Batman: The Animated Series

I rewatched Batman: The Animated Series recently. I hadn’t watched it since it was originally on the air. There were several episodes I hadn’t seen before. Apparently, the name of the series was changed to Adventures of Batman and Robin early on in season 2, then changed back to Batman: The Animated Series again.

This is the series that first brought us Harley Quinn. Mark Hamill absolutely nails the voice of the Joker. The theme song is classic and I love the art deco style animation. (There’s an episode in which the license plates say Dark Deco State, so perhaps I should call the animation style dark deco.)

I feel like most of the episodes don’t stand the test of time. There was more racial diversity than other cartoons of the same era, but not enough female characters. I liked that the show had recurring minor characters like Rupert Thorn, Mayor Hill, Summer Gleeson, and Detectives Bullock and Montoya.

I liked the episodes that gave the origin stories for Two Face, Clayface, Mr. Freeze, and Manbat. Some villains like Penguin and Joker don’t get origin story episodes. They just suddenly show up. Robin also appears out of nowhere without the show bothering to explain where he came from. Batman fights crime solo for most of the episodes, with Robin appearing and disappearing at random.

The show was largely aimed at children with no one dying, corny humor, and kids helping Batman out in some episodes. Given that it was primarily a children’s show, I wonder why they didn’t focus on Robin more. He often felt extraneous.

Batman repeatedly gets knocked unconscious and tied up by villains who are never in the least bit curious who he is. On the rare occasions when they do consider taking off his mask, something prevents them. The Hugo Strange episode, in which villains pay Hugo to find out Batman’s identity, doesn’t gel with the episodes where the villains could have found out themselves and chose not to.

Villains escape prison/Arkham so often it’s ridiculous, but, of course, if they didn’t, we wouldn’t get to see the villains more than once and they’re the real stars of the show. Machine-gun-toting henchmen shoot as well as storm troopers, improbably never hitting Batman or bystanders. An improbably large number of buildings have sky lights for Batman to spy through or swoop through.

I enjoyed the first appearance of the Joker in “Joker’s Favor” which was told from a regular guy’s point of view. I also enjoyed “Beware the Gray Ghost”, a kind of a tribute to Adam West. “Almost Got ‘im” is another fun episode. “Harley and Ivy” is another standout episode in which Joker is portrayed as a domestic abuser and Harley a battered wife who keeps going back to him anyway.

I don’t think I saw the Bane episodes before. I didn’t realize he was Cuban. He seems like a Mexican wrestler in his first appearance, especially with Batman bouncing off the ship’s railing like it’s a wrestling rope. In a nod to the comics, Bane nearly breaks his back. I don’t remember Baby Doll either. She’s an adult trapped in a five-year-old’s body and has to be the weirdest Batman villain ever. (She also dates Killer Croc in one episode which the show itself acknowledges is super creepy.)

Season 2 is full of stories in which villains try to reform but fail (or only pretend to reform). There’s a villain named Lock-up who wants to bring down the liberal media, mad that they won’t let him brutalize criminals. I was surprised the show was willing to get political like this.

Season 3 feels more cartoonish with the college-aged Robin swapped out for a 10-year-old Robin, but on the other hand, Joker and Two Face actually murder people instead of only trying to, so it’s also more adult. Batman kills a crocodile in one episode and they even show the blood. Batman also tries to kill Mr. Freeze and Scarecrow, so he’s apparently not messing around anymore. There’s some funny episodes, but also serious ones like “Over the Edge” in which Batgirl apparently dies.

Season 3 gives us more nightmare imagery like Mr. Freeze’s disembodied head appearing in one episode. “Never Fear” is the best Scarecrow episode, showing us that not being afraid is more dangerous than being afraid. “Judgement Day” does something new with Two Face. “Double Talk” about the Ventriloquist being haunted by Scarface is quite good as well. They ridicule Johnny Cochran in a couple episodes and start listing their AOL Keyword in the credits, which certainly ages the series.

Season 3 focuses more on the adopted family aspects and characterization than previous seasons. I like the Tim Drake Robin better than Dick Grayson. Drake has more of a personality while Grayson felt like a cardboard cutout most of the time. Batgirl becomes a regular in season 3. In fact, she’s Batman’s sidekick more often than Robin is.

There were a couple animated movies done by the same team. Mask of the Phantasm was quite good. I didn’t like Mystery of the Batwoman as much, though.

I also rewatched Batman Beyond recently. It was disappointing on rewatch, although I loved it when it was originally on the air. My suspension of disbelief was broken by the fact that almost every villain has a connection to Terry’s high school. The Batman musical was funny, though.

The movie, Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker, was actually quite good and it contains an extended flashback explicitly tying it to Batman: The Animated Series. It’s a dark movie featuring a couple deaths, but it does a good job wrapping up The Animated Series.

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