The Batman: The ‘Middle Child’ of Batman Cartoons
Do you remember The Batman? Despite being fairly well-liked, it has slipped out of the memories of many, including Batman fans.
The Batman was a tough sell for many fans that had grown up on Batman: The Animated Series, drawing negative remarks after high expectations, more so considering it had to be the first show since DC’s huge animated universe, which had been overseen by the incredible Bruce Timm, was finished. I’m not attempting to say that this iteration is in any way better than TAS, but with Justice League this year, a new film tentatively titled The Batman coming up, and The Dark Knight’s 80th birthday on the horizon, now seemed as good a time as any to show some fans that looking at this series a few years out reveals how good it actually was and where it fits in the Caped Crusader’s legacy.
I look at The Batman as a show that didn’t want to copy the style of a great predecessor, but tried to show they had learned something from it instead. The visuals were more colorful with a wonderful pallet of still hushed tones that lacked pastels but embrace vibrance versus TAS’s ‘dark-deco,’ while also having the similar hard rigid lines for characters with a little more detail. This version has a lot more fighting and action, focusing on quick movements and colorful lines to show speed trails and accentuate moving objects. The seriousness was toned down, making it a good middle ground between TAS and the incredibly campy Brave and the Bold that followed. Though the show was produced to take advantage of Batman Begins releasing soon that didn’t influence its direction, and that seems to have been for the better.
The Batman follows a younger hero, only three years after his journey began, and it handles his origin perfectly. His parents’ death is touched on as flashbacks in a couple of different episodes and by characters referencing it briefly in conversation, very similar to the way Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) did this. Short, sweet, but powerful enough to evoke the correct emotions. Bruce has a problem with wanting to do anything that isn’t vigilante related, but thankfully Alfred is there to guide and even rescue him a couple of times. Batman is still serious and untrusting while the show establishes the relationships he has as Bruce Wayne with people, like Detective Bennett and the Mayor, as those acquaintances begin to crossover with his night job. It’s a good setup.
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The show itself doesn’t have the best intro. The presentation there is fine, with a little bit of showy cheese and too much focus on the Batwave, which is one of the hardest parts of the show to accept, but the music here really felt cool with these guitar riffs and it continues through most of the episodes as well. Why, why in the hell did they change this to something cornier after season two? Not sure, but it was sad.
Need to know more about Batwave? It is his computer system, handles communications, kind of an early warning detector for crime, and almost pushes the line of being a McGuffin to get Bruce out of trouble in several episodes, as it is connected to everything. It fits in some ways, as this show is more eccentric in how it handles a lot of classic elements and is more willing to embrace comic book stereotypes, pushing the limit of what fans will accept. Penguin has ninja robot girls that fight at his side and Batman has to use a mech to beat Bane, all in the first few episodes. I do like that they mixed some of these moving parts to stay fresh, like having Joker get hold of Bane’s power infusion module, or when Firefly becomes Phosphorus. The writers seemed willing to step out on a limb and try some fun ideas that still had character development in mind.
Not only was the introduction of key characters executed well, but seeds are planted for long term character plots in the first two seasons, even though they appear as strictly standalone episodes. The format had some adjustments in season three, and a main character was dropped due to the voice actor leaving. I like that Batgirl was introduced first this time around. The Teen Titan cartoon still had primary use of Robin as it finished up, so Barbara Gordon was presented as Bruce’s first sidekick in an interesting relationship that was even better once Dick Grayson did come in as a son figure to the titular character. I thought their banter would annoy me, but it never truly did.
The redesigned villains were mostly a hit for me, but for every few new additions or changes I liked, there was at least one thing about each that I thought should have been left off. I like goth Riddler, but did he need to go full BDSM? Some feel that Batman absolutely needs the Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman, but that will always draw harsh comparison when it is different from what fans expect. The biggest flaw here is that they might be a bit overused. The new Clown Prince of Crime intrigued me, Selina Kyle has some fun scenes with a decent half arc, and Oswald Cobblepot’s voice vexed me, but I think it was a success overall. TAS did such a good job with its characters that The Batman needed to go in a different direction, taking lesser known figures and giving them more focus, or coming at them from an altered trajectory. The best example of this is Clayface, but I won’t go into it for those wanting to see the show.
I said that action was a big part of The Batman, and to help with that it seems like all of his villains are now incredibly combat capable or enhanced. Freeze no longer needs his gun to make ice, The Terrible Trio can actually turn into mutated animals, as well as Joker and Penguin both picking up a good bit of martial arts training. The stories did not completely rely on that though, as Black Mask is simply just always prepared with multiple plans, and someone like Clock King just learns from his mistakes until he gets it right. Those were the episodes that stood out to me more though as a bit cooler. On top of that, some of the action scenes are very well done, like the three-way fight between Batman, Catwoman, and Ragdoll in the clock tower, which seems to be the favorite of quite a few fans.
The Batman ran from 2004-2008, consisting of sixty-five episodes -seasons three and four are arguably the best- and a movie, The Batman vs. Dracula, which is flawed but good with a couple of goofy scenes as well as great ones. It took an approach I didn’t expect and had Peter Stormare as Vlad, so it is worth watching. Most of the show’s flaws are easy to overlook, especially when the ideas and writing are good. The dialogue is only poor in a few places, with many of the jokes working better than they should have, except for those horrible Mr. Freeze puns. It can be a bit formulaic as well, as this show reinforces that Batman will meet a new villain, lose, and then figure out how to beat them, as The Dark Knight’s true superpower is research and planning.
There are several standout episodes here. though: “Artifacts,” which is their badass future Batman episode, “Seconds,” which has one of the most memorable endings in any kids cartoon, and so many more that make me glad I re-watched through this program. The show brings it when it needs to, feeling updated, produced by fans of the character, and a bit awesome now and then. I take them having the audacity to simply call it “The Batman” was the kid-friendly way of saying the now famous line from All-Star Batman and Robin, “I’m the goddamn Batman.”