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Impossible Numbers


"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying, And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying."

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Sep
9th
2021

Bat-stalgia! Batman: the Animated Series · 9:36pm September 9th

Blog Number 150: Opposites Attract Edition

Let's talk about the Caped Crusader!

To be fair, Tara Strong has voiced compassionate costumed heroes in both series, so that's a good start.

spoilers ahead


Today's topic is:

Batman: The Compassionate Crusader?

Where the pony is friendship and forgiveness, the bat is the dark descent into corruption. Where the pony is the rise of goodness, committed to its virtues, the bat is the fall of souls, unable to let go of their vices.

The pony: colourful cast of heroes. The bat: colourful cast of villains.

The pony: the celebration of the ordinary. The bat: the riot of the extraordinary. Healthy relationships, open wound. Happiness, justice. Pinkie's cake, Joker's cyanide pie.

Both family-friendly*. :applejackconfused:

* OK, OK, so it's a stretch putting a PG- to 12-rated Batman next to the U-rated MLP:FiM, but it's no secret the animated series had to be made under certain limitations, some of which ended up being blessings in disguise, others of which resulted in lame and childish episodes... Oh, and guess which series I'm talking about.


Batman: The Animated Series! As far as I remember, it is, was, and has always been my main experience with the Batman mythos. True, I've seen a few of the live-action movies and, thanks to the Internet, am broadly familiar with some comic book storylines and differences in detail and character interpretation. But when I think of Batman, I think of the Kevin Conroy Batman of the 90's.

(Same for the impressive and classic rogues gallery of mobsters, monsters, masterminds, and maniacs, because when you talk Batman, you talk villains).

I don't remember what my exact childhood experience with Batman was, but I do remember the designs of villains like Two-Face and the Penguin leaving such an impression on me that, thereafter, I pretty much immediately thought of these versions whenever I heard the names.

Then, a few years ago, I stumbled across discussions of Batman: The Animated Series online, which rang a bell in my memory. Recognizing the series as something I'd grown up with, I later went out and bought the DVDs to fill the gaps in my mind: initially just the first two volumes, but later an entire boxset (it was on offer at a bargain price!). Contained therein were:

  1. the original 65 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series
  2. the 20 episodes of The Adventures of Batman and Robin
  3. the 24 episodes of The New Batman Adventures

Totalling 109 episodes of pure Batmanning... about three-quarters of which I'd consider good-to-great. Don't ask about the rest.

Episodes like this never happened.

And independently, I bought Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, to this day not only my favourite Batman movie, but one of my favourite movies period. I have a history with this series that I simply don't have with other superhero media, which probably goes some way towards explaining why it's such a fascinating outlier in my experience.


What I adore about the Batman animated series is the way it hits multiple bullseyes at once.

There's the marriage of outrageous larger-than-life pulp - Batman himself is the fist, the scowl, the detective, and the escape artist - with deep psychological and philosophical probing of the human psyche. That's not just with the allegorical parade of delusional Mad Hatters, toxic Jokers, conflicted Two-Faces, and lethally motherly Poison Ivy's, but with the Dark Knight himself, the secretly broken man behind the implacable mask, and the simultaneously cynical yet optimistic vision of Gotham.

All in a format you can share with your kids.

For the most part...

...and provided they don't mind the nightmares.


One of my favourite episodes illustrates this neatly, and it occurs in the controversial fourth season: "Legends of the Dark Knight". It's a brief showcase of different versions of Batman through the ages, the camp 50s/60s "chum" and the OTT walking tank of the late 80s Miller comics.

You can see which way they lean by considering their major fight scenes. The first one has a bit in between endless music puns where the Joker puts Batman and Robin in a giant piano in a giant musical instrument store and plays a giant version of "Bathoven's Last Movement".

The second one has Batman (who can punch through walls and ride tanks into battle) mud-wrestle and then "perform surgery" on a hulking mutant leader thug.

Between these extremes is our current incarnation of Batman, a perfect blend of the two. One moment running through endless puns and elaborate death traps, the next terrifying the daylights out of even more deranged and deadly enemies than himself.

That's the balancing act. It's not just the adult grimdark or the silly campiness: it's an alchemical fusion of both.


The Joker himself - major villain in two of the most highly regarded "series tie-in" movies, Batman's complete antithesis, and the ultimate deadly trap for anyone who believes too strongly in redemption for bad guys - is pretty much the perfect villain to show off that balancing act.

He's all layers and levels of Joker rolled into one maniacally laughing package. Hilariously silly and charismatic, horrifically cruel and monstrous, the Joker even fits into the symbolism as a walking personification of corruption itself. He's even guilty of corrupting fish!

Alfred said it best: "This could cause a stampede to pork."

More seriously, though, he's guilty of twisting so many other characters around him. Just consider the tragically misguided Harley Quinn, unlucky everyman Charlie Collins, popular reporter Jack Ryder, out-of-his-depth boy wonder Tim Drake (most infamously), and even Bruce Wayne himself once you see the whole backstory in Mask of the Phantasm.

Able to star in one-off outings and hold a larger mythical significance across the series, Mark Hamill's Joker is the dark comedy to Batman's heroic tragedy, the profane "angel" to Batman's noble "demon", the child's goofy baddie, the adult's Most Wanted Terrorist, all in one package. No wonder this version of the character is so iconic.

To say nothing of the fact that this series basically created Harley Quinn.

And Abbott and Costello - sorry, Bud and Lou.


Lastly, to bring this back to where I began, with a fantastically directed, vision-committed (at least initially), and well-voiced animated reimagining of a prior franchise that breathed new life into it while also preserving and blending together the genre elements that made it work...

An interesting comparison between two of my favourite animated series lies in their approaches to compassion, forgiveness, and redemption. Batman here isn't just a skilled fighter and no-nonsense bane of evil: he's also a man willing to reach out to his enemies when they show signs of humanity, openly sympathetic to some, determined to follow a code of conduct when combating others.

Alfred said it best: "I must say, you're showing a surprising amount of compassion for that man. Considering he would surely have left you to die in his place."

To be fair, this isn't something prevalent all the time, and (especially in The New Batman Adventures) the role of compassionate hero is usually adopted by Batgirl. But behind this incarnation of the greatest terror hero and samurai of justice, the man has had his moments of mercy and - if I dare be corny - even elements of friendship.

Obviously, Batman shows plenty of concern for his loved ones and allies, and not just for his most obvious father figure Alfred Pennyworth. "Robin's Reckoning" and "I Am The Night" both deal with his nigh-familial fear of losing Dick Grayson and Commissioner Jim Gordon, respectively. "Appointment in Crime Alley" has him refusing to give up on a once-grand and now-crime-ridden district, the very one in fact where he lost his parents but also the one where a kindly local comforted him in his youth.

Even the openly hostile detective, Detective Bullock, gets his dues in "Vendetta", where Batman is man enough to admit to his face he was wrong to immediately peg Bullock as the prime suspect, despite Jim Gordon vouching for him earlier.

To be fair, I wouldn't trust a guy who gets through three packs of toothpicks a day either.

And who can forget the tragic tale of Harvey Dent, brilliantly brought to life in the first two-parter (appropriately enough), "Two-Face"? Such is Batman's guilt that he has nightmares about the tragedy of his former friend. As late as "Second Chance", Batman as Bruce Wayne is still doing what he can to help one of his most dangerous foes.

Which leads into the other side of Batman's humanity: his approach to his enemies. Between the irredeemable monsters and traditional antagonists, Batman has seen the humanity in others. In "His Silicon Soul", he speculates on whether or not a robotic copy of himself may even have acquired its own soul when it regrets (apparently) killing him.

Ironically, a lot of people would complain about Batman in The New Batman Adventures acting more like a robot...

He expresses sympathy for Mr. Freeze, Clayface, and Baby-Doll in "Heart of Ice", "Mudslide", and "Baby-Doll" respectively. He tries to save a man who sought to humiliate and kill him not moments before in "Day of the Samurai", and takes to heart the issue of discrimination when it ends up motivating Calendar Girl in "Mean Seasons".

None of this stops him from fighting, but all of it provides the deeper level of heroism to his dark crusade.


Right on cue, it even leads him to encourage redemption itself.

He pulls no punches and confronts a struggling mob boss at the end of his criminal reign in "It's Never Too Late". After indulging his own suspicions against Poison Ivy in "House and Garden", at one point Batman takes her claims of turning over a new leaf at face value and genuinely wishes her well. He doesn't give up on Harley in "Harley's Holiday", however badly her efforts get her into trouble. He even actually succeeds in rehabilitating the Ventriloquist in "Double Talk"!

It says a lot about this show that one of its most awesome and heartwarming moments involves an old man shooting a puppet.

Yeah, that last point illustrates the main difference between this and Friendship is Magic: success. Batman's world is inevitably dark and tragic, infested with lost consciences and broken dreams despite Batman's own compassion and efforts. Meanwhile, the world of Twilight Sparkle is rich with foes-turned-friends, bright and hopeful despite the existence of pure evil.

That's why it's so tragic: we only wish we could save them.

Yet whether doomed or deluged, both Batman and Twilight have, however briefly, navigated by the same constant star. Humanity transcends, even while disguised under crazy costumes or pony bodies.

Or sometimes both.


Well, that's all for now! Impossible Numbers, out!

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Comments ( 8 )

Yeah, that was a great show. I feel that even the "bad," episodes have at least one cool thing in them.

For example, my personal worst episode is "Chemistry," episode 22 of The New Batman Adventures. The one where Bruce marries one of Poison Ivy's plant people. I have two major problems with it. The first is that it runs into the What Measure Is A Non-Human? trope pretty hard with the way Ivy's blatantly fully sapient plant creatures were treated as disposable by everyone including Ivy herself. Second Bruce's willingness to keep a big part of himself hidden and lie about it for the rest of his life to his "true love," when marriage is supposedly a relationship between equals is really skeevy.

But the line "Relationships aren't supposed to be easy, even I know that and I'm just a vegetable." Is memorable as hell.

One thing you might want to check out is Batman: Wayne Family Adventures which by coincidence debuted yesterday. It's a free webcomic licensed by DC about the Bat Family's relationship to each other when they aren't on the streets punching villains. It is full of shenanigans and adorableness.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

One of the best cartoons, if not TV shows, of all time. :D

5580095

Yeah, that was a great show. I feel that even the "bad," episodes have at least one cool thing in them.

I think the basic great thing is the committed art style. Using black paper and colouring over it will always define the Batman: TAS style for me, even if other elements fall short. It's such a bold design aesthetic.

For example, my personal worst episode is "Chemistry," episode 22 of The New Batman Adventures. The one where Bruce marries one of Poison Ivy's plant people... But the line "Relationships aren't supposed to be easy, even I know that and I'm just a vegetable." Is memorable as hell.

That's a heck of a quote, but I have to admit I avoid "Chemistry" whenever I rewatch this series. That's mostly because it's a bloodless carbon copy of "House and Garden" (for the horror aspect, but without the creepier implications for Poison Ivy's idea of family life) and pretty much any of Bruce's other episodes with a love interest. On to your criticisms I'd also add that Bruce's sudden romance with Susan is just bland and unconvincing, especially after the likes of Andrea Beaumont, Talia al Ghul, and Selina Kyle.

One thing you might want to check out is Batman: Wayne Family Adventures which by coincidence debuted yesterday. It's a free webcomic licensed by DC about the Bat Family's relationship to each other when they aren't on the streets punching villains. It is full of shenanigans and adorableness.

Nice! Thank you for the link! :pinkiehappy:


5580104

I concur. :rainbowdetermined2:

I own the series on blue ray. The whole thing.

I love the first picture that has Croc, Penguin, Joker and Two-Face, when they’re in the bar trading war stories. Croc is all “And then… I THREW A ROCK AT HIM!” Everyone turns away, and poor Croc is like “it was a big rock…”

5580120

The best part? That wasn't even the real Croc. Everyone just assumes he's that dumb. :rainbowlaugh:

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5580121
Oh my god, you're right. I always quote that line, but I forgot that detail. XD

5580153
Everybody forgets that in his first episode he was so cunning he almost fooled Batman in his frame job of Bullock.

5580120
5580153
5580165

Even the show itself played it up thereafter. In "Trial", when all the inmates of Arkham Asylum capture Batman, Croc yells, "HIT HIM WITH A ROCK!" And in "Sideshow", Croc really does throw a big rock at Batman, and the only reason he doesn't kill him is because Croc had already been shot with a tranq. dart that's distorting his senses and throwing off his aim.

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