Batman and Robin are no longer able to protect me from high toy prices. These are corrupt and lawless times! That's why I'm forced to visit this weekend's Pop Culture and Toy Expo at the Convention Centre. The toys there will definitely be over-priced. But with Adam West and Burt Ward scheduled to attend, I'm sure they'll hear me out and consider bringing back a bit of justice to the comic collectors' league, similar to what they did here...
Weirdly, I consider these Canadian Zellers commercials from 1988 to be the zenith of what I call "Batmanimation". They're great looking spots with vibrant character animation. Better than most I've seen!
Thought we'd take a look today at some other highlights from nearly 50 years worth of TV "Batmanimation". Some of this is bound to disappoint you if you're a hardcore Bat-fan. "What about that one episode of Justice League?", you'll say. "What about Batman's influence on Dynomutt?" "What about LEGO® Batman?" Look, I'm fine with almost anything Batman, but today I'm only expanding on a few of my favourites, and only the ones that focus on the Caped Crusader.
To get started, let me give you some perspective. I'm old and rural. My first exposure to an animated Batman was the theme song from the 1960's TV series. I didn't have cable or satellite when I was a kid, so I couldn't watch Super Friends or Dynomutt. I had to watch episodes of Adam West's Batman packaged within episodes of Laurie Mustard's Switchback on CBC.
I enjoyed the live-action Batman. I knew it was cheesy, but I recognized it as a fun product of my parents' messed-up times. Still, I longed to see an extension of that cartoon you saw during the rollicking theme song.
By Season 3, my wish was granted! The cartoon was extended about 2 seconds to include Batgirl.
Here's a fun deviation from my planned chronology by Happy Dragon Pictures, who recreated the 1960s theme song to include the most-recent film oeuvre.
Not long after Adam West became a household name, Batman was given a fully animated showcase, even positioning Superman as second fiddle in 1968/1969's The Batman/Superman Hour.
Superman was later dropped from the series entirely, which was renamed The Adventures of Batman and Robin. Casey Kasem played Robin right from the get-go. And Catwoman appeared to be played by...Future Lisa Loeb?
Batman lent promotional Bat-clout to Sesame Street in 1969. The Muppets would be nothing today if it weren't for that shameless Bat-shill!
Batman appeared in several segments on Sesame Street, teaching kids not to see humour in Robin's use of the phrase 'Holy Manhole!'
Now we get into a long period where Batman became a special guest-star in other people's shows. Prior to 1972, all "Batmanimation" was produced by Filmation. With the start of The All-New Scooby Doo Movies, Hanna Barbera began a long run with Batman and Robin, treating them with the same reverence as other big-name guest stars, like...Don Adams.
Between 1973 and 1986, there was only Super Friends. All the Bat-time. Okay, that's not true. There was some competition on another Bat-channel, but let's get the Super Friends out of the way first.
The All-New Super Friends Hour, Challenge of The Super Friends, The World's Greatest Super Friends, The Super Friends Hour, The Best of The Super Friends, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, The Super Power Team: Galactic Guardians, Super More-Than-Friends/Wonder Twin Dance Party. Okay, I made that last one up.
This will probably anger a lot of Super-fans, but I'm going to largely dismiss Super Friends, because it wasn't really Batman's show. I mean, look at that logo! Even the damn dog is more appreciated then Batman! I might do a separate Super Friends post soon, just so I can talk about El Dorado. But for now, I'll only mention a couple of interesting Bat-points about Batman in Super Friends...
1) Up until 1984, Batman was voiced by Olan Soule. But for a brief two-season run, Adam West returned to voice him. Here he is in 'The Fear' from 1986's Galactic Guardians, which was the last season of Super Friends. Note the episode is centered around Batman, with a more mature character-specific storyline. That can be credited to writer, Alan Burnett, who would later help to create the best Batman of all.
2) Batman had a filthy mouth, as seen in this "not for air" footage from [adult swim].
3) Batman and Robin loved each other very, very much.
I must quickly time travel back to 1977 again. As Hanna Barbera's Super Friends continued its reign on ABC, Filmation also put out new Batman cartoons on CBS, running in direct Saturday morning competition.
The first show was The New Adventures of Batman. Adam West voiced Batman in this, and Burt Ward reprised his role as Robin. Together with Bat Girl and Bat-Mite, they chased "the greatest array of villains the world has ever seen, proving that crime...does...not...pay!"
Then in 1978, Filmation made the logical choice to make Batman Tarzan's "boy wonder". (ie. his Bat-bitch)
Batman was packaged in with Tarzan cartoons in The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour, which was later repackaged again into 1979's Tarzan and The Super 7 and then 1980's Batman and The Super 7.
Check out the ad below. If you squint, you can kinda make Batman out. It's actually more depressing than the Super Friends logo.
Okay, cheer up Bat-buddies because now we hit the highlight!
So after Galactic Guardians was gone in 1986, the next Bat-mania started with the release of Tim Burton's 'Batman' in 1989. Based on the success and style of that film, and to coincide with the release of 'Batman Returns', Warner Bros. released Batman: The Animated Series on Fox to great acclaim in 1992.
Finally, a series that not only took Batman seriously in a starring role, but actually expanded upon, not only Tim Burton's films, but also the character's legacy.
Creator Bruce Timm based much of the show's look on what Tim Burton had already established in his movies, but added his own futuristic/old timey flourishes, like the police zeppelins you see in the opening credits. He called this style, "Dark Deco".
The series also delved into darker storylines and more Burton-esque versions of classic villains. To me, no one established a better version of Mr. Freeze than the creators of Batman: The Animated Series, and no one ever will. The makers of the non-Burton 'Batman and Robin' from 1997 knew that, and in quieter moments (the only good ones in the film) had star Arnold Schwarzenegger directly lifting scenes from the animated series.
Those scenes were lifted from Mr. Freeze's origin story in Batman: The Animated Series, called 'Heart Of Ice' - hands-down my favourite episode of the show.
Another character, Joker squeeze Harley Quinn, wasn't even featured in the original comics. She was an original creation for the 1992 Batman series, and became so popular, she was later written into the comics.
Batman: The Animated Series is the best super-hero cartoon of all time. Despite its influences, it had an original look. The animation is high quality. The music is epic, including the theme by Danny Elfman. The voice-work is exemplary, including Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy's defining portrayal of both Batman and Bruce Wayne. But what also set this Batman apart from others is the writing. I will watch or read anything that has Paul Dini or Alan Burnett's name on it. They are comic-book fans, so they're always faithful to source material, but they also have a cinematic mind. It's one thing to be a Super-fan, but you also need to know how to tell a coherent and interesting story, and they always accomplish that, as did the other writers. They also incorporate a chronological continuity between storylines and the series, which link together similar to Marvel movies of late.
The Animated Series would later be retitled The Adventures of Batman and Robin in 1993. It ended in 1995. The same creative team then regrouped to release The New Batman Adventures between 1997 and 1999.
Batman Beyond came next between 1999 and 2001. Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett had their Bat-hands in it. It takes place in Neo-Gotham in 2039, where a bitter, broken and much older Bruce Wayne (still voiced by Kevin Conroy) finds himself handing over the Batsuit to 17-year old Terry McGinnis.
Later storylines from Batman Beyond would lead into Timm and Dini's next projects, Justice League (2001-2004) and Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006), where Kevin Conroy continued to voice Batman. Series regulars like Mark Hamill as The Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn (among others) reprised their roles set-up in Batman over a decade previous.
After that, a new series with a new look and creative team was released called The Batman. This one featured no character continuity from series' previous, and new voices including Adam West as Gotham mayor Marion Grange. I didn't like it. The character designs were ugly, and I couldn't get past the grating theme song.
That Bat-taste in my mouth is the reason I haven't watched Batman: The Brave and The Bold (2008-2011), the most recent Batman TV series. Apparently it's a lot lighter in tone than the last show. The theme song is definitely less annoying, which is a start.
Then this summer we'll see Beware The Batman, a computer-animated series coming to Cartoon Network from Batman Beyond producer Glen Murakami. This one is said to be more serious, with a focus on lesser-known villains like Professor Pyg and Magpie.
Good or bad, the great thing about comic books is that they're always left to interpretation. If you don't appreciate one vision, you know another one will come along shortly for you to sample.
Some of my favourite current comic-book interpretations are being shown in shorts aired during 'DC Nation' programming on Cartoon Network. Purists may not like it, but they are definitely worth your time. I'll leave you with a few below.
Here's a salute to artist Mort Drucker and "Mad Magazine".
Here's a weird one by Aardman Animations of Wallace and Gromit fame.
And lastly, here is Batman of Shanghai, featuring major character redesigns and a martial arts movie flavour.
Well, Bat's it for now! See you next week! Same Bat-day, same Bat-blog!
PS: The 'Legions of Gotham' website was very useful in helping me to sound like I knew what I was talking about. They have a lot more information and credibility than I ever will! Check them out at www.legionsofgotham.org.