Previously on “Images Of Batman:” Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns rocked the comics industry and led to a hit feature film.
During the early ’90s, I used to comb the Internet looking for any news on Star Trek for the COMSTAR, the monthly publication for the U.S.S. Chesapeake club. I’d print every credible item I could find about the franchise in the newsletter. Of course, while I searched for Trek news, I’d look up other topics of interest, including Batman.
After the Batman movie had earned a huge take, word came across the web that Fox was going to air a new animated series about the Caped Crusader.
As a long-time Batman fan, I’ve seen pretty much every animated show based on the character. And it hasn’t been pretty.
The popularity of the ABC television show, which began in 1966, had spawned a superhero revolution in animation, particularly on Saturday mornings.
CBS brought in Filmation to bring the other member of the World’s Finest team, Superman, to animated life. Not long after that, Aquaman joined him.
After Batman was canceled in 1969, CBS added the Dark Knight to the Saturday morning line-up to air with Superman. Like the other Filmation shows, the cartoon had some aspects I really didn’t like.
Chief among them was the endless recycling of certain animated sequences. When Batman and Robin talked, their heads turned with the same movements each time. When Batman and Robin would swing on their Bat-ropes, it was the same animation time and again. The stories greatly resembled the ABC show–kind of silly, including the Joker being a kooky maitre d who was not very dangerous.
Even the Batman craze had to end, and a few years later, the Filmation shows were off the air.
Batman made a few other appearances in cartoons, including a television movie based on the popular kids’ show, Scooby Doo. Maybe it’s because I didn’t like that series, but I found that crossover to be lackluster.
In 1973, the Super Friends began. This cartoon featured the “big guns” of the Justice League, the main superhero team in DC Comics. It had Batman and Robin, Superman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. From the start, I had problems with this show. First off, just the title bothered me. “Super Friends” sounds so condescending compared to “Justice League” to me. But at that time, cartoons existed to be non-violent (and some would say, non-interesting). Little did we know that the Legion of Doom from the show would someday return, in some form, to a DC TV show, Legends.
The only season I liked was the last one, subtitled Galactic Guardians. They had adult stories, albeit with crappy animation, but they were interesting. And it was nice to hear Adam West again provide the Dark Knight’s voice. In one, for example, Batman and Wonder Woman actually went back to Crime Alley to discuss the Caped Crusader’s origin. Pretty scary stuff compared to the previous seasons! The best episode was “The Death of Superman,” in which Firestorm believes he’d caused the death of the Man of Steel. (Batman did have a hand in the solution to that one.)
Which brings us back to Fox’s animated show.
I guess my biggest fear is that Batman will always be seen in terms of the 1960s ABC show. While I admit I like West’s voicing of the Caped Crusader, the stories just turned me off. So, the slightest hint of “silly” in the mix can freak me out.
I did some research on the series, and found that the guy in charge, someone I had never heard of named Bruce Timm, last worked on Tiny Toon Adventures, specifically aimed at the young’uns. I was distraught. Anything but that!
But I heard that DC Comics Editor Bob Greenberger was visiting Star Trek conventions, showing the first episode of the Fox series. I attended a Trek con in Rockville, Maryland, specifically to see it.
I went into the assigned room and sat in the front row as Greenberger prepared to show the episode. Before he could start, a guy walked into the room, saying, “I don’t know why we’re wasting our time! Cartoons based on comic book characters ALWAYS SUCK!” Greenberger smiled and asked the guy to take a seat. He sat in the back, and the episode began.
Without the title sequence, we saw “On Leather Wings,” in which Batman fought Man-Bat, a recent addition to the Dark Knight’s rogues’ gallery. A scientist gone wrong took a chemical to become a huge bat with very little “man.” The characters were interesting, the art stylish and Batman was dragged through the city, even ending up with blood on his face. Wow!
When it was finished, Greenberger asked, “What do you think?” We all replied, “That was great! Terrific!”
Greenberger then specifically asked the guy in the back what he thought.
A meek voice answered, “That didn’t suck.”
During the next installment of this series, which will appear next Sunday: Fox begins Batman: The Animated Series by screwing the fans.