Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TV Classics: Over the Edge

I am in Batman mode this week (You all know why). I just can't wait until Friday without a healthy dose of the caped crusader so I resorted to one of the best Batman interpretations. Now, I was never a big fan of the Tim Burton movies and the Nolan movies are amazing, but I think my favorite screen version of the hero was Batman: The Animated Series.

It was also the first one I ever watched since the show debuted in 1992, the year I was born. So when I was about four or five I was already watching. At the time I watched and thought Batman was cool, but the show had such a unique sensibility when compared to the other stuff I got to watch on television (the X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons, for example. Not to mention Power Rangers) that my young self didn't quite what to make of the show. As I grew older I began to appreciate how amazing the show was. 

Like I said, the show felt and looked like no super-hero or kids show of the early 90s. Visually, it had the expressionist art-deco influence of the Tim Burton movies and the 1940s Fleischer Superman cartoons (Creator Paul Dini actually acknowledges the Fleischer cartoons as a major source of inspiration for the show). The show had an full orchestral score, the villains used real guns instead of the ray-guns that were used in 80s cartoons and the backgrounds were painted on black paper to give the series a darker look. It was like watching an old film noir movie.

 However unique Batman: The Animated Series was in its visual style, the big difference was in its substance. Thematically, the show was willing to touch on subjects and stories that were far more mature than what we got to see in other shows of the time (like the magnificent 'Heart of Ice' episode which is a masterpiece by the way). And unlike Burton's films, it was incredibly true to the essence of comic-book versions of the characters, a trait that has played a huge part in the comic-book-inspired movies that dominate our movie screens these days.

As a tie-in to 'The Dark Knight Rises' I chose to focus on an episode produced late in the Series' run called 'Over the Edge'. I chose 'Over the Edge' for three reasons: The first is that it features the character of Bane which is (as you probably already know) the main villain in 'The Dark Knight Rises'. The second is because it feels like 'TDKR' is capping off Nolan's Batman trilogy and 'Over the Edge' feels like the ultimate ending to the Batman story, one that actually focuses on the fall of our hero. The third is because it's one fine episode of television.

The episode starts with a bang with Batman and Robin being chased by Comissioner Gordon and other policemen in the Batcave. So we've been thrown into the action and in just a couple of seconds we've learned that Batman and Robin are not only in trouble, but that they're being chased by one of their greatest allies. After our heroes run away and get to a safe place thanks to their ally Nightwing, we see what triggered the action:

Now that is something that you don't see in your average kids' show. It's the on-screen death of Barbara Gordon a.k.a. Batgirl that triggers Commissioner's Gordon vendetta against Batman. Gordon goes ahead on a fearless hunt for the caped crusader, revealing his secret identity and making him a fugitive. It's heartbreaking to see Jim Gordon turn from Batman's greatest ally into his worst enemy, but his motivation makes it understandable.

However things turn even grimer as we see how far Gordon is willing to go to capture Batman. He resorts to one of Batman's deadliest villains and stages a trap during his daughter's funeral knowing Batman feels so guilty he will be present. A trap that will see the ultimate battle between Batman and Bane.

"What can I expect from a killer of children?" The moment is chilling. I can remember how angry I was as a child hearing those words being said about Batman and how surprised I am these many years later to think something like that was aloud to be said by a character in a children's cartoon (be it a villain or not). Oh, and obviously, you can only imagine how hard my jaw dropped when Batman and Gordon fell of that building.

At the end of the episode, it turns out it's all been Barbara's nightmare after being sprayed with the Scarecrow's fear-gas, which may be a little disappointing, but is an apt ending for the episode considering it's a children's show after all and it gives us a very sweet moment between Barbara and her dad in which she wants to confess her true identity to him. And even if some could be disappointed by the ending, it doesn't make what came before any less thrilling and any less of a great Batman story.

This episode, like some of the best stories about Batman take a look at the morality of being a hero. In this case not only Batgirl is putting herself in danger, but also the ones she loves. It also reminds us of the old superhero phrase 'with great power comes great responsibility' (even if it was first uttered in another hero's adventures, it belongs to the mythology of every superhero), asking on the morality of Batman putting Batgirl in danger and Gordon avenging the death of his daughter. Complex stuff, man. But that sort of storytelling is what set this cartoon apart.

If you want to watch more 'Batman: The Animated Series' I recommend: The already mentioned 'Heart of Ice', the two-parter 'Two-Face', and 'Mad Love' an adaptation of a graphic novel written by the shows' creators Paul Dini and Bruce Timm and featuring the birth of the love between The Joker and Harley Quinn. 

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