Batman The Animated Series: Volume 3
December 15, 2005
Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Dan Riba, Kevin Altieri, ,
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Bob Hastings, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Melissa Gilbert, Loren Lester, Tim Matheson, Richard Moll, John Vernon, Mark Hamill, George Dzundza, ,
Batman lay dormant on the animated front during the 1980s. It wasn’t until the commercial success of Tim Burton’s films that Warner Bros. green-lighted an animated series. Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski were chosen to work on the new show based on concept artwork and background designs that they submitted. They were given a surprising amount of creative freedom so long as they stayed close to the look of Burton’s films. The result was an animated show that galvanized and sustained the Batman franchise through the dark times: the Joel Schumacher years that almost killed off the Dark Knight.
The third season beings with the first appearance of Batgirl. Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara, dons a costume in order to clear him of corruption. The writers quickly establish that she’s no shrinking violent who takes her cues from Batman. She gets right in there and dukes it out with boys, more than holding her own. All of the staples from the comic book and the previous seasons return: villains like Two-Face and the Joker and landmarks like Arkham Asylum.
Some stand-out episodes of this season include “Trial,” that features Gotham’s District Attorney defending Batman in a mock trial at Arkham Asylum with Two-Face as the prosecutor, the Joker as the presiding judge and the likes of Poison Ivy as a key witness. “Catwalk” sees the return of Catwoman and reinforces just how wrong the live-action movie got this character. The writing and direction of this animated episode is by far superior to anything in the movie.
The first thing that strikes one about this show is its look. It has a striking art deco design scheme and an atmospheric film noir look that recalls classic ‘40s noir, pulp serials, Citizen Kane (1941) and the Fleischer bros. Superman cartoons. The animated show plays on the notion of Batman as a symbolic creature of the night preying on the criminal element of Gotham. There is extensive use of shadows and silhouettes that enhance the dark atmosphere. The creative powers that be don’t feel the need to show us everything, instead leaving some of it up to our imagination—something of a novel concept for a children’s cartoon where typically everything is brightly lit with vibrant colours.
Most importantly, the show stays true to the look and feel of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s classic Batman artwork in the original comic book where, of course, it all started. It quickly becomes obvious that the creative talent behind this show has great respect for the Batman mythos and Kane’s original vision, yet creating their own, detailed world and atmosphere to go with it.
What makes the show work so well is that each episode feels and looks like a mini-movie, evoking Tim Burton’s Batman movies right down to the Danny Elfman-esque soundtrack by composer Shirley Walker (who, incidentally, worked with Elfman on the Burton films) that recalls classic Hollywood thrillers—equal parts heroic and menace. Gone is the campiness of the ‘60s era Adam West Batman or the cheesiness of the Superfriends-era Batman. In its place is the dark, brooding Dark Knight that made his character so fascinating in the first place.
While the new Batman film, Batman Begins (2005) is getting the lion’s share of the credit for resurrecting the Dark Knight in the public consciousness, the animated series was quietly laying the foundation over the years that made it all possible.
The first DVD has a featurette called, “Gotham’s New Knight,” that briefly examines the choice to add Batgirl to the show. The creative team took various visual elements from the comics and the TV show but were smart in how they gradually introduced Barbara Gordon before transforming her into Batgirl.
On the second DVD is an audio commentary on “Read My Lips” by producer Bruce Timm, writer/story editor Michael Reaves, director Boyd Kirkland and composer Shirley Walker. This episode holds a special place in their collective hearts because it allowed them create a homage to Peter Gunn/gangster-style story complete with hard-boiled dialogue and story elements like the prize fight. They comment on the look of the show and some of the voice actors in this solid track.
Also included is a video commentary for “House and Garden” by Timm, writer Paul Dini, Kirkland and moderator Jason Hillhouse that allows you to watch the participants as they talk about this episode. Hillhouse provides most of the humour as he asks silly questions like the look of Gordon’s hair. They touch briefly upon the creative freedom the studio gave them. This is a fun, engaging track.
Finally, on the third DVD there is an audio commentary for “Harlequinade” by Timm, Dini and Walker. They talk about how much they got away with in their depiction of the Joker and praise Mark Hamill’s performance. They also point out that Batman is a little out of character in this one, effectively playing the straight man. They also talk about the ‘40s screwball comedy vibe that they were going for in this episode.