The men and women of the Gotham City Police Department are the only civilian supporting cast that Batman has maintained throughout his career, and “P.O.V.” is the first episode of Batman: The Animated Series that explores the GCPD’s function in the city, as well as Batman’s role in their operations. Beginning with Rashomon-styled recollections of a sting gone wrong through the eyes of three GCPD officers— Detective Harvey Bullock, Officer Renee Montoya, and Officer Wilkes (not cool enough for a first name, apparently)—“P.O.V.” eventually becomes the Renee Montoya Show, setting the character up as an ally to the Bat and a foil to the crass, unorthodox Bullock.
From a story by Mitch Brian and teleplay by Sean Catherine Derek and Laren Bright, “P.O.V.” begins with Montoya and Wilkes rushing to meet Bullock for a sting operation set up to catch a drug lord simply called “The Boss.” They believe they have time to spare before the sting goes down, but when they arrive, the warehouse is in flames, and Bullock lies outside incapacitated. As Montoya and Wilkes split up to capture the goons escaping with their $2 million in sting money, Bullock catches sight of Batman on the rooftops and passes out. The scene cuts to a solitary lightbulb and an ominous shadow: It’s interrogation time.
As Lieutenant Hackle questions each of the three officers, three different views of the evening’s events are retold. Unlike Rashomon, where all the perspectives are portrayed as truthful to the speaker’s recollections, “P.O.V.” makes it very clear that Bullock is lying to cover his ass. A quick rundown of Bullock’s lies:
- He sees Batman entering the warehouse, hence he goes in before his partners arrive. (Batman is nowhere to be seen when Bullock arrives.)
- Batman makes a loud noise that compromises Bullock. (Bullock trips on a paint can.)
- Despite one of the gangsters hitting a fuse box with his axe and setting the warehouse on fire, Bullock has “the situation under control” until Batman bungles it. (Bullock doesn’t, and Batman doesn’t.)
- Harvey saves Batman’s butt. (Vice versa.)
Hackle doesn’t fall for Bullock’s bull and demands to know the reason he didn’t wait for his team. Bullock dodges the question, instead passing the blame on to his “late” partners, prompting Hackle to get Wilkes’ side of the story next.
After ditching Bullock to chase the money, Wilkes finds himself up against one of the goons’ cars driving straight toward him. Batman arrives and shoots sparks out of his fingers that immobilize the vehicle. The sparks are just spiked metal balls Batman throws, but Wilkes’ flashback does a fantastic job of creating the supernatural aura around Batman that would leave criminals, civilians, and police stunned senseless. Wilkes’ descriptions of Batman’s actions give him a decidedly superhuman quality, whether it's the ray he shoots out his hand (an electric current sent through his grappling hook) or his ability to knock a man out from a distance with just the swipe of his hand (batarang). The short scene reveals how Batman is able to perpetuate the myth of his existence through technology. As Batman fans, we know that these are just the tricks that Bruce Wayne employs in his war on crime, but to the citizens of Gotham City, Batman is an otherworldly presence with powers far beyond a regular man.
Wilkes’ fantastic story isn’t plausible to Hackle, prompting another outburst from the Lieutenant as he accuses one of the three officers of lying. Commissioner Gordon steps in and puts him in his place, insisting that they hear Montoya’s side of the story before passing judgment. Montoya reiterates that they were not late and that Batman saved her life when she went into the burning warehouse, sacrificing himself to save her from a falling pile of rubble. Hackle is unswayed and suspends the three officers, forcing Montoya to continue her investigation without her badge, but still in uniform. She finds Batman at the docks, tied up by “The Boss” and returns the life-saving favor, karate chopping a thug aiming a gun at Batman. The two team up and take down “The Boss,” and the three cops are reinstated after Gordon has some intense words with Hackle.
Bullock’s dislike of Batman has been brought up in previous episodes, but “P.O.V.” is the first time when Bullock’s feelings about the Bat end up pushing him in the wrong direction. Why didn’t Bullock wait for Montoya and Wilkes? If he waited, he’d have probably lost the collar to Batman. Bullock needs to feel useful at all times, even when it serves as a detriment, and Batman’s presence makes Bullock and the rest of the GCPD nearly obsolete. In his efforts to make himself a valuable member of the force, Bullock just ends up making a fool out of himself because he doesn’t understand his limitations. In the past, Bullock was able to rise up in the ranks because he could think like the thugs he was trying to catch, but Batman’s arrival, along with the slew of supervillains in his wake, has thrown Bullock off his game. Bullock’s actions at the warehouse suggest that his disdain for the Batman has a tinge of envy to it, as he tries to copy Batman’s stealthy solo act and fails miserably. It’s a major blow to his pride, something Bullock cannot accept, so he places the blame on his partners.
Unlike Bullock, Montoya is an officer that fits perfectly in the post-Batman Gotham. Created by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Mitch Brian in the B:TAS series bible in 1990, Renee Montoya was originally devised as the widow of a fallen fellow cop, and she, like Batman, is driven by that defining tragedy. None of this is mentioned in the series, and will be completely ignored in the character’s comic iteration, but it’s fascinating to see how the undisclosed backstory of her character informs her relationship with Batman.
DC Comics understood the need for a female presence on the Gotham police force, and Montoya debuted in the Batman comics six months before her first television appearance in “Pretty Poison.” At a time when the Batman mythos was expanding the role of its female characters, from introducing Helena Bertinelli as the Huntress to resurrecting Barbara Gordon as Oracle, Montoya provided a unique view of the GCPD, largely a boys’ club up until her arrival. Her role expands in Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central, especially once she is outed as a lesbian by Harvey Dent (in the amazing “Half A Life” storyline), setting her up on a journey that eventually leads to her taking the place of Vic Sage as the new Question at the end of the epic limited series 52. Her continued presence in Gotham shows how attuned the B:TAS creators were to their hero’s world and sets the stage for future female additions to the mythos.
1940’s Superman: Part One (“Superman” – “The Arctic Giant”)
Cited by the creators of B:TAS as the series’ greatest influence in terms of visual aesthetic and animation style, the Superman animated shorts of the early 1940s are cartoon marvels. Due in large part to producer Max Fleischer’s rotoscoping technique, which has animators trace live-action films frame for frame as they are projected on an easel, the Superman shorts feature realistic animation that holds up amazingly well, even to today’s post-digital standards. The first nine shorts were handled by Fleischer Studios, with Max’s brother, Dave, serving as director until personal issues drove the brothers apart and Paramount took over Fleischer Studios, rebranding it Famous Studios. The switch to Famous resulted in a change of subject matter, moving from the sci-fi elements of the Fleischers to a heavier WWII-propaganda angle, but the sharp look of the series remained.
Watching these first four shorts, “Superman,” “The Mechanical Monsters,” “Billion Dollar Limited,” and “The Arctic Giant,” it becomes clear just how much the B:TAS crew relied on the Fleischers for guidance in terms of design. The painted art deco backgrounds, the minimal amount of lines for figures in motion, the use of shadows to create extra dimension—all of these are defining characteristics of Batman. By taking some of the best stylistic elements of the early 1940s—the cars, the fashion, the guns —and incorporating a high-tech element, B:TAS is able to achieve a timelessness that prevents it from becoming dated like the ‘60s Batman series and even these Superman shorts.
From the very outset it's clear that the Fleischers have no intention of humanizing Clark Kent, completely ignoring his comic book backstory once he is rocketed off Krypton. Rather than being raised by Ma and Pa Kent, the infant Kal-El is brought to an orphanage by a good Samaritan, where he vows to use his abilities in the pursuit of truth and justice. Despite the beautiful animation, Superman doesn’t offer much in the way of plot, and all four shorts follow the same pattern: Daily Planet editor Perry White learns some highly dangerous assignment, Lois Lane rushes in for the story without thinking about the risks, and then Superman saves her and Metropolis. Each short is basically one extended fight scene, with Superman vs. Mad Scientist in “Superman,” vs. Evil Engineer in “The Mechanical Monsters,” vs. Train Robbers in “Billion Dollar Limited,” and vs. Dinosaur in “The Arctic Giant.” Granted, the shorts are only eight to 10 minutes in length, and this is well before the maturation of superheroes in the ‘80s, so their repetitive nature is largely excusable.
Golden Age creators loved tying up their women, and Lois spends most of the first two shorts either tied to a chair or to a platform about to drop into a vat of molten metal. The characterization of Lois in these shorts is intriguing, as she's portrayed as a headstrong journalist with no fear but constantly indebted to Superman. The lengths Lois will go to for a story are absurd, including climbing into a jewel stealing robot and conducting a runaway train, but I’ve always preferred my Lois as a reckless badass. Each short ends with a shot of Lois’ headline, followed by a scene of Clark and her in the Daily Planet mulling over the past day’s events, with all but one concluding by Lois thanking Superman for the story, followed by a tongue-in-cheek Clark Kent retort. Yes, Superman is the one that punches out the electrothanasia ray and carries an entire train over a demolished bridge, but Lois is the one who picks up a machine gun and starts shooting before Superman even arrives. Lois is first response, and Superman is the calvary. They’re a team, and while Lois gets the headline, she gives the real credit to Superman, because it’s still the 1940s and a woman can’t be strong without a man’s help.
- Batman Beatdown: Driving a forklift off the dock and straight into the hull of (presumably) the gangsters’ getaway boat. Sweet.
- When one of the thugs tries to get into Batman’s utility tool belt, he is sprayed with pink paint. Emasculating!
- Lines like Lt. Hackle’s “Three cops on the tape!” remind me just how much must have gone over my prepubescent head when I watched this series the first time. How is a kid supposed to know noir slang like “on the tape”?
- These gangsters have aim that makes a Stormtrooper look like a skilled marksman.
- “I guess Batman must have gotten a second wind after Bullock dragged him out.” Ingrid Oliu’s Montoya is best when she’s got a little sass. The low register of her voice is also a sharp contrast from the other women of the cast, making it easier to believe she’d be a part of the hardened GCPD.
- I like the retroactive irony of having Montoya threatened by a huge drill phallus, although her homosexuality wouldn’t become canon until many years after B:TAS ended.
- Love the Tex Avery style explosion of Krypton. Like someone stuck a big stick of dynamite in it.
- Superman gets anime eyes when he uses his x-ray vision.
- Showing the mad scientist’s assault on Lois through the shadows is a legitimately chilling moment.
- When people fall in Superman, no cutaways to them landing safely on awnings or bushes. They just die.