Revisiting ‘Prophecy Of Doom’ From ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

Revisiting ‘Prophecy Of Doom’ From ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

Bruce Wayne takes the lead in debunking a fortune teller's scam on Gotham's elite.
Warren Henry
By

Spoilers ahead.

Following a string of strong outings, “Prophecy Of Doom” is a subpar episode. Like many of the lesser entries in the show’s early run, this entry focuses on Bruce Wayne, with very little of the Batman in costume.

“Prophecy Of Doom” has an interesting idea at its core. Bruce/Batman investigates a fortune teller named Nostromos (presumably an allusion to Nostradamus), who is using visions of financial collapse to bilk Gotham’s elite out of its wealth.

Although Batman is normally associated with tackling supervillains or organized crime, it is easy to imagine his attraction to debunking this sort of con. In becoming Batman, Bruce honed many skills, including the escape artistry of Harry Houdini. Indeed, the series has already shown him executing a classic water chamber escape in “Be A Clown.” Houdini was part of a tradition of illusionists exposing those using magic tricks to defraud the public. (The Amazing Randi later served this function, as Penn & Teller have in their own way today.)

Moreover, the susceptibility of the rich and famous to grifters can be a fascinating topic–but likely one outside the interest of its younger target audience. Accordingly, the con here is staged in suitably cartoon fashion, ultimately backed by the threat of violence. Moreover, but for the climactic battle, the animation from Akom in this episode is another example of why this vendor was eventually dropped from the production.

The Plot

The opening set piece is particularly disappointing. A floating casino sinks off the coast of Gotham after a bomb explodes in the ship’s boiler room. Yet the explosions look more like someone lit a box of fireworks, instead of the far more impressive, dangerous-looking detonations in the immediately prior episode, “Beware the Gray Ghost.”

Nevertheless, the disaster confirms a prophecy Nostromos gave wealthy industrialist Ethan Clark, who proselytizes the soothsayer’s visions to Bruce Wayne. Clark invites Bruce to a party he is throwing for Nostromos. Clark’s daughter Lisa remains skeptical and takes Bruce aside to say she suspects Nostromos engineers the events he predicts.

Bruce attends the party, but is careful that his own skepticism is expressed in ambiguous comments about the fortune-teller’s pronouncements, at one point turning to a neighbor to remark: “He’s so… deep.” Nostromos says he senses someone in the audience is in great danger, then turns to point at Bruce, whose cocktail glass shatters.

Although many in the audience are impressed, Bruce only fakes his reaction. Later, in the Batcave, Batman tells Alfred he suspects the glass was broken by a sonic device. Batman also lifted Nostromos’s fingerprints at the party. The Bat-computer reveals they belong to Carl Fowler, an actor with a criminal record. In addition, a Nostromos henchman named Lucas is revealed to have a background in theatrical special effects.

The next day, Lucas dons a mask and sabotages Bruce’s personal elevator at Wayne Enterprises. Batman escapes the plummeting elevator car with his grappling gear, but Lucas ultimately eludes the Caped Crusader on the roof.

At Nostromos’s lair, a seemingly abandoned planetarium, the grifter is furious with Lucas upon hearing Bruce allegedly left the elevator before it crashed. Nostromos hoped the incident would cement elite opinion in its belief of his powers. He is calmed by a telephone call from Clark informing him the incident caused Bruce to “see the light.”

Nostromos and Clark meet with Bruce, who feigns being shaken by the incident. Clark suggests Bruce become a member of their “Brotherhood” and Nostromos instantly agrees. Lisa overhears the conversation and is outraged Bruce has fallen for a scam. Bruce, never wanting to alienate a beautiful woman, almost blows his cover but ultimately maintains his act.

Driving Bruce home, Clark explains the Brotherhood has established a vast trust fund to protect themselves and rebuild society after the “Great Fall” Nostromos has predicted. Bruce is reluctant to donate to Nostromos; Clark assures him Nostromos cannot access the fund without Clark’s signature as trustee.

The Resolution

Nostromos convenes a meeting of the Brotherhood at the planetarium, hyping the Great Fall and subsequent societal collapse. As his spiel reaches its fevered peak, Nostromos levitates above his stage. The Brothers are astonished, but Lisa has infiltrated the backstage to discover Lucas in charge of the wires making the illusion possible. In turn, Lucas discovers Lisa and seizes her to prevent disclosure of the scam.

After the meeting, Batman tells Alfred that he has donated $10 million to the fund in order to maintain his sting operation. The fund holds over $300 million. Batman suspects Nostromos will extort Clark into providing access to the funds. Meanwhile, Nostromos jokingly predicts to Lucas that they are about to become very wealthy.

The fortune teller summons Clark to the planetarium with a demand that the fund be converted into gold bullion. Nostromos claims there is no time to consult the Brotherhood because the Great Fall is imminent. When Clark resists, Nostromos claims there is a “bad moon rising,” pointing upward to reveal Lisa bound to Mars. Clark signs the paper authorizing the fund conversion before being bound and gagged.

Nostromos tells Clark the planetarium will soon explode, but he then begins flying erratically. Nostromos and Lucas rush backstage to discover Batman sabotaged their controls. While Lucas fights Batman, Nostromos accelerates the planets’ orbits, endangering Lisa.

As Batman subdues Lucas, Nostromos attempts to escape with the fund authorization. Batman detaches the model Earth, which bears down on the con man in the manner of the giant boulder in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). The Dark Knight then frees Lisa from Mars just before it crashes into Saturn.

After Nostromos and Lucas are taken into custody, Clark curses his gullibility. Bruce replies by quoting Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” saying “The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.”

“Prophecy Of Doom” is decidedly mediocre, but not utterly without merit. The final fight, with its orbiting planets, is well-animated, particularly for the days before computer-assisted animation became common. The portion where Batman fights Lucas is largely in black-and-white—a device the series uses effectively. Shirley Walker’s score, including the casino ship’s big band number (recalling Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”) helps keep the weak script aloft. The voice acting also tries to make the most of the material, particularly from Heather Locklear as Lisa and Michael Des Barres as Nostromos.

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

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