The legacy of Batman: The Animated Series was still continuing with Justice League Unlimited in 2004. Despite this, a new Batman show was launched, albeit with a different take, The Batman. With the Bruce Timm produced universe of cartoons (the Timm-verse) having a decade of solid story telling under its belt, The Batman was an oddity, existing separately from the established canon. That alone created a huge hurdle for the show. The Batman had a lot to prove.
Immediately noticeable is the art style. Jeff Matsuda, art designer on the Jackie Chan Adventures, created the look here. The character design is sharper, with even rounded edges like Batman’s cowl appearing piercing. Character design is extreme, ranging from impossibly tiny to over exasperatingly large. Nearly every character, particularly the rogues, had a cartoonish look that while cementing the style for the series, could easily turn off many. Given the success of the ‘realistic’ Batman in TAS, it was a smart move to differential the two.
Further differentiating it from what came before is the story telling. Unlike previous series, each season of The Batman had somewhat of an arc, building to a climax while mixing in villains of the week. The fourth season introduced an alien invasion while the fifth had Batman teaming up with various members of the Justice League, culminating with the entire League making an appearance. Along with the varying arcs was the wide assortment of characters. The rogues gallery from TAS was doubled as a wide assortment of villains made their cartoon debut; Black Mask, Cluemaster, Ragdoll, Spellbinder, Prank, and Gearhead were all present. Honestly, as much of a comic, moreover Batman fan as I am, I had to look a few of those up.
Another key difference was Batman’s supporting cast. Commissioner Gordon didn’t appear until the second season, with Barbara following in the third. She proceeded Robin in this continuity, becoming Batman’s first sidekick. Robin wasn’t allowed to be used due to the currently running Teen Titans. However, Dick Grayson was allowed to be used in the fourth season as Titans was cancelled. Both characters featured the same obtuse design, standing strongly counter to Batman.
Regardless of all the bullet points the creators hit, this was very much a kids show. The plots were overly simplistic, which, while fitting in with the completely cartoonish villains, still lowered the quality. Case in point, the direct-to-dvd movie, The Batman vs. Dracula. Dracula came to a party hosted by Bruce Wayne, introducing himself has Alucard. Sensing something was a miss, Batman wrote the name down, holding it up to a mirror, revealing his real name, Dracula. Sigh. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s this tone that permeates the series, firmly cementing the target 6 – 12 year old audience. Not every show is for everyone, but it’s nice when one can appeal to both younger and older audiences.
Despite the unappealing design and simplistic nature, the show managed to garner a large following, winning several awards. While this is all well and good, one award was a bit insulting. Kevin Michael Richardson, who is a fantastic actor, won an Emmy for his portray of the Joker, while Mark Hamill never did. Sigh.
The Batman was a fine show but is one that largely doesn’t appeal to older fans. Despite this, there’s plenty of fun to be had for younger audiences. However, there’s a handful of Batman shows I would recommend before this.
Is this your Batman cartoon? As an adult fan, was the show redeemable? Comment below!
In addition to THN’s Saturday Morning Cartoons and Nerd at the Movies, Tony writes for his own site, thecredhulk.com, about comics, video games, movies, TV and more, six days a week. You can follow his updates on Facebook or Twitter. Drop by and tell ‘em hi.
Theme song by the Edge from U2.