Batman: The Animated Series was often a better show when it wasn’t taking on the topics that Christopher Nolan would later put at the center of the modern bat popular consciousness: in Batman’s first episode he is fighting Man-Bat, a giant bat monster, so there isn’t a lot of time to spend episodes on a Batman or Bruce Wayne origin story. Which isn’t to say that Batman: The Animated Series had nothing to say about Bruce Wayne and Batman, it just took precious few diversions from being the Saturday morning cartoon it was meant to be. There are a few notable exceptions where the series took time away from larger plots and villain origins to spend some time pondering The Bat. Below are the essential episodes of Batman: The Animated Series that are actually about the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne.“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”This episode was adapted from a two-part comic book series to become a single episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but it manages to not only be a fun installment in the series but a plot that might have inspired part of Batman Forever. In a gripping opening sequence, a judge is paying blackmail money to some crooks when Batman shows up. The Judge risks her life to try an obtain a VHS tape with her name on it, but it falls into the river. Batman uses his detective skills to connect the Judge’s recent trip to a corporate relaxation retreat to her sudden blackmailing. Bruce Wayne decides to get the same treatment and shows up in the lab of Doctor Hugo Strange, who uses a device to “see” Bruce’s thoughts. Strange deduces the man in front of him is Batman, but instead of going in for the kill, he decides to auction the information off to The Joker, Two-Face and Penguin. Instead of infighting, the three villains pool their money for the proof of Batman’s secret identity only for Batman to have replaced the tape playback, making Strange look like a fool. Then it’s up to Batman, Strange, Penguin, Two-Face and Joker to brawl off the island. The funniest thing is when Strange tries to just tell the villains that Batman is Bruce Wayne and Harvey/Two-Face steps forward, refusing to believe it.“Perchance to Dream”Usually, the “it was all a dream” trope ends up being frustrating in a series where every little plot development is building to a greater point. “Perchance to Dream” isn’t anchored to any greater character mythology, but instead decides to take a trip into the “perfect life” of Bruce Wayne when Batman gets knocked in the head during the opening sequence. The only problem it that the hallucination Bruce wakes up into isn’t made by his mind, but by a dream device manufactured for the Mad Hatter. With his parents alive and his impending engagement to Selina Kyle, Bruce should be content. Instead he’s the only one in the world who has memories of the way things are supposed to be and…he can’t read. Eventually, he figures out that the inability to read text is a symptom of his dreaming and he finds and confronts the Batman of his dream world. The whole thing ends darkly when Bruce takes a dive off the bell tower to short circuit the dreaming device, and the convenient twist is that the dream machine doesn’t reveal the dream to the outside world, so no one knows Bruce Wayne is Batman.“Dreams In Darkness”Batman: The Animated Series is in an Art Deco style because it’s replicating Noir stories and the Art Deco of L.A. Noir as a genre has fused with the storytelling. “Dreams in Darkness” leans into those storytelling tropes, beginning in the middle of the story with Batman locked up in Arkham. Through gritty voice-over, Batman fills in the audience that he’s not actually mad, he’s just been exposed to the Scarecrow’s fear gas for a long period of time. We watch in flashback as Batman gets exposed, then we see how difficult it is for him to continue his detective work as he slowly starts to have visions. Although most of them are of his rogue’s gallery popping up in weird places, Bruce’s most intense vision is of his parents walking into a tunnel that becomes a giant revolver muzzle with blood pouring out of it. Although Batman fans laugh at how often we revisit the murder of the Waynes in crime alley, of course, that would be the imagery at the bottom of Batman. It turns out the Scarecrow wants to release his fear toxin into the water supply and is going to use Arkham’s water system to do it…which is part of the plot of Batman Begins. The Scarecrow is defeated here in a similar manner.“P.O.V.”Officer Renee Montoya and her rookie partner are right on time for a sting the Gotham District Attorney (not Harvey Dent) has planned when they see that their target warehouse is on fire and an out of breath Detective Bullock is panting outside. He says two of the robbers split off and there are more inside the building. Montoya and the Rookie split up; then we cut to the Gotham Police Department internal investigation into the incident. We get to hear the story from Detective Bullock, Officer Montoya, and the Rookie. Although we hear what they are saying through voice over, we get to see what actually happened while they talk and it becomes super-obvious that only Officer Montoya is telling the honest truth and understood what was going on. Even though the three officers get suspended, Montoya uses what she saw and what she heard from the other testimonials to follow the criminals from the failed sting to the docks, where they have Batman captured. With some good crane operating and some classing Batman: The Animated Series action, “P.O.V.” does the best job of encapsulating this Batman’s relationship with the police force and what they think of the vigilante in their midst.“I Am The Night”The episode where Batman gets depressed begins exactly where you think it would: on the anniversary of the death of the Waynes in Crime Alley. Bruce goes to lay some flowers at the site of his parent’s murder and is interrupted by some punks beating up on a street urchin we previously saw scam some “bus fare” off a Gothamite. Bruce saves the urchin and gets him to a Mission, but that makes him late for a Gotham Police Department raid on a gangster called “The Jazzman” that goes south elsewhere in the city. Seemingly because of Batman’s lateness, Commissioner Gordon is graveling injured. Even though the Jazzman is caught, Bruce Wayne goes into a deep depression, taking on both the risk of his own bodily harm and the guilt of those who get hurt because of his actions puts him in a funk even Dick Grayson can’t get him out of. The Jazzman breaks out of prison and wants to finish off Commissioner Gordon, and that eventually motivates Bruce to suit up again and fight The Jazzman before he can kill an unconscious Gordon at the hospital. After a rousing fight, the Commissioner wakes up, gives and inspiring speech and Bruce meets the street urchin from earlier in the episode and he’s doing much better. It wraps up in a neat package, but it is Bruce Wayne legitimately dealing with the pressures of being Batman.“Robin’s Reckoning (Parts 1&2)”“Robin’s Reckoning” won an Emmy and provided Robin with an origin story via flashback, allowing a college-aged Dick Grayson to previously appear on the series (eliminating the teenage version of Robin). The two-part Robin origin story show was instead split into two plots, one framing plot where Batman tries to shield Robin from the fact that his parent’s killer is back in Gotham and the flashback sequences that show us The Flying Graysons and how Dick ended up fighting crime with Bruce as Robin. After Batman seems spooked at the name of a particular gangster, we start to flash back to the night Dick’s parents were killed at the circus and Bruce Wayne took in the orphaned acrobat. The interweaving flashbacks continue as both Batman and young Dick try to track down Tony Zucco, the Graysons’ killer. Eventually, Bruce deems spending time with the kid more important, but that doesn’t stop Dick from sneaking out to find Zucco on his own. Although Zucco manages to get away, Dick saves a woman from a mugging before giving the murderer a good pursuit before he has to be rescued by Batman. This leads to Bruce revealing his secret identity to Dick and making his stay at Wayne Manor permanent. In the other story, Zucco returns to town and Batman tries to find him before Robin does. Robin takes this as Batman taking away his chance at revenge while Batman thinks he’s just protecting Robin. The Boy Wonder ends up not exacting lethal revenge on Zucco, but sends him to jail instead. This version of Bruce Wayne is almost like a selfless parent in his relationship to Dick, which can come off distant and distracted in the other versions of the duo.
Stay on target I don’t really like art house movies. I tend to be a concrete thinker with a tendency towards escapism, so I gravitate towards goofy genres more than anything with complex thematic abstraction. However, while I don’t like art house films, thanks to Kyle Kallgren I can appreciate them.Kallgren produces a YouTube series called Brows Held High. Like many movie-focused YouTube channels, Brows Held High explores older movies known for being very strange. Unlike most of those channels (many of which I also love, like Brad Jones, Diamanda Hagan, and of course RedLetterMedia), Kallgren focuses on serious, artistic films rather than schlock. And, instead of focusing on bizarre humor (though there’s still plenty of it), he focuses on serious analysis. And his videos are really, really interesting because of it.Derek Jarmon’s Blue is just a weird “film” that only shows the color blue? Well, yes. But as Jarmon’s last film it was also an expression of the blindness he was experiencing from AIDS-related complications at the end of his life. And the very color blue is historically a luxurious novelty, since blue as a pigment was incredibly rare and expensive until the last century or two, making the long, deep saturation of vivid indigo itself the portrayal of something we currently take for granted but was once as precious as gold or platinum.Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is a visually lush movie that evokes filmmaking from the 1960s and 70s with its use of color and staging, and at first glance it seems to be a passionate homage to exploitative genre schlock. It isn’t, and Kallgren goes into great detail of the subtle, deep feminist themes of the film, and how nearly all of the apparent visual shout-outs to genre films of the time are actually much more direct, precise references to different movies. And how the running theme in the film, and all of the movies it references, aren’t about the titillation of the female form, but of the expression of femininity as a concept worthy of character study and not simply as something to be held as a contrast to masculinity.Yes, Kallgren talks about social concepts including feminism, and how different works of art explore them. Either deal with it or don’t watch. Art is fundamentally tied to the views of the artist and the time and place in which the art was produced.He also goes into painstaking detail of over a dozen Shakespeare adaptations, from Ran to West Side Story to 10 Things I Hate About You, exploring how each one deals with the source material through the lens of the filmmakers and the world around them. And wow, do the works of Shakespeare get taken in wildly different directions.Kallgren doesn’t limit himself to “art house” or “important” or “literary adaptation” films. Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension isn’t just a cult classic, it’s a blueprint for the evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the interconnected references between comics and films we now take for granted. And Polygon’s Monster Factory isn’t just a funny look at glitches, it’s an exploration of finding art in a medium by thoroughly breaking it, a process filmmakers, playwrights, musicians, and animators have all explored in their own works as their media evolve.Brows Held High has helped me appreciate a wide swath of films I wouldn’t have otherwise paid any attention to. Kallgren is insightful and informative, with an extensive knowledge of the scholarly aspect of film history and critique, and that comes through in his videos. What is so easy to write off as artsy for artsiness sake becomes deeply interesting thanks to Kallgren’s ability to give context for exactly what a weird shot was taken or a strange line was read. I’m still not going to seek out art house films on my own, but Kallgren has helped me understand and respect them in ways I hadn’t considered from my concrete, surface perception of them. By the way, he’s also on Patreon, if you want to support this kind of entertaining analysis.He’s real good you guys. Real There You Guys: Ready Player One and Nostalgia as Generational PoisonReal Good You Guys: ThinkGeek’s Bags of Holding (Fast Travel and M… Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.
Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. It’s the 21st century, and we were promised robots. Science fiction made us think that we’d have automated servants at home and at work, taking care of menial tasks so we can devote our valuable human minds and bodies to… reading comics and playing video games. But commercial robotics, while fun, just aren’t up to snuff yet.The core tenet of the true geek is that if something doesn’t exist, we make it ourself. So join us on a journey around the world to meet eleven inventors who weren’t satisfied with the state of contemporary robotics and hacked together personal mechanical assistants in a staggering array of shapes. From scrap metal servants on a Chinese farm to a face-recognizing laser drone in a pizza box, these are our picks for the coolest and craziest homemade robots out there.LokiMany of the homemade robots we’re going to see here started out as hobby projects before getting out of control – sort of like Ultron. David Shinsel’s “Loki” probably isn’t going to evolve into a malevolent superintelligence aiming to eradicate all organic life, though. Built from aluminum, the rolling robot is four feet tall and about 40 pounds. It uses a pair of three-fingered hands on the end of fully movable arms and uses facial and color recognition software to identify CDs, count money, respond to voice commands and navigate his house using an odometer, compass and maps.Bum-BotThe problem of homelessness is one that is puzzling many cities right now, as housing becomes more expensive and the opioid epidemic drains productive people from the workforce. The situation is complex, but Atlanta barbecue restaurant owner Rufus Terrill has come up with… well, we wouldn’t say a solution exactly, but it sure is a robot. The three-wheeled unit is controlled remotely and built from a meat smoker. It has a camera system, loudspeaker and lights that Rufus – who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2009 – uses to roust out undesirables after dark in the parking lot around his business. If they resist, the front-mounted water cannon gives them a cold squirt.BlessU-2Robots and religion typically aren’t subjects that go together well, but a group of Protestants in Germany are trying to erase that divide with the help of a clergybot. BlessU-2 was built in honor of the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation to expand the notions of what getting a blessing means. It can speak in multiple languages in male and female voices, and recites from a selection of pre-programmed prayers. We don’t see this somewhat terrifying looking machine replacing human priests anytime soon, but we said that about travel agents and look what happened to them.Robot RickshawChinese farmer Wu Yulu is probably the world’s most prolific homemade robot inventor. From his property outside of Beijing, he’s spent decades creating charming single-purpose robots out of junk. His first creation was a robot rickshaw driver to chauffeur him around the farm in style, and since then he’s built several dozen more. A different robot pours his tea, lights his cigarettes and more. His hobby hasn’t been without cost – an exploding battery scarred his face pretty badly and another failed experiment burned his house down. He still soldiers on, though, building new friends and helpers.MX-PhoenixWhile most of the robots in this article have appearances that give away their amateur construction, the MX-Phoenix looks slick and futuristic, like something that could have come out of a black ops lab and not a garage in Norway. Inventor Kåre Halvorsen has a day job as an engineer, but on weekends he lets his lust for robots take him over. The MX-Phoenix was built to display a proof of concept for a hexapodal walker that could take on a variety of rough terrain. Constructed mainly from 3D printed ABS plastic, it’s a creepy crawler that could develop into something very cool.ScrapbotLet’s head back to China for one of the beefiest homemade robots on this list. Inventor Tao Xiangli built his massive robot companion, who clocks in at over six feet tall and nearly 500 pounds. Brightly illuminated, the vaguely humanoid creation can perform simple motions like rotating its neck and raising its arms at the flip of one of the dozens of switches that stud its body. It can also respond to commands through IR beaming. Tao’s creation isn’t mobile on its own, though, so there’s no risk of it going on a rampage.Laser Eye BlasterAsimov’s first law states that no robot should ever harm a human, but laws are meant to be broken. 19 year old Arizona college student Michael Reeves made headlines in April by constructing a robot that scans the room for his face and, if it sees him, blasts him in the eye with a low-wattage laser. Made from a pair of servos and a webcam hooked up to a database, the contraption is housed in a pizza box for maximum funkiness. As for why exactly he felt the need to create something that hates him, Reeves didn’t seem to have a particularly good answer.The SafecrackerLet’s continue with the theme of robots who use their mechanical powers for evil. When engineer Nathan Seidle came into possession of a second-hand safe with no combination, he set to building a robot that could crack it. The finished project is an automated device made from 3D printed and off-the-shelf parts that can crack a safe in an average of 36 minutes with no fuss or muss. The machine illustrates the scary reality that brute force isn’t the only game in town. If a tireless machine can algorithmically test every combination, safe manufacturers are going to have to come up with some new tricks.The Bear ElectrocutionerGoing face-to-face with a bear isn’t the smartest idea, so Turkish inventor Mustafa Karasungur decided to deputize a robot to do it for him. His bizarre creation is a white-faced homunculus that rolls along on a wooden platform, jerking its arms wildly. Here’s the kicker, though: if it does encounter a bear, built-in batteries release 25,000 volts into the beast. Unfortunately, it’ll do the same to a human because Karasungur’s not really up on the latest AI developments.AikoWhile some robot makers pursue their craft to make human lives easier, others have a different motivation: companionship. Le Trung is a Japanese software engineer who lives with his parents and hasn’t had much luck on the dating scene, so he sank some $20,000 into the creation of artificial femme Aiko. The humanoid robot has a network of sensors throughout her body, speaks both English and Japanese and… can’t walk. Trung is working on that, though, and hopes to have his perfect woman ambulatory soon.Captured! By RobotsIt can be hard to put a band together – egos clash, skill levels vary, and the pay’s not great. So in 1996, Jay Vance decided to throw all that out the window and just construct his own backing musicians. The result was Captured! By Robots, the gig that he’s been doing for the last two decades. Clad in a gimp mask, Vance shreds on guitar as automated drummers, bass players and other noisemakers hammer away behind him. His creations are both hilarious and totally terrifying.