Welcome to the inaugural entry in our weekly Saturday Morning Cartoons feature. Each week, we will be highlighting an episode of a cartoon that we enjoy. Why Saturday mornings, you ask? Well, growing up, Saturday mornings were time for cartoons. So, it only made sense to have this feature come out on Saturday morning. Each week will be a different writer, likely focusing on a different cartoon. No, these cartoons may not have actually aired on Saturday mornings, but that’s not point. The point is the feelings we have for these episodes, and sharing them with you…on Saturday morning.
So what am I starting with? Well, something from Batman: The Animated Series, of course. Would you expect me to start with anything else? But which episode is the question. Back in September, we did an episode of Podicus Wrecks in which I talked briefly about some of my favorite episodes of the show, and I am going to pick from one of those episodes. This week’s episode is going to be “Beware the Gray Ghost,” written by Dennis O’Flaherty, Tom Ruegger, and Garin Wolf, and directed by Boyd Kirkland.
I figured this was a good episode to start with. For myself, this feature was inspired by a feeling of nostalgia, and nostalgia plays a large role in this episode. The episode starts off by showing a young Bruce Wayne watching an episode of “The Gray Ghost” titled “The Mad Bomber.” In the current day, Batman comes to Commisoner Gordon after an explosion and is handed a note that almost perfectly matches the note shown in the episode that young Bruce is watching. To make it clear which scene is happening when, the young Bruce stuff is in black and white and the current stuff is in color. Thought this worked really well, because everything knows that the past is in black and white.
During a restless night, Bruce realizes that what is happening matches what happened in the old episode. He goes to a film archive, but they don’t have any copies of The Gray Ghost. Undetered, Bruce looks up the actor that played The Gray Ghost, Simon Trent, who is then shown to be a penniless, washed up actor that can’t get people to think of him as anything other than The Gray Ghost. This is a pretty meta moment that completely escaped me when I saw this episode as a kid. The character of Simon Trent is voiced by Adam West, who struggled for years to be seen as anything other than Batman.
To make rent, Trent tries to sell off his Gray Ghost merchandise, but Ted, the toy store owner can’t offer much for it. Trent wakes up to find all of his merchandise returned with a note to meet at the Gotham Art School. Batman asks for Trent’s help, noting that someone is blowing up buildings exactly how they were done in episodes of the show, and he needs Trent to remember exactly how things were carried out. They hear a strange buzzing, and suddenly there was an explosion. Trent runs off, but of course Batman just follows him. Trent reveals that he has the old films, hands Batman the canister, and demands that he leaves.
There is a big example of why you should never meet your heroes here. Here, Batman is asking his childhood hero for help, but Trent just wants nothing to do with it, insisting that he’s not The Gray Ghost. Batman comments that that is clear now. The fact Trent is not actually the Gray Ghost is meaningless. When someone comes to you for help, you help in anyway that you can. To not help here shows the level of disdain that Trent has for The Gray Ghost character, and what it has done to him later in life.
Because he still has a job to do, Bruce watches the episode, and there’s this special moment of Bruce watching as an adult and the camera zooms in on his face and when it zooms out, his younger self is shown, then back again. Bruce recognizes the buzzing in the episode from earlier, and can’t believe that daggum toy cars are responsible for the explosions.
At the next target, the police and Batman take out the cars packed with explosives by blowing them up. Not entirely certain how that is a good idea, but who am I to question things. Batman is about to be blown up by other cars, when he is rescued by Trent dressed as the Gray Ghost. Hounded by more toy cars, they speed off in the Batmobile. I must say, there is something oddly amusing about the Batmobile running from a bunch of toy cars.
Back at the Batcave, Batman just has to show off his collection of Gray Ghost memorbilia. Here, Trent begins to understand that perhaps being this character that he can’t escape wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Batman finds Trent’s prints on the car, but Trent explains that he sold all of his vehicles months ago to pay for rent. So of course they go to the toy collector and take him out fairly easily. The episode ends with a celebration of The Gray Ghost, being that the episodes were being released on video. After getting an autograph, Bruce Wayne may or may not have revealed to Trent that he is Batman.
As a kid, I don’t think I really appreciated this episode. I may have known who Adam West was, but not really any of the deeper meaning behind it. As an adult this speaks to me. I understand the difficulties of being able to convince people that you can be someone else, when everyone wants to see you as what they have always seen you as in the past. I understand having something that has a nearly magical ability to transport you to a simpler time in your life. Hell, this show as a whole is that for me. But this episode is also about redemption. Yes, life will be crappy at times. There will be times when you are going to want to hate everything and everyone. Maybe even say some things that you shouldn’t. But there is still a chance for redemption. After Trent ran off Batman, that wasn’t the end of things. He still had an opportunity to make things right, and he did.