Monday, February 28, 2022

Batman The Animated Series: Season 1

If series 13 of Doctor Who has taught me anything, it's to elaborate fully on my points. So from henceforth if a show deems it necessary, each review will be split into parts. This is most definitely one of those shows and the bulk of this entire series will be contained in the first season.

So, where exactly to start with Batman The Animated Series? Well apologies up front for not reviewing it sooner, given my reputation for all batmedia. I was heavily late to the party when the show was airing in it's hayday, so I strangely enough was introduced to this show not through the Cartoon Network but by one single VHS tape that I still own after all this time. Now keep in mind at such a young age I saw only Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Batman Returns, in that order even so my knowledge of Batman was increased tenfold watching the show as I grew up, and the Arkham games pushed it to a partial encyclopedic knowledge roughly 10 years later. The first episode I ever watched actually caps off the first season, and I'm splitting this up not how it was broadcasted but by my good old season collections on DVD, with Dreams In Darkness so we'll come to that in good time. It's almost overwhelming to get to talk about this show because I genuinely could go on for longer than anyone would read. I could easily make a 10 part retrospective on the show's history alone so I'll summarize briefly. In the gaps between the Burton and Schumacher eras plans were set for an animated Batman show that was just as much for adults as it was kids. It kickstarted in 1992 and almost singlehandedly changed the game of animated shows in the first episode. The animation, dark and stylized quite literally being drawn on black paper so every frame is seeped in shadow and black so the animation team had to know better than anyone how to work with light, color, and movement creating a whole new style dubbed dark deco by the creators. It looks good to this day with gorgeous backgrounds, sharp lines, excellent use of color and shading, I think there are videos upon videos dissecting and revelling in this unique animation style. The cast while dipping it's toes in the celebrity department is mostly made up of then not well known actors, but now my God I'd almost dare say this was one of the first shows where people really started paying attention to who was voicing what character. Kevin Conroy has cemented a legacy as the Dark Knight, the voice that has lasted generations and only has just recently stepped into live action, is THE Batman to so many people above even Michael Keaton, living and breathing the character for 30 years now. And lest we forget the clown prince of crime himself, Mark Hamill. Okay. Who.....the hell, thought when they were making this show, you know who we should consider for the archnemesis of Batman? Luke Skywalker. How? Why? What? It seems so out there, but surprise surprise he is in a league of his own, once again pretty much beating out every actor as THE Joker for so many folks, and has secured a legacy of madness that will continue for a very, very long time. 10/10! The cast alone once more could take ages to praise in turn, so I'll throw out my all time favorites a giant round of applause for voicing these villains. Richard Moll as Two-Face solidified him as my forever favorite villain of Batman's rogues gallery, Tommy Lee Jones got me on board but this man made me stick around. Henry Polic the II was the first new villain I knew in this show, introducing me to the master of fear the Scarecrow and maaan what a splendid job he did. I know this is sacrilegious but because of this show if you asked me my top 5 Batman villians even today, the Joker is #5, Mr. Freeze is #4, Riddler is #3, Scarecrow is #2, and Two-Face takes the #1 spot. He did that good a job, not really scaring me too bad but endlessly owning my attention when he was on screen. Scarecrow's episodes are always a highlight for me. Michael Ansara as Victor Fries. I gotta wait. We're gonna talk episodes later on and there will be much to say about Heart Of Ice and this character. Put a pin in that, we'll come back to that. Those were the big standouts for me this season, and I couldn't love them more, both actor and character, and no doubt more will come in the other 3 seasons. Not ever to discredit or shy away from the rest of the cast, Bob Hastings is a great Jim Gordon and was a good addition to Pat Hingle's version. Loren Lester though shockingly only in two episodes as Robin shows not the boy wonder but the Dick Grayson college student version of his character and does it well, can't wait to see more in future episodes. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. gives so much wit and humor to Alfred, and while my heart forever belongs to Michael Gough in the role, with unfathomable levels of love and admiration for both Alan Napier, Michael Caine, and Sean Pertwee's renditions, gives a strong and memorable performance. I can't point out a bad performance, even in a bit player, so onwards to music. I love it, from the opening theme, to the ending theme, to the reoccuring villain motifs, to the score for each individual episode. Shirley Walker and her team practically was 1/3 of the success of the show, giving us that dark moody and even triumphant music that accentuates the adventure. Never once does the music not give me goosebumps throughout the entire first season at one point or another, that's the power we are talking about here. Onto the fun part as we discuss what I consider to be the best episodes of the season. Obviously I have to give a shoutout to On Leather Wings the first epsiode, it has some very good animation and sets the tone for the show perfectly, and once the studio execs saw it they had a heck of a lot more faith in the show. Christmas With The Joker follows up on that and it's actually really fascinating to see the show not give a ton of buildup for these iconic characters, it does the character justice but nowadays it's almost all about the buildup to see a certain character, but it's a very fun episode and gaves us the first hit off Mark Hamill's performance and laughter. After that we have Nothing To Fear which not only introduces Scarecrow in a very good way but is the episode with the honor of having the whole I am vengeance lines, and personally has one of the most hair raising scary Batman moments, I mean sweet lord I actually recommend the episode more for that than the I am Batman part. POV is flat out another animated tribute to Akira Kurosawa this time the influence being Rashomon, and any episode with Renee Montoya is a win for me. I actually will give credit to the show for setting up Harvey Dent several times and not just introduce him when he is disfigured, showing up in the first episode, he dates Poison Ivy which is pretty wild and her introduction episode as well is a standout, but this was it man. This was the episode to cement Two-Face as my favorite, giving Harvey a split personality even before going full on villain and introduced two parters to the series, it's a terrific episode and the entire design of Two-Face is nothing short of classic. The Penguin oddly enough is introduced in one of the more kid centered episodes, of course it's a show for kids but this takes it to another level with two young children saving Batman's life and tries to hide him away from the clutches of the Penguin. It's not a terrible episode, not even a pandering or cheesy episode, but you can tell this one was for the kiddos I mean the title is I've Got Batman In My Basement for crying out loud. But boooooy do we switch gears fast with Heart Of Ice. It literally is just as good as people make it out to be, taking a one off villain from the comics and adding so much pathos and tragedy to it that it's not difficult to see why this is the episode that got this show an Emmy. Michael Ansara knocks it out of the park from line one and it just goes to show how big an impact this character made. I mean every Batman adaptation since, even Batman & Robin does his origin this way, because it has such an emotional impact, because he is such a well written villain, I mean the first season is either getting a 9 or full 10/10 but Heart Of Ice alone gets a 10/10. Then we meet Selina in The Cat And The Claw, again an absurdly good introduction to the character and nails the Batman/Catwoman dynamic effortlessly. Adrienne Barbeau is perfect casting and I like how Selina and Bruce's relationship evolves through this two parter, I genuinely love their interactions and couldn't wait to see her next episode. Now it's time to talk about Beware The Gray Ghost. Holy mother and great scott! Wow wow wow. What a perfect example of art imitating life with Adam West the Bright Knight himself, as the childhood hero of Bruce and teams up with the Batman in his older years. It's a gorgeous and loving tribute to the legend himself, and does dig into what happened after he put up the cape and cowl all those years ago. 11/10, the Gray Ghost is my hero. Feat Of Clay is a solid two parter introducing Clayface, once again introducing an element of tragedy to how he became the way he is and is a story I don't hear many people talk about but it's worth the time. Again sort of following up that case of characters showing up without much fanfare, Harley Quinn just kind of pops up in Joker's Favor, and I betcha' a million bucks no kid or adult who saw it live back then would know how much love and attention this character would get. It does reinforce how much I miss Arleen Sorkin and even I'm a bit perplexed how Harleen got so much popularity in the coming years, and we're talking long before even Margot Robbie got the part, but it's wonderful to see her all the same. Scarecrow appears once again in Fear Of Victory, get used to me shining a lot of light on his epsiodes, with a unique villain plot and once again kind of another blood rushing creepy moment that I can only imagine freaked kids out something fierce back then. An Appointment In Crime Alley is easily one of the best Batman stories to come out of this show, it introduces Leslie Thompkins and without one word of dialogue shows everything you need to know about her relationship with Bruce and it does have in my opinion one of the strongest and emotional endings to any of the episodes. Mad As A Hatter, one of my favorites when I was younger and thoroughly obsessed with Alice In Wonderland, a good introduction to a lesser known villain but made very memorable through the story. Here we go again, Scarecrow part the third with Dreams In Darkness, the first episode I ever saw of this show and man I got a lot of memories about this. I watched it a ton and it really got my imagination going at such a young age, easily the reason why I hold Scarecrow so highly. I love the story, the animation for the hallucinations, I still want that awesome pocket watch, it's another stand out for me and I'm glad to see it get a lot of appreciation. I hope there's been some videos to really delve into these episodes because what they did for animation, television, and comics cannot be understated. It's such a rich show that has so much to offer, even in an episode like The Forgotten you can still enjoy it, it's very well written, innovatively animated, and just fun to watch. I doubt it's no secret the first quarter of this show gets the full 4 stars, 10/10, and I hope that trend continues as we dig straight into season 2 tomorrow.

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