Okay, so I’m a few days late on this, but in my defense, I’ve been sick and updating this blog hasn’t been my priority. Sorry for the impromptu hiatus, small, tiny batch of readers, I’ll try to be better about this.
A few days ago marked BtAS’s 20th anniversary. How kooky is that?! This show came out when I was…*quickly runs to go do some math* eight! Eight years old, when this show started airing.
My memories of my initial watch are fuzzy, sadly, in so much as I can’t remember when I started watching or what episodes I caught as a kid. Flicks of myself sitting, rapt, in front of the television in our kitchen, enjoying an after school snack (pretzels in peanut butter and some soda, says the girl who eats her feelings!), or curled up on our living room couch, watching a show that I was probably a little too young for.
This was a show that was definitely meant for the comics fans (I would start reading three years later), and while it was marketed as a kid’s cartoon, it definitely was made to hold up for adults.
One episode I remember watching and being supremely terrified of, Was Feat of Clay, where the creators introduced Clayface to the fray, depicting Matthew Hagen, a past-his-prime actor who was putting an experimental drug on his face to reshape it after a car accident. He winds up in trouble with the wrong people and they force-feed him the stuff after a frame-up job goes awry.
I had been eight years old for ten days when that episode aired, and twenty years later, I still shiver at the thought of those scenes, but I also remember the other things it introduced me to.
While I love Batman, Bruce has never been my favorite bat-family character, even then. He was a hero, a symbol of justice, but even in the cartoon, there were other characters I loved more: Dick Grayson (though the jovial, redhead-loving comics version is much more fun), Barbara Gordon (which would start a long-running love of all things Batgirl), and an extremely sassy Alfred Pennyworth (the best kind of Alfred Pennyworth), not to mention a Rogues Gallery that introduced me to the likes of the Joker, the Scarecrow, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul.
Don’t let anyone tell you good villains are non-essential to effective storytelling, even in a (supposed) kid’s show. Because without them, Batman’s just a freak in a bat costume running on rooftops.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this show was setting me up to have high standards of storytelling. It’s no wonder other cartoon shows seemed to often pale in comparison. No other show at the time could boast the amount of thought and care put into its heroes, its plot, its villains. Even side characters like Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya got some time in the spotlight.
As someone who sells comics for a living, I know that the books often walk a fine line between being wildly inappropriate for younger kids (No, eight-year-old boy, you can’t read The Boys. Do you have any idea how many blow-jobs are in that book? Where are your parents?!) and being just grown-up enough to be enticing to them. They want to read the stuff they know might be just a little over their heads because they want to feel grown-up, and BtAS walked that line really well for a long time.
It also spawned the rest of the DC Animated Universe. After Batman, came the Superman Adventures, and then Batman: Beyond, and after that Static Shock, JLA and Justice League: Unlimited; all shows that take place in their own world in connection with each other, allowing for crossovers, and callbacks, just like comics of the time.
Batman: The Animated Series started it all.
So big thank you’s and hugs for Bruce Tim, Paul Dini, and all the writers and animators, not to mention Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and rest of the voice actors. You have ruined me for other Batman cartoons.
I’m okay with that.