When I think about the kinds of questions we ask about Batman, I can’t help but think of Marvel’s Punisher. They’re alike in as many ways as they are different. Both operate outside the law. Both make questionable decisions in their pursuit of justice that inarguably harm the few people close to them and often leave their cities in worse condition than they were. This pops to mind because this week’s episode of Batman: The Animated Series was written by none other than Gerry Conway, co-creator of the Punisher, Marvel’s murderous vigilante.
With the Punisher, Conway asked what it would be like if a comic-book character took on real-world villains rather than fantastical supervillains. With “Appointment in Crime Alley,” Conway seems to be curious about what it’s like to be Batman on one of the few days when Batman is thinking about himself and about one of the few acts of self-care the vigilante actually allows himself.
“Appointment in Crime Alley”
In Gotham City, the clock is ticking. In one part of the city is Roland Daggett, planning his biggest real estate land-grab yet. After losing his competent henchmen in the Feat of Clay two-parter, Daggett has fallen on hard times. The Ed Asner-voiced evil businessman has downgraded from the surprisingly-competent Bell and Germs to a dullard and a caricature of an arsonist.
Along with his change in henchmen, Daggett has shifted his focus from cosmetics to real estate. He wants to do what every good monster in a suit does: he’s going to blow up part of a city so that he can gentrify it.
In another part of the city is Batman, counting down to the anniversary of the moment that defined him and created him – the moment his parents were murdered in the alley behind a Gotham City theater. Batman spots Daggett on TV and knows something is up. He heads into town for his appointment, where he quickly comes across a frightened child.
We know two things right now: Batman is on a schedule. Batman can’t let a crime go ignored. He stops to help the child and immediately realizes that what’s happening is connected to Daggett. Thugs intimidate the woman, reminding her that she was warned to get out of town.
Meanwhile, Leslie Thompkins is waiting for her old friend to show up for his annual appointment. Leslie is one of the lowkey best characters in Batman’s world. She’s as firm in her beliefs as Batman himself, and as unafraid of challenging people as the Dark Knight, but without any of the jump kicking. I’m excited every time I see her on this show. She always adds gravitas and grounds the story at least a little bit.
That, of course, gets her tied up and gagged thanks after discovering what Daggett’s goons are up to.
Batman can’t catch a break. He just wants to go visit his parents. But there’s a hostage situation and, of course, Daggett is incidentally involved again. Batman resolves it as quickly as he can, and we get one of his great interactions with GCPD here. Batman steps in to handle the hostage situation.
“Who do you think you ar— OH.” says one of the SWAT officers as Batman jumps into the fray. I’m not sure Batman is the best person to be handling hostage situations, but he takes care of it anyway.
By this time, Batman knows something is up, and he goes to Leslie Thompkins’ home to see where she might be. A fun Easter egg here – she lives next door to Bruce Timm, creator of Batman: The Animated Series. As he explores her apartment, he discovers her scrapbook set out, paging through a two-second history of Park Row, where Crime Alley is located. Once a bright part of town, the district has declined despite Leslie’s efforts. Batman spots a vagrant lurking outside and finds out where Leslie is. But once again something interrupts him. This time, Daggett doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it: a runaway streetcar.
This moment serves to slow Batman down again and take him back to basics. Batman chases the train, giving us tons of beautiful animation to take in; one great shot shows Batman shifting gears, as he tries to get into – and then in front of – the streetcar. He sacrifices the Batmobile without hesitation to save the people on board and off.
The moment lasts just long enough to remind us that Batman has prepared the Batmobile for everything. He pulls a grappling-hook turn, gets in front of the car, retracts the car’s stylish spikes, pulls the emergency brake, and then engages the car’s reverse thrusters. The rescue shredded the Batmobile’s tires. He engages the Batmobile’s armor and takes off with his grappling hook for the hotel the goons are wiring up.
Time is ticking down to the deadline when Daggett’s plan will kick into action. Bats saves Leslie just in time, as you’d expect, and a few buildings crumble in an explosion, though it seems Batman was able to take care of all the buildings with people still in them, essentially putting a stop to Daggett’s plan.
Finally, Batman gets to pay his respects, and we get a shot of Leslie comforting a young Bruce Wayne to close out the episode.
Here we are, 26 episodes in, and this is really the first acknowledgment of Batman’s origin, of the torment that his parents’ death continually inflicts upon him. We’ll see another take on this idea in “Perchance to Dream,” but this move shows great patience from the creators.
This is a really good episode for many reasons.
There’s just a crap-ton of animation everywhere. Batman is always moving more than he needs to. The whole trolley chase is lush with dynamic movement from the Caped Crusader in every shot, and Daggett always seems to get great lighting.
This episode is more grounded, as many of my favorite episodes tend to be. The enemies Batman can punch in this episode are relatively meaningless. His true enemies here are a bad businessman using the system to get his way, and the economic fall of a neighborhood and the struggles of that neighborhood’s denizens. Batman can’t punch that stuff, but it still requires his attention.
When Batman does get to rest, kneel, and mourn, it’s just a few seconds of a 23-minute episode. He doesn’t get to stop and rest, even when he needs to. Leslie is a great reminder, too, that Batman has more than just Alfred and Robin supporting him. There are also very few “stupid” moments in this episode save for a moment when a loosely-tied bandanna suddenly takes away Leslie’s voice. That’s better than Batman going on a tour of Gotham in Bruce Wayne’s car or a lot of the other show’s silly moments, though.
After watching “Appointment in Crime Alley,” I also think Daggett might be one of Batman: The Animated Series‘ favorite villains. The only villains that have popped up as often are Joker and Rupert Thorne. Daggett’s episodes have all been excellent. I can’t even say the same about Joker. He always gets awesome lighting, and Ed Asner’s gravelly voice obviously helps.
Next week, we meet a girl named Alice and someone “Mad as a Hatter.”
If you need more BTAS commentary now, we have every episode of the series ranked from the worst to the best!
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