It's now time to begin Batman Week, and I for one am giddy with anticipation. Okay, maybe not, but I've been looking forward to this. Not to spoil the surprise, but there will be four titles in this series. The first is excellent, and the others are pretty darn good, awful, and solid but with a giant asterisk, in that order.
This first selection was truly a watershed moment in television animation. Batman: The Animated Series was a Saturday morning superhero cartoon show, and I'm sure that the executives at the Fox network were expecting typical Saturday morning superhero fare, like the Super Friends. But what they got was something amazing, an excellent family show that was true to what people loved about comic books while still being appropriate for Saturday morning.
The show announced it was something different from the opening credits. Because, in fact, there were no opening credits, just a short, action-packed sequence showing Batman catching some bank robbers. The opening didn't even identify the show by name, only by this image:
That picture says a lot about what else is different about this show, namely the art style, a mixture of contemporary and Art Deco influences, much of it a direct homage to the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons (those are great family fare, too, and they sometimes show up on streaming services like Netflix). The Batman artists started with black paper for the background, instead of white, which effectively makes every exterior a night scene, and every interior look like a scene from The Godfather.
Although there are some clunker episodes, most of the stories are excellent. Some of the material can get a little dark for a "children's" show, and there's gunfire, but no blood, and no one dies. In fact, the show often gets comical in avoiding death, and you can bet that if someone falls from a great height, we will see them land in a large body of water, rise up out of the waves, and swim to shore.
The voice acting is stellar, with lots of big-name actors in recurring roles, such as Mark Hamill as the Joker. A actor named Kevin Conroy, otherwise unknown to me, is the voice of Batman, and to this day, every other Batman, animated or not, sounds wrong to me now. He even does a distinguishable, but not entirely different voice, when it's Bruce Wayne talking instead of Batman. It's those little touches that let you know the show was made with dedication and care.
This show is definitely a four-star rating from me. The truth is, I bought the first volume of DVDs for myself, before my daughter was even born. Then one day, tentatively, I asked if she'd like to take a look--she didn't even know who Batman was at that point. Now, several times a week, I have to don a cape (actually a blue blanket) and become Batman (and also Robin, the Joker, Commissioner Gordon, Killer Croc, and whoever else is required) in my daughter's games. It's exhausting work, but I couldn't be more proud.
And we still have lots of episodes to go. We're working through Volume 3 right now, which is where the show transitioned a bit; it was renamed The Adventures of Batman and Robin, featured Robin more prominently, who doesn't often show up in the original version, and got a traditional and therefore more boring opening credit sequence. Still good, though.
There is one thing that bothers me about the show, or I should say, one person.
Harley Quinn. She's a well-written character. She was invented for this show, and has gone on to become a regular in the comic books, video games, and so on. She's a sidekick of the Joker, hopelessly in love with him. And that's the thing. She's the classic girl who puts up with any amount of abuse from her fellow, as long as he shows her some affection in the end. In this case, it's even worse, because her bofriend is a psychotic, evil man.
This is about the worst possible model for a young girl to follow in her love life--and of course, my daughter loves playing Harley in her game. I admit she does a pretty good Harley voice, but before I will let her play that character, I have to have a little talk with her, making sure she understands that Harley is always making the wrong choice when she goes back to the Joker.
My daughter's not quite six yet, so I have a few years left to worry about that. But in case this site still exists a decade from now, and is being read by any would-be suitors, know this: I'm her dad. And I'm Batman.