Revisiting ‘See No Evil’ From ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

Revisiting ‘See No Evil’ From ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

An invisible man––an ex-con driven by a desire to reunite his family––becomes the first legitimately successful original villain of the series.
Warren Henry
By

Spoilers ahead.

“See No Evil” is the first episode in which a villain created for the series works well. Perhaps the creative team learned from reimagining Mr. Freeze for “Heart of Ice” that the key is motivation. In this episode, Lloyd Ventrix is an ex-con, but his new crimes are driven by a desire to reunite his family.

His behavior is a very recognizable sort of domestic criminality, though strong stuff for a show primarily targeted at children. The difference is Lloyd coming into possession of a suit which renders him invisible. The suit also affects Lloyd’s mind, though there may be a chicken/egg issue here.

The script by comics veteran Martin Pasko thus pays homage to H.G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man” (1897), James Whale’s famous 1933 film adaptation, and even Paul Verhoeven’s “Hollow Man” (2000). These works also employ the trope of the mad scientist, whereas Ventrix steals his means of invisibility (perhaps influencing the character of Rodney Skinner in the film version of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” from 2003). There is even a tangential discussion in “Shazam!” (2019) of whether invisibility is an inherently dark super-power.

The script is well-served by director Dan Riba and the voice talent behind the Ventrix family. Lloyd is voiced by Michael Gross, whose performance spans the warm father from “Family Ties” in the ’80s, the dishonest husband who landed in prison trying to recover his old life, and the increasingly deranged sociopath fueled by invisibility. His young daughter Kimmy is voiced by Elisabeth Moss, who would go on to “The West Wing,” “Mad Men,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Lloyd’s ex-wife Helen is voiced by Jean Smart of “Garden State,” “24,” “Designing Women,” and The X-Men spinoff “Legion” (among many others). She brings a weary anger to her estrangement from Lloyd which grounds the narrative in reality.

The Dong Yang studio’s animation is also in the series’ top tier. Depicting an invisible man—and an invisible car—presents challenges in any medium, let alone a cartoon. Beyond these flashier moments, the detailed highlighting and shadowing of the characters brings artistry to what could be seen as a “small” Batman story.

The Plot

Our drama opens in a downscale Gotham suburb. Kimmy talks to her “imaginary” friend Mojo, who is holding her doll in midair. Mojo gives Kimmy a locket and promises to bring her the pearl necklace she wants on his next visit. Kimmy tells Mojo she and her mother are moving soon for a better life, causing Mojo to drop the doll as his voice grows pained.

Helen opens the bedroom door to check on her daughter and chuckles upon learning Kimmy is talking to her imaginary friend. (The simultaneously innocent and creepy tones of this scene are enhanced by Shirley Walker’s score, though the reprise of Kimmy’s theme during a later action scene is slightly distracting.)

Kimmy’s imaginary friend is really her father Lloyd, who goes to the Gotham Jewelry Expo the next day. While Bruce Wayne considers buying a watch, Lloyd locks himself in a bathroom and dons a grey plastic suit which turns him invisible by pressing a button on his wristwatch. Lloyd then loots the jewelry vendors as stunned bystanders see valuables disappearing into thin air.

Batman pursues the invisible thief, who knocks down a guard and bursts through the exposition hall’s doors to a construction zone outside. Lloyd’s footsteps are revealed by wet cement. Batman uses a smoke bomb and a can of paint to locate and mark him. Lloyd uses the watch to re-energize his suit and burn off the paint. Lloyd then delivers a beating to the Dark Knight, leaving our hero collapsed in the wet cement.

The following day, Lloyd approaches Helen during her lunch at Goth-Mart. The dapper ex-con tries to convince Helen he is doing well on parole, while she reminds him she has a restraining order issued against him. He pleads to visit Kimmy, but Helen wishes he would disappear. As Helen storms out of Goth-Mart, Lloyd muses to himself that she should be careful what she wishes for.

Batman’s Journey

Meanwhile, Bruce visits WayneTech’s optics lab to investigate an invisibility project he heard about the prior year. Lucius Fox (Brock Peters of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Soylent Green,” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”) says the company was interested in working with a Dr. Karos, who withdrew his proposal before they could accept. Although Karos died a few months ago, his assistant Dr. Giddell still lives.

Batman breaks into Giddell’s lab to read files on the invisibility project and is briefly disabled when Giddell topples a bookcase on him. (This episode finds Batman repeatedly bested by people of normal strength.)

The Caped Crusader frees himself and questions Giddell, who claims the security guard will provide an alibi regarding the jewel heist. Batman notices a roll of plastic, prompting Giddell to explain that running electricity through filaments in the plastic bends light around the material, but also makes the plastic toxic—a problem Karos and Giddell could not solve. When Batman asks who else knew about the plastic, Giddell mentions Lloyd worked as the lab’s errand boy.

Batman warns Helen about Lloyd, while Lloyd invisibly kidnaps Kimmy by using the pearl necklace as a lure. At an abandoned drive-in theater, Lloyd tries to persuade Kimmy to get into his car, even revealing his disembodied head. Kimmy refuses, remembering her mother’s warnings about her father. This suspenseful scene benefits from its setting, a metaphor for the decline of the nuclear family and dissolution of the Ventrix family.

Batman, having discovered Kimmy was missing within minutes of the abduction, intervenes at the drive-in. Lloyd’s visble head allows Batman to floor him with a kick while Kimmy flees the scene.

Lloyd enters his car, which is covered in the special plastic and turns invisible upon starting. Lloyd tries to run down Batman in the drive-in lot. Batman jumps on the car’s roof, clinging desperately as Lloyd drives recklessly through Gotham traffic, removing part of the plastic and rendering the car partially visible. Lloyd ultimately crashes the car by driving off elevated train tracks. He delivers another beating to Batman, dismissing the masked detective’s warnings about the plastic.

Batman throws ninja Bat-stars at an old water tower in the rail yard, causing streams of water to reveal Lloyd’s location. The Caped Crusader takes full advantage to knock Lloyd unconscious.

A few nights later, Helen checks in on Kimmy, who says she was talking to Batman. Helen again dismisses this as an imaginary conversation as Batman makes his way from the Ventrix home. Aside from Helen’s odd disbelief, this final scene reminds us again of Batman’s concern for children.

Warren Henry is the nom de plume of an attorney practicing in the State of Illinois.

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