Make no mistake – Batman: The Animated Series may be celebrating it’s 25th Anniversary this year, but it still feels as fresh and exciting as it did way back in 1992. In celebration of this major milestone, HMV have finally seen sense and released all 109 episodes (many previously unavailable in Region 2 format) on DVD, bundled together in a snazzy collector’s box-set complete with exciting extra features.
The word ‘timeless’ gets bandied around all too easily these days, but with Batman: TAS, it’s a word that is entirely appropriate. Producers Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski deliberately set about creating a unique visual look for the show, developing a hybrid world that resembled 1940’s America coupled with hints of both gothic style and modern technology. It leaves little wonder why the show has barely dated since it’s debut!
Combining this shadowy art-deco aesthetic with complex and mature storytelling, stunning voice work from the likes of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (to name but a few) and a sumptuous musical score by the late Shirley Walker, the show tore up the respective rule-books on superhero cartoons & TV animation and rewrote them both from scratch. Each episode plays out like a mini-movie, in which character and emotion take precedence over the prerequisite action, explosions and heroics.
From the off, it’s a show that pushes boundaries, even by today’s standards. Dark crime stories, tales dealing with psychological issues and adult themes pervade throughout, with the writers and directors clearly striving for something greater then the usual ‘Biff-Pow!’ of previous superhero cartoons. There is substance here beyond simple good versus evil, no better exemplified then in the show’s all time best episode, Heart of Ice, which retools the two-dimensional villain Mr. Freeze, imbuing him with a heartbreaking and tragic backstory that demands the sympathies of the audience.
Unconstrained by it’s traditional superhero trappings, the types of stories the show regularly tells have an epic, cinematic quality to them, with stories ranging from globe spanning adventures and gritty gangster dramas to science fiction strangeness, metaphorical laden psycho-drama and even full blown comedy. The superb animation and design work is up to the challenge of lending credibility to these outlandish tales, ensuring that there’s a continuity between genres.
There’s frankly so much in the way of brilliant Batman stories on offer here that it’s hard to choose a definitive favourite. Beware the Gray Ghost is an endearing metaphor and love letter to childhood heroes guest-starring the late, great Adam West, whilst Over the Edge presents a nightmarish scenario for our heroes when Batgirl is murdered by the Scarecrow, leading to Commissioner Gordon turning against Batman and vowing to bring him down!
A lightness of touch comes in stories such as The Man Who Killed Batman and the hilarious multi-villain tale Almost Got ‘Im, whilst those who like their Batman stories dark and broody will enjoy I Am the Night, a story that sees Batman question whether his presence is doing more harm then good when a close friend is injured in the line of duty. The two-part Robin’s Reckoning delves deep into the title character’s past in tear jerking fashion, whilst Old Wounds details the dramatic events that ultimately lead to the break-up of the Dynamic Duo’s partnership. And of course it wouldn’t be a great Batman series without some fantastic villain showcases, represented by classic episodes like Feat of Clay, Nothing to Fear, The Laughing Fish, Mad Love and Eternal Youth.
Since it began, multiple superhero cartoons have tried to usurp Batman: TAS and steal its crown! Few have come close, but even today, none have surpassed it. A genuine piece of golden age television that rivals even the greatest live action adult drama, Batman deserves to stand tall among the higher echelons of animated classics, and most definitely deserves to be seen again and again for decades to come!
This 16-disc box-set packs plenty in, though 3 out of 12 commentary tracks from the Region 1 release are notable by their absence, as is a bonus featurette on Batman’s animated evolution, which was the major set-piece in the US’s version of this complete box-set.
That said, there’s still 9 incredibly informative and enjoyable commentaries featuring Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski and a number of writers, directors and animators spread across the set, with Timm proving to be an especially involving commentator. Each packs a lot of behind the scenes information into an average 20 minute episode, and are certainly worth the purchase alone.
There’s also a number of retrospective featurettes, offering interviews with producers, voice talent and fans on a number of key topics, ranging from the show’s voices, it’s characters and even it’s legacy. Best of all though is the 1-minute pilot promo film, which helped green light the series and helped the creators sell their vision to the Network Executives. Short but incredibly revealing, it’s a fascinating piece of animation history. Much like the show itself!
Batman: The Complete Animated Series is now available on DVD, exclusively from HMV Stores.