Batman: The Animated Series has finally arrived on Blu-ray! To celebrate this milestone release, I am publishing Batman: The Animated Series: Revisited – a collection of posts which focus specifically on the show’s recent upgrade to high definition (HD).
The aim of these posts is to talk about the long awaited digital upgrade through a discussion of each episode (in order of their appearance on the Blu-ray box set). I will be watching all 109 episodes, so expect 109 mini reviews/comments for each episode, spread out across this ongoing series of posts.
Before I begin, here are a few lovely shots of the Blu-ray box set which arrived earlier today. Oooohhh, it’s so shiny and new.
Right, let’s get started.
On Leather Wings
OK, so I talked a great deal about this episode yesterday, but that was while watching On Leather Wings in standard definition (SD). Now it’s time to see what the episode looks like in HD.
Whoop whoop – I’m so excited.
10secs – Wow – it looks good! But… the ‘dust’ issue has not been fixed on the opening credits, how odd.
1min 40secs – Initial thoughts? The animation looks so good and is a lot clearer. Last night, when I watched this episode in SD the picture looked fine, but when compared to tonight it’s so much better.
3mins 45secs – The Commissioner, Harvey Bullock, Mayor Hill and Harvey Dent are all sat in the Mayor’s office talking about the ‘Batman problem’. The colours in this whole scene are a lot richer and Harvey Dent can be seen much clearer. In the SD version it’s not so easy to make him out in the corner of the screen, but here it’s not a problem at all. This whole scene looked really washed out in the SD version, but here the colours look vibrant.
5mins – “I only toss Butlers, Alfred.” Oh, Batman, you are so naughty.
6mins – It’s weird to think that for years I watched and re-watched On Leather Wings on a crappy, worn out VHS tape, where the picture would get progressively worse. When the DVD version came along it was a revelation. This Blu-ray release is simply nirvana.
8mins – I appreciate it’s probably boring to read comments which keep saying ‘ooh, pretty colours’ and ‘ah, this looks beautiful’, but this is exactly what I’m seeing right now. This episode looks so fresh, it’s as if it was produced today, not 26 years ago!
12mins 30secs – Kirk Langstrom (aka Man-Bat) has just appeared on screen. Marc Singer is the voice of Langstrom. Singer is perhaps best known for his role in the Beastmaster films. I met him many years ago at a comic book convention and he was very friendly.
13mins 50secs – “Hey, what’s up doc?” Nice little Warner Bros. in-joke there.
14mins 50secs – Something worth noting – whenever there is a close-up it’s as if I’m looking directly at the animation cels themselves. I own three animation cels from episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and watching this episode on Blu-ray is almost the same as staring at those cels hung up on the wall. The picture quality is that good.
16mins – Nearing the end of the episode and I’m now at the stand-out scene – the sequence where Langstrom reveals himself to be Man-Bat. This is stunning to look at and all the colours simply pop off the screen.
Well, put simply, this show has never looked so good. Based on this one episode alone, this HD makeover is fantastic. The colours are more vibrant, the blacks are stronger and the overall look is just so crisp and defined.
I appreciate you can’t see what I’m seeing, but trust me when I say that the work that has been done here has really elevated this show. It just looks so fresh.
Let’s see what episode two brings…
Christmas with the Joker
Fun fact: Chronologically, Christmas with the Joker is the 2nd episode of Batman: The Animated Series. However, during the show’s initial broadcast, this episode didn’t actually hit US screens until November (December in the UK).
1min 10secs – In terms of production order, this episode marks the first appearance of the Joker. Robin also appears here for the first time.
2mins 20secs – Speaking of Robin, the red on his shirt is now so bold that he’s basically a walking target. Batman is clearly using him as a distraction/bullet shield. Now I see why Batman keeps him around.
3mins – As mentioned above, this episode didn’t air in the UK until December, which kind of made sense as it’s a Christmas themed story. I remember watching Christmas with the Joker and being so excited to see Robin, who had been absent from every episode shown in the UK up until this point.
7mins – This episode marks the moment where I fell in love with Mark Hamill as the Joker. His performance is not quite as nuanced as it becomes in later episodes, but it’s clear that he IS the Joker.
10mins – Bit of drama here, with Batman and Robin uncoupling the passenger cars on a runaway train. Can’t even begin to tell you how many times as a kid I reenacted this scene on the sofa, pretending to be Batman.
11mins 30secs – OK, so I mentioned that the dust problem is still evident in the opening credits, but so far there is little to no onscreen dust in this episode (outside of the credits).
15mins – I’ve just done a little bit of research and I can tell you that Christmas with the Joker aired on the 19th December 1992. In terms of the broadcast order, for UK viewers this would have been the 16th episode to hit TV screens.
At a risk of repeating myself, all I can say is the animation is superb – even more so in this episode. On Leather Wings had a noir feel to it, which kept the colour palette rather muted at times. Christmas with the Joker is comic book through and through so utilises a more dynamic colour chart.
The inclusion of Robin also lightens the story somewhat, ensuring it is more colourful. In terms of visuals, this episode looks great.
Now onto episode number three…
Nothing to Fear
The first time I watched Nothing to Fear – which features the Scarecrow – I loved it. I was vaguely familiar with the Scarecrow as a villain, but I knew nothing about him, so watching this episode gave me a real insight into one of Batman’s most twisted adversaries.
1min – I’ve just watched the opening credits for a third time in the space of an hour and I am still marvelling at them, despite the dust (which bugs me a little here).
2mins – Two minutes in and there’s already a fair bit of dust on this episode. I guess there is only so much a HD upgrade can do.
2mins 30secs – What’s interesting about this story is the fact it is as much about the Scarecrow as it is about Bruce Wayne and his own doubts about the Wayne legacy. Perhaps that’s why I like this episode so much, because it feels like there’s so much more going on than a simple villain origin story – this is an episode which tackles what’s going on inside Bruce’s mind.
4mins – The Scarecrow appears for the first time. The red on his costume is so bold – I love it.
6mins – All the times I’ve watched this episode and I’ve never noticed that the Scarecrow’s line – “I am fear incarnate. I am the terror of Gotham. I am the Scarecrow” – is similar to a line Batman says towards the end of the episode – “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman.” How did I not notice this before?
8mins – Doing a little bit more research and I can confirm that Nothing to Fear was the 13th episode of Batman: The Animated Series to be broadcast in the UK.
14mins – Batman is currently soaring through Gotham City, clinging to the side of a blimp. This is how all Batman cartoons should be.
16mins 50secs – And here it comes… “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman.” BEST LINE EVER!
18mins – Before this episode ends I should mention that the next time the Scarecrow appears in Batman: The Animated Series he gets a slight makeover. Basically he’s given straw hair – something missing from his costume in this initial appearance.
19mins 25secs – Oh, a little mention for S.T.A.R. Labs here. S.T.A.R. Labs features heavily in Superman mythology.
So far I’m three for three – three great episodes with great HD upgrades. For a show that is known to be so dark, there really is quite a lot of colour in each episode. It’s bizarre to think it’s taken all this time for the world to see the show how it was meant to be seen.
Moving on to episode number four…
The Last Laugh
Full disclosure: I never liked this episode when it originally aired and I still don’t like it now. Sure, The Last Laugh features the Joker, an always reliable villain, but it’s clear that the writers hadn’t quite got to grips with the character at this point in the series and the result is a rather forgettable entry.
1min 10secs – Regardless of my feelings on the story/characterisation, the music in this episode is fantastic. The score is really dynamic, yet playful at times and is the perfect example of how important Shirley Walker was to the success of this series.
6mins – Throughout a good chunk of this episode, the Joker wears a fish-bowl gas mask to protect him from his own laughing gas. The mask daft, yet so much fun.
10mins – While I’m not entirely convinced the writers have a handle on Joker here, Mark Hamill is nailing the role (as usual).
13mins – The Batboat features in this episode. The Batboat made only a few appearances during the course of the series, so maybe I should treasure this moment.
14mins – It really feels redundant to comment on the colours, but WOW, once again the colour palette is fantastic. Throughout various points during the episode the Joker’s gas gives off a green hue and this really lights up the screen at times.
16mins – I think one of the reasons I don’t like this episode is because of the inclusion of a character called Captain Clown – a robot clown who is one of the Joker’s henchmen. There’s no explanation as to why the Joker has a robot henchman and it bugs me.
Yeah, still not a great episode, but it sure looks pretty!
Speaking of which…
1min – Still not bored of these opening credits.
1min 30secs – Harvey Dent makes his second appearance in the series thanks to this episode. Unbeknown to casual viewers, these appearances are designed to establish the character prior to his transformation into Two-Face (which happens from episode ten onward).
4mins – So, this is the episode which introduces Poison Ivy. Once again, as with Man-Bat and Scarecrow, this was a character I wasn’t really familiar with prior to watching this episode. This show really was my gateway into Batman. Sure, the ’60s Batman series was my first real brush with the Caped Crusader, but Batman: The Animated Series was the show that made me a lifelong fan.
4mins 20secs – Pretty obvious thing to say, but Poison Ivy looks gorgeous here.
5mins – For those who have never watched this episode, Harvey Dent (soon to be Two-Face) and Pamela Isley (soon to be revealed as Poison Ivy) are dating. This throwaway plot line is later referenced in the episode, Almost Got ’em.
10mins – This is not only a great Poison Ivy episode, this is also a great episode for establishing the friendship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. This becomes important for the two-part episode, Two-Face, which introduces Harvey’s dark side.
11mins 50secs – One thing that I can say with certainty about this Blu-ray/HD upgrade is that the screen LOVES the colour red. As such, Poison Ivy has never looked better.
13mins 30secs – According to her driving license, Pamela Isley is 28-years-old, is 5-foot-2 and weights 105lbs. She also lives at 69 Green Street, Gotham City.
15mins – I’ve just done a little bit more research for you and in the UK, Pretty Poison was the fourth episode to air on TV, behind The Cat and the Claw Part 1 & 2 and On Leather Wings.
17mins – The final act of this episode sees Batman come face-to-face with Ivy and a rather creepy looking plant. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, the colour palette here is AWESOME.
A superb episode with great writing and an excellent voice cast has now just been elevated thanks to HD.
And now time for another disclaimer: I really don’t like this episode. In my opinion, Underdwellers is one of the worst episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
Will HD change my feelings? It’s time to find out.
1mins – Before I get going on this one, this episode was the 9th episode of Batman: The Animated Series to air in the UK. By this point I was so into this show that even though this is a lacklustre story, I was still transfixed by this episode (during the initial screening at least).
2mins – The animation looks superb. Yeah, I know I keep banging on about how good these episodes look, but I feel like it really needs to be said when I’m watching one of my least favourite episodes.
6mins – The level of detail on display here is fantastic. Jeez, even the villain of the piece – the Sewer King – looks quite menacing. Even if he is a rubbish character.
9mins – *Holds hand up* This episode is actually really well animated.
15mins – Bruce Wayne apparently has weapons on display in his house. Yeah, I don’t buy that. This is one of the reasons why this episode is a bit rubbish, Bruce Wayne would not have guns in his house – period.
18mins – I think I just watched Batman kill an alligator. At the very least, he just broke an alligator’s jaw. Not cool, Batman. Not cool.
Underdwellers is the perfect example of why this HD/Blu-ray upgrade was SO important for this show. Here is an episode that is instantly forgettable, has a one-dimensional villain, yet has suddenly been given a (sort of) new lease of life thanks to high definition!
Underdwellers will forever remain a rubbish episode, but now it actually looks top notch. Maybe during future re-watches I’ll choose to keep it in the mix, instead of skipping it completely.
Hmm… maybe not.
OK, so I’ve watched six episodes back-to-back. Now time for episode number seven…
I recall watching P.O.V when it first aired and spending the majority of the episode wondering when the villain was going to show up. It was only when I re-watched the episode did I realise how good it actually was because it doesn’t have a main villain.
1mins – For those who have never watched P.O.V, this episode is told from the point of view of three cops. Each cop recounts a story, with Batman cropping up at some point in the tale.
3mins – OH, THE COLOURS. THE PRETTY COLOURS. THIS EPISODE IS GORGEOUS TO LOOK AT. Yeah, I know, I should give it a rest by now but it’s true. SO PRETTY.
6mins 30secs – ONCE AGAIN – THE COLOURS! SO PRETTY.
7mins – Detective Bullock is trapped in a burning warehouse and the fire is bursting off the screen.
9mins 30secs – What’s great about this episode is the way in which the cops describe Batman in different ways (as a villain, as a super hero etc). The episode depicts different interpretations of the same character, demonstrating that different people see Batman in a different way.
11mins 30secs – More fire, more COLOURS!
18mins – A good six to seven minutes went by and I didn’t pass comment because I was transfixed. Sorry.
P.O.V has always been a good episode. It’s now an even better episode.
The first time I saw this episode I thought it was a bit dull. A second viewing convinced me it was better than I remembered, but it was still a bit dull.
2mins 30secs – Concerned about disappearances within the homeless community, Bruce Wayne goes undercover on the streets of Gotham to investigate. What’s interesting here is that he’s utilising a disguise that isn’t Batman, but rather that of a nameless homeless man. Throughout the course of the series, Bruce adopts a number of non-Bat-related disguises in order to go places that Batman simply can’t.
5mins – Bruce has amnesia.
6mins – This episode has two things going for it – the music which is very distinctive and the amnesia plot line that actually works quite well here. You see, this series doesn’t have an origin episode, so we have to learn about Bruce Wayne’s past via odd comments or references. Episodes like this one, which include insights into Bruce’s mind, prove pretty important in the grand scheme of things.
10mins 25secs – Bruce is remembering things from his past. Some of this is quite powerful stuff.
20mins – There’s not much else left to say about this episode. The HD makeover looks good, but there’s nothing exciting going on here, so perhaps it’s time to move on.
Time for one final episode before I clock off…
Be a Clown
And now for the ninth and final episode of the night, Be a Clown – easily my least favourite Joker episode. Oh dear.
3mins – In this episode, the Joker disguises himself as a magician-cum-clown. It’s a really boring episode and one in which the Joker spends far too much time pretending to be someone else. I’m really trying to think of something positive to say about Be a Clown… but I can’t.
7mins – An observation – As with most Joker episodes, this is a colourful one. The animation (so far) is nothing special but the HD update improves the look of the episode no end and once again the colours pop off the screen.
11mins – This episode marks the first and only time that Mayor Hill’s son appears in Batman: The Animated Series. I think I speak for everyone when I say this is a good thing as he’s bloody irritating.
18mins – Yeah, I really have nothing of any value to say about this episode. Although the rollercoaster scene looks good.
OK so I’m nine episodes in to this box set and I am completely sold, which is good because I’ve already shelled out £60 for it! Guess I won’t need to return it then. 🙂
Tomorrow I’ll take a look at a few more episodes and also talk a little more about the box set itself – what you get for your money, the bonus features etc. Until then, I’m tired so I’m signing off for the night.
Catch you tomorrow.