They tried a lot, the creators and writers of Batman: The Animated Series, to make up new bad guys for the show during its last batch of episodes. After all, they don’t want to keep just using the same gallery of admittedly excellent rogues. Sadly, though, I think think most of their efforts end up being so-so at best. They just didn’t really do it for me, especially that late in the run, but if any of them worked even a bit, I’d say it was probably “Lock-Up,” a take on the subjects of vigilantism, excessive force, inmate cruelty, and, weirdly, right wing stances on martial law. Plus there’s a big fight on an old ship, and that’s always good for visuals.
“Lock-Up” comes from a story by Paul Dini and the script was written by Marty Isenberg and Robert N. Skir, directed by Dan Riba. It’s a rarity in the series in that it deals with socially-conscious topics directly and gives them weight. Batman’s always beating up these criminals and putting them in Arkham Asylum, but is he really doing anything? If they just escape again and again, what’s the point? But, on the other hand, should something more be done while they’re incarcerated to ensure they don’t leave? It’s a slippery slope. Should one man have the power to decide all of these things? Batman walks the finest of lines between being a crime fighter who works with the police and a one-man judge and jury. When comics writers like Frank Miller had the reins, Batman was the self-appointed sheriff, but this is a show for kids, ostensibly, so he can’t be Dirty Harry with a cape. But what if someone was?
At the beginning of the episode, Batman and Robin are dragging the Scarecrow back to Arkham, kicking and screaming. More pleading, actually, and saying that he just doesn’t want to be stuck in there with “HIM.” If the master of fear is terrified, it must be pretty bad. The Dynamic Duo are met by the chief warden at Arkham, Lyle Bolton, who took over the job a few months back. Batman is concerned about the kind of care the patients are getting, so as Bruce Wayne, who recommended Bolton, the former head of Wayne Enterprises’ security, he sets up a hearing with Commissioner Gordon, Mayor Hill, and Dr. Bartholomew, Arkham’s chief psychiatrist, to interview some inmates to see what they think of Bolton.
Harley Quinn, the Ventriloquist and Scarface, and Scarecrow all get up on the stand and none of them say he’s done anything wrong…mostly because he’s sitting right there staring at them. Bruce Wayne notices this and stands up to say “based on the good work Mr. Bolton’s been doing, I recommend his term be extended by another six months.” This causes the three inmates to change their tune, pleading with everyone involved not to put them back in there with Bolton, who beats them and uses torture tactics and tells them all they’re worthless piles of crap. Bolton, an enormous man, tells them all to shut up, and flips over the table. He goes to take a swing at Scarecrow and is held back by orderlies. Naturally, they fired HIM immediately. He is asked by the press what he has to say for himself and he replies that Gotham is an open wound. He later kicks over his television when Summer Gleason reports on Poison Ivy being back and hotter than ever. He complains all the crime is the fault of ineffectual police, corrupt politicians, coddling psychiatrists, and the “liberal media.” He actually calls it that.
Six months later, Summer Gleason is attacked by a big van with mechanical arms in the back. Though Batman comes to her rescue (having just had lunch with her as Bruce Wayne), the new vigilante in town, calling himself Lock-Up, has the upper hand. He wants Batman to team up with him; the Dark Knight catches them and Lock-Up puts them away. Batman says he’d never team up with someone who’d kidnap innocent people. Lock-Up maintains Summer Gleason is anything but innocent and manages to get away with her. Later, Batman answers the Batsignal only to find Harvey Bullock’s the one who lit it, saying Commissioner Gordon’s been taken, as has Dr. Bartholomew. It’s very clear what Bolton is doing, and who he’s targeting, so Batman urges Bullock to put extra security on Mayor Hill. Mayor Hill doesn’t think he needs it, which is just famous-last-wordsy enough for him to immediately be kidnapped.
Using some detective skills, Batman and Robin figure out that prior to working for Wayne Enterprises, Bolton was the chief security person aboard the prison ship Halsey, which was used temporarily before Stonegate was built. They figure he’d know that place the best, and that would be the perfect place to hold his captives. They sneak aboard, but Bolton has cameras everywhere, and not only that, but booby traps too. Luckily, there are two good guys, and Batman and Robin split up to free the prisoners and incapacitate Bolton. During a fistfight, the throttle of the ship is hit and the giant vessel goes careening into a rock where it breaches the hull and the whole thing slowly starts to capsize. As the boat overturns, Robin frees the captives, but Lock-Up seems to have Batman right where he wants him, kicking the Dark Knight into the water. Suddenly, last moment, Batman grabs Bolton’s foot and pulls him over with him. Neither is dead, of course, and Batman knocks Bolton unconscious to be taken away to Arkham, where he is now just another one of the loonies.
The animation in this episode is really gorgeous, but it’s the themes that make it stand out more. While, as I said, it’s not the most inspired writing, the fact that they were willing to take us into these questions, and have someone think he’s doing exactly what Batman does, only to be told that, no he doesn’t, is something that was almost never really touched on, aside from Harvey Bullock thinking Gotham needs good cops and not guys in masks and capes. “Lock-Up,” and the much better “Trial,” do a great job of making Batman answerable for his law-breaking, even if it’s ultimately good and better than the other kind.
Next week, I’m very excited because it will be not only the finale of Season 3, but it’s also the second and last appearance from what is arguably the most brilliantly reimagined villain TAS ever did – Mr. Freeze. After the Emmy-winning “Heart of Ice” early in Season One, fans were eager to see him again, and in “Deep Freeze” they got their wish. Grab your parka because next week, things get a bit chilly.