Batman: 01 On Leather Wings

Batman is a DC Comics character, and Batman: The Animated Series is owned by Warner Home Video. If you'd like to purchase this episode, you may do so here; if you'd like to buy the DVD box set, you may do so here. This episode was written by Mitch Brian and directed by Kevin Altieri.


Moody strains of Danny Elfman's score play as the Warner Brothers logo fades out into the front of a police zeppelin, its yellow searchlights burning like eyes in a vaguely bat shaped face. Six seconds in, and we already have more foreshadowing than some programs achieve in six seasons.

More searchlights cut through the skyline of an art deco concrete jungle, before we settle in front of a bank. Unfortunately for the executives of BANK bank, the aggressive older brothers of the silhouette from the Mad Men opening credits are doing textbook surreptitious glances outside. 

These are archetypical mooks; they are up to no good.

The score crescendos as the front of the bank is blown outwards; a riot of yellow and orange flames send a plume of smoke into the night air. Elsewhere, a more controlled flame burns. A black car, sleek, predation personified, races along an intercept course.

Down an alley, a lone cruiser chases the two mooks. They elude pursuit by fleeing up a ladder to the top of a building, and we're treated to the sight of a full moon and more of the skyline. Their condescension is brought up short by something off screen. They are saucer eyed, like terrified children caught by an angry father.

A shape drops…from the sky? Are those ragged black wings? Is it a man, or something more? Close on the figure's face. It is a man, but one with a jaw that could sink a ship. His lips are already thinned in a frown so perpetual it seems painted on, but then the eyes narrow to slits. His anger is an almost palpable thing now.

Emboldened by the idea that they face a man, not a grim specter of vengeance, the mooks draw guns in near unison. Something sharp and spinning robs them of their firearms. They grip their wrists in pain, and one of them even trembles.

There's no time for their agony, for the dark man is already flying through the air. He trounces the one on the left, leaving him motionless. The one on the right throws a flurry of blows, but he's beating the air. With a single powerful cross from the dark man, it's over.

The zeppelin from the beginning has returned, and the uniforms from the lone squad car have finally made their way up the ladder. They run over, guns drawn, only to find both men unconscious and bound. One officer holds a hand to his head in wonderment.

Panning up, and up some more, we see the dark man on another rooftop. His posture is resolute, like the prow of a ship, and his eyes burn in the eerie autumnal twilight of the coming storm. Lightning strikes and his identity is revealed.

He is Batman. And this is his city.

The title cards for the series evoke a film noir sensibility, and set the stage in a fun yet subtle way. For this episode, the title card music is an unsettling, lilting tune that reminds me of the opening to the movie Signs.

We're in the clouds above Gotham on that rarest of all things, a quiet night. Two policemen are on patrol in a zeppelin. However, one of them is foolish enough to acknowledge how quiet it is. What's next, that you're only one day away from retirement? Out of nowhere, there’s a blip on the radar.

There's a gorgeous shot of the zeppelin bursting through the cloud cover, and the world weary veteran tells the rookie he's seeing things. As the kid swears he saw something, and the vet probably mentions that he's getting too old for this, we pan away.

A ditty that a gravedigger might dance to plays as a shadow flies above the streets of Gotham, flapping jagged wings. There are no screams, presumably because getting near a window in Gotham at night is an extreme sport. We zoom in on Phoenix Pharmaceuticals, the shadow's destination.

Inside the building, Dave Coulier's failed clone is working as a night watchman while recording a tape on how to be a radio personality. He investigates a mysterious noise, only to have the shadow attack him from behind. It knocks the tape recorder from his hand, earning a spot on the short list of Nobel Peace prize nominees.

Instead of using the gun clearly holstered on his belt, the watchman opts to lob a chair at the creature. I suspect it’s out of a deep reverence for the works of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss:

I did not attack it with my gun
I did not attack it in the sun
I attacked it with a chair
I attacked it over there

For this, the watchman is hurled out of a window. We're informed via the Gotham Glazer that he was only injured, and that the police have declared war on Batman.

This paper is plopped down in a room with four men, but two of them do most of the talking. Here we meet Commissioner Gordon, who looks like Captain Crunch’s world weary older brother, but acts like a modern day paladin; and Detective Harvey Bullock, who looks and acts like Biff Tannen with a badge.

Gordon prefers a subtle approach, but Bullock likes his police work like he likes his ties - loose and flopping around for everyone to see. Bullock's slovenly charm works some magic over the Mayor, and he's given the task force he requests. The only thing left to do is make sure the coin flipping District Attorney can seal the deal with a conviction.

We cut to what looks like an island fortress in the middle of nowhere, but a dissolve reveals - gasp! - the Batcave!

The first time we meet Batman outside the opening credits, he's sitting with one leg crossed over the other, reading the paper, and preparing to enjoy tea while verbally fencing with his butler, Alfred Pennyworth. As far as establishing character moments go, it's not the cavalcade of thrilling heroics you'd expect.

However, Batman knows that of all the other chemical labs that were recently robbed, only Phoenix is missing chemicals. He then jumps into his awesome car and peels out while the music from the opening plays, only to bat-grapple his way into Phoenix Pharmaceuticals. 

The entire scene is so cool and visually striking that they could have introduced him knitting doilies and you just. Wouldn't. Care.

Batman interrupts a makeout session between two awkward looking scientists by swooping overhead, and then uses a marble loaded with aerosolized roofies to sneak past a police officer. Upset by being bat-cockblocked, the makeout couple calls the police. Detective Bullock gets radioed in his car, and then he's on his way with the task force.

Commercial break!

Apparently, the task force travels by giant mobile toaster oven. Back at Phoenix, Batman sprays some red science spray and dons a copy of Cyclops’s visor. He finds Dave Coulier Mk2's cassette recorder, as well as some weird hair. His detective work is abruptly brought to a halt by lights and sirens from outside.

The task force is sproinged out of their toaster with honest to God "hut hut" noises and enough chatter to make a Little League coach proud. Come to think of it, the whole thing seems pretty Little League. This impression is reinforced by a whistle a moment later, as if SWAT teams are on periods like junior high boys basketball.

Commissioner Gordon arrives to let Bullock know that another pharmaceutical company was just robbed. Gordon could have radioed, but then he would have missed the look on Bullock's face like he sat on a hamburger. 

Inside the building, Batman eludes pursuit by jumping in an elevator shaft and deploying more date rape marbles.

At ground level, Batman ducks into a janitorial closet amidst gunfire. He quickly disarms the officer sent after him, and then terrifies the man into silence with a shush. (The only other person I've seen do that is the Doctor.) However, the squad leader lobs in a tear gas grenade that lands near the janitor's prized collection of flammable metal cans.

Batman grabs Quiet Joe and leaps for the window. There's a spectacular explosion, like a butterfly made of flame flexing its wings. Our hero rolls through the air, using a batarang, a tree branch, and a grasp of angular momentum to slow their descent. 

Once on the ground, he rights Quiet Joe on his feet and darts for an alley.

The next day, Bruce Wayne has taken one of his two suits - the brown one - out for a walk at the zoo. He complements it with his yellow shirt, and I'm sure it's the last time we'll see the two together. 

He wanders deeper into the Batcave a cave of bats, shouting for someone named Dr. March.

At this point, it's important to note that Kevin Conroy - the voice of Batman, forever and ever, amen - invented the concept of cartoon Batman and Bruce Wayne having two different voices. Before this, they sounded like the same guy, no matter what color suit they were wearing.

Bruce plays dumb and cheerful, asking the doctor to analyze the hairs he found at the crime scene under the pretext that they came from his bat infested fireplace. Dr. March rants about evolution and bats and cataclysms until his daughter, who looks like one of the Wayans brothers in the movie White Chicks, shows up to defuse him.

Ole' Brucie throws the tranny some flirt action, until she hits him with the "I'm a married doctor" reveal. Her husband, played by James Woods, smarms out of the side room. There's a lot of subtext laden talk about bats, and then Bruce pulls out the recorder. Dr. Mrs. Mr. Wayans startles as he plays it, and the couple promises to analyze it.

Later that night, Batman is doing more red science. He gets a call from Dr. March, which he answers in his Bruce Wayne voice. (Kevin Conroy, you genius!) He learns that the noise is brown bats feuding with starlings over a nest. However, the Batcomputer knows that's a lie. And lies make Batman angry.

James Woods is burning the evidence Batman found in front of a sad bat...

Commercial break!

...before struggling with pill bottles from Phoenix Pharmaceuticals. Batman slips inside the lab, confronting him. James Woods paces behind the beakers, giving good mad scientist. Dr. March was a theorist, he's about application! It's a new species! It took over! It did the mash, the monster mash!

James Woods does a creepy double voice, and his body rips apart, grotesquely distorting itself. The transformation sequence is brilliant, and terrifying; it's like something from Ghostbusters. 

Batman readies himself for whatever comes next, which is the newly revealed Man-Bat, tackling him.

Batman gets cut across the bat on his chest - et tu, Chiroptera? - and then has a desk thrown on top of him. The monster lunges on top of the heavy looking piece of furniture, claws reaching for him. At that moment, Dr. Mrs. Mr. Wayans walks in the room and sees what her husband has become. Man-Bat's ears droop at the shame in her eyes, and he flees.

Determined, Batman fires a grappling hook around Man-Bat's ankle. The creature looks back, only to see by the light of the full moon an angry Batman in pursuit.

In the skies above Gotham, we are reunited with our buddy cop duo. The rook sees something on the radar again and the vet rolls his eyes. Then, Man-Bat streaks across the sky in front of both of them, violently introducing Batman's cheek to the glass. It looks incredibly painful, and in real life I'm sure he'd be eating steak through a straw for months.

We're treated to a brief snit fight on top of a building, the end result of which is Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock are in a helicopter.

Man-Bat takes Batman through the steel-girder skeleton of a skyscraper, trying to knock him around some more. Batman gains his footing, however, and uses the leverage to reel the beast in. They collide, and as they tumble, Batman gets the creature in a headlock with audible cracking noises.

The helicopter is just in time to see Batman pounding the back of Man-Bat's head, UFC style. (Is the maneuver an "air and pound" if you do it while flying?) Our hero then covers the thing's eyes, at which point it promptly flies into a parking garage. I guess James Woods didn't get the echolocation package with the bat transformation, huh?

Exhausted, bloodied, and battered, Batman and Man-Bat are illuminated by the helicopter's beacon. Picking up his fallen foe, Batman runs into the night.

"Two for dinner, sir?" Alfred drolls upon seeing a human/bat hybrid on an operating table. From this we learn not to mess with Alfred; whatever you bring to the game, whatever you think is some scary shit, he will be bored by it. 

Batman tells Alfred he’s going to attempt to reverse the transformation, and seems sanguine about his chances. At the zoo, Batman delivers a shirtless James Woods to his wife, Dr. Mrs. Mr. Wayans. The formula is out of the man's system, and Man-Bat is gone...for now.

End credits. Batman is awesome.