When they began to wind down the production of Batman: The Animated Series, there was an effort of sorts to bring back any of the popular characters they hadn’t yet and generally change things up from a plot point of view. Because things were aired out of order from production, the eighth to the last episode shown was actually the final episode produced, which makes “Batgirl Returns” a bit of a rarity, meaning for the final TAS episode turned out, Batman himself barely features, having most of the action center on the returning heroine of Batgirl and her team-up with Gotham’s greatest antiheroine, Catwoman. An interesting farewell to say the least.
“Batgirl Returns” was written by Michael Reaves and Brynne Stephens and directed by Dan Riba and, though produced 85th out of 85 episodes, aired squarely in the middle of the third “season,” airing November 12th 1994 (again, almost 20 years to the day from right now). The team had gotten a lot of praise for its episodes featuring team-ups with likable villains such as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy (which proved so popular they got their own comic out of it), so they figured they may as well try again with two other ladies of the Batman universe. Trouble is, they didn’t have that many others to choose from. Bringing back Batgirl seemed a smart choice, and they decided to pair her and her new-to-crimefighting naivete with someone who completely understands the world and her own place in it, Batman’s former flame Selena Kyle.
We begin on a rooftop with Batman getting zapped by Penguin’s electricity umbrella. He’s about to retaliate with a Batarang when the Joker and Two-Face show up as well. Things don’t look good for the caped crusader, but luckily Batgirl shows up and makes quick work of the villains. Batman is so grateful, he goes in for a kiss. Just then, Barbara Gordon wakes up, in her dorm room surrounded by books, because Dick Grayson is yelling at her to wake up. Rude awakening. Dick wants to know if she wants to take a break from studying to grab some pizza, but Babs says she has to ace her midterm or her dad will throw her in jail. However, a newspaper headline that a jade cat statue has been stolen from a museum makes the Commissioner’s daughter think maybe it is time to have some fun.
She isn’t the only one curious. Catwoman breaks her way into the museum to investigate, but Batgirl’s already there, thinking Catwoman’s returned to the scene of the crime. Catwoman says she’d never be so sloppy. It looks like the wires to the security system were eaten through with acid, and there’s only a few people in town who’d have access to a substance so corrosive. Batgirl maintains that she still has to take Catwoman into police headquarters to prove her innocence, which the feline burglar refuses. Just then, Robin joins the party (and says “I didn’t expect a convention.” Great line) and also wants to take Catwoman in, him still believing she’s the thief. Catwoman makes a run for it and the heroes give chase, even though Batgirl believes her to be innocent now as well. Catwoman gets away, and Robin tells Batgirl not to get in his way again.
The next day, Barbara is in her college’s gym finishing up a workout (gymnastics, of course), when she spies a cat-shaped note on the bulletin board that says “To the winged mouse.” It contains an address, near the docks. Batgirl arrives that night and Catwoman appears, saying how much she admired the novice Bat person. She thinks the two of them could work together to retrieve the jade statue and give it back to the museum. Batgirl agrees, but only if Catwoman agrees that if she’s lying, she’ll turn herself in. Fair enough. Robin, meanwhile, is on a call to Bruce Wayne who’s in Paris for some big corporate meeting. That’s right, no Batman this time around. Robin catches up to Catwoman and sees her working with Batgirl. Curious.
The ladies make their way to a seedy underworld club and find a man there who Catwoman calls The Chemist. She shows him the acid residue and he looks pretty startled by it but won’t say anything. Just then, the police arrive and try to bust everyone there. Catwoman and Batgirl make a break for it on a motorcycle but the cops give chase. They eventually get away, but there’s now an APB out for both of them. Robin, who’s been listening to the police channel the whole time, is mighty concerned that Batgirl’s gotten herself mixed up in something huge.
Catwoman knows, based on the Chemist’s reaction, that there could only be one person responsible for this kind of acid. They make their way to the rundown chemical factory of Roland Daggett, the corrupt industrialist responsible for turning Matt Hagen into Clayface and for poisoning Catwoman some time ago. Catwoman is eager to settle the score, but Daggett and his goons get the drop on them. He says he needed the jade cat to recoup some of the losses he incurred the last time he and Batman tangled. He plans to shoot Batgirl and Catwoman and toss their bodies into the vat of acid, destroying the evidence, but Robin arrives in the nick of time. While he and Batgirl take on the goons, Catwoman heads after Daggett, who still clutches the jade cat. She manages to get it, and Daggett nearly falls into the vat himself but his foot catches on a chain. Batgirl says if Catwoman lets Daggett die, she’s no better than he is, to which Ms. Kyle simply purrs “Grow up.”
After pulling Daggett to safety with the help of Robin, Batgirl goes after Catwoman and, after a fashion, succeeds in recovering the cat. It was never her intention to give the statue back to the museum, and since Batgirl figured it out, Catwoman has to keep her word and turn herself in. Fair enough. Robin and Batgirl watch as Catwoman is loaded into the back of a squad car, but only a few hundred feet down the road, she tosses the two cops out the door and takes the car herself. Robin begins to chase, but Batgirl stops him, saying she’ll be back at some point.
“Batgirl Returns” is a whole lot of fun, and it is really nice to once in a while not have Batman in a story at all. Batgirl and Catwoman do make a great pairing, and while there’s much more of a big sister/little sister vibe between Harley and Ivy, here the two characters are never on equal footing. Catwoman always has the upper hand, though she is impressed with Batgirl’s abilities despite her Girl Scout sense of morality. It’s too bad the show ended because this would have been a pairing I’d like to have seen more of. As it is, this was the final appearance of Batgirl on the series until it was revamped in 1997 when she became the main sidekick. Clearly, something worked.
Next week, we’re going deep into Arkham Asylum and meet a sadistic guard who becomes a super villain himself. It’s the oft-forgotten “Lock-Up” next time.