Let’s just say I put the cat out (Tyger, Tyger)

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It’s October 30, 1992, the day after “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne,” and a good example of why, for Batman the Animated Series at least, I’ve chosen to do these in production, rather than chronological, order: this has a Selina Kyle who is not in jail and involved in animal-related charity work with Bruce Wayne, yet it aired between her arrest in “The Cat and the Claw” and release in “Catscratch Fever.” This is, more or less, the Halloween episode, and so we get a story about monsters and evil scientists transforming people against their will.

Unfortunately, other than the fairly obvious idea of making Catwoman into a cat-woman, there just isn’t much to this episode. Catwoman herself is bizarrely passive for most of the episode, utterly lacking the fire and dominant presence that defines her character. She’s just a timid catgirl with Selina Kyle’s hair color and voice actress, sitting around while Tygrus and Batman effectively fight for her affections. She does get to explain to Tygrus that she can’t be “won that way,” but it takes her a lot of sitting around to get there.

Paradoxically for an episode that is sorely lacking in ideas, it also suffers from trying to do too much. It wants to be an episode about Catwoman being turned into a cat-woman, it wants to be a “sympathetic villain” story about Tygrus, it wants to be an Island of Dr. Moreau pastiche, but none of this gets any room to breathe. The life has to be sucked out of Catwoman’s character to get her to accept being experimented on, rather than using the enhanced physical and sensory abilities Dorian is giving her to smack Dorian around and take the antidote, so her story falls flat. There seems to be some effort at creating a parallel between her and Dorian with Langstrom’s line that Dorian “likes cats better than people,” but this is never explored, and Dorian is never more than a generic “mad scientist” villain.

In “Mad as a Hatter” the Mad Hatter’s Alice in Wonderland theme was employed in clever and creative ways that showed the writers had most likely actually read the book. “Tyger, Tyger” is, of course, titled after the first line of “The Tyger” from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the first two lines of which are quoted in the episode by first Dorian and later Batman. But other than Tygrus being a large cat-person and there being a forest on the island, there is nothing remotely Blakean here. Similarly, beyond the presence of an island and a scientist making human-animal hybrids, there’s no engagement with The Island of Dr. Moreau, either. Even Dorian’s name–Emile Dorian–suggests a literary source, Emile and Dorian both being young men who become corrupted in Herman Hesse’s Demian and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, respectively. But that’s not actually a very good description of Emile, whose “corruption” leads ultimately to enlightenment and an ability to move beyond the stifling and self-destructive moral codes of the 19th century, while Dorian Grey becomes a murderer. In short, it’s honestly questionable whether any of Cherie Wilkerson (in her only DCAU credit), Michael Reeves, or Randy Rogel have actually read any of the works they’re referencing here, and not at all questionable whether they’ve bothered to think about those works in relation to this episode–they clearly haven’t, except in the shallowest possible sense.

It is the same problem as the excess of plots, actually: there’s so much being jammed into this episode that there’s no room to engage with any of it. It functions like a laundry list: Catwoman pun, check. Island, check. Blake reference, check.

There is potential here. The idea of an evil scientist creating animal-human hybrids will show up again in an episode of Batman Beyond which, while not one of that series’ best, is still miles ahead of this. Or an episode about Catwoman being transformed into a cat could be quite good, if it focused on her, the horror of transformation, and her efforts to break out. Or a “sympathetic villain” story about Tygrus discovering how little his creator cares about him and turning to solitude, preferably with a different cause then a crush on one of the scientists’ victims. The sexist cliche of being “tamed by the love of a woman” is literally the oldest one in the book, said book being The Epic of Gilgamesh. But if that absolutely had to be the way, at least make it a character who was created to be a peril monkey, like Summer Gleason, instead of tearing down Catwoman.

But instead of three potentially good episodes, we get one laundry list. It’s just a hollow shell of an episode. There’s not even enough here to attempt a redemptive reading on, because there’s nothing to read. One has to ask, in regards to this episode: did they who made “Heart of Ice” make thee?


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2 thoughts on “Let’s just say I put the cat out (Tyger, Tyger)

  1. It might have been an interesting twist to have Catwoman actually want to be a cat, but due to the guy kidnapping people to experiment on them, Batman stops him before he can give her the final treatment. And maybe along the way Catwoman realizes being a cat isn’t actually all that great.

    Or something. Anything but what we got, really. On my ‘most boring episode’ contenders list.

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