“Beware The Grey Ghost”
Story by Dennis O’ Flaherty
Teleplay by Garin Wolf and Tom Ruegger
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
“Beware The Grey Ghost” is one of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series produced. That is a bold claim, but there are so many reasons why this episode works and of why it is consistently reviewed as one of the most smartly written of the entire series. Re-watching Batman: The Animated Series has always been a past time of mine, especially around the time of a Batman film. Starting in 2005, as a countdown to Batman Begins, I watched one episode a night leading up to opening day. I’ve continued this trend for the duration of The Dark Knight Trilogy and am greatly excited to be back in the process of watching such a great series as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice gets closer.
“Beware The Grey Ghost” is such a fun episode as it works as a send up and love letter to everything that inspired Bruce Timm’s take on The Dark Knight. The episode delivers a well staged and respectful nod to pulp heroes such as The Spirit and The Shadow, along with featuring Adam West (Batman of the television series) as the voice of The Grey Ghost. The entire episode primarily revolves around Bruce Wayne trying to stop a mad bomber who has modeled his recent crimes around a long-lost episode of the serialized program “The Grey Ghost.” During his investigation, he comes into contact with the original actor that played his childhood hero and the two eventually team up.
Much like “Christmas with the Joker”, in which we find out that Bruce Wayne had never watched It’s A Wonderful Life because he couldn’t get past the title, in “Beware The Grey Ghost” we learn Grey Ghost was his favorite show/hero growing up as a child. The episode opens with a direct homage to the Max Fleischer Superman animated shorts, complete with over the top narration, and sets up The Grey Ghost as a shadowy crime fighter. He’s played by Simon Trent (Adam West) and later revealed to be an actor handcuffed to his own legacy. We see that Trent has had issues finding work since his role as The Grey Ghost and his tenant calls him a “lousy, has-been actor.” In an effort to have money for rent, Simon Trent pawns his remaining Grey Ghost memorabilia to Yestertoys.
Interestingly, “Beware The Grey Ghost” marks the first episode that features Bruce Timm in a starring role. The animator and executive producer appears as Ted Dymer, the Yestertoys shop owner and ultimate villain of the story. He’s later revealed to be a megalomaniac and obsessive toy collector. Ted Dymer is the person replicating the Mad Bomber’s modus operandi almost exactly like the original “The Grey Ghost” episode. Most of the bombings are accomplished through remote control toy cars that exact replicas of the cars used during the original production of “The Mad Bomber” episode. This is discovered only after Batman is able to convince Simon Trent as The Grey Ghost to help him.
As much fun as it is having Bruce Timm play Ted Dymer a.k.a. The Mad Bomber, it’s a whole lot more enjoyable seeing Adam West as Simon Trent be the primary reason that inspired Batman instead of using Zorro. There’s also a real beauty to Trent being the beaten down and old hero that takes up the mantle one last time to help the new hero. It’s nearly mythological and the “Beware The Grey Ghost” episode is terrific fun. We’re reminded of the power heroes have to inspire and we get another slight glimpse into Bruce Wayne’s humanity. At the very end of the episode, after Trent is widely considered to have been the one who saved Gotham from Dymer, we see there’s a resurgance of interest in “The Grey Ghost” property. All of the original episodes are released on home video and while at a signing, Bruce Wayne and Alfred appear on line for an autograph. After Bruce meets his hero, he tells Simon Trent that he used to watch “The Grey Ghost” with his father and that he’s still his hero. It’s a particularly sweet moment and a sly clue that Simon Trent might know that Bruce Wayne is the Batman! It’s also very telling that Bruce has held onto his love for The Grey Ghost after all these years. It would make sense that, for him, it’s probably a way of still connecting with his father.
“Beware The Grey Ghost” features some of the best voice work, musical scoring, and animation of any of the Batman: The Animated Series episodes. While we’ve slowly been making our way through its first season, it’s amazing to look back on the first episode “On Leather Wings” and think of where we are at now. Bruce Timm truly delivered an exceptional series for Batman and one that still is relevant as any smart and moving work of art.