Rememblog #3: How Batman: The Animated Series Gave Me A Hero
I want to start off by making it very clear that this is not some tragic tale of how I came to some sort of realisation or overcame some horrible event. I did not get through grief or alcoholism or loss by watching Batman: The Animated Series. I just gained a lifelong love of the character because of it.
So, that little addendum aside, let’s really get into the meat of the matter. Kids get a lot out of media. They take their heroes and villains, their codes of behaviour and their ideas of how things work and, to some degree at least, put these into place in the real world. And while some kids found their idols on football fields or at concerts, I happened to find mine on the small screen, watching as the DC animated universe unveiled what was, nominally, a kid’s show but delved so much darker and went so much further than anything else. Batman: The Animated Series did that wonderful thing of refusing to treat the children that were its audience like kids, instead trusting in them to understand and appreciate and grow with the show.
The art was superb, the tone gritty and the writing superb. Aside from a few pointedly child-friendly episodes, the show never condescended to its viewership, instead concentrating on producing high quality stories with some truly superb acting. The character of Batman has rarely been so vivid as in The Animated Series. It didn’t hurt of course that the show happened to have some truly stellar voice casting. Not only was the excellent Kevin Conroy stepping behind the mic as the Dark Knight himself but Mark goddamn Hamill took on the voice of the Joker. The work of two such actors cemented their portrayals as, in many ways, the definitive forms of the characters. After all, if nothing else, it was Conroy that first differentiated the voices of Bruce Wayne and Batman.
It’s no small feat to make your interpretation of classic characters the definitive version for a by no means small audience. And when the pair returned for Arkham Origins and Arkham Asylum, it was a more than welcome return to the dynamic of old. Batman has what is quite possibly the greatest of Rogues’ Galleries and the Joker certainly stands out as one of the greatest villains in the comicbook canon. No hero can be truly great without a great villain and in B:TAS the villains certainly got their due. The show didn’t just make us assume the intentions of our protagonist, it gave us clear opposition. We learnt not just from Batman’s own code but his actions in defiance of what is arguable as, particularly in the case of the Joker, pure evil.
It’ s somewhat hard to put into words just how and why someone makes such an impact on you. For me though, it always came down to one simple truth. Despite all odds, Batman stood for justice. No matter who it was, he fought to defend the innocents of his city, protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves. No matter what insane scheme his villains may cook up next, he was able to head out into Gotham each night and put himself in harm’s way to make sure that no one ever suffered because someone wasn’t there to help them. As a kid, and somewhat of a geeky one at that, that rather obviously struck a chord. It was good to know that, even if it was in fiction, someone stood against the dark.
Batman: The Animated Series gave me a figure to look up to that was near mythic in qualities and possessed of all the qualities that one could desire in a hero. Superheroes can be seen to fill the role of new gods, creating a pop culture religion if you will. But Batman was always just a man, no matter how many advantages he may have had. There was the idea that this was someone that you could be, that you could put a simple humanistic faith in. In a form that I could become enraptured by as a child and delve into as an adult, Batman: The Animated Series gave me everything I needed in a hero, providing a gateway to a character that I have never lost touch with, an icon to look at and learn from. My own story may not be one of tragedy and darkness but, in watching Batman’s, I was able to take a little bit of the strength he showed and carry it through life. Batman: The Animated Series gave a look at a world where, despite everything, the heroes could beat back the darkness and the bad and it did so in a way that never pretended it was going to be easy. It wasn’t just a cartoon, it was a freaking life lesson.