The episode begins with an episode of The Gray Ghost, a television series Bruce watched as a boy. In this particular episode ("The Mad Bomber") a series of bombings rock the city, with a ransom of a million dollars demanded to prevent future attacks.
Cut to present day Gotham, where a series of bombings rock the city, with a ransom of a million dollars demanded to prevent future attacks. Batman realizes that the bombings are the same as the ones in The Gray Ghost, but since he cannot remember exactly how they happened (as he fell asleep before the episode was over), he begins to investigate what the connection is.
His attempts to locate the old episode fails, as he learns the studio behind it burned down in a fire that also destroyed the entire Gray Ghost archive. He instead tracks down the show's main actor, Simon Trent, who is now a broke recluse who cannot find work since the role typecast him for life. In fact, he's just had to sell off almost all his remaining Gray Ghost memorabilia to toy collector Ted Dymer just to pay the rent.
Batman buys the merchandise and returns it to Trent's apartment as a goodwill gesture, along with a note to meet. When Trent realizes it's the Dark Knight looking for him, he's understandably nervous, but agrees. No sooner do they meet than another bombing strikes Gotham, with Trent taking the opportunity to flee. Batman is not deterred, however, and waits for Trent at his apartment. Angry at being stalked, Trent threatens to call the police, but Batman believes Trent knows something about the bombings and convinces him to help. Trent reveals he has film reels of all of the old show episodes and reluctantly gives "The Mad Bomber" to Batman, before telling him to leave him alone.
Bruce watches the film Trent gave him, with fond memories of watching The Gray Ghost with his father. Watching the "Mad Bomber" episode, he discovers toy RC cars delivered the bombs, something Bruce finds unbelievable. Nonetheless, Batman calls Commissioner Gordon with the information, who positions police and SWAT outside Gotham Library, the next bomb target.
Sure enough, the toy cars appear. The first one is sniped. Batman takes out the second with a flamethrower, but the third escapes. Batman chases it down but finds it was only a decoy. More bomb-cars are sent after Batman, but someone drops a rope for him to escape: it's Simon Trent, dressed as the Gray Ghost. Batman shows him the toy car and asks for his help in investigating. Intrigued, Trent agrees.
Trent is taken to the Batcave, which leaves him in awe, as it is modeled after the Gray Ghost's lair. Batman had in fact used him as an influence, and shows Trent the memorabilia he has collected in a shrine. The computer picks up fingerprints on the toy car belonging to Simon Trent, but he denies being involved. Under interrogation he realizes that Ted Dymer, to whom he'd sold some of his toy cars earlier, must be the Mad Bomber.
Batman confronts the collector. He reveals he turned to crime to fund his toy collecting, and sets more bombs after Batman. Trent smashes through a window and knocks Dymer into a bookshelf, which causes the toy shop to catch fire and explode. Batman saves him, before he breaks down in front of Batman and Trent over losing his precious toys.
When the incident hits the papers, the Gray Ghost hailed as a hero for assisting Batman in capturing the Mad Bomber. Trent is filled with new purpose at his revitalized image; he also hands over his film reels of The Gray Ghost to be published to video, restoring his income and career. At a later signing event, Bruce asks Trent for his autograph and hints that he is really Batman.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Adam Westing: Adam West plays a washed-up actor who can't get any decent work because everyone associates him with his role as the superhero (or rather proto-hero) The Gray Ghost. Turns out that Bats is a huge Gray Ghost fanboy and it inspired his motif and operations (taking the place of Zorro and The Shadow). Incidentally, this portrayal was much more sympathetic and slightly less funny than normal simply because it was the show's way of saying "if that cheesy superhero show didn't exist, this show wouldn't exist." This is even hinted in-universe as his assistance of Batman led to the Gray Ghost becoming popular once more (with a movie even being seen in the Batman Beyond timeframe), which mirrors how the Batman revival launched by Tim Burton and Bruce Timm brought renewed attention to West and the '60s show.
- Supposedly, when he was done with the episode, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm handed Adam (instead of scale wage) a $25,000 check and the original Batman costume — which Paul bought for an "undisclosed sum" at an auction.
- Also of note - according to Word of God, if they couldn't get West to voice the part, that episode would have been scrapped.
- Ascended Fanboy: As a kid Batman was a big Gray Ghost fan. He was strongly influenced by the show and the character when he created his Dark Knight persona, right down to modeling the Batcave after the Gray Ghost lair.
- Author Avatar: Ted Dymer is visually based on and voiced by series producer Bruce Timm. The video store clerk resembles Paul Dini, who was quite heavy at the time (it is said he was inspired to lose weight after seeing himself caricatured as such on Tiny Toon Adventures).
- Badass Longcoat: The Gray Ghost costume includes a trench coat, along with goggles and a fedora.
- Becoming the Mask: Trent becomes the Gray Ghost for real near the end of the episode. Batman is thrilled.
- Beneath Suspicion: The Hidden Villain Mad Bomber is the young toy collector that bought Simon Trent's Gray Ghost memorabilia earlier in the episode. When Simon Trent had his "Eureka!" Moment, he cannot believe it:Simon Trent: But I'm not the Mad Bomber, Batman. I'm not! I sold my Gray Ghost cars months ago to pay for my... No, it can't be him.
- Broken Pedestal: The Gray Ghost was initially just a character Trent played on an old television show. Once Batman seeks Trent's assistance with a case, he finds a tired old man who barely wants to acknowledge ever having been the Gray Ghost for all the misery it gave him, and only reluctantly provides the tape of the Mad Bomber episode.
- Rebuilt Pedestal: ...only to swing into action once Batmans words inspires him, donning the Gray Ghost costume for real, something he hadn't done even in his glory days. Ironically, he can almost keep up with Batman himself, despite the age difference.
- But I Play One on TV: An in-universe example: Simon Trent played a Batman-like superhero named the Gray Ghost in an immensely popular TV show which little Bruce was a big fan of. Decades later, Trent is now facing poverty partly because he cannot get any roles, because everyone still thinks of him as the Gray Ghost. Then Batman comes along on a case and ropes him in to assist him. Much to his own surprise, Trent makes a passable superhero (and more importantly, learns that the Big Badass Batman was primarily inspired by his portrayal of one). A fairly meta example, when you consider the actor voicing Trent is none other than Adam West.
- Captain Ersatz:
- The Gray Ghost is inspired by The Shadow, who himself also inspired Batman.
- The Gray Ghost is also a Captain Ersatz of early DC pulp-hero the Crimson Avenger, who wore a Shadow-like costume. Unfortunately, Batman supplanted him a year or so after his debut. (The CA would later make a few appearances in Justice League Unlimited.)
- Cassandra Truth: Simon's agent Frankie tells him to hang in there as some work will turn up eventually. Turns out he's right, although not in a way either of them anticipated.
- Casting Gag: Simon Trent's character the Gray Ghost is based on Adam West's role as the campy Batman from the '60s TV series.
- Cool Old Guy: Simon Trent, who in turn is voiced by real life Cool Old Guy Adam West.
- Crack Is Cheaper: An in-universe example—Ted Dymer turned to crime to finance his toy-collecting habit.
- Darker and Edgier: In-Universe: Simon Trent/the Gray Ghost, who is not only less concerned with criminals' welfare than Batman, but is darker than Adam West's portrayal of Batman.
- Deadly Remote Control Toy: A terrorist called 'The Mad Bomber' uses remote control cars to deliver explosive charges powerful enough to demolish buildings.
- Despair Event Horizon: Trent selling the actual Gray Ghost costume for a pittance, knowing it's the last time he'll be able to pay his rent at all. Of course, then Bruce Wayne steps in...
- The Dog Was the Mastermind: The Hidden Villain Mad Bomber is the young toy collector that bought Simon Trent's Gray Ghost memorabilia earlier in the episode.Simon Trent: What did you find?
Batman: Fingerprints on the toy car. And they belong to you, Simon Trent!
Simon Trent: That's not possible.
Batman: Your prints are on this car. You had the only copy of the show. The Mad Bomber followed the show step by step.
Simon Trent: But I'm not the Mad Bomber, Batman. I'm not. I sold my Gray Ghost cars months ago to pay for my... No, it can't be him.
- Early-Bird Cameo: The below Freeze-Frame Bonus takes place two episodes before Hagen makes his official debut in the series.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: For helping to stop the Mad Bomber, Trent is hailed as a hero and public interest in the Gray Ghost resurges. This results in the entire series being released on video, revitalizing his income and career. He's also content knowing that his role was an inspiration to Batman.
- "Eureka!" Moment: Simon realizes the toy collector is the Mad Bomber, before Batman no less.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: After Batman accuses Simon of being the Mad Bomber since his fingerprints were on a toy car used in the recent bombings and he had the only copy of the episode which inspired the attacks, Simon defensively explains to Batman that he sold his toy cars to pay his rent, then realises who's actually the Mad Bomber.
- For Want of a Nail: Batman would have figured out the cause of the explosions much earlier and never would have reached out to Simon Trent if young Bruce didn't fall asleep before he could see the ending of the episode of The Gray Ghost the villain's plot was based on.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: At the end of the episode, look at the top of the blown-up People magazine cover when they pan up to show it clearly, and you'll see "Matt Hagen: Man of a Thousand Faces" across the top above the People logo.
- Homage: The plot device of remote-controlled RC car bombs comes from The Dead Pool.
- Hell Is That Noise: The episode opens with a grating buzzing sound right before a building explodes. The buzzing is disturbing on its own, and doesn't get any better when it's revealed to be coming from a series of radio-controlled cars loaded with munitions-grade explosives.
- Ink-Suit Actor: The toy collector-cum-Mad Bomber is one for Bruce Timm himself, who also voices the character!
- Jaded Washout: Simon Trent, the typecast actor who played the Gray Ghost, years after the show was cancelled.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: In-Universe and Exaggerated, as every single known copy of the Gray Ghost series was destroyed when the studio that filmed the show burned down. It becomes Downplayed when it turns out Simon secretly has the truly remaining copies of the show as part of his collection. It then becomes Subverted when he has his copies published for video release.
- Kill It with Fire: Batman bursts out of the Gotham Library with a flamethrower to destroy one of the car bombs.
- The Knights Who Say "Squee!": Subdued, as is most of Batman's emotion usually, but Batman and Gray Ghost aren't this trope's image for nothing.
- Laser-Guided Karma: The Mad Bomber is undone not only by the hands of the Gray Ghost, the very man who he bought the merchandise from and whose show was the inspiration for his scheme, but his entire toy store is blown up by his own bombs.
- Loony Fan: Oddly enough, subverted; although Ted Dymer is something of a self-deprecating joke on behalf of Bruce Timm and the rest of the creative team, and still enthusiastically buys Trent's old props despite low customer demand, he's willing to destroy the remaining cars in his scheme. Even despite being inspired by the old show and the toys themselves to re-enact the fictional Mad Bomber's scheme, his goal was never to bring the Gray Ghost out of "retirement" for a fight—he just needed money for his true love of toy collecting. In other words, he's much more loon than fan.
- Mad Bomber: Played straight. It is even the name of the villain.
- Meaningful Echo: Invoked. When Trent visits the Batcave, Batman shows him his old Gray Ghost memorabilia and tells him "As a kid, I used to watch you with my father. The Gray Ghost was my hero". Later on, when Bruce meets Trent at the signing event, he says the same exact phrase, cluing Trent to his identity.
- Mythology Gag: Batman says the Gray Ghost is the hero he aspired to be as a child. Sure enough, without The Shadow, Batman might not have existed, and without Adam West he might never have become as popular as he is today.
- Off-Model: The animation studio Dust was used only for this episode. It's obvious that the animators couldn't understand English, which is particularly noticeable on the notes left by the Mad Bomber - the first note Gordon receives reads "Pay up or day the consequences", while a flashback mistakenly uses the text from the "real" Mad Bomber instead of the text from the fictional version (i.e. references to the fictional "Piedmont" read "Gotham" instead). And then there's the infamous "rubber Batmobile," which hugs a curve a little too closely and bends like something out of Yellow Submarine! Spectrum Animation is credited for the episode, though an Animato Magazine from closer to the production of the episode discusses Dust instead.
- Old Superhero: Sort of. Trent is merely an old actor who played a superhero. Until he takes up the mantle of said hero for real.
- Pet the Dog: Ted does ask Simon if he's sure he wants to sell the original Gray Ghost costume for what Ted can pay for it.
- Product Placement: At the end of the episode, we see a blowup of a cover of People magazine advertising the return of the Gray Ghost. People was co-owned with WB at the time by TimeWarner (before they sold off their print stuff in the early 2010s).
- Psychopathic Manchild: When Batman ruins his attempts at blowing up the Gotham Library, Ted Dymer throws a tantrum more suited to a four-year old than a grown man. He also cries like a child when Batman and Trent destroy his toy collection. His obsession with collecting toys is childish and would be harmless, except for the fact that he's willing to commit mass property damage and potential murder to finance it.
- Rage Against the Reflection: When Trent learns he's just been turned down for a role again, he smashes most of his Gray Ghost memorabilia collection in a rage, before collapsing in the corner of his apartment, sobbing.
- Red Herring: The show makes it look like Simon Trent, his agent or the video store manager are potential suspects.
- Secret-Keeper: Simon Trent is implied to be one for Batman after Batman tells the Gray Ghost that he was his hero as a kid and then Bruce Wayne tells him the exact same thing at a book signing.
- While the Gray Ghost is similar to Batman, his appearance and style is closer to The Shadow, one of Batman's chief influences at the time of his creation.
- The Mad Bomber's remote control toy car explosives are very similar to what was used in a scene in The Dead Pool. Like this episode, the film featured a mysterious villain who monitored the cars' movements when attacking the hero.
- Tempting Fate: The video store owner says he has the episodes of every TV show ever filmed, telling Bruce and Alfred to just name it. But when they say they want the Gray Ghost...Video Store Clerk: Name something else.
- They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The Mad Bomber has the appearance of a harmless toy collector.
- Typecasting: In-Universe: Simon Trent was unable to get any parts since a lot of people (the ones who even remember) still see him as the Gray Ghost, to which he angrily lampshades to his agent after yet another failure to land a role that he's an actor who can do other parts. At the end of the episode, things are looking up for him when the missing series is now on video. (Later, a Gray Ghost movie marquee appears in the Justice League episode "Epilogue".)
- Unbuilt Trope: This episode is one of the first cases of Adam West engaging in... well, Adam Westing. But unlike many later examples of him and other actors doing this, his character Simon Trent isn't just self-parody. He's a washed-up actor who's not happy that people only know him as the Gray Ghost, but who goes through a character arc where he comes to terms with his most iconic role and embraces it.
- The Unmasking: When Batman shows Trent the Gray Ghost shrine he says, "As a kid, I used to watch you with my father. The Gray Ghost was my hero." He says the same thing as Bruce at an autograph signing, making Trent realize who he is.
- You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Bruce's reaction to the toy cars. He even says these exact words.