We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
We’ve already looked at Batman’s live-action career. Now it’s time to reflect upon his animated escapades. From cheesy to brooding back to cheesy again, the Batman has had a storied career on the small screen, starting when bell bottoms were still cool.
Super Friends (1973)
Believe it or not, Super Friends was on TV in some form for 13 years. The name would change, but the show lasted over a decade. Hanna-Barbera had some kind of magic. This is essentially the first Justice League show. The original team consisted of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin, Aquaman… And two kids in capes. See, since a TV show full of popular comic super heroes apparently wasn’t cool enough, two “detectives” were introduced… Along with their talking dog. Wendy and Marvin were lame, but really not much lamer than the Justice League, given the situations they found themselves in. Hell, the whole show was lame, but it was the 70’s so no one cared. Eventually, there were some actual super villains on the show. That didn’t make it any less lame, but you know… There were some villains.
Super Friends has had a significant impact on DC Comics, oddly enough. The Wonder Twins debuted in the show, as did the Legion of Doom and their sweet underwater base. Characters like Black Vulcan and Apache Chief also appeared on Super Friends before making the jump to the printed page. Even Wendy and Marvin made into the comics, but that story doesn’t exactly have the happiest of endings (Spoiler alert: Wonder Dog ate the sh-t out of them. No lie.).
Batman: the Animated Series (1992)
This is the show that defined Batman for an entire generation of comic fans (and comic writers, for that matter). Of all the comic-related cartoons of the time, Batman: the Animated Series has aged the best, thanks in no small part to the timeless quality of the art style (as seen in the Burton films) and the simple fact that it’s spectacular. There’s really never been anything like it before or after it. It stands alone as the perfect example of how to do Batman right. Aside from a handful of 2-parters, Batman told perfect Bat-Tales in 22 minutes.
What made this show different not only from the Batman shows before it, but from all of its contemporaries is that it wasn’t made explicitly for kids. Everyone involved was interested in telling the best Batman stories they could and as such never felt the need to talk down to the audience. The result is a smart and gorgeous show that transcended Saturday mornings. It didn’t happen often, but there were episodes of Batman aired on Sunday nights during prime time. Grown-ups watch TV on Sunday nights!
The Batman comics would be very different today were it not for Batman: the Animated Series. Its influence goes beyond the fantastic (though recently changed) origin of Mr. Freeze. What’s more, this show launched the entire DC Animated Universe. Thanks to its success, we got Superman and Justice League shows all set within the same continuity, something the Marvel cartoons only barely flirted with. Everything from the art design to the stellar voice cast made this show something special. No one was ever really able to recreate its success, mostly because it’s impossible.
The Batman (2004)
After several years of successful programs in the DCAU, the caped crusader was rebooted in The Batman on the CW. This show started over brand new, with designs that were more anime-inspired (you know, like every kids’ show of the past ten years). It’s a stark contrast to the look of the previous series, but that’s a good thing. The designs are unique and fit the tone of the series. Even juggalo Joker looks pretty cool.
One major difference from nearly every version of Batman in recent memory is that the first season has no Commissioner Gordon whatsoever. Instead, there are two new characters on the force that Batman deals with. Don’t worry; he shows up eventually. We also get Batgirl and Robin a bit later and the final season was full of guest stars, giving us new designs for most of the Justice League roster.
The show was successful enough to run for five seasons, but it’s not without its detractors, mainly because it’s not Batman: the Animated Series. Most of the negative criticism from grown-ass men comes from the show being too kiddie… You know, since it aired at 8PM Sunday nights on HBO… Oh, wait, I’m sorry. It was actually a Saturday morning cartoon aired in a programming block called “The CW for Kids.” I can definitely see where the confusion lies. I understand, of course, that there is a lot of room for crossover success with both kids and adults, but this show was made to sell toys. It’s pretty obvious.
Batman: the Brave and the Bold (2008)
While The Batman was a departure from its predecessor in terms of look and design, the show still had a sense of continuity and was plot-driven. It’s not appropriate to call it “dark,” but it certainly wasn’t “light,” either. Batman: the Brave and the Bold is lighter than light (and it’s a lot of fun). Remember Kevin Conroy voicing Batman? Well, in this series he’s voiced by Diedrich Bader. Yes, Oswald from The Drew Carey Show (Google it, kids). This show is a silver age fan’s dream come true. The designs are very reminiscent of the classic style (as seen in Batman’s blue cape and bright yellow chest emblem). This is the smiling Batman that would say “Papa spank” if given the chance.
Each episode featured a different guest star and was more or less a stand alone tale. There wasn’t an overarching plot like the previous series (many shows of this era have adopted a larger narrative to each season). Instead, it’s Batman and a buddy fighting a bad guy. Plastic Man is in it, people! Plastic Man! Oh, and Neil Patrick Harris guest starred in a musical episode. That really happened.
The Brave and the Bold ran for three seasons before turning out its lights so that a new CGI Batman show could be developed. The new show will return animated Batman to his darker past, leaving this show as a beacon of light cheesy fun (made from 2% milk, I guess) for the whole family.
With several decades of cartoons on TV, it’s no wonder Batman has starred in a couple dozen animated features. Join us next item for the final installment of Animated Batman as we examine the best of those features.