ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Batman: the Animated Series: Tyger Tyger’
David: Welcome back to Remedial Batmanology! As we’re all pretty busy with the lead-up to San Diego, we’ve decided to take a “down” week and prepare ourselves with another bad Catwoman story: “Tyger, Tyger” from season two of Batman: The Animated Series. As even the novice Batmanologist knows, a bad episode of TAS is a pretty rare occurrence.
Chris: The human mind just wansn’t meant to jump right into the 2004 Catwoman movie without preparation, so this is how we’re acclimating ourselves. But you know what they say, Uzi — Batman: The Animated Series is like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.David: This is true. I mean, I’d rather watch “Tyger Tyger” than a whole lot of things, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also still an episode of TAS that caters to furries and criminally misunderstands and mis-references William Blake.
Chris: And it’s not even like referencing The Tyger is fresh ground. This is a poem that you can learn by heart without ever cracking open a book of poetry, because it comes up in comics all the time. I think Peter David alone has done 300 stories about it, and only four of them were Star Trek novels.
David: Wikipedia tells me that it’s claimed to be the most anthologized poem in the English language, and I completely believe it. Every time I had to study poetry, The Tyger would always come up. Except that The Tyger is about trying to deal with the dual nature of a God who creates both love and hate, while here they interpret The Tyger to being about a crazy scientist who makes a badass tiger. When the metaphorical God only makes total a**hole animals, there’s no dual nature, no fearful symmetry. It’s just stuff that sounds cool. You’re just Jules in Pulp Fiction.
Chris: Before we get any further into the show, though, a little background. Batman: The Animated series is (rightly) regarded as one of the best interpretations of comic books in other media, and also as one of the best interpretations of Batman, anywhere, ever. It originally hit TV in 1992, and as a ten year-old who loved Batman, I can’t even describe how great it was.
David: There is a very, very good reason for its reputation; you can very easily make the argument that TAS, more than the actual Batman comics of the ’90s, influenced the look, feel and themes of Batman in the ’00s.
Chris: No question. I’d even go as far as saying that the look of Gotham City itself in the Animated Series, with the perpetual twilight with red skies and police zeppelins, had a much more lasting impact on the character’s aesthetic than the Anton Furst designs from Batman ’89.
David: Absolutely — the characterization of Commissioner Gordon and his relationship to Batgirl, as well.
Chris: Even more than the visuals, which were beautiful and striking and like nothing else on TV, this is a show that pretty much got everything right about Batman. He’s smart, he’s tough –he’s a detective AND a fighter. Alfred’s sardonic wit comes through, Gordon’s nobility, Robin’s youth and enthusiasm, and Batgirl’s determination. They’re all distilled to what makes them great. And the villains… We’d be here all day going through how great they are.
David: Except Harley Quinn.
Chris: I actually really like Harley Quinn on the Animated Series.
David: I’m actually being unfair to the TAS iteration of the character, and it’s totally a reflection of the fact that the DCU version has annoyed me so much. She works well with this version of the Joker.
Chris: Point being, as a whole, Batman: The Animated Series is phenomenally good. But with over a hundred episodes produced for the show — as Batman: The Animated Series, the Adventures of Batman and Robin and the New Batman Adventures – there were bound to be a few in the mix that weren’t quite up to par.
David: This… is one of those episodes.
Chris: “Tyger Tyger” was written by Michael Reaves and Randy Rogel (with a teleplay by Cherie Wilkerson), and aside from this one, those guys tend to have a pretty solid track record. Reaves wrote or co-wrote a ton of episodes, including “Batgirl Returns,” “I Am the Night,” and Poison Ivy’s debut in “Pretty Poison” with Paul Dini, among others, and Rogel wrote the great “Two-Face” and “Robin’s Reckoning” two-parters.
David: Well, I mean, it’s not like this episode is cursed with some sort of terrible, base incompetence. Its main problem is not being amazing. Let’s be honest here, this feels a whole lot like a standard Dixon/Nolan issue of Detective Comics from the time period — and, upon further reflection, that is its main problem.
Chris: Exactly. It’s serviceable, and since 90% of the show is incredible, it seems a lot worse than it actually is. I mean, if this had been an episode of the ’90s X-Men or Spider-Man cartoons, we probably would’ve flipped out about how amazing it was.
David: Yeah, absolutely! So don’t expect us to cruelly tear this thing to shreds, but it certainly has its problems.
Chris: So without further ado, let’s watch as the word “Catwoman” is taken entirely too literally.
David: We kick this bad boy off with Selina Kyle visiting a tiger in the zoo, because she really likes talking to tigers, apparently. There’s an animal-rights element to TAS Catwoman, though, so it makes sense.
Chris: This is one of the things that I’d almost forgotten about in the show: Catwoman as a militant animal rights activist, rather than just a thief. Presumably because they couldn’t really go with the Frank Miller ex-dominatrix origin from Year One on TV every day at 3:00.
David: Anyway, seemingly this poacher comes from the trees to take the tiger, except the poacher is a gorilla, and he’s not there for the tiger, he’s there for Selina. PLOT TWIST! This completely confuses a poor security guard who comes out to try to hit on Selina Kyle, which is an understandable plan, if futile.
Chris: A talking gorilla, Uzi. This is an important detail.
David: A talking gorilla in a trenchcoat with a sniper rifle that shoots tranq darts!
Chris: That’s Gotham City problems.
David: The talking gorilla, whose name is Garth as we’ll later discover, shoves the security guard in the pit and runs off with Ms. Kyle. Cut to Bruce Wayne at a restaurant, waiting for Selina Kyle to no avail, until a waiter or manager or something shows up and tells Bruce that, hey, dude, she decided to go to the zoo, so she’ll be late. Bruce immediately decides that this necessitates him going after her in a Batman outfit, because Bruce clearly trusts his girlfriend.
Chris: Again: Gotham City problems. “She went to the zoo” has a fifty-fifty chance of meaning “she was Joker-gassed and devoured by hyenas.”
David: Which is pretty close to what happened! Batman shows up to the zoo, where Cole Phelps and his partner for that desk are interrogating the security guard and not noticing the tranquilizer dart on the ground. Being a total dick, Batman takes it and doesn’t tell the cops.
Chris: All right, look: A normal person probably shouldn’t just be wandering around taking evidence from a crime scene, but are you really going to call out Batman for it? You know they’re just going to call him up anyway, it’s standard zoo-kidnapping procedure. He’s saving the taxpayers money.
David: Okay, that’s a pretty good point. Selina wakes up on the
Island of Dr. Moreau Island of Dr. Emile Dorian, where Selina’s tied up and being shown all of his crazy experiments, including Garth the man-ape and Tygrus the… tiger-person that Dorian considers his greatest creation.
Chris: This is the part of the show that I was never quite clear on when I was a kid. Garth the Gorilla-Man is just a dude that he turned into an ape, right?
David: Yes, and he created Tygrus completely. As we see in the next scene, this dude trained Kirk Langstrom, except that while Kirk is obsessed with bats, this dude loves cats.
Chris: I have never seen Kirk Langstrom/Emile Dorian slash fiction, but I am convinced it exists.
David: I’m legitimately surprised they never did the follow-up episodes, where Dorian returns as Man-Cat.
Chris: Really, though, this brings up two problems: One, if some dude turned you into an ape and then let his pet Lion-O beat the crap out of you for fun, wouldn’t you harbor a little resentment? Wouldn’t you just be waiting for him to give you the tranquilizer sniper rifle so that you could get a little payback?
David: How did he even get this guy? Did he put out want ads for big dumb goons and then go “Oh, by the way, welcome to being an ape?” That’s some Bebop and Rocksteady noise.
Chris: Maybe Garth always felt that his soul was a gorilla. But the second thing is: If he can make Tygrus in a lab, completely, by himself, in so little time that his early experiments in cat-monkey hybridization are still alive in defiance of God and nature…
Chris: …Then why does he need Selina to make a mate for Tygrus? Why not just go all-out with his God complex and build a Tygrette?
David: Maybe he’s only got XY genetic material, man. That seems like a bros-before-hos island.
Chris: Cats before Bats.
David: But you can’t hug every cat, even every werecat. Unless you’re Superman.
Chris: This episode would immediately become a thousand times better if instead of his traditional mad scientist lab coat, Dr. Dorian was wearing a pink Garfield sweatshirt just covered in hair.
David: I agree totally on this dude just being a crazy cat lady, but a dude, and also a mad scientist.
Chris: If I have one hope for the DC Reboot, it’s that we’ll see a Crazy Cat Lady Man Scientist fighting Batman.
David: So yeah, Batman shows up on the island and he’s all like CHANGE SELINA BACK! and Dorian is like NAW DUDE SHE’S HAPPIER LIKE THIS and Batman’s like NO SHE ISN’T! and then he throws a desk at a glass window to free Selina, who is now a sexy blonde cat. Complete with catboobs.
Chris: I notice you did not put “sexy” in quotation marks, David. Consequently, I am now judging you.
David: Oh, come on.
Chris: Judging. You.
David: Anyway, Tygrus shows up because Tygrus is a big cat dude and he wants to bang the sexy cat lady, and then Dorian tells him that Batman is standing between him and hot yiff action with Selina Kyle, so Tygrus and Batman run into the island forest to fight while Garth the Man-Ape nets Selina and Dorian continues to study her, since she’s still got all of her intelligence.
Chris: It only just now occurred to me that this is a kids’ show about a scientist who wants to turn a woman into a sexy cat lady so that his super-buff cat dude can get his bone on. And it aired. Broadcast Standards & Practices let this one right through.
David: Look, he just wanted to cuddle with her while the cat-stork brought them a baby!
Chris: Also, Dr. Dorian knows this is Batman he’s dealing with, right? So he has to know letting Tygrus chase Batman around the island is basically saying “I would like you to punch me in the face so hard that I lose consciousness, but I’d prefer it if you did it in five minutes instead of right now.”
David: Also, how does Dr. Dorian know Selina is Catwoman in the first place? Is this ever explained?
Chris: I don’t recall — Was Selina’s identity on the show common knowledge? Batman knows, obviously.
David: Dorian makes a big deal out of “I know you’re Catwoman!”, so I assume not.
Chris: Well, let’s be fair. This dude built a werecat in a lab. He’s probably pretty good at figuring stuff out.
David: And Lex Luthor cloned Superman, but still can’t figure out who Batman is. I guess Batman guards his identity more closely, though.
Chris: Anyway, this all leads to Batman fighting a werecat and a gorilla-man, which is somehow nowhere near as exciting as that sentence sounds.
David: Well, Batman only fights the werecat outside, to be honest. Dorian tells him if Batman can beat Tygrus in a race he’ll give him the antidote, but then he doesn’t give Batman the head start, and then Batman fights Tygrus with some gas bombs and a net bolo before running across a bridge… and being attacked by Tygrus, who got out of the net in, like, two seconds. Batman’s pretty incompetent here. Like, you really think this damn eight-foot-tall werecat is gonna get trapped by your Wayne polymer net?
Chris: But he’s only incompetent to give the illusion of danger, because really, there’s absolutely none. There’s a scene where Batman has to cross a rickety bridge that’s built up as this big dramatic moment — there’s even a commercial break in it where Batman falls! — but, are you f***ing serious? Even at 11 years old, I knew that Batman had a grappling hook, because we’ve seen him use it TWICE in this episode already. Why would he even bother tiptoeing across the bridge? He’s Batman! He can just swing across! But the crazy thing is, Batman himself forgets he has a grappling hook, less than two minutes after he last used it. He just falls until he hits a tree.
David: Illusion of danger, as you say. If he just quickly dispatched Tygrus, showed back up to Emile, beat him up, took the antidote, and saved Selina, it wouldn’t lead to any sweet animation. Even though that’s actually basically what happens, minus Batman appealing to Tygrus’s humanity and getting him to tak down Emile. I mean, granted, Selina helps Batman out with the whole “appealing to his humanity” thing.
Chris: And by that you mean “quoting Star Wars,” which is right about the time I check out. Thanks for coming, “Tyger Tyger.”
David: SEARCH YOUR FEELINGS! I really can’t hear that line without thinking of Star Wars. Did Mark Hamill voice Tygrus?
Chris: He did not.
David: Well, that would have at least made it kind of funny. So Tygrus goes and decides to guard his dad because he’s his father even though he knows Batman’s right, except then Dorian threatens to kill Selina for “weakening” Tygrus, and Tygrus goes nuts, wrecks the lab, and topples the building while Batman and Catwoman get the Hell out of dodge. Catwoman, of course, is still a cat.
Chris: I love how Tygrus is all “Would it be so bad if you were a cat and we hung out on my cat-man sex island?” instead of just giving her the antidote. It sort of undermines the sympathy they’re going for, even though he does cough it up eventually.
David: Well, I dunno, I buy that. Dude’s lonely! Except that, when offered to go back to Gotham, a city full of weird animal people who are understood and accepted, he decides that he only belongs on the cat island.
Chris: No joke, I kind of love the idea that there’s just a cat-man living on an island two-miles off the coast of Gotham City. Like, I want him to have a suit and open a resort and be Catwoman’s weird ex-boyfriend. “Ah, Selina! Bruce! Only the finest suite for my friends, Garth!”
David: A cat-man and an ape-man! AND Dorian, who he saved! I hope he keeps Dorian as a pet.
Chris: We’re pretty much getting into fanfic now.
David: So Batman repeats the first verse of The Tyger out loud, because he, like the writers, don’t get the poem. Although I’m possibly being unfair, and they’re using the poem to refer to the fact that while Tygrus had a, well, evil God, he still ended up an okay dude.
Chris: To his credit, Kevin Conroy does as great a job with reading the poem as you’d expect, but I will say that hearing it out loud undelrines the fact that “immortal hand or eye” flat-out does not rhyme with “fearful symmetry,” revealing Wiliam Blake for the bullsh** he is. Yeah. I said it.
David: Oof. If we didn’t get hate mail for Batman and Robin, we’ll get it now.
David: It’s an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
Chris: Pretty much. Everything that’s good about this one is something that’s good about the show as a whole: The great music, the voices, the actual LOOK of everything. I will say that the animators did a really, really good job making Dr. Doriain expressive, though, especially once his plans start failing and the veneer cracks.
Chris: That was my face while I watched most of this episode, though.
David: Everyone’s voice-acted brilliantly, it’s fantastically directed, it’s… I mean, it’s the same impeccable high standard of quality as the rest of this show. It’s so refreshing to see well-done hand-drawn animation these days.
Chris: Like I said: The show’s like pizza.
David: Yeah, exactly. And, I mean, the episode tried, like everyone involved thought they were telling a good Batman story. It doesn’t feel like hackwork, just… an unfortunate misstep.
David: It’s a ripoff of The Island of Dr. Moreau featuring a Noble Were-Cat Dude, Catwoman turned into an actual Cat-Woman, and Batman being delayed from the big rescue not by brilliant deathtraps or a devious enemy, but underestimating the strength of a werecat.
Chris: Can we talk for a minute about the actual designs of the cats?
David: Hit it!
Chris: They’re perfectly serviceable and the faces look good, but character design is one of those areas in which Batman: TAS just excels, which unfortunately makes it really easy to spot the ones that don’t measure up. Tygrus and Cat-Catwoman are just not very good. They’re drawn to look like they’re wearing these furry swimsuits, and the effect is like a bootleg Thundercats figure that you’d buy at a flea market. They’re Thendarcats.
David: HA! That’s very true about the character design, and their similarity to action figures. Tygrus… well, he’s there, I don’t think he looks abominable, but the Cat-Catwoman design is just ridiculous, it totally looks like furry deviant-art. Er, deviantArt. Whatever.
Chris: There’s also the complete lack of tension in the episode and the fact that Batman forgets he’s Batman halfway through, but we mentioned that already.
David: Not to mention the totally unengaging characters. Bruce and Selina barely get any real screen time as characters, and all of the emotional development belongs to Dorian and Tygrus, who, let’s be fair, just aren’t very interesting.
Chris: There’s also the fact that this is part of a weird string of episodes where Batman fights animal-people. I have a complete, irrational hate for Man-Bat and that’s my issue to deal with, but there’s also the very next episode, in which Batman fights a werewolf. And hilariously, everyone’s going around thinking that it must be some dude faking, when Batman just got back from a cat-man’s sex island.
David: I’m actually totally with you on that one, I’ve never gotten the appeal of Man-Bat at all. He’s a less interesting and less smart Bruce Banner.
Chris: And Tygrus is a less interesting Man-Bat.
Chris: Hey, what percentage of Batman fan-fiction do you think takes place in a world where Catwoman never got the antidote?
David: Honestly, I’d say very percentage, since I’m sure fanfiction writers would rather come up with their own totally messed-up reasons for Catwoman to be a cat and, presumably, Batman to take Man-Bat serum.
Chris: So what do you think, are we prepared for Catwoman?
David: I really doubt there’s anything we could have done to adequately prepare us for Catwoman.
Chris: So true. Maybe we’d better ramp up to it. But next week, we’ll have a special installment of this very column, live (on tape) from the San Diego ComicCon!
David: I apologize in advance.
Chris: That’s how you know it’s going to be good.