Review by Paul Outram:
The fourth and final volume of music from the first season of "Batman: The Animated Series" is here at last! Not so long ago, the fate of this volume was in question as La-La Land Records indicated a desire to move on from the first season after three releases. But here we are, with a fourth volume, thankfully; fans’ persistence in making a case for a complete release of music from the first 65 episodes has paid off and we now have the complete scores for all of those episodes! 9 full scores are featured on this set, alongside an assortment of previously unreleased cues from scores that were included on Volumes 1, 2 and 3. And all of it is worthy of the deluxe treatment it’s given here.
Off Balance is a score that’s brimming with mystery, largely because of the enigmatic Talia al Ghul, who gets a sultry theme courtesy of Mark Koval. With its eerie opening cue, and the dynamic ‘Society Boys’ cue that immediately follows it, the score asserts itself as the right one to be first out of the gate on this set. Michael McCuistion’s ‘Lab Tests’ cue is a highlight, as it threads his Count Vertigo theme through a tense sequence in which Batman and Talia’s lives are at stake – a pivotal moment in the plot. Yet it’s Mark Koval who delivers the score’s most striking cue: a rousing rendition of Talia’s theme which transitions into the all too familiar theme for her father… ‘Ra’s al Ghul.’
This is followed by Joker’s Wild: a darkly whimsical and menacing Joker score from Todd Hayen, who uses strings to put his own spin on the Clown Prince of Crime. There is much to admire about this score, from the joyous ‘Joker’s Grand Opening Source’, to the mania of ‘The Joker’s Escape’ (in which he goes on a rampage through Arkham), and finally the helicopter battle at the climax of the episode (‘Jackpot’). Hayen pays tribute to Shirley Walker’s classic themes throughout, and he does give her Joker theme a welcome nod in ‘Bruce Investigates.’
The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy is next, and there’s no shortage of drama in this one. Having said that, I really enjoy the lighter touches, like Mark Koval’s childlike theme for Josek’s humiliation in ‘The Baron.’ The episode’s final cues are the most intense and exciting, especially ‘Gotcha’, which complements the revelation of the Baron’s secret (and Batman’s trump card) very well! This score is particularly Gotham-esque (with its brooding tones in the aforementioned track), which is nice.
The alternating between darkness and a certain amount of light-heartedness continues with Zatanna, though this score isn’t zany like Joker’s Wild. Peter Tomashek’s opening cue is happy and pleasant, evoking the wonder of Zatanna’s magic show. As Batman and Zatanna commence their investigation, the music reflects the deepening mystery, particularly at the start of the ‘Kane’s a Dummy’ cue. And ‘Fight Without Wind’ proves to be one of this disc’s most memorable cues, with the strings creating a sharp lashing sound that reflects the gravity of Zatanna and Batman’s perilous situation at that point in the story!
The biggest surprise is Moon of the Wolf. I’ve never cared for this episode or its score at all, until now. The antics with the electric guitar actually go very well with the orchestra in each and every cue on this set, and I’m kicking myself for not realising this before now. Maybe I just dismissed the electronics as obnoxious and intrusive when I was watching the episode itself. Having now had the opportunity to listen to the isolated score, I can see that I was being very close-minded! ‘Werewolf Attack’, ‘Werewolf Comes Home to Milo’ and ‘Anthony Becomes a Wolf’ all sound terrific, and the sense of horror is sustained, rather than made cheesy by the electric guitar. This score is an interesting experiment, and one that paid off, though if I had to pick a favourite cue I would probably choose ‘Open House’, which brings the story to a sad and haunting conclusion.
Last up on disc 1 is The Mechanic. As always, Shirley Walker’s Penguin theme is great to listen to, and both Peter Tomashek and John Tatgenhorst have fun with it here. ‘Limping Home’ and ‘Batman Saves Earl’ are still two of the more noteworthy cues though, for the simultaneously strong and humble tones with which the listener is made to associate the character of Earl (the mechanic). The frantic music towards the end underscores Penguin’s delight at being able to wreak havoc with the Batmobile.
Disc 2 begins with The Worry Men, which was the last of the original 65 episodes in production order. Happily, Shirley Walker’s timeless theme for the Mad Hatter is heard again here for the first time since Volume 2 (‘Mad Hatter Rejoices’), though Lolita Ritmanis’s score really shines when it’s riffing on the jungle theme of the Hatter’s shaman henchmen. The opening action sequence (‘Party Crasher’ and ‘Up on the Roof’) is fun, and the ‘Jungle Club Source’ is a real treat.
Next we have Fear of Victory, minus the material heard in the episode that was tracked from Walker’s Nothing to Fear score. I cannot say enough good things about Lisa Bloom’s cues (‘Falling Rocks’ and ‘Saving Robin’), which serve as a wonderful musical accompaniment to the spectacle of Batman and Robin’s struggle to apprehend a pair of jewel thieves on a skyscraper. As Robin succumbs to the Scarecrow’s fear gas in mid-air, Bloom illustrates his powerlessness and petrified state marvellously. Then she hits us with an incredible take on Walker’s Batman theme as the Dark Knight finds himself in freefall. This is a stunner of a cue. It’s followed by another spectacular cue, in the form of ‘A Gallery of Enemies’ by Shirley Walker, which showcases the Joker, Ivy, Two-Face and Scarecrow themes in succession amidst a suspenseful moment in the dark halls of Arkham. A few brief cues by Carlos Rodriguez round out the underscoring for this episode, and the threat of the Scarecrow looms large in these excellent short pieces.
His Silicon Soul is the last of the full scores presented on this set. Though there is drama aplenty throughout this score, I feel that the opening cues carry the most resonance with me. The first track covers the warehouse action sequence, in which the HARDAC Batman comes to life and tangles with a group of thugs. The robbers’ confusion is illustrated very nicely with the frenetic music. Then, as the HARDAC Batman confronts Alfred in Wayne Manor, we hear the first of a number of musical statements that combine Batman and HARDAC’s themes – HARDAC’s theme is powerful and commanding but also a little despairing, which makes this pairing very interesting. There’s much to enjoy here.
The lengthy sequence of Arkham Archives round out the set, and they are brilliant. Shirley Walker’s Two-Face two-parter is fleshed out with the inclusion of such cues as ‘Gordon’s Raid’ (which foreshadows ‘Batman Tracks Dent’ from Volume 1) and the terrifying ‘Big Bad Harv.’ Vendetta benefits from the release of ‘The Greenhouse Visit’ and ‘Let’s Get Some Air’, which provide listeners with more of the murky criminal underworld vibes so prevalent in that score on Volume 1. ‘Batman Pulls the File’ is terrific too – there’s a particular moment at the start of this cue that reminds me of a moment from Sideshow (another Killer Croc score by Michael McCuistion which has not yet been released). ‘Running from the Cops’ is an essential addition to Walker’s Perchance to Dream score, smoothing over the rough transition from ‘My Life Is a Dream’ to ‘Climbing the Church Tower’ on Volume 1.
There are also some very cool Source cues included in the Arkham Archives. Christmas With the Joker, Pretty Poison, Birds of a Feather and more are made even more colourful with the extras and easter eggs contained on this set. Speaking of easter eggs, there’s one at the very end of this set that I will not spoil – but I will say that it’s quite touching.
Overall, Volume 4 is a fantastic new entry in La-La Land’s collection of "Batman: The Animated Series" releases. You would think that there might be at least a handful of stinkers in the course of a 65 episode run of scores, but fans of "Batman: The Animated Series" know better, and now that material is all out there to be enjoyed by anyone who harbours enthusiasm for this music. I’d advise the hardcore fans to rearrange their playlists accordingly where the ‘Arkham Archives’ cues are concerned, to ensure the most complete listening experience possible. Bravo, La-La Land, you’ve done it again… Now please devote the same level of care and attention to an all-encompassing release of music from The Adventures of Batman and Robin! To think that 8 years ago, we didn’t have any of this music… Now, a staggering amount is available! It’s great to see this extraordinary scoring getting the exposure that it deserves.
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