Batman: The Animated Series: “The Worry Men”
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Batman: The Animated Series: “The Worry Men”

“The Worry Men” (season one, episode 65; originally aired Sept. 16, 1993)

These seasons sure are long, aren’t they? 65 episodes later, we’ve reached the season one finale of Batman: The Animated Series, and “The Worry Men” is a by-the-numbers Mad Hatter episode by two major forces of the first season: writer Paul Dini and director Frank Paur. The plot has a distinct Fleischer “Superman” influence, with a globetrotting plot and borderline offensive Mayan-influenced villain, but there isn’t much of an emotional hook to the story and the animation is uncharacteristically inconsistent for the team of Dong Yang and Spectrum. Considering the strength of Mad Hatter’s previous episodes, it’s a bit of a let down, but it has its clever moments and Roddy McDowall is always fantastic as Jervis Tetch.

When ditzy socialite Veronica Vreeland (last seen breaking Penguin’s heart in bizarro Dangerous Liaisons, a.k.a. “Birds Of A Feather”) returns from a highly publicized trip to South America, she throws a party to celebrate her own homecoming. Oh Ronny, you conceited little bitch. She hands out “worry men” as party favors, small figurines people can to talk to about their problems to get rid of unwanted stress. Bruce is hanging out with his best-friend-for-just-this-episode Hayden Sloan (Kunta Kinte himself, Levar Burton) when he notices a costumed man through the skylight, sneaking away from the party to slip into his Batman gear for a rooftop fight.

Frank Paur’s action sequences tend to revolve around big props causing damage (see: “Prophecy Of Doom,” aforementioned “Birds Of A Feather”) and the Mayan man cuts the cord of a giant tribal mask hanging above Veronica’s gala. Before Gotham’s elite are crushed, Batman shoots his grappling cord through the mask’s eyeholes, the hook looping around to secure the mask while Batman ties it to a pole on the roof. The scene defies the laws of physics, but this episode plays it fast and loose with concepts like realism and subtlety, so it works.

The next day, a chipper Bruce Wayne is greeted by his secretary-for-just-this-episode Dana, who is a bit confused about her employer’s recent demand: have a suitcase full of $20 million ready for him when he gets to the office. When Dana inquires about Bruce’s strange behavior, he has no recollection of asking for the money. During their conversation, Mr. Mayan appears to grab the briefcase off Bruce’s window ledge, soaring off before Bruce can get his money back. It’s only one in a series of robberies that Gotham’s wealthy are unwilling accomplices to, including Bruce’s friend Hayden Sloan.

After paying a visit to Veronica, who is in the process of brainlessly discarding a chest full of jewelry and other loot, Batman discovers that the worry men figurines are the cause of the recent crime spree, outfitted with microchips that leave the brain susceptible to hypnosis. Microchips were powerful plot devices in the early ’90s, a deus ex machina that made everything possible in a microscopic array of circuitry. No one’s better as using microchips for mental manipulation than Mad Hatter, and Batman deduces that Hatter is hiding at the Great Eastern Costume Company based on the fabric of the Mayan’s cape. Batman’s knowledge of the abandoned warehouses of Gotham City is so extensive it’s nearly superhuman.

Surely enough, Mad Hatter is at the factory, lamenting the failed robbery of Veronica’s jewels. When Batman appears, he’s attacked by mannequins and marionettes modeled after his rogues gallery. It’s a fun sequence with the best animation of the episode, featuring dynamic choreography from Paur and smooth animation from Dong Yang/Spectrum. Batman is defeated and Mad Hatter starts the monologuing, explaining that he wanted to retire from crime, but needed the funds to do so comfortably. When he heard about Veronica’s South America trip, Hatter traveled down and took up residence with a local craftsman that was brainwashed into helping him make the mind-control dolls. He convinced Veronica to hand them out to all her rich friends when she got back to Gotham, then collected the spoils with his gang of South American thugs forced to dress up in ancient Mayan garb.

It’s a convoluted plan that stretches credibility (How does Tetch get to South America with no money?), but McDowall gives such a great performance as Mad Hatter that he’s able to make the plot seem credible in his character’s head. This episode has a lot of similarities with “Birds Of A Feather,” as Hatter shares Penguin’s delusional sense of entitlement upon being released from imprisonment. After spending time behind bars, both villains create a fantasy that the world will reward them for choosing to leave their criminal ways, and are forced back into immorality when reality doesn’t meet their expectations. Jervis Tetch wants to live in a wonderland free of responsibility, and his immature desire prevents him from becoming a functioning member of society and lands him behind bars again and again.

Stray observations:

  • Batman Beatdown: After being ambushed by funhouse versions of his rogues and almost guillotined, Batman sends a cape and cowl flying after a panicked Mad Hatter, then swoops in to kick Hatter in the chest while he’s distracted. Crashing into the hat rack of the costume shop, Hatter lands on the irony bull’s-eye. Fifty points for Batman.
  • “The bugs were the size of my trust fund.”
  • “This isn't one of those Riddler questions, is it?”
  • Batman stops a guillotine with his feet. That is amazing. 
  • “Oh, but islands—even little ones—cost money. [Mad Hatter weeps.] Lots of money.”
  • Batman: The Animated Series TV Club will be going on hiatus for a few months, but fans of the DCAU fear not. I will be returning Oct. 17 to begin coverage of what I believe to be the other essential DCAU series: Justice League. With the hubbub over the current DC relaunch, I’ll be looking at how Justice League mined comics history for inspiration while standing as its own distinct interpretation of the flagship team. It will also be your place to get a monthly rundown of what’s going on in the new DC comics universe. In the meantime, check out weekly Crosstalks with Keith Phipps and myself for reviews of the entire DC relaunch, and stay tuned for even more exciting Batman comic book content.    

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