Batman: The Animated Series, An Appreciation

Forget Affleck, forget Christian Bale and forget Val Kilmer (if you haven’t already), the animated Batman is the only one that matters.
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Forget Affleck, forget Christian Bale and forget Val Kilmer (if you haven’t already), the animated Batman is the only one that matters.

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Saturday mornings in the mid 90s were incredible. Remember Live & Kicking? Remember SM:TV Live? Zoe Ball? Those were the golden years, I’m telling you. One of the main reasons this was such a good period for kid’s TV was because of the abundance of well made comic book adaptations on our screens. If the 00s and the 10s are the decades of the comic book film, the 80s and 90s were the decades of the animated comic book series. On the BBC you’d have one of two fantastic Marvel staples Spiderman or X-men(or sometimes the slightly sub-par The Hulk or Iron Man cartoons). They were an introduction into the world of superheroes and comics, a gateway drug into spandex and nerdery. The real daddy of all these comic book cartoons was, however, DC and their unparalleled Batman: The Animated Series, over on ITV.

There was something about this series that grabbed me as a child (no, not like that) and hasn’t let go. Whilst Spiderman and occasionally X-men were not afraid to go dark, Batman was a different animal altogether. As we’ve seen with Batman & Robin, Batman does not work unless it’s as dark as possible; darkness is in Batman’s very nature: he’s a boy who has seen his parents murdered and has grown up to be a terrifying creature who haunts the city streets at night. It doesn’t sound like the best subject material for Saturday morning television, but somehow it worked. Just look at these opening titles for a start:

To an 8 year-old me, this world of tall buildings and dark shadows was sinister and exciting. Dubbed ‘dark deco’ by the producers, the art deco style, mixed with a strong noir flavour, made for a rich, engaging world. Borrowing several elements of the Tim Burton films meant that stylistically, Batman: The Animated Series had something for all age groups. The theme music was also a variation of the Burton Batman theme, composed by Danny Elfman and Shirley Walker. All in all, the titles are vintage, dark and brilliant.

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The show was also notable for its relaxed stance on violence and fire arms (guns are hardly seen in kid’s cartoons, except for in the guise of some wacky alien laser). From the death of Batgirl to the horribly distorted grins The Joker would leave on his victims, Batman was a show that treated you like an adult and wasn’t afraid to take you to places other cartoons didn’t. The fact the show’s title themes borrowed so heavily from Burton’s gothic Batman and Batman Returns set out the show’s intentions early. Further film references came in the form of The Penguin, who was altered from the DC comics to appear more like Danny Devito’s character from Batman Returns.

The cartoon was innovative in its character development. Bruce Wayne is far from Christian Bale’s seemingly reckless billionaire playboy. In fact, in more than one episode, Bruce helps save the day where Batman can’t. Dick Grayson, too is a more serious Robin than his print counterpart. The most famous character development has to be the introduction of The Joker’s lover/assistant Harley Quinn, a character so popular she was adopted into the comics and remains a fan favourite. Perhaps equally as famously, The Joker gave Mark Hamill a new outlet as a voice over artist.

Another thing that was fantastic about the animated series was the Batcave, resplendent with giant two face coin, fake dinosaur and all manner of paraphernalia (not to mention the Batmobile). If I were to pick a fault with Nolan’s films it would be that we didn’t see enough of The Batcave. Of course Nolan teased us on purpose, perhaps never more so than in the final scene of The Dark Knight Rises, but throughout his trilogy I was gasping for a glimpse of the animated Batcave, complete with old Robin and Batgirl outfits in glass cases.

As well as featuring Batman’s better known sidekicks, the animated series was also great for featuring Nightwing, also known as the original Robin, Dick Grayson, who branched out on his own once he became too big for Batman’s shadow. Nightwing’s main stomping ground is Chicago, but from time to time he’d pop up in the animated series and help Bruce out when he was in a spot of special bother. Again, this added to the sense of an entire, complete and complex Batman world.

Of course, all of these peripheral characters meant there was a lot of merchandise to get hold of. For ten year-old me, this involved getting merits at school, then convincing my mum this merit was worth a Turbojet Batman figure. There were many sequels and spin off to Batman: The Animated Series (including a Batman & Robin film tie-in) with their own merchandise and new characters, but for me, the animated series will always be the original and the best. From toys to theme music, I loved it as a child and as I grow older I can still appreciate it, although perhaps now that has something to do with Catwoman.

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Read an exclusive excerpt from Tom Ward's debut novel, 'A Departure',

'They drove past Regent’s Park, now home to tens of thousands of people living in a city of tents. They were people who had been forced from their homes in the city, for whatever reason, and had nowhere else to go, and no one to go with. They were the people who had traveled up, down and across the country to the capital, because the answer to this disaster must lay there, there must be some form of help in the heart of England. They were young men and women, just moved to London, their eyes wide enough to take in all of the sights without seeing, the promise of jobs and futures now shattered, no way to tell if their families still survived in far flung corners of the country. They were the homeless people whose position had, if anything, improved; amongst the newly homeless refugees, they were old hands, the experienced leaders, teaching those who came in suits how best to keep away a chill at night, in return for a little bit of food; money had never been of much use to them.

The buildings they passed wore a residue of smoke. Some had been gutted by fire, the blank windows staring out like black, empty eyes. Signs of rioting and looting were everywhere. Buildings had been barricaded shut with tables, desks and chair legs nailed across the doors. They passed one house where a middle-aged couple hung from a third floor window, hurling books and crockery at a gang of men and women who were trying to breach the doorway, hammering at the barricade with bats and crowbars.

The roads were littered with cars, vans and motorbikes, and around every corner was another pile up that needed to be carefully maneuvered. A delivery van had crashed into a Chinese takeaway, its back doors flung open, its cargo of boxes spread across the road. An army of cats was feasting on the mouldering food.

A little further on, they were forced to maneuver a collapsed scaffolding rig; metal bones that half hung from a building and lay half sprawled across the ground, slowly peeling away from the side of the building like a scab. A red double-decker bus lay wedged on its side where the scaffolding should have gripped the building. A bank had been burnt down and singed twenty-pound notes blew across the road and stuck to the wet windscreen of the car. Through the windscreen wipers and sodden banknotes, they caught sight of a lone tower in the distance. It stood simmering gently as orange fire glowed in wounded patches, like fungus growing on a tree. A huge stream of black smoke rose steadily from the gaping holes.

“The Gherkin,” David said under his breath.'

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