Saturday, October 14, 2017

What Batman: The Animated Series Got Right

By
Scott D. Parker

I think most folks here know Batman is my favorite superhero, and, by general consensus, Batman: The Animated Series is arguably the best on-screen rendition of the character. This year is the 25th Anniversary of the series. All four seasons are available on Amazon Prime so I’ve been watching an episode or two most every day.

Boy, does this show hold up well.

By 1992, we were about six years into the Dark Era of Batman, birthed by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Batman: Year One (1987). Throw in Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum (1989) and you had the character shift from a man who was a detective (and who had a life) to the brooding, unhumorous character we got for the next twenty years. As cool as it was in the late 80s to see Batman portrayed like that, when it became the *only* way he was written, it grew tedious and tiresome.

Which was why Batman: The Animated Series (TAS) was such a surprise at the time and such a breath of fresh air twenty-five years on. Back in 1992, seeing a TV version of Batman that reflected the current trend in the comics as well as the two Burton movies was fantastic. Batman was born a creature of the night, and TAS remembered his Depression-era origins. But TAS was a kids’ cartoon so the violence you started to see in the comics could not be shown on TV. That, to me, kept the focus on the character and his interactions rather than gratuitous violence for the sake of shock value.

We got our darker episodes where various facets of Batman’s character were examined. The violence was present, but it was often just off camera. It had the dual effect of allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks and to pass the censors. “Robin’s Reckoning” and “A Bullet for Bullock” come to mind. “I am the Night” is also a good example because Bruce Wayne doubts whether or not his crusade against crime is worth it. But there were also the lighter, funnier episodes like “Almost Got’em” where a cadre of villains talk about how they almost killed Batman, almost always with a big trap.

TAS also never forgot Batman was actually Bruce Wayne in two key aspects. One, Bruce was human. He needed to sleep and eat, something Alfred constantly harped on in almost every episode. Two, and most important, Bruce/Batman reached waged war against crime each in their own venue. Sometimes, it was Batman punching out bad guys. Other times it was Bruce using his wealth to buy out a bad company. Too often in the past quarter century, we only get Broody Batman and rarely Bruce Wayne. It was such a great thing to see TAS touch on both aspects of the man.

And it is, to date, the only version where Bruce offers the wink to the audience that we know his secret identity. Superman did this all the time in the 1950s series and the 1970s comics, but Batman rarely did.

Among my favorites (and likely yours, too) are: Heart of Ice; Beware the Gray Ghost (Adam West guest-starring!); Joker’s Favor; Perchance to Dream; The Laughing Fish; If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? to name but a very few. Even a ‘bad’ episode isn’t really that bad.*

Oh, and the opening of each episode is a mini movie, sans any words…but you don’t need any.


So, do y’all have any favorite TAS episodes?

*For my book club, one of the members picked Frank Miller’s Dark Knight III: The Master Race. I loathed the second volume, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, but I am re-reading it before reading DKIII. I am reminded of why I disliked TDKSA so much…while watching TAS’s greatness. Sigh.

6 comments:

lx said...

One of the things this show did best was to show the humanity not just of its heroes, but its villains. Clayface, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, and so many others were given deep moments of pathos in the series. As a viewer (and especially as a kid, watching these after school every day), you never questioned why Batman refused to kill or why he returned his villains to Arkham instead of prison. So often, Batman wasn't just saving Gotham, he was saving his villains.

S. D. Parker said...

LX - Perfect! I wholeheartedly agree. It's a difference from modern Batman which has forgot, sometimes, why he fights in the first place.

Scott Cummins said...

Don't know if you saw the announcement out of the New York Comicion last week but they are going to release the complete series on Blu-ray next year

S. D. Parker said...

Scott C.

Yes, I did! I wonder if they'll also do the two movies as well?

David Cranmer said...

This is and will remain the best Batman for some time.

Scott Cummins said...

Mask of the Phantasm was released on Blu-ray this year. I don't know about the other two.