Curse of (the) Kobra

  Kobra plots to take over the world.
  Original Airdate: February 3 & 10, 2001
  Episode # 48, #49
  Rating: * *

Credits Cast

Written by Rich Fogel (I)
Story by Rich Fogel (II)
Teleplay by Stan Berkowitz (II)
Directed by James Tucker (I) & Dan Riba (II)
Music by Michael McCuistion
Animation by Koko/Dong Yang

Will Friedle as Terry McGinnis
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Cree Summer as Max Gibson
Bruce Timm as Jokerz Leader
Xander Berkeley as Dr. Childes
Dan Castellaneta as Kobra Commando, Guard

Grey Delisle as Servant Girl #2
Alexis Densof as Zander
Takayo Fischer as Kairi Tanaga
Brian George as Dr. Banjahri
Gary Sturgis as Driver and Kobra
Tasia Valenza as Servant Girl #1

Not since Mystery Science Theater 3000 lampooned Invasion of the the Eye Creatures has confusion over the definite article—"Curse of the Kobra Part I" is followed by "Curse of Kobra Part II"—been as symbolic, or metaphorical, or perhaps just as creepily appropriate as it is here. Life works out that way sometimes, you know. It's a mercy we weren't handed the indefinite article and left to wonder if "Curse of a Kobra" referred to the imprecations of a reptile who resented the misspelling of his name.

The "curse of" appellation is usually a sign of desperation in a series: The Curse of Fu Manchu, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, The Curse of the Pink Panther; these are not-so-cryptic warnings that send the potential viewer hurrying to another section of the video store. (Planet of the Apes missed its "Curse" sequel only because the series crashed first, and Joel Schumacher of Batman and Robin infamy contributes "accursed" as an anagram hidden inside his directorial credit.) Something lurid and risible is about the best that can be expected from the stories crawling about under these titles, but the grotesquely incompetent is the more common reward. "Curse of the Kobra" (to choose more or less at random one of the proposed titles) immediately gives off a fragrance that makes you wonder: Are they kidding, or what?

"What," it turns out, is the correct answer. Which is kind of a shame when you think about it. The Timm-produced animated shows have rarely given themselves over to the florid treatments that have been associated with Batman from the beginning. Those old battles with the vampiric Master Monk and the Horde of the Green Dragon are crude and ludicrous, yet strangely mesmerizing. "Curse of the Kobra Children" (an early working title for this one, if internet rumors are to be believed) has a similar ring to it. It makes you think of dashing heroes, busty maidens, and diabolical villains of the sort who get up early every morning so they can get some extra quality time in with their infernal machines. It's the world of Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sax Rohmer, and if no one believes in it anymore, that would only make it easier for a new entry in the genre to pile on the absurdly baroque detail.

Absurdity is the hallmark here all right, but it's the helpless absurdity of something broken and invalided. The Kobra cult is plotting to turn its adherents into dino-things (think of Barney's chain-smoking, Harley-riding, white-trash brother-in-law), then use a big bomb to blow up a volcano and so cause a runaway greenhouse effect that will wipe out the mammals and create a climate in which the dino-kobras can flourish. Oh, and Max is to be the Kobra king's chosen mate. This is promisingly juicy, lacking only a cameo appearance by Captain Nemo or the Loch Ness Monster to achieve the kind of Zen that gives John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, his characteristic elan. (Do "Zen" and "elan" belong in the same sentence? Clearly I am working out my own frustrations by improperly combining incompatible exotica.)

But "Curse of Kobra" (to give the other title its due) takes, let me see. . . . Oh yes, forever, before it gets around to this story. In the meantime it gives us the kind of backstory appropriate to something serious and meaningful. Terry must study with Bruce's old training partner Kairi to learn the discipline he needs to be Batman, and so meets up with Zander, the aforementioned Kobra ruler who is also training under Kairi. Zander seems to have what might euphemistically be called "issues" with his upbringing, and there is some meeting of the minds between hero and foe before the latter is revealed as the story's true adversary (though his identity is so blindingly obvious it's amazing that passing aircraft don't have to be diverted away from the glare). With the radical shift in tone and direction in part II all this gets forgotten, except that these serious issues mean we're not supposed to laugh when the bombs and dino-DNA and giant flying factory all make their appearance. And since we can't help laughing, it comes out all wrong: it's the bitter laughter of betrayal, not the merry laughter of being in on the joke from the very beginning.

There's a shallow, tacky, cheap-ass kind of a story buried in this wreckage, one that if stripped to its bare and ridiculous skeleton could skate on air. And it's precisely the kind of story that needs two parts to tell, requiring as it does a fast start and long build up if it's to break the plausibility barrier. But the story we're given instead is just an old oxcart that lumbers up the ramp and pitches straight into a wall. Batman Beyond is a quality show. And sometimes (oh, the paradox of it all!) it is just too quality.

Related Episodes
   * Plague
   * Unmasked
   * Day of the Samurai

What Others Are Saying ...
"... a drawn out episode that could have been compressed into one episode."World's Finest

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