way that Bruce Wayne needs to be Batman. The dark knight is Bruce’s purpose and as the episode advances, audiences see the lengths he’ll go to wear the cowl once again.

7. “Second Chance”

The relationship between Harvey and Bruce is one of the friendships that define the early episodes of the show and makes Harvey’s fate even more tragic. “Second Chance” takes another look at their relationship with Batman having to challenge the dichotomy between Two Face and Harvey and it leads to one of the most tense and heart-rending finales of  the series.

8. “House and Garden”

Its a shame that the animated series was so rarely able to really take advantage of everything that makes Poison Ivy such an effective character. Rather than use her femme fatale charms, here, she’s claiming to go legit, be a mother and totally give up all the killing and robbing. Instead, Ivy reveals how twisted her vision of the domestic life and the actual psychosis of the men and women who terrorize Gotham.

9. “Babydoll”

I’m always amazed when presumably children’s shows do episodes about the ennui of fame and the hollowness of public admiration. “Babydoll” pulls it off admirably, focusing less on the ways in which Babydoll’s life is empty and more on the tragedy of finding out how figuratively small you are. “Babydoll” ends up being one of the best combinations of literal and symbolic storytelling that the show could pull off. Rather than have a character who became a villain because of a tragedy, here, we’re exposed to a villain who is and will always be a tragedy.

10. “Deep Freeze”

“Heart of Ice” is the better and more memorable episode but “Deep Freeze” is a considerably more adult tale, with viewers not only having to deal with Mr. Freeze’s lost loves but also the loneliness he faces as an immortal that will never be able to feel. Freeze’s work with a blatant Walt Disney parody who wishes to be made immortal is cruelly ironic and the final image of him sinking into the sea, gazing at the frozen Nora is haunting.

11. “Legends of the Dark Knight”

One of the pleasures of being a long time reader of any comic series is seeing the ways that a book or a character changes in big and small ways. “Legends of the Dark Knight” shows a pair of vastly different versions of Batman, one based off of the art of 1940’s penciller Dick Sprang, with the other being a direct homage to “The Dark Knight Returns.” Its a fun episode and by the end, there’s an approachable look at the way that all the visions of Batman make for a character that people enjoy for a variety of reasons.