“Holiday Knights” (season three, episode one; originally aired 9/13/1997)
The original run of Batman: The Animated Series ended in 1995, but when Warner Bros. debuted the new Superman: The Animated Series, the Dark Knight was revived to join the Man of Steel for a World’s Finest cartoon hour. The New Batman Adventures is a different beast than it’s predecessor, primarily because of its revamped style, which simplifies the line work for a look that has more of an anime influence and allows for smoother animation. “Holiday Knights” is a collection of short stories that establishes the new status quo for this series, showing off the character redesigns and placing greater emphasis on the workings of the larger Bat-family, which now includes Batgirl and a new, very small Robin. (Nightwing’s also around, but he won’t show up for a little bit).
There are a lot of B:TAS fans that don’t like the revamp (and yes, the look of these episodes is much more kid-friendly) but that doesn’t mean that the writers have lost any of their old magic. “Holiday Knights” reunites two of the major players of the last series, writer Paul Dini and director Dan Riba, for a trio of stories that are on the lighter side but still pack an emotional punch when all is said and done. It begins with a Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy abducting Bruce Wayne to pay for a holiday shopping spree, resulting in a delightful homage to the shopping montages found in many a chick flick from the 1980s and ’90s.
The villainesses’ segment opens with a gorgeous shot of Poison Ivy sitting in a window, her new pale-green skin sharply contrasting with the red glow of a nearby neon sign. Despite the switch to a more streamlined animation style, the show hasn’t lost its graphic edge. As Poison Ivy becomes more aggressive in her eco-terrorism, her skin has started to reflect that. She’s becoming more of a plant, which makes Harley’s insistence of getting a Christmas tree the equivalent of murder in Ivy’s eyes. There are easier ways of getting into the holiday spirit, like making out with Bruce Wayne while wearing venomous mind-control lipstick.
After planting one on Bruce at a party, Ivy puts the playboy under her spell, forcing him to pay for all the ridiculous fashions she and Harley show off during a Muzak-backed montage. When the poison wears off, Harley goes in for another kiss, but Bruce escapes by falling down an elevator chute. When Batman appears, he’s wearing a new grey and black costume that is closer to the character’s Year One look. It’s a look that will be used by Batman through Justice League, and the absence of color makes the costume perfect for stealth, while establishing Batman as a decidedly different hero from his primary color-clad comrades. After a beautifully storyboarded action sequence inside a toy store, Batman takes down the pretty pair by dropping a Christmas tree on them, giving Harley exactly what she wants for the holidays.
The second story is the most insubstantial of the three, centering on Batgirl, Harvey Bullock, and Renee Montoya as they track down a slippery holiday shoplifter. Bullock undercover as Santa Claus leads to fun gags, particularly when the daughter of a man he recently put in prison asks Santa to bring her daddy home for Christmas. Bullock feels bad and hands the girl some cash out of his pocket, telling her to buy herself something nice as long as it’s not a hacksaw for daddy. It turns out that the gang of child shoplifters is actually Clayface split into four pieces, and when he reveals himself, Barbara ducks into a corner to change into her work clothes. There isn’t quite the same level of detail in Clayface’s animation as his previous episodes, particularly with regard to the shading on his body, but this revamped style is all about streamlining and creating bold visuals through that simplicity. When Batgirl takes down Clayface by electrocuting him in an ice skating rink, the shock effect is dramatic and eye-catching.
The last tale finds Batman teaming up with the new, younger Robin (Tim Drake) to take down the Joker—who has made a New Year’s resolution that he’s going to stop killing people—on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, that means he has a whole lot of people to kill in the next few hours, and he plans on using an experimental sonic device to kill everyone at the annual countdown in Gotham Square. The Joker’s altered look is one of the most divisive of the revamp, primarily for replacing his formerly hyper-expressive eyes with two black pools and tiny white pupils. The result is something much more menacing and creepy, and Mark Hamill’s voice work is so strong that it makes up for any personality lost in the eyes. The makeover also makes Joker’s master plan possible, allowing him to give the crowd Joker masks to distract Batman’s attention from the real bad guy.
Including Tim Drake as Robin is a double-edged sword: On one end, it introduces an important character from the Batman mythos into the cartoon and begins to establish the Robin legacy—but on the other, we now have a super-young Robin to sell toys and be generally useless in a fight. There’s some pretty intense child endangerment going on here, and Tim’s tiny stature makes it seem like Batman is recruiting out of elementary schools. When Joker is about to set off the sonic weapon, Robin tries to go after him but gets grabbed by the cape, showing why its probably not the best idea to rely on a 100-pound child as backup in a fight. Batman is able to take care of himself, though, escaping at the last minute and foiling the Joker’s plan, sending the bell crashing down on him Wile E. Coyote-style.
The episode ends with a short epilogue that brings everything back to a human place, revealing Batman and Commissioner Gordon’s holiday tradition of getting coffee together on Jan. 1. Their bartender is modeled after Paul Dini, and the three drunk carol singers are lookalikes of animators Bruce Timm, Glen Murakami, and Shane Glines. It’s a cute little family affair, and any work to flesh out the Batman/Gordon dynamic is always appreciated. As usual, Batman disappears unceremoniously, but he covers the check to make up for his hasty exit. Gordon laments that one day he’ll pay, but he gives so much of his heart and soul to this job, he can let Batman pick up the tab once a year.
- Batman Beatdown: It’s a simple New Year’s ass-kicking as Batman kicks the bottle of champagne the Joker is popping to send the cork into the clown’s eye, giving Bats enough time to destroy the rigged sound system and take down the villains.
- Mark Hamill talks about his experience as the Joker in this illuminating Random Roles. Check it out.
- All of this episode’s short stories are adapted from the Batman Adventures Holiday Special comic book. DC has begun making the old Batman Adventures comics available digitally, and I can’t recommend these books enough, especially the later Dan Slott/Ty Templeton stories.
- Renee Montoya couldn’t pull some tights on underneath that incredibly short elf skirt? Show some class, girl!
- I love the woman that is enthusiastically shaking her hips while wearing a Joker mask.
- “Right-a-roonie! Gimme some sugar baby!”
- Harley: “Oh my god! We—we killed him. Oh well.” Ivy: “We were going to do it anyway.”
- Ivy: “Here’s your stupid tree. You happy?” Harley: “Yeah.”
- “I’ve heard of kids being afraid of Santa, but they’ve been crying all day.”