Recently, Warner Brothers was really scared. Ben Affleck dropped out of directing THE BATMAN, and it seemed like they were having trouble finding a replacement. Lucky for them, Matt Reeves signed the contract and for the studio and many Batman fans, the nightmare ended. For Batman, the nightmare may just be starting.
We don’t know what the movie will be about, but a lot of peeps are betting on THE BATMAN being at least partially based on ARKHAM ASYLUM: A SERIOUS HOUSE ON SERIOUS EARTH, a classic graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. All of this news about THE BATMAN got me thinking about my favorite Batman, the one from BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Over the course of 85 episodes, a team of talented writers, artists, and animators took the core concepts of the Dark Knight and showed us all why the character has lasted for near 80 years now, with no signs of disappearing anytime soon.
We know that Batman gives nightmares to criminals the world over; that is his whole schtick, what with the bad guys being a superstitious and cowardly lot and his being dressed like a giant bat and all. But the question that everyone wonders is, what scares Batman? What nightmares wake the Caped Crusader in the middle of the day? What does Batman fear more than anything else?
Well, how about we look at five great episodes of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES so we can get a few ideas?
NOTHING TO FEAR
BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES pretty much came out of the gate looking to play with what scares the titular hero. NOTHING TO FEAR was the third episode of the series and it went right for the jugular, letting audiences know that this wasn’t going to be SUPER FRIENDS.
In the episode, Batman gets a big old whiff of Scarecrow’s fear toxin and begins hallucinating. What he sees, what cuts right to the core of Bruce Wayne is his parents, and I’m not talking about their death. What Bruce fears most is that he will never live up to them, to the expectations he thinks they would have for him, or to the legacy he feels they deserve. Batman is a character who could easily find peace if his parents showed up one day and told him they were proud of their son, but that will never happen, and so he is forever stuck trying to prove he is worth their pride.
Oh, and the scene is super crazy
BE A CLOWN
I wasn’t sure I would include this one, but I chose to because I think the fear for Bats in this episode is rooted deep in his mythos. It isn’t just that Joker is the villain Batman has the biggest issues with, but what Joker is doing in this episode. In BE A CLOWN, Joker finds himself saddled with a little boy named Jason, who happens to be the son of the mayor of Gotham. Joker, being a real jerk and all, starts to remake the boy in his image.
That is the fear for Batman – that chaos, which Joker most certainly is an agent of, will grow with each generation. Batman is all about order, and all you need to do to know that is to look at his carefully laid out utility belt. Joker, on the other side, is all about destruction and confusion. He wants to pull the system down, and corrupting the youth is a hell of a way to do it. If Joker were to win, if chaos was to take over, then Batman would have failed in his mission.
PERCHANCE TO DREAM
Bruce Wayne wakes up to find that his life has been nothing more than a terrible nightmare. His parents are very much alive, there is no secret base hidden under Wayne Manor, and he is engaged to Selina Kyle. Right away, Bruce thinks none of this is right, and when he sees Batman, he knows it.
Again, this fear for Batman is all about control, and living a life where is isn’t in control, where he is dyslexic and unable to do anything for himself, is frightening to him. Even with his parents alive, Bruce can’t shake the knowledge that what he is seeing and feeling is false.
Worse of all for Bruce is that when he does come out of his dream (which he was placed in by the Mad Hatter) he now has to live the rest of his life with the memory of a life where his family was never destroyed.
I AM THE NIGHT
You may notice a recurring theme of family in the nightmares of Batman. This isn’t a mistake; this really is the heart of Batman. At the end of the day, the Dark Knight is a scared boy calling out for his mom and dad, knowing that they will never come for him. Bruce builds a surrogate family around himself by finding others who have lost someone. Alfred Pennyworth who fought in World War II and lost many a friend and family member, Dick Grayson who watched his parents die, Barbara Gordon who lost her mother (though the show never goes into that). On the outskirts of his close family lie others, like Jim Gordon, Commissioner of the Gotham Police.
We tend to think of Alfred as Batman’s surrogate father, but if we really look at the relationship, Alfred is more of a mother figure. He cares for Bruce in a far more maternal fashion, bandaging his wounds, cleaning up after him, and supporting his more insane ideas. Commissioner Gordon is the more traditional father figure for Bruce; the authoritarian who pushes Bruce to face his fears, but is there to help guide him if needed. He’s not a great father figure for Bruce, but he’s the one Bruce has.
Which makes the events of I AM THE NIGHT all the more horrifying for Batman. While at Crime Alley to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of his parents, Batman gets caught up in a minor problem, making him late for a planned raid of a known drug dealer. Gordon, unable to keep waiting for Batman to arrive, starts the raid and sure enough, the Commissioner is shot.
As Gordon lies in the hospital in a coma, Batman pretty much loses his cool. He blames himself for what happened, just as he blames himself for the death of his parents. As with NOTHING TO FEAR, this episode takes a look at Batman’s fear of failing those he loves, but by using Commissioner Gordon, the series had a chance to shine a light rarely seen on the Batman mythos.
Of all of Batman’s rogues, Joker is the one he fears the most, but Two-Face is the one he needs to help. Once a promising District Attorney, Harvey Dent’s turn to villainy happened, in part, because of Batman’s failure to save him. With half his body covered in scars and a mind split into two personalities constantly warring for control, there is something in Two-Face that resides inside Batman, a hope to get better.
Batman puts a lot of faith in the idea of rehabilitation, and he believes that if Harvey Dent can be saved, then Gotham can be saved. Because of this, Batman will never give up on Harvey, no matter what happens.
In this episode, Harvey is about to go under the knife. An experimental form of plastic surgery could fix the scars, helping Harvey break away from the Two-Face persona, freeing him from his insanity. Just as the operation is about to begin, Harvey is kidnapped from the hospital. As Batman and Robin hunt for the men who took Two-Face, Bats never loses hope in the man who was once his friend. When Batman learns the truth, that Two-Face kidnapped himself to stop the operation so that he could destroy what is left of Harvey before Harvey could destroy him (does that make sense? It make sense in the episode) his hopes are all but crushed. If there’s no redemption for Harvey Dent, can there ever be redemption for a little boy who let his parents die?
Are these the best episodes of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES? Maybe not, but they sure are high up there. More to it, they do something few other episodes do, they give us a peek at the inner-self of Batman. For comic fans, this isn’t all that new, but for the more casual Batman fan, this really is a rarity.
*All Photos: DC Comics, Warner Television