and I'm sure it has something to do with the new movie coming out in, holy crap, 10 days! In the time between now and my viewing of the midnight premiere of Dark Knight (in IMAX!) I intend to re-view Batman Begins and Gotham Knight, in order to more fully immerse myself in what fans are calling the Nolan-verse. However, as a precursor to this journey, I couldn't help but look back at what I (and many of my peers) consider the definitive Batman universe... Batman: The Animated Series.
Simply put, this must be one of the best cartoons ever. The series premiered in 1992 and sixteen years later it is still as dramatic, emotional, and exciting as it ever was... perhaps moreso, because B: TAS seems to be one of those series that kids can enjoy but that adults will really get. I know that I sure didn't understand the driving motivations behind Bruce Wayne when I was in third grade, but I still made it my business to watch every damn episode of that show. To quote my friend Marc Fishman, "Batman: The Animated Series was my religion."
An element of the show that I had never really thought about struck me last night, and I think that it was the key to the show's critical, if not commercial, success (because, let's face it, kids will watch ANYTHING that's called "Batman"... for instance, The Batman)--Batman: The Animated Series was HARDLY EVER ABOUT THE TITLE CHARACTER. This is the genius of it. We all know who Batman is, we know his basic story and motives and gadgets and stuff. So it seems that, for the most part, we can forget about him. Bruce Timm & co. seemed to reason that it was much more interesting to do stories that focused on other people... villains, maybe, or just random denizens of Gotham City with a hard-luck story (the first story that is really about Batman in this series, I think, is the movie Mask of the Phantasm, which puts such an excellent twist on Bruce Wayne's backstory that dammit, it should be canon). In doing this, B: TAS gave us a stunning number of incredibly human characters, even if they only appeared for one episode. For instance, my roommate's favorite episode is called "See No Evil," about a petty crook/lab assistant who steals an experimental cloaking fabric just so he can spend some time with his daughter, something his ex-wife would not otherwise allow. I'm reminded of Will Eisner's middle Spirit comic strips, which also liked to spotlight the townspeople. And to make us care about some no-name guy or girl in 22 minutes... that's pretty amazing.
Any time a serious conversation about B: TAS comes up (and it happens a lot, in my line of work), I'm invariably asked to name my favorite episodes. This is really hard, because there are over 100 of them, and almost none of them are bad (I recall not liking the ninja ones as a young'un, but beyond that I can't offer up much criticism). But I think that, if I had to choose, these five would be my "can't miss." They are, in broadcast order:
Beware the Gray Ghost
Even though I just said that B: TAS episodes were seldom about Batman, this episode is partially an exception, as it delves into the youth of Bruce Wayne and shows us his favorite childhood hero, the Gray Ghost. When a series of crimes across Gotham are found out to be straight from the plot of an old Gray Ghost episode, Bruce has to track down his old hero for help, but the man behind the mask isn't exactly who Bruce expected. This is a really touching episode that has some cool moments of male bonding, some good insight on what it means to be a hero and an inspiration, and also some genius voice casting (the Gray Ghost is none other than Adam West, and the villain in this episode is voiced by Mr. Bruce Timm). A classic.
Almost Got 'Im
This one almost goes without saying, and it's on everybody's list, so I'll leave it be, except to say that this was mine and probably a lot of other kids' first serious introduction to telling a fairly mundane story in a really unique way, and for that this episode deserves every ounce of praise it gets.
Unlike some, I liked when the series moved to the WB, because it opened the show up to a little bit more adult themes, characters, and situations. I kind of doubt this episode, which explains why Dick Grayson quit being Robin, could have been made on Fox, because my favorite scene in it probably wouldn't have flown with the censors: Batman and Robin break into an apartment to get information out of one of the Joker's hired goons, but his wife and son happen to be home too. Batman threatens to beat the snot out of the guy in front of his kid, and, seeing the horrified child, Robin tells Batman to drop it. Batman refuses to back down, and Robin walks out. This scene only lasts maybe a minute, but is one of my favorite moments in all of the Timm-verse. Oh, and the rest of the episode is really sweet too (the other greatest moment: in the heat of the moment, Robin tells off Batman and then PUNCHES HIM. Damn).
Legends of the Dark Knight
This episode, which gives us animated versions of the Dick Sprang and Frank Miller versions of Batman, also probably goes without saying, but it's just so inventive and cool that I have to put it on here. Besides, any episode that takes a potshot at Joel Schumacher has gotta be at least top 10, right?
Picking this episode might be cheating, because technically this is a Justice League Unlimited episode which primarily stars characters from Batman Beyond... but you know what, I don't care. To me, this episode, a love-letter and last goodbye to fans of Beyond, is what Batman is all about. What happens is this: Terry McGinnis, future Batman, learns that he doesn't just wear Bruce Wayne's old costume... he has his DNA. Terry is outraged, assuming that Bruce has set his whole life up from the start just so the world wouldn't be without a Batman, so he goes on a fact-finding mission to get to the bottom of things. This episode masterfully ties together nearly all of Bruce Timm's DC projects (including, at long last,a nod to Mask of the Phantasm!) and hits with a rough emotional punch at the end, as Amanda Waller (pictured above) tells Terry how to step out of the shadow of Bruce: "You want to have a better life than the old man? Take better care of the people who love you. Or don't." To me, this line gets at the heart of the character of Batman... this is his greatest tragedy. And much like I love DC One Million in part because it shows us that in the end Superman gets his happy ending, I love "Epilogue" because it shows us that in the end, Batman doesn't... at least, not Bruce Wayne. He never totally learns to bring others in to his life. But the episode also gives us hope that, even if Bruce can't, maybe his legacy can, all while keeping alive his constant vigil for justice. If this is not an essential Batman story, I don't know what is.
ABCP Episode 173 - OCTOBER SURPRISE
4 years ago