Poor Frank Paur, he's always getting the lousiest scripts to direct, and he usually gets saddled with an equally bad animation studio to turn written shit into cartoon shit. From the moment Radomski's title card appears, it's obvious "The Cape & Cowl Conspiracy" is going to be another uninspired effort from Paur and company. I get that this episode is about Batman's uniform, but a blue outline of his cape and cowl does not a dynamic image make. Was Radomski on some absurd deadline that required him to send in a blue shadow treatment study on accident? It's a bland image to start a clichd episode, which is essentially a series of derivative/idiotic traps set by a stale villain; low on pathos, but high on artificial melodrama. Without an emotional hook, the episode loses a sense of urgency and relevance, and the action isn't captivating enough visually to compensate for the script's misgivings.
"The Cape & Cowl Conspiracy" and "The Laughing Fish" are both adaptations of Detective Comics issues, but "Conspiracy" suffers from a script by original story writer Elliot S. Maggin, who isn't able to adjust the story to match the standards set by previous episodes. The main villain Josiah "The Interrogator" Wormwood is described in the comic as a "financier, socialite, and freelance assassin," but none of those qualities apply to his animated character. A financier/socialite/assassin sounds like a great foil to financier/socialite/superhero Bruce Wayne, but instead we get a cheap Riddler knock-off who uses barely-cryptic clues to lure Batman into his traps. Woodward is the kind of villain who loves to monologue while Batman tries to escape, and at the end of the episode he actually gets a "villain explains his plot in vivid detail" monologue when he's talking to his associate "Baron" Wacklaw Josek, who is actually Batman in disguise.
This episode shares a lot of the same problems as "I've Got Batman In My Basement," in that there's a complete lack of Bruce Wayne and a story that revolves around a single far-fetched plot point. In "Basement," it was Batman having to put his life in the hands of children, while "Conspiracy" has Batman devising a convoluted scheme to get Wormwood to confess to stealing a collection of bearer bonds. As Josek, Batman hires Wormwood to steal his cape and cowl, withholding his reason for wanting the costume in hopes that Wormwood will confess in exchange for more information. Why Wormwood is so concerned with Josek's plans and not, say, Batman's secret identity is just plain stupid, and Wormwood's inconsistent character isn't helped by his lame design and exaggerated voice acting. The only thing missing from Wormwood's design is a mustache for him to twirl, and Bud Cort gives an over the top vocal performance that makes the character sound like a bad Dr. Evil impression at times.
While Paur is saved his usual Akom assignment, Dong Yang's animation this episode is one of their weaker efforts, especially compared to "The Laughing Fish," which also uses their services, but with layouts provided by Spectrum. When Batman is locked in DeLarue's Wax Museum under a 20,000 watt lightbulb, the wax melting effects don't have the kind of detail and fluidity that a studio like TMS would have brought, and the script is so contrived that it limits the visual potential of the episode. The episode begins with Wormwood trapping a courier in a quicksand pit on a mini-golf course, which seems incredibly unsafe for the Gotham Putt-Putt, and there's even a "busty woman tied to the train tracks" action sequence. Making her a hologram doesn't forgive the fact that it's pretty much the villain clich. The wax sequence is notable for the hilariously phallic nature of Batman's escape attempt, though, as he hurls a metal rod into the lamp while covered in white goo. The lamp shattering triggers the release of a gas that forces Batman to give up his cape and cowl, and he goes feral in the process. It's obviously symbolic, with Batman using his hyper-masculinity to penetrate the first stage of Wormwood's plot, which ultimately leads to Wormwood's satisfaction and a primal transformation for our hero. Or not.
When Wormwood brings the cape and cowl to Josek, he outlines his plot in detail, then gets his ass handed to him when Batman reveals himself. The body switch reveal happens twice this week, and in both instances it's hard to believe that Batman would be able to disguise himself as someone shorter and fatter so convincingly. It's less a plot point in "The Laughing Fish," though, and the reveal that Batman is Josek is not only predictable, but diminishes the events that happened before. Why did Batman put himself at risk when he could have just gotten Wormwood to confess the old fashioned way? How many crimes were committed while Batman was getting waxed? The entire plot just seems pointless, and the ending scene is like a rotten cherry on a turd sundae. Behind bars, Wormwood receives a present from Batman to keep him warm: the cape and cowl. Why in the world would Batman give a criminal anything other than a well-deserved beatdown? It's Maggin's attempt at a clever button that, like the rest of the episode, misses the mark completely.