I’m not a perfect being and as such sometimes things fall under my own geeky radar that everyone else seems to know about. One of those times was with the animated series The Batman. Combining an anime style of animation, character design and even storytelling, The Batman was something that we hadn’t previously seen in a Batman cartoon. The show ran from 2004 – 2008 on the Kids’ WB for five seasons and had a direct-to-DVD movie The Batman vs. Dracula. Duane Capizzi, Alan Burnett, Andrea Romano and Glen Murakami all worked on the show, bringing their history with DC and DC cartoons to the show as well as Jeff Matsuda, the chief art director for Jackie Chan Adventures. While incorporating elements of the traditional Batman mythos, The Batman would often reinvent characters, change histories and even completely redesign the looks for many of the classic characters you’d know. In this incarnation, Batgirl becomes the sidekick before Robin, though this was largely due to Robin being used on the Teen Titans cartoon at the time. Penguin is given a more threatening demeanor as he is more agile and has fighting abilities. Other characters like Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are redone with Harley being Joker’s favorite TV show shrink who isn’t taken seriously by anyone else and Ivy being Batgirl’s best friend turned Environmental terrorist.
When the show initially began its run, I avoided it because of my diehard love of Batman: The Animated Series. I didn’t think the anime style, the changed character backgrounds and the character redesigns would work so I figured “why waste my time?” It wasn’t until the fifth and final season that I really gave the show a chance at all. I had previously only seen the first episode “The Bat in the Belfry” which intros the new Joker who is more acrobatic, wear’s long sleeves that hang over his hands, has long hair and apparently doesn’t believe in shoes. I was turned off by all that, so when I gave it a second chance a few years later, I was surprised to find that I was being overly critical and just not letting go. While to me Mark Hamill is the Joker, Kevin Michael Richardson brings his own distinct charm and approach to the Joker that fits the design so well. The same could be said for Rino Romano who plays Bruce Wayne/Batman. The whole show is cast extremely well and often pays homage to Batman: TAS as well as featuring voices like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the intro episode for Robin.
The show always incorporated a certain level of fun and amusement into every episode, never going as “dark” in tone as its predecessors, while at the same time still keeping Batman from being as campy and hokey as his 60′s Adam West version. I was often surprised to see The Batman have story arcs, something I wasn’t expecting from a show so obviously aimed at younger kids. The Clayface character arcs are more compelling and drawn out over more episodes (and seasons even) than I’d ever have dreamed off. Seeing all the newly redone characters becomes one of the shows big draws and joys as you see new versions of Mr. Freeze, Bane and Riddler as well as what I believe is the first animated appearance of the Black Mask. Justice Leaguers make an appearance at the end of season four and into season five as Superman, Green Arrow, Flash, Hawkman and others become part of the larger “Bat-World.” The show respects the character and its history but has no problems making its own mark on Bat-History. Any fan of Batman, whether you be young or old, should pick up this series on DVD and enjoy.