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Batman: The Animated Series Wrap-Up

btas redOne-hundred and nine episodes plus three features leading to one-hundred and twelve blog entries have been devoted to the subject of Batman: The Animated Series. It started as a celebration of the show turning 25 and then as a curiosity piece. Since its premiere in 1992, the show had become much celebrated and praised all over. It’s exceptionally rare in this age of social media to see anything basically universally loved, but that was the case for BTAS. I had a lot of good memories of the show myself. I watched it as a kid and when the show received a DVD release I bought it up. And I watched them all. Batman became a show I had experienced and enjoyed both as a kid and as an adult, but some ten years or so removed from when I last watched it in total I still wasn’t sure just how good the show was.

And so I watched it again. And after each episode I made a little blog entry afterwards. Well, at first they were fairly little as I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Did I want to do an episode review or did I want to do a recap? I started leaning more towards the review side while also inserting a brief summary. Perhaps being influenced by all of the recap style podcasts I listen to, the entries drifted more towards that style. And they grew. Oh, did they grow. This little weekly entry soon routinely ran for thousands of words. I’m not saying that makes them any better or worse, but it certainly transformed my little project from something I could regurgitate via my keyboard rather quickly to something much more demanding.

Even though my vision for this feature grew beyond my initial plans, that doesn’t mean I regret anything about it. Far from it, actually, as I really enjoyed my time with this show once again. I may have even enjoyed it more than ever as I found it much easier to find things I liked about episodes I previously wasn’t very high on. Some of those episodes are still rather poor, but I can at least see what the writers were thinking and for the most part the animation is always quite good. It’s a very entertaining program, and while it’s still primarily a children’s cartoon, there’s enough depth there to captivate an older audience.

2face revealed

The character of Batman drew people in, and villains like Two-Face and Mr. Freeze kept them coming back.

In re-watching the show I found there were certainly things that consistently worked and things that did not. When the show centered on a sympathetic villain it was usually at its best. Batman can be pretty ruthless in his application of justice, but the guy does have a heart. He often makes the right decision, though he’s also not perfect. Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and Clayface ended up being my favorite villains. And when Harley Quinn was thrust into a sympathetic role she soared. Even Arnold Stromwell was interesting when we saw his softer side. That doesn’t mean everyone needs that to work though. Rupert Thorne was consistently nasty and thus interesting, same for Roland Daggett. The Joker was also often very entertaining and the show never made an attempt at deviating from what he is, which is something filmmakers today could learn from.

There were still a few duds when it came to the villains. Surprisingly, Catwoman was rarely compelling as the show didn’t seem to know what to do with her. For whatever reason, there was a desire to portray her as something other than a villain. Rather than make her an antihero, she more or less just became a victim. There was a bit of a course correction in season two, but only when the show returned as The New Batman Adventures did it feel like the show actually knew what it wanted to do with one of Batman’s most popular foils. Two-Face also tended to flounder after his strong debut. He was able to rebound a bit, but it was a shame to see so much of what his debut built up was seemingly cast aside. The Penguin, another famous Batman villain, was also rarely up to the task when called upon with many of his leading roles serving as the show’s worst. He was usually most entertaining when paired up with other villains to play off of them. The show seemed to acknowledge this by putting him in more of a supporting role later on when he became a club owner.

Mostly, when I consider the legacy of this show I mostly recall what it did for the lesser villains. Going into 1992, the only Batman villains I was really aware of were the ones featured in the Adam West show. The Riddler, Penguin, Joker, and Catwoman were the most famous, but I also recalled Mr. Freeze and, for some reason, King Tutt. This show is how I was introduced to other, lesser, villains such as Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Clay-Face, and others. And for the most part I loved these “new” villains most of all. Sure, there were some duds for me like The Clock King or the one-off werewolf character and Lock-Up, but mostly the new guys were pretty interesting. And you can’t talk about this show without talking about what it did for Mr. Freeze. Previously more gimmick than character, Freeze became one of the most popular Batman villains seemingly overnight thanks to his portrayal in “Heart of Ice.” No, he never had another story as good as that one, but because that episode was so good it made any future appearance appointment television just to see if another Freeze story could match that one.


Oddly enough, the show seemed to struggle with Catwoman not knowing if it wanted to portray her as something of an antihero or as her more traditional cat burglar persona.

Since this show is primarily a half-hour cartoon intended for kids, it runs into some issues. The format it strived for is a limitation. That inaugural 65 episode first season included several two-part stories, but following that every other story was confined to a single episode. This limitation is only a limitation if the writers allow it to be one, but sometimes it felt like certain episodes were short-changed. It also leads to numerous instances of Batman just turning to his wonder computer to solve a problem. That was definitely my biggest pet peeve with the show this time around as it quickly became a trope of the show. Batman turning to his computer felt like The Simpsons using the living room television to either start or advance a plot. An episode can still be good when that element is present, but it certainly feels cheap.

I also can’t offer a proper conclusion on the show without talking about the move from Fox to the WB and the creation of The New Batman Adventures. The switch did lead to some good things. For one, it advanced characters like Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon and let us see some actual development. Some conflict between Batman and Robin was teased during the Fox years and it was rewarding to see that go somewhere. I think the show could have mined that conflict for more material, but it was mostly handled well. Barbara, on the other hand, was a bit glossed over. Sure, she was now an accepted ally as Batgirl, but we learned very little about her character. Did she have a new outlook on crime fighting? What was her end game? We also never even got to see what came between she and Dick, which was unfortunate.

Aside from that, the move to WB also allowed for less censorship. This didn’t have a huge impact on much unless you’re really turned on by seeing a thin line of blood streaking from a character’s mouth, but it did really open up The Joker. He went from being mostly just a lunatic to being a violent lunatic. He has a few moments to be truly mean during his time on WB giving the character a similar feel to how he was portrayed in Mask of the Phantasm. This did lead to some criticisms I had with the direction of Harley Quinn, but I think I did a good job of highlighting those issues in my posts on the episodes she appears in.


No matter how many times I see the new-look Joker I just can’t fall in love with it.

What obviously stands out the most though in the change in networks was the new design. While some characters looked unchanged and a few looked better than before, I mostly disliked the new style choice. Less detail and odd choices are mostly to blame, but even the animation came across a bit too cartoony for this show. The whole tone of the show was also thrown off and I think that had to do with the ensemble cast and the simplified portrayal of each of the leads. The writers basically assigned one archetype to each character and mostly stuck with it. This left no room for nuance and it had the most drastic impact on our main lead, Batman himself. In the first two seasons we got to see different sides to the character, but in The New Batman Adventures he’s basically just grim and curt. He’s so boring, and sadly none of the other leads outside of Nightwing really offer much. Robin is mostly just a vehicle for bad puns and Batgirl offers even less.

As a result, I can comfortably say that The New Batman Adventures era is inferior to what came before it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still quality to be found there. Much to my surprise, a few episodes actually rank quite highly and the worst of the show is still found in those first two seasons. A lot of that third season is just okay or average with few true stinkers. Though that is a post for another day.

harley scream

The show is exciting and fun and gave us some truly memorable characters. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to Batman, if not the best.

Ultimately, I set out to decide for myself if I felt Batman: The Animated Series was overrated or properly rated. It never occurred to me that it could be underrated, and it certainly is not. While the show didn’t deliver a slam dunk each episode, it also totaled 109 episodes and what show has ever hit a home run every episode for such a long time? Even much celebrated shows like Breaking Bad have a lesser episode here and there, and that particular show produced far fewer than 109 episodes (though to be fair, in terms of total minutes it’s probably much closer). And no, I’m not trying to compare this show to Breaking Bad, but making the point that it doesn’t have to “wow” the audience every time out to be a great show. Calling it the greatest television show based on a comic book feels right. It’s certainly the greatest cartoon, and I also came away feeling that it’s totally defensible for this to be someone’s favorite depiction of Batman in any medium. It’s a great show with a lot to offer. It’s primarily an action vehicle, and the wonderful animation allows it to be a pretty great show based on its action alone. What puts it over the top are the stories, the captivating villains, and it’s wonderful sense of style. The music of Shirley Walker, the performances of actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, it’s a production that oozes quality. So yes, Batman: The Animated Series is properly rated and if I am certain of anything it’s that I will watch this series in its entirety again. And again…

Batman: The Animated Series – “Moon of the Wolf”

Moon_of_the_WolfEpisode Number:  43

Original Air Date:  November 11, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Len Wein

First Appearance(s):  Anthony Romulus, The Werewolf


Something happened in-between episodes 42 and 43 that feels like a big deal, to me anyway:  we hit the halfway point! The original run of Batman:  The Animated Series consists of 85 episodes and we are now halfway through that batch. I suppose our next milestone will be episode 52 since that will mark one year of posts on the subject, followed by episode 65 which marks the end(!) of the first season. For episode 43 we have a new villain and a returning one. I mentioned it in last week’s write-up, but coming up with an immediate 65 episode order is pretty challenging, and rather than come up with 65 unique, original, stories the staff on Batman sometimes turned to the comics for a story. This week’s episode is one such episode in which comic writer Len Wein was asked to adapt his story about a werewolf from Batman #255 for the show. It’s kind of a weird concept for Batman, but it’s in-line with the Man-Bat villain from episode one in terms of feasibility. It also feels like kind of anti-drug PSA. Government standards require a certain amount of educational content in children’s programming and I’m not sure if this one qualified for it, but we’ll get to that in the write-up.


Not a good night to be walking your dog.

The episode opens on a gentleman (Peter Scolari) walking his dog on a typical Gotham evening. The dog becomes agitated at something offscreen, but it turns out to be just a jogger. Or was it? A massive werewolf (Frank Welker) soon emerges from the brush and attacks! The man is helpless against the beast, but fortunately for him Batman is in the area. He confronts the beast, but their fight is cut short when the gentleman is flung from the park bridge. Batman dives into the water to save him, and as he pulls him from the water the wolf-man flees.

The setting shifts to Gotham PD and Gordon is wrapping up some business for the night. Batman interrupts him to fill him in on what happened in the park. He wants to know if anything could be linked to the werewolf character, but the only thing Gordon can find is some timber wolves were stolen from the zoo recently. The victim of that night’s attack, John Hamner, is a security guard for the zoo and Batman thinks that’s not likely to be a coincidence. As he leaves Gordon’s office, he floats an interesting possibility:  what if that wolf creature wasn’t wearing a mask?


Honey, I’m home!

Of course it’s not a mask, Batman, because where would the fun be in that? The episode is not at all interested in even making that a question as we’re taken to a construction yard and an individual with an unmistakable bowl cut is re-introduced. Professor Milo (Treat Williams), the villain from “Cat Scratch Fever,” is seated at a desk when the werewolf barges in. He’s rather calm in the face of such a frightening creature, but that’s because he knows exactly when this transformation will wear off. The creature becomes a huddled mess on the floor as he turns into an adult male. We don’t know who he is, and he isn’t shown in full frame, but he tells Milo that Hamner got away as he was foiled by Batman. Milo resolves to take care of that nuisance once and for all.


Tony Romulus is an expert long-jumper and track and field star.

Immediately, the show cuts to a skyline shot at day and a news broadcast can be heard. The broadcast refers to Anthony “Tony” Romulus (Harry Hamlin), a local Olympian about to make a large charitable donation. Geez, I wonder who the werewolf could be? Tony is training at a gym with Bruce Wayne, and his plan is discussed: he’ll make a 2 million dollar donation to charity, but only if Batman comes to his home and accepts the check. Wayne tries to figure out what his interest in Batman is, and Tony convincingly plays it off as wanting to meet the only man in Gotham who may be a superior athlete to him.


Anyone with a unibrow and scarf is a bad guy – come on, Batman!

Batman heads to the home of Romulus that night and finds the superstar athlete in his study. He’s dressed in an absurd leisure suit with a scarf, and welcomes Batman in. He offers him a drink, Batman declines, and gets to making out a check as an impatient Batman looks on. We see Romulus flip a switch underneath his desk, and soon Batman notices the room getting hotter. He realizes that he’s being gassed, but before he can retrieve his gas mask from his utility belt he collapses and Milo enters. Romulus removes Batman’s utility belt, while Milo acts threatening.


Milo and Romulus in a flashback when the lycanthropy first started to show.

Batman is then shown at the construction yard from earlier chained and unconscious in what looks to be an unfinished colosseum. Milo and Romulus are in the nearby shack and we get an in-depth look into their relationship. Milo is obviously responsible for Romulus’s condition, and he holds the cure to lycanthropy in a safe. He’s blackmailing Romulus, but don’t feel too bad for him. A flashback details how the two came to be involved. Romulus, seeking an edge, sought out Milo for steroids. Milo gave him a special, undetectable, steroid laced with wolf estrogen and Romulus greedily snatches it and drinks it down. The serum worked, and Romulus had a great fall games which enriched him exponentially. Romulus initially refused to pay Milo for his steroids, but soon the transformations began. They were only partial, and Milo was able to dupe Romulus into taking more of the formula to become a full-blown werewolf. His argument was the hybrid state he was in couldn’t be cured, but lycanthropy could be. We don’t know if he was lying, but it resulted in the Romulus we see now. Detective Bullock will soon confront Hamner at his security job at the zoo, and we’ll find out he’s the source of the timber wolf DNA as Milo paid him to unlock the cage, hence why the werewolf was sent to kill him at the start of the episode.


Ride ’em, cowboy!

Romulus soon transforms, and Milo wants him to kill Batman. He attacks Milo first, and in the scuffle the antidote is dropped and broken (we don’t see why Milo removed it from the safe). He spares Milo, and targets Batman, who has regained consciousness. Finding a pin nearby, Batman picks the locks on his chains to free himself just in time to meet the werewolf. The two scuffle, and Batman quickly realizes he can’t just go toe-to-toe with Romulus. He heads for high ground as the Gotham PD arrive on the scene (some citizens out for a walk saw the commotion and called the police) and surround the place. Bullock lets Batman deal with Romulus, as the two battle on top of the colosseum. Romulus winds up swinging from a crane and gets struck by lightning causing him to fall into a nearby river, ending the confrontation. The police are able to apprehend Milo, who is in need of medical attention, and he taunts Gordon that they’ll never be able to make charges stick (this sounds like the writers setting up for a return of Milo, but this is his last appearance). The episode ends with a pair of individuals touring the home of Tony Romulus. It’s up for sale as Romulus never returned following the fight with Batman. The episode ends on a most predictable note, with the werewolf howling at the moon.

This is a mostly straight-forward episode, and really uneven. It takes a lot of shortcuts, most obviously in how the werewolf is dealt with. There’s no indication that lightning is in the air prior to Romulus being struck, so it feels rather cheap. Maybe they didn’t have the budget for a full-blown thunderstorm. Milo and Romulus are also apparently uninterested in Batman’s secret identity, since they have him at their mercy and they choose to leave his mask on. The episode as no interest in setting up a mystery, basically answering the questions as they come up. There’s a throw-away scene between Batman and Alfred in the Bat Cave where Batman bemoans his lack of progress in figuring out who the werewolf is (this is just before he goes to meet Romulus) that didn’t need to be there. We do get to see Alfred casually working on the Batmobile though which is kind of neat. If the steroid angle was supposed to be an anti-drug message, I’m not sure how effective it could be since most 8 year old boys watching the show probably thought being a werewolf was pretty cool.


The episode ends in perhaps the most predictable fashion possible.

This episode was animated by Akom, and if you recall from the write-up on “Joker’s Wild,” Akom was fired for how poorly that episode came out. Who knows where this episode was at the time of the firing, but it was probably close to completed. It’s better than that episode, but not by a whole lot. The backgrounds feel sparse and boring, at least the external ones, and there’s a weird disconnect between the background and the characters in the early scenes on the bridge. The guard, Hamner, looks almost exactly like the guard from “Tyger Tyger” though he’s voiced by a different actor here so I don’t know if he’s supposed to be the same person. There are a bunch of animation errors though, with Milo’s jacket changing color at times and Batman’s yellow symbol going from yellow to white. The biggest screw-up though is with Batman’s utility belt. It’s removed immediately after he’s drugged, but it’s mysteriously back on when we next see Batman chained up. Since he does not use it at all during his fight with the werewolf, I half to assume it wasn’t supposed to be there. It certainly wouldn’t have made any sense for Milo to return it to him, though it didn’t make sense for Milo to let the werewolf kill him when he could have done it effortlessly once Batman had passed out.

In Akom’s defense, the werewolf looks pretty cool. He’s fearsome looking with saliva dripping from his open mouth. He might be my favorite design of the creature enemies, being more interesting than Man-Bat or Tygrus. Akom doesn’t attempt anything too grand with him, but what he does is interesting enough. Unfortunately, he’s the only interesting part of the episode as the plot and fight sequences are rather droll. This is filler television, further demonstrated by the lack of a re-appearance from either Romulus or Milo in future episodes. I will say I like the music in this episode, the werewolf has a fun theme and I probably do not sing the praises of Shirley Walker enough, who’s work on this series is fantastic and I take it for granted. Akom still has one episode left in the tank, “What is Reality?” and I’m interested in seeing how that one looks in light of their firing, but it’ll be six weeks or so before we get to discuss that one.

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