Sunday, January 8, 2012

Batman TAS: S01E01 "On Leather Wings"

Alright, here we go. DVD box 1, disc 1, episode 1: “On Leather Wings,” written by Mitch Brian. Since this is the first episode, it seems as good a time as any to mention the opening. I doubt anyone from my generation, fan or not, is not familiar with it. Unfortunately, every one of the dozen uploads of it on youtube has embedding disabled, so you'll have to follow the link to watch it. But be sure to come right back!

I love the contrast between light and dark, and the use of silhouettes throughout. This is really some very sophisticated visual work for a kid's show. It's stylistically different from the way the show actually looks, but it exemplifies the show's general style. Both in it's darkness, and in its celebration of 1930s styles. Everything from the sharp lines on the criminal's hats, to the designs of the buildings, to the cop uniforms, and of course, my beloved dirigibles. Plus that is some fantastic scoring. I'm not good at noticing music, so I probably won't talk about it in these posts anywhere near as often as I should. But the music in this show is fantastic.

But enough of the general stuff. Lets dive in to the episode itself.

We open on a dirigible, which I've already mentioned my feelings on. One of the cops patrolling in this graceful sultan of the skies notice a blip on the radar, then sees a bat-creature fly by. The other is skeptical, but they investigate. Nothing is found. But we the viewer know better!

We follow the bat creature, seen only by its shadow, to a building labeled Phoenix Labs. Where for some reason, a security guard is pretending that he's making an advertisement for a school for radio broadcasting. Not pretending he's a radio broadcaster, mind you. Pretending he's advertising a school FOR radio broadcasters. Dude seems to have some seriously low expectations for himself.

Bat monster steals some chemicals, attacks the guard, throws him out the window, yadda-yadda. I'm not quite sure why they're still only showing the creature's shadow on the wall, since it's pretty clear at this point that some manner of bat-man creature is on the loose.

OH, i c wut they did ther.

We already have a pretty good idea that there's a bat monster, so I'm not sure why they're trying to hide it.

Harvey Dent is introduced here as the District Attorney. I really like that the show's creators decided not to start his character as Two-Face. It allows for the kind of character development, and progressive storytelling one does not often see in the status-quo world of children's programming.

And, finally, we have batman:

Alfred is pretty god-damned uppity in this episode. His first reaction to seeing the newspaper headline is “Been reading how to make friends and influence people, sir?” And when Batman indicates it wasn't him, and Alfred asks “So it wasn't you throwing people out of windows last night?” Batman's response is “I only throw butlers out of windows.” That's some seriously catty banter for Batman. I like it.
So the world's greatest detective is on the case. He heads off to investigate, and show off some of his gadgets. First he grapples to the building. Where he does a little “Peeping Bat”

Hmmm, hey baby, lets make the kisses with our mouths:


So Batman sneaks into the crime scene, knocking out a police officer with a gas pellet in the process. I like that he's at odds with the police here. Too often Batman is portrayed as having way more support amongst the police, and way more trust in them, than I think he should.

Once at the crime scene, batman pulls out his spray paint and tags it with his logo. Apparently he's less of a crusader for justice, and more of a “preposterously over-equipped street punk.”

Actually the spray seems to work in conjunction with some kind of electronic visor he apparently got from the X-Men surplus store. Now evidence is slightly more obvious to him, or something. He finds some footprints, the audio tape the guard was playing with, and a follicle of hair.

So the cops arrive, and the SWAT team literally shouts “Hup hup hup hup hup hup hup!” as they disembark from their van. The storm the building, and batman evades them in a very well staged set of stealthiness and gadget use.

Hush now...

One of the SWAT fellows throws a tear gas grenade into a pile of flamable liquids, and Batman leaps out of the building's window with a demolition-sized explosion in his wake. It is a rule of all media that explosion size is determined by cinematic effect, rather than any correlation to how explosive something is.

Batman then throws a batterang with a rope attached, and swings off. Apparently he carries both a mechanically launched grappling hook, and a manual grappling hook at this point in the show, and switches between them inexplicably.

Evidence now in hand, Bruce Wayne heads to the Zoo, where some scientists surrounded by the obligatory overly complicated chemistry equipment. There are three of them, a young couple who are polite and genial, and a cranky old man who appears to be the woman's dad. The old bastard spouting standard comic book science. What the fuck does he mean when he says "Humans won't survive the next evolutionary cataclysm, but bats will!" Also, is it just me, or are women scientists in shows like this always part of ubiquitous "scientists families." I don't think those occur half as often as television writers seem to think.

So anyway, Batman hands his evidence--both the hair follicle, and the recording the guard made (which includes some monster sounds--to the bat scientists, hoping they can find something he didn't. He says he the recording is of sounds he found in his chimney, but when played it sounds like the roar of some kind of mythical monster. Real subtle, batman.


He then returns to the bat cave, and gets all trussed up in his bat costume just in time to receive a callback. There's something about Batman answering the phone in Bruce Wayne's voice which leaves me giggling like a ninny. The elder scientist is on the line, and tells batman some obvious lie about how there's nothing he needs to worry about. Clearly, this old fella has something to do with the shenanigans batman is investigating. Or, as Batman puts it, "He's LYING, and I'm going to find out WHY!"

So Batman breaks into the zoo and is immediately confronted by the younger male scientist. They trade words, Batman accuses the elder man of being a lunatic, then the younger man reveals that his father in law's utter dickishness was just a red herring. Demonstrated by his immediate transformation into a giant creepy bat creature. Then his wife walks in, and the bat creature looks like he was just caught with his hand in his pants. He flees out the window in shame, and Batman grapples onto his leg, again using the mechanically firing grapple, rather than the thrown grapple.

The show cuts to the two cops from the opening, again in their dirigible. They're bickering over whether the sensor blip is anything they need to pay attention to, when batman smacks into their window.

What follows is actually a beautifully animated action sequence where Batman attempts to survive being hauled through the sky. Eventually, Batman manages to get onto manbat's back, and the cops are able to get a good look at the two of them together, apparently proving batman's innocence because the manhunt for batman is never mentioned after this point. Batman then covers manbat's eyes, which for some reason causes him to fly into a wall. For a show which, ostensibly, should know a little something about how bats work, one would think they wouldn't fuck up something as basic as echolocation.

Impressively, the show manages to even show a bit of blood in this scene, which is a rare enough sight to be noteworthy.

The cops show up, and Batman flees with the unconscious manbat. We then cut to the batcave, where Batman is attempting to reverse the mutation. Alfred appears with his typical dry humor, asking if he should set two places for dinner tonight. Batman ignores him, and stares at a computer screen for a few seconds, until a perfect cure for manbat's mutation occurs to him. God damn, if only cancer or AIDs turned people into giant monsters, am I right?

First episode of the Batman Animated Series and I guess it wasn’t that bad. I actually thought the animation was better than I remember. It’s very detailed and expressive but still very unattractive. I don’t really have the skills to point out all the specifics but I think what gets me is the contrasting coloring such as things like batman’s black cap with blue streaks and characters seem to have this glossy glow which makes them stand out from the generally darkened background. The last season of batman, while the animation was simpler, it was stylized and colors where more consistent and appealing and Batman had a fucking solid black cap, goddamn.

This episode quickly sets up Batman’s relationship with the police which seems to be a pretty distrusting relationship. One guy sees a bat-something and, regardless of all the other crazy monsters who run around Gotham, a security guard’s statement gets the whole police force on Batman’s tail. The quick response to capture him sets up well that there is a lot unknown to Gotham about Batman and that’s enough to be fearful. Though honestly I would be more fearful of the police who can’t read a sign that says fucking flammable before throwing in a tear-gas grenade.

The story moves on to establishing the character of Bruce Wayne which this Wayne is definitely different from last season Wayne. Earlier Wayne seems to be a boastful rich boy, the kind you just know bought his way through college and slept with your girlfriend. Later Wayne is more a respectable and responsible businessman, the kind that’s actually not a dick.

But whatever, they’re all faces of Wayne I suppose. When the story introduces Wayne it also introduces comic book science. The crazy old man studying bats promptly informs Wayne that bats are the only creatures who will survive the next evolutionary cataclysm. What the fuck is evolutionary cataclysm? Do you mean cataclysmic events that changed the courses in evolution? Is that a hint that you know something cataclysmic is coming? ...Are you going to cause it? QUICK BATMAN! GRAPPLE! He has certainly jumped on lesser hints than that.

But the only thing in this episode which makes it good is Alfred and his constant comments that establish him as an impudent dick.

Alfred: “Ah very good sir, shall I cancel Wayne’s date with...Bambi was it?”
Batman: *sigh*

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