While most of the Batman world is heightened, and Batman: The Animated Series certainly has its fair share of nigh-impossible elements– what with people made of clay and who can turn into bats and werewolves and frozen ice people and what not– it almost never went into straight-up science fiction. But when it did, it was usually something to behold. There was an early episode called See No Evil in which a criminal puts on an invisibility suit so he can visit his daughter without his estranged wife knowing. It’s not a particularly good episode if you ask me, but that was about as sci-fi as it got for a good portion of the show. But, toward the end, when the writers got more adventurous, they weren’t afraid of cutting lose. This is exactly what happened with the temporal vortex episode, “Time Out of Joint.”
Written by Steve Perry from a story by Alan Burnett and directed by Dan Riba, “Time Out of Joint” is the second and final appearance of The Clock King in the initial animated series for FOX. In his previous appearance, just called “The Clock King,” Temple Fugate was merely a man who knew scheduling and time incredibly well, and could mathematically calculate the time it took for movement to occur, so that he could predict Batman’s movements and dodge his punches and kicks– here, he’s actually got a device that allows him to move at incredibly high speeds, making the world seem effectively frozen. And that’s not the only thing that it can do.
We begin with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson at a charity auction, and Dick is bored to tears, completely aghast at how much money people are willing to pay for old junk. Bruce, perhaps to irritate him, bids $600,000 on an old clock, saying “It is for charity.” For just a moment, Dick thinks he sees the Clock King in the reflection of a picture, but it is gone when the college student turns around. However, just as the auctioneer (drawn to look like English character actor Terry-Thomas, and played to sound like him too) swings the gavel, the clock disappears. Later, at Commissioner Gordon’s office, Batman and Robin watch a tape from the auction’s security camera and catch, for just an instant, the sight of a hand swiping the clock. If the Clock King’s back in town, then Mayor Hill is going to have to watch himself.
The Clock King, it turns out, has gotten himself a job as the butler and confidante of a reclusive scientist named Dr. Wataki, who has developed a device that can change the temporal field around a thing. Plants can grow from seeds in moments, and cancer patients can be placed in suspended animation until a cure is found; or at least that’s his dream. The butler only sees this as a means to an end, and snags a few of these little toys when the good doctor goes to bed. Dressed as Clock King again, Fugate heads to Gotham to confront the mayor.
Batman and Robin are waiting, however, along with a cadre of police officers to guard the mayor, who thinks everything will be just fine. Clock King turns on the device and is able to walk casually, arrogantly, passed everyone as though he were nothing more than a gust of wind. He eventually makes it to Mayor Hill’s office and again says he will kill him. But, Batman flips a switch, turning on intensely bright lights in the office, temporarily blinding the time fellow. However, when they go to capture him, he spins around super fast and knocks the Dynamic Duo around the office before finally escaping and getting away in a police car, not before doing something to the Batmobile.
The cops later find the car, ditched, in the river and Batman surmises that, given the Clock King’s obsession with schedules, he picked that exact spot because he knew what train would be passing he could jump on to. Only one train fits the bill, and it’s heading into the mountains. As Batman and Robin speed off in that direction, knowing that Dr. Wataki lives up there, a time device the Clock King has affixed to the undercarriage of the car goes off and the heroes are trapped in a time bubble, with the world going much faster outside of the car than they are in it. Hours are speeding by in minutes and Batman realizes that if a car were to hit them like this, because of Newton and Einstein and all them, there would be a cataclysmic explosion. Batman quickly pinpoints where the device is and fires a bat-grapple through the bottom of the car, destroying the device, sending the car careening off into a wall.
Having lost 48 hours in the trap, the duo use the Batcycles to get to Dr. Wataki’s place and find him stuck in a similar time trap. The Dr tells them something Fugate said before he trapped him — something to do with getting his day in court. Mayor Hill is unveiling the new courthouse at 10:00am and it’s only two minutes from now! Batman takes two of the time devices for he and Robin and speed off back to Gotham where the Clock King has place an explosive device under the podium to be triggered when the mayor bangs the ceremonial gavel. He stands back and waits, but the heroes show up. Unfortunately, Batman can’t get to the podium before the gavel is banged and then has to run at super sonic speeds with the bomb while putting it in its own time trap.
This is a fun episode, though not the deepest. It’s still great to see the world of the Clock King as he saunters around like he owns the place while people move impossibly slow around him; it’s sort of like a mid-’90s version of the Quicksilver scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past. My favorite of these is when he passes a woman on the stairs who is about to trip, then later on his way back down sees her mid-fall, accidentally bumps her, and they both go tumbling in real time. Very funny. Like I said, it’s a good, fun episode with some stellar animation used to depict time dilation and you can’t beat that.
Next week, we have yet another of our villains that makes the series good: the question-asker with similar sartorial sense to the Clock King. It’s “Riddler’s Reform” next time.