(He’s not BATMAN!)
Nowadays when people mention the name Batman, they might think Christian Bale or Heath Ledger as the Joker or Christopher Nolan or Dark Knight or Joel’s Bat Nipples or even as far back as Tim Burton’s 1989 original. Not me. Whenever I hear the name Batman, I am immediately reminded of the classic cartoon of the 90’s, Batman: The Animated Series. Honestly, its really hard to stand out against all of the other classics that came out during this decade and many of them were produced by Warner Bros.
The original series was first aired on the Fox Network in 1992 and the series just set the bar when it came to excellence. Inspired by Tim Burton’s take on Batman, the shows creators want to use the “timelessness” setting to the cartoon’s depiction of Gotham. Using things like black and white serials, to police blimps and the use of formal wear; it was something that drove me batty as a kid. Is this the 1950’s? Is it the present? But it never really mattered whether it was the 40’s or the 90’s…the show just emitted coolness in its presentation. Man, just the serious adult overtones made this series stand out amongst the rest. Dealing with some very serious subject matter and also included realistic violence. A lot of action cartoons of the 80’s and 90’s never got past the censors when it came to guns (see G.I. Joe to X-Men) and most times it was a laser gun at best. But not with Batman: The Animated Series, where not only did real guns enter the action, but on at least one occasion, someone was actually shot.
But what is an action cartoon without a solid cast? And when I say solid, it was one of the best in the entire industry at the time and can still hold its own against cartoons in this modern age. Starting off with Bruce Wayne/Batman; endless debates go on over who is the best Batman: Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Val Kilmer, George Clooney (the sadists), Adam West? All wrong for none of them can compare to the man that is Kevin Conroy. This man masterfully did both Batman’s and Bruce Wayne’s voices to where they both sounded like two different yet incredibly strong individuals. Bruce was charismatic and Batman was imposing and serious. For a cartoon, the voice work makes all the difference and Conroy did a wonderful job. In fact, its hard at times not to judge Christian Bale’s and his growling Batman voice when compared to Conroy’s perfect tone. Don’t believe me? Have you watched the new Batman: Gotham Knights DVD that came out a little before The Dark Knight was released? Six different Batman stories, with six different styles, with one voice the entire time: Kevin Conway.
But the cast and incredible voice work don’t just stop with Bruce Wayne/Batman but includes Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, and Barbara Gordon; all who are incredibly cast and generate such believable life to their characters. Oh, but then there’s the villains…the evil and sinister Batman villains, each being terrifically redesigned for this animated series and wonderfully cast as well. But I think I can sum up all of the villains in the series by mentioning three of them.
First, we have Mr. Freeze. Now granted, nowadays the villain of Mr. Freeze is still the butt of a lot of jokes due to the Governator’s butchering of his character in that god awful Joel Schumacher pile of shit known as Batman & Robin. But needless to say, Batman: The Animated Series took a throwaway villain and gave him emotional depth that was unheard of at the time for a cartoon. A scientist who struggled not only with his icy affliction but also struggled with the means to find a cure for his beloved wife striken with an incurable disease. When you realize that a villain is fighting the law to save the one he loves, it becomes hard to root against him at times.
Another very sympathetic villain found in this series would be Harvey Dent’s horrific transformation into Two-Face. Being a pretty staple Batman villain since the 1940’s, I truly think it was his appearance in Batman: The Animated Series that placed him in the spotlight. Once again, just the idea of this character and his transformation makes one confused to how this got by the censors. While his moment of disfigurement wasn’t as gruesome as the hydrochloric acid found in the comic books, his face being horribly scarred by an explosion wasn’t something you normally saw in a cartoon. An the revelation of his face, man, the moment still gives me chills. The shock of white hair, the glaring yellow eye, the horrific jowl and the blue skin…oh God, his skin; all of that paired with his monstrous voice just make up one of the most horrifying villains to ever grace the TV waves. A good friend of mine told me recently how he felt when he saw Two-Face the first time. The villain’s appearance, I quote, “scared the shit out of” him.
So who is the last villain to be talked about? It’s this guy:
That’s right, Scarface. This villain was pretty intense because he basically was a puppet who was giving orders to his gang and here’s the best part, you think its the ventriloquist, but the puppet is the real villain! Shocking right?
Alright, I’m just gankin’ ya. This is the villain we should be talking about:
Ah, The Joker. What’s not to love? His sick humor? His penchant to devise wonderfully bizarre ways to destroy Batman? His voice? Yeah, you heard me. Next to Conroy, the man who portrayed The Joker is one of the best voice actors in the industry, a man named Mark Hamill. Ever heard of him? He was in this indie movie back in the 70’s called Star Wars. Well anyways, Hamill gave such charismatic charm to this sadistic villain, that one couldn’t help but love him. People are most likely starting to argue who is the best Joker: Nicholson or Ledger (not much of a fight if you ask me)? But really the argument should be between Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger because to me, these two have captured what truly fascinates us about The Joker.
Seriously, this show kicked ass and if you never watched it either because you weren’t old enough to remember it or felt you were too old to watch kiddie shows, then you better get your ass to a Best Buy and buy all the DVD’s. It will be money incredibly well spent.
Oh and on a side note, this series was followed by two horrible shows by comparison. One is The Adventures of Batman and Robin, and while this show may look like Batman: The Animated Series, I assure you it is nothing close. When production switched during Batman: The Animated Series’s run, a change in the style was implemented to the show. It was made a little brighter, Robin shrunk 2 feet, and Barbara Gordon was now struttin’ her stuff as Batgirl. It was less serious and more campy. No thank you.
The second Batman cartoon would be the WB’s most recent cartoon, The Batman. Now I have no problem when studios want to relaunch their franchises. Hell, Batman Begins is a sign that stuff like that is good. So when I heard they were planning to relaunch a new Batman cartoon, I was intrigued…until I saw Joker’s “new” look.
Yep. ’nuff said.