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BATMAN Reanimated – ‘Mean Seasons’ is Social Commentary with Dinosaurs

BATMAN Reanimated – ‘Mean Seasons’ is Social Commentary with Dinosaurs

Both Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures set themselves up to be able to tell whatever kind of story they wanted, as long as it fell within the parameters of a criminal, monster, or other such threat to Gotham City being investigated and ultimately foiled by Batman and friends. Rise, repeat. Within that framework, the episodes could be funny, scary, intense, emotional, and in the case of “Mean Seasons,” they could even hide a message about how age is perceived in the world, and specifically in the entertainment industry. I was 13 when this one aired, so I feel like a lot of it went over my head when I first saw it.

At the heart of the episode–written by Hilary J. Bader from a story by Rich Fogel and directed by Hiroyuki Aoyama–is the way youth and beauty are exploited, especially in women. Changing a relatively dopey lesser villain, Calendar Man, into a vengeful and embittered person wronged by the industry was a genius touch. The Timmverse shows did a great job of making all the villains seem grounded and realistic. In particular, joke baddies like Mr. Freeze and the Clock King got whole new leases on life thanks to these animated series. While Calendar Girl (annoyingly regressive, but it’s coined by blowhard Detective Harvey Bullock) never made a return, she certainly packs a wallop here.

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A woman in a skintight catsuit and a blank white mask is attacking fashion shows, automotive shows, and other such events where spokesmodels are present, and is kidnapping the heads of the events, leaving behind calendar pages with a specific date circled on each one. Batgirl figures out the dates and companies share one thing in common: a former top model named Page Monroe, once the most beautiful woman in the field, who was forced to retire when she got “too old,” even though, as Batgirl is quick to remind, she was the same age as Bruce. It seems Monroe, who was forced to have countless surgeries to keep her youthful good looks, and ultimately couldn’t, resents the industry for pushing her that far and wants to make her former employers pay.

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The themes of aging not being a bad thing, and youth being overvalued, are constant in the episode. And this was very deliberate; actress Sela Ward voiced Calendar Girl and, at the time, she was conducting a protest campaign against Hollywood’s ageism and its harmful effects on public perception. Monroe is even said to have been marginalized simply because she turned 30, and Ward taking this role seems directly in line with her cause. The ending even reveals the shocking truth of so many in show business; when Calendar Girl is arrested, Bullock removes the mask. She shrieks in panic and fear that people are seeing her hideous face. Except she’s not hideous at all; she’s still beautiful. But, as Batman explains to a stunned Batgirl, it no longer matters to the poor woman. All she can see now are the flaws.

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The subplot in the episode involves a Wayne Enterprises employee having a forced-retirement party because the guy turned 65. Bruce is initially stunned that the man is of retirement age. “He always seemed so much younger.” And on top of that, the man doesn’t want to retire, but it’s the company policy. Bruce, of course, lifts that policy by the end and lets the man work until he wants to stop. It’s yet another way for the writers to really hammer home the story’s main themes. Even though this episode’s villain is angry and deranged because of being prematurely labelled “elderly,” the episode makes it clear that it is her criminal activity that’s bad, but how she was treated was possibly worse.

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“Mean Seasons” also has the added benefit of being directed by a longtime anime animator. Hiroyuki Aoyama was a key animator on everything from Akira to The Wind Rises, as well as the animation director on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. The dude’s resume is stacked. This is the only episode of a Batman cartoon he directed, but he directed some episodes of Superman and was the key animator on the gorgeous “Feat of Clay” episode of Batman: The Animated Series. He adds a fluidity to the action and he makes the proceedings incredibly intense, especially in a sequence where Calendar Girl uses Godzilla-sized robotic dinosaurs to attack Batman and Batgirl.

One more thing before we go, which has nothing really to do with the episode. I had this dumb Neil Sedaka song in my head the whole time I was watching because the villain was named Calendar Girl. The song is the cheesiest thing to ever cheese, and then I found the video from 1960 and it’s even worse. What is that little dance he does?

Anyway, “Mean Seasons” is a great episode. The next episode aired is one not many people seem to enjoy. It introduces Jason Blood and Etrigan the Demon to the Timmverse, and even throws in Klarion the Witch Boy for good measure. “The Demon Within” is next week! In the meantime, tell me what you thought of “Mean Seasons” in the comments below!

Images: WB Animation

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s written the animation retrospectives Batman: Reanimated, X-Men: Reanimated, Cowboy Rebop, and Samurai reJacked. Follow him on Twitter!

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