The funny thing about reviewing episodes of a TV show you watched as a kid, especially one that was as big a part of your childhood as Batman: The Animated Series was to mine, is that sometimes the memory can cheat a bit, either through nostalgia or just confusing one episode for another. Up to this point, all of the episodes I’ve talked about have been either as good or better than I remember, but today, it was bound to happen, I get to talk about an episode I have very fond memories of, but upon viewing again, have lost a fair amount of that affection. It’s not a bad episode by any means, it’s just a fair-to-middling episode. I guess even this show had a couple of those. The one in question today is “Blind as a Bat.”
The story for this episode was written by Michael Underwood and Len Wein with the teleplay by Wein, and the direction was handled by Dan Riba. These aren’t slouches in the area of writing for this series, and I’ve certainly talked about their work before in this column. The animation for this episode is actually some of the most vibrant and colorful of any I’ve watched thus far and nothing bad can be said about the characterization of the Penguin, who has one of his more snarling and villainous turns in the series (of the seven episodes in which he appeared), but the real problem here is the lack of tension. It’s an interesting conceit to try to remove one of your hero’s senses, and to make him have to overcome that, but it gets a bit caught up on technology and convenience.
We begin with Bruce Wayne present at the unveiling of a WayneTech helicopter full of heavy artillery and armored to the hilt. Actually, one wonders how the thing could get off the ground, but no matter. Just as the copter’s designer, Dr. Lee, announces it to the Gotham Police, though, the helicopter begins firing on the people watching and causing people to dive for cover. The Penguin, you see, has arranged a hijacking of the helicopter and gleefully fires at the police in attendance. Bruce Wayne pushes Dr. Lee to safety behind a car, but in the process gets right in the blast radius of the back of the car exploding. After the Penguin flies off, Alfred pulls Bruce into the car and wants to take him to the hospital, but Bruce says he wants to be taken home and to call Dr. Leslie Thompkins only. He doesn’t want anyone to know he can’t see.
Dr. Thompkins examines him and finds that he is only temporarily blinded, and that his eyesight will likely return in 2-3 days IF he keeps his eyes completely covered. He, of course, wants to keep being Batman, but of course he can’t. During the night with him out of commission, the Penguin wreaks all the havoc and Batman knows he needs to be back out there. He recruits Dr. Thompkins to build him a contraption to allow him to “see” using infrared, but to keep his eyes technically in the dark. She cautions, however, that he has to keep recharging it or it’ll go dead. This is of the utmost importance.
That night, Batman goes out to stop Penguin and does okay for a bit, but after defeating the fowl fiend’s goons, the power cord to his visor is cut and he’s left blind and at the mercy of the Penguin, who kicks oil drums and fires umbrella shards at the Caped Crusader. However, he is able to overcome his disability using his wits and his hearing and eventually rises victorious.
Okay. Was any of that a surprise? No. He’s Batman. Bats are routinely called “blind” because they use sonar to hunt instead of sight. The term “Blind as a Bat” is a popular simile. What if Batman was blind? It’s not the worst idea for a story, but it’s just full of conveniences. The injury just HAPPENS to blind him for a period of three days. He just HAPPENS to have to go out and do a job despite his blindness. Dr. Thompkins just HAPPENS to be able to wire a special headpiece (which also just HAPPENS to fit snugly under Batman’s cowl). Then, it just HAPPENS to not work leading to Batman to have to have to fly blind anyway. It’s just so easy. I had remembered it being a lot more exciting with Batman having to work blind for more of the story, however it’s really only about 2 minutes at the end where his visor doesn’t work. Batman’s been in worse scrapes than that, really.
Again, this isn’t a bad episode, it just isn’t on the same level as the others in this column, or indeed as good as my memory told me it was. The Penguin’s good and it’s always nice to see Dr. Leslie Thompkins, but other than that this is a pretty mid-level episode. Oh well, they can’t all be Emmy Winners.
Next week, however, we’re going to talk about a really excellent two-parter that officially introduces perhaps Batman’s most formidable opponent: Ra’s al Ghul. It’s “The Demon’s Quest” next time.