Batman: The Animated Series

The New Batman Adventures episode 8- Growing Pains
harkovast at 2:00PM, Nov. 4, 2010
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Plot Synopsis
A little girl arrives in gotham, hunted by a huge frightening man.
Robin meets with the girl, who he names Annie and eventually learns she is part of Clayface. In the end she sacrifices herself to save Robin, getting reabsorbed into Clayface and permanently destroyed.

Highlights

Villains
Clayface (voiced as always by Rob Pearlman) returns for the final time, though chronologically this is his second to last appearance.
Confused? Yeah, me too!
It turns out what happened in Holiday Knights, while airing first (and appearing first on my all important DVD collection) is set chronologically after the events in this episode. So we see that Clayface has returned from his death in Mudslide BEFORE we see the episode that explains why he survived.
With me so far?
Turns out Clayface did not die in the final, tragic battle with Batman at the end of Mudslide. He floated off through the water and came into contact with some chemicals which restored him.
Yes, apparently Gotham is pumping mutagenic chemicals into the ocean in large enough quantities that if you fall in the ocean, you will most likely get exposed to them! Poison Ivy was busy going shopping while THIS is going on? She is such a sell out!
Clayface is now more powerful then ever (see my comments on Holiday Knights for how redundant this is!) He has gained the ability to split off parts of himself, which he first used to send off a part of himself as a scout. This part of him was made to look like a little girl, but due ot being apart from him lost its memories while separated and started to think it was in fact a real little girl.

Continuity Nod
The episode at least goes to the trouble of explaining why Clayface has returned despite being quite obviously dead, so its one up on Holiday Knights.

Batcrap Crazy
Annie has an interesting situation where initially she doesn't remember what is going on, but gradually her memories return, slowly revealing the awful truth.
She clearly has a personality entirely separate and unrelated to that of Clayface, as she selflessly sacrifices herself, in stark opposition to the selfish and manipulative Clayface/Hagan. This seems to imply she really is a person, despite coming to the belief her self that she isn't, thus leading her to be willing to die to save Robin. So ironically her belief that she was not a person lead her to sacrifice herself, thus proving she really was a person.
Clayface himself urgently wants to reunite with the rest of himself, but it's not really clear why. It doesn't seem to be killing him or hurting him to be apart from Annie, so is it a craving like a drug addiction? Or is it just him being possessive? I tend toward the later, but there doesn't seem to be much in his personality from previous episodes that would explain this attitude. Clayface is selfish, manipulative and uncontrollably violent, but being obsessed with ownership of things or people doesn't really seem like his M.O.
Robin is the most interesting psychological case here, forming an attachment to a girl who, depending on your point of view, may or may not have ever really existed.
Clayface doesn't see her as a person, just a part of his clay he needs to regain, which makes an interesting contrast.
Clayface does not think he is doing anything wrong by reabsorbing his wayward creation, where as Robin states quite plainly that he considers Clayface a murderer.
The central theme here is one of growing up and seeing how harsh and often times unfair the world really is. Batman explains to Robin at the end that there are not always clear cut victories.


BAT BLOOD!

A character is killed, as Annie ceases to exist by the end of the episode.
While there is no blood, this is an on screen death.
Though he does not bleed, Robin takes some pretty bad beatings from Clayface while Clayface is in his evil father persona. A child getting punched in the head by a huge man has got to count for something on the Bat Blood scale!

Holy Shitty moments Batman!
Mudslide was an awesome episode that built to an agonising final battle.
It was powerful and challenging, presenting no easy answers and giving no clear victory to Batman.
But now all that drama, all that tragedy, is rendered meaningless because Clayface was not really dead.
Magical chemicals made of purest plot contrivance brought him back to life and made him EVEN MORE powerful.
Look, I liked Clayface a lot, he was a great villain in the best traditions of Batman:TAS.
I was sad to see him die, but he was always an overly super powered villain in a setting of human antagonists.
Explaining why he wasn't endlessly running amok with his unstoppable powers would have become tiresome and contrived (like the special ‘Clayface holding tank’ at the end of Holiday Knights). So killing him off was the right move, as well as leading to a really dramatic, exciting story.
So we know why they killed him, so why bring him back?
'Because he was cool. Shapeshifting bad guys can do cool stuff, so lets do more of that.'
Those are reasons to do something in bad fan fiction!
Some characters need to remain dead or you just destroy the character while trying to preserve it.
I thought Darth Vader was cool. Does that mean I want to see a sequel to Star Wars where he comes back to try to take over the universe again? No, quite the opposite! His character ark is finished and we need to move on to other characters stories.
In the world of Batman, villains tend to come back. The Joker always gets out of prison, Two Face never really gets cured, no one just shoots Riddler in the head etc.
So having a villain actually permanently written off was weird and exciting, adding some real edge to proceedings.
But here the shows creators basically just set up a sign and say ‘Nope, on this show, no one ever dies. Every bad guy will always continue indefinitely and never get killed or resolved in anyway. Even if we do conclusively kill them they will still just return later to please fan boys.’
All deaths and all drama and now rendered cheap and empty.
The reason to bring him back is so damn contrived as well!
Got chemicals on him? What? That'™s it? That is the best they could think of?
That's such a lazy answer! Couldn't they have thought of ANYTHING more original or plausible?

The next problem I have is with the entire concept here.
Annie can remain permanently in human form without error or effort. This is the ONE THING we know that Clayface can't do! It is the reason he looks like a big walking turd rather then just assuming a human form and going and living a normal life.
Why can this separate chunk control its powers better then Clayface? Is Clayface just crappy at shapeshifting now or something? If Daggett's men had poured the stuff on someone less stupid, Batman would have been screwed!

To be honest, the concept of a scary abusive father seeking the girl for mysterious reasons seemed more exciting then the plot that was actually revealed. When I found out it was Clayface I was kinda disappointed.
Once again, the newer episodes feel the need to crowbar in over the top elements into the stories. When there isn't a treat to the entire city, there is a ludicrous and unnecessary sci fi element. These new episodes have a feel about them of having bene written by people who liked the show, but don't really get what was good about it and cant really recreate what made it great.

Annie seems like an interesting character but once we learn learn what she is, the writing is basically on the wall. There is no way that the shows creators (who don't have the nerve to keep iconic bad guys dead) will keep a character like her around, thus fundamentally changing Clayface. The all powerful status quo hangs over her head and when she is reabsorb, the sense of inevitability over whelms the drama.

On a minor note, I find the fact Robin is so young kinda weird. I mean he is literally a kid! He looks about ten! Even if he is trained enough to be able to battle grown men with martial arts, isn't Batman horribly irresponsible to expose him to this kind of danger and darkness?
This could be said of all the new adventures episodes, but this one it was especially noticeable, as Robin takes quite a beating in places!

Summary
While not necessarily a bad story premise, it is not strong enough to warrant bringing back a character who was so clearly killed off and is fundamentally flawed because it simply doesn't make very much sense based on what we know about Clayface's abilities.

2 out of 5

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last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
Wordweaver_three at 6:41AM, Nov. 10, 2010
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This is where my knowledge of Batman TAS starts to wain. The first couple seasons I have seen numerous times, the later seasons I wasn't watching it as religiously.

That's not to say I haven't seen it, but I'm pretty sure I've only seen this episode once. However, I do remember it.

Once again this deals with a subject that makes me uncomfortable, the abuse of a child. Yes, I know she turns out to be just a piece of clay, but the writers clearly wanted you to connect with her emotionally as if she were a real child. Then, Robin, who is a real child, gets slapped around by the brutally powerful Clayface. Of course you're right that Batman is a major douche in allowing a pre-teen to glean at his knee in the art of crime fighting. It's one thing to hone a potential successor, it's quite another to allow him to actively participate in your dangerous daring do. I can't tell you what a letdown it was for me when Robin appeared in the show. Obviously the writers had intended to draw in more of the young audience, but Robin is, and always will be, a joke to me.

But I digress.

Clayface does come back in the most asinine way possible. Some evil corporate entity (certainly not Wayne Enterprises, gosh no, they're 100% green) is dumping the exact chemical needed to react with Clayface's own chemical make-up and bring him back to life. The comic world is full of contrivances like that, making it nearly impossible to actually die. If the Hulk is somehow slain, the military conveniently tests a gamma bomb nearby. Some characters die so often it's like their day job is dying and being “reborn” somehow. (*cough* Jean Grey *cough*) This “separation from death” that comics have only serve to only to undermine the finality of death in their world, when a character dies the readers immediately start to wonder: in what wacky way will this character come back? It also spits in the eye of the concept of a “heroic death”, why wouldn't a character sacrifice him/herself if they know they'll be back somehow? When you relegate death to the mere inconvenience of the common cold, what weight does it have as a story element? Of course the real blame of this poor storytelling aspect is the weak spines of the writers who allow themselves to be browbeaten by the readers into bringing characters back over and over. This leaves you to wonder why they keep killing the characters if they're so damn popular?

I digressed again.

I think Annie is symbolic in that something good can still come from the creature that used to be Hogan. That there is still some humanity left in him. Thing is, I thought they cleared that up in Mudslide. So why even do the fucking episode? Especially since he's gonna “die” again anyway? I guess they wanted to allow for some character growth from Robin. Give him a chance to deal with “death”. Even if the concept is pretty vague in his reality.

I also believe that his obsession in regaining Annie wasn't that out of character. She was part of him, and there is only a finite amount of him to go around. If he weighed 800 pounds, and Annie was 80 pounds, that's 10% of his total mass. It's also possible that part of his “soul” went into creating her (further shoring up the “something good can come from him” angle). All that I get fine, what I don't get is why he created her in the first place. A “scout” that has no memories, acts on it's own accord and doesn't obey you isn't worth a damn. Unless she's a fluke. Again, my memory of this episode is vague, so maybe they explained that part and I forgot. Also, a scout that appears to be a child would draw attention to itself. People would constantly ask “Are you lost, little girl?” if Hogan wasn't nearby. So, kinda pointless.

But this whole episode is pretty bad. I mean, good for most shows, but bad for Batman.

last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
harkovast at 7:19AM, Nov. 10, 2010
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Honestly, I am agonising if I should have just flat out given it a 1 star.
But some of the drama is genuinely good and in places it feels like a good episode, but weighed down with masses of really stupid baggage.
Maybe I should start doing half stars?

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last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
Wordweaver_three at 7:50AM, Nov. 10, 2010
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As yourself one question:

“Is this as bad as Tyger Tyger?”
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
harkovast at 10:17AM, Nov. 10, 2010
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posts: 5,198
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Okay, it aint that bad…but I have a few lined up that most definitely are!

I have got one on my to do list that is so terrible that the very mention of its name spreads terror amongst animated series fans…


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last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
EssayBee at 10:58AM, Dec. 10, 2010
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Yep. The review is pretty much what I was expecting (and sorry I took so long to get over here). All of your points are valid, and I knew that bringing back Clayface would drive you crazy after his dramatic “end” earlier. There are obvious logic gaps (as you've pointed out). The initial abusive father angle was very creepy (man, it would be really chilling to see an SVU-type story, but I think Toymaker in Superman: Doomsday is the closest the DCAU will get to that mature of a story), and the revelation of Clayface destroyed a lot of that creepiness. All of these are negatives, and I can understand how it would ruin the episode for a lot of folks.

However, I love this episode. This was one of the few episodes where I really got a sense of dread for where the story was going, and even though Clayface's reveal killed the drama of the way I thought the story was going, it created a new tension in that the very existence of the girl now hung in the balance–and you pretty much knew she was doomed. Having her and Tim bond–and I think the crew did a good job of developing a strong relationship in a very short time–and thrusting Tim into a solo mission that he had a personal attachment to really drew me emotionally into the story. Although the girl's doom pretty much seemed to be inevitable, the fact that the episode had the hero lose was pretty ballsy–especially since his failure resulted in the “death” of a friend (borderline love interest). I know you say that the “inevitability over whelms the drama,” but isn't that the point of a tragedy? For me, the reveal of Clayface is the point when the show becomes a tragedy (and I don't mean that in a sarcastic way). Up to that point, it's a thriller, but you're confident that Robin will save the day. However, when you find out what's going on, you suddenly realize that the clock is ticking. For me, the inevitability of tragedy creates the drama.

Even though the reworking of the show with the younger Robin was, on the surface, a means to appeal to a younger audience, Bruce Timm and co. showed that they weren't going to make the show any gentler. And that's one of the reasons I enjoy the last season of the series; although things got a lot quirkier, I think it has some of the most mature bits of the entire series, both violence (“Over the Edge” comes immediately to mind) and sex (“You Scratch My Back” is one of my favorites of the entire series, and it probably has the most sexual tension of all episodes; and I couldn't believe some of the stuff Harley got away with in the Creeper episode).

This kind of episode seems to be indicative of the way Bruce Timm and co. handled studio pressure. The studio would make demands, the creative crew would acquiesce, and then they'd churn out something that was without doubt for a mature audience, and I doubt the sort of thing the studio had anticipated.

Basically, I think this episode breaks down into a logic vs. emotion contest for viewers. If you get hung up on the logic gaps, you'll have problems enjoying the episode; if you get swept up in the characters and the emotional content of the story, you're gonna feel for Tim and be heartbroken by the end of the episode. I agree that poor story logic can destroy a narrative, but to me the emotional core of this episode was VERY strong and carried the weaknesses in logic.

On a side note, I agree with everyone about Tim being too young. However, if his age was mandated by the studio, I think the crew did a great job inserting him into the DCAU continuity. True, he's a kid, but they never really handle him with kid gloves–he gets hit (even tortured in “Return of the Joker”) and put through an emotional ringer similar to Gwen Stacy's death in this episode, which is harsher than most any other show–live action or otherwise–would ever dare.

And, just taking a guess, is the episode that's “so terrible” you mentioned “C*******”? If so, did you listen to the commentary track for it? It doesn't redeem the episode (although Bruce Timm confesses that the episode is one of his favorites), but it made me enjoy the episode a bit more.


last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
harkovast at 1:06PM, Dec. 10, 2010
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posts: 5,198
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EssayBee, you make a some solid points.
While you don't change my mind about the episode, you do make me appreciate its positive elements.

Don't feel bad about taking a while to comment, I need to update these things more!

Also, I am afraid I had to edit your post a little.
We don't mention the C-word on this forum!
But yes, the commentary was freaking funny!

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last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM

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