Episode Title: “Return of the Fearsome Fangs!”
Original Air Date: February 20, 2009
So far this series has taken us to medieval times, a post apocalyptic future, the after life and into the cosmos, and just when I think I’ve seen it all, it gives us the old west and a mystical Kung Fu adventure. While exploring previously unexplored corners of the DCU this episode also takes extreme liberties with the Batman origin story. This episode is perhaps bold, but not necessarily rewarding.
The teaser takes us to the old west where a frontier version of the Royal Flush gang have taken captured All Star Western hero Jonah Hex. A mysterious stranger reveals himself to be Batman, who proceeds to free Hex. This is followed by a rapid fire horse back chase in which our heroes defeat the Baddies, and Batman does his best Clint Eastwood and rides off into the sunset with no explanation offered for the temporal anomaly.
The story proper opens on a mountain top temple in remote China where we see a stereotypical Kung Fu master enjoying a piece of fruit. Without warning a barrage of arrows descend on the wise, ancient man and he uses his decades of training to knock the scores of arrows to the ground in a series of spins before being assailed by a group of Ninjas. After besting the Ninjas, the Terrible Trio of Fox, Vulture and Shark appear at the top of the temple walls declaring their intentions to seize the totem within the temple. As the sun rises the beaten ninjas disintegrate into puffs of smoke revealing that they cannot appear in the daylight, and Fox shoots the master in the neck with a poison dart before escaping into the shadows. At the moment of his death, the master sends a psychic message to Batman who is stopping the criminal named Top. The psychic message instructs Batman to leave Gotham and get to the temple and protect the totem before sunset. Batman decides he must bring Bronze Tiger with him on the mission. We get a flashback that informs us that Batman, Bronze Tiger and the Terrible Trio were all students at the temple together. Batman and Bronze Tiger get to the temple in the nick of time, but fail to protect the totem. The totem converts the villains into anthropomorphic versions of the animals they are named after, and they defeat our heroes with their new found power. Batman and Tiger go to Hong Kong to defend the city against the monstrous martial artists, and have to use the power of the totem to transform into a were-tiger and a man-bat to defeat the villains. After saving the day, and back in human form, Batman and Bronze Tiger decide to find out which is the better martial artist as credits roll.
I was annoyed with this episode from the beginning, as no explanation was offered for why Batman was in Jonah Hex’s old west. When Batman travelled to the future for a teaser with Kamandi, we were given a simple 1 second scene of time travel and I don’t think it would be too much to ask for some consistency with this episode. Other than that, I did enjoy a glimpse of Jonah Hex and do look forward to more of his character in the future. The main story of the episode made several choices that I did not agree with. First, the storyline seemed needlessly elaborate for a 20 minute adventure when a more straight forward adventure could have served the same Kung Fu function. The new elements to Batman’s back story were also puzzling. Though the time training in Asia is fairly consistent with the story given just a few years prior in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, it seemed unnecessary to have the Terrible Trio (never martial artists in any previous incarnations) as well as Bronze Tiger and Batman all co-students at the same temple, at the same time. The confusion and frustration only grows when, out of nowhere, it is revealed that Bronze Tiger’s home town is Hong Kong. Those issues may simply be the result of my familiarity with the source material, but the part that bothered my the most was when Batman turned himself into a mutant beast to defeat the villains. The joy, appeal and heart of the character of Batman is that he always wins against more powerful opponents despite having nothing more than cunning and an indomitable spirit, granting him his own super powers, to me at least, is a betrayal of the character. In short, I felt that this episode was an absolute mess, a low point in an otherwise excellent series.
Featured Characters: Jonah Hex (Albano & Dezuniga, 1972), Top (Broome & Infantino, 1961), Bronze Tiger (O’Neil & Berry, 1975), Terrible Trio (Wood & Moldoff, 1958)
To learn more about Jonah Hex listen to Heroes & Villains ep. 30