Tags: batman: the animated series

Up

Superman: The Animated Series? More Like The Man of Steel Magnolias!

After mainlining Batman: The Animated Series last year, I was inspired to continue through the rest of the DCAU (sans Static Shock). I really had no interest in watching Superman since I'm not really into him, but I liked the series a lot more than I expected to.

I feel like this is blasphemy, but in a couple aspects, Superman is better than Batman. The main thing I love about the series is that it has continuity!! Batman had very mild continuity, but for the most part, episodes were self-contained, making no references to past episodes and having no effect on future episodes beyond the existence of recurring villains whose recurrences were never explained. From the very beginning, Superman makes sure that episodes don't exist in a vacuum. Things that happen in one episode are visited in the next one, even if they're just minor things. Characters make specific references to things that happened in past episodes. If a villain was previously imprisoned, you actually get to see how the villain breaks out to wreak havoc again! Oh, you all know what continuity is. I'm just appreciating it. The other thing Superman gets away with that Batman could not is that people die. Even named characters! It threw me for a loop since it was clearly against the rules a few years before. The standards of storytelling had changed; it makes me wonder what Batman would have been like if it had premiered a few years later.

Pretty much all I know about Supes I learned from Smallville, so it was great to see an adaptation that held a little bit closer to the comics. For instance, Lois Lane is awesome! She's strong, confident, sarcastic, and hilariously reckless: even in a battle between two superpowered beings, she'll feel the need to get a couple licks in. Hell, she even saves Superman's ass a couple times. There isn't a whole lot done with the Lois/Clark (or Lois/Supes, really) romance, but it's always there. Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen doesn't get a lot to do besides take pictures in perilous situations and, like Lois, get thrown off of buildings every now and then, but he's a good kid. That's pretty much it for the good guys. Supergirl shows up late in the run, and she's great, but for the most part, Supes works alone. There are cameos from other DC heroes, and those episodes are all really good, which makes me more excited for Justice League and more interested in learning about the DCU. There are even some awesome crossovers with B:TAS!

As for the villains, Supes cannot compete with Bats, and I think one of the inherent flaws in the series is that since Kal-El is an alien, he tends to have a lot of alien enemies, which makes everything much less grounded than the world of Gotham. The series wisely makes Superman superstrong but not omnipotent, so even when he's lifting up buses and throwing cranes, it looks like he's exerting himself like a regular person. Otherwise, it's hard to really care about any of the battles, which can frequently be repetitive and boring since they just involve two superpowered beings punching the shit out of each other. Batman has to use his WITS. And his GADGETS. Not his SUPERPOWERS. Okay, Supes does use his powers in clever ways every now and then. Anyway, I did really enjoy some of the villains, especially Brainiac, Parasite, and Livewire. I wanted to like Metallo more than I did. Oh, and I loved Bizarro! I had issues with Tim Daly's Superman voice (even though I grew to like it), but he was a great Bizarro (and I was pleased that he did the voice). Oooh, and Mr. Mxyzptlk was a hoot, of course. Lex Luthor—pronounced Luth-or for reasons unknown—figures prominently as Superman's nemesis early on, but he seems to fade into the background after a while, which is unfortunate because Clancy Brown is beloved for a reason. The major villain of the series, however, is Darkseid, voiced by Michael Ironside, and while a lot of Jack Kirby's Fourth World concepts don't make a lot of sense, they made for a good story.

Superman: The Animated Series was far better than I thought it would be, and it's telling that I'm now much more interested in reading Superman stories. It's not so much the character himself I've gained a new appreciation for but the stories you can tell with him. I still think he's annoyingly self-righteous and causes way too much property damage, but the series really plugs into the fact that he's the Last Son of Krypton, and in those moments where you see Clark as this alien among humans, his entire planet dead, you feel for him, but you're glad that he's on this one and that he likes it enough to defend it.
Blue spirit

Batman: The Animated Series? More Like The Dark Knight Rider!

Like those who grew up on the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman television show of yore, I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series. So when I discovered the DVDs at Newbury Comics for CRAZY LOW PRICES, I eagerly scooped them up so I could mainline all 109 episodes, many of which I had not seen.

By now, pretty much everyone has read or seen Batman in some incarnation, so why would you want to watch a cartoon from 1992? Well, it's not only widely considered to be one of the best cartoons of all time (usually coming in second to The Simpsons), but it was extremely influential, even more than I realized. For instance, Harley Quinn? Created for the series and then added to the comics. There are several original characters that became part of the actual comics, including Renee Montoya. The tragic backstory for Mr. Freeze used in Batman and Robin? Taken from the Emmy-winning "Heart of Ice," which completely redefined the character. This series is essential viewing for any Batman fan, and for many, it is the definitive vision.

But what if you're not a Batman fan? Well, do you want to be? Because this is a very good way to get your Batman education, especially if you enjoy villains, since the show is pretty villain-centric. Classic villains like the Joker, Two-Face, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, the Penguin, and Catwoman make frequent appearances, as do the aforementioned Harley and Freeze. Some of my other favorites include Clayface—who, like Mr. Freeze, got a tragic backstory that informed the actual comic incarnation—the Ventriloqust/Scarface, and the Mad Hatter. There are dozens of villains to enjoy, however, several of whom recur. And, as the treatment of Freeze and Clayface demonstrates, the writers are experts at portraying these villains sympathetically and making them interesting characters. Several of them have reform episodes where they try valiantly to go straight and fail—or at least they pretend! And key to the audience's connection to these characters is the voice actors, who do excellent work. Mark Hamill—Luke frickin' Skywalker—turns out to be a perfect fucking Joker, embodying him with just the right amount of playful mania and psychotic glee and giving him several variations of his signature laugh. He's far from the only recognizable name this series snagged; listen for John Glover, Ron Perlman, Harry Hamlin, William Sanderson, and, yes, Adam West, among others. The non-recognizable names are perfect as well. Kevin Conroy does a much better Batman voice than Christian Bale, I'll tell you what.

(And on that note, B:TAS is more in line with the Nolan Batverse in that it treats Bruce Wayne as a person. Like in the Nolan movies, Bruce is clearly the mask—Bruce frequently talks in Batman-voice when out of costume—but he also has a life and a company to run. Even though any time we see Bruce Wayne, he's pretty much itching to get into his costume and bust some heads.)

For a half-hour kids' cartoon, the show is very well written. The episodes are fairly light on exposition, and they move very quickly. Although it's appropriate for kids, it's not dumbed down. The only major reminder that you're watching a kids' show is that no one ever dies, they just get really big boo-boos. (Unless you're a superhero's parents. Then you can die.) It struck me that it was a kids' show where the main characters are all adults. Even Robin/Dick Grayson is in college. There aren't really any characters or conflicts that a child could relate to, but I still loved it when I was a kid. Because it's just good storytelling.

The series is also notable for its visual style, deemed "Dark Deco" since it took the old Fleischer Superman cartoons and Gothamed them up. It's set in the present, but in a sort of retro-present that creator Bruce Timm describes "as if the 1939 World's Fair had lasted forty years." This allows the series to be both timeless and dated: villains shoot Tommy guns and drive 1940s automobiles but Batman uses giant computers with very primitive displays. It's a unique style that gives the writers the ability to tell stories from different eras of the comic.

After 85 episodes, however, the series became The New Batman Adventures and the visual style was completely revamped to look more cartoony and shiny and it lost a lot of what made it great. The writing wasn't as strong either, although there were still some great episodes. These final 24 episodes focused a little more on the supporting characters like Batgirl—who was recast with a better voice—Robin—now Tim Drake, a twerp of a kid—and Nightwing—the former Robin, Dick Grayson. The original series is much more Batman-focused; he normally works alone. And yet there are some great episodes where Batman hardly appears!

There's probably no better endorsement for the show than the recently released/leaked Writer's Bible, which shows just how much thought the creators put into, well, everything. This is the type of quality animated series that is held up as an example of what you can do with the medium.

In conclusion, Batman uses his grappling hook a lot.