This week’s Batman: The Animated Series episode of note is one by popular request: the fourteenth broadcast, twenty-fifth produced episode, written by David Wise and directed by Kevin Altieri, “The Clock King.” Another villain origin, this episode is a lot more whimsical, and a lot less dour, than most of the ones we’ve been looking at up to now, and that’s because The Clock King himself is a silly villain, if you think about it. He’s a guy obsessed by time. Neato. However, as with all of the show’s best outings, they are able to take the character and give him a good motivation and a great hook but, unlike Clayface or Mr. Freeze, who became tragic figures, keep him quirky and weird.
We begin with a man waiting for a subway train. Gotham looks particularly ratty and rundown at this point. The doors open and the impatient man walks on, dressed in a brown suit with a bowler hat and perfectly round glasses. He marches over to a seat and sits across from a man reading a paper. That man turns out to be Hamilton Hill (who we know as the mayor of Gotham City). Our fellow says good morning but Hill doesn’t seem to remember him, even though, apparently, they’ve ridden the train together every day for over a year. (1 year, 7 months, 13 days to be exact.) The man’s name is Temple Fugate, an efficiency expert who has every moment of his life strictly planned out and who is worried because his company is facing a hefty lawsuit. Hill suggests, before he go to court, Fugate relax and take his coffee break a little later than normal.
Fugate, much to his own surprise, takes Hill’s suggestion, gets his coffee in a thermos, and heads to the park to prepare for his day in court. No sooner has he sat down and exhaled does he get hit with a soccer ball by some kids, making his legal documents fly onto the ground, a gust of wind toss said papers through the air, and finally a friendly dog scares Fugate, sending him and his freshly-retrieved papers into the fountain. We then cut to the courtroom where the arbitrator says since Fugate couldn’t even be bothered to show up to the hearing prepared or on time (he’s covered in water and looking a mess) that his company is found liable, forcing the payment of $20 million, effectively ruining his company.
This is such a terrific opening few minutes. You get a sense of who Fugate is right away, how buttoned-up and anal retentive he is and how the sick, sweet irony of him being late and unprepared causes him to really and truly lose his mind. It’s tragic, but it’s also very funny because it’s not as though the man is particularly nice to begin with, since he very nearly fires his employee for taking a minute too long to make photocopies. The nightmarish way the courtroom scene is “shot” lets us know, this guy’s not going to handle the court’s ruling all that well.
We then cut to seven years later. Hamilton Hill is the mayor and running for re-election, but someone isn’t making it easy on him. Unflattering graffiti is splattered on the walls and the traffic lights are malfunctioning, causing a huge pile-up downtown, which includes Bruce Wayne’s car. He quickly sees someone atop a building and runs up, putting on his Batman suit at some point in the process. He sees Temple Fugate, dressed almost exactly identically except his glasses now have clock hands on them, and he has a cane which looks like a minute hand. He’s slightly obsessed, you might say.
He now knows everything about the train system, down to the exact second. He’s been studying these past seven years, ready for his revenge on Hill as he unveils his new, more efficient subway system. Fugate, who now calls himself “The Clock King,” makes the train that’s due at the press conference late, and then makes two trains collide so he can kidnap the Mayor and take him to Gotham’s giant clock. Batman decides letting the mayor die is probably not a good thing and tries to save him. But how do you fight someone who can accurately predict your every move to the 20th of a second? It’s a bit tricky, but the world’s greatest detective might find a way.
This episode is really just a lot of fun. Alan Rachins voices the Clock King and does an amazing job, making him shrill and tightly wound (like a clock). The episode plays with the Clock King’s persona a bit from the comics. His name in the books is, of course, William Tockman but here it’s changed to Temple Fugate, an obvious allusion to the Latin term Tempus Fugit, which means “time flies.” Though the character was created by Bill Finger, his most prevalent version was as a villain of Green Arrow (hence his appearance this season on Arrow), but he was on the 1960s Batman show as well, in a silly cape-wearing guise.
While he’s still a bit silly in this version, he’s actually pretty formidable and causes Batman, who one would think (and he does too) could easily handle a beanpole with no discernible muscle tone, some trouble. He dodges and moves out of the way of every one of Batman’s punches and is only defeated when Batman uses his own dodging and retaliating against him, causing Fugate’s cane to get stuck in the giant clock gears, making it explode. Clock King got too cocky, which all too often is the downfall of these villains. Always underestimating Batman, and overestimating their own brilliance against him.
Thanks for the suggestion! That’s a fun one. Next time, we’re going to meet a villain who was only used sparingly in the Animated Series because it turns out, writing really intricate puzzles is hard work. That villain is Edward Nygma, a/k/a The Riddler, and the episode is “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”