The best versions of Batman have been in cartoons. When I was a kid, one of the best cartoons on tv was Batman: The Animated Series. It took Tim Burton’s Batman tone (and theme music to some extent) and built the familiar Batman universe around it. The Joker was scary but funny, Two-Face was a true, serious, conflicted villain, Catwoman was the alluring, misunderstood counterpart to Batman and even Robin was handled well and not taken as too much of a joke.
It was if the fact it was a cartoon let the creators have some freedom. As long as it had explosions, villains for Batman to punch and a nice, tightly wrapped story by the end of the episode, people were going to look the other way when they snuck in more mature themes. It wasn’t a “silly” cartoon (I’m looking at you “Brave and the Bold”) and it never spoke down to the audience. It was as close to bringing the Batman I was reading in the comics to the screen.
I recently bought the dvds and revisited the series. Although I haven’t managed to sit through them all, there are some great episodes and it still holds up today. The voice acting is perfect (Mark Hamill is a great Joker) and the stories are lifted from some of the classic comics, or at least feel like they could be.
I also took a gamble with a Batman Animated Collection. It contained Batman:Year One, Gotham Knight, Under the Red Hood and Mask of the Phantasm. I’d already seen Gotham Knight and Mask of the Phantasm, both of which are very good cartoons, but it was Year One I was interested in. It didn’t disappoint.
You can read my full review here but needless to say, it was one of the best cartoon features I’d seen and one of the best representations of Batman on-screen. It was a perfect imagining of Miller’s classic and critically acclaimed comic origin story of the character and because it wasn’t trying to conform to any huge, big screen, blockbuster expectation, it felt like a much tighter, solid movie.
My review yesterday was The Dark Knight Returns (part 1) and it was in the same vein as Year One. It was a Miller story, it was one of his best known and loved comic books and the cartoon was extremely faithful to the source material. In fact, alongside Year One, it was the perfect version of the comic book Batman I’d seen on-screen. Being a comic book fan and a lifelong fan of the Dark Knight, this is always what I want. I want to see the darker, bleak and mature version of Batman I’ve been reading since I was a kid. Nolan’s Batman gave us the closest live-action version of this, DC and Warner Bros. cartoons gave us the truest version of this.
Whenever a new Batman, Superman, Spiderman or any other superhero movie is released, the fans begin to ask the question about which comic book story it should be based on. Iron Man 3 used the Extremis story for inspiration, Dark Knight Rises used Knightfall and No Man’s Land and Man of Steel took specific parts of Birthright, All Star and Man of Steel (the comic mini-series). There are always changes though and because it is a much more mainstream movie, trying to make as much money as possible, the fans concede and accept these changes.
That’s my huge issue with the cartoons, they should be mainstream too. I watched Dark Knight Returns with my girlfriend. She watched it, thinking it would be a lazy evening in front of the telly. As well as being just that, she also discovered a film she thoroughly enjoyed. What surprised me further was the fact I wasn’t explaining each and every aspect of the story to her. I wasn’t continually filling-in backstory or explaining the origins of characters. It wasn’t an origin movie and it did expect some prior knowledge but regardless of this, my girlfriend thoroughly enjoyed it.
This leads me to believe that more people would find these true, comic book adaptations as entertaining as the more mainstream, blockbuster, live-action releases. If people could look past the fact it is a cartoon and the issue that it isn’t the Batman or Superman they have seen on-screen, they could find themselves enjoying a movie that is squarely aimed at a mainstream audience, as much as the latest summer release is.
DC seem to be doing a better job of releasing these superhero cartoon features than Marvel are at the moment and although I have been focusing mainly on Batman, I have seen fantastic Superman movies too, especially Doomsday which I still believe could be a live-action feature.
Overall, this post is purely to drum up support and awareness of an area of movies and tv that is being sorely overlooked. If you want amazing superhero stories, fantastic action and none of the live-action and budget limitations that come with each year’s summer blockbuster, its worth checking out some of the films I’ve mentioned above. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.