|The face that halted a thousand filibusters after I said I wasn't a fan of Razer.|
And before you bring up your trump card and inform me about what must be the worst Batman cartoon ever, let me pre-empt you by quickly addressing the most commonly claimed-to-be-terrible Batman shows in no particular order.
Claim 1: Beware the Batman
Claim 2: Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Claim 3: The Batman
Claim 4: Gotham High
Anyway, I can now continue with my original point. There has never been a bad Batman cartoon, but this is something special. There was never a Batman show like this before or since. All the shows before were full-on camp, and the later ones did their best to be different from this one.
Batman: TAS was... It's hard to describe. It could be somber and serious, but it could be lighthearted and fun. It could be moody or ridiculous. It basically distilled Batman down to his core. This is the Batman that everyone knows. Bruce Wayne, Alfred, the Commissioner, Batmobile, Joker. No vast reimaginings, no huge creative liberties. This show took all the elements that made characters and stories work and used them in their purest form, with only a few exceptions.
Batman: TAS was a masterpiece. And that's immediately apparent in this first episode.
There's a very subtle theme here about dual natures. Yes, there's the obvious bat theme, but it goes deeper than that.
This is an episode about a man whose passion drives him past the normal limits of what a person would attempt. And once he goes over that line and becomes something new, every day becomes a struggle to keep that side in check. The man he once was is merely a front to hide his new, ruthless persona that he believes is necessary to eliminate the worst of humanity.
And there's also Man-Bat.
It's never explicitly spelled out, but the parallel is there. And this theme isn't even really the point of the episode. It's just there adding depth to the episode. It's quite a mature and incredibly subtle subtext to the story that elevates it above the usual superhero angst. Arguably, no Batman show ever did this theme as well ever again.
A monstrous Batman doppelgänger is wreaking a bit of havoc. Pretty simple, but it's a good start to the series. It's a situation that lets the characters be introduced organically into the plot instead of stopping the plot to introduce new characters.
The "monster" angle also allows the audience to quickly accept the rather outlandish science in this series. Mind control, monsters, plant people, whatever. It's established in the first episode that Gotham's got some nutty science.
Most interesting of all, it's not an origin story. Because, let's face it, we all know who Batman is and this show's not going to rehash the same old story everyone knows for the five people living under a rock. And even if some kids didn't know who Batman secretly was, they could find out by watching and paying attention.
Well, he's your classic Batman. We get to see him strut his detective skill as well as his fake playboy persona. Actually, his "Bruce Wayne" is remarkably laid back compared to your Michael Keatons and your Christian Bales. It's more like Adam West's performance in that regard; he might have hammed it up as Batman, but his Bruce Wayne was actually pretty mellow.
This show's now-legendary voice actor, Kevin Conroy, is often seen as the best voice for Batman. And I can easily see why. I mean, not only is Kevin Conroy the first actor to give Batman and Bruce Wayne distinctly different voices, but he does it without sounding like he's an out of breath Clint Eastwood.
He even gets a vocal cameo as one of the blimp pilots, because more Kevin Conroy is always a good thing.
Loyal to a fault with an ever-present wit. Classic Alfred.
This is one of three episodes where the character is voiced by Clive Reville, the original voice of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back. He would leave the role for other acting commitments. But he got the last laugh by also voicing the radioman at the very beginning of the episode, making his voice the first one heard in the DCAU.
When people say "I hate cops," this is the guy they have in mind. He's a fat, lazy jerk who does the right thing for the wrong reasons. Cops like him are the reason that Batman is necessary. He's not a villain, per se, just an officer who doesn't like vigilantes cleaning up his mess.
The DA. He only has one line, so all we know is that he likes to flip his lucky coin. I'm sure he'll never be seen again....
Commissioner James Gordon
Probably the only honest cop in Gotham. Sure, he might not like Batman too much, but that's only because he believes in law and order. Including the part that says vigilantism is illegal. And when Batman apparently starts attacking people, he'll do everything within reason to stop him, while Bullock will try to stop Batman unreasonably.
A perfect bait-and-switch villain. He's a little grumpy scientist with anger issues, angry passion, and a name that sounds like a thing. He's also voiced by a recognizable TV actor (Rene Auberjonois, aka Odo from DS9, aka Dr. Burton from Batman Forever). Making him not be the villain is a good little twist.
Dr. Kirk Langstrom
A nicely non-traditional mad scientist. He's more of a Henry Jekyll than a Lex Luthor.
Oh, how I wish I could skip talking about some of this. The animation is... okay.
Batman: TAS was never particularly well-animated. Episode production was farmed out to multiple Asia-based studios on the cheap, so oftentimes things would look rushed or off-model. Not to mention a buttload of misspellings. Including this episode's mention of a "buaglary." But this episode had a lot of effort put into it, and it shows with definitely above-average animation for this show.
What minimizes the impact of the uneven animation is the DCAU's unique style. Broad shoulders on men, curvy women, exaggerated villains, simply designed yet realistically shaded backgrounds.... It still holds up to this day. My God, they painted the backgrounds to this show on black paper instead of white just to set the right mood. Did you know that? It's so different from anything else ever seen. I absolutely love it.
All in all, this is a solid first outing. It's not the full blown extravaganza or origin story that we've come to expect from superhero shows these days. But this is just the calm before the storm. Before you know it, Gotham's streets will be crawling with criminals and freaks.
See you then.