Sunday, September 28, 2008

Batman the Animated Series - Intro

I am a big fan of the various DC Comics animated TV shows. I've slowly been trying to acquire the DVDs for some of them, but recently decided to focus on it a little more, and as such just this week I won Volume 1 and 3 of Batman the Animated Series, and Volume 3 of Superman the Animated Series. I've decided to watch them in order, and blog about them, rather like my Evil Cousin Rish has been doing with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's spin-off Angel. Hey, if he can do it, I can do it, and you can suffer through it.

So first up will be Batman the Animated Series Season 1. This is the first project by producer and designer Bruce Timm. Timm did many of the character designs, and assisted in the writing.

This show and its spin-offs are often referred to by DC Comics fans as the Timmverse, to distinguish it from the main DC comic universe. The show is not a direct animated version of the comics, but rather a different (usually more kid friendly) interpretation of popular DC characters. Timm created a universe that feels very similar to the DC Comics universe, with many of the same characters, but without the complexity of 70 years of history. Characters have been simplified, none of this silly ret-conning, rewriting, and crisis' to reboot characters. There usually aren't multiple versions of characters - for example, there aren't three different Clayfaces with their own origins and motivations, there's just one, that's sort of an amalgamation of the three comic versions. But the characters are very recognizable to comic fans, and for the most part very closely resemble their comic counterparts.

Character designs also don't always match comic versions, they are usually similar, but a simplified, iconic variation. One of the obvious reasons for this is the time involved in animating, simpler designs are easier to draw over and over and over. It should be mentioned that Batman first aired in 1992, three years after Tim Burton's Batman (re)introduced Batman to kids all over the nation (world?), computer animation then was not what it is now. Still, I think the animation is quite good, the characters look very good, I really like this style of design, and I believe the 2005 Clone Wars animated show patterned their design style after this show. The design of show in general has a similar feel to the 1989 Batman, Gotham is usually very dark, rather drab, with a ridiculous number of ridiculously tall buildings from which Batman (and eventually Batgirl and Robin) can swing from.

Speaking of Tim Burton's Batman, the music of BTAS is very reminiscent of Danny Elfman's music from that film. Shirley Walker wrote much of the music for this series, and for at least the first seasons of this show Danny Elfman is credited with the Batman theme, which Walker then based the show's music on. I think this was a great move, as the 1989 Batman film was an excellent interpretation of the feel of the character, and the music really added to that feel. This show has a similar feel to it, due in large part to the music, but also in the look.

However, it is still a cartoon, marketed mainly at kids, so it is much more kid friendly than Burton's Batman. For starters, nobody dies. They get hurt, they show up in hospitals, or with bandages, but rarely is there blood, and I can't think of any injuries that are permanent (other than origin injuries, like Joker's acid bath). Some more potentially upsetting scenes aren't played directly on screen - again taking Clayface as an example, I seem to recall that rather than show us the mob force-feeding him the makeup agent we saw the shadow of it projected on the wall. Usually it's not really noticeable, but occasionally there are scenes where I as an adult notice that something falls short of a true comic book feel.

After writing the preceeding paragraph a week ago I did some reading on Wikipedia, which revealed some interesting points about the adult nature of the show.

Producer Bruce Timm and the crew were not interested in making a kid's show and they have often stated that this series and others in the DCAU, such as The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond and Justice League, are not children's programs but merely include children in their audience.
The show is indeed a little more violent than many kids shows, is usually quite serious, and contrary to my earlier statement Batman or other characters often have a trail of blood from their mouth after a fight. In a later episode of Superman a device creates a piercing shrieking noise, and Superman bleeds from his nose and ears. It was pretty cool. I quickly previewed the first episode of Batman which features Man-Bat, and for the transformation from human to Man-bat the camera was close up on the character and it was slightly disturbing to me, not sure what a child would think of it, I'll have to show it to Katie and see what she thinks.

Despite being separate from the comics, this show did have some lasting effect on the main comic universe. At some point during the show Batman's symbol changed from the black bat in the yellow oval to a large bat right on his chest (which I think looks better), and shortly thereafter (I'm told) the comics switched too, and for what it's worth, while several artists did a good job depicting that, Michael Turner did the best job, in my opinion (see Superman/Batman: Return of Supergirl, or Identity Crisis variant covers). Another example is characters created for the show that were then adopted by the comics, such as Harley Quinn and Livewire.

Another thing I'd like to mention is the actors. The voice actors are perfect. Most of them I think of as the definitive voice for that character. Kevin Conroy is Batman to me. I don't think any of the modern movies had a bad Batman (but some are definitely better, I favor Christian Bale) but really, to me Kevin Conroy IS Batman. He voiced Batman through four years of Batman the Animated Series and the Adventures of Batman and Robin, the three years of Superman the Animated Series (some concurrent with BTAS), four years of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, and three years as Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond. It's not just that I've been exposed to it for so long, but that he conveys the perfect personality to both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Another voice actor of note is that of Joker, Mark Hamill. Sure, he got his start as Luke Skywalker, and he did a really good job, but I a little more often think of him as Joker. He does a wonderful job portraying the insane-ness that is Batman's greatest (or second greatest) nemesis. He has a great crazy laugh, and he has a wide range of emotions for the character. Incidentally he also voiced Solomon Grundy in Justice League.

There are other characters that are voiced by actors of note: The Riddler is voiced by John Glover, among whose roles include Lionel Luthor in Smallville (he's also in the worst Batman movie of the modern franchise, but we won't mention that); once again with Clayface, he's voiced by Ron 'Aw Crap' Perlman, whose most famous role in my mind is Clayface. Oh, and he's also Hellboy. And Slade in the Teen Titans animated series. And Jax-Ur in Superman the Animated Series. And Orion in Justice League, and in the new The Batman series (which has some of the most horrible art ever) he's Killer Croc and Bane. There are some actors whose voice I always hear when thinking of their character - Michael Ironside is Darkseid, Michael Dorn is Kalibak, Malcolm McDowell is Metallo, the aforementioned Clayface and Slade, but most of the guest voice actors are not known to me, but I'll try to look them up and say something interesting about them as the occasion warrants. I'll have to get Rish's help with that, since he knows everybody and everything they did.

I guess that's about sufficient for an intro to the Timmverse series. I really have enjoyed all the shows, and I look forward to watching them in chronological order and discussing them. These shows are really why I'm a DC fan. These shows are why I am such a big fan of the DCUC toy line, and why I hope it lasts forever. They're why I've been buying comics to get more familiar with my favorite characters, so see different takes on them, but the animated universe will always be the primary universe to me, and I look forward to Batman TAS Volume One to arrive so I can begin this blog series.

1 comment:

Marissa said...

Good info. I didn't realize you liked the animated series so much.