Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ranking the Bat-toons (1968-2012)

Two weeks ago, we did a similar piece covering Spider-Man's rich history in animation. This time, with "The Dark Knight Rises" opening at midnight tonight, we'll do the same for Batman, who's had not quite as many series, and we will not include the 13-year Super Friends run.

The Adventures of Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder (CBS, 1968-70): Originally 1/2 of the Batman-Superman Hour, the show was split off and moved to Sundays for season 2. Olan Soule (Dragnet) and future radio icon Casey Kasem voiced the Dynamic Duo, Jane Webb, Filmation's #1 female talent, was Batgirl & Catwoman, and Ted Knight did almost everyone else. As I have noted previously, there has been debate over whether or not Knight actually was the voice of the Joker, as some have argued that it was actor-comedian Larry Storch (ex-F-Troop). Soule & Kasem, of course, would move over to Hanna-Barbera for a healthy run that started with The New Scooby-Doo Movies and 2 season 1 appearances, both involving Joker & Penguin, in 1972. Super Friends would launch in '73, and, well, you know that show's history, don't you?

The New Adventures of Batman (CBS 1977-80, NBC 1980-1): The live-action Dynamic Duo, Adam West & Burt Ward, reprised when Filmation gained a new license for the characters and sold this series to CBS as a mid-season replacement in February 1977. 7 months later, CBS merged it with Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle to form the Batman-Tarzan Adventure Hour, which a year later was expanded into Tarzan & The Super 7. After 2 seasons in that format, the reruns were shipped off to NBC, though Tarzan remained at CBS, now paired with a Filmation-produced Lone Ranger revival, and the show was renamed, Batman & The Super 7, which, when you think about it, was a bit of a misnomer, since Tarzan & Jason of Star Command weren't included. Melendy Britt took over as Batgirl, but some of the classic villains were missing, such as Riddler, who followed the Caped Crusaders to H-B the following year. New Adventures wasn't quite as campy, despite the addition of Bat-Mite, an imp who was introduced in the 50's, and was given a schoolboy crush on Batgirl for some unknown reason.

Batman: The Animated Series (Fox 1992-95): The most definitive animated interpretation of Batman, period. On the heels of "Batman Returns", Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and their staff retained the changes made to Penguin (now presented as a mutant) and Catwoman (blonde on the show due to her characterization in the movie), but also brought some other villains into the mix who hadn't previously been used, such as Two-Face (Richard Moll, ex-Night Court), Maxie Zeus, and Poison Ivy. As I noted the other day, the series also brought out a different side of the Joker (Mark Hamill, and, for a brief time, Tim Curry) by giving him a girlfriend in Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin, Days of Our Lives). Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) was more (girl)friend than foe here, but wasn't privy to Batman's secret identity of Bruce Wayne, although the reverse held true.

The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Fox 1995-97?, WB 1997-99?): After "Batman Forever", Fox & WB felt the need not only to relaunch the series with a new title, but rebooting some of the character designs, such as substituting Catwoman's grey costume with a midnight black ensemble. The series soon shifted over to Kids' WB! to be paired with Superman: The Animated Series as The New Superman-Batman Adventures (The first series under that title was a rerun compilation WB packaged for cable, first for USA, and later for Cartoon Network).

Batman Beyond (Kids' WB! 1999-2002?): Set in a futuristic Gotham, Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) is now retired, and has passed the mantle of the Bat to Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle, ex-Boy Meets World), who then gets a Rogues' Gallery all his own. In this version, Barbara Gordon (Stockard Channing) has retired her Batgirl persona and inherited her father's role as Commissioner. Ended too soon in some respects.

The Batman (Kids' WB/CW 2003-8): Former Sony producer Duane Capizzi and former Image Comics aritst Jeff Matsuda, who'd worked on Sony's Jackie Chan Adventures, were brought aboard for this series, which took a different look at Batman's early years. Catwoman (Gina Gershon) was given a new look--again--, but there was still plenty of flirting between Catwoman & Batman (Rino Romano). However, giving Joker a Rastafarian hairdo as a barefoot, hippie psycho was a turn-off. Penguin was played up as being in the same tax bracket at the Waynes, and even moved in next door to Wayne Manor in one episode. Wack!

Batman: The Brave & The Bold (Cartoon Network 2009-11): After 17 years of dark, gritty Bat-ventures, it was time to brighten and lighten things up. This last series was based on the long-running The Brave & The Bold book that Batman starred in for much of its initial run. Diedrich Bader (ex-The Zeta Project, The Drew Carey Show) did a near-perfect Kevin Conroy mimic as Batman, and while fans have their favorites, like cross-overs with Space Ghost and Scooby-Doo, the latter recalling the 1972 meetings of the two icons, the series, again, ended too soon. Then again, the suits at both CN & WB have made some boneheaded decisions on a number of other issues..........! Season 1 included an ongoing storyline regarding the made-for-TV villain, Equinox, but after that, and after Starro appeared in season 2, it was mostly done-in-one stories the rest of the way.

Due next year, and reportedly in CGI, is Beware the Batman, which previewed last week at Comic-Con International in San Diego. That will also air on Cartoon Network, which has picked up the Fox/WB habit of shuttling shows in and out of the lineup, with the concept of "seasons" having been redefined in cable parlance in recent years. However, given the shabby treatment given to certain fan favorites on the network, I'd be very wary.

Ranking them in order:

1. Batman: The Animated Series/The Adventures of Batman & Robin
2. Batman: The Brave & The Bold
3. The Adventures of Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder 
4. The New Adventures of Batman
5. Batman Beyond
6. The Batman

Discuss & debate.


Geed said...

Move Batman Beyond up to 3 and drop the others down one and there's my list.

hobbyfan said...

I'd like to, but Return of the Joker, which I actually had for a while, and reviewed here, turned me off.

magicdog said...

1. Batman: The Animated Series/The Adventures of Batman & Robin

5. Batman Beyond

From worst to first:

I prefer to lump together the 1968 series with the 1977 series because they're essentially the same show, the main difference being the addition of Bat Mite. His presence alone puts that show closer to the bottom of the list. I'd put the 1968 version one notch above it.

Based on my own listening skills, I believe the Joker (1968) was voiced by Ted Knight NOT Larry Storch.

I'd place "The Batman" next. The show got better as it went along, starting with the fourth season with the introduction of Robin/Dick Grayson. In fact, the premiere episode, "A Matter of Family" rivals anything written during the BTAS era. I admit I wasn't a fan of the weird incarnation of the Joker but I dealt with it.

Next, Batman, The Brave & The Bold. It was good to get a lighter take on Bats again after so many years and the team ups were fantastic! You already know how much I loved seeing the Batman/Space Ghost team up, and there were other great stories too. "Requiem For a Scarlet Speedster", "Chill of the Knight" & "Knights of Tomorrow" are among my favorite eps. Plus, other comic characters got a chance to shine in animation for the first time or got better characterization in this series (Plasticman and the Doom Patrol among others).

Next would be BTAS/Adventures of B&R. This may surprise some since I didn't rank it at the top. It's close though. The fisrt series outing for Batman is still good to watch though a touch dated now. The animation good, the art deco world was well done and Kevin Conroy IS Batman! The follow up was OK, but I never liked how the B&R break up was handled (was it like that in the comics?) I would have preferred a more modern approach, with Dick deciding he was ready to go out on his own and not have the rift between them. I would have preferred TPTB had done a Nightwing focused series myself as I think Dick could carry a series on his own. I do give bonus points for being the first Batman toon that introduced us to a different Robin (Tim Drake).


Batman Beyond. I still catch this show when it's on and even bought the DVDs. I prefer the first and third seasons over the second (the writers for some reason were trying to push Max on the audience and she wasn't working - she's almost become the Scrappy Doo of the BB universe) and the opening credits is one of the best in animation. I loved Terry and his relationship with Bruce and I was suprised that Barbara wasn't disabled in this universe, but rather someone who followed her old man into the Commissioner's office. The show definitely ended too soon.

An honerary mention should go to the Galactic Guardians episode, "The Fear" which was an early attenpt to bring a more serious B&R series to Saturday morning TV and was the first to bring the Batman origin story to TV as well.

hobbyfan said...

Galactic Guardians does get some honorable mention, and one wonders what might've been had the series continued for another year, even if they changed formats again.

If I ranked opens, Batman Beyond would be right up there with BTAS, maybe even surpassing it. I thought it was a great idea having Barbara follow in her dad's footsteps after hanging up her cowl and tights, and I wish DC had taken this direction a decade prior, rather than let Alan Moore stick her in a wheelchair (Killing Joke).

Max (the ever busy Cree Summer) was added to be a sounding board for Terry in a more constructive light, in contrast to Bruce. That she was also privy to Terry's dual ID wasn't much of a problem, though it seemed Bruce was aware of this and warned her in one ep not to even think about co-opting the Batsuit for herself for one mission.

Since BB was revived in the comics (and the last series was replaced with an Unlimited anthology), I'm surprised WB hasn't considered doing the same.