A "Cartoon" that forever changed the world of Batman, his Allies, and Enemies.
Written: Sep 7, 2004 (Updated Sep 7, 2004)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Writing, design, voicework, music, animation, character development...
Cons:Only a few missteps in this first batch of 28 episodes...
The Bottom Line: A "cartoon" that forever changed the world of Batman, his allies, and enemies. The best version of Batman, EVER.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.
It seems like a no-brainer that the best version of a comic book character would be an animated version
after all, theyre just a moving comic book, right? Well, not entirely. Transitioning a comic book character into another medium, incorporating decades (in the case of Batman, more than fifty years) of history, dozens of characters, and making it appropriate for children but still appealing to adult fansall of these have to be taken into consideration when making a superhero cartoon. Ive seen many cartoon series of both DC Comics heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) and Marvel Comics (Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, etc.). And although I enjoyed a lot of them as a pup, especially SuperFriends and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. But theres one that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of solid story-telling, groundbreaking animation and design, and development that transformed comic book characters into three-dimensional personalities, with real motivations and real emotions. That series is simply titled Batman: The Animated Series.
BTAS debuted in 1992, after two successful but dark Tim Burton films. Some of that darkness carries over into the series, both in terms of darker, more psychological themes than we usually see in cartoons, and in terms of the visual style of the series. The darker look combines elements of art deco, film noir, and Batmans own heritage of being a dark anti-hero to give us a delightfully stylish Gotham City. In several interviews on the DVD, series creators Bruce Timm, Eric Rodomski, and Paul Dini pay tribute to Max and Dave Fleischer, who pioneered the superhero cartoon with their Superman shorts in the 1940s. They wanted to capture that same feel, and although in 1992 they felt they had come up short, by 2004 the same selection of Batman cartoons is very much in the spirit and style of the 1940s series.
The look is a big part of the appeal of the series. As designed by Bruce Timm, its described by producers as the 1930s design sensibility never went away so by the 1990s, Batman still has all those amazing gadgets, but vehicles are still streamlined, the buildings have art deco touches, and people dress like they did 60 years ago. Because Batman himself first hit comic book pages in 1939, it doesnt feel out of place, and the creators of the animated series include intriguing touches like black and white television screens and police blimps just to give Gotham an otherworldly feel. The backgrounds are painted on black, and the skies over Gotham are often red. Ive criticized Timm before for making all the womens bodies exactly the same, but thats not quite true. Theyre all wasp-waisted and are very similar, but theres more to his design aesthetic than Ive given him credit for in the past.
Another part of this equation that produced such a groundbreaking series is the writing. This was the most consistent series as far as the writing was concerned, continually taking Batman, his allies, and most especially his rogues gallery, and transforming them into complex, motivated, deep characters. Batmans list of enemies is unparalleled in comicsthe most famous villains include the Joker, Catwoman, Penguin and Riddler
all of whom were already household names thanks to the 1966 Batman live-action television series. The Animated Series expanded this roster to include many villains which had been formidable threats to Batman in the comic books for decades, but many of whom had never been seen on television before. These rogues include Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Man-Bat, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, Mad Hatter
the list goes on and on. The genius behind including these previous B-List characters was that the producers and writers were able to take characters who existed in one form, and give them new histories, new motivations, and new life. This usually meant taking a villain formerly seen as silly or one-dimensional, and making them an outright threat to Batman and to Gotham City. The best example of this is seen in the episode Heart of Ice, which introduces Mr. Freeze. Mr. Freeze was previously a gimmicky villain, a real D-Lister, and we didnt know or care about him. Paul Dinis amazing script brought this character to life, painting a portrait of loss and revenge that was truly heart-breaking. Its fitting that this is one of only two episodes on the DVD set to include creator commentary, because it was truly a turning point in the season and in the series as a whole. There were relatively few characters created wholecloth for the series, one of whom was the unforgettable Harley Quinn, the Jokers moll, who has since her debut in the series become a fan favorite, and has even made it upstream from the Animated Series onto the comic book pages.
The third element I want to address with this amazing series is the voice work and the music. The voice work, cast by Andrea Romano, is extraordinary, and hearing Kevin Conroys gravelly Batman is THE way Batman should sound. He still plays the role on the current Justice League cartoon, making him the most long-lived version of the Dark Knight. The producers mandate was unique at that timethe actors shouldnt be doing cartoon voices, they should instead be casting actors with distinctive voices. The list of actors who contributed to this first set of episodes is impressive: Mark Hamill, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Richard Moll, Kate Mulgrew, Bob Hoskins, Paul Williams, Arleen Sorkin, Roddy McDowall, Michael Ansara, and others flesh out Batmans allies and enemies with rich layers that remind me of radio programs
you wouldnt even need to see the animation to hear the expressions of the characters and the events unfolding on screen. The other piece of that is of course the musicthe producers opted for a full orchestra, and based their score on Danny Elfmans beautiful themes from the first two Batman movies. This elevated each episode to the status of a mini movie, in a way rarely seen in television animation.
This DVD set covers the first half of the first season, and my only criticism is that they gave us the episodes in production order, instead of the order in which they aired. After watching all 28 episodes over the last few weeks, I can say that it doesnt affect the viewing that much. The few larger arcs (like the excellent one introducing Two-Face) are intact, and the flow of the episodes still works in a skiwampus order. Here are the episodes included, and a few thoughts on some of them:
On Leather Wings (First appearance of Man-Bat)
Christmas With the Joker
Nothing to Fear (First appearance of Scarecrow)
The Last Laugh
Pretty Poison (First Appearance of Poison Ivy)
The Underdwellers (Weak episode with sewer people
my least favorite)
P.O.V. (focuses on Gothams police department)
Be a Clown
Two-Face (1) (Debut of Two-Face)(Duh)
Its Never Too Late
Ive Got Batman In My Basement (First Appearance of Penguin)
Heart of Ice (Mr. Freezes Debutmy favorite episode ever? Maybe)
Cat and the Claw (1) Catwomans debut
Cat and the Claw (2)
See No Evil
Beware the Gray Ghost (Guest starring Adam West!)
Prophecy of Doom
Feat of Clay (1) (Clayfaces debut)
Feat of Clay (2)
Jokers Favor (Harley Quinns debut)
Vendetta (Killer Crocs debut)
Fear of Victory (Robins debut)
The Clock King
Appointment in Crime Alley
Mad as a Hatter (Mad Hatters debut)
Dreams in Darkness
There are some standard comic book romps here, including some that are downright funny, and some that are just adventure stories without much depth. There are also several that address serious issues, including homelessness, drug addiction, kidnapping, and genuine psychosis. Batman himself is portrayed as a man in perpetual mourning for his parents, lost when he was just a pup. His surrogate father and right-hand man, Alfred, seems to be the only one who can find the chink in Bruce Waynes armor. This relationship is one of the most gratifying in the series, and is often the heart of each episode.
Ive written far too much. Again. This is the best version of Batman ever to hit the air, and probably always will be. This Saturday (September 11th,) theres a new Batman series debuting on WB, but from what Ive seen of it, it seems pretty standard fare. The animation looks poor, the designs uninspired
and well see what the writing is like. Ill give it a chance, because I love Batman. But I fear the Dark Knights greatest hour came twelve years ago when Batman: The Animated Series first flickered across my tv screen. This DVD set is absolutely worth the wait and the pricethere will be subsequent volumes released every six months or so. If youve ever been a fan of Batman, seize this opportunity and pick up this set of DVDs today.
*** RELATED REVIEWS ***
Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman http://www.epinions.com/content_131483995780
The Batman / Superman Movie http://www.epinions.com/content_6688116356
Batman: Return of the Joker http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-21EC-3693C0F7-3A491C9A-prod5
Superman (1940s Cartoons) http://www.epinions.com/content_6505729668
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