Batman: The Animated Series: “Over The Edge”
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Batman: The Animated Series: “Over The Edge”

“Over The Edge” (season 3, episode 12; originally aired May 23, 1998)

Isn’t it great when a TV show delivers on every level? This past weekend’s Young Justice: Invasion had one of those episodes that utilized every aspect of the series to tell an incredibly thrilling story, and “Over The Edge” is a similarly sharp half hour that stands out as one of the best episodes of this show, pre- and post-revamp. When Batgirl is hit by Scarecrow’s fear gas, her greatest worries are realized as she dreams about Batman and her father coming to blows over her death in the field. Despite the majority of this episode being in Barbara’s head, it doesn’t lose any impact thanks to Paul Dini’s brilliant script and the pairing of director Yuichiro Yano and TMS creating flawless visuals. It’s an exhilarating installment of The New Batman Adventures that shows the series hasn’t lost any punch in the switch from Fox to Kids WB, and also serves as a fantastic potential ending for the Dark Knight.

Endings are an essential part of the narrative process, but the ongoing nature of superheroes, especially the all-stars like Batman and Superman, prevents these characters from ever reaching their conclusion. Writers get around this by telling stories set outside of the continuity, like All-Star Superman or Kingdom Come or “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow,” or by utilizing fantasy or dream sequences like “Over The Edge.” The latter is less popular just because audiences have grown weary of the dream sequence cop-out, and this episode has garnered a fair amount of criticism because the writers didn’t go all the way with the story. Paul Dini writes himself out of that hole by not having the episode be about the death of Batman (although that’s a major plot point), but Barbara Gordon’s relationship with her father. Barbara waking up from her dream isn’t the end of the story, and the dream is what motivates her to talk to her father about her secret identity.

An episode of drama closes with a tender moment where James Gordon makes it clear that he already knows his daughter’s secret identity but that that he can’t legally acknowledge her actions. He gives her his full blessing in all endeavors and is proud of his little girl, giving her a little wink for an extra bit of reassurance. The final scene of Barbara and her father shows how important moments of brightness are in dark stories, and Paul Dini is very good making sure the grim elements of his script are balanced with humor. According to the commentary, Dini’s major inspiration for the structure of this episode was The Simpsons, which uses quick, short scenes to cut from character to character. This gives the writers the opportunity to use a plethora of Springfield’s unique citizens to advance the plot, and that technique can be seen in how this script splits focus between Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon.

The Simpsons also dictated the comedy in this episode, and after a particularly depressing sequence where Gordon loses his job because of his daughter’s involvement with Batman, we get a goofy scene of Gotham’s rogues being interviewed on Gotham Exposed. Harley Quinn, Mad Hatter, Riddler and the Ventriloquist demand compensation from Bruce Wayne for the abuse they’ve received at the hands of Batman, and they’ve hired this show’s Johnny Cochrane stand-in to help them do it. The scene may seem out of sync with the rest of the episode, but it provides a breather while incorporating four more of Gotham’s rich characters into the story.

When you’re a kid, you’re not aware of things like season length and production order, so watching “Over The Edge” is an intense experience that potentially tears down Batman’s entire world. This could very well have been the series finale for all those children, who are now scarred after watching Barbara Gordon fall on top of her father’s cop car, and then it’s all revealed to have been a nightmare. That might seem like a bit of a betrayal, but how could this series have continued after this point if Batman’s secret identity was revealed, Batgirl was dead, Nightwing was in custody, and Robin was on the run? On paper that sounds like a pretty awesome series, but that would have been a horrible direction for this show to take. A big part of this show’s appeal is that it remains kid-friendly even when the stories are exceeding gloomy, and having “Over The Edge” as the new status quo for this series would make that difficult.

This episode is a roller coaster ride from the very start, opening with Batman and Robin running through the Batcave as Gordon and the GCPD open fire on them. It’s a perfect WTF opening, making viewers desperate to know how the Dynamic Duo has gotten into this game-changing predicament. When Gordon has one of his men blow up the Batmobile with a bazooka, it becomes clear that all bets are off this week, and it only gets more intense from there. The revamp design of Commissioner Gordon aged the character considerably (in the commentary, the creators joke that he got prostate cancer during the network switch), and his new weary appearance makes this story even more poignant. Barbara is the light of a dreary life spent patrolling the twisted streets of Gotham City, and when Gordon loses that, he makes it his mission to take down the Bruce Wayne and his costumed alter ego. He goes so far as to hire Bane, who has transitioned from luchador to leatherboy in the revamp, and it’s a decision that costs both Batman and the commissioner their lives. Gordon’s aged appearance accentuates the physical differences between him, Bane, and Batman, and it takes some real guts for an old man to stand up to a pair of hulks.

From a technical standpoint, this is one of the sleekest episodes of this series, with Yano and TMS creating breathtaking action sequences utilizing CG effects for the first time. There’s a gorgeous shot in the Batcave of Batman and Robin jumping into chasm down to the Batboat, the camera zooming in while the action goes into slow motion to create a dynamic sense of movement. CG is used very well in the ensuing boat chase sequence, and the combination of Eastern and Western animation techniques plus digital effects gives this episode a unique visual flavor. There’s a heavy anime influence in Nightwing’s big fight scene with the GCPD, showing off Dick Grayson’s impressive blend of circus acrobatics and hand-to-hand combat skills. TMS packs each shot with detail, and it helps emphasize the sheer power that is packed into each one of these battles. When Bane hammer throws Batman against a wall, the environment takes significant damage, and when Batman knocks Bane off the roof, the neighboring billboard is a pile of splintered wood and broken lightbulbs. These are little details but they help make the experience as real as possible, which is great when watching a show about people in costumes.

The fight scenes are outstanding, and Yano and TMS do equally strong work with the quieter, more emotional scenes. The telephone conversation between Gordon and Bruce Wayne is storyboarded perfectly to show how each character reacts to their rapidly changing relationship, and the animation is as nuanced as the voice acting. Shirley Walker’s score also does a lot of the heavy lifting this episode, and it’s especially effective during the scene at Barbara Gordon’s funeral, where Commissioner Gordon has officers open fire on Batman when he’s putting his daughter’s casket in a hearse. It’s the kind of haunting scene that you’d rarely see on a children’s show, but The New Batman Adventures isn’t like other children’s shows. “Over The Edge” is this series at its best, a beautifully executed story about the potential terrors of the future and how they motivate us to move forward in the present.

Stray observations:

  • Batman Beatdown: It’s a three-way tie this week, because Batman is just that much of a badass. At the start of the episode, the Dark Knight makes use of the giant penny in his Batcave to get rid of Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD, sending it rolling toward his attackers because there’s no way to dodge a giant piece of change speeding in your direction. The second beatdown comes when Batman fills his cape with rocks so that he can smack Bane around, proving that his cape is more than just a snazzy fashion statement. The last comes at the end of the Bane battle and our hero finds himself with nothing to lose, willing to cross the border into murder when he cuts the villain’s tubing and ties him to the electrical wiring of the Bat-signal. That’s gotta sting.
  • According to the commentary, the shot of Barbara hitting the cop car was originally from outside the vehicle, but the censors didn’t approve it. They moved the shot to show Barbara smashing into the hood from inside the car, and it got approved while being way more disturbing.
  • The Mad Hatter’s revamp design is a great look that reflects physically just how twisted his mind has become, but Riddler’s new bright green jump suit is a downgrade from his previous suave appearance. Scarecrow remains terrifying.
  • The shot of Gordon getting kicked by Bane looks like one of the most painful hits in the history of this show. Then the old man goes flying straight into a Vertigo shout-out.
  • Detective Montoya: “Richard Grayson, you have the right to remain silent.” Nightwing: “Waived.”
  • Mad Hatter: “We demand justice! We demand satisfaction.” Harley Quinn: “We demand money!”
  • “If the bat’s on a spree, Wayne must pay the fee.”
  • Bane: “You would fight to the death?” Batman: “It makes no different now.”
  • “Please, give your dear Barbara a kiss from me.”
  • Bane: “Time to die.” Batman: “You first.”
  • “Keep cooking like that, you’ll have me looking like Harvey Bullock.”

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