A few years ago, my friends gifted me seasons 1 & 2 of Batman: The Animated Series for my birthday. They know me very well because this television show is, in my honest opinion, quite frankly one of the best programs ever to have been put on television.
Yeah, it was the 90’s, so maybe the animation isn’t up to your modern standards, but trust me when I emphasize the amazing awesomeness of this show. It was a great Batman iteration with legitimately well crafted, fully realized characters and interesting, complex narratives. You must see this program before you die, and after re-watching a few episodes this weekend felt like writing on it. As always SPOILERS ahead.
So modern pop culture has been inundated of late with various variations of Batman, most notable the blockbuster Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. But most of the interpretations tend to be hyperbolic and utterly without nuance focusing on the violence, toys, or seeming insanity of the character. For some reason, the animated series have always done a better job of truly exploring the Batman and his world than the films or live action franchises.
The best part of any superhero is the rogue’s gallery, aka the villains that are truly considered the greatest enemies that the hero faces. For Superman his rogue’s gallery consists of Darkseid, Lex Luthor, etc. For Wonder Woman, Morgana, Ares, etc. would make up her arch nemeses. For Batman, the obvious choices are the Joker, Bane, Two-Face, Catwoman, etc. However, what really makes worthy villains and enemies is when they go beyond simple caricatures and inform the audience and public about the true nature of the hero. This is never more apparent than when examining the villains and rogues of the Batman: Animated Series universe.
Batman is not supposed to be a near invincible brute who can pummel any foe into submission or acquire a new toy for when the occasion calls for it; he is supposed to be a force of hope and salvation for the down trodden and weak, a victim of unfortunate circumstances who wants nothing more than to ensure his tragedy is no one else’s. His charity and goodwill does not stop at the people of Gotham as he extends himself unto his enemies as well. Pretty much every episode involves one of Batman’s nemesis at the forefront with the narrative revolving around them. However, it is not some foolish story about money or simple vengeance. Instead, we, through Batman, are encouraged to empathize with and understand the villain’s motivations and true nature. There are never excuses for their actions, but there are reasons for them. In essence, villains and enemies, basically anyone, are fully realized individuals worthy of empathy, understanding, and dignity. Honestly, look at virtually any episode and you will see this; from Mr. Freeze to Catwoman to Penguin to Harley Quinn to even Joker, they all have intrigue and humanity.
Beyond the villains, Batman himself is treated like an actual person and not some poor excuse for a plot device. He legitimately struggles with the notion of living a dual life and trying to genuinely find a balance between the two. As well, he actually uses his money for charitable and scientific endeavors that would in theory benefit the people of Gotham instead of, you know, blowing up the major railway system and never fixing it *cough* Fuck you, Batman Begins *cough*. Early in the series, there is an episode where Bruce Wayne, under the influence of fear gas by Scarecrow, worries over the legacy of the Wayne name and whether his family would approve of the trajectory of his life. It is a great episode because we see more than just the mask but the man beneath it who at times suffers at the cost of wearing it. Superheroes are both the hero and the human underneath the costume; ignore one and you lose half a character along with intrigue and possibility. Most of us are more than one thing and we risk our happiness and sanity; ironically, much like Batman.
Truthfully, I could go on and on about this amazing show, but frankly you should explore its awesomeness on your own because it really is the best presentation of Batman, his enemies, and the true core psychology and heart of the Batman mythos and universe I have ever seen.
Thus endeth today’s lesson.
P.S. For one last taste: