I’ve gone on record as being someone who likes silly villains. I wrote a whole article about why the Reverse-Flash is great, and I have enough Reverse-Flash toys and shirts that even I’m starting to get embarrassed. I love Bizarro Superman. It’s not just that any old villain will do. They have to have a certain panache, a je ne sais quoi that makes them a big dork, but also a fun dork. The Sewer King – he was just a dork. You know who’s a fun dork? The Clock King.
He’s the villain this week – a dork with a truly absurd motivation, a silly motif, some baller physical skills, and a flair for the dramatic that even core Batman villains often don’t bother with. But even a fun, goofy villain like the Clock King can’t hold up an episode all on his own. Let’s rewatch Batman: The Animated Series – “The Clock King.”
When we first meet Temple Fugate, it’s even years prior to the events of Batman: The Animated Series. Temple is a consultant for an organization being sued for millions of dollars. He’s understandably tense as he boards the Gotham City train system. He sits across from Hamilton Hill, a lawyer and the future mayor of Gotham City, who spots his seatmate’s tension and suggests that he lighten up and change up his schedule.
Here’s the thing about Temple Fugate. Fugate, whose name is a play on the Latin phrase “tempus fugit,” or “time files,” is all about schedule. Fugate’s schedule accounts for every moment of his day. He knows when trains are on time and when they aren’t. His secretary drops what she’s holding when he says he’s going to shift his schedule even by 15 minutes.
And so when Fugate takes Hamilton’s advice, it goes sideways very quickly, and Fugate finds himself standing in the courtroom drenched and without his crucial documents, his three-piece suit ripped. He loses his appeal. He’s ruined.
Seven years later, Mayor Hill is running for reelection and his motorcade is on the way to a public appearance when a car accident puts a stop to both his car and that of wealthy philanthropist Bruce Wayne. The lights are out of whack, telling everyone to go. While the crashed drivers argue, explosives fire overhead. No, it’s not a bombing. It’s more of a dunking. The explosions release the clips holding back a poster of Mayor Hill big enough to make most billboards blush in embarrassment. It takes up the whole side of the rather large building, and it’s a very classy, mature message.
A Flair for the Dramatic
This is what I love about Clock King. He blames Hill, not pure happenstance, for his failure. Hill’s firm was representing the plaintiff in the case, and Fugate points to that as the reason for Hill making the recommendation. Even so, Fugate could’ve prepared backup documents and had them delivered to the court; who only has one copy of life-changing documents? He could’ve gone to the courthouse early and taken his break there. For all Hill’s faults, this is not his problem. And there’s no indication that Hill had any ill intent with his recommendation. Was it condescending? Absolutely. That’s the only tone Hill knows. But it wasn’t malicious. And so Fugate, bitter with conspiracy, has devoted his life to ruining Hill’s, and has taken this ultra-dramatic step out of the shadows and into the light.
Wayne, having stepped out of his car, looks up and sees the bowler-hatted man. This looks like a job for… Batman! And so Wayne runs through his car.
He runs through his car.
This might be one of the ugliest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series I’ve ever seen, but weirdly it’s also one of the ones I remember most vividly. I didn’t remember this moment, because I couldn’t go back and scrub back and forth through an episode so easily when it was airing on Fox on weekday afternoons. Mistakes happen in the animation room all the time, but this one is pretty heinous.
As Batman meets Fugate for the first time, we get our first glimpse at how silly he is with his clock-hand fencing cane and his pocket watch bombs. Then he flips backward off the side of the building because he knows exactly when the train arrives. But that also means that he, an already middle-aged man, has spent the past 7 years not just planning his revenge but getting into almost superhuman shape so that he can pull stunts like that one.
Then, we watch Batman go on a tour of Gotham, in costume, in the back of Bruce Wayne’s car, with Alfred driving. Again, it seems like he’s not even trying to protect his secret identity. I don’t understand why they made this decision. I guess superhero shows didn’t have a computer guy on walkie-talkie the whole time back then, and this gives Batman someone to talk to as he goes from location to location. Batman finds a six-thousand dollar stopwatch used as an explosive timer at the second location; that’s a hell of a statement for a guy who was financially ruined.
After a stop at Fugate’s hideout, Batman heads to the Gotham Bank, where Fugate has set a trap for Batman that feels like something perfectly lifted from an episode of 1966 Batman (the Clock King also appeared in that series!), and we watch Batman do some classic MacGuyver moves to get himself out.
Holy ticking time bomb, Batman!
The Clock King has rigged the bank vault to close behind Batman. Inside, Clock King has rigged up a machine to suck the air out of the room; it’s rigged with explosives set to blow if Batman moves it. So, of course, Batman sets up a rope and pulley system to lift the bomb-vacuum off the floor. We spot him behind a barrier and my first reaction was to wonder where the heck Batman found a bunch of sandbags. The episode is so absurd that it wouldn’t be the silliest thing, but I realized later that they’re probably money bags, which actually seems pretty smart. Batman faints just before the job is done, but he wakes up long enough to throw a Batarang with pinpoint accuracy and blow the vault open. Again, it feels like a move right out of the 1966 Batman playbook.
While Batman is doing that, Fugate’s real plan is in action. Fugate wants to embarrass Hill by…. Making his trains late. Delicious irony.
We catch up with Fugate again in Gotham’s clock tower. He’s given up with showy pettiness and is instead preparing to simply crush Hill between some clock hands in the world’s most punctual murder. Hill, of course, doesn’t remember. Batman shows up and the two duel it out in the clock tower while Hill’s ironic doom approaches. And here we see again that the Clock King, a guy whose big thing is that he likes clocks a lot, has enough combat prowess to hold his own against Batman for even a few minutes.
There’s no doubt that “Clock King” is silly and ugly. The plot doesn’t even try to hold itself up, and I can’t help but wonder if the Batman 1966 feel of the episode was deliberate. Even so, it’s hard not to enjoy Temple Fugate and his silly cane and his clock-themed glasses. His reasons for doing what he does are patently ridiculous and his flair for the dramatic is unequaled. His singular focus has allowed him to go toe to toe with Batman in both ingenuity and combat skill. He’s as fun as he is absurd, and I’ll take it. I just hope his next appearance is a little more thought out.
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