Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The DC Animated Universe Weekly Review - Batman: The Animated Series

Batman: The Animated Series

Episode 1

On Leather Wings

The episode that kicks off the best animated show of all time (the best animated universe ever).  The creators made certain to pull out all the stops for this series and make an impression.  The first episode’s animation is by far the best in the entire universe.  This is clearly a deliberate choice by the creators to sell the show to the studio, network, comic book publisher.  There were a lot of eyes on this first episode and the think tanks needed to deliver.  The quality is so far above anything in animated TV it rivaled Disney features at the time.  


When Man-Bat is flying in the air with Batman hanging by a rope behind him, it’s beyond impressive.  The camera follows the movement through the entire sequence.  The time and dedication to that type of children’s animation is unparalleled.  The follow-up episodes were more constrained by time and budget, we really never get to see such vivid animation in the universe again.  The follow-up episodes might not be as visually stunning, they’re still spectacular and do not affect the stories at all. 


The episode involves a monster Man-Bat robbing pharmacies and almost everyone thinks it’s Batman.  Batman sets out to clear his name and stop the robberies.  We are introduced to key players in the series like Batman/Bruce Wayne, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, pre-Two Face Harvey Dent, Harvey Bullock, Mayor Hamilton Hill.  It’s a nice intro to all the characters who will be hashed out in later episodes.  


Batman discovers Kirk Langstrom took a serum that made him a monster.  This lovely mutation gimmick will turn up multiple times throughout the DCAU.  BtAS has a werewolf, Catwoman getting mutated into a cat, a man making a cat, a farmer making giant monsters, Batman Beyond has splicers, Justice League had Cheetah.  Comic book TV shows like mutating people into animal/man creatures.  


Additionally the episode established the different voice between Batman and Bruce Wayne.  It’s truly a brilliant technique to differentiate the character.  This gimmick dies out as the universe continues.  It was likely easier for the voice actor Kevin Conroy to stick with one consistent style then dramatically switch voice tones.  But the early episodes had two distinct voices and can be seen as a major influence in Christian Bale’s Batman/Bruce Wayne performance.  


When comparing this first episode to the prior animated super hero installments from the 1960s – 1980s this was monumental in story telling.  It wasn’t some saccharin Hannah-Barbera watered downed story.  Those old stories were filled with ridiculous cartoon clich├ęs.  Laser weapons because real guns aren’t allowed on children’s TV.  Every time a plane gets shot down the parachute opens.  A PSA at the end trying to educate kids on some lame lesson to tie the episode together.  All of that TV trope garbage was scrapped in this series and On Leather Wings set that tone.  


Batman: The Animated Series is certainly a show for kids but remains timeless because it didn’t talk down to them like its animated predecessors.  Adults can easily watch this show.  The fan base remains so strong because of how ageless and compelling the stories are.  As the years went on, rewatches of other popular kid’s shows like He-Man, Transformers, GI Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats may invoke nostalgia but the episodes do not resonate as well since they were written for a certain age demographic and primarily made to sell toys.  


Thanks is owed to Tim Burton’s Batman films.  Burton’s Batman is highly praised by fans but in this web reviewer’s opinion, a bit over hyped.  Without going into too much detail, Burton’s Batman lacked a coherent plot in the first film.  Batman Returns was too gothic.  What Burton did get right though, was he made Batman dark and that allowed the cartoon to be translated into something darker, something which resembled the comics.  In the 13 years Hannah-Barbera produced their DC incarnation of Superfriends (1973 - 1986), they never dared to have the kind of story depth the DCAU tackles.  It’s all thankfully summed up in this first episode.  


Even the opening sequence uses a condensed version of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme.  This Batman is telling its audience it’s connected to the films when it uses that music.  As the series progresses Shirley Walker’s compositions take over and become the true music of the show.  But Elfman’s music is clearly a heavy influence and help add to how epic the show truly is.


Written by
Joseph Ammendolea
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®