Batman: The Animated Series: “Lock-Up”
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Batman: The Animated Series: “Lock-Up”

“Lock-Up” (season 2, episode 17; originally aired 11/19/1994)

Arkham Asylum has a new warden, and he’s as crazy as the people he keeps locked up. When Batman sees how Lyle Bolton treats the patients at Arkham, he has the man fired and prompts the birth of Lock-Up, Gotham’s newest and most brutal vigilante. Batman: The Animated Series’answer to antiheroes like Punisher and Azrael, Lock-Up is a strong foil for The Dark Knight, strictly focused on incarceration rather than rehabilitation. Lock-Up’s main goal is keeping criminals off the street rather than helping them get to a point where they can be healthy members of society, and that lack of compassion corrupts his sense of justice.

“Lock-Up” is the second episode in a row to begin with Batman and Robin hauling the Scarecrow back to Arkham, but the Jonathan Crane we see this week is very different from the “god of fear” in “Harley’s Holiday.” When Batman sees Crane’s reaction to going back into Bolton’s custody, he opens up an investigation into Bolton’s conduct as Bruce Wayne, calling the rogues in to testify against their jailer. One look from Bolton keeps the villains quiet, but when Bruce proposes an extension of the warden’s contract, the rogues confess that Bolton threatens them, takes away their privileges, and electrifies their cell doors at night—even if they’re good. Bolton is removed from his position, and as he’s escorted from the courtroom, swearing vengeance against “the gutless police, mindless bureaucrats, and coddling doctors” that are the real cause of Gotham’s illness.

Bolton has a point when he says that Arkham was a revolving door before he arrived, and that place really sucks at doing anything right. (How many times has Joker escaped now?) That place needs a stern leader like Bolton, but preferably one that is slightly less insane. Six months later, Bolton takes matter into his own hands and takes to the street as Lock-Up, with a very ’90s costume consisting of huge shoulder pads and decorative chain across the neckline. His dialogue sounds like imitation Frank Miller, with lines like “This city is an open wound, begging to be stitched” and “I don’t do leniency.”

There’s a strong concept behind “Lock-Up” that is marred by the story’s flawed execution; there are some truly ridiculous plot moments. When Bruce is barred from a building because of a locked revolving door, he opens up his briefcase, which lets out a billow of smoke that hides him as he changes into his Batman costume. Seriously? He couldn’t kick through the door? And no one is going to be suspicious when suddenly Batman is standing exactly where Bruce Wayne was two seconds ago? What’s worse, Lock-Up puts a boot on the Batmobile later in the episode. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations for the Batmobile as a supervehicle, but it must have some kind of built-in defense for someone tampering with the wheels. Oh wait, that’s how Jason Todd became Robin.

When Batman first encounters Lock-Up, Bolton wants the two of them to team up: Batman could apprehend the villains and he can lock them up. Batman refuses, and Lock-Up sets out on his quest for vengeance, abducting Arkham’s Dr. Bartholomew, Commissioner Gordon, and Mayor Hill and taking them to the boat prison used during the construction of Stonegate Penitentiary.

Lock-Up only appears on B:TAS once, and that’s because he completely serves his purpose this episode. He’s a one-dimensional character without any real motivations, largely there to make Batman look good. When they have their big fight on a sinking boat, Batman tells Bolton,“I’ve seen how you treat your prisoners. Forgotten and scared. Without hope or compassion.” Bolton replies, “Can it be you actually care for those creatures? You’re just as crazy as they are.” Bolton is wrong, though, and Bruce’s hope and compassion are the things that keep him sane. Without them, he would have cracked like Bolton a long time ago, and he’s able to work at his best by hoping for the best.

Batman takes down Lock-Up with the villain’s own handcuffs, and they both fall off the boat to certain death on the rocks below. Batman miraculously grapples back to safety with an unconscious Bolton in his arms, and his unexplained escape is another one of this episode’s handy contrivances. Bolton is brought to Arkham, where Dr. Jonathan Crane promises he’ll “learn new lessons in fear,” but Bolton is exactly where he wants to be. “They thought they could trap me in a world with lunatics, but I showed them,” Bolton says. “Now I can keep an eye on everyone. They’ll never slip past me again.” Getting himself locked up is the best thing Bolton could have done—and he was asking for it with that name anyway.

Stray observations:

  • Batman Beatdown: Batman’s last stand against Lock-Up is one of the few times he actually kicks ass this episode, using his handcuffs to grab Lock-Up’s foot and pull him off the ledge. Then he magically grapples back to safety—but whatever, he’s Batman.
  • You’re not a true Batman rogue unless your real name is a play on your gimmick.
  • “IF ANYONE OBJECTS TO MY METHODS… please, tell me.”
  • “Another fine villain made possible by a grant from the Wayne Foundation. Only kidding.” Not.
  • “Nice look. Early Alcatraz.”

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