Tomorrow, Batman: The Animated Series receives its long awaited Blu-ray release, bringing the iconic TV series (and best show of the 1990s) to high definition for the first time. As a fan of the show I am extremely excited to be able to see my favourite series presented in HD, in what has to be one of the most anticipated home video releases of the year.
As with most fans I will be picking up a copy of the Blu-ray box set and diving back into the stories for the billionth time*. And when I dive back in I will be talking about it on this very blog!
*This is an exaggeration – but I have watched the show A LOT.
Over the coming days I will be publishing a series of posts charting my journey watching Batman: The Animated Series in high definition. I’ll be talking about the show episode by episode, offering comments on the improved picture, the superior sound and odd little titbits and observations along the way.
In addition to comments about the new-look B:TAS, I will also be discussing my interest in the series as a whole, including details about when I was first introduced to it, what the show means to me and much more. The posts will be as much a comment on the new HD release as they will be an opportunity for me to take a trip down memory lane.
To kick things off, ahead of the Blu-ray release, I thought it might be fun to re-watch & comment about the first episode, On Leather Wings, in good ol’ standard definition (SD). This is the format that I’ve watched the show in for many years now, so it seems like the perfect time to wave SD goodbye ahead of the switch to HD.
On Leather Wings
Before I re-watch On Leather Wings, let me set the scene a little. Chronologically, this is the starting point for Batman: The Animated Series – the first episode. Everything that follows, including the movies, the spin-off shows and all of the associated material (comics, toys, games etc) is all because of this episode.
Now, that said, this wasn’t the first episode to air on television. The first episode to air on television was The Cat and the Claw: Part 1, which received its initial broadcast at 10am on Saturday 5th September 1992.
And here’s an interesting fact for you, The Cat and the Claw: Part 1 aired in the UK via Saturday morning TV show, What’s Up Doc? on ITV. Due to the time difference between the UK and the US, Batman: The Animated Series received its world premiere in the UK, so if you saw that initial broadcast then you watched the show before anyone else in the world.
So, why was The Cat and the Claw the first story to air? Well, I guess it was due to the Catwoman connection.
The Cat and the Claw was a Catwoman-centric story and Batman Returns (1992) – the big Batman movie of the year – was a Catwoman-centric film. Batman Returns had received a lot of publicity, so from a commercial point of view it made sense to launch the show with a Catwoman episode rather than an episode featuring Man-Bat (the villain of On Leather Wings).
So, yes – The Cat and the Claw aired first, it was also one of the first stories to be released on VHS in the UK. However, since that initial screening, most reruns/home video releases of Batman: The Animated Series rightly begin with On Leather Wings.
Speaking of which, now it’s time to watch the episode.
5 seconds – The opening credits begin with a shot of the Warner Bros. logo transforming into a police blimp. It might seem like an odd way to open an episode of a cartoon show, but boy does it work! I remember the first time I saw this and I was fascinated to see what was going to happen next.
30 seconds – Over the years I’ve seen some damn good opening credits (Dungeons & Dragons, The Incredible Hulk etc), but Batman: The Animated Series has to have THE BEST opening credits of them all. The music, the visuals, the way in which the credits introduce Batman without actually naming the character – all of it is perfect.
40 seconds – The music used during the title sequence is fantastic and is of course a reworked version of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme from the movies, Batman (1989) & Batman Returns (1992).
1min – The opening credits last exactly one minute and then segue into the title card – which in this case is a grey backdrop, with a Bat-symbol and of course the title, On Leather Wings. These title cards appear on every episode of Batman: The Animated Series and really help to make each story unique.
1min 10secs – On Leather Wings was written by Mitch Brian and directed by Kevin Altieri. As mentioned above, On Leather Wings wasn’t the first episode of Batman: The Animated Series to be broadcast – in the UK it was the third. The episode made its debut on Saturday 19th September (at 9:55am).
1min 20secs – The episode opens with a police blimp – a nice little tie in to the opening credits. Blimps don’t feature all that much in the series, but at least they get an inclusion here.
1min 25secs – The second person to speak on screen is a policeman, who is voiced by Kevin Conroy – aka the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Here, Conroy is doing a little extra voice work.
2mins – This show is very dark and very atmospheric. There were well-written cartoons on TV prior to this one (The Real Ghostbusters, Dungeons & Dragons etc), but none of them looked like this. This show changed the way producers/animators approached animated shows after 1992.
2mins 10secs – Man-Bat is introduced, but it’s only via a silhouette. The episode specifically keeps him off screen to ramp up the mystery. The accompanying music is also very dramatic and feels like something out of a Gothic horror. It’s perfect for introducing this frightening character.
2mins 30secs – One observation to note here is that this SD version of On Leather Wings looks good, but suffers from something pretty much all Batman: The Animated Series episodes suffer from – dust! As the show was produced on black backgrounds (something of a no-no for cartoons at the time) dust and debris show up on episodes very clearly. I believe – and I will find out tomorrow – that this dust has been removed from the HD episodes, but for now it is here for all to see.
3mins 30secs – Gotham Glazer newspaper headline reads: “Gotham Police Declare War on Batman.” Just under four minutes into the episode and this headline makes it clear that Batman is not a hero in this cartoon, but rather a vigilante that is at odds with the police. Pretty daring stuff for an animated show back in 1992.
3mins 35secs – Four key characters are introduced here: Police Commissioner James Gordon, Mayor Hamilton Hill, Detective Harvey Bullock and District Attorney Harvey Dent. All four characters make regular appearances throughout the entire run of Batman: The Animated Series.
4mins 35secs – Finally, Batman and Alfred are introduced. Here Alfred is voiced by Clive Revill. The actor voiced Alfred for three episodes before being replaced by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
5mins – And here’s the Batmobile. You can tell this is the first episode of the show as there are extended shots of the Batmobile… which looks freakin’ awesome by the way! The art deco influences on this show are clear for all to see, especially when it comes to the Batmobile.
7mins – I’m now noticing quite a bit of dust on this episode – possibly because it’s so dark. What’s perhaps interesting to note is that many people actually quite like the dust on the episodes, as they feel that it fits in with the oldie worldy/retro feel of the series. Some also think that it reminds them of watching the show on VHS tapes, which were of a pretty poor quality. It will be interesting to see if the removal of this dust changes the way I view the show.
9mins – Batman vs a swat team – something which has been used a number of times in cartoons & movies since this show aired.
9mins – The music used in this episode and throughout Batman: The Animated Series was composed by Shirley Walker. Walker’s music was so important to this series, because each episode had its own soundtrack. That’s insane, yet brilliant! Most cartoons feature the same stock music, but Walker provided new material throughout the series, making each episode feel like a mini-movie with its own unique score.
11mins 45secs – Kirk Langstrom has just appeared. Langstrom is secretly Man-Bat, although the episode is yet to show Man-Bat in the flesh (so to speak). The silhouette is all we’ve seen of Man-Bat, adding to the horror element of this episode.
13mins 10secs – While in the Batcave, Batman receives a call for Bruce Wayne. This scene is so important as Batman takes the call and switches the tone of his voice accordingly, so that there is a clear distinction between Batman and Bruce Wayne. This isn’t something that happened in Batman cartoons prior to this episode.
16mins 10secs – Langstrom transforms into Man-Bat and it’s pretty scary stuff.
17mins – The music in this episode is so, so good. I wish I was more musically inclined so I could use the correct words to explain just how good the music is. Trust me, it’s brilliant. Should you want to check out the score, I believe a number of albums featuring music from the show are currently available to stream on Amazon Prime. This score features on the first album.
18mins – The police blimp is back and that’s because Batman is taking part in an aerial pursuit with Man-Bat through the Gotham cityscape.
18mins 30secs – Something to note for comparison tomorrow, at times, specifically when the police are on screen, the colour palette is all washed out. It’s not something I’ve noticed before but it’s something to come back to tomorrow.
20mins 30secs – Man-Bat has transformed back into Langstrom and that means the episode is over.
20mins 55secs – The end credits. Again, another little UK titbit for you. Because Batman: The Animated Series aired as part of What’s Up Doc?, a Saturday morning magazine-style show for children, the end credits were not included in the original broadcasts. At the conclusion of each episode the show would just end and switch back to events taking place in the What’s Up Doc? studio. As such, it wasn’t until the show received an early evening repeat (during Children’s ITV) that the end credits made an appearance.
So, that was a run through of On Leather Wings, which for me was in SD. Tomorrow I will follow up this post with a discussion of the HD version of the same episode.
I am so excited!
From tomorrow onward, all other episodes that are discussed on the blog will be the HD versions. The plan is to watch a few episodes at a time and hopefully work my way through the series.
Should you want to follow these posts then make sure to check in on a regular basis and either use the search box on the right to find the posts, or click on the Batman: The Animated Series: Revisited tab to be taken to all the related posts.
And should you want to pass comment on the show, the posts, or anything Batman-related, be sure to make full use of the comments section below.
See you tomorrow!