Batman TAS Retrospective #1 : On Leather Wings

As Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment prepare to unleash the final Christopher Nolan chapter in his Batman trilogy with Dark Knight Rises this summer, let’s not forget another milestone this year in the Batman universe. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of Batman : The Animated Series, the series that not only brought mature and sophisticated storytelling to an animated show, but set the stage for countless other DC properties to make animated debuts.

To celebrate this occasion, I’m putting aside the 10,000 other things I have on my Netflix queue to share with you my reviews of every single episode of the acclaimed show. Enjoy!

One would think setting up your first episode with Man-Bat as the villain is a risky venture to try and get your show off and running. Bruce Timm though, a name you’d get to know very well over the next 20 years, said this best in an interview:

“Man-Bat was chosen specifically [for the first episode] because he wasn’t familiar to very many people outside of comic book fans. Nobody had any preconceived notions about him. It wasn’t like the Joker, where you had to deal with people expecting him to be Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero.”

And right you are, Mr. Timm. Looking back at it now, this was the best way to set the tone for what’s to come. Sure, the iconic villains would eventually come into play, but this episode was about letting you know what Batman really personified – a lone detective finding any means necessary to get the case solved without resorting to killing. And I think using that premise to find out who the Man-Bat was played out very well. Not to mention it probably scared the bejesus out of little kids who were expecting lighter fare that you’d come to expect out of a weekday afternoon cartoon at the time.

And while it didn’t resort to killing, this was the first time you’d see a cartoon willfully used guns. Remember before this period that any action-oriented cartoons you had on resorted to lasers as the weapons of choice. And even when your plane was shot down or your tank blew up, you’d find a way to parachute or leap out of the way before the explosions went off.

Yes, parachuting and leaping was still somewhat common in Batman, only the actions sequences were much more intense and in your face. You had a visual masterpiece with Batman clinging onto Man-Bat as they soared through Gotham’s dark skyline. Batman ends up smacking his face on a Gotham blimp. He even bleeds once he finally takes down the fallen antagonist on a rooftop.

And we also got to see Batman’s key supporting characters set up as well. Commissioner Gordon wanted things done right and by the book, Harvey Bullock was the rebel, and Harvey Dent plays it fair for the short time he has left before his fall from grace.

This set the stage for what was to come. I didn’t give this an episode much thought at the time when you compare it to its 84 other siblings, but looking at it now, it did a great job on selling the audience on a comic book property that can be taken seriously, especially in animated form. Kudos to the team for getting this off the ground right.

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