Batman: The Animated Series – “Prophecy Of Doom”

Prophecy Of Doom

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The great fall is at hand!

Air Date: October 6th 1992

Director: Frank Paur

Writer: Dennis Marks, Sean Catherine Derek (teleplay)

Themes: Prophecy, Deception, Stars

Villain: Nostromos

Synopsis: Batman investigates a conniving psychic, who has amassed a large following by predicting a coming collapse of civilisation – and who then turns his sights on Bruce Wayne.

Review:

I know that it has been a while since I did one of these (February as a matter of fact), but I’ve recently got a bit more time to catch up on some old writing stuff, and I thought that it would be nice to revisit this series, which I always enjoyed doing, beginning again right where I left off.

“Prophecy of Doom” is another episode featuring an original villain, this time a precognitive cult leader by the name of Nostromos, in a rather unsubtle nod to the 15th century figure Nostradamus. While the synopsis reads like this story with have a bit of intrigue and mystery, Nostromos and his plot fall well short of expectations, like so many of the original villains in B:TAS, though in this case there are many other elements of the episode equally at fault.

Batman takes on Nostromos and his cult. It isn’t really called a cult in the course of the episode, but that’s exactly what it is. I suppose you could say that it was a topical idea to go for at the time, as weird cults like that of David Koresh were gaining more and more national attention (the Waco siege was only five months away at time of airing), but B:TAS doesn’t have the guts to really get the most of that plotline, settling for a more mundane money swindling scheme instead.

One of the big, gaping flaws in this episode is the really low IQ of so many of the ancillary characters. Nostromos, utilising little more than a few parlour tricks and his voice, is somehow able to convince a whole load of Gotham’s elite into joining up to his mad cult and giving him a huge amount of their money in the process. The stupidity level is so large here, that it breaks all bounds of realism, with no suspension of disbelief really possible.

And that elite is fully on display here from the very beginning, living it up on some kind of pleasure liner out at sea. Great pains are undergone so that it is pressed upon the audience just how much the rich of Gotham are enjoying themselves with rowdy music, plenty of drinks and lots of dice slinging.

Until it all goes haywire, in a scene that, in all of its bad animation, showcases the strange peril that those elites find themselves in. As an opening action sequence, it loses a little something with the shocking animation, but it is at least a bit of a different opener than we are used to with this show. A mystery seed is planted immediately in line with, what was intended to be, a very large set-piece. However, it all lacks a little something, that personal touch, and you might wonder why Bruce Wayne isn’t on the boat with all these people. It’s clearly his kind of gathering after all. It might have improved this scene setter, and given Batman a little something to do from the start.

From there we cut to a similar yet different scene – it’s still the rich at play, but in a more refined, traditional setting. Bruce Wayne, the playboy version, is out on the town, with a girl who may or may not be his current paramour – it’s never made expressly clear – and her father. A billionaire playboy doesn’t seem like the type to date a girl long enough to meet the parents, so I guess this was just a business meeting that featured the daughter. Maybe Ethan Clark was actually trying to set them up, who knows, but I might be crediting a sub-par episode with a bit too much intelligence.

Anyway, this scene is just initial set-up for the stupidity. Clark elaborates on Nostromos. Bruce acts partially dumb himself, but is only fishing for more information, classic Batman use of the playboy persona. The most interesting part of this scene is the aftermath of the dinner, where Bruce walks Lisa to her car. He playfully flirts and ask her some more questions – pointed questions. This little moment is little less than an interrogation by any other name, as Wayne prods and pokes for just the right information on this “Nostromos” character, so far just a vaguely unsettling name. This scene also opened up the minor sub-plot of Lisa being against Nostromos and his cult, but it’s just the start a mediocre way to work her – and her voice actress – into the story.

Other stories featuring unique villains, like “See No Evil” for example, introduced their main antagonist from the very off, and maybe “Prophecy of Doom” should have done that. It takes three sequences for us to see Nostromos directly. Stories like this need the villain to be charismatic, unique and in your face from the start.

Instead we have to wait a few minutes for that direct introduction. It’s an interesting scene when it comes, if a bit over-acted and overblown. Nostromos is clearly some kind of blowhard con artist. Anyone with a bit of intelligence will be able to figure that Nostromos is pulling something, not least Bruce Wayne whose in attendance at this “visitation”. Acting dumb as a distraction, Wayne plays his part perfectly, learning what he can while trying to ingratiate himself in with this cult so he can take it down later. That’s the Bruce Wayne we know and love, and if “Prophecy of Doom” can say nothing else, it at least shows off Wayne’s act really well – though he can’t but show a powerful grimace, mostly disgust, when Nostromos marks him out.

From there it’s back to the Batcave as the caped crusader taps some buttons and tries to figure some things out – unsuccessfully. Nostromos, or rather “Carl Fowler”,  is a fraud, that much is very clear, nothing physical he did beyond logical explanation. But the precognition is more troubling, as is the apparent step up in his criminal ways, lowly conman to getting away with millions. I suppose that I am a little torn about these kinds of scenes. It’s good that Batman isn’t seen as infallible – he shouldn’t just automatically figure everything out instantly. At the same time, he strays dangerous close to the territory inhabited by the Gotham elite here.

This leads into the first action sequence. Nostromos has marked Wayne for death, but there is nothing mystical about the circumstances, just a sabotaged lift, that provides a small set-piece for Batman to escape out of. There actually hadn’t been many death-traps so far in B:TAS – the giant falling coins will come later – and this is just a small taste of one, easily escaped out of.

The subsequent chase scene isn’t quite as good, as Batman hunts down, or tries to at any rate, Nostromos’ lowlife accomplice. Batman is thwarted in this goal with surprising ease, as some of his own tricks of theatricality are used against him. I guess the production team just couldn’t think of a better way for Lucas to escape and perhaps thought that this unresolved contest would heighten the tension for their eventual combat at the end of the episode, but it really doesn’t. All it does is make Batman look like a bit of a chump.

Meanwhile, Nostromos and henchmen argue about the botched assassination. More classic B:TAS henchmen bullying here, and you might wonder just why these two are even a double act at all if this is how they treat each other.

A slightly better scene follows, but only just. Bruce Wayne, seeking to take down Nostromos’ plot from the inside, really overdoes it in his “You were right all along!” act, playing the blithering idiot just a little too hard, but it is still mildly entertaining, and I suppose the whole point of the Wayne persona is to be overblown in that manner. You just felt like it was a bit much after a while. More interesting is Lisa’s interruption. Wayne seems genuinely concerned that she witnesses such a thing, indicating a greater depth of feeling than the episode was prepared to infer earlier on, but very little is made of it after this point.

In a car ride to another meeting, Clark outlines Nostromos’ big revelation of a coming “Great Fall” and his plan becomes crystal clear – as does the disdain of the audience surely when they realise how moronic it all is. That none of the “brotherhood” has copped on to such an astonishingly obvious scheme is just too much to suspend disbelief, and even Bruce Wayne seems to think so, finishing Clarks sentences before he even has time to outline his own idiocy.

At the observatory, which is apparently Nostromos’ base of operations (because, reasons), we are treated to a scene similar to the initial precognition bit, just more extreme. Now it’s a movie too, which is just plain ridiculous really. The pictures on the observatory wall depict major social upheaval, which might have been attempt to tap into Batman’s worst fears or something, but it’s just so over the top that it is impossible to take seriously. And the daughter gets captured too, because we need some kind of personal catalyst for Batman’s intervention later I guess.

There follows a very unnecessary exposition break in the Batcave, where some of the main points of the story are repeated, like the basics of Nostromos’ scheme, for no reason at all, just padding. At this point “Prophecy Of Doom” is becoming unsaveably frustrating as an experience, since it features a doom central plot that the creators felt must be elaborated to the audience to an unnecessary degree.

One of the better parts of the episode is next, as Nostromos and his goon laugh and joke about how well their scheme is going. Maybe it was just because, as a viewer, you’ve had enough of the idiocy so far that it’s almost gratifying to see the bad guys take the piss out of the whole thing.

From there on, we are into the final fight, and it’s basically just a relief at this point. That fight is simple, with some of the better artwork of the episode, but that is soon thrown out the window in favour of a more bombastic finale on the floating orbs of the planetarium. Bing, bang, boom, bad guys are beaten and the damsel in distress, which is all that Lisa turned out to be, is saved.

All that’s left is a remarkably quick epilogue scene, where Clark finally admits that he’s an idiot and Wayne tacks on a Shakespeare quote to try and give the episode some gravitas. It doesn’t.

Tidbits/Quotes:

-The opening title was nice, with eclipse and the dramatic music. Pity the episode didn’t match it.

-Some terrible animation marks the opening sequence, with poorly drawn figures, basic movements and a total lack of believability. Some nice music though.

-Why the sudden shot of the fishbowl? Why?

-The vista as the lifeboats pull away is clearly meant to evoke Willy Stöwer’s Der Untergang der Titanic

-Holy God, that dinner animation. What the hell?

-It might surprise you to learn that Heather Locklear is the one behind Lisa. She was bigger stuff then than she is nowadays of course, which is why the understated part Lisa plays in the episode is so strange.

-I liked the way that Wayne played the fool at Nostromos’ first “performance”. Nicely gullible.

-Eye-catching design for Nostromos, and the VA work of Michael Des Barres prevents him from being a total loss as a villain, very Dr Orpheus like. He also played Murdoc on MacGyver by the way.

-The shrill little Theremin noise was a bit jarring for the breaking glass of course.

-Nice to see actual bats in the Batcave.

-Gotta love Wayne’s sarcastic proclamation of “Psychic vibrations!”

-Batman sticks a batarang in Lucas’ leg but, due to censorship from the studio, no blood was shown.

-Wayne plays up the sobbing and fear big time in front of Nostromos, utilising some of that acting talent.

-The car that Wayne and Clark take to the Planetarium is replicated twice more outside the building. Lazy.

– “I don’t need to be a psychic to know that Ethan Clark is about to undergo a spiritual crisis”. Ugh, what a line.

-Yeah, I still liked the wig comedy, bizarrely funny in such an unremarkable episode.

-Why the hell is Nostromos levitating in his meeting with Clark?

-“I see a bad moon rising!” Does he also see trouble on the way?

-The final fights music borrows very heavily from “Mars: The Bringer of War” from Holsts “The Planets” suite.

-The monochrome fight between Batman and Lucas was good, just under-utilised.

-Weird that the Planetariums globes are set-up so they’ll crash into each other if operated badly. Yeesh.

-“You’re about to fall out of orbit Batman!” It was around here that I just wanted it to all end.

-Weird how the episode felt the need to foreshadow the use of the grapple gun at the end. Very unnecessary.

-A fairly lame attempt at giving the story some depth with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser at the conclusion. Didn’t work.

-This episode is replete with so many animation errors, it’s no wonder Bruce Timm is on public record as trashing the work that AKOM did on it.

Overall, a stuttering effort, that never really got off the base level in any enjoyable way.

To see the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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