January 1, 2019


Batman at His Gritty and Virtuous Best (BRADLEY J. BIRZER, November 27, 2018, American Conservative)

Conceived by Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, and Mitch Brian, Batman: The Animated Series (B:TAS) brought something radically and profoundly new to the character. Unlike previous incarnations, this Batman was moody, brooding, violent, conflicted, driven, and heroic from his opening moments. He did not carry shark spray, dance with go-go girls, crack one-liners, dress down Robin in moral tones, drive the Batmobile through the express window at the local fast food joint, or hire artists formerly known as Prince to write theme music.

Instead, he applied his many finely honed and inherited skills to saving his metropolis from near-certain doom. Though B:TAS drew much of its character inspiration from Frank Miller's then-recently published graphic novel masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns, it drew even more upon the Batman as re-conceived in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Denny O'Neil, Len Wein, and Neal Adams. Their Batman--remembered as the Bronze Age Batman--was first and foremost a detective in the noir and gothic traditions, searching alleys, apartments, and graveyards. As with many of the best storytellers of the last half century, Timm also found much to love in the pulps of the first half of the 20th century, especially in Doc Savage and The Shadow. [...]

Most tellingly, though, B:TAS refused to compromise when it came to storytelling and heroic virtue. B:TAS's Batman is a wonderfully intense and serious Batman, dedicating himself fully and somewhat obsessively to bettering the world of American urban grit, crime, and terror. Significantly, he is first and foremost a vigilante, though one with a strong moral and ethical set of self-imposed rules and limitations. He never kills, though he does terrorize when necessary. "Batman does not work directly with the police. He's not a member of the force or a deputized agent," the series' bible insists. Rather he's "on a one-man fight against crime."

While a billionaire, as in the traditional telling of the Batman story, Wayne is more concerned with technique and the art of deception than he is with endless gadgets. He has honed his abilities--in fighting and in perception--to the height of human capability. Gotham as a whole never knows exactly what to make of Batman, unsure of his intentions and his methods, viewing him as neither a patron saint nor a guardian angel.

Equally critical, the villains in B:TAS represent evil, not mere wrongdoing. "Our stories will be hard-edged crime dramas with villains who play for keeps," says the series' bible, which describes the bad guys as "wild, dark, and sinister." Yet, importantly, the writers never made the bad guys absurdly evil. Instead, the best of the B:TAS writers, such as Paul Dini, recognized the necessity of endowing motivation as well as depth to each. "I think the villains are really consumed with personal pain and that pain sort of stimulates a sense of the theatrical and wicked in them," he told an interviewer.

is his desire to kill Joe Chill set off against his acceptance of the strictures of civilization.

Posted by at January 1, 2019 8:49 AM