Friday, December 17, 2010

Batman: The Animated Series

I’ve been putting off writing this entry for almost a year.

This is what happens when I have nothing to write about. Step 1 of this process is struggling with that is appropriate to share or not share that’s going on. Step 2 is accepting that it’s too gross to reveal in the format of the blogosphere without turning away readers and step 3 is the Russian wave of communist resistance. Actually Step 3 is writin
g about Batman the Animated Series; which has nothing to do with communism; except in the sense that if you don’t think it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to superhero cartoon television I think you’re beyond help. Part of the reason I was putting it off is because I have real passion for the subject, not just in the ironic sense.

I think we’re off to a great start with this one. When I was six years old, I spent my school days waiting to come home and sit down in front of Cartoon Network and watch BATMAN: The ANIMATED SERIES. They made a point to emphasize the fact that it’s not just BATMAN…it’s the goddamn batman cartoon. This was the first time Batman had gotten his OWN show in the hand-drawn (or sweatshop collectively drawn) medium. Sure he had a facet of Super Powers in the 70’s and 80’s and these were partially collected on VHS volumes, but Batman the Animated Series singlehandedly solidified the relevance of many of Batman’s major characters we’re familiar with today and kept Batman in the mainstream as a valid cultural icon despite missteps such as the Schumacher films; which interestingly enough drew a lot of their inspiration and character selection FROM the animated series.

Genius-at-large, Bruce Timm, and physically large genius, Paul Dini were the men responsible for Batman: The Animated Series. The show was a branch off from the then-recent Burton films, 89’ and Batman Returns. Many of established bits of context from the movies were kept in the animated series, such as the Penguin being a mutant with long scraggly hair and the Joker having an alias of “Jack Napier”. Obviously Batman takes place in a multitude of timelines (I don’t know if anyone read Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader but it was basically the ultimate mindfuck explaining that Bat-Timelines are skewed and irrelevant) and Batman: the Animated Series sort of takes place in some twilight zone 90’s/1940’s reality. Some of the cars are old and yet the topical terrorist threats are very real. Television sets are sometimes in color and sometimes in black and white. It’s the perfect fantastical mix of Batman being put into a unique reality.

Something can be said for the storylines too. They didn't shy back from much violence, and in some cases, I think characters even DIED. Batman never broke his rule of killing though, but that doesn't mean there weren't some incidentals. There were some really touching moments of the series though such as Batman's relationship with this old woman named Leslie, who cared for him when his parents died. Another really great plotline for an episode was the idea that Batman was inspired by his own superhero as a child, the Grey Ghost. Now the Grey Ghost is just a washed up actor whose being blamed for a string of crimes that follow the plot of an old episode of his show. Of course Batman saves him and tells him "You were my hero as a kid". Never have villains been played up so emotionally either, like Clayface who most people hadn't even heard of prior to BTAS. The Two Face origin presented in BTAS is my favorite and you really feel bad for Harvey in his fall from grace.

Part of the main appeal of the series is the “dark deco” as the term is now called and the angular, simplistic yet totally understandable art style applied to the characters and buildings. Everything is in an exaggerated perspective; but it’s very realistic. While you know you’re watching a cartoon, everything from the facial expressions of beady-eyed civilian characters to the way their suits fit seems extremely relatable to the real world. It’s like if we had rotoscoped (an animation process of tracing over film) the actions and looks of real people using only straight lines. Hard to explain but basically, in a matter of words of less, Batman: The Animated Series taught me how to draw. I owe it one of the greatest workplace distraction tools of my entire life. In fact I don’t know how to draw anything BUT things in the style of BTAS…or more specifically TNBA.

Though admittedly not as iconic or well known as the Batman: Animated Series basic art, the show went through a stylistic revamp on the 4th season when it teamed up on Warner Brothers and Fox in the mornings with Superman for an adventure hour. This is referred to as THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES…or somehow TNBA. Or the new adventures of Batman and Robin? But Batgirl and Nightwing were introduced into the cast this season so it really wasn’t limited to just Robin. I don’t have a clue. I just call it THE NEW ADVENTURES and because it came out at the time I was honing my art style in grade school at the ripe age of 7, I draw everything as simplistically and minimalist as TNBA. The iconic Joker, as voiced to a note of perfection by Mark Hamill now had white dots for eyes set over black beads. Batman himself, ditched the black and yellow classic logo in favor of the one introduced in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, with a plain black bat over a grey background. Everything was sleek and modernized, including the batmobile. In doing this, the dark deco was refined. Less detail, more sleek and it was now not just a serial cartoon, but a recognizable style of art.

BTAS/TNBA managed to permeate just about every aspect of my life at a young age. I was running around like a fool with a Batman cowl on the sidewalk at age 4 when the early episodes were on and a dog knocked me over and bit me. Rough times…but Batman was there for me. BTAS gave me the promise in my life that no matter what happened, I’d always have the comfort of the Caped Crusader and this rogues gallery to fall back on. Batman Underwear. Batman bubble Baths. Batman fruit snacks. I was, and am presently, unashamed of what became a lifelong obsession with a tortured man who lost his parents and took of crime-fighting. It makes perfect sense to me; and yet in writing this essay and trying to explain it, I’m unable to, much like Harley Quinn can’t really explain her attraction to the Joker.

Speaking of Harley Quinn, she’s proof of how important BTAS is to the comic book lexicon. She was introduced into the show in an episode entitled The Laughing Fish (the only episode to not feature a title card with a distinctive theme song) and become a valid comic book character and Joker-love interest/sidekick afterwards where she remains today having branched off with her own series. BTAS also resurrected characters who were thought to be absolute jokes and brought them into the spotlight and made them relevant again to the point where they would be featured in films. While Arnold played a pretty campy Mr. Freeze, the only reason he was in the movie to begin with was because of the chilling (lol get it?) emmy-winning (seriously. I didn’t make that up) episode Heart of Ice which features a tortured and broken spirited Victor Fries.

BTAS is really the pinnacle of my constitution as a “nerd”. It’s been there for me. An old standby…like grilled cheese. On days that I’ve been sick, BTAS has been there. On various occasions of Christmas and my birthday, BTAS has been there too. On the shelves of my collectibles and merch …it’s been there several times back and forth. I find that I almost instantly make friends with other fans of the show. One of my best friends I’ve met through a shared appreciation of The Dark Knight and the animated series. Another I met the first week of college when he expressed interest in the subject and we remain friends to this day. About a year ago at this time, I was rewatching the Joker-theme/and or Christmas themed episodes with special someone who has an appreciation for the show as well. Here we are a year later and she’s become more prominent in my life than I’d have guessed at the time. Batman brings people together. This is really the root of the fandom for many who grew up in the 90’s and who even grew up in the 80’s. It’s unquestionably solid material, and it continues to leave an impact on modern comics and batman films today. So there you have it. A love letter to BTAS/TNBA.

“I AM VENGEANCE. I AM THE NIGHT. I AM…BATMAN”

And now, I'll be posting some drawings I've done on photoshop that are combinations of the BTAS and New Adventures styles. I like the sleek refined look of TNBA...but I prefer the deco of BTAS. So I did my own.

2 comments:

  1. Wow your merged style characters are amazing! I think I like them better than the actual ones from the show lol.

    ReplyDelete