Apr 29, 2018
The New Batman Adventures “The Demon Within” (part 1 of 3)
SUMMARY: Batman and Robin join forces with Etrigan the Demon, the single most obscure character in DC Comics history (not counting that guy who could see with his fingertips). Together, they defeat a sinister witch boy who uses his astounding mastery of magic and sorcery to help himself to lots of free ice cream and cake.
It’s time once again for another thrilling episode of The New Batman Adventures! I won’t go into all the background info on The New Batman Adventures, because Ed already covered all that in his previous recap. Which is a good thing, because prior to about two weeks ago, I had never actually seen an episode of this show, so I don’t know the first thing about it. And judging by the six episodes on the disc that contains the current episode, I haven’t been missing out on much.
Whereas the Saturday morning cartoons of the ‘70s were mind-bendingly stupid, and the Saturday morning cartoons of the ‘80s were mind-bendingly stupid with a message, the cartoons of the ‘90s took great pains to not insult the intelligence of their target audience. As such, they pretty much destroyed all the fun to be had in mocking Saturday morning cartoons.
Once you take away the insanely convoluted plots, the horrid continuity errors, and the misdirected moralizing, these shows are pretty bland. After watching six episodes of The New Batman Adventures, I can tell you with great certainty that it’s smarter than The SuperFriends, but not quite smart enough to hold the interest of anyone over the age of ten. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Alas, there’s no denying that regular visitors to this site want to read about two things: 1) ‘90s cartoons, and 2) Batman. Put the two together, and you’ve hit recapping paydirt. So join me now as I take an in-depth look at an episode I more or less picked at random, “The Demon Within”, which originally aired May 9, 1998.
The episode starts with the credits, which are not so much “credits” (they don’t even include the title of the show) as a one-minute dialogue-free mini-episode where Batman takes out a few common criminals, while we hear a score very much like the score from the Burton/Schumacher Batman films. It’s my understanding that this is actually the credit sequence for the earlier Batman animated series, but they slapped it onto the DVD release of The New Batman Adventures to make it look like this is “season four” of that show.
The big tipoff is that Batman in the opening credits has a yellow circle behind the bat logo on his chest, whereas Batman in the actual episode does not. I don’t know why they ditched the yellow circle, but I do pity DC Comics. All that money spent promoting the New Look back in 1964, all down the drain.
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The episode starts off at a Gotham City auction house. Bruce Wayne is here with Tim Drake, who’s this show’s Robin, as well as Bruce’s adopted son. Didn’t Bruce also adopt Dick Grayson, as well as Jason Todd? You have to wonder why child services isn’t at least a little suspicious as to why this one guy keeps adopting young white boys.
They’re both in three-piece suits, checking out some of the exhibits. Tim says he’s seen all the “old junk” and now he wants to “go play some videos”. By which he means video games. Do the kids call video games “videos” these days? And by “these days”, I mean, 1998? Also, do they actually have arcades inside auction houses?
Bruce grimaces. He says he brought Tim here for the express purpose of keeping him away from video games for one night. And here, I can’t help but note that the character design for Bruce/Batman on this show is just plain ludicrous. I swear, his face is like 60% chin.
Tim notices another boy looking at the exhibits, and assumes he’s another poor kid who got dragged here by his parents. He strikes up a conversation with the kid, who’s carrying a striped cat in his arms Blofeld-style, and also, the kid’s hair is shaped in such a way to look like two horns growing out of his head.
The boy says in the most condescending tones possible that he’s here alone. And then his cat actually hisses and swipes at Tim with its claws. Hmm. Devil horns, nasty cat, major attitude… I wonder if this kid will turn out to be evil in some way.
Cut to the main auction hall. The auctioneer says they’ll be auctioning off items from “the so-called Dark Ages”. He holds up what looks like either a barbecue fork or a potato masher, and says this was allegedly the “personal branding iron” of the Arthurian witch Morgan Le Fey. And indeed, the branding iron has a stylized “M” on the end.
The auctioneer says that legend holds this thing has “magical power”, but the auction house “makes no such guarantee!” The whole crowd has a good laugh over this. Oh, yeah? We’ll see who’s laughing by the end of this episode. Assholes.
The auctioneer opens the bidding at $10,000. The boy with the horned hair immediately yells out a bid of $100,000. The crowd gasps, and Tim tells Bruce that “you gotta raise my allowance!” This is an effective bidding strategy, by the way. When I go on eBay, I always bid $100,000 on everything, no matter what it is. I can guarantee you that I have never been sniped.
The auctioneer recognizes the kid, addressing him as “Master Klarion”. And then some guy in a tweed jacket and turtleneck speaks up. He bids $110,000, and the auctioneer also recognizes him as “Mister… Blood, is it?” Ah, yes, of course, Mr. Blood! How is Mrs. Blood these days? And little Baby Blood?
Klarion responds with a bid of $120,000, and then Blood raises that to $130,000. There’s some back and forth, until finally Klarion bids $250,000. This is apparently too rich for Blood’s blood, because all he does is steeple his hands in a way that says I’m so gonna beat the snot out of that little punk after the auction.
So it’s $250,000, going once… going twice… Suddenly, Bruce raises a hand and bellows, “One million!” The crowd is stunned. Klarion and Blood are stunned. And then Bruce gives a knowing nod in Mr. Blood’s direction, and Blood nods back. So apparently there’s some history between them, even though this is Blood’s first appearance on any of the DC animated shows.
Tim responds to Bruce’s bid with, “There goes my raise!” I think he’s still talking about his allowance, though one can be excused for getting confused and thinking that Bruce is actually paying Tim to be Robin. But superheroes can’t be paid. That would be completely immoral! Next thing you know, Tim will be sitting on a big pile of money and ignoring people calling out for help.
After the auction, Tim accompanies Bruce as he picks up his $1,000,000 barbecue fork.
Klarion stops by to admire the potato masher and vaguely threaten Bruce with, “Enjoy it while you can!” Klarion, I can assure you that Bruce Wayne is going to enjoy the hell out of this thing.
Just then, Mr. Blood shows up to tell Klarion to get lost. Klarion calls him “Uncle Jason” and throws out more lame, smartass quips as he walks away.
Bruce wonders how Jason could have such a weenie for a nephew, but Jason Blood makes it absolutely clear they’re not related. It just “amuses” Klarion to call him uncle. Given his generally shitty sense of humor, I have no difficulty believing that.
Bruce wonders where Klarion’s parents are. Jason explains that “the little witch boy turned them into mice!” Bruce says he can’t possibly be serious. Yeah, you’d think so, right, Bruce? I mean, what would be the point of introducing silly things like magic and witches into a Batman story? Because it’s already taking a lot of my willful suspension of disbelief just to accept the idea of a mentally unbalanced billionaire dressing up like a bat and fighting violent criminals without bothering to carry a gun.
We don’t hear Jason’s response. Instead, we cut to Klarion about to leave the auction house. Just before he heads out, he turns and his kitty hisses at Bruce and the gang. That was… informative.
Next, Bruce and Tim are hanging out at Jason Blood’s bachelor pad. Jason examines the potato masher, then stupidly sets it down on a desk near an open window. Jason promises to pay Bruce back, somehow, but Bruce says he should just think of it as a “professional courtesy”. In other words, Bruce Wayne has fuck you money.
Then Tim is poking around in Blood’s apartment, where he sees all kinds of quasi-mystical statues. For no reason, he asks about one statue in particular, which Blood explains is a bust of “Merlin’s demon, Etrigan”. He says that according to legend, Merlin “summoned it to defend the realm of Camelot”. And then later, for reasons not explained, Merlin “merged the creature with one of King Arthur’s noblemen!”
Tim notices the other side of the bust also has a face. He turns it around and says it looks just like Jason. Jason sarcastically replies, “You think?” What we’re supposed to be taking away from this is that Jason Blood was actually one of King Arthur’s noblemen, and he was the one who was merged with the demon Etrigan, and that’s why he’s still around 1,500 years later. Except, you have to be paying really close attention to get all that, particularly because while this conversation is going on, Klarion’s cat is sneaking in through the window to steal the potato masher.
I for one definitely didn’t follow the whole Etrigan thing the first time I watched this, and to be honest, without looking up Etrigan’s Wikipedia entry, I doubt I would have gotten it the second time around, either. There are obscure comic book characters, and then there’s Etrigan the Demon, who makes the Human Target look like one of the most popular and beloved characters in modern comics history.
Etrigan first appeared in 1972, in his own title The Demon, which was scripted and drawn by Jack Kirby. Evidently, this is what Kirby did for DC after they told him to stop writing stories featuring Don Rickles. In the comic, Etrigan is actually from Hell, but I assume WB Kids was all too happy to gloss over that aspect of the character’s origin. And “Klarion the Witch Boy” also comes from the comic, complete with horn-shaped hair and evil kitty. Man, this shit is way too obscure for me.
Back in the episode, Klarion’s cat has snuck in through the window to steal the barbecue fork. Bruce sees this and leaps into action, grabbing the fork back. So the cat suddenly turns black all over, and morphs and grows and changes, and soon the cat transforms into a woman in a cat costume. Or possibly this is some sort of cat/human hybrid. I’m sure the furries are loving this, but I really have no idea what’s going on here. You see, when I put in the DVD, I was under the mistaken impression that this was some type of Batman story.
Bruce fights the cat-woman and loses. So Tim jumps in, and is completely useless. Jason Blood watches all this happen, so are we to assume that Jason knows that Bruce is Batman and Tim is Robin? It certainly seems that way, but at least one line establishing that would have been nice.
After seeing Bruce and Tim go down in defeat, Jason says, “Gone! Gone the form of man! Rise the demon Etrigan!” And with that, he also turns black and starts morphing, and in a moment or two he’s Etrigan, a giant demon with big red eyes, fish lips, and spiky ears. And he also appears to be wearing a red wrestling outfit with a ragged gray cape.
On a side note, both Jason Blood and Etrigan the Demon are voiced by Billy Zane, who was sort of a “name” at the time thanks to Titanic. In recent years, he’s been sighted in Uwe Boll films, so I wonder how that all worked out for Billy.
Etrigan battles the cat-woman, and they crash into all the random beakers and flasks that Jason has lying around his apartment. Eventually, the cat-woman starts a fire that surrounds Bruce and Tim.
Etrigan points at the flames and says, “There be your reckoning!” Um. Come again? I guess this is the new hip lingo down in Hell. The point is, Etrigan has to let the cat-woman escape to save Bruce and Tim. It’s yet another one of those standard-issue “you can stop the villain, or you can save your friend/love interest, but not both” dilemma that I really wish the writers of superhero stories would just get over already.
Also, are they seriously implying that Bruce and Tim can’t escape from a simple apartment fire without Etrigan’s help? Really? Batman and Robin have never been trapped in a fire before. Is that what they’re telling me?
Regardless, Etrigan goes to rescue them and lets the cat-woman go. A moment later, he emerges from the flames carrying Bruce and Tim, and then Bruce yells at Tim to go get a fire extinguisher, indicating that this is perhaps not quite the raging inferno we’ve been led to believe.
But the damage is done. Etrigan says, “She’s gone. As is the brand.” Yeah, no kidding. This episode has already inflicted some serious damage on the Batman brand, and I doubt it’ll ever… oh. He means the branding iron. Never mind.