In a Gotham warehouse, a lost H.A.R.D.A.C. duplicant awakens, unaware that it is not actually Batman. The duplicant leaps into crimefighting action and retreats to Wayne Manor, where it begins to confront the truth of its robotic existence. Meanwhile, Batman becomes aware of the duplicant and seeks out Karl Rossum (William Sanderson), who has retreated from the failure of his H.A.R.D.A.C. experiment.
“His Silicon Soul” is the kind of episode that one might expect to have appeared instead in the tie-in comic The Batman Adventures (one of the better Bat-books, incidentally, in recent years). It’s a one-off sequel to an earlier episode, and that’s the kind of baton the comic book would have loved to pick up. Batman: The Animated Series has always done well building its own internal continuity, but a direct sequel like this one is a nice way for the series to revisit some of its finer hours. Recall that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed “Heart of Steel,” and so I was all the more eager to revisit “His Silicon Soul.”
You have to get past the absurd hurdle of the episode’s basic conceit – there was another duplicant, unseen and unmentioned until now – before you can wrestle with the really interesting things in “His Silicon Soul.” It’s a bit of a thin justification for a sequel episode, since we never saw any indication that H.A.R.D.A.C. had tried or even wanted to duplicate Batman (let alone Bruce Wayne), and moreover it would seem that this duplicant is more advanced than those of “Heart of Steel,” which made very unconvincing substitutes. Here, though, we’re not dealing with mere animatronics; this duplicant truly believes itself to be the real Batman, and that premise allows the writers do some fascinating work that, for my money, entirely excuses anything that goes awry with this episode. Indeed, this case of mistaken cybernetic identity ends up getting us to the very core of Batman.
The duplicant Batman – voiced, I must say, expertly by Kevin Conroy with the aid of a slight metallic filter – finds itself caught between two seemingly contradictory sets of programming: H.A.R.D.A.C.’s decree to save Gotham by replacing it, and Batman’s steadfast refusal to kill. It’s one of the more philosophical episodes of the series, grappling with this central tenet of Batman that the series has otherwise largely left unspoken. (I recently read an interview with Conroy, in which he cited the show’s “stay alive groan,” which let audiences know that Batman hadn’t actually killed anyone.) But this is key to Batman’s notion of heroism; himself orphaned by a double homicide, Batman has vowed to find a better way, steadfastly refusing to find justice in the very act that took his parents from him. It’s deeply affecting, then, to see the duplicant realize that that’s a core of its own programming too, and to struggle against H.A.R.D.A.C.’s insistence that the real Batman be killed.
The episode is padded out with neat little moments, like Rossum’s retreat to an idyllic farm, or the duplicant Batman’s instinctive turn to Alfred when it realizes that something is amiss. How about the very fact that the duplicant Batman’s first impulse is to stop a gang of thieves? Writers Marty Isenberg and Robert Skir demonstrate that they understand the intrinsic nature of Batman by showing what happens to a blank robot when you download Batman into its mind. It fights crime. It turns to Alfred for help. It seeks out its father. And it never, ever kills. I had brushed off the “duplicant trilogy” for a long time, but I’ve come around to seeing how it ultimately accesses the foundation of Batman, tells a unique story in his world, and (if nothing else) gives us a real eyeball kick with the unforgettable image of the cyborg’s half-destroyed face – to say nothing of the fact that “His Silicon Soul” includes a moment when Batman swordfights with a cyborg wearing half his face. If moments like those are immature, I never want to grow up.
Writers: Marty Isenberg & Robert N. Skir
Director: Boyd Kirkland
Villain: Duplicant Batman (Kevin Conroy) and H.A.R.D.A.C. (Jeff Bennett)
Next episode: “Fire From Olympus,” in which Zeus smites Gotham with a thunderbolt.
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