The Timmverse version of the DC Comics universe went all over the place, touching on characters across all times and power varieties. Once Justice League Unlimited was up and running, the notion of mixing magical powered individuals with scientific ones was no big deal at all, but when it was just Batman: The Animated Series, and later The New Batman Adventures, the line of what did or did not belong was much more clearly defined. So when something overtly magical showed up — and it wasn’t Mr. Mxyzptlk or something on Superman — it jarred. That’s “The Demon Within” for sure.
Written by Stan Berkowitz from a story by Rusti Bjornhöel, and directed by “Growing Pains” director Atsuko Tanaka, this episode could very well be a backdoor pilot for a movie about Jason Blood/Etrigan the Demon. It opened the door very wide for a trip into the DC supernatural world, and using Batman as the outlet for it seems to work a bit better tonally than Superman (which was the only other show going in 1998). And to explain all this rampant magic? The episode just ends with Robin being confused about what just happened and Batman merely replies “Don’t ask.” Good explanation if you ask me.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. “The Demon Within” begins with Bruce and Tim at an auction of antiques and reliquaries. One item up for bid is a brand purported to be Morgaine le Fey’s from King Arthur’s time (of course, we don’t know that yet). A bidding war begins between historian Jason Blood (voiced by Billy Zane) and a young man named Klarion, who calls Blood his “Uncle Jason.” It looks as though Klarion is going to win, but Bruce bits $1 million and wins instead, so he can give the item to Blood.
Later, Blood explains the item’s origin to Bruce and Tim, mentioning that Merlin summoned a demon named Etrigan to be the protector of Camelot. Klarion appears with his cat Teekl and attempts to steal the brand. He is—of course—Klarion the Witch Boy, an ancient practitioner of dark magic. Teekl is his familiar and becomes humanoid and begins to fight. Blood them says an incantation and becomes Etrigan, fighting Teekl off successfully. However, Klarion ends up with the brand and uses magic to separate the Demon from Jason Blood, then brand the Demon to control it. If Batman can’t retrieve the brand in time, Jason’s true centuries-old age will end his life, and the Demon will be under Klarion’s control forever.
Both Etrigan the Demon and Klarion the Witch Boy were creations of the late Jack Kirby, and this episode seems to be a love letter to him and his creation of crazy mythologies. While Kirby is known for creating a lot of what made Marvel Comics so beloved for so long, when he jumped ship to DC for a time, he also created some truly indelible elements that became integral to DC canon, including the New Gods, the beings of Apokolips (Darkseid and all them), Mister Miracle, a rebooted version of The Sandman, and of course The Demon, following Jason Blood and his exploits, once his “Fourth World” books were cancelled.
Klarion has long been one of Etrigan’s most formidable enemies, and is, if I may, hella creepy. A petulant little boy being not only all-powerful, but never-aging. He never grows up or gets more mature. His “Uncle Jason” just has to deal with it. This episode does a great job of portraying him and Teekl, but they sort of pale in comparison to Blood and Etrigan, who are supremely awesome in this. It was very rare for a Batman animated episode at the time to welcome in another hero, but Etrigan works very well, both as an ally and as a mind-controlled threat. It makes me wish he’d have shown up again, but that wouldn’t happen until Justice League Unlimited.
“The Demon Within” is certainly a departure for the series, focusing on characters who had never (and would never) be on the show again, certainly much more of a DC Comics homage episode, much like Jonah Hex’s appearance in TAS.
Next we’re going to look at arguably the greatest episode in the whole of The New Batman Adventures, “Over the Edge,” which is one of the biggest nightmares Batman could possibly have. Fun! That’s next week.
Images: WB Animation