It’s November 11, 1992, roughly halfway between “Tyger, Tyger” and “Heart of Steel.” In the charts, Boyz II Men finally reach the “End of the Road” for their song, unseated from months at number one by The Heights. The top movie this weekend is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with Passenger 57 and A River Runs Through It filling out the top three.
In the news today, the Church of England decides to allow women to become priests, and, appropriately enough for this story, American Olympic gold-medalist Earle Meadows dies.
In Gotham we have “Moon of the Wolf,” adapted by Len Wein from his own 1974 Batman comics story of the same name. It is also the second story in a row to deal with characters transformed into part-animals; this time it’s Olympic athlete Anthony Romulus, who gets some bad steroids courtesy of Professor Milo and starts transforming into a werewolf.
The show is continuing to play around with some potentially interesting concepts, but as in “Tyger, Tyger” it fails to stick the landing. Pitting Batman against a once-human foe who has unleashed their animalistic nature is a good match, as we saw way back in “On Leather Wings.” There, we saw the struggle between the Man and the Bat; here there is only an oddly wisecrack-prone Batman fighting against a generic, B-movie werewolf.
Yet once again there is almost a good episode here. Indeed, where “Tyger, Tyger” mashed together three potentially good episodes, the lack of ambition on display in “Moon of the Wolf” makes the shape of the one good episode underneath easier to see. Key would be to parallel Romulus’ drive to win athletic competitions at any cost with Batman’s own drive, fighting crime. Both wield their bodies as weapons, refining and sharpening them at any opportunity. The scene where Romulus and Bruce Wayne are working out at the same gym comes closest to acknowledging this parallel, but is too busy laying down exposition about Romulus’ trap for Batman.
Because there is much to be mined in a bored, rich man who, in search of ways to push his physical conditioning to the limit, transforms into a monstrous animal creature some nights. As the wolf, Romulus is a creature of pure rage. He seems to retain enough of his intellect to carry out such plans as “attack the zoo guard” or “kill Batman,” but does so while snarling, biting, clawing, and charging. He is not quite a raw force of nature–he can, more or less, pick his targets–but he retains much of the savagery.
In this respect, he is not too dissimilar from the Bat, whether we mean Man-Bat–who, like Romulus, is readable as a drug abuser–or the figure of terror Batman seeks to create in the minds of Gotham’s criminals. He is a predator, attacking from the shadows under the moon, nigh-unstoppable, feeling neither pain nor pity. He ought to be terrifying.
Yet he isn’t. After Man-Bat, robots, shapeshifters, and cat monsters, a werewolf feels almost prosaic. It’s a generic movie monster, and Romulus shares none of the pathos of the best villains. He’s just a rich athlete who wanted to keep winning, cheated, and became a monster. He’s not even a very effective monster, getting driven off by Batman in his first attack, and defeated by Batman in his second.
The best we can do, really, is play around with his name. Romulus, of course, is the mythical founder of Rome, abandoned as a baby with his brother Remus and raised by a wolf. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he is elevated to godhood by Mars and Jupiter; this Romulus, by contrast, is struck down by Jupiter’s weapon, a lightning bolt. We can, with a bit of effort, put together a case for him being guilty of that crime traditionally punished by divine judgment, hubris. Most obviously, Romulus let himself be manipulated by Milo into downing the serum without questioning what it would do to him in the long term, which made him subject to Milo’s demands.
He is, in the end, one model of a paragon. Athletic, wealthy, driven to win, he shares many of the features that make Batman who he is, up to and including the animal side of him that goes on rampages in the night. The difference is that Romulus is unbound by any rules, neither moral considerations nor an awareness of the structures which provide and maintain his wealth, hence finding himself very quickly a target of the police. Note that Bullock willingly allows Batman to take Romulus on without interference; in part that is Bullock choosing to let someone he dislikes do the difficult and dangerous work, but at the same time it is evidence that Bullock has come to understand that Batman will fight the enemies of the state, which is about as close as Bullock is likely to come to recognizing Batman as an ally. Romulus, on the other hand, attacks his personal enemies and the targets selected by Milo for the latter’s (particularly opaque in this episode) schemes. There is no possibility that Bullock, acting here as a synecdoche for the police as a whole, will ever see Romulus as anything but an enemy.
But in the end, even to get that much of a reading out of the episode requires straining it to its limit. There’s just not enough here to work with.
At the same time, something odd is happening in the show. We keep finding cause, in recent episodes, to reference the Bat, an idea that originated in our very first episode. A circle is drawing closed, and with it, the end of the first phase of the Near-Apocalypse approaches.
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