by Glenn Matchett
Remember when I said when my choice for favourite cartoon is complicated? Well it is and it isn’t. My favourite cartoon is actually all the same continuity but contains many shows with different names. Are you confused yet? Me too. Let’s start at the beginning (which I’m told is a very good place to start).
On that black and white television in the back of my mother’s agents I discovered another cartoon that stood out to me among the others. This cartoon featured a character I was familiar with thanks to movies, seeing him on lunchboxes, kid’s backpacks and many, many other places. This show was a little cartoon called ‘Batman: The Animated series’ and little did I know while watching it but it would probably change my life forever. The show featured the caped crusader going up against his many memorable foes across many great episodes. When I originally watched it I just loved it to bits, especially any episode that featured Batman going one on one with his arch nemeses the Joker. The show had many brilliant episodes that kind of stood out to me as a kid and still remain with me as an adult. Although I know that the production team was heavily censored in some respects some of the episodes could be really dark for kids television. I often wonder if episodes like ‘House and Garden’, ‘Feat Of Clay’ and ‘The Laughing Fish’ would be deemed acceptable for today’s viewing audience and am glad I don’t have to worry about it and can enjoy them and many other brilliant episodes on DVD any time I wish. This show led me to reading some of my first super hero comics in the UK reprints of the ‘Batman Adventures’ which was in the same continuity of the animated show but featured all new stories. I remember these books being bloody good but like a fool disposed of most of them when I moved house nearly 10 years ago. I would love to see DC comics reprint them in an Absolute or Omnibus format but will likely have to settle for tracking down the trades to see if they hold up but I suspect they will. Of course with youth came ignorance and many episodes not featuring the rogues and more personal stories like ‘It’s Never Too Late’ I found myself being bored by. Watching the show many years later (more on that in a second) gave me a new perspective on these episodes and I appreciated the show on another level. Not only was it ‘Yay Batman is punching someone!’ which is of course always awesome but I also saw a very deep show with many layers to it and there are fewer poor quality episodes than I have fingers on my hand. It was this show that I also really started to take note of people producing the episodes and I knew even when young if I watched an episode with Paul Dini or Alan Burnett I was in for a treat.
I could talk about many episodes but one I’d like to take special note of was one that was my favourite when I was young and remains my absolute favourite 20 minutes of television ever all these years later. The episode entitled ‘Heart Of Ice’ took a relatively silly villain in Mr. Freeze and gave him an emotional core. The story in that one episode is absolutely brilliant and deals with a villain who is actually not fully evil and sometimes you find yourself sympathising with him. The revamp of Freeze that the show did brilliantly was so popular DC comics adapted it themselves and now the mainstream Freeze is pretty much the same version as I saw in that cartoon albeit with a few tweaks here and there. Not only it is a brilliant story by Paul Dini but the direction of that episode by Bruce Timm is just brilliant.
This episode of a cartoon is done better than most real life movies or television shows and is just a joy to watch. The episode along with the show itself made me a fan of Batman for life and for that I will be eternally grateful. After a while many of the episodes began to be repeated which I didn’t mind but I wanted new episodes. I’d heard rumours of a revamp of the show with Robin taking on a new identity, Batgirl getting a bigger role and a whole new batch of episodes but they never materialised on any channel over here to my knowledge.
I do remember the beginning of the Superman Animated Series and while I did enjoy watching the few episodes I saw it did not grab my attention the same way as Batman did. I’ve never been a big fan of the man of steel as when I was young I got the impression that Superman was so powerful there was never any threat that he could overcome. I have found it hard to lose this mindset but when I came to enjoy the full run of the animated show many years later I really enjoyed it. It lacks a lot of the character Batman does but still is a great little cartoon. For many years however I was only stuck with repeats and my VHS tapes with 2 Batman episodes on them. In 1997 I went to Florida and I remember on the way home in the rather large Orlando airport going into a WB shop while killing time waiting for the plane. In the shop there was a giant television playing promos for many WB shows and one was about a younger Batman being trained by Bruce Wayne that was advertised as ‘coming soon’ and was called ‘Batman: Beyond’. I was both intrigued and wary of the prospect of the show but gave it a chance when it finally hit UK shores. The cartoon featured teenager Terry McGinnis in the role and I could tell right away this was a spinoff of the Batman cartoon I loved as Bruce Wayne was played by the same voice actor. Years later I would learn this actors name was Kevin Conroy and to me like many of the roles cast in these shows would become THE voice for the character they played. Having played Batman more than any other actor Conroy I think has cemented his legacy as the definitive Batman voice and I always find it difficult to adjust to someone else voicing the character as they never quite stand in his vast shadow. Nevertheless in the UK we only got the first season of Beyond and for some reason it was never aired again (or if it was I sure as heck couldn’t find it). I remember finding this incredibly frustrating as I greatly enjoyed the show which for all intents and purposes takes the concept of Spider-Man but does it with Batman instead and does it incredibly well.
Flash forward a few years and several brilliant animated movies later like Mask Of The Phantasm and Sub-Zero and a new show came on UK screens. Titled as Justice League the show again seemed to be in the same continuity and featured the formation and featured DC’s premier team in action. It was another show I greatly enjoyed as I was introduced to many characters I was unfamiliar with. By this time however I did not find time to keep track of the show and since Justice League would feature many two or three parters I soon lost track. By this time these shows were being released on DVD however and them not being available in the UK (they’re still not) wouldn’t stop me. Getting them all the way from the states I watched Justice League evolve before my eyes into a brilliant show that would rival the quality and performances of many real life rivals. Becoming in its later seasons ‘Justice League Unlimited’ the show featured a brilliant ongoing story and many characters I had never heard of before but soon fell in love with. This show I think is the reason I gave so many different DC comics I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying previously a chance. I wanted to see more and more of these characters and DC’s extensive collection library was all too happy to help.
This combination of shows and its many brilliant episodes, the way it inspired me and allowed me to meet some great characters is the reason why what is now known as the ‘DCAU’ is my favourite cartoon ever. Recently thanks to DVD I began watching the entire thing in chronological order and given that these shows were initially not intended to be part of one large universe it works amazingly well. I got to relive my favourite episodes of Batman on a whole new level, seen episodes I’d never seen before and enjoy the remaining episodes of Superman, JLU and Beyond I had not seen. I have one more season of Beyond to go and then the Return Of The Joker animated movie (one of my all time faves by the way) and ending on the JLU episode ‘epilogue’ for a finale. It’s great to see these shows come together and I’m sure it won’t be long before watch them again. In the first episode of Batman the animated series ‘On Leather Wings’ it featured the villain of that episode the Man-Bat flying over a GCPD blimp with only its shadow visible. At the end of Epilogue I will end on Batman flying over a GCPD airship a reflection of the same shot and I can’t wait to see it and maybe watch it all over again just for the heck of it.
These shows heavily inspired me to be a writer and the reason why I love so many of these characters, for that I can thank the likes of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini enough,
Next: Batman’s in comics too?!?!?!!?