Paul Dini and Chip Kidd, Batman Animated
(DC Comics, 1998; re-released by Harper Entertainment, 2004)

We in this household have been watching the Warner Brothers DVD release of the animated Batman series covered in Batman Animated one or two episodes at a time for a few months now. There's at least three more animated Batman series which were done later than Batman: The Animated Series -- Batman: Gotham Knights, Batman Beyond and the current show, The Batman. The Batman and Batman Beyond are respectively the series that deal with Bruce Wayne as the young Batman and Bruce Wayne as Batman no longer -- as he has grown old and quite crippled -- but rather as mentor to a new Batman, a teen named Terrence 'Terry' McGinnis. Interestingly enough, all three versions of Gotham bear little resemblance to each other. Pay attention to that as Batman Animated spends a great deal of time talking about Gotham as a character in the Batman series, and it definitely is that!

(Quibble time. Batman Beyond is not covered here beyond a one-page teaser drawing of the 'Terry' McGinnis Batman. That series went off the air in first-run episodes nearly four years ago. One suspects that it's time for a revised edition! Now, coverage of Batman: Gotham Knights is better, but the bulk of the material here is on the first series, which most fans will sate unequivocally is the best of the series to date. I won't disagree.)

I remember watching the episodes when they aired on network television over a decade ago, with the commercials chopping them up so badly that, though better than nearly everything else airing at that time, they were virtually unwatchable. So it was a lovely delight when they were re-released on DVD recently. But I am not reviewing the DVDs today as only two of the three sets being released are out as of this date. Instead I'm looking at Batman Animated, an in-depth look at the series that any fan of Batman, or indeed of film noir, should purchase immediately!

Batman Animated is a lavishly illustrated commentary by Paul Dini, writer on the series, and Chip Kidd, the author of Batman Collected, which is possibly the most fanatical look at the various products -- from soap dispensers to action figures -- based on the Batman franchise. (My favorite action figure of this ilk is the Batman from the currently airing Justice League Unlimited animated series. On the other hand, the action figure for The Batman series doesn't work for me at all even though I like the series itself.) Bruce Timm, producer for this series and Batman Beyond, provides the introduction.

It's very obvious from Batman Animated that Batman: The Animated Series was a labor of love for everyone involved. To quote the definitive Web site for this series:

In 1992, the birth of Warner Bros. Batman: The Animated Series changed the Batman Universe forever. The dynamic series spawned a new technique in animation using black backgrounds that would eventually be dubbed 'Dark Deco.' Dark Deco gave every scene within Gotham an extraordinary look, redefining the image of the city. The series also revamped the classic characters, casting a unique perspective on their origins and personalities. The series included all the popular characters and even created some new ones. The most significant change was the transformation of the Dick Grayson/Robin character in the 'new' 90's costume, resulting in a hipper more adult representation which the character has never seen. The Batman character continued to embody the dark image fans have come to love while maintaining the heroic qualities identified with the character....

Everything about this series was a stunner, from the voice characterizations which were spot on, to the animation which worked so well that everything seemed as real as it could possibly be.

So how good is Batman Animated? Very, very good indeed. It is not an understatement to say this is a behind-the-scenes look at a show that revolutionized television animation in a way that no other show has. It may not have been the best animation done to date, as I'd nominate both Reboot and Shadow Raiders, two series done by Mainframe, a Canadian animation house, as being technically better, but this series is one that captures the American noir detective genre. This book gives you the process that went into creating that feel. For me, what made this work was the layout, which included both never-before-published pre-production and finished artwork, so that I could get a feel for how the characters and the setting evolved. (Digression time. The first DVD set of Batman: The Animated Series has the original trailer that was put together to sell the series to the WB executives. A pre-production sketch of the two two hoodlums fleeing across the rooftop in the sequence is here. That entire sequence opens each episode of the series!) The book makes it very clear that this Batman is a distillation of the almost infinite permutations of Batmans that have been since he was created by Bob Kane for his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in May of 1939. Kane's concept, as they put it here, of 'a nightmarish world populated by criminal freaks of every description' is here too, but so is a smart, intelligent city well-described by the illustrators and writers. As I noted before, Gotham as a character is dealt with in detail here. From the commentary here, it's clear that Gotham is as much the star as Batman is. There's a lot of text and illustration devoted to Gotham. Now I wish, as I noted above, that they'd updated this book, as the later two series show radically different views of Gotham!

(Digressing again. I actually like the Gotham in The Batman series, as it looks very Victorian, more dated. This one suffers slightly from being framed in a 1930s Art Deco look, an architectural style I never found all that appealing. The least interesting Gotham is the futuristic version in Batman Beyond but that's most likely because I suffer from a neo-Gernsbackian allergy to depictions of future cities, having read too much science fiction.)

But let's not forget the characters in Batman: The Animated Series, as they flesh out the action set in this Gotham. Needless to say, the two characters that get the most examination are the Batman himself in his dual role of masked vigilante and millionaire playboy, and the Joker. Kevin Conroy, not an actor you'll likely know, was a last gasp choice for those roles after no else worked Likewise, the Joker was cast at the last moment, with Mark Hamill filling that manic role. The voice casting process as depicted here is amusingly funny. Keep in mind that dozens of characters, some recurring such as Alfred Pennyworth the ever-so-sarcastic butler who was voiced by Efrem Zimbalist Jr, and some who only appear once or twice -- such as the Tim Curry-voiced character called the Henchman who only showed up in the Fear of Victory' episode -- had to be cast. It's amazing that they produced over a hundred episodes!

Each major character and the process that went into creating them -- and some not terribly funny looks at what the censors didn't like about the characters and what they did -- is here, as is a full listing of the episodes with credits for damn near everyone involved. (Minor quibble -- Andrea Romano, who did the voice casting, gets short shrift here. She should have gotten more credit!) Oh, did I mention the shots of the cool action figures done for the series? I want a not so small bank loan to purchase one of the very limited Harley Quinns that was done. I particularly like the bomb she's holding behind her back! Though I wouldn't turn down the 'Machine Gun' Joker that Jenner produced in 1997 either!

Ok, I'll stop babbling here. If you like Batman at all, you'll want this book. And go get your own copies of the DVDs of Batman: The Animated Series now as they are a perfect match to this book. Now excuse as I now have the jones for watching a few hours of the series!

[Cat Eldridge]