Prophecy of Doom
Directed by: Frank Paur
Written By: Dennis Marks and Sean Catherine Derek (Teleplay)
Original Air Date: 6th October 1992
Synopsis [From IMDB: Here]: A con man convinces a large group of Gotham’s richest men that he can see into the future by arranging a series of near-fatal accidents.
When you look up a list of the series’s worst episodes online, Prophecy of Doom sadly comes up alongside such stinkers as the previously reviewed The Underdwellers (see here), The Forgotten (see here) and the much maligned, I’ve Got Batman in my Basement (see here).
Perhaps taking inspiration of some of Batman’s earliest comic book adventures, the episode focuses on Batman’s attempts to infiltrate a secret society of millionaires run by a self-styled psychic named Nostromos. Drawn to the cult by his friend, Ethan Clark’s recommendation, Batman learns that the entire society is a con, ran by Nostromos and his partner to swindle the rich out of their money by making it seem as through their predictions come true. When his friend’s lives are eventually threatened by Nostromos, Batman must act fast to bring an end to the cult and put Nostromos behind bars.
Straight away, one issue with Prophecy of Doom stands within the episodes reveal of the villains ultimate plot. Rather than draw the audience in slowly to Nostromos and his colleagues scheme, the episode presents their methods directly from the start.
In the episodes opening sequence, a huge Titanic styled steamer (fitting perfectly with the Batman: The Animated Series aesthetic) is sunk by an dynamite blast from the ships lower deck. The next scene immediately addresses that it was Nostromos who told his members not to go on the ship, for he had foreseen the danger that would occur. Within minutes of that, Batman has already identified both Nostromos and his co-conspirator, immediately removing any sense of mystery within the opening 5 minutes of the episode.
As a result, the episode has all the complexity of a bad episode of Scooby Doo. While it is fair to say that this episode is largely aimed at children, and therefore has to perhaps minimise the complexity of the mystery at the episodes core, it somewhat belies some of the excellent writing that the series has already demonstrated.
Rather than going down the Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes route of taking time to slowly build the supernatural elements of the mystery, before ultimately revealing a practical, logical explanation at the episodes conclusion, Prophecy of Doom simply gives away the solution to the problem. An act that essentially means the rest of the episode is merely burned rubber that not even a poorly placed Shakespeare quote can recover (though there are some good Creedence Clearwater Revival and Raiders of the Lost Ark references).
Not only that, the episode further follows such tired cliches as the ‘damsel in distress’, particularly when Batman has to save Ethan’s daughter Laura from Nostromos’s solar system inspired death trap.
The characters are also fairly weak, with many of the supporting cast being fairly disposable within the episodes runtime. I had to rewatch the episode to actually remember the character names, such were their redundant nature. Prophecy of Doom also represents the series attempts to unsuccessfully add new villains to the pantheon of Batman’s rogues gallery, with the episodes main antagonist Nostromos failing to follow in the footsteps of both Harley Quinn and Lockup. While his monologues are funny, alongside the quite excellent ‘wig gag’, he is ultimately just another one dimensional cliche (“the actor turned conman”) despite the hammy performance from Michael Des Barres.
While it is fair to say that the episodes negative reputation is perhaps deserved, Prophecy of Doom is not without its faint glimmers of hope. Shirley Walker’s score is magnificent (as always) and while the animation is somewhat choppy and uneven, in certain sequences the episode really delivers, particularly when Batman and Nostromos’s goon, Lucas, have a fist-fight, lit by a spotlight. Furthermore, despite the use of the tired ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype, the final set piece, where Batman and Lucas fight upon a series of swiveling stone planets suspended in air is quite inventive and reminiscent of the “giant typewriters” of the dick sprang era.
Nevertheless, despite some streaks of brilliance, Prophecy of Doom sadly represents another step down from much of the series excellent quality. Rejecting many of the positive, mature points of writing that had been prevalent in earlier episodes, the episode lingers on cliche, one-dimensional characters and a plot that gives away its mystery far too quickly. After a somewhat ‘hot streak’ of good-to-excellent episodes since Heart of Ice, Prophecy of Doom appears to drop the ball in terms of quality. Luckily, one of the series best, the incredible 2-part episode Feat of Clay, is just around the corner.