Wednesday, December 31, 2008

J'Accuse!: Mad Hatter in "Perchance to Dream"

For Christmas, my sister got me the complete "Batman: The Animated Series" DVD collection. Since then I've been steadily making my way through all 107 or so episodes of the series (although I personally don't consider the later "New Batman Adventures" episodes to truly be a part of the original series). All, I've got to say is, it's pretty damn awesome. The shows are just as great and I remembered them growing up; and I find myself appreciating some of the more mature subtleties that I never got as a kid (like the suspicious robot designer in "Heart of Steel" is named Rossum). It's really an impressive feat to consider what the creators accomplished within the narrow constraints (budget wise, time frame wise, censorship wise) of a Saturday morning children's cartoon and how they made such an actual lasting contribution to the overall Batman canon that exceeds even the contributions of all the blockbuster movies combined. I look at the dedicated work of art that was the Batman series and then at the prefabricated, re-translated, Japanese, program-length commercials that pass for Saturday morning programming these days and I weep for the children of today.

Having given my little gushing, fanboy, introduction on the matter, I still have to call a "J'Accuse!" on the Mad Hatter in the above titled episode. Now, obviously a Saturday morning superhero cartoon requires a heavy degree of suspension of disbelief and artistic license. Despite all the spectacular explosions and gunfire, nobody, including heroes and villains ever die, let alone get shot. There are episodes where goons literally fire machine guns directly at Batman and manage to hit everything around him. The time and distance continuity in the show makes "24" look like a real time documentary. One also has to wonder when Gotham City will ever re-evaluate a revolving door system at Arkham that allows criminally insane villains to escape on a weekly basis. I am willing to accept all these things; however, every once in a while something crosses a line that doesn't quite register with me.

One such example is in the episode "Perchance to Dream". First off, the episode is actually one of my all time top 5 Batman episodes and one of the first ones I watched when I got the DVDs. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you check out the link, lest you be spoiled one of the most interesting Batman episode twists of all time.

So the basic premise is that Batman gets knocked out while chasing some henchmen only to wake up from a supposed nightmare in his bed. However, once he wakes up, he is shocked to realize that both his parents are alive, there is no Batcave, he's engaged to Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, and that there is another Batman. He initially is convinced by his doctor friend that his previous life was just a dissociative hallucination and that everything up to that point has essentially been a nightmare he was woken from. Batman, however, later realizes this is wrong when he suddenly notices he is completely unable comprehend printed words. Deducing that he must be in a dream since the part of brain that controls dreaming is opposite the part of the mind that controls cognitive reading functions (never verified if this is actually true), he confronts the other "Batman" who, after a struggle, turns into the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter, predating the Martrix, explains that he himself is a dream figment and that Batman is trapped in his dream machine. The Hatter was willing to give Batman everything he wanted in this fabricated world, if only to incapacitate him in the real world. Seeing no obvious means of waking up, Batman attempts suicide by jumping off a tower in an attempt to shock himself into waking up. He does and he finds himself hooked up to the machine right after the events from the beginning of the episode. He quickly gets up and subdues the Mad Hatter and his gang. Great episode.

There's just one problem, however. Why didn't the Mad Hatter just kill Batman? Or at the very least imprison him so that he won't immediately capture you after he wakes up? You've somehow managed to, by an extreme twist of luck, to get a jump on Batman, but instead of finishing him off or tying him up, you take him directly into your headquarters into an overly elaborate dream machine which appears you have to monitor constantly. Just throw him off a bridge or something! The Man Hatter's entire motivation, he claims was to trap Batman in a dream world so as to incapacitate him forever. You mean like, I don't know, putting a bullet in his head?

In addition to not killing or tying him down, the Mad Hatter never even bothered to TAKE OFF BATMAN'S MASK! You'd think the closely held secret identity of Batman would be something of interest to any one of this villains. There was even an episode where someone found out and attempted to auction it off to the Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face ("The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne"). However, the Mad Hatter is not concerned with such petty matters. Even assuming some sort of thieves honor in not removing the mask, wouldn't you think from a purely practical standpoint, that the dream machine's mind controlling helmet would fit and work better if there wasn't a big Bat mask to get in the way?

I guess that's why they call him "Mad".

As great as Batman is, he has by far one of the easiest rogue's galleries in comicdom. The lot of them are usually just crazed, non-powered humans, with easily exploitable crippling psychological obsessions (plants, jokes, coinflipping). You know what would happen if Batman and Superman decided to trade cities? Superman would throw every villain in Gotham into the sun and Batman would be dead in a week. Imagine them talking shop before hand?:

Superman: Watch out for Darkseid, the immortal, god-like tyrant of his own planet with his own personal space armada.
Batman: Be careful with Two-Face...he's got two faces...

It's obviously two different worlds so comparing them is just a futile exercise. In the end, Batman is Batman and Superman is Superman; and it's the reltable humanness of Batman stories that make it far superior to the overpowered spectacle of Superman. However, as to the Mad Hatter's actions in that particular episode, all I have to say is "J'Accuse!"

1 comment:

  1. You know, there's an episode of Lois & Clark, "Virtually Destroyed," where the two are trapped inside Lex Luthor's son's virtual reality machine. He, however, is also an idiot and only uses the opportunity to try and extract info about his daddy from Lois, and also to ogle her assets. There's a comical moment where he punches Clark's VR-engrossed body and a foley CLANG! follows. Hilarious.