It’s been a while, but I figured this was a good time to jump back into cartoon reviews. This weekend we lost Adam West who had many credits to his name, but is – obviously – best known for portraying Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 1960s TV series. For decades, the show has lived on in syndication and generations of people have all been thrilled by the campy fun of West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin.
Personally, I loved the 60s Batman series and when they recently released the animated BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS movie last year, I was hyped. It was done in the same tone as the original series and featured West, Ward and Julie Newmar (Catwoman) all reprising their famous roles some half-century after the fact.
Twenty-five years ago, however, there was a different Batman tribute to Adam West and it came in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series which was a huge deal on FOX in 1992. The series itself is terrific, still holds up and can be streamed on Amazon Prime if you feel inclined to give it a watch, but the eighteenth episode in particular is notable for a certain guest star: Adam West.
West portrays The Gray Ghost a TV character that young Bruce Wayne idolized as a child and – SPOILER – ends with Bruce Wayne meeting Simon Trent (the actor who played The Gray Ghost) where the new Batman tells the old one that he was – and still is – his hero.
So, in light of recent events, now felt like a good time to revisit a classic episode of a wonderful cartoon series in honor of someone who has entertained anybody who would take the time to read this.
So, without further ado, let’s watch a cartoon.
Batman: The Animated Series Episode 18, “Beware the Gray Ghost”
Originally Aired: November 4th, 1992
We open with some interweaving shots of a young Bruce Wayne sitting on the floor of his living room watching an episode of “The Gray Ghost” with current Batman investigating a bombing in Gotham City that is very similar to said Ghost episode. At the bombing sites in both the episode and in Gotham, a note is left behind promising more bombings unless a ransom is paid. In both instances, they are signed by “The Mad Bomber”.
Current day Bruce awakens after a dream in which he remembers the episode, but can’t quite put together what the bomber’s next move will be because he had fallen asleep and didn’t see how the episode ends so the next day, Alfred drives him to a local vintage shop which claims to have copies of every show ever made…except The Gray Ghost. Apparently, the studio which produced the series went up in flames twenty years ago and all copies of the show were lost.
To take an aside for a moment, there’s no way that this shop could have possibly been financially viable, right? I mean, in 1992, we have to be dealing – almost exclusively – in bootleg copies of all these old shows and there’s no way in hell that this could have supported a brick-and-mortar store front. Don’t get me wrong, before DVD box set collections, I was known to buy some He-Man and the Masters of the Universe bootleg VHS tapes at small comic cons and comic book stores, but to have a shop that is completely based around such a thing before the internet and online ordering seems like a colossal waste of money. Just me thinking aloud here. But I digress.
Bruce decided to go to The Television Guild building to look up Simon Trent, the actor who played The Gray Ghost. He finds his entry in what appears to be a yearbook of Guild actors and finds that Trent is living right here in Gotham! What a stroke of luck!
We cut to Simon Trent’s apartment in an old, run-down section of Gotham where the landlord is banging on his door and demanding rent. Simon is down on his luck and can’t get any work because people still think of him as only The Gray Ghost even though he insists he can do other roles. Casting directors just aren’t hearing that, however.
Simon – on the verge of being homeless – loses control and begins to destroy his shelves of Gray Ghost memorabilia. He falls to floor and begins sobbing as the role that defined him also made it impossible for him to earn a living in his later years.
Down on his luck, Simon heads to a hobby shop to sell whatever he has remaining of his memorabilia. The clerk is excited by his belongings, but says that he’s unable to pay much because Gray Ghost merchandise just isn’t in demand. Simon, defeated, accepts whatever he can pay and then returns home. He looks at his Ghost poster – now in a broken frame – and says, “Well, old friend, you’ve paid the rent for the last time.”
It is incredibly sad to hear Adam West’s very distinctive voice utter these words.
Simon falls asleep in his chair, but when he awakens, he is shocked to find his shelves and poster frame all repaired and re-stocked with all of his Gray Ghost keepsakes including his original Gray Ghost outfit. A note attached to the costume informs him of a meeting time later tonight. It is signed by “a friend”.
Simon arrives at the meeting and is shocked to find it’s Batman there to see him, He tries to run, but c’mon, how in the hell does this old man think he’s going to be able to just run away from Batman. Like, he obviously knew who Batman was. If much younger criminals of a stronger cloth can’t escape the Dark Knight, how the hell is old, broke Simon Trent thinking that he can? Plus, why is he running? Batman is a good guy. What is Simon Trent hiding that he’d run from Batman. I’ve got questions, sir.
Batman relays the similarities of the bombings to the episode of the show, but Simon can’t remember and is visibly shaken. He made hundreds of those episodes, but more than anything, just wants to be left alone and for the stranger in the costume to stop bothering him.
Simon returns home only to find Batman already standing in his apartment. Batman reiterates the importance of Simon remembering how the episode and – just to get Batman to leave – digs to the back of his closet where he has a complete film reel library of Gray Ghost episodes. He gives “The Mad Bomber” to Batman and again begs him to leave. Batman tells Simon that he always admired what The Gray Ghost stood for, and Simon, becoming increasingly frustrated, yells that he’s just an actor and not the Ghost. Batman says he can see that now and leaves Simon to wallow in his own self-pity.
Batman returns to Wayne Manor to screen the episode and finds that the bomber in the show was using small remote-controlled toy cars loaded with explosives to blow up the buildings. Batman is able to figure out the location of the next target and prevent the Gotham Library from becoming ash.
When some of these explosive-packed RC cars are sent in Batman’s direction, he gets unexpected help from an unlikely source: The Gray Ghost. Batman invites the Ghost to help him with the investigation and the two head to the Batcave. Upon arrival and once he removes the mask so he wouldn’t know the location of the Batcave, the Gray Ghost is shocked to see that the Batcave looks like an exact replica of The Gray Ghost’s lair. Batman then tells Ghost to follow him to a hidden room where, upon turning the lights on, the Ghost is shown Batman’s full shrine of Gray Ghost memorabilia.
Batman tells Ghost about how he watched the show as a child with his father and that Ghost was his hero. Simon soaks in that he inspired the greatest detective of all and how hearing that made his journey worthwhile, but before we can expand upon this tender moment, Batman’s tech has finally come back with a fingerprint match on the toy cars. A match belonging to…Simon Trent.
Ghost swears it wasn’t him, but Batman – just moments ago proclaiming his admiration – now interrogates him hard declaring that the combination of fingerprints, toys and knowledge of the show made him the obvious culprit. Simon, now scared for his well-being, informs Batman that he hasn’t had these toys in months because he had sold them to pay his rent.
Cut to Batman showing up in the shadows of the lair of…the hobby shop store clerk who fully admits to using his toys to hold the city ransom that way he’s able to buy more toys because being a collector is so goddamn expensive. As far as motives go, I’m actually on board with this one. I mean, it’s impossible to collect almost anything nowadays because of how cost-prohibitive things are.
The toy collector has Batman surrounded by the toy-car bombs, but in swoops Gray Ghost to destroy the guy’s computer controls causing the bombs to detonate and destroy the entire toy store.
Gray Ghost is a hero for his work in helping Batman which leads to a surge of interest in everything Ghost including – what appears to be a DVD box set years before such a thing would have existed.
Ghost appears at what looks like a Tower Records (remember those?) for a meet-and-greet to celebrate the release of the Ghost collection and is asked to sign a video to Bruce. As he turns to leave, Bruce stops and tells Simon that he had watched Ghost with his father as a kid and that not only was he his hero then, but he still is. We get a knowing look between Ghost and Bruce before we hit the credits.
OK, the villain today was kind of whack, but I can totally get behind wanting to collect a ransom so you’re able to buy more toys. These shits are expensive AF and if you want anything even remotely vintage, you better have a helluva job or own a Zeppole truck to stack that cash.
That being said, the scenes where Simon Trent is hating his being pigeon-holed as Gray Ghost is actually really well done and makes you wonder just how much of that Adam West himself went though in the post-Batman years. Seeing as how he was a regular on the convention circuit for an incredibly long time, I’d be led to assume that it was more out of necessity than optional.
Batman helping him to get his groove back is outstanding and the end scene of Bruce and Simon’s interaction is a great wink to the audience and fans of the character in general.
All in all, good episode and I really love the animation style in this show and think it still holds up well 25 years after the fact. I should probably give this entire series a good, long re-watch.