Nostalgia November: Batman The Animated Series
by Steve "The Dark Knight" Monnich, GGR Co-founder
"I am vengeance. I am the Night. I AM BATMAN!"
Those iconic words have always given me goose bumps of joy ever since I was a small child. The Batman animated series from the early to mid-1990’s was a benchmark series for not only comic books, but also for the art form and credibility of animated television. And as much as it is groundbreaking and stylistic and deep, the greatest thing about series was that it accomplished all that while still kicking just so much ass!
For kids of my generation this show (coupled with the X-Men animated series) was one of our first forays into the comic world and many of us never looked back. Much like every television series there are amazing episodes, a lot of good ones and then a few fillers, so today I just want to hit on a few of my personal favorites. But more importantly I want to give you, my valued and sexy readers, the overall impression and feel of being a six year old boy watching a hero strike fear into the hearts of the villainous scum of Gotham.
Heart Of Ice
This episode is the perfect microcosm of the series as a whole. Here we are given Mr. Freeze’s origin story, and for those not in the know, Mr. Freeze is a scientist with a cryogenically frozen wife Nora, whom he has vowed to rescue. He also suffers from a condition that requires his body to stay at sub-zero temperatures and wants to build a giant freeze ray to get back at the man who he holds responsible for Nora’s condition. Now this all sounds like a very typical “bad guy” resume, but that’s the beauty of this show. The depth with which the characters are developed makes you feel for the villain and see that while his actions are not justifiable they are understandable. Even as a kid, I could tell that Batman was punching guys in the face, but he didn’t necessarily feel great about having to do it.
If you want to hear more about this episode and the master craftsmanship behind it, listen to Kevin Smith’s podcast “Fatman on Batman” in which he interviewed Paul Dini about the series. Dini loves these characters so much he actually gets choked up on the subject of this episode and it’s rather touching.
Beware The Gray Ghost
You just can’t do a Batman series after the 1960’s without some sort of cameo by Adam West, and I friggin’ love the way it was done here. They set up West’s character as an old time hero named the Gray Ghost who was the star of television serials that young Bruce Wayne watched as a boy. Since then Bruce became a real hero (named Batman) and the Gray Ghost’s actor Simon Trent is now a broken down relic selling off his memorabilia to a nerdy collector to make the rent. In the episode, a series of crimes start to occur that exactly mirror old episodes of the Gray Ghost so Bruce and Simon team up to foil the perpetrator’s schemes.
The beauty of this episode to the viewers is we have all been a fan of someone or something, and this episode shows even Batman falls into that group. It’s pretty rad to see Batman totally fanboy over his world’s version of Batman.
Not every episode is all grit and grim stuff with deep meaning and eloquence. This one is just down right hilarious to me and I have no idea why. The plot is the Joker is just driving along when some bumbling nobody named Charlie Collins has a little road rage with the wrong driver. Well that old clown prince of crime decides to get even and lets Charlie off if he agrees to do Joker a favor. Then two years pass. Yep two years later Joker wants to detonate a bomb where Commissioner Gordon is speaking and he uses Charlie as an unwitting accomplice.
What really steals the show here is Mark Hamill’s Joker. I mean it is just a top notch performance of insanity, rage, comedy and, well, whatever indescribable things the Joker is! Fun note about this episode is the first ever appearance of Harley Quinn, who was created for this show and has now become a staple of the DC Universe.
If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Rich?
For some unknown reason, The Riddler was always one of my favorites of Batman’s rogues gallery, but I think we all can admit he’s a little bit goofy. He is a guy who riddles. OOOOOOHHH SCARY! But here they made him a disenfranchised game designer whose life’s work was stolen by a heartless corporation. He then puts the man responsible into the video game where he then…ok well maybe this plot line is still kinda weird. But imagine you are a kid. It’s Batman in a video game where the Riddler is the main bad guy. Sign. Me. Up!
The Demon’s Quest Part 1 and 2
Robin and Talia al Ghul kidnapped? Batman and Ra’s al Ghul teaming up? James Bond – esque super weapon satellites? What genius team of coked up eleven year olds wrote this episode?! I’m pretty sure if it was cast well, you could turn this two parter into a movie. It’s that good. The problem with this two parter is that there are only two of them and it’s not all the shows all the time everywhere. Hyperbole aside, as much credit as the Joker is due as Batman’s greatest villain, Ra’s al Ghul might be his most dangerous, and I love the way the world’s greatest detective was actually fooled in this masterpiece.
So there you have it, one man’s take on arguably one of the best animated shows of all time. The best part about nostalgia November is that we all have something we loved growing up that informed how we look at the world and who we want to be. Make sure you take some time this month and look back on what your influential show, movie, comic, music, etc was.