Bruce Wayne, more than almost any character in comics–save perhaps Peter Parker–is defined by his tragedy. So what does it do to a character like that to take his tragedy away from him? Is it a dream come true, or a nightmare? This week on Batman: The Animated Series Remastered and Rewatched, we’re looking back at the episode titled “Perchance to Dream.”
“Perchance to Dream”
This week starts in media res: Batman is in pursuit of an orange Studebaker-style car, and the hoods are giving him a run for his money. This is a good-looking chase sequence, and Batman is struggling as his massive car bashes and crashes between the narrow walls of the alleyway. He finally catches up to the crooks and follows them into Capper Oil Storage where he’s stunned by a bright light just long enough for a heavy weight to drop on him.
But then, Bruce wakes up in his bed, a little groggy but no worse for the wear. In case you haven’t figured it out, this is a Mad Hatter episode–Capper Oil Storage?–and Batman is stuck in a dream.
For the man who has everything
In this dream, Bruce has everything. He finds out first that his parents are alive, then that he’s engaged to be married to Selina Kyle. Watching Bruce learn this is so sad. Batman often gets dark for a children’s cartoon, but this episode especially so. The show does an excellent job of conveying both how deeply disturbed Bruce is by this information and yet how badly he wants it. He begs Alfred to tell him about his life, trying not to betray just how wrong all of this feels.
Also noteworthy is that this scene takes place in Bruce’s huge walk-in closet, which is surrounded by mirrors. Bruce and Alfred are reflected from every angle. I’m not sure how much work that actually took the animators–they may have had some trick to speed it up. But it seems like a high-effort trick all the same.
When Bruce goes into the office, Selina comes to visit him, where the two flirt a bit before they’re interrupted by a sighting of Batman. One touch I like here is that this Batman is weird. First, they see him zipping around out in broad daylight. Then, he takes down some petty crooks with some flashy acrobatic moves that our Batman is certainly capable of but rarely bothers with. He’s cartoonish in a way our Batman never is. He’s more like the 1966 Adam West Batman, almost.
If you’re paying attention here, you’ll notice a hint at what’s going on: the episode is very text-lite, but it does show the name of a shop, and it’s just random lettering.
Seeing someone else as Batman is deeply confusing for Bruce, so he goes to see his old friend Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who lays it out for Bruce: he looks at Batman and sees someone deeply accomplished while he, Bruce, has been given everything he could ever want. It makes a lot of sense, and Bruce embraces it, acting like Scrooge on Christmas Day. He sits down to read the newspaper, though, and everything goes wrong. The text in the newspapers is scrambled and unreadable, bending and twisting and devoid of any meaning.
Stop hitting yourself
Bruce knows something is up for sure now, and heads out to solve it. He ends up climbing a clocktower, part of Batman’s nightly patrol, where he encounters the Dark Knight. The two duke it out in a pretty brutal fight before Bruce unmasks him as the Mad Hatter, and the two argue. Bruce engages the same dream logic that they use in Inception. When you fall in a dream, you never actually land.
The conversation here is, again, dark and surprisingly subtle. The Hatter realizes what Bruce is about to do, and he never says it, but it’s heavily implied that if this is reality, Bruce is committing suicide. For us, it’s clever Batman escaping from a trap. For Bruce, though, it’s a clear statement that he would rather risk death than live a false life, even if the false life is filled with the things that should, in theory, make him happy. It’s a pretty bold statement.
Batman wakes up still in his mask and not tied down. He easily dispatches the Hatter and his goons. Jervis Tetch’s plan was a simple one, it seems. It wasn’t a grand plan to steal Batman’s identity or unmask him. He just wanted to give Batman peace so that he could do his demented mind crimes without being harassed. Batman destroyed his life (the one where he kidnapped a young woman and tried to force her to love him), and he wanted a bit of revenge and peace.
This episode has enough plot holes to classify it a swiss cheese. Why didn’t the Hatter tie Batman down? He really used a machine that could give someone a flawless recreation of reality in their own mind to shelve Batman instead of selling it as a revolutionary invention? Also, lots of things happen that Bruce doesn’t see, like his parents reacting to him after he’s run away. I’m also pretty sure that dreams and reading don’t work the way Bruce says. And Batman, you can’t do a goosebumps walkaway with the police.
Who Bruce Is
But it works because it’s about who Bruce is at his core. The shows and comics show this in other places. When Wonder Woman users her lasso to ask his real name, he says Batman. In Batman Beyond, someone tries to convince Bruce he’s schizophrenic, but the voice called him Bruce, while he calls himself Batman. This part of him is so rock-solid that even in a perfect dream world, it cannot be shaken.
It’s also worth noting how much heavy lifting Kevin Conroy does in this episode. He often holds up episodes, but here he talks to himself in two different scenes. First when Bruce talks to his father, and then later when he encounters The Mad Hatman. Roddy McDowall is once again great as the Mad Hatter, too.
I thought this episode was really clever when I was a kid. I don’t think it’s as clever now, but it’s still very intelligent.
Even good episodes have a bad frame here and there.
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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