Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Directed by: Frank Paur, Dan Riba, Kevin Altieri and Boyd Kirkland
Written by: Brynne Stephens, Len Wein, Denny O'Neil, Marty Isenberg, Robert Skir, Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Judith Reeves-Stevens, Paul Dini, etc.
Based on the characters by: Bob Kane
Produced by: Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm, Michael Uslan and Paul Dini
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Bob Hastings, Loren Lester, Robert Costranzo, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it
Throughout The Caped Crusader's illustrious career, he has appeared in not only the comic book pages and the multiplex, but on the small screen as well. Batman has been previously brought to life by Adam West as well as the animation studio Filmation. However, the most worthy television incarnation of the Dark Knight is most certainly the animated series produced by Warner in the 1990's. Batman: The Animated Series
does more than just have the famed superhero fight his Rogue Gallery of villains, but also has solving mysteries, looking into his past and even connecting with the band of villains in some sort of way. The producers, writers, animators, directors and actors all contributed a piece of pie to make this not only one of the most enjoyable animated series, but also one of the most fascinating series on television ever. Even though Christopher Nolan's recent blockbuster The Dark Knight
did a terrific job at bringing the Caped Crusader some much deserved respect on the big screen, Batman: The Animated Series
still remains quite possibly the best version of Bob Kane's classic character.
Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) is a millionaire playboy who lost his parents at a very young age. To keep both himself and the city of Gotham sane, he becomes the superhero Batman aka The Dark Knight. He is aided by his trusted butler Alfred (Efren Zimbalist Jr) and sometimes by his sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson (Loren Lester). As the season begins, he is also joined by newcomer Batgirl (Melissa Gilbert), who unusually only re-appears in the set's final episode "Batgirl Returns." Throughout these 29 episodes, Batman fights many foes including the comical but homicidal Joker (Mark Hamill), his main henchwoman/girlfriend Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin), the forever scarred District Attorney Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Richard Moll) and the schizophrenic gangster Scarface (George Dzundza), among others. Every day, there is a new villain in Gotham City and Batman and Robin are the only ones who can save the day.
Part of the main appeal of Batman is that even though he is a rich millionaire who fights crime in a bat-suit, there's something about him that's relatable and he shows us that it's best to help rather than to let things be before they get worse. In the animated series especially, his detective instincts come to the forefront a lot and he becomes almost like a darker version of Sherlock Holmes with Robin as his Watson. Part of the success is the writing on the series, most notably by Paul Dini, who works on a large number of episodes here and they are usually the best ones on the set. Some of the best and most exciting chapters in the volume involve the main two criminals from the Rogue Gallery, the Joker and Harley Quinn. The Joker, voiced with both plenty of menace and cheerfulness by Mark Hamill, is a fascinating character as he proves to be both extremely charming and yet quite a scary figure as well.
However, it is Harley Quinn that trumps the Joker as the best and most entertaining villain on the animated series. Created especially for the show by Paul Dini, Harley Quinn has two major episodes devoted to her and they are the best on this box-set. "Harlequinade" has the un-canny teaming-up of the kooky Quinn with the straight-faced Batman and soon she faces the decision to do the right thing or to stay with her beloved "Mr J." Another incredibly enjoyable Harley Quinn-centered episode is "Harley's Holiday" in which the character is freed from Arkham Asylum ready to lead a normal life again, but her plans don't end up working as well as she hoped. What sets Harley Quinn apart from the average villain is not just the fact that she is rather likeable, but also because she actually has a love for the Joker that equally hilarious, scary and cute at the same time. While The Scarecrow and Scarface are villains we take great pride in cheering for Batman to stop, Harley has an innocence to her that makes one understand why the Caped Crusader is not as hard on her as he is to his other arch enemies.
Other noteworthy episodes on this set include "Trial" and "Second Chance." The former has Batman held trial by the Rogue Gallery wondering whether it's because of him that they turned to a life of crime. The result proves to be both very funny and gripping, especially when seeing Joker, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy working together to bring down the Dark Knight. "Second Chance" is more dramatic than action-packed as we see Batman knowing that there is still good in Harvey Dent and that one day he can return back to his normal self. One meaningful scene where Bruce Wayne actually meets his old scarred buddy proves to be quite touching as well, as it shows that Two-Face isn't as corrupt as the Joker or the Riddler. If there is a weak episode on the set, it's "Showdown" and not just because it barely even features Batman, but also because it deals with the most dull villain the Caped Crusader has ever faced: Ra's Al Ghul. Despite his importance on Bruce Wayne's past, his episodes feel like filler and "Showdown" is the most boring of the bunch, despite the guest casting of Malcolm McDowell.
Nonetheless, even when the episodes are less than perfect, there are still plenty of aspects that excel. The animation is brilliantly, especially the backgrounds. The series gives the buildings a nice-looking 1930's look with 90's technology thrown in, making it perfect for Batman to jump around the buildings. Shirley Walker's musical compositions for the series are also some of the best for an animated series. She notes in one of the disc's commentaries that she has the music archived somewhere and personally, it would be fantastic if they were released on CD sometime. Even when Danny Elfman's terrific theme music becomes no longer used near the end of the volume, Walker still provides a nice moody music that fits perfectly with Batman and Robin's adventures. The voice work is also worth noting, particularly the work from Kevin Conway who gives the perfect sense of mystery to the Batman character and succeeding in setting him apart from the Bruce Wayne character. Mark Hamill's portrayal of the Joker is perfection as he gets the character down, even providing him with a wonderfully villainous, yet humourous laugh that's unforgettable. Arleen Sorkin's work as Harley Quinn adds to the innocence to the character and makes her even more charming to the audience. In the end, she is simply a girl who is facing the wrong side of the tracks but still enjoying the craziness of being with her "pudding." Batman: The Animated Series
is a smart, well-written and incredibly entertaining series that should be a must-see for anybody who is a fan of Batman or even those who are completely new to the Caped Crusader's stories.
Warner Home Video provides a decent image of the series, although it doesn't appear to be completely restored as a bit of groan does appear. The sound work is phenomenal, especially in regards to the music and punching sound effects. In regards to extras, a nice amount is provided. A informative featurette is on Disc 1 that looks at how the writers slowly evolved Barbara Gordon into Batgirl without falling into much problems. It's a nice watch. The best features are the three commentaries, provided by the writers and producers along with Shirley Walker, on the set. There are audio commentaries for the episodes "Read my Lips" and "Harlequinade" as well as a video commentary for "House and Garden." All three give plenty of fascinating information and it is especially nice to hear the creators watch the episodes nostalgically much like as anybody from that golden era of television animation will, when re-visiting these episodes. Overall, the third volume of Batman: The Animated Series
is a wonderful set of episodes that serve as a nice introduction to the Caped Crusader and even without watching the previous two volumes (though those are highly recommended as well), this is a box-set that is definitely worth picking up.