Friday, October 14, 2011
I am the Bat
When I was a kid, I watched my fair share of after-school cartoons. We had the Disney greats like Duck Tales, Tale Spin, and of course, Darkwing Duck. There were the standard Nick Toons of Doug and Rugrats. And the new Warner Brothers hits like Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain.
But none of the others could hold a candle to my favorite: the World's Greatest Detective, the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, the Batman.
Batman: The Animated Series was what cemented a lifelong love of Batman. He is simply the coolest hero. Whereas other superheroes have powers reaching even invulnerability (it's easy to win when you can do anything, Superman), Batman has three things: ingenuity to defeat those much more powerful than him, a mission to prevent crimes like the one which took his parents from him, and boatloads of money. Sure that last one is a little out of the blue, but he had to have some way to afford all his cool gadgets, right?
Why is he so great?
He's a standard tragic figure, trapped in fighting the good fight, no matter what path that leads him down. This sets him up to make decisions which he knows are right, but might be costly to him. In other words, he gets to be the courageous one, making the sacrifices to save others. He couldn't do all this without a solid moral compass pointing him.
But to top if off, he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. You try to steal a purse? Black eye. You shoot someone? Maybe a broken bone. You try to kill everyone in the city? That'll land you in the hospital for days, maybe weeks. He'd never kill, but has no issues dishing out justice like a fry-cook dishes out grease-covered plates.
So that's why he will always win: he has the will to do what must be done to save the day, and he'll kick ass to make sure it gets done. Of course, when Batman wins, he also tends to lose...
But the show wasn't great just because of the subject matter, there was also the stellar voice acting.
Kevin Conroy is the only voice I will ever associate as Batman or Bruce Wayne, and he does a stellar job separating the two (without the need of extra computer-generated gruffiness like some current actor playing Batman in movies).
Mark Hamill, the farm boy who took down an empire, takes a turn as the menacing Joker, one who keeps you unsure of if you just sat on a standard whoopee cushion, or somehow just set off a bomb (and that laugh is killer).
And the guest actors, though we didn't know it as kids, were well known to our parents: John Vernon, Michael York, Kenneth Mars, Roddy McDowall, Richard Moll, Melissa Gilbert, Rene Auberjonois, John Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Tim Matheson, Ed Begley Jr., Ron Perlman, Tim Curry, David Warner, and Ed Asner. (look them up, you'll probably recognize more than you'd think)
And then there was the writing.
The show was so good that parts of it worked their way back into the comics. The villainess Harley Quinn, was immediately accepted into canon, and is really the only character that could ever be Joker's second-in-command.
Also, the Emmy award-winning episode "Heart of Ice" retconned the origin of Mr. Freeze, something which has stayed as canon to this day.
The show was even ranked the #2 in two separate top 100 lists for cartoon series (IGN and Wizard Magazine), both times coming in second only to The Simpsons.
And then there was the music.
I can't embed the video (the user disabled embeds), but here's a link to the opening theme. As you can see/hear, they chose a theme close to the standard set by Danny Elfman in Tim Burton's Batman. This dark theme, plus the intro cartoon, set this up as what it was, a dark and "mature" cartoon. Sure, it was still a cartoon, so it couldn't be that mature, but it matched and maintained the tone set by Tim Burton: a horribly corrupt Gotham City with one lone avenger trying to help redeem the people and save the city.
From the tragic lost love of Dr. Freeze to the drug-addict Clayface, this series gave us new characters with real stories, not just a villain-of-the-week superhero cartoon. The music and voice acting were above and beyond what was expected from cartoons at that point. And it was a new approach, to have a series for kids which wasn't always happy, and even if the good guy won it didn't mean everything turned out fine. All in all, this show was, and forever will be, the best animated series, period.
Lastly, because I couldn't resist, this should be everyone's best outfit: