As this is a sort-of-if-you-squint comics blog, it’s inevitable that I’ll end up talking about some of the icons of the medium – Batman, Superman, Spider-Man – the characters that people in the street will mention if you asked them to name some superheroes.
I’ve already talked about Spider-Man, and I’m sure I’ll get round to Superman at some point, but today I want to talk about Batman.
Batman first appeared back in 1939 in Detective Comics #27, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. In the 72 years since, there have been numerous different portrayals of him in various media – comics, radio, films and TV.
(Unlike Superman and Spider-Man, there’s not been a Batman musical yet. This is probably a good thing.)
My favourite interpretation isn’t the comics. It’s certainly not the “The Dark Knight” (which I could rant against for ages). It’s not even the Adam West TV series from the 60’s.
It’s Batman: The Animated Series from the early 90’s.
It could have been just another kid’s cartoon, produced in the wake of the 1989 Tim Burton film. What we got was something that children could still watch, but was also far, far more.
It takes place in a highly stylized world – one that owes as much to film noir and art deco as to comics. It’s an amalgam of the 1940s and the 1990s – Gotham City is filled with art deco skyscrapers, the cars are Cords and Duesenburgs and the gangsters wear fedoras, but there are computers and TVs (albeit only with black and white screens.)
And it’s dark – all of the scenes were painted on to a black background. instead of a white one. It adds a surprising amount of depth and menace.
Then there’s the voice acting. The trick in the latest Batman film of Bruce Wayne lowering his voice an octave when he becomes Batman was lifted from the animated series.
Finally, there’s the characters. Some of the characters had been around for 50 years when the series started, but it came up with new and fresh interpretations. The villains are often tragic figures, trying save loved ones or gain revenge for loved ones they’ve lost, like Mr Freeze in Heart of Ice.
Of course, it doesn’t help if your loved one is a dangerous homicidal psychopath, like the Joker…
But that’s the premise of the character of Harley Quinn – a goofy gangster’s moll, where the gangster is the Joker. (With the Joker’s voice being provided by Mark Hamill. Yes, Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill.)
It’s certainly far more than the average Saturday morning cartoon – it’s well worth checking out if you’ve not done so.