Written by Len Wein
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Society of Shadows. Sonic drill. Vertigo. Al Ghul. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
You haven’t? Really? Really?
Okay, “Off Balance” is an episode from Batman: The Animated Series which introduces us to Talia and her infamous father, The Demon’s Head and leader of The Society (League) of Shadows (Assassins), Ra’s Al Ghul. The Denny O’ Neil created character took mainstream prominence after appearing as the main villain in 2005’s Batman Begins. After that resuscitated the Batman franchise and led to the hit Arkham games, which Ra’s appeared in as a major villain, we later saw him return to media as the season 3 big bad of Arrow. Played by Matt Nable and now, in a certain way, John Barrowman, the character of Ra’s Al Ghul has appeared twice in live action, played by three different actors. That’s iconic!
But, back to Batman: The Animated Series. “Off Balance”, while originally a fun episode introducing us the recurring villainy of Ra’s and the will they/won’t they relationship between Batman and Talia, now seems more like an animated blueprint for The CW’s Arrow. When I first saw this episode, probably back in 2004/early 2005, it was complete excitement fodder for Batman Begins. I wanted to learn as much about the next big-screen Batman villain as I could, so watching Batman: The Animated Series was essential. After returning to the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Off Balance”, especially after watching and being such a fan of Arrow, it’s amazing to see just how much the series has taken from the mythology of The Dark Knight.
Since Arrow season one, many felt that it was Batman Begins lite. And, as much as I love the show, many episodes play like a poor man’s Batman. But it’s that approach and the assembling of a talented cast – Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, and Paul Blackthorne that allow us to look past many of its derivative plot lines and enjoy it as an incredibly entertaining show.
“Off Balance” follows Batman as he teams up with Talia in an effort to prevent a Wayne Tech sonic drill from falling into the hands of Count Vertigo. Early on, Vertigo steals the sonic drill as it’s being transported by Lucius Fox and Harvey Bullock. Talia tells Batman that her father doesn’t want Vertigo to have the sonic drill and, as fans, we can infer that Ra’s, the Society of Shadows, and Vertigo had a falling out. Batman being the World’s Greatest Detective stops the sonic drill from falling into either hand as he stops Vertigo (he dies?) and sabotages it so when Talia double crosses him, the gun erupts. “This is not over!” Ra’s Al Ghul promises as he learns of The Dark Knight having interfered with his plans. “Off Balance” concludes with the tease of Ra’s Al Ghul and the beginning of a rocky relationship between The Demon’s Head daughter, Talia, and Batman.
Batman: The Animated Series actually featured Talia quite prominently. While she wasn’t as popular as Harley Quinn or Catwoman, all things considered, Talia’s a much more important character. During “Off Balance”, Vertigo traps Batman and Talia and even manages to incapacitate the Caped Crusader. Batman wakes up and he’s shocked when he realizes he’s been unmasked. By Talia. She knows! Unlike Harley Quinn and Catwoman, Talia was the only femme fatale that we ever got the feeling that Bruce actually contemplated giving up the cape and cowl for. While Catwoman/Selina Kyle appeared throughout the series, their love/hate relationship always felt more of an extension of 1992’s Batman Returns. The pairing between them, while natural, did come across as a response to the hit movie. Talia, at this time, only appeared in the comic books so her role truly felt more organic to the progression of the stories.
“Off Balance” is a fun episode in Batman: The Animated Series second season and is an excellent precursor to the season three two-part episode, “The Demon’s Quest.” Stay tuned for my review of that episode and don’t forget to check out the past reviews of Batman: The Animated Series here on What’cha Reading.
Is there an episode we may have missed or one you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll be sure to talk about it soon.
*Helen Slater, the original Supergirl, was the voice actress for Talia.