Directed by Bruce Timm
Starring Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill
- “Life on the Edge” game
- Conversations with Bruce Timm
- How-to-draw Batman
- Five episodes
Released by: Warner Brothers.
Rating: Suitable for 7+
Anamorphic: N/A; presented in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Rent it.
It’s hard to believe that Batman: The Animated Series premiered a decade ago, injecting new life into the superhero cartoon genre and American animation in general. Not to mention revitalizing the Batman character by returning to the essential elements of the series: detective work, dark urban settings, and a hero with decidedly creepy streak. The series also served to define the aesthetic of the Timm/Dini creative team, a style that would carry through several seasons of Batman, a Superman cartoon series, and into the new Justice League show for Cartoon Network.
[ad#longpost]This disc collects five of the early episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, providing a great introduction to fans of the series, or comic geeks that were living under a rock throughout the 90s. The episodes run a quick tour of some of the more prominent Batman villains, including the Joker (naturally), Poison Ivy, Man-Bat, and Scarecrow. Also introduced are the major supporting players in the Batman universe, including a pre-Two-Face Harvey Dent and an episode with the Boy Wonder, Robin.
The stories are decent enough, though the Joker episode “The Last Laugh” is a little weak (a fact that Timm admits to in the accompanying interview). While a decent selection of shows, it seems that the emphasis was more on presenting a cross-section of major characters than on presenting the very best story-telling of the first season. “On Leathery Wings,” the very first episode, is a classic, and “Christmas with the Joker,” while a bit goofy, is pretty good stuff. “Pretty Poison” is fairly weak in terms of story, and ony seems to have been included to introduce Poison Ivy.
Coming from so early in the show’s life, there’s a definite sense that some of these characters weren’t fully developed in the minds of the series writers and animators, and this is particularly noticeable in Mark Hamill’s voicework on the Joker, and the animation of the Scarecrow. Fans of the series will notice the difference in these details from later episodes, when the look and sound of all the characters had been thoroughly defined. One thing that these early episodes have better than later ones is the interaction between Bruce and Alfred. In these early episodes, the sense that Batman depends heavily on Alfred is made clear, and Alfred gets a few shining moments (particularly in “Nothing to Fear”).
Extras are slim, though the short interviews with Timm that accompany each episode help give some sense of the episodes’ larger place in the early life of Batman: The Animated Series. There isn’t, however, any discussion as to why particular episodes were chosen for inclusion in the collection, and I, for one, am curious about the selection process used. The “Life on the Edge” game is, like the rest of the “games” on these Timm/Dini animation DVDs: feeble. Using clips from the shows, you walk through a series of “a or b” questions until the end. Like playing tic-tac-toe, only without all the competitive high-drama and excitement. The “how-to-draw” segments on all the Batman and Superman discs are the same lame high-speed clips of an artist sketching a character, with no chance to follow what’s going on or actually employ it as a “how-to” segment.
So unless you’re a completist for the Timm/Dini school of animation, this disc is definitely worth seeing, but not a particularly splendid addition to a serious collector’s cabinet. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely convinced that we’re likely to see a better treatment, so if you want animated Batman on DVD, this may be the best that we get. Maybe someday American animation will show up on DVDs stacked like some of the Japanese animation that rolls out, with tons of extras and special features, and complete runs of entire seasons on disc. Until then we’re stuck with silly “games” and cardboard keepcases.