“Torch Song” (season 3, episode 10; originally aired January 13, 1998)
Every season of Batman: The Animated Series has a few clunkers, and “Torch Song” is one of the low-points of The New Batman Adventures with an implausible plot and uninteresting villain. Yes, most superhero tales have an unbelievable story (last week’s episode did spotlight a baby-woman and a crocodile-man), but we’re supposed to believe that a pyrotechnic genius would relegate himself to working on the tour of a self-absorbed pop starlet, then gain access to all sorts of industrial facilities when he turns into a supervillain with a fire gimmick. It’s a by-the-numbers episode that goes for all the easy tricks to create suspense—cutting Batman’s grappling wire, dropping a fire escape on Batgirl—and it ultimately just feels slight and unnecessary.
“Torch Song” was aired just before the bubblegum pop boom of the late ’90s, and while it’s easy to see pop singer Cassidy as a stand-in for Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, her music and style put her more in line with ’80s starlets like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. The bit of music we do hear sounds like bargain basement Pat Benatar, but the lyric “play with me and you’re playing with fire” is apt, because Cassidy is nearly as much trouble as her stalker. She’s an emotionally manipulative flirt, and while that doesn’t mean she deserves to be nearly set on fire, she could use a lesson in learning how to treat other people. When Batman offers her his help, the first thing she does is try to seduce him, and when he does his signature disappearing act, she calls him a creep.
Cassidy went on a couple dates with her tech guy Garfield Lynns, and when she shoots him down, the man goes ballistic, igniting the stage at her concert and eventually donning a Rocketeer-meets-Blue-Beetle costume to ruin her life as Firefly. Firefly is a striking visual, but the character has no personality. When he crashes a Rock City event Cassidy is appearing at, he flies in yelling, “Feel the burn!” That’s basically the most cliché thing he could have said. Firefly is just a boring character, given an incredible amount of resources considering his profession, and gifted with an intellect that allows him to create a gel that can burn through anything. Big surprise, he’s going to use it to burn Gotham City.
One thing this episode does well is flesh out Bruce and Barbara’s relationship. It’s fun to see them run into each other at Cassidy’s show when Bruce is dragged there by his latest fling, and because he’s occupied when Cassidy’s pyrotechnics go out of control, Batgirl swings in to save the day. Unfortunately, Barbara also makes this episode’s big mistake, pulling the lever that sets of a string of explosives in Lynns’ apartment and getting knocked out by a falling fire escape. Barbara’s injury gives Bruce added motivation to go after Firefly, but Alfred warns him that he should probably have some more protection if he doesn’t want to get burned, which means he dons a new fireproof costume when he confronts Lynns at the Mephisto factory.
The fight between Fireproof Batman and Firefly basically feels like an advertisement for an action figure two-pack, and it’s as bland as the rest of the episode. Koko and Dong Yang provide serviceable animation, but the character models are inconsistent and Curt Geda’s direction isn’t very dynamic. Batman saves the city by knocking Firefly into a pipe full of his gel and setting the entire factory on fire, and it’s an effective, if highly destructive way of taking care of the menace. The best part of this episode is easily the ending, which shows Cassidy at dinner with her agent, where a cook is preparing a dish tableside over an open flame. The camera zooms in on her eyes as she stares at the fire in horror, and while Garfield Lynns may not have gotten the woman he wanted, he’s made a permanent impact on Cassidy’s life.
- Batman Beatdown: After being shot multiple times in the chest by Firefly’s flame gun, Batman shoots a fire extinguisher round from what appears to be Mr. Freeze’s gun and emerges from the fog to deliver a string of punches that knock the villain into a pipe full of explosive gel.
- One of the dancers at Rock City looks exactly like Mary Jane Watson.
- Detective Bullock: “I’m gonna check the fridge.” Officer: “Yeah, there’s a lot of evidence in there, detective.” Bullock: “Shut up.”
- Batman: “What are you doing tonight?” Barbara: “Same thing we do every night, Pinky.” Batman: “What?” Barbara: “Never mind.”