While my film score collection is not relegated to just superhero / comic book and comic strip scores, those are the most heralded CD’s in my collection(as I’m writing this I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of Intrada’s 2CD Shadow and La-La’s expanded Phantom in the mail).
It had taken them four years to follow up the excellent volume one (also re-released, thank you very much LaLa!) and the wait was well worth it.When it was announced La-La Land Records would unveil a Batman the Animated Series Volume 2 at Comic-Con this year I went through the roof.
I think volume 2 is superior to volume 1 in many ways, most notably in it’s variety and the fact that almost every villains theme is represented here (minus Bane who I’m sure will be featured when they get to the Adventures of Batman and Robin set).
The fact that it is a 4 DISC SET is awe inspiring AND wallet crushing, especially if you’re poor (like me) and decided to buy both volumes at the same time (again like me). Let’s not waste any time.
Disc one begins with a SFX-free rendition of Elfman’s opening title, a definite highlight.
Beware the Gray Ghost – Carl Swander Johnson
This episode accomplishes many things, and it does so well. I tells an intriguing story, pays homage to TV’s original Batman Adam West, and puts live action TV to shame in general (that last one is par for the course for the best episodes of this series!). Carl Johnson contributes a suitably swashbuckling theme for the Gray Ghost (Beware the Gray Ghost) that pays tribute to pulp-style heroes like the Shadow and the Spider, not to mention The Flash series’ Nightshade which felt like a trial run for this episode both content and score. What’s amazing about the Ghost theme is how sad it can get during Simon Trent’s moments of despondency (Simon Trent). The BIG highlight for me however is the action set-piece involving explosive toy cars chasing down our heroes in the Batmobile (Toy Car Chase). Built around the theme for the Mad Bomber (Bruce Timm playing a toy obsessed nut which I’m sure is COMPLETELY against type!), the chase cue is almost a minute of action bliss! Before knowing the track listing I pegged the Ghost as a likely contender to be included, I’m happy I was right!
The Cat and The Claw Part 1 and 2 - Harvey Cohen, Wayne Coster, Shirley Walker
Part 1 of this story was actually aired the Saturday before the premiere as a sneak preview, I was unaware of this until I saw the second part the Saturday after the big first week, meaning an episode had been aired at some point during the day for eight straight days in a row. That’s got to be some sort of record for a first-run animated series right?
The standout of this score is definitely Catwoman’s theme introduced during the opening (The Catwoman). Red Claw gets her own motif that is standard villain fare (Introducing Red Claw/ A Word With The Boss), but doesn’t overshadow Selina’s obviously more important debut.
Nothing to Fear – Shirley Walker
I was happily surprised to see this one on the set seeing as this episode doesn’t seem to get as much love as the Scarecrow-centric Dreams in Darkness, but I prefer this one in spite of the sometimes weak animation. There is a palpable feeling of horror to this episode, no doubt aided and abetted by Shirley’s beautifully creepy score. From the orange-skied opening (Nothing To Fear) to the sight of Batman hanging from a blimp recoiling from a terrifying vision of his father (Dirigible Flight/ Fear Strikes Again/ Escape And Explosion), and finally Scarecrow’s poetic justice (Scarecrow Discovered/ Scarecrow Captured/ Scarecrow On A Skewer), the score is an absolute joy with quotes of Elfman’s theme icing on the cake. Scarecrow might have gotten more respect in the later revamped WB episodes, but thanks to the late maestro, his debut is stunning.
Heart of Ice – Shirley Walker
Timm and company followed up after the pilot with this episode (shown on Labor Day 1992). I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said about this episode, it is literally my favorite BTAS story of all time. Shirley Walker delivers another standout score that is an entire highlight unto it’s own. From the creepy shadowed and snowy opening (Heart Of Ice) to the heart breaking finale (Arkham Asylum) a classic was born and that which all other Mr. Freeze stories will be judged by. I also pegged this one to be on this Volume and am ecstatic to be able to tear up to its delicate instrumentation all over again.
Disc one ends with an extended (and stunning) version of Danny Elfman’s end credits. There is also a hidden track that I won’t spoil for anyone, needless to say it has connections to a certain 1989 blockbuster and was discovered while compiling the Limited Edition (now sold out) of said film.
Disc two opens with Shirley playing a piano rendition of the unused main title utilizing both Elfman’s theme as well as her own to an electronic beep.
Appointment in Crime Alley – Stuart Balcomb
For some reason stories involving Crime Alley tend to not interest me very much, and this episode isn’t any different despite the fact that it is a heartfelt and well written episode. For the score, Balcomb contributes an amazing score dominated by theme of urgency (Batman Drives To Crime Alley/ What Are We Going To Do?) as Batman searches for Leslie Thompkins and attempts to foil Dagget’s development plans. As indifferent as I am to the story, the score really wins me over. Balcomb himself wished he’d had another opportunity to resurrect the aforementioned theme, and I have to agree with him. I’d also pegged this episode to be included.
Mad As A Hatter – Harvey Cohen
Seeing as Perchance to Dream had been on Vol. 1, I wasn’t expecting this score to grace Vol. 2. I am so happy it’s included on here. Harvey Cohen (although the episode credits Shirley Walker. Weird.) contributes a score worthy of both Batman and Alice in Wonderland, both sounds melding in a completely fluid way. The ending (Off With His Head/ The Maze/ Batman Comes To Tea) is another example of this show reducing me to tears.
The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne – Lolita Romanis
With the exception of the quoting of Joker/ Two-Face/ and Penguin themes, this is a decent but unremarkable score. I could say Romanis’ music leaves me cold, but she did such a good job on It’s Never Too Late that I think it’s just this particular episode. Hey they can’t all be classics can they? Besides, I can’t be too hard on Ms. Romanis, she signed my copies after all!
I’ve Got Batman in My Basement – Shirley Walker, Carlos Rodriguez
Birds of a Feather may be the best Penguin episode, but Oswald’s debut features the best score for the fowl villain (sorry, couldn’t resist). To accompany and possibly improve a slight and silly story, Walker presents her Penguin theme in all its glory throughout. (I find it interesting that Nelson Riddle, Elfman, and Shirley all wrote themes that seem to musically depict the Penguin’s waddling.) Another highlight is the scratchy Bernard Herrmann-like strings that accompany Penguin’s pet condor (second half of The Heist).
Cobblepot might be embarrassed by being defeated by a bunch of kids, but he can hold his head high for being escorted through by Shirley Walker. Rodriguez mainly contributed a chase cue (Batmobile Goes Bats/ Sherman And The Batmobile), but it is a decent one.
Feat of Clay Parts 1 and 2 – Jeff Atmajian, Shirley Walker, Carl Swander Johnson
Clayface gets an upgrade in these episodes, which combine the original murderous actor (Basil Karlo) with the 50’s mutated mud man (Matt Hagen). Part one is fairly regular fare, some decent music cues, another quotation of Elfman’s theme, but Part 2 is where the music really shines. Clayface’s theme is one of my favorites from the whole series and one of the few I purposely figured out how to rudimentary play on our piano (Two-Face being the other). Clayface has a secondary villainous theme that eagle-eared listeners will recognize as Mirror Master’s theme from the Flash series. The Tuesday and Wednesday episodes from week one, this is another episode to get the ol’ tear ducts working this time entirely due Walker and her team (Batman Confrontation With Clayface/ Clayface Dies)
Disc two ends with an alternate end credit cue and is the only disc to not have a hidden track.
Disc three begins with a MIDI mock-up of the unused piano theme from disc 2. These all-synth cues (which have become prevalent in TV animation for budget reasons) are not my cup of tea (I prefer a live orchestra as much as possible), but it is notable from an archival standpoint.
Almost Got ‘Im – Stuart Balcomb
Whenever anyone gives top ten or twenty list, this episode is invariably on there somewhere and for good reason, it’s fun anthology story with the funniest Killer Croc(or is it?) moment in the entire series. Balcomb contributes a functional score with some killer jazz highlights (Almost Got 'Im, Club Source #2, Club Source #4) as well as the Joker’s assault on late night television (Joker Talk Show Source, Joker Bumper, Just For Laughs). Definite classic. I pegged this one for inclusion too.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich – Carlos Rodriguez
I remember this episode being some sort of event as they waited a LONG time before they brought out the Riddler and completely shamed every other version of the character before AND after with the exception of Frank Gorshin. Carlos Rodriguez delivers a score that plays to the intellect of the character while retaining an odd left of center loopiness. The Riddler theme dominates the score, while the material for the maze sequences (Minotaur's Myth/ The Griffin/ Griffin Fight/ Hand Of Fate, Hijacked Hand/ The Minotaur/ Destroy Them/ Deadbolts) along with a perfect ending make for a welcome addition to the set. I hope What is Reality makes it onto Vol. 3 whenever they get around to it.
The Demon’s Quest Part 1 – Michael McCuistion Part 2 – Harvey Cohen
I’m not overly crazy about these scores. They have a nice middle eastern flair and some good suspense cues in Part 1, but Part 2 gets a little too cheesy in it’s attempt to tip the hat to Maurice Jarre’s score to Lawrence of Arabia. At the same time, I don’t think any other kind of score would work either. Chalk this one up to love it or hate it, I’d still rather listen to this than the Batman Beyond scores.
The Laughing Fish – Shirley Walker
Now we’re talking! In the book Batman Animated Bruce Timm recounts the genesis for “Horror Joker” and I for one think they should have always scored the character like this afterwards. He’s funny but the music isn’t playing that, it’s playing the underlining terror ad it’s brilliant, especially when it’s juxtaposed with the Joker Fish Commercial (Joker's Fish Song). Another highlight is the finale (Batman Rides The Shark/ Jumping Joker Sees Jaws/ Is The Joker Gone?) in which even the normal Joker theme seems more intense than usual. I have a strange penchant for Horror scores (despite not liking the Horror genre in general), and this one is a feast.
Disc three ends with an alternate ending closing credits and has the shortest hidden track of the set.
Disc four (whew almost there!) starts with the main title exactly as you hear it in the episodes complete with SFX. Personally I prefer it without (same as the Flash theme on that set’s disc one opposed to disc two), but it adds variety.
Shadow of the Bat Parts 1 and 2 – Shirley Walker, Harvey Cohen
Batgirl makes her debut in an excellently scored series of episodes. The Batgirl theme is exhilarating (Rescue Of The Commish/ Batgirl's A Real Drag/ Batgirl Sees The Statue is the standout). The late composers (They both died within months of each other L) also contribute an out of the blue action cut that makes overt nods to Nelson Riddle’s Batman style of the sixties (Robin And Batgirl Follow/ Matches Gives The Signal/ Bad Guys Escape) and is surprisingly effective.
Harley And Ivy – Peter Davidson, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Romanis, Shirley Walker
At once a classic pairing even though I think Ivy ends up out of character whenever they made sequels to this story, Harley is finally awarded her own theme in this episode which is counterpointed Ivy’s theme during the title card (Harley and Ivy). Many fun iterations of her theme abound in this score. According to the liner notes the production of the music was as crazy if not more than the on screen antics. On a personal note, my favorite moment in this episode is an unscored one connected to a personal experience. My mother and I were at a McDonald’s which had a TV tuned to Cartoon Network that was showing this episode. When Harley pulls her “paddle” to discipline the young punks(characatures of Timm, Radomski, and Ted Blackman) mom erupted with howls of laughter that quickly spread through the other patrons of the restaurant. Another young man, dining with his little brother, was surprised AND impressed that my mom would find this so hilarious. A memory that will be special to me till the day I die.
Read My Lips – Shirley Walker
I never knew there was a Scarface in the Batman comics until this episode. I was originally as taken aback as Batman is when discovering the truth (the episode’s commentary is a hoot at that point), but by the twistedly destructive ending (the censors never objected because he was a hunk of wood!), I fell in love with the character. Shirley Walker elected to pay homage to Neal Hefti and Henry Mancini (in Peter Gunn mode) and it is not only a great choice, it also makes me wish this one was a movie too. When Scarface instructs Rhino to take down Batman with Rhino’s response of, “No Problem” and that jazz theme starts up (Dummy Up/ Here We Go Again) I literally get goose bumps, something jazz doesn’t normally elicit in me! This was one I had a “prima notion” might be on the set, but was resigned to disappointment until of course I saw it on here and flew through the ceiling (our roofing bills are astronomical)!
Fire From Olympus – Shirley Walker
Maxie Zeus. Hmmm. This is a character that fits right in with the old sixties show. This series handles the character better than that show would’ve, but I’m surprised to say the later series The Batman actually handled the character better IMO. One thing that show didn’t have though was Shirley Walker’s rightly heralded score that she composed for this episode. The liner notes list Miklos Rozsa as the inspiration and it shows. I half expect Rozsa’s slave galley theme from Ben-Hur to start playing. One thing this episode has that The Batman didn’t have is the great ending involving Arkham Asylum (Olympus Battle). I was surprised to see this one on here as it’s not usually listed among the best episodes, but it is a very welcome addition.
Disc four closes with another alternate of the end credits and a very neat hidden track that suitably closes out the set.
I think this volume is a much better representation of the show than volume 1, with many more standouts. Having four discs with an average five shows apiece does feel a bit overwhelming but it is a joy and definitely a worthwhile purchase even though your wallet may hate you in the morning.
9.5 out of 10