"It's Never Too Late" is the sixth episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It originally aired on September 10, 1992. It depicts the climax of a long, gang war between rival Gotham City bosses Arnold Stromwell and Rupert Thorne. Sensing an opportunity to resolve it peacefully, Batman attempts to convince Stromwell to retire.
In his estate, Arnold Stromwell, Gotham's reigning but aging crime boss, is watching the news. The lead item is the worsening conflict between himself and upcoming boss Rupert Thorne. That much he knows, but he has other concerns regarding his son Joey, who has been missing for days. He and his son were estranged, but Stromwell is convinced that Thorne is behind this and orders his men to set up a meeting with him.
Batman, disguised as a hobo, is eavesdropping on Thorne, who plots to assassinate Stromwell after receiving his message.
On the way to the meeting, Stromwell passes an old rail yard, and has a flashback:
Two young boys, Arnie and Michael, are arguing on their way home. Arnie has stolen a handful of candy and is offering half to Michael, who refuses to take any. Arnie swears that one day he will own Gotham. But as they walk home, a train roars up the tracks at the boys. Michael dives out of the way, but Arnie's shoe is stuck. He manages to free himself and jump onto the neighbouring track in time, but is immediately faced with another approaching train and freezes in fear...
Shaking off the memory, Stromwell enters a deli controlled by Thorne for the meeting.
Elsewhere, Batman approaches an elderly priest and asks for his help. With a sigh, the priest says that Arnold Stromwell is someone he wish he could let go. All the same, Batman encourages him to help.
At the deli, Thorne acts affable, but Stromwell seizes him and demands to know where his son is. Seeming genuinely surprised, Thorne swears he had nothing to do with Joey's disappearance. Calming down, Stromwell accepts Thorne's invitation to sit—then realizes he has been set up as Thorne and the deli owner run out the back. A bomb inside the deli explodes.
Stromwell has been saved by Batman, who asks him to give up his criminal ways and turn state's evidence. Stromwell acts defiant, but Batman decides to take him on a "tour".
As the police investigate the bombing, a hobo comes forward and states that he saw Batman save Stromwell. One of Thorne's thugs overhears this and informs Thorne. Fearing that Stromwell will be persuaded to testify against all of his associates, Thorne orders a manhunt for Batman and Stromwell.
The first place Batman takes Stromwell to is his old neighborhood, where he started his career as an ordinary drug peddler, working from distribution to manufacture. Then Batman takes him to Sunrise Foundation, a drug rehabilitation center. Inside, Stromwell is shocked to find his estranged wife, Connie, who is attending to Joey, suffering from severe drug withdrawal pains. Stromwell rages, but is brought up short when Connie says that it was one of his own dealers who got Joey addicted, and it was Batman who rescued him and alerted her.
Appearing contrite, Stromwell agrees to hand over files incriminating himself and Thorne to Batman. But at the empty office he leads Batman to, Stromwell slips him a stack of dummy files, and uses his distraction to grab a gun, saying he won't go down so easily. Once he's finished with Thorne, he'll "rescue" Joey from the rehab center. Then they are both attacked by Thorne and his gang.
Batman subdues Thorne's thugs, while Stromwell flees, with Thorne himself in pursuit. As Stromwell runs, he finds himself back at the old rail yard, and remembers the rest of the flashback:
Just before the train hits, Arnie manages to get his shoe free, and stumbles out of the way—straight onto the next track as a second train is bearing down on him. Michael pushes Arnie out of the way, and the train roars over him, Arnie screaming "Michael! Michael... !".
Stromwell collapses, sobbing "Michael... Michael...". A voice answers, "I'm here, Arnie". The old priest steps into the light, Father Michael Stromwell. He wasn't killed, but lost a leg, something for which Arnold never forgave himself. Out of guilt, he angrily rejects Michael's offer of help, only to be reminded of the current dismal state of his life: his family is broken, his son is gravely ill, his empire is crumbling, and his enemies are closing in. Michael appeals to Stromwell, asking him to do the right thing, for his family and for himself. Stromwell hugs his brother, sobbing.
Thorne suddenly appears with a gun, ready to kill them both, but Batman arrives just in time to subdue him. The police arrive on the scene and Stromwell prepares to give them a statement as Batman slips away into the night.
- Stromwell apparently makes good on his promise to retire, since after this episode Thorne is Gotham's reigning crime boss.
- Stromwell appears only once more in the series, in "Robin's Reckoning", in flashbacks that take place before the events of this episode.
Home video releases
- Batman: Out of the Shadows (VHS)
- Batman: The Animated Series, Volume One (DVD)
- Batman: The Complete Animated Series (DVD)
- Batman: Out of the Shadows (DVD)
- Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Blu-ray)
- In the news report, Commissioner is misspelled "commisioner".
- Rupert Thorne's eyebrows are black, but toward the end of this episode there is a closeup of his face and his eyebrows are as white as his hair.
- There is some similarity between this episode and the stories of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and the film "It's A Wonderful Life", with Batman acting as an "angel" showing a man familiar places, and jogging memories of his past life in an effort to change his mind. It also seems to draw from Angels With Dirty Faces, about a gangster and a priest who were best friends in childhood found themselves on opposite sides.
Michael: Arnold? That's one soul I wish I could give up on.
Arnold: Stay away, Michael! The last time you tried to help me, you lost your leg!
Arnold: You knew I was no good, Mike. Why did you save me?