Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kill The Batman...For A While Anyway

What is it about Batman that we love so much? For 75 years the Caped Crusader has been one of fiction's top good guys with his adventures leaping out of the pages of comics books and graphic novels and onto a live action series, video games, several animated series and two series of movies. There's no doubt that Batman is more popular than he was back in the 1930's. 

But at the same time, I think that we've become a little spoiled with Batman. Granted, I'm not talking about movies or comics, but more in the medium of animation. It's easier and more believable to do an animated series staring the Dark Knight than a live action probably would be. But sadly, I think there's been an overdose of Batman lately and we need to nip it in the bud. Take a look back over the past twenty years and see if you agree with me.

Batman: The Animated Series was the series that changed everything back in 1992. The way cartoons were made, the way they looked, the way they sounded. The stories didn't talk down to children and sometimes it didn't always have a happy ending. The villains didn't always spout generic goals of world domination. Sometimes they were just ordinary people who bad stuff happened to and they took matters into their own hands.
 Best example of that was Mr. Freeze in the classic episode, Heart of Ice.
It was such a perfect origin and retelling of the character that it has become standard back-story for the character. If you haven't seen this episode, stop what you're doing, go watch it and try to catch how many times you find yourself in awe of it's beauty. 

Hell, it changed the way that I looked at cartoons. And the best part is I can still enjoy it as an adult as much as I did twenty-two years ago when this aired after school. Jesus Christ, I felt old typing that.

Hard to go wrong with the classics

The Animated Series lasted until 1995. It would be almost two years before Dark Knight was seen on TV again, in a sequel series called The New Batman Adventures, also airing on a different network. That wasn't the only thing that changed. Character designs were tweaked, some for better like the Scarecrow...

Before and After

...while characters like the Joker were...well, it seems like the animators forgot the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

What the hell happened to your eyes? 

Character designs aside there were also changes to the story. Robin had become Nightwing, Batgirl graduated to become a full-time crime-fighter and a new kid named Tim Drake became the next Boy Wonder filling the boots Dick Grayson abandoned. Though to be fair, his name may have been Tim Drake but everyone knew he was really Jason Todd. 

Yeah...not the kind of stuff you air on a Saturday morning. 

The New Batman Adventures was, in my opinion, a worthy follow-up season/series. While the changes might not have pleased everyone, they still kept a majority of the original voice cast and by Bruce Timm's admission, were able to do a lot of things that they couldn't do when the show aired on Fox and there aren't any episodes on the level of "I've Got Batman in My Basement".
Not to my immediate recollection anyway...

If there is a problem I have with it, it's that I feel there's a lot of missed opportunities and potential for really great stories. There was a lot of mystery about what happened between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne leading the former to become Nightwing, how did Grayson become said hero. An episode "Old Wounds" eventually showed what lead to the breakup of the Dynamic Duo but it only scratched the surface in my opinion.

In January of 1998, DC Comics had a mini-series called "The Lost Years" which was a tie-in to the TV series which filled in the gaps of the time between series. Had they actually adapted that comic into episodes, I think it would have been a great introduction to the series.

TNBA lasted until 1999, more or less bringing an end to the series in total. However in January of that same year a new sequel/spin-off series would air. One that took a very different and risky take on the Dark Knight.

Beyond what...? Thunderdome?

Batman Beyond looked like a mix of Batman, Blade Runner and terrible science-fiction.
But surprisingly...I enjoyed it. The idea of Bruce Wayne being an old man helping a troubled youth who may or may not be his son to become the new Batman for a futuristic Gotham was pretty interesting. Also with the new hero, Terry McGinnis not being an orphan and trying to balance being a normal teenager while being a crime-fighter gave it a real Spider-Man sort of feeling.
 Not relying on old villains with futuristic twists did help things and the idea of it not being Bruce Wayne under the cowl was pretty interesting.

Batman Beyond aired until 2001 and sort of went off the air without any big send-off (Though one could argue that they were saving it for later). While this was happening, another spin-off series to the original Batman: The Animated Series was coming to the air. There had already been a Batman animated series as well as a Superman animated series which featured a lot of superhero guest stars, so the next show was clearly obvious.

And this is probably more faithful than the batch of movies Warner Bros. and DC have lined up...

Yeah, a show with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl and the Flash? It's hard to screw this up and from what I've seen of the show (Keeping my promise to Phil LaMarr) they haven't done that...with the exception of the episode "War World". Seriously, that episode was weak.

If there's one criticism of the show it's that a lot of people seem to think of it as "Batman and His Bitches". And yeah, Batman has a big role in the team but it's not like any of the other members didn't get character development or shine in their own way.

The series was successful, even expanding it's cast to include almost every hero in the DC universe and changing it's title to Justice League: Unlimited in 2004.

That ended in 2006 and with it, the DC Animated Universe in total, spanning 14 years of continuous storytelling, top notch animation and they were even able to give Batman Beyond a proper send-off with the episode "Epilogue". Though, there is a whole other season that aired after that episode, best watch that episode last as it is a proper bookend to the DCAU which started with "On Leather Wings" back in 1992.

But while Justice League: Unlimited was in the middle of airing it's first seasons in 2004, another animated Batman series was launched, this one telling a completely different story about a younger Bruce Wayne and with a different animation team behind it. This was a new origin story, completely unrelated to any other Batman show that had aired before.

Not to be confused with just Batman, he's THE Batman!

 Simply titled The Batman, this show aired in 2004 and ended in 2008 and did things a little differently. It introduced Batgirl before Robin, the Penguin was given a background in martial arts, they gave the Joker dreadlocks and...wait, what!?

I still can't find the words to describe...

It's been a long time since I've sat down and watched any of these episodes but if I had to guess, maybe the big flaw of this series was that it was just too soon after everything that had happened in the DCAU?

Batman gains a side kick? That had already been done in Batman: The Animated Series.
Batman teams up with Superman? That had also happened and been really great in B:TAS.
Batman eventually forms the Justice League with other superheroes? OK, you see where I'm going.

After having such a popular series like Justice League: Unlimited end, to have a new series, having a different show trying to do the same thing seems like a bit of a rehash and maybe even lazy to some. Maybe it deserves another look'll be a while before I feel like getting around to it. However the series must have been doing something right considering it won five Emmy's.

So you'd think that after that show ended, they'd give Batman a break, especially after the release of two critically acclaimed films by Christopher Nolan, right?

Is that logo scowling at me? What the hell did I do to piss it off?

Wrong. Airing the fall after The Batman ended in 2008, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, looked very much like it was geared towards a very younger audience. It was only last year that I actually watched an episode and to tell you the truth...I enjoyed it. It looks like a show that would be talking down to it's audience but looks like it could be fun for all ages.

It's a more light-hearted approach with Batman teaming up with a different superhero each episode, similar to the Brave and the Bold comics from long ago. In fact, I have one of those retro comics in which he teams up with The Atom. Should probably get around to reading it because it looks interesting and...I'm sorry, what was I going on about?

Right, Brave and the Bold seems like a show that I would enjoy but at the same time, I have no great interest to see it. It's a show that reminds me that superheroes should be fun and not always characters who are brooding and only come out at night. Maybe I'll get around to watching that one later.

So, sixty-five episodes later, Brave and the Bold came to an end and the next time we saw the Dark Knight wasn't even on a show about him. Granted it took place in the DC Universe, but Young Justice had Batman taking more of a backseat role to the action while the younger heroes he mentored kicked ass and took names.

So while not a main character, once again we have a show where Batman is a member of the cast. But that would change when Cartoon Network stupidly decided to not renew Young Justice and immediately released a new show which I talked about before: Beware the Batman.

Again...Alfred's got guns

Fan reaction to this one wasn't kind and to be fair, a lot of it was undeserved. Most people believed that it was because of this show that Young Justice went off the air so they boycotted it, believing that if it went away, Young Justice would return.

I've seen a few episodes of the show and it's...just OK. It did some interesting things by not relying on standard villains like the Joker but some villains like Professor Pyg, to those not familiar with the comic book character, were probably turned off by that.

There's no official word on the status of the show, but with it being pulled from scheduled airings without notice at times and it now exclusively airing on Toonami at the much desired 3AM timeslot, the future doesn't look bright for the series, which is probably disappointing to fans.

Now there's talk of a new animated series titled Batman: Unlimited. Granted all I've heard about it is just the title and gotten a head shot of Batman.
Not much to analyze from this is there?

In my opinion, this might be a mistake. The best response to the failure of a Batman animated series is to release a new Batman animated series and hope it sticks? 

No, what Batman needs to do is...go away. I don't mean that like I don't ever want to see him on TV again but look at this: 
Batman: The Animated Series ran from 1992 to 1995
The New Batman Adventures ran from 1997 to 1999
Batman Beyond ran from 1999 to 2001
Justice League ran from 2001 to 2006
The Batman ran from 2004 to 2008
Batman: Brave and the Bold aired from 2008 to 2011
Young Justice aired from 2010 to 2013
Beware the Batman aired in 2013 and is so far, still on the air in 2014

That means that aside from the year 1996 when the only way to watch Batman was reruns of The Animated Series, Batman has been on TV for twenty-two years! That's more time than between the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise

In other words, we've been spoiled a bit too much by Batman and nothing we see any more is capable of surprising us. If there were five years without a Batman series on the air, it would give viewers a chance to breathe and say, "Wow, they're bringing Batman back to TV? I'm gonna check it out, that looks awesome."
Instead people are more cynical and instead saying, "Oh, another Batman series? Pass, I think I'm a bit tired of it."

So, should they "Kill the Batman" as I put it in the title? No, but maybe he should take a break.

Also, with the Batman/Superman movie hitting theatres sometime next year as well as the top notch animated movies that DC is putting out, maybe we've got enough. All I'm saying is that for a as much as we love Batman, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

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