Batman: The Animated Series being targeted to children is often used as an excuse for its occasional descent into stupidity, but I doubt that even a child could find much to enjoy about "Prophecy Of Unlike some of the past B:TAS failures, this episode doesn't heavily feature children, and the plot by Dennis Marks barely features our main character in costume, instead focusing on Bruce Wayne's infiltration of a secret brotherhood devoted to the psychic Nostromos. Nostromos sound unfamiliar? That's because he only shows up in this one episode, which is the true mark of a bad villain on this show. His evil scheme depends on his victims acting incomprehensibly dumb, and they do because it's the only way to move the story forward. With animation from one of the show's worst villains, AKOM, "Prophecy of Doom" has visuals to match the script and ultimately proves to be an insignificant episode with nearly no redeeming qualities.
The episode begins on board a casino boat where Gotham's wealthy shoot craps, pull the slots, and take to the dance floor, with some great big band music courtesy of Shirley Walker. Below deck, a bomb explodes, forcing the passengers' evacuation and a really shitty shipwreck sequence from AKOM and director Frank Paur. The animation varies so greatly on this series, and I've realized that the quality of the explosions is a good judge for the animation of an entire episode. Last week's "Beware The Grey Ghost" had explosions with real force behind them and intricately colored fire that popped against the darkness of the backgrounds. This week, there's just smoke and a bunch of orange blobs flashing in quick succession. Walker tries her best to bring drama to the events with her score, but it's going to take a lot more than music to save this episode.
While dining with friend Ethan Clark and his daughter Lisa, Bruce Wayne learns that a fortune teller called Nostromos had warned Ethan about boarding the sunken ship and is invited to a party being held in Nostromos' honor. After her father leaves, Lisa suggests that Nostromos' predictions come true because he makes them happen, and she tells Bruce about the secret brotherhood her father has joined, because apparently Ethan Clark doesn't understand what secret means. While at the party, Nostromos pulls his psychic routine on Bruce Wayne, warning him that he's the next person in danger, then shattering Bruce's glass and probably getting him very wet. No one spills water on the goddamn Batman, and Bruce gives Nostromos a death glare that is answered by the psychic's empty stare. Does anyone know what they're trying to go for with Nostromos' eyes? Because it looks really stupid. In fact, the word that showed up most in my notes for this episode was
Bruce lifts Nostromos' fingerprints at the party and discovers that he is truly an ex-con/actor by the name of Carl Fowler, who has teamed up with special effects man Lucas to create his psychic persona. The next day, Lucas tries to kill Bruce Wayne in an elevator accident but is stopped by Batman as he tries to escape. Despite being batarang-ed in the leg, Lucas is able to get away from Batman by creating a smoky diversion, but he never even considers the possibility that the costumed superhero jumping out of the elevator shaft could be the man that was just sentenced to die in it. Unfortunately, the writers can't do an episode where two lame villains figure out that Bruce Wayne was Batman, because Batman's more careful than that. Bruce's remarkably quick elevator change is just another example of Marks taking convenient, yet illogical, shortcuts to keep his plot moving. After hamming it up for Nostromos to gain entrance to the brotherhood, Bruce learns they have set up a superfund to protect themselves from the forthcoming economic collapse: "The Great The account contains hundreds of millions of dollars, which makes you wonder just how these men were able to make so much money if they're too dumb to see through Nostromos' scheme.
As stupid as the premise of the episode is, it does tap into the surge of self-help semi-cults in the early '90s, which I remember my own parents falling prey too. There was lots of inspirational talk about the power of the individual, a public ceremony involving creepy white robes, and an after-party with a DJ spinning Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love Of All" and Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Which goes to prove that even in real life, adults do really stupid shit in the hopes of bettering themselves, but investing $300 million based on the predictions of a phony psychic without doing some sort of background check is completely unrealistic. This is when that kid's show excuse comes up; saying that plot points like this can be glossed over because children aren't going to care. As an adult viewer, though, I do care. Not every episode of B:TAS puts me in a Bruce Wayne watching Grey Ghost nostalgia trip, and episodes like "Prophecy of Doom" are a waste of time. Sean Catherine Derek somehow finds a way to get her hand into episodes with awful villain schemes, and she contributes the teleplay here, helping with the melodramatic dialogue and pun-centric humor.
At the brotherhood meeting, Nostromos announces that "The Great Fall" has begun and then warns Ethan Clark that the superfund is in jeopardy and must be converted to gold bullion at once. When Clark refuses, in one of the only smart decisions made by a character in this episode, Nostromos reveals a captured Lisa, tied to a giant revolving replica of Mars in a solar system diorama overhead. Batman appears to save the day, and what follows is one of the most embarrassing action sequences of the series. Here's what director Frank Paur had to say about it in an article from Animato! Magazine:
"I designed those planets using a circle template. How hard is it to animate circles? It was done by hand, and if we had done it now, it would have been done on computer and would have looked spectacular. When I knew the show was going to AKOM, a studio I'd had a long history with, I knew they weren't going to be able to pull it
I don't know what exactly can be gained and lost in the transition from storyboard to studio, but the finished product of this sequence has no concept of perspective, and the planets constantly change size depending on the angle of the shot. As easy as circles may be to animate, they don't necessarily make for the most striking visual image, and after a while, watching Christmas ornaments spin around in space and occasionally collide gets tedious. There's no sense of real danger, but that is consistent with the rest of the episode's struggle to create any sort of real drama. The episode ends with a Shakespeare quote from Bruce, "The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves," and it feels like a desperate attempt to achieve some level of sophistication. The B:TAS producers eventually realized that the fault lies in this episode's writers, and both of them don't last on the series.