Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Re-Animated #10: Batman: the Animated Series

Up until now I've been using the "Re-Animated" series to build a cohesive story of adult animation from the debut of "The Simpsons" to the present day.  It hasn't been perfect, and if you've been following along you'll notice some holes in the story, some bigger than others.  It was always my intent, though, to finish that singular storyline in 2016 and then go back in later years to fill in some of the holes and maybe even stretch my legs a bit and cover some other, not-strictly-adult shows.

Today, though, I'm going to switch things up a little bit.  While perusing the internet a few days ago I came across the series bible for "Batman: the Animated Series."  It gave me a hankering to talk about "BTAS" on the blog, but instead of just a random post, it certainly seems to fit in the wheelhouse of "Re-Animated" so I'm adding it to that series.  So that's why this post will seem a bit out of order if you've been following along.

"BTAS" (isn't it a shame they didn't call it "Batman: Animated Television Series" or something considering the acronym?) is, in its own way, probably as important as "The Simpsons" to animation, though its influence is felt more in children's programming than adult (although, yes, it was very impactful on adult animation as well.)

I'll try to set the scene as briefly as a windbag like myself can.  The '80s saw a glut of children's cartoon programming based on toys.  Saturday mornings were basically about selling toys and cereal, and while there were exceptions, most shows were just shoddy, barely-concealed marketing ploys.  To put it bluntly, cartoons were crummy, and the general consensus in Hollywood was that kids were dumb and didn't give a shit and would watch anything put before them.

Now, before I get a lot of angry e-mails and comments from people my age, I want to point out that I made the caveat there were indeed good shows that came out of this muck.  No, I wasn't talking about whatever your favorite show that you're about to bring up is.  However, I will also recommend that using the amazing power of looking at things through not the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, you go on Netflix or Hulu and check out that show that you remember watching so fondly as an eight-year-old.  Come back and let me know how it is now that you're in your thirties.

The second thing you have to understand, and this is going to be the tougher frame of mind to put yourself into, is that superheroes weren't a thing.  Superman and Batman were the most popular superheroes in the world.  There had been a few Superman movies in the '70s, and Batman had finally been brought to the big screen in 1989 for a smash bit by Tim Burton, followed up with the sequel "Batman Returns" in 1992.  Outside of that, though, there was nothing.  I'll put it to you this way: nobody knew who Iron Man was.  They certainly weren't clamoring for his sixth movie.

So, based on the success of the Batman movies, Warner Brothers was essentially gambling that an adaptation of a popular movie would make for good crap programming for kids.  It wasn't a big gamble, considering the popularity of Batman, but bear in mind that we're talking about a time when superheroes weren't everywhere, kid's animation was crap, and adapting movies into animated series was commonplace.  All the ingredients were there for a forgettable hunk of junk a la the "Men in Black" cartoon series, the "Godzilla" cartoon series, or any of dozens of other examples.

So imagine how shocked everyone was when "BTAS" turned out to be good.  And not just good, but damn good.  Damn damn damn good.  "BTAS" had excellent writing, beautiful artwork, and incredible voice acting.  One thing that made it stand out from the bunch was that everyone just seemed to give a shit.  The people behind the scenes could have made "Bat Superhero-Themed Show Targeted at the Cereal-Buying Demographic #17" and probably met the criteria of what Warner Brothers had asked of them, but they didn't.  They made a show that was psychologically complex and beautifully elegant.  It was better than most of the adult shows made at that time.

As I implied above, I've gone back and watched some of the stuff I used to love as a kid, and, dear God, so much of it is literally unwatchable.  I can understand now why my parents didn't have the same verve for "Camp Candy" or "Captain N: The Game Master" that I did.  I have also gone back and re-watched "BTAS."  I will admit it seems less epic than it did when I was a kid.  I remember those 22 minutes seeming like sitting down for a summer blockbuster every day.  Divorced of commercials and the inexperience of youth, it seems more like any other half-hour television show.  Aside from that, though, the quality really stands up.

So, let's finally talk about what inspired me to write this post.  If you're a cartoon freak like me, you probably already devoured that show bible I linked to earlier in the post (and linked here again for your convenience.)  It's really not as long as it seems, by the way - a solid 75% of it is just animation cels.

What I found fascinating was all of the plot points that were in the bible that never made it into the show.  There was a lot of talk of Batman actively making Bruce Wayne look not just inept, but rather villainous.  He was to be the Martin Shrekli of Gotham, essentially, not an actively malicious person but one so greedy and ignorant that poor people would hate him.

As actually depicted in "BTAS," I always thought of Bruce (when he was "on") as more of an absent-minded professor than a greedy jerk.  I can certainly understand why those plans never made it into the show - it's not a great idea to undercut your hero, even if you consider his alter ego a distinct and manufactured person.

Also interesting was all the focus on Alfred being a trickster, delighting in making the Bruce Wayne alter ego look bad as well as faking Batman sightings in Gotham when Bruce Wayne is abroad and vice versa.  Alfred certainly had a dry sense of humor, but this is very much not the Alfred depicted in the show, who is overall a bit geekier than some of his more recent "edgy" depictions, but overall pretty level-headed and a down-to-earth foil for a character who's a billionaire and a superhero.

There are some villains and suggested plots that never got made (some with good reason) and others that, as outlined in the bible, were recognizably adapted into a different but similar episode of the series.  I was also surprised that Renee Montoya and Summer Gleeson were outlined in such detail in the bible.  I mean, I remember the characters, but it's funny how each of the characters kind of found their own level of importance in the show.  Summer Gleeson ended up being a barely-there talking head, while I gather the original intention was to focus on her attempts to unmask Batman in a non-villainous capacity.  It's not hard to see why that sounded like an interesting idea for the show, but it's also not hard to see why it never quite panned out.

So, anyway, that's my take on both "BTAS" and how it compared to its original conception.  Let me know your own thoughts in the comments below!

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