Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin -- Batman: The Animated Series - Volume 1

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly viewing of something in my DVD/Blu-Ray/VHS library, and I blog about it, because I need some way of justifying why I spend so much time inside watching TV.  After finishing my run through all 12 Star Trek movies, it was time for a little pallet-cleanser, so I settled on Volume 1 of Batman: The Animated Series.  This appears in my notes at May 27, 2013.

Ah, Batman: The Animated Series.  Regarded by many as one of the greatest cartoons ever made.  Critically lauded as the best adaptation of the Batman mythology ever to grace the screen.  And of course, I am a fan.

It's origins are humble enough.  In the early 1990s, Warner Brothers Animation received a shot in the arm thanks to the success of Tiny Toon Adventures.  So all the animators were called into a meeting one day, where the brass laid out all the properties that were currently available for adaptation into animation.  The animators were encourage to take these properties and see what they could come up with.  On that list was Batman.  Bruce Timm, one of the animators and a life long Batman fan, went back to his desk and started sketching Batman.  Another animator, Eric Radomski, also a Batman fan, when back to his desk and started sketching Gotham City cityscapes.  When they both presented their sketches, the brass said, "I like your Batman design and your Gotham City designs.  Work together on this."  And work they did.  Eventually they brought in the other producers, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett to form the brain trust, and Batman: The Animated Series was born. 

Batman: The Animated Series has been released on DVD, spread out over 4 volumes.  I got volumes 2 and 3 out of a discount bin a few years ago for the shockingly good deal of $10 each.  However, I felt I also needed volumes 1 and 4 to complete the set.  And searching around online, I saw they shot back up to the suggested retail price of $60.  So, about a month ago, when I bought DC's latest straight-to-DVD movie, Superman Unbound, and saw I needed just another $5 to get the free shipping from Amazon, I went to my wish list and found that Batman: Volume 1 had been marked down to $20.  Not as good a deal as $10, but I could live with it.  So I added it to my shopping cart.

I spent the past weekend binge-watching volume 1, and in a way, that's the best way for me to watch it.  See, when Batman: The Animated Series first came on in 1992, I didn't get it.  But my grandparents did.  So I implored them to record it for me.  And, every couple of months or so, I'd get two or three VHS tapes from my Oma just stuffed full of Batman: The Animated Series.  And I'd spend a weekend binging on them.

One reason why I needed to get volume 1 is because it has pretty much all the Scarecrow episodes.  Those episodes are:

Nothing to Fear - Scarecrow's origin story.

Fear of Victory - Scarecrow is rigging sporting events by drugging star athletes with an adrenaline-activated version of his fear toxin.  Complications ensue when Robin gets infected.  

Dreams in Darkness - Probably the best one.  Infected with the most potent form of Scarecrow's fear toxin yet, Batman is rendered delusional and locked away in Arkham Asylum.  Batman must fight through the hallucinations and escape from Arkham before the Scarecrow's master plan comes to fruition. 

There's other great highlights, like Joker's Favor (first appearance of Harley Quinn), Pretty Poison (origin of Poison Ivy), The Underdwellers (the Batman version of Oliver Twist, as Batman takes on a Fagin-like villains who's abducting young runaways and abusing them), The Forgotten (an amnesic Bruce Wayne is abducted and becomes slave labour in a crime lord's gold mine), and Feat of Clay (origin of Clayface).  Let's see...my top 5 on this set would be:

5)  Mad as a Hatter - Their retelling of the origin of the Mad Hatter.  Jervis Tetch is a brilliant yet awkward neurologist with a love of Alice in Wonderland and a crush on Alice, a woman who works in his office.  Using his newly developed mind control technology, he begins committing crimes to impress Alice.  When Alice gets engaged, this drives Tetch over the edge and he uses his tech to abduct Alice.  And it's up to Batman to save the day. 

4)  See No Evil - Batman takes on a petty thief who's discovered an invisibility suit.  Something about this one just pushes my buttons the right way.  Luscious score by series composer Shirley Walker. 

3)  Beware the Grey Ghost - Gotham City is under siege by a rash of mysterious bombings.  Batman realizes that the bombings follow an episode of The Grey Ghost, a TV superhero that young Bruce Wayne would watch with his father...and wound up becoming one of Bruce Wayne's inspirations for Batman.  Since all episodes have been lost thanks to an archive fire, Batman reaches out to the actor who played the Grey Ghost, Simon Trent, for help.  Trent even dons the old Grey Ghost costume to take down the villain along side Batman.  And very nerdtacular in that Simon Trent is voiced by Adam West.

2)  Heart of Ice - Their dramatic re-invention of Mr. Freeze, which was instantly adopted by DC Comics as Mr. Freeze's official origin, and has become regarded as one of the greatest Batman stories ever.  Originally, Mr. Freeze was just a mad scientist with a freezing gun.  But in this episode, he was turned into a meek scientist whose wife was killed by a ruthless corporate executive, and he sets out to gain his vengeance. 

1)  Two-Face (parts 1 and 2) - Their re-telling of the origin of Two-Face.  Since  his comic book origin does involve an abusive father, it was very interesting to see how they toned it down for Saturday morning.  In their Saturday morning version, young Harvey Dent beat the tar out of a bully when he was a kid, and sent that bully to the hospital.  Feeling guilty over this, Harvey began repressing all his anger, hatred and negative emotions.  The side effect was it eventually turned into another personality, the evil and twisted Big Bad Harv.  Crime boss Rupert Thorne gets his hands on Dent's psychiatric file and tries to blackmail Dent, but a fight ensues, Batman shows up, there's an explosion, and Dent is forever disfigured.  Becoming Two-Face, he vows to gain his vengeance on Thorne.  I'd put this right up there with Heart of Ice as a brilliant re-invention of the character. 

And that's Batman.  I'm going to have to get Volume 4 now to complete the set, but at least I'm on my way!

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