“Moon Of The Wolf” (season one, episode 43, originally aired November 11, 1992)
“Moon Of The Wolf” is horrible, but horrible in a way that becomes borderline enjoyable after multiple viewings. It’s not quite “so bad it’s good,” but the plot reaches such hilariously absurd highs that it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t written with comedic intent, and as the coda reminds us that writer Len Wein has been taking himself seriously the whole time, the episode lands its last epic punch line. It is supposed to be a joke, right? Because that electric guitar isn’t exactly instilling the story with a huge amount of emotional gravitas. Len Wein is a respected comic book creator responsible for introducing influential characters like Wolverine and Swamp Thing – he edited Watchmen, for god’s sake – how did he go so wrong with “Moon Of The Wolf”?
Like “The Cape And Cowl Conspiracy,” this episode is an adaptation of a previous comic book issue, and both episodes suffer because they have scripts by the writers of their original stories. The reason the originals work is because of where they fit in the character’s cultural context, but they need to be altered to fit in the DCAU. Paul Dini did it spectacularly with “The Laughing Fish,” combining the best elements of multiple comic stories while staying true to the tone of the series. The Batman we’ve grown accustomed to doesn’t shoot off quips while he’s fighting; he’s silent, direct, and formidable. The biggest offense committed by Wein’s script is just how out of character Batman is written. Beyond the Spider-Man fighting banter, he’s a lousy detective, pursuing the idea that his werewolf opponent is a mugger in a mask even though his maybe-girlfriend got turned into a cat a week ago. And one of his rogues gallery is a Man-Bat. Also like "Conspiracy," Batman walks into traps way too easily, and I hate when writers make weaken the character because they need it for the story to work.
This episode is essentially an extended brawl interspersed with expository scenes of Anthony Romulus’ (Harry Hamlin) backstory, but Romulus is portrayed as such an unlikable idiot that watching his past is a chore. A professional athlete who seeks out the services of Dr. Milo (Treat Williams) to gain a competitive edge, Romulus chugs a vial of steroids mixed with timber wolf estrogen that turns him into a vicious man-beast. How in the hell do steroids mixed with timber wolf estrogen turn you into a werewolf? It’s painfully stupid, and it only gets worse when Milo offers to cure Romulus by giving him “advanced werewolfism,” because apparently that can be cured whereas regular werewolfism can’t. I mean, it has to be a joke, right?
Akom does stronger work than usual and the animation is still mediocre, but “Moon Of The Wolf” has plenty of audio distractions in the usually fantastic Carlos Rodriguez’s electric guitar-heavy score. Bruce Timm asked for the guitar to be incorporated in hopes of it spicing up the script, and I’ve come to the realization that I just don’t have the same music taste as Bruce Timm. When the B:TAS composers get too far out of the box – this week’s guitars, Shirley Walker’s drum machine – it takes away from the dark atmosphere, and this episode’s story is already lacking any sort of mature edge. I would prefer to have the more traditional orchestral music to ground the action is some minimal amount of sophistication.
“Moon Of The Wolf” is an episode that is great for an unintentional laugh, which makes it an awful episode of B:TAS. Regarding this episode, Bruce Timm said, “This is what I call a good Tuesday episode. It's not what you want to open a week on or end a week on, but it passes the time agreeably.” I disagree. Mediocre production values across the board diminish the already weak story, making this just another crappy episode of an early ‘90s kids action series. It’s a waste of time.
“Day Of The Samurai” (season one, episode 44, originally aired February 23, 1993)
Kyodai Ken’s (Robert Ito) last appearance “Night Of The Ninja” revealed Bruce’s training years in Japan, and “Day Of The Samurai” elaborates on the sense of duty and honor Bruce cultivated abroad when Kyodai Ken returns to steal the secrets of an ancient, forbidden fighting technique from Sensei Yoru (Goh Misawa). A huge step-up from Kyodai’s first episode, writer Steve Perry finds a stronger balance between the martial arts action and the character drama, and Bruce W. Timm returns to directing for a very Fleischery episode featuring uneven but overall strong animation from Blue Pencil.
“Day Of The Samurai” immediately sets itself apart with its use of subtitles, lending to the cinematic quality of the episode while immediately establishing the foreign setting. The opening sequence where Kyodai kidnaps Yoru’s prized pupil Kairi (Julia Kato) is a rapid assault of kung fu that not only showcases Timm’s sharp directorial eye, but the smooth Blue Pencil animation. While the faces could use some work, the characters have great body language and realistic movement, and this episode easily has some of the series’ best fight sequences. Bruce and Alfred head to Japan after learning about Kairi’s kidnapping, and when they arrive Bruce tells Alfred about “The Way of the Fang,” a deadly martial art that has been kept secret within Sensei Yoru’s family. With no sons, the location of the technique’s manual risks being lost, and Kyodai is holding Kairi ransom in exchange for a map leading to the manual’s secret hiding place.
The standout action sequence is Batman’s rescue of Kairi when she flies off a building, exquisitely storyboarded by Timm to showcase Batman’s technical skill while airborne. The screen flashes red as Kyodai kicks Kairi off the roof, panning out to show the massive drop, and Batman leaps off until he reaches her, shooting his grappling gun which we actually see latch on to a surface. There’s a legitimate sense of weight as he flies through the air with Kairi in tow, and he pushes a button that disconnects him from the hook, cradling Kairi as they crash into a fire escape. It’s fast, it’s smooth, and an impressive way to portray the type of aerial rescue we’ve seen before in a more dynamic way. The voice work in this episode also impresses, with the actors speaking lots of Japanese, and Kevin Conroy impresses with his delivery. I don't know the language, but there's an ease in his delivery that recalls the character's earlier time spent in Japan. Any Japanese speakers that could comment on his pronunciation?
What I love about the two Japan episodes is that they show how Bruce transformed from a vengeful youth into a focused detective and fighter, with his studies under Sensei Yoru instilling the samurai’s sense of physical, emotional, and mental discipline in Bruce. Bruce has the values of the samurai while operating in the shadows like a ninja, and that ideological clash comes into play as Kyodai Ken challenges him to a rematch. In their climactic battle atop an active volcano, the two remove their masks to fight each other for the last time, returning to the early days in Yoru’s dojo before they were firmly set on their respective paths. When Bruce defeats Kyodai by protecting himself from the fatal "eternal sleep" touch that Kyodai had learned from the stolen manual, Kyodai can no longer withstand the shame and is swept away by the roaring magma of the volcano.
Having watched another life get erased before his eyes, Bruce returns to Yoru apologetically, but Yoru insists that Bruce not take responsibility for Kyodai's actions. Not every death has to rest on Bruce's broad shoulders, and Yoru reaffirms Batman's mission by praising him as "the essence of samurai." Even after all these years, there's still more for Bruce to learn, but Yoru also reminds him that all the power Bruce needs is already inside of him.
- Batman Beatdown: Repeating his swing-in-on-a-wrecking-ball trick from “Robin’s Reckoning,” Batman crashes into Romulus as lightning strikes, frying the werewolf in mid-air. He totally planned that.
- Harvey Bullock is the one bright spot of “Moon Of The Wolf” with a solid interrogation scene.
- Batman calling Romulus "hairy" and "shaggy" gets really annoying after a while.
- “Do me a favor, shaggy: stay down!”
- “Spirit of the bat.”
- “You would have made a good ninja.”
- Alfred is being held captive at 563 Tezuka. Nice shout out.
- Bat bitch slap on top of a volcano. Amazing.
- Kyodai Ken is definitely dead at the end of this week.