Happy New Year dear reader!
This week on Batman The Animated Series (TAS for short), we spend Christmas with the Joker. He starts in Arkham Asylum, but ends up rocketing to freedom via Christmas Tree. True story. This is also where we get the infamous “Jingle Bells Batman Smells” song. I’ve always wondered why that song was Batman-centric.
Cut to the Batcave where Robin tries and fails to convince Batman that people are actually good on Christmas Eve and there is no need to go on patrol. Let’s watch It’s a Wonderful Life instead! But Batman is a cynical dude so on patrol they go.
Turns out Robin is right. A man returns a present to a woman and the woman expresses her gratitude with a peck on the cheek. Otherwise, Gotham’s criminals are quiet because of the magic of Christmas. Robin, having been proven right, leads the way back to Wayne Manor where they eat Christmas dinner and sit down for a nice, classic movie . . .
. . . which turns into THE JOKER!
So off Batman and Robin go! En route, they isolate broadcast signals to determine a location, because the Batmobile is either a moving super computer or is constantly connected to the super computer in the Batcave Proper, the details of which are unclear. While driving, the Joker reveals three people he kidnapped who he nicknamed the Lawful Family because they’re the Commissioner Gordon (Daddy Lawful), a random woman somehow related to the police force (Mommy Lawful), and Lieutenant Detective of bumbling fame (Baby Lawful). As an added distraction, two Joker minions blow up a bridge before a train is scheduled to come in. Of course, Mommy Lawful’s mother is on that train. Of course.
But Batman and Robin are a wonderful team so the train is saved in a fabulous action sequence featuring teamwork and bravery. We knew this moment was coming. But what will do they do now? Joker is still on the loose and we don’t know where he is!
Or do we? Luckily, they were able to track the signal to Mt. Gotham where they are greeted by a mysterious present. Knowing the Joker, Batman decides to open it. It’s a giant Joker-in-a-Box complete with a very meta segue into a commercial break.
A couple notes at this point. Batman maintains something of a sense of humor despite being cynical about Christmas in general. Why hasn’t he seen It’s a Wonderful Life before? He couldn’t get past the title. Robin is a nice foil for him, which adds to their dynamic. And if the Joker can get this kind of setup up and going in less than twenty-four hours, then he’s squandering his supervillain potential on Batman and Gotham. If I had his connections and work ethic, I’d aim for world domination. But, you know, to each his own.
When we get back to the action, the observatory on top of Mt. Gotham has turned against the Dark Knight and Boy Wonder. Specifically, the telescope is now a giant laser firing randomly in an attempt to hit the Bat and Bird. While Batman distracts the laser, Robin enters the observatory only to meet with several Robot Jokers complete with machine gun hands. Robin can somehow dodge machine gun bullets and disposes of all but one Robot Joker–the first time this episode Robin shows better skill than Batman. He calls in to Batman who orders “Operation Cause and Effect” which I understand to mean “blow it all up.” The observatory telescope gets up close and personal with an explosion. Now that the Joker is yet to be found, what are our vigilante heroes to do?
Back at the actual television station where the Joker is filming, he presents a present to “Mrs. Lawful” where she fails to use her now freed arms to do any harm. Instead, she opens the present to a doll. Batman uses the make and model of the doll to calculate which factory in Gotham it would have been made in. The Joker is at the Laffco toy factory downtown! To the Batmobile, Boy Wonder!
Upon arrival at the Laffco factory, Batman and Robin are greeted by a few towering Nutcrackers. Batman takes down one while Robin dispenses with the other two–the second time this episode Robin has demonstrated better skill than Batman. Two gangsters appear with machine guns (what else). Batman distracts them by using a spare cape on a giant teddy bear and takes them out. There is no explanation on where the second cape came from. I guess Batman carries around spares?
Then there are flying airplane jokers. Batman picks up a baseball bat and Robin notes the pun. While Batman takes out one plane at a time, Robin takes out several at once using an oil drum–the third time Robin demonstrates better skill than Batman.
Finally, we get to the Joker, the boss man himself, and he only has one form this time. This is only episode two. Major bosses don’t get multiple forms until later on. The Lawful family is dangling over a giant drum of lava, or boiling plastic, either way they’re done for in a bit. Joker gives Batman a present, which Robin insists he doesn’t open, but Batman does anyway and gets a pie in the face.
If anyone wants to analyze the Joker’s psychology as presented in Batman TAS, this is a good episode to start with. Because that was an opportune moment to kill the Batman and the Joker didn’t so what does that tell you? Discuss in the comments.
Batman is the one saving the captees, which is odd because it should have been Robin. Batman chases the Joker but the Joker trips on a random roller skate, as is wont to happen in a toy factory. He falls towards the vat of boiling lava only to be saved by Batman. We can’t have anybody die in a children’s show, amirite?
All is well in Gotham again. Bruce and Dick finish It’s a Wonderful Life and Joker serenades himself with Christmas tunes in Arkham Asylum.
Final thoughts. There were some accidentally ridiculous moments throughout the episode, such as when Batman’s grappling hook doesn’t have an adequate hold on anything before he swings and yet he mysterious has total control of his fall. Batman apparently carries two capes on him in case he needs to disguise random objects as himself. And no one can hit a target with a machine gun, even a robot.
Robin may or may not be a better crime fighter than Batman, given that he can dodge eight machine guns to Batman’s two, took care of more aerial attackers and in a more efficient way, and destroyed two giant mechs to Batman’s one. And yet no one likes Robin. Is it because all his episodes are kitschy like this and therefore no one can take him seriously? Poor Robin.
Tune in next week for the introduction of the Scarecrow!
This week on Batman: The Animated Series, the caped crusader starts his iconic television show with a mystery~ oooooooo!!!
We start when a pair of Gotham police patrolmen riding in a police blimp see something strange in the sky. Well, the younger newbie cop sees something that resembles batwings and the veteran is all “It’s nothing. Forgettabou’it!” the thing, though is A GIANT FLYING BAT en route to Phoenix Pharmaceuticals. While at Phoenix, a security guard/aspiring radio personality practices his spiel with a voice recorder while making his rounds. Unfortunately, he encounters the Man-bat and is tossed from the building where he does not die because this is a children’s show, for Heaven’s sake. His tape recorder gets left behind in a beat of foreshadowing not missed by adult!me but would be by kid!me.
Cut to the mayor’s office where a Gotham detective, henceforth known as Lieutenant Detective until I pick up on his name, Lieutenant Detective wants a war on Batman which Commissioner Gordon does not approve of but the mayor does! So Lieutenant Detective has his war on Batman which is featured on the front page of the Gotham Times.
And guess who reads the Gotham Times? Bruce Wayne the Batman himself of course! In the Batcave, Batman tells Alfred about a string of robberies reported by pharmaceutical companies, the latest being from the previous night. Batman goes to investigate the robbery at Phoenix Pharma. He is seen by a couple of pharmacy techs who call in the Batman sighting. The the Gotham Police Department scrambles a squad together, Batman picks up two important clues: bat hairs and the tape recorder. He encounters the GPD on his way out.
Batman is cornered by the GPD in a room full of flammable barrels, but the GPD don’t know that when they throw in a tear gas grenade. Batman rescues a squad man from the inevitable explosion and runs away in the aftermath.
This is the first commercial break and holy cow there was a lot in that time!! What was it? Ten minutes? The pacing at this point is spot on, the transitions flowing nicely from one scene to another. I also realize the soundtrack is very orchestral. Is that a result of this being the first episode or a result of having Elfman composing the score? We’ll soon see.
Bruce meets with a team of bat scientists–an old scientist, a young lady scientist, and the husband scientists. Bruce reports a problem with bats in his chimneys and gives some of the hair to analyze and the voice tape, which caught the sound of the Manbat as he attacked the poor security guard/aspiring radio personality. The scientists are carefully perplexed but take the evidence anyway.
Except Batman has already started running an analysis of his own. A call from one of the scientists determines that what Bruce was told does not equal his own conclusions. Therefore, the bat scientists know what is behind the mysterious thefts! Onward Batman goes to the lab where he meets with the young male scientist who admits to stealing specific drugs so he can
TURN INTO MANBAT
I did not see that coming (read: I kind of saw that coming but sorta suspected the old scientist but whatever).
Manbat and Batman fight in the lab, destroying glass beakers and surprisingly not setting anything on fire with a bunsen burner, because all labs regardless of area of study comes with beakers, indeterminate liquids in said beakers, and a bunsen burner. Manbat has Batman pinned down and is about to strike a final blow when the lady scientist screams, startling her Husband-turned-Manbat. Manbat flees out the window but not before Batman can wrap a cable around his ankle and go with him.
While flying around, or should that be flailing around, the Gotham Police patrolmen from the beginning of the episode appear once again and see Batman air-wrestling with Manbat and call in the Batman sighting. The human bats take their fight to a construction zone. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Detective gets any at his helicopter pilot because he’s not allowed to take off without Commissioner Gordon. Gordon arrives, they take off, and the human bats duke it out in a partially constructed skyscraper.
Batman eventually uses his wit and resources to blind Manbat who runs into a billboard. Ouch. I tell you what, ouch. The Gotham Police have caught up with the human bats at this points, but it is too late. Batman takes the unconscious Manbat back to the Batcave. There, Bruce removes (somehow) the drugs from the Manbat, turning him back into a handsome young scientist. The episode ends with Batman returning him to his wife as if he were a lost puppy coming home.
This is a great opening episode for the series. Batman is not introduced until several minutes in when the action already started. And we follow Batman through until the culprit is caught and brought to justice, despite justice not being related to Gotham’s Justice System at this time. Furthermore, we also get Gotham Police’s supposed “war on Batman” because he is a vigilante, I suppose, and no one except Gordon seems to appreciate Batman’s efforts in fighting crime. He does leave the culprits behind for the police to handle, though. So maybe Gotham Police are just tired of cleaning up after Batman. Who knows. Lieutenant Detective might have ego issues.
Stay tuned for next week where the Joker is introduced for the first time!
I am starting a new thing. It is called Watch Me!, exclamation point included, and is inspired by episode-by-episode recaps you would see on places like The Mary Sue but perhaps with less reaction gifs. In my first rendition of Watch Me!, I will watch the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, that iconic television series every Batman fan knows and loves. It was my introduction into the Batman franchise though I have never seen every episode. I have seen some episodes, and I certainly remember that iconic opening sequence from my childhood. Therefore, I will revisit it, mostly because a friend loaned me the first season and it has sat on my coffee table for about three months.
We’ll start things off by looking at the opening sequence.
The Warner Bros logo turns into one of the patrol blimps that keep watch over Gotham. Pan down to the city streets for a dark and gritty, almost dystopian feel. The music meanwhile features long notes and the basic Batman theme you should be familiar with if you are roughly my age and call yourself a Batman fan. And if you are not familiar with it, I know the show you should watch.. (It’s this one).
Fade to the side of a skyscraper that turns out to be a bank. We see two dark figures in trench coats and fedoras getting all shifty eyed. Those guys are sketchy and alas! An explosion at the bank! And those guys are there to witness it! Are they really thieves? They are never shown with bags of money or any object that could be stolen from the bank. So why blow up a bank’s entrance? Act of terrorism? Wouldn’t that be better served in the daylight with more people?
It doesn’t matter because the Batmobile starts up in the Batcave. Ho, Batman! The Batmobile gets a few cool shots while in pursuit. The music got more excited at the explosion to build up the excitement, and I as a viewer wonder what sort of budget this show had to get such an amazing score. Maybe people at Warner Bros/DC know Danny Elfman. This is about the time of the old Batman movies after all. It could have been a thing.
Gotham Police pursue the gangsters in a car while they run on foot, which would so not happen in real life. Those baddies would have been caught so hard unless they have superpowers. Which they probably do because when the police car follows them into an alleyway, they are already on the roof of a building that is at least twenty floors. I guess these are not your typical gangsters and that is why BATMAN is here to save the day. (Dum-dum-duuum-dumm)
Perhaps that foreshadows all the crazies Batman has to deal with through the show. Gotham Police can’t take down the superhero’d villains so Batman does it for them. Which is what happens here after the iconic shot of Batman glowering, narrowing his eyes in a way that should make any lawbreaker quake.
The music picks up, the gangsters draw their weapons, and Batman knocks away the guns with a Batarang. One is taken out via bat-tackle, the other throws a punch, misses, and gets punch in return.
The Gotham Police have finally caught up via Police blimp, but everything is taken care of. The thugs are tied up, defeated, and there is no sign of anyone. The policemen scratch their heads in confusion. The camera knows what happens, though. Pan up to a silhouette atop a skyscraper.
I am vengence. I am the night!
Ominous lightning strikes and we fade to the next episode.
I remember a commercial for Batman the Animated Series had Batman say the “I am vengence . . . ” spiel around the time of the lightning strike. So that part of the intro will always remind me of that.
For an introduction, this one does a good job. It is short and simple, roughly a minute in length, and inspired by art deco and noir to set the stage. Gotham City resembles Chicago in the Prohibition Era, perhaps with more crime and quite a few more crazies, but certainly draws from media produced in that era. I may not remember a lot from my childhood and I have seen only a handful of episodes as an adult, but I expect the episodes to be varied, moving through the genres of action, mystery, and literary like Batman moves through his city.
This is a show heralded for its everything: the music, the story, the characters, the animation. People say it has withstood the test of time. That is why I am here to break it down for you.