Case Number 04862

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, VOLUME 1

Warner Bros. // 1992 // 625 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // July 28th, 2004

The Charge

"I am your worst nightmare." -- The Batman

Opening Statement

I don't think Bill Finger and Bob Kane set out to create the second most popular comic icon on the planet in Batman. Who'd have guessed a playboy that never recovered from a childhood trauma would be grow into the celebrated World's Greatest Detective? Who'd have predicted the best thing to happen to man who dresses up in grey tights so he can beat up other guys would be an animated series?

Facts of the Case

After witnessing his parents' murder, Bruce Wayne trains his body and mind to the peak of perfection in order to wage a war on crime in Gotham City as the Batman. Aided by Alfred Pennyworth, his butler; Dick Grayson, his ward and sidekick (AKA Robin); and Police Commissioner James Gordon, Batman fights a cadre of freaks, menaces, and organized crime.

Drawing heavily from its comic book roots, Batman: The Animated Series hit the airwaves following the successes Batman and Batman Returns. Mirroring the films darker, timeless look, Batman: The Animated Series quickly became the definitive version of Batman.

Batman: The Animated Series -- Volume One showcases the first twenty-one episodes of the series in a four-DVD set.

Disc One:

* "On Leather Wings"
Dr. Kirk Langstrom (Marc Singer, Beastmaster) develops a serum that turns him into the Man-Bat. It's up to Batman (Kevin Conroy, Tour of Duty) to hunt Man-Bat down and cure him. "On Leather Wings" includes a heart-stopping aerial chase scene. This episode is a terrific start for the series.
(Grade: 95)

* "Christmas with the Joker"
Yuletide terror comes to Gotham City after the Joker (Mark Hamill, Star Wars) escapes Arkham Asylum.
(Grade: 90)

* "Nothing to Fear"
Batman faces the Scarecrow (Henry Polic, Webster) and his own fears about letting his father down.
(Grade: 95)

* "The Last Laugh"
The Joker unleashes his own sinister brand of laughing gas on Gotham.
(Grade: 90)

* "Pretty Poison"
Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) seduces DA Harvey Dent (Richard Moll, Night Court) to exact some personal revenge. The strongest visual episode this season.
(Grade: 95)

* "The Underdwellers"
Batman busts up a child slavery ring.
(Grade: 80)

* "P.O.V."
This Rashomon tribute episode spotlights Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo, Honeymoon in Vegas) and Officers Montoya and Wilkes. The three members of Gotham City's Finest attempt to piece together what went badly wrong during a bust.
(Grade: 90)

Disc Two:

* "Forgotten"
Bruce Wayne loses his memory, ending up in a homeless labor camp with a bad dye job. I wish I'd forgotten this one.
(Grade: 70)

* "Be a Clown"
I hope Big Brothers of America screens better than this. Mayor Hamilton Hill's (Lloyd Bochner) son feels neglected and unloved. The Joker jumps on this and uses the boy for his next scheme.
(Grade: 90)

* "Two-Face: Part One"
DA Harvey Dent is about to crack. Something is deeply wrong with this man. This episode takes a hard look at psychosis. Two-Face was never more interesting than he is here.
(Grade: 95)

* "Two-Face: Part Two"
Two-Face makes crime boss Rupert Thorne's (John Vernon) life a living hell. Batman is caught between stopping Two-Face and saving Harvey Dent.
(Grade: 100)

* "It's Never Too Late"
I call this one "A Very Special Batman: The Animated Series." A mob boss wonders where his life has taken him when he tries to deal with some childhood guilt and learns his son's a drug addict.
(Grade: 90)

* "I've Got Batman in My Basement"
How do some kids hide a knocked-out Batman when the Penguin comes looking for a valuable egg?
(Grade: 85)

* "Heart of Ice"
A lab accident transforms scientist Victor Fries (Michael Ansara, Star Trek) into the heartless Mr. Freeze. Once one of the lamest villains in Batman's Rogue's Gallery, this episode injects Mr. Freeze with some much needed life and backstory.
(Grade: 100)

Disc Three:

* "The Cat and the Claw: Part One"
Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau, Swamp Thing) meets with interference by the criminal Red Claw (Kate Mulgrew, Star Trek: Voyager) when she tries to build a wildlife refuge. Sparks also fly between Selina and Bruce Wayne.
(Grade: 85)

* "The Cat and the Claw: Part Two"
The Bat and the Cat race to stop the Red Claw from unleashing a virus on the city.
(Grade: 85)

* "See No Evil"
In a touching episode, a convict uses a suit that makes him invisible to commit robbery. He also sneaks in visits with his daughter.
(Grade: 90)

* "Beware the Grey Ghost"
Batman teams up with his childhood hero, the Grey Ghost (Adam West, Batman), to end a string of bombings. The producers did well to have the old Batman featured in the new series.
(Grade: 95)

* "Prophecy of Doom"
Want to know what the future holds for Gotham? Its citizens do when the elite shell out their money to a con artist who claims he can tell the future. It's a nice switch to see Batman take on less flashy villains.
(Grade: 90)

* "Feat of Clay: Part One"
Matt Hagen (Ron Pearlman, Hellboy) is an actor that can physically transform into anyone. His impersonation of Bruce Wayne and involvement with the underworld brings him into conflict with the Batman. This gem was penned by comic book alum Marv Wolfman (Crisis on Infinite Earths).
(Grade: 95)

* "Feat of Clay: Part Two"
Batman is forced to protect one villain from another. The end transformation sequence alone is worth the price of admission.
(Grade: 90)

Disc Four:

* "The Joker's Favor"
Some guys have no luck at all. The Joker blackmails some poor guy into making an attempt in Commissioner Gordon's life. Why is this episode so important? It marks the first appearance of Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin, Days of Our Lives); a fan favorite.
(Grade: 90)

* "Vendetta"
It's Croc versus Cop when Killer Croc frames Detective Bullock. Any Bullock is good Bullock, I always say.
(Grade: 90)

* "Fear of Victory"
Everyone needs money, even super-villains. Batman and Robin (Loren Lester) set out to stop the Scarecrow from using his fear toxins to influence to outcome of sporting events.
(Grade: 80)

* "The Clock King"
Temple Fugate, The Clock King, comes into a device that alters the flow of time and he uses it to get some sweet revenge on Gotham's mayor. The Clock King is another example of a weaker Batman villain getting turned into someone interesting.
(Grade: 90)

* "Appointment in Crime Alley"
It's Batman versus Urban Renewal. What makes this episode so important is the introduction of Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Diana Muldaur, Star Trek: The Next Generation). Thompkins tried her best to help Bruce cope with the death of his parents and remains one of his closest and most trusted friends. We also see the spot where Bruce's parents met their end. This episode was penned by former comic book writer and Law & Order: Criminal Intent scribe Gerry Conway.
(Grade: 95)

* "Mad as a Hatter"
Scientist Jervis Tetch (Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes) steals WayneTech hardware to create a mind control device and becomes the Mad Hatter, employing his new technology to win the affections of a co-worker and reshaping the world around him.
(Grade: 90)

* "Dreams in Darkness"
Is Batman crazy? Trapped in the asylum, Batman must escape and stop the Scarecrow from introducing his fear toxin to Gotham's water supply.
(Grade: 85)

Bonus features include commentary by series producers Bruce Timm and Eric Rodomski is available on "On Leather Wings." Timm and Radomski are joined by series writer Paul Dini for their commentary on "Heart of Ice." Additional special features include the featurette "Batman: The Legacy Continues;" the original version of the pilot's title sequence; and a Tour of the Batcave. Also included are previews for other DC/Warner Brothers animated DVDs.

The Evidence

Batman: The Animated Series is one of the finest examples of how strong a television show can be. It doesn't even matter that its intended audience is children. The show isn't dumbed down, doesn't cater to small minds, and strives to get better and better with each outing. Not every show's a winner, but the majority make a good deal of what's on television today look like a Barney episode -- or even worse, The Wiggles.

Each episode is self-contained and doesn't rely on anything that came before. It's important to be able to walk into a show and get it instantly. Batman: The Animated Series doesn't push anyone away. To make a show that's both good and accessible is no easy feat.

The colors, direction, character design, and architecture work in tandem to make the series look like nothing else on Earth. The show builds upon the look and feel of the old Fleischer Superman animated shorts. As noted in the commentary and in the featurette, the producers decided to make Batman and his world look like the World's Fair never ended. It's the mark of a good show when the city becomes a character in the story.

The performances aren't the type usually featured on an animated series. I'd argue that Kevin Conroy was born to voice Batman. Conroy supplies the proper pitch, anger, and intimidation to properly pull off the central character. Additionally, the rest of cast is pitch perfect. Every guest star and regular cast member is expertly cast. Mark Hamill seems to struggle with the Joker at first, but quickly captures his mania and insanity. Arleen Sorkin finds the ideal amount of moxie to help create series standout Harley Quinn. The character becomes popular enough to warrant inclusion in the Batman comic, her own comic book series, and becomes the main villain in the Batman-based spin-off Birds of Prey.

Batman: The Animated Series -- Volume One is presented in its original full-frame format. Some scratches and specks are highly noticeable. It behooves me to point out that these visual errors are original production flaws and not a result of a weak transfer. The scratches are occasionally distracting -- especially against the black background used to paint the series cels -- but are mercifully brief and fleeting. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack suits the DVD set. The explosions, vehicular sounds, and dialogue all comes across perfectly clear.

The commentaries are best suited for those interested in how the series came to pass and why it has such a unique look. "Batman: The Legacy Continues" parrots much of the production trivia presented in the commentaries and adds more of the series' developmental history, featuring input from comic book professionals Geoff Johns (Teen Titans), Mark Waid (Kingdom Come), and author Les Daniels (Batman: The Complete History). I agree with their reverential testimonials; this show is something to behold.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I wish there were chapter stops for each episode. As much as I love the opening sequence, I don't have to see it every time.

Fans of the Adam West Batman series probably won't enjoy this show. It takes the character of Batman seriously and returns him to his broodingly dark roots.

Closing Statement

Watch this show. Rent it or buy it -- just watch it. I'm dating a girl who hates animation and doesn't get the appeal of Batman. I showed her "Heart of Ice" and now she's asking to see more. That's how good this show is.

Classic animation fans should pick up this set. It will make a very nice companion piece to a Superman Fleischer DVD set.

The Verdict

Batman: The Animated Series -- Volume One is free to go.

Review content copyright © 2004 David Gutierrez; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 85
Acting: 100
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Special Commendations
* Golden Gavel 2004 Nominee

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 625 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary on "On Leather Wings" and "Heart of Ice"
* "Batman: The Legacy Continues" featurette
* "The Dark Knight's First Night" Pilot Promo
* Tour of the Batcave
* Previews

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0103359/combined

* DC Comics
http://www.dccomics.com/

* Official Site
http://www.batmantas.com/

* Cartoon Crazys: Comic Book Heroes
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/cartoonccbh.php?highlight=superman

* Review of Justice League
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/justiceleague.php?highlight=superman