Monday, July 13, 2015

[Batman: The Animated Series] Episodes 1-5 Review

I was fourteen years old. It was 2004 and my student life was mainly composed of academics and the occasional extra-curricular activity here and there, but I always get home by 5:30 to 6 PM everyday. The staple of shows that I watched was mostly a varied selection of Japanese anime. I was only a Sherlock Holmes fan for year back then and have acquired a growing interest in reading more classical literature particularly the works of Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. Unlike most girls my age, I'm very attuned to male-based action-oriented adventures and crime mysteries, preferring these stories over the romance genre with fantastic elements (though I do indulge in female-centric magic anime like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura when I can help it). I couldn't remember what exact day or what episode it was, but all I knew was that I turned on the television one day, surfed the channels and then stopped abruptly when this animation sequence came up (NOTE: I have to choose this awesome HD remake. Check it):

Now I've known Batman as early as four years old because of my paternal grandfather who used to wear this white shirt with the Bat-symbol and who puts Batman stickers on my bedpost, ones that I would scratch out in the evening because maybe I was bored but then I'd find that he had replaced them with new ones the next morning. I was able to watch the first Tim Burton film with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson but I barely remembered it. So my very first official and long-lasting interaction and subsequent love affair was with Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's beautiful noir animation masterpiece, Batman: The Animated Series. I've been dying to re-watch the entire four seasons and talk about it here in the blog since it has such a big influence when it comes to my overall appreciation and fascination for the Batman mythos. So, for this month of July, I aim to watch and review at least the first fifteen episodes of season 1. I advise that you find copies of the episodes of yourself online so we can enjoy it together.

If this show is the very first time a child would be introduced to Batman then I say that child is one lucky little rascal. The pilot episode touches upon Dr. Kirk Langstorm and his origin as the Man-Bat. His character makes a most recent appearance during John Layman's Detective Comics run for New 52 (issue #18 and the Villains Month special). I should mention that although this is the very first episode of BTAS, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski made a two-minute promotional pilot episode which was later condensed as the official opening sequence as I posted above. So back to On Leather Wings. In this very first installment, we waste no time getting Batman's personal backstory. Instead, we just jump right ahead into the action. From what we can gather, he's been on operation in Gotham for a while now as the caped crusader, having the occasional run-ins with the GCPD when it comes to apprehending criminals and solving cases, which annoys Detective Harvey Bullock while the Commissioner, Jim Gordon, seems rather fine with his vigilante presence. We see Bruce Wayne out of the costume as well, mostly to accomplish things outside his scope as Batman. This usually includes crime scene evaluation of certain objects. In this episode, they were hair samples which were vital clues to uncovering the mystery behind the burglary and terror that the perpetrator has committed. At first, everyone thought that the Bat-like creature attacking people is Batman himself. As it turns out, it was a human-chiroptera hybrid called Man-Bat. It was the formulaic man-becomes-monster archetype which also served to contrast who Batman is and what he represents as a man who purposefully chose the symbol of the bat as an alter-ego. Viewing this episode, the most noticeable thing for me was the sound editing. The music for this show is satisfyingly amazing! It conveys mood and atmosphere more than the visual shots themselves and even enhance the viewer's enjoyment of every sequence laid before him or her. This was a promising pilot that has enough thrills to whet the appetite.

The second episode is Joker-centric with an added yuletide theme just to make everything extra special, fun and creepy in some instances. Again, if we consider this as a kid's first experience of Batman, more specifically of the Joker, then this episode might be perceived as something that's both absurd and terrifying. I watched this entire episode while trying to figure out what a child's first impression would be when he or she meets the Joker for the first time. I don't have a phobia when it comes to clown and I'd like to think it's because of my fondness and attachment for the Clown Prince of Crime himself. I think encountering him in this cartoon show did not frighten me at all, but I was already thirteen after all. I remember laughing at him and enjoying his jokes. Voiced by Mark Hamill, the Joker of BTAS has a varied range of laughter which could tickle, haunt or chill you to the bone. It's excellent voice work and I can say the same for Kevin Conroy as Batman. His silky smooth and reassuring tone as Batman makes you trust him quite easily. He also has a different pitch when he's voicing Bruce Wayne and the contrast is seamless especially when you compare it to whatever gravely voice Christian Bale used in his films which got a little distracting during scenes. Anyway, I think Christmas with Joker is a bundle of joy like a newborn psychotic baby playing with dangerous toys, which the BTAS Joker embodies, mind you. The animation sequences for this episode were lush and superb. The detailed confrontations with Batman and Robin fighting the ridiculous props and deadly weapons that the Joker used for his several schemes throughout this tale are enthralling to see unfold. With just this episode alone, I think BTAS captured the Joker in all his wonderfully colorful and unsettling darker shades. He's a showman, a performance artist of crime and debauchery, and with Mark Hamill's perfectly matched voice acting, his Joker is an unbeatable and frightening presence that makes you cringe because he also has the unique ability to make you laugh even if he's most probably killing you too. 

It's by the third episode when I noticed that there's not much of a continuity going on among episodes as of yet. In the second episode, we see Dick Grayson as Robin but now in this installment he is nowhere to be found and Batman has to face the Scarecrow and his henchmen alone. This was okay and I started looking at each episode as a collection of short stories that don't have to be related to each other for now. I know this will eventually change as the seasons progress anyway. In Nothing to Fear, the Scarecrow is a former university professor named Dr. Jonathan Crane who was kicked out because of his extreme and unusual experiments concerning phobias. The story itself was pretty straightforward and not as ornate or elaborate as the Joker episode that preceeded it. Scarecrow stole from the university and infected its constituents with a fear toxin. Coincidentally, he also injected Batman earlier in the episode which had Bruce hallucinating his father Thomas calling him a failure and a disgrace to the Wayne name. This character exploration more than makes up for the simplistic plot about the Scarecrow. This is the first time in the show that we touch upon Bruce as the man under the cowl, and his personal issues in relation with his family life (or a saddening lack thereof). Paralyzed with the fear of believing he had failed to live up to his parents' legacy, Bruce struggled to do his job as Batman but eventually we see him succeed in overcoming the fear toxin's influence as he announced as proud as he could that he is not a failure and that the hallucination he is seeing is not his father. "I am vengeance. I am the night," he clamors. "I am BATMAN!" I heard myself squeal in glee as Conroy uttered that so convincingly, I shit you not.

The Joker makes another second appearance in The Last Laugh which was less extravagant than the second episode but is nonetheless just as creepy and horrifying in some aspects. For some unexplained reason, the Joker is out and is making yet another merry mayhem by spreading his signature laughing gas around Gotham, rendering everyone in a fit of deadly and uncontrollable giggles. Why? Because it's April Fool's Day and so the date is basically begging for the Joker to add his special ingredient into the mix. He is the master practical joker after all. The highlights of this episode have to be when Alfred was infected and starts breaking things in Wayne Manor and the Joker and his goons robbing people while they have collapsed on the ground, laughing their asses off. Based on the two installments of the Joker so far, viewers can assert that though he's a psychotic criminal wreaking havoc anywhere he goes, he is also a fun and fabulous show-off who commits crimes with a sense of style and theatrical glee. This sharp-edged humor to his acts of violence adds to the horror of his presence. 

Pamela Isley is district attorney Harvey Dent's new squeeze and he looks like he's falling in love. Five episodes in and we finally get a formidable female villain in the show. It's interesting that the show didn't opt for Catwoman who is arguably the most memorable Bat-villainess of the canon. But they certainly delivered with Poison Ivy especially since they were also able to put her backstory and motivation for being what she is. She is fighting for a cause she is passionated about and seeks retribution from the people she holds responsible. Poison Ivy has always struck me as a representation of the more brutal side of mother nature and Pamela Isley is after all an environmental scientist who hoped to make a difference and when pacifist ways didn't cut it, she lashed out and became a deranged femme fatale who won't hesitate to use her sexuality. I love this character in the show a lot especially later on when she starts hanging out with Harley Quinn. This was a great appearance for an intriguing villainess overall.

So there you have it. I don't know about you but I am quitr eager to watch more episodes and talk about them here and hopefully more in length. Despite the lack of continuity among the first five episodes, this is a strong batch that can standon their own.

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