Batman. His sheer awesomeness cannot possibly be contained by words. I have loved Batman for as long as I can remember. My third birthday cake was modelled after the chiseled visage of his head. Almost all of my childhood fears revolved around his arch-enemies. Sure, there were stages which I have tried to erase from my mind on many occasions, where I replaced Batman with a new hero/christ-figure. Fred Flinstone, Action-Man, Stretch Armstrong, Hercules from the Disney movie. None of these, however, lasted. Everything begins and ends with Batman.
I often wonder about the psychology behind children’s obsessions. Why is one little boy fascinated by racing cars and another by dinosaurs? Why did Batman appeal to me so much and more importantly why do I still enjoy his escapades? Of course, Batman’s badassery is hard to resist for most young boys but surely his appeal goes depper than that.
I was introduced to Batman via his early ’90s representation in the dope-as-fuck, Batman: The Animated Series. This show was really dark for a kid’s cartoon. It wasn’t only made for a young male audience, but mature fans as well. The opening sequence that kicked off every episode is still great to watch today. It suceeded in capturing the essence of the series in little more than sixty seconds. This short clip is most likely the first exposure I had to the character.
That music. Danny Elfman (the composer of The Simpsons theme and countless other recognisable film and TV themes) created a menacing and iconic musical backdrop. It’s righteous in just about every sense of the word, as is the entire minute that makes up the sequence. We see police blimps (!), faceless, shadowy bank robbers, an explosion, the Batmobile, Batman, guns (which were rarely allowed to be shown in children’s shows twenty years ago), batarangs and swift rooftop justice. The final moment is the silhouette of Batman standing atop a skyscraper, suddenly illuminated by a fork of lightning. That image has always stuck with me and seems to be what I always see when I hear the word, ‘Batman’.
Batman/Bruce Wayne’s character was explored in many interesting ways in this series. Batman’s enemies often seem to challenge the darker places of his psyche and this is one of the keys to the character’s lasting appeal in all forms of media. For instance, The Joker (impeccably voiced by Luke Skywalker AKA Mark Hamill!) is the embodiment of anarchy and chaos, whereas Batman represents order and justice. This creates a ying/yang relationship and forms the heart of the Batman mythology. The Scarecrow brings out Batman’s fear of failure, Two-Face provides the hero with a glimpse at what his dual identity could become if he sacrifices his morality too often; the list goes on. B: TAS really nailed the characterisation of Batman and his villains along with the tone employed by the artists/animators. It is said that rather than drawing on white sheets of paper, the art team would use black to create the darker look that the series is known for. I highly recommend anyone who is interested in the character of Batman after seeing Christopher Nolan’s recent films to watch Batman: The Animated Series. After all, Nolan’s interpretations of Batman and his enemies are clearly very inspired by those of B: TAS.
The creators of the series must be credited with introducing Batman to a whole new generation. So what was it about this series that drew me to the character and his world? It’s very hard to find an answer off the top of my head. I can’t really remember what motivated me in my first years of life. Who can? There isn’t much ambition or drive at that stage of anyone’s life. It’s all about food, fun and affection; at least it was for me. Like a lot of great entertainment, Batman: The Animated Series (and Batman in general) is pure escapism. I think Batman just came along at the right time in my case. He became my hero and I was in awe of him. Not just because he could beat the shit out of baddies with ease and had access to an array of gadgets that would make Bond blush but also because of the way he dealt with his problems; his grief and sadness in particular. The death of a parent is the worst fear of many children, me being one of them. Batman became a masked vigilante as a result of the death of his parents at the hands of a petty criminal. I think this stuck with me. Seeing someone, even if they were just a work of fiction, turn their fears into righteous vengeance was the coolest thing ever for child-rob.
I dreamt of being able to fly when I was younger. The Batman of the animated series appeared to be able to fly at times which I thought was the epitome of uber-cool. In several episodes though, he fell from the sky or betrayed his inability to fly without the assistance of gadgets. This was when Batman seemed at his most human in my eyes. It was as though he’d let me down. What’s a superhero if he can’t even fly? I kept watching though. The reason that Batman is so well-loved is often attributed to his lack of superpowers and the relative amount of ass he is able to kick without them. His lack of a real ability to fly eventually made him morereal to me and made me realise that heroes can exist in real life, even if on a slightly smaller scale than Batman himself.
There were always particular Batman villains that haunted me in my sleep. For some reason, I was terrified of Clayface. I vaguely remember an episode where Batman fought Clayface on top of/in/near a speeding train. I had nightmares after watching that. A fear of the unknown has always plagued me and I think that Clayface may have embodied that. He could morph himself into just about anything which enabled him to sneak up on Batman and pull off big heists and whatnot. Maybe I thought that my bed would suddenly turn into Clayface while I was asleep and scare the living shit out of me; I really don’t know.
Two-Face was the villain I was the most scared of, however. It wasn’t the B: TAS incarnation but Tommy Lee Jones’ in Batman Forever. I have still not seen that film from beginning to end. The reason? Because Two-Face is in the opening scene. I cannot for the life of me give you any psychological reasoning for the crippling fear I suffered as a result of seeing that opening scene. After refreshing my memory just now via YouTube, the scene involved Two-Face deciding the fate of a bank’s security guard by flipping his trademark coin. The scene is pretty much tension-free (as opposed to a very similar scene in No Country For Old Men, a film which also stars TLJ coincidentally), but nevertheless, I can see why I was scared of it. Tommy Lee plays a great bad guy. That slow reveal of the disfigured half of his face is memorable and he has the gravelly voice down pat. I think I was just exposed to a guy that knows how to play a scary villain for the first time in my short life. As simple as that.
Batman satisfied my morbid curiosity as a child. We’ve all got a bit of it in us. I was scared of the dark, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of the death of my loved ones, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of the unknown, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of just about everything ever, yet I loved Batman; and still do to this day. He’s timeless, representing the darkness that lies within all of us. It chooses to show itself at strange moments. But it’s there whether we like it or not. The character of Batman shows that good things can come from the bad and this ultimately gives children and adults hope. I guess that’s why I still love him. But again, the badassery, the gadgets…