Batman the Animated Series

by Alan Rapp on July 14, 2008

in DVD Reviews , Theme Week

  • Title: Batman: The Animated Series - Volume One
  • tv.com: link

No digital cartoon here folks.  Despite the fact that many cartoons had gone to digital at the time it came out Batman the Animated Series is old school, in more ways than one.  Hand drawn on cells with painted backgrounds with a limited color palate and a breath-taking style that merges old school images into a new and exciting storytelling.  Producers Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm deserve all the praise I can muster for this wonderful creation that got better and better year after year.

As you watch the main titles you notice they never say Batman (that’s pretty ballsy for a “kid’s show”).  From these early images you can see the importance of the visual look to the series, which is very important on a show where the main character doesn’t talk much.  Building on core concepts of who and what Batman is while adding a new dark art deco style and flair to the look of Gotham the creators make almost all the right choices including retuning the Joker‘s balls and allowing him to be a wickedly scary demented killer.

The Rogues gallery is well-represented in the first year: Man-Bat, Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Sewer King, Killer Croc, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, The Clock King, Penguin, the Mad Hatter, and the Gotham mob bosses like Rupert Thorne (though for some reason we have to wait for Season Two to get the Riddler).

Some well-known Bat-villains get a make-over here and the tragic element is well used in their creation.  The new version of Mr. Freeze is a stunning and tragic; the character is much more developed than previous incarnations.  Harvey Dent’s psychological problems are explored and the series makes Dent friends and allies with both Bruce Wayne and Batman (which the comics would later use).  Clayface is an amalgam of the Clayfaces from the Batman comics as an actor who is tragically reformed into a hulking monster who can reform his body in different looks.  The tragedy of each character is examined and developed, never ignored.  There are a couple of new faces here as well including the series most popular creation Harley Quinn.

Other characters are also explored.  We get Alfred, and Robin appears in a handful of episodes.  From the Gotham Police Force we get Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Officer Montoya.  Also reporter Summer Gleason, and Dr. Leslie Thompkins whose relationship to Bruce Wayne is explained in detail as the series examines the events that took place years ago in Crime Alley.  All this and the wonderful voices including Mark Hamill and even, wait for it, Adam West!!  A very cool opening season to the series.

Beware the Gray Ghost

Adam West lends his voice to a cartoon hero of Bruce Wayne’s childhood – The Gray Ghost.  Now a down and luck actor who Batman asks for assistance when crimes based on the show start to take place all over Gotham.  West’s performance as an out of luck actor who still yearns for the days when he played a super-hero on TV is just genius casting and add a level of realism to the part.  Making him Batman’s childhood hero is just damn fine writing.  Sadly no commentary on this episode which is quite a shame considering it links two distinctly different versions of Batman.

P.O.V.

A botched sting operation is looked at through the eyes of different characters.  Whose fault is it?  Batman’s or Bullock’s?  This episode gives a little better look into characters of the Gotham police and how they view and work with Batman. It also helps define Harvey Bullock and Officer Montoya, both of whom become important supporting characters throughout the series run.

Fear of Victory

One of the only Batman and Robin episodes of Season One.  Dick Grayson’s college roommate is just one of many who falls under the spell of fear in the Scarecrow’s latest scheme.  Interesting in how the Scarecrow uses his fear toxin to help create an instant profit.  One of the best drawn episodes of this season that really shows of different aspects of Gotham and shadows.  Also of interest are the style of the football uniforms that are just one of many touches (like the police blimps) that add to the out-of-time feeling of the series.

The style of the show creates a dark and distinct Gotham that a character like Batman would be quite at home into.  This season deals with setting up so many of the characters and storylines that will be explored and expanded on in the later seasons.  Dark, moody, and extremely cool this is a nice collection for any fans of the show or of Batman.

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