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I have recently been working on a series of reviews of TV series on DVD. I started with 24, where you can find the introduction to all those reviews, and i have continued with Lost, The L Word, Nip And Tuck, Rescue Me, Desperate Housewives, and here, The Batman TV Series.
Another TV Series i watched recently is the Batman TV Series of the early 90's. Of course, i was working, so the children TV schedule was not that compatible with my schedule. I watched some episodes here and there when the series first aired and always loved every single one i caught. Now, my kids are into the Batman craze, and so i purchased all three DVD sets for the entire three seasons of this amazing series.
If you are a Batman fan, you cannot but own those sets. This is, along with Tim Burton's Batmen and the recent Batman Begins, some of the finest treatment of the Batman character on screen. And what makes these even more great is that even if they are completely kids oriented, they do so without any patronizing, which makes those great for adults alike. The subject matters are interesting and complex, and the writers never shy away from showing the tormented sides of the bad guys. But the messages are always very clear and powerful, and no one ever dies, ever.
The first season has some of the finest episodes of the series. In "Pretty Poison", we meet Poison Ivy as a tormented and heart broken woman. In "Gray Ghost", the story focuses on an old man way past his glory days as the actor who portrayed the Gray Ghost character in a serial and who helps Batman uncover a threat to Gotham City. In the 2-parter "Two Face", probably two of the best episodes of the series altogether, we get to meet with Harvey Dent, Gotham's prominent District Attorney as he runs for re-election, and in the process, gets into an accident that disfigures him and propels him into insanity as he becomes Two-Face, a man incapable of making a decision unless his coin, and chance, direct him to take a particular path. In another 2-parter, "The Cat And the Claw", we are introduced to Cat Woman in one of the sexiest and dual portrayal of that character. And in yet another 2-parter, "Feat Of Clay", we see the transformation of Matt Hagan, the actor with a 1000 faces, into Clayface, leading to a great finale.
With 2-parters, the writers have the opportunity to flesh out a richer story and explore characters in more depth. And those episodes introducing Batman's arch enemies are particularly great. Batman, more than a superhero treatment, is really a psychological drama around split personalities and the dualities between good and evil, and the line is often blurry. Most of Batman's enemies are either ambiguous, or good guys falling from grace. In particular, the "Two Face" 2-parter is nothing short of marvelous. I personally vote for that script to be used as the basis for the follow-on to Batman Begins. With some adjustments, this could be such a dark and exciting scenario for a full length film. The writing is consistently great across most episodes, and you have several genuine masterpieces in there.
On the technical front, there is nothing much i can reproach to this series. The overall art direction is fantastic, with ground breaking designs that feel very contemporary, yet, are imbued with an air of the 1930's and Art Deco. Gotham has never looked so glorious. The technology is definitely modern, but it's as if design remained stuck in the 30's and never quite changed since then. And the gangsters are always in suits. This is all classic stuff. The animation itself is good overall, but not great. You can definitely see sometimes where the frame rate is reduced in order to save costs. The coloring however is very distinct, layered, dark, and muted, creating a unique look. The music is fantastic and adds great mood or excitement throughout every episode. There is rarely a minute without music. The theme, originally composed by Danny Elfman for the Tim Burton Batman movies, is forever inscribed as the Batman theme.
Voice acting is also first rate, something you don't see, or hear, much anymore on TV cartoons. Of course, you have Mark Hamill as the Joker. His characterization of the Joker is pitch perfect and i personally hope he would be cast as the Joker in a future Batman movie. It would be a nice career revival for him. Since the original Star Wars Trilogy he has pretty much disappeared from the big screen. As for Catwoman, who better than Adrienne Barbeau for the role. Granted, the character design is ultra sexy, but the voice puts the cherry on the cake for an unforgettable Catwoman. Many other top actors, such as Ron Perlman who does Clayface, gueststar throughout the series.
I have had an immense pleasure immersing myself back into the Batman TV Series with my kids. Not only are all the episodes great for them, but they were great for me too. The story lines are amazing, the designs are amazing, and the music and voice acting are amazing. This is a TV Cartoon like i wish they would still make them today. They don't patronize kids and do not shy away from showing complex and conflicted characters. Some moments are a little bit scary, but nothing that some very light adult supervision cannot handle. And most importantly, the stories are kids friendly, in my opinion, where it matters: as i mentioned previously, no one ever dies for example, even when guns are involved. To me, this is important. If you are a Batman fan, and thought these were just for kids, you owe it to yourself to try them out. The whole series is truly outstanding.
- Laurent Hasson