“The Clock King” (season 1, episode 25)
The Clock King is a Green Arrow villain that transitioned into Batman’s rogues by appearing in the ‘60s Batman TV series, and for his animated debut, writer David Wise uses the B:TAS villain revamp model to ditch the camp of Clock King’s previous iterations. Like the best origin episodes, “The Clock King” is built on the psychological metaphor behind the character’s theme, as Wise turns Clock King into an obsessively punctual businessman whose life collapses after an unfortunate instance of tardiness. Temple Fugate (L.A. Law’s Alan Rachins) doesn’t have any superpowers and instead relies on his own micromanaging mind and clock-themed gadgets to terrorize Mayor Hamilton Hill (Dynasty’s Lloyd Bochner). Hey, that sounds a lot like someone else we’re pretty familiar with, lending more credence to the theory that Batman’s rogues are funhouse mirrors of his own psyche. In the next episode, Bruce will actually mention his perfect record of punctuality as he heads out to Crime Alley. Again, funhouse mirrors.
The understated title card for “The Clock King” allows Carlos Rodriguez’s score to set the tone of the episode, with percussion used to mimic the ticking and chiming of a clock before giving way to the chaotic sound of gears breaking and springs snapping. It’s the perfect auditory representation of Fugate, who maintains a strict sense of order except for those moments when all the gears aren’t turning correctly in his head and he gets all homicidal. The episode begins with an anxious Fugate boarding the consistently late subway, reviewing his daily schedule and dreading his appearance in court to appeal a devastating verdict to his company. His car-mate, Mayor Hamilton Hill, offers some lawyerly advice and tells Fugate to lighten up and break free from the rigid routine of his life, starting by taking his afternoon coffee break 15 minutes later than usual. Fugate follows Hill’s suggestion but while on break loses his court documents after being hit by a ball in the park, then falling into a fountain after a dog sneaks up on him. It’s pathetic and humiliating, and Fugate drags his sopping self to court just to be told that his tardiness will cost him his appeal. “Perhaps this will teach you to be on time for a change,” the judge tells him, heralding the birth of the Clock King as the sound of clocks drowns out Fugate’s mad screams.
Seven years later, Mayor Hill is up for reelection, and the Clock King appears to head the smear campaign against him. Bringing traffic to a standstill before one of Hill’s fundraisers, Clock King releases a giant banner from the Gotham rooftops, a defiled version of Hill’s campaign poster with “time for a change” scrawled across it. It may not be the most original turn of phrase, but I can’t help but be reminded of Obama’s election campaign while reading Fugate’s banner. Let's play a fun game of B:TAS as political allegory. If we set this story during the 2008 presidential election, then Mayor Hill is President Bush, Temple Fugate is America, and the 15-minute coffee break is 9/11, a life-changing event from seven years back. Guess that makes Batman Barack Obama, which a good percentage of voters probably would have believed if you told them three years ago.
Fugate’s design is striking in its simplicity, with just a brown suit and bowler hat, glasses with clock lenses, and a cane/sword shaped like the hand of a clock. It's a streamlined look for a focused character, as Clock King’s major strength is his strict understanding of schedules and time limits. Rachins' voice for the character has a similar emotional detachment as Michael Ansara’s Mr. Freeze, but there’s an added element of annoyance that gives Clock King his arrogance. Temple Fugate thinks he’s smarter than you because his schedule is timed to the minute, and while it makes him crazy, it also makes him organized, and that’s a scary quality in a supervillain. While his next (and last) appearance on B:TAS gives the character some time-bending gadgetry, for the most part, Clock King is terrifying because his main weapon is his brain (and the occasional explosive pocket watch). Temple Fugate makes one more appearance in the DCAU in the brilliant JLU episode “Task Force X,” revealed to have joined a group of government-employed supervillains tasked with breaking into the Justice League Watchtower. A reference to the brief time Fugate’s comic predecessor spent a member of the Suicide Squad, the animated Clock King actually has the talent to back up his presence on the team, serving as the Oracle-esque information hub of the squad. The JLU writers’ choice to use Clock King for the legendary episode is a testament to David Wise’s reinvention of the character, turning him into a legitimate threat who succeeds by outwitting our hero.
Batman traces an explosive pocket watch from the Gotham Traffic Department to Fugate’s poorly concealed lair, discovering the identity of his foe as a blackout hits Gotham Mutual and its time-locked vault. Inside the vault, Batman discovers a box with a tape player attached, realizing too late that he’s been caught in a trap. The box contains a vacuum that will suck all the oxygen out of the air within 15 minutes and a bomb rigged to go off if the box is tampered with. It would take Batman 17 minutes to torch his way out of the vault, and thats use oxygen even faster, so he uses the tape inside the cassette to create a line that the box can be slid across, then Bataranged to blow up the door while Batman takes cover behind bags of coins. If Batman had to pick up the box to get it on the line, I don’t know why he didn’t just put it by the door and forego the whole cassette tape business, but it’s a clever way to show Batman MacGuyvering his way out of a trap.
While Batman is trapped in the vault, Fugate sabotages a press conference where Mayor Hill unveils Gotham’s first completely automated subway system. This episode has two B:TAS action sequence tropes, crazy trains and mechanical gears, and sure enough, two subway trains crash into each other head-on. Fugate kidnaps Hill in the ensuing chaos and ties him up to the minute hand of the Gotham Clock tower to be crushed at 3:15 pm, the time of his tragic coffee break. Judging by the quality of the explosions, this episode’s animation is only slight above average, but Sunrise and director Kevin Altieri really succeed with the final action piece, a clock tower fight scene inspired by Hiyao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro. With Batman as Lupin III, Altieri recreates the fight inside the tower, giant exposed cogs and all, and even has a stand-off on the face of the clock. But if you’re going to rip someone off, you can do a lot worse than Miyazaki, and the sequence is really well choreographed, especially the final moments when the tower begins to collapse. As Clock King falls in the wreckage, promising to return, I wonder what his fate means in regards to the earlier political metaphor. Obama saves Bush, and America falls? That can’t be right.
“Appointment In Crime Alley” (season 1, episode 26)
Gotham’s corporate Satan, Roland Daggett (Ed Asner), returns in “Appointment In Crime Alley,” trading cosmetics for demolitions as he plots to level Crime Alley on the same day as Batman’s annual visit to the spot where his parents were murdered. When it comes to supervillain planning luck, it doesn’t get much worse than that. Loosely based on Denny O’Neill’s “There Is No Hope In Crime Alley!” from Detective Comics #457, comics veteran Gerry “I killed Gwen Stacy” Conway pens this episode, showing Batman as he wages war on the villains of Crime Alley that don’t wear costumes: corporate goons, runaway trains, and urban development. The episode hits the major point of O’Neill’s story by introducing Dr. Leslie Thompkins (L.A. Law’s Diana Muldaur) as Bruce’s surrogate mother figure, but the presence of Daggett (and probably limitations from Broadcast Standards and Practice) prevents Conway from going with the intense ending of the source comic. The final image of Leslie holding Bruce captures the pain of that spot and the hope Leslie represents, but without the reminder of the violence that took his parents, it loses some of its emotional power.
Radomski turns in a stunning piece of art with this episode’s title card, as the silhouette of bleak Crime Alley threatens to consume the blood red background. Foreboding strings in Stuart V. Balcomb’s score build the tension as the camera pans over Crime Alley and Roland Daggett watching as the street goes up in flames. Zoom out to reveal Daggett standing behind a display case, watching a test run set up by demolitions expert Nitro (David L. Lander ) in preparation for the real thing the following evening. With no regard for human life, Daggett has it set up to look like an old gas line ruptured, making room for a new mini-mall without it ever being traced back to him. As a resident of the north side of Chicago, I’ve seen urban development and gentrification in full force as neighborhoods like Uptown and Rogers Park get Targets and condo buildings, but Daggett takes it to a whole ‘nother level of evil.
While watching a new broadcast, Bruce begins to suspect Daggett’s plot and heads out to Crime Alley, which also happens to be the location of his 8:00 appointment. This entire episode is a race against time, and the rousing woodwind melody of Balcomb’s theme keeps the momentum pushing forward, especially with the horns backing the tune. As Daggett prepares to speak at the Gotham Better Business Council (Gotham organizations love celebrating scumbags, with the exception of the ever-classy Peregrinators’ Club), his goons are warning the residents of Crime Alley to clear out, and Batman almost runs over a little girl crying for help. Rescuing her mother from Daggett’s thugs, Batman learns that something big is about to go down in Crime Alley, making his appointment with Dr. Thompkins all the more urgent. Thompkins is the heart and soul of Crime Alley and one of the few residents that has stayed with the area since the glory days of Park Row. When she goes out looking for Batman, she discovers Nitro and Crocker (Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor) planting explosives and is captured, leaving behind a clue in the form of a blast cap found by a wandering bum.
As Batman looks for Thompkins and tries to stop Daggett’s plan, he is constantly sidetracked by situations that demand his attention. The first is an angry, rifle-wielding Crime Alley resident holding a Daggett Development clerk hostage atop a billboard, which Batman takes care of easily. Some intense Batman voice and the shooter’s bad aim end up doing the job, and Batman races off to Thompkins’ apartment, where we learn just who this old broad is in relation to Batman. Looking through a photo album, Bruce comes across the newspaper articles written after his parents’ deaths and the picture of Leslie consoling him in her arms. Crime Alley has taken everything Bruce ever loved, and he will not let it take Leslie, too. The bum from earlier is outside Thompkins’ apartment and mentions she has been kidnapped, and as Batman rushes to save her, he comes across his second unplanned hurdle: a runaway train.
Always with the runaway trains on this show, but at least this episode does something cooler than a quick head-on collision, with director Boyd Kirkland creating a dynamic Batmobile sequence that shows off the car’s various features while simultaneously destroying it. The Batmobile’s shields and reverse thrusters are used to slow the train down while the treads of the tires fly off and the car just drags across the ground, everything culminating in a perfectly anti-climactic love tap. Another disaster averted, Batman can finally save Thompkins, and he traces down Nitro and Crocker for their much-delayed beatdown. Leslie warns Batman that Daggett is going to blow up the SRO Hotel filled with people, and as Daggett delivers the final portion of his speech to the Council, Batman embarks on the last leg of his marathon to save Crime Alley. Asner is superb as Daggett, maintaining his stern businessman composure as he warns against allowing the underclass to stop the spread of consumerism. If each of Batman’s villains represent larger ideas, Daggett is corporations as a whole. Even though Batman saves the people of the Hotel, the bombs still go off, and like corporate overlords have a habit of doing, Daggett goes free.
The episode ends with Batman and Leslie finally having their appointment, going to the spot where the Waynes were murdered. In O’Neill’s story, there’s an incredible moment when a thug pulls a gun out on Batman, and Batman goes ballistic as he remembers what a gun did in the same spot years ago. It’s unfortunate that there was no way to incorporate this into the episode (maybe the billboard scene?), as the violence is what makes Crime Alley so important to Batman. This doesn’t diminish the power of this last moment, though, as Batman leaves two roses on the ground and Leslie kneels down to hold him, just like she did all those years ago. “Good people still live in Crime Alley,” Batman says. They live because of him.
- Batman Beatdown: Batman throws Nitro into a truck full of explosives, slams the door shut and breaks off the handle. Boom!
- The mayor takes the subway?
- Fugate’s schedule: 3 p.m.: coffee break, 3:02 p.m.: brush teeth.
- “Put that in a thermos, Miss Perkins.” Shock!
- “The meals they serve at these fundraisers. Ghastly.” Awesome Alfred quotes this week.
- “I’m sure Mayor Hill will put out a good spread. He knows that you don’t kick off a reelection campaign by poisoning his supporters.” Now we know why Bruce supports a jerk like Mayor Hill: the fund raiser food.
- Mayor “Over The” Hill. Good one.
- “I’m a civic-minded citizen with a lot of time on his hands.”
- “This is one of the finest back alleys in all of Gotham.”
- I don’t think I’ve commented on the streets being Batman creators. In these two episodes: Alex Toth, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Jack Schiff, John Broome, Norm Breyfogle. Surprised Denny O’Neill and Dick Giordano don’t get name-checked in “Crime Alley,” considering the circumstances.
- “Of course, if you want to get blown to bits, that’s fine with me.”
- “Let the first train arrive!” Silence.
- “I’m here to clean your clock, Fugate.”
- So many exposed machine cogs in the clock tower. It’s like a Gotham warehouse developer’s wet dream.
- “He did worse! He made me late!”
- “You of all people should know there’s always a way out!”
- Batman only appears during the day in “The Clock King.” First time ever!
- While Bruce is working out, we learn his terrifying physical deformity: no nipples.
- “Bad things happen to people in crime alley.” “I know.”
- “Tell me if the rope’s too tight.”
- “Who do you think you are? Oh.”
- I’m not a car person, but I love the sound of the sound of the Batmobile’s engine. That’s the sound of power.
- “Perfect! Just perfect!”
- Always great when the eyes on Batman’s mask get super expressive.
- Batman doesn’t do autograph’s when he’s on the clock.
- “Nobody values human life like you do, Daggett.”