The Gotham Cityscape

An article showing my love towards the mood and the settings of the Batman Animated Series
November 17, 2008
I was about 5 years old when "Batman : The Animated Series" (BTAS) debuted. I was excited when I saw the advertisements for this show. My older brother had given me all of his Batman toys from the previous movies, so I was accustomed to the Dark Crusader before the premiere. In fact, my mom tells me that Tim Burton's "Batman" was the first movie I ever saw in theaters. Of course, I cried my eyes out (I was almost 2) from the loud sounds/ dark environment. But soon I would become so enthralled with the dark environment the new series would possess.

The animation done in the animated series was on the cutting edge of the cartoon world. For the most part, the artists were to use a black paper as the background, unlike the common usage of a white paper. This made a more surreal and shrouded environment for the show. In fact, if looked closely, you can see the dirt and dust that landed on the stills during recording. Because of the dark complexity of the show, these abnormalities became very apparent.

The darkness of the show created an atmosphere that easily swept the viewer into the storyline. One could tell that the mood was dark and scary to walkthrough. Although it was a children's show, it pushed the limits towards being more adult than most. A scene such as this

could be interpreted as a scene in a film full of gang wars, drugs, prostitutes, and Al Pacino. The warehouses and dark alleys can attract the youth and adults alike. The children who watched this show were intrigued with the mystery of the whole atmosphere. "I'm not generally into dark and scary closets, but I know Batman will show up soon and beat up the bad guys." See, even with the darkness, the premise of the show featured the security blanket in having the hero, Batman.

One of the weirdest things to grasp is whether the show takes place during the golden age of the 1920's, 30's, and 40's of the US, or in a modern time. The usage of technologies and such gives rise to the assumption that a modern era is being used. It's almost as if it's a modern city that is still grabbing hold of the cultural aspects of the 30's. Men still wear suits and hats, women wear dresses, and elongated cars

are still in fashion. That's the beauty of Batman. It was created by Bob Kane in 1939. That type of wardrobe was still accepted as the norm. Remarkably, Batman uses the same (for the most part) dress schemes and cultural nuances throughout his entire run. Sure, there are handheld computers and high frequency telecommunication devices, but nothing beats the use of a good ole derby and button-less phone.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the universe of Superman's Metropolis in "Superman : The Animated Series". Many architectural standards are used from Gotham in Metropolis, but surrounded by a modern, and almost futuristic, society. Of course, this is due to the fact that the two shows used the same artists. Check these pics out:

A common element found in both is the use of a bridge between two buildings. What's the purpose of this bridge? Do people need to traffic across two different buildings during their workday? Probably not, but this is something I always enjoyed seeing in the comics, shows, and movies. It's just some random thing that makes the environment of Batman and Superman its own. These structures are actually being used in modern architecture. The twin towers in Kuala Lumpur use a walkway between the two adjacent buildings. The hilarity is the use of extra stabilization in comparison to the animated bridges. But it's a kid's cartoon. It doesn't need to make sense; just appealing.

The pedestrian bridge between the twin towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Designed Facets
Elements and obscurities have made BTAS an unforgettable show. How can you forget about the Joker's hide out in "Christmas with the Joker"?

It screams Joker, doesn't it? The cryptic building seems more likely to scare kids away from it. The light shining on it like a boy scout telling a scary story with a flashlight gives the building an likeable look. Joker, in a nutshell, is twisted. His appearance is twisted, his mind is twisted, and so, his belongings are twisted. The building has parts that look like they shouldn't really be there. Why are there 4 smokestacks? How much energy could this toy company need to use 4 exhausts? It just doesn't add up, but neither does Joker's mind.

Also, Gotham's Finest travels in the most impractical manner. Blimps, either it be the Goodyear or Hindenburg, just aren't reliable to help protect a city. If they were to land, it would have to be in the outskirts of the city or the fairgrounds. Why put this

in the night skies? Who knows, but it just adds to the 30's feel and intangible pleasure of seeing something out of place. I love the analogy of saying that these blimps are the guardians of Gotham. Floating in the air as the all-seeing eyes of the sky, when the fact is, Batman protects the city.
Wayne Manor had the cool factor going for it. The large house was placed atop a cliffside that looked threatening to topple over. A spiraling driveway made a grand entrance for a visitor and topped the scene off perfectly. Only a billionaire playboy could live in such an awesome house. Something odd in looking at this picture is that the house looks pretty squished together. When we saw the interior of the house, we saw tall ceilings, high bookcases, and giant windows climbing the walls (each with a piece of fabric that could be used to sail a boat that was opted to be a curtain). I suppose these features were used to help establish that to be a Wayne had to be tasking. Bruce had some "big shoes to fill" after his father's death.

The city had motifs that could only be found in the rarest of places. Corner buildings are not common in a commercialized city on account that the space is odd to build on, but guess what? Gotham has one.

In this pic, a theme used a lot in the designing of Gotham is the use of oddly layered buildings. These cascading ledges produce an attractive object that the eye catches quickly. We think, "That's not used too often in real life, that's pretty cool." I know I've drawn some buildings with these rolling ledges in my days.

Lighting places is a crucial role in developing this series' mood. The lights from the traffic at ground level produce most of the city's illumination (not crazy lights on the building like we see in today's cityscapes). This suggests that the city is bustling, even in the wee hours of the night. The shadows start at the tops of the buildings, the most preferred spot for Batman to watch his city fester.

One final note to make in the designing of Gotham is the things on top of the buildings. Swimming pools, gardens, huge sky-windows, and sometimes additional houses are placed atop these buildings. The grandeur of this creates the visions of the high-life in Gotham. It's a place of people with full pockets, but with corruption down below on the streets. They choose to escape the dirt that live below and move in houses on stilts.

Coloring and Comparisons
Grit oozed from this show. Earth-toned colors, like the rusts, golds, dark reds, and browns, helped establish a nostalgic feel harking to the 1930's. This artwork has always grabbed my attention. I love the old car posters of the 20's, 30's, and 40's. They used tall lettering and these colors, including cool blues and greens. The art was simple, but eye catching:

The Superman series used more bright colors than in BTAS. Buildings were painted light greys, the skies were always a beautiful blue, and many metallic colors were predominate (futuristic equipment). This series capitalized on being so bright. Most of the segments happened during the day. Sure, some action sequences were at night, but it's hard to not face the fact that Darkseid would even pop out of a boom tube during the day. His name's DARKseid, for crying out loud! Still a great show, in itself.

In the comic realm, the same artistic technique found in those posters is used by Darwyn Cooke (of the "New Frontier" fame) in "Batman Ego" (one of the best depiction of the series' cityscape in comic form {ie. architecture, building lighting, blood-red skies, etc.}). The cover for the first Ego comic is still one of my all time favorite covers. Everything I loved about BTAS has a place on the cover.

On the otherside of things, Superman has been sketched in the same manner. Against what most people would believe to be the normal environment, Dave Bullock depicted The Man of Steel's world as close to The Dark Knight's world as can be. The same colors, lighting, and architecture are used in Bullock's cover of "Action Comics #810".

Notice the dang bridges are used in both, too.

Gotham still hosts all of these elements today, even without the show. In Michael Turner's stint in Superman/Batman, many things were still used. We can see blimps, bridges, the traffic glow along the buildings, and the use a rustic hue that BTAS used quite often. It's a little more detailed, but the general idea still remains.

Thanks for reading my article. I had a great time writing about one of my favorite TV shows. The show was a masterpiece overall. I wrote mostly about the first few seasons of the show in this article because the later episodes were more crisp and less dark. I wanted to write about the lack of bright aspects because that's what made the show so great. No other show has been able to light a candle to the beauty BTAS brought; pardon the pun. Laters.

Thanks to the website:
for the pics I needed.
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