Saturday 3 November 2018

Batman: The Animated Series Remastered ★★★★★

How many incarnations of Batman have there been? I wondered to myself, before realising that it really didn’t matter. Mention ‘Batman’ and one specific image comes to mind. I’m not familiar with the comics or graphics novels, I’ll admit, yet for my money Batman: The Animated Series is the definitive Batman. True iconography is something that is instantly recognisable, understandable. And the silhouette of Batman - the ears, the cape, the white eyes, red sky, against a noir, art-deco cityscape - that is Batman.

Brooding is a term that seemingly cannot be untangled from the character. That’s not to say that it’s inappropriate, but I personally find it exhausting. I love the night, the contrast, deep colours, moody streets and grim tone, but when coupled with a perpetually angsty hero, it can grate. Revisiting the animated series took me by surprise because I’d forgotten how funny it can be. The humour is expectedly wry, but there is an engaging interplay between The Joker and Batman at the expense of their (shared) madness. The episode “Mad Love” sees the crusader hanging upside down above a tank full of piranhas (of course) being teased by Harley Quinn:

“Now all this gal wants is to settle down with her loving sweetheart.”
“You and The Joker?”
Batman starts laughing.
“I’ve never seen you laugh before. I don’t think I like it… cut it out! You’re giving me the creeps.”

It occurred to me that Harley’s dialogue is quite deliberate; I haven’t seen Batman laugh before. And frankly, yes, it’s kind of creepy.

Other incarnations have attempted to make this connection - that Batman is as psychologically damaged (mad, even) as his enemies - yet I feel that this is the most successful at exploring that because it acknowledges the absurdity of Batman himself. And it allows the series to indulge in its brooding tone because there is a subtle self-awareness. 

Indeed, these strengths are only further strengthened by the voice talents of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy. Personally, I feel that their performances as their respective roles are unmatched (not to understate Heath Ledger here), and the relationship they build through their vocal performances and quick-witted dialogue is timeless.

The Animated Series stands as its own work, almost divorced from the character itself. For me, the bold art, intelligent writing, iconic performances, and refreshing (even now) self-awareness makes this outing the definitive Batman.

Lewis Hill

Batman: The Animated Series at CeX

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