Nightwatcher's Patrol #16: The Dark Knight Cometh!

We take a look back at one of WB's greatest franchises.
July 08, 2013

Ever since the dawn of Superman in Action Comics #1 back in June 1938 we lowly mortals have been taken by the idea of super humans using secret identities to save and protect us on a daily basis. There is one super hero however who most of us can relate to since he himself is just as mortal as the rest of us. His darkly toned world and insane rogues gallery have captured countless imaginations and his intelligence is virtually unmatched.

He is vengeance...

He is the night...

He is the friggin' Batman!

Introduced for the first time in Detective Comics #27 in May 1939, Batman has always been one of my favorite super heroes ever since the first Tim Burton movie came out in 1989 starring Micheal Keaton as the Dark Knight and Jack Nicholson as the Clown Prince of Crime.

Wadda you laughin' at?!

I had gotten an action figure of Batman from that movie which really got my bat juices flowing. Unfortunately he had a little mishap one day while I was playing with him outside.

While playing with him I pulled to hard on his "bat rope" and accidentally broke the string (okay, so I was kind of ruff with my toys). Mom had me return Batman to the store and I got my money back. I was really hoping that I could replace him but of course mom said no because of what had just happened with the first one. Anyway, I also remember the big hype surrounding the release of the first sequel Batman Returns, starring Micheal Keaton reprising his role from the first movie and two new actors to the series: Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer as The Penguin and Catwoman.

The bat, the cat, and the bird

I still can't believe it's possible but I think this movie was even darker than the first one! It had the same promotional material as before. There were toys, video games, tee shirts and even two collections at McDonald's, a set of Happy Meal toys and a set of plastic cups. I had the Batmobile from the Happy Meal and the cup featuring Bruce and Selina at the dance. The cup lids could also double as bat frisbies. The Happy Meal toys were shut down early though after the fast food cooperation that owns McDonald's found out why the movie was rated PG-13 (can you say sexual inuendoes?).

I also had some action figures from this one including Arctic Batman, Transforming Bruce Wayne (although he looked oddly deformed as Batman) and The Penguin's penguin troops. My favorite though was the figure of Robin that was released for this one and his very own vehicle the Jet Foil which I was known to play with for hours (I'm a huge Robin fan too). Ironically though, the vehicle actually looked like a bat rather than a bird.

A vehicle for a bird that was meant for a bat?

Believe it or not, I had not seen the movies just yet so I got my first real taste of Batman through television when Warner Bros introduced what is quite possibly one of their greatest cartoon series ever: Batman: The Animated Series. Starting in 1992 the show shared the dark tone of the first two movies and even borrowed both the design for The Penguin from Batman Returns and the theme music (though with a slight tweak) courtesy of the movies' score master Danny Elfman. Nice!

This show was unusually dark for a children's' week day afternoon line up (and I used to watch it every day too). I've read online that it was made that way to appeal to both kids and adults and the art and animation were beautiful. In this series we were thrown into a dark and decrepit world where crime ran rampant and the streets practically teamed with psychopaths and monsters of all shapes and sizes. It is also notable as the series that debuted the Joker's new assistant/girlfriend Harley Quinn who has become so popular that she has enjoyed her very own comic book series. Right off the bat (as it were), in the first episode "On Leather Wings", we and Batman were forced to witness Dr. Kirk Langstrom's gruesome transformation into the Man Bat.

The stuff of nightmares!

And then there was the episode "Nothing To Fear" featuring the debut of the Scarecrow (my favorite Batman villain) and his fear gas...

Man, this just kept getting better

Seriously, I could go on forever with these video descriptions, it was that awesome. And, wouldn't you know it, the series had also gotten it's own Happy Meal at Mickey D's in 1993.

I had Batman and Joker, the latter one I loved, he was the greatest cheap Happy Meal toy I had ever gotten so far. The big Joker head on the front of the car acted as a battering ram, coolness! Just for the record, the cars in this set were better by far than the figures. I think they should all have been cars, that way Batman could have been in the Batmobile. Oh well, what are you going to do. I had some action figures too of course including Man Bat, Joker and transforming Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. One of my favorites though was Power Vision Batman which came with a big silver back pack that hid two batteries.

You would plug the big pack into a hole in Batman's back and it had a little light bulb that would illuminate his chest logo and eyes. He also came with a weapon that fired a glow-in-the-dark projectile. It was a pretty sick figure, I loved it. The series also managed to achieve theatrical status with a full blown movie.

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, aka Batman The Animated Movie, was originally going to be a TV movie but because the series was at the height of it's popularity at the time Warners wanted to release the movie to theaters instead which made for a very constrained scheduled for the film makers. The movie introduces a new enemy called The Phantasm who, upon arriving in Gotham, begins systematically killing mob bosses one by one. Around the same time we are also introduced to Andrea Beaumont, an old love interest of Bruce who is in town on business with her father Carl...and who may not be all that she seems. Unfortunately for Batman the killer bares a slight resemblance to him which is causing the Dark Knight to take the blame for the murders. Now Batman must capture the killer and clear his name (similar to the events in "On Leather Wings" with Man Bat). Not only do we get some juicy background info on Bruce/Batman but we also find out a little more about The Joker. Overall this movie was okay and even got it's own toy line (a whopping seven action figures in all), but is far from being the best of the bunch.

The show proved a huge success by this point, so much so in fact that Warners decided to treat us to a third live action movie.

Riddle me this, riddle me that...

Released in 1995 Batman Forever starred Val Kilmer now filling for Micheal Keaton as Batman, Nicole Kidman as his new love interest Dr. Chase Meridian, Jim Carrey as the Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face and as an added treat for us Robin fans, Chris O'Donnel as The Boy Wonder.

What was the deal with those nipples on Robin's chest plate anyway?

Sadly though, Tim Burton had handed the reins of director over to Joel Schumacher at this point and became executive producer instead. This resulted in a slightly more light hearted approach and an all new theme song which not all bat fans have been entirely happy with. However, while Riddler and Two Face struck in Gotham City, MickeyD's also struck once more, this time with a set of clear glass mugs, each one featuring one of the four main characters from the movie. I still have my Batman mug although it could probably use a good cleaning by now.

I remember walking home from lunch that day being so proud of my young bat fan self for having been able to actually acquire the mug with Batman on it which, if I remember correctly, they were almost out of at the time. I was going to try for a Robin mug too but I ran out of time. Despite the change of director Batman Forever did well enough to trigger the release of yet another live action movie, only this time it wasn't really worth the effort.

Released in 1997 Batman & Robin is the worst of the last live action series. For one thing Val Kilmer couldn't reprise the role of Batman so he was replaced with yet another new actor, this time it was ER's George Clooney. Rounding out the rest of the main cast were Chris O'Donnel, being the only returning actor from the last movie, reprising his role as Robin, Clueless's Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl (ugh!), and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Therman as the main villains, Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. Bane also made his first live action appearance here, as portrayed by Jeff Swenson as his big version, (who I hear is dead now because he used steroids for this role), but he was kind of crappy because he was used by Freeze and Ivy as their muscle instead of being a main villain himself. I remember having waited for McDonald's to start a promo for this one but it never happened. When I saw the movie for myself I found out why. Despite Schumacher's best efforts Batman & Robin was ultimately a box office flop.

There was a tie-in movie though but it's release was delayed until the following year (1998) due to the negativity surrounding Batman & Robin.

This movie shows us the battle between Batman and Mr. Freeze that led to Nora Fries's salvation. Freeze finds out that in order for his wife to finally be cured she needs an organ transplant. Ironically enough the perfect match turns out to be non other than Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and Freeze intends to make sure the surgery is performed even if Barbara dies in the process. Now Batman and Robin (Dick Grayson, who was Barbara's boyfriend by this time), must rescue Barbara and find a less lethal means to save Nora. It is a pretty good movie and it fills in a huge gap in the series to explain why Nora is no longer in the show in a later episode (you know, the one were Freeze is now nothing but a head with mechanical spider legs?).

At this point the animated series had enjoyed a prolonged life, now having taken on two more titles to continue the series.

Season 2

Season 3

Come the final season entitled The New Batman Adventures the show had taken on a new look which was somewhat sleeker than the previous seasons. It also now had Dick Grayson going solo as Nightwing and the new kid Tim Drake taking up the mantle of Robin. Also Batgirl now had a new suit that was in darker colors this time. In all the final season only lasted for twenty four episodes and one of them was, at least in my opinion, the most tragic episode of all. In the episode "Growing Pains" Robin meets a little dark haired girl who has no memory of who she is or why she is here. Robin gives her the name "Annie" and tries to help her out. Sadly though, it is revealed in the end that Annie is a small piece of the villain Clayface who he created to be a scout for him after having reassembled himself following his last battle with Batman. Upon this horrible discovery Annie decides to sacrifice herself by allowing Clayface to reabsorb her in order to save Robin. It was pretty sad because Robin had really grown to care about Annie, but in the end she was not really real but just a human shaped piece of clay. I still nearly cried though. This series was now at a close but it was far from over just yet.

There was to be a fifth installment to the last movie series to be entitled "Batman Triumphant" but thanks to everyone shooting down Batman & Robin the project was cancelled. In Triumphant the main villains would have been (to my sheer joy) The Scarecrow, possibly to be portrayed by Howard Stern of all people, and (to everyone else's sheer joy) Harley Quinn. In this movie Harley would have been Joker's daughter instead of his girlfriend and would have enlisted the Scarecrow to help her get revenge on Batman for killing her father so many years ago by using his fear gas to induce hallucinations in Batman of his fallen nemesis. It would possibly have also had the Mad Hatter as supporting villain this time, possibly portayed by Robin Williams, who would also be my first choice for the role. There was also another live action movie in talks, though completely unrelated to the last series, called "Batman Darknight". The main villains would have been Scarecrow and Man Bat and the story sounds really good actually, some of it having been carried over to Batman Begins. If you want to hear it you can look it up on Wikipedia. Unfortunately that project was also abandoned in favor of a Batman Beyond movie, the main villains of which would have been Blight and Inque. Of course that one also hasn't happened yet, but speaking of Batman Beyond...

Debuting in 1999 and picking up fifty years after the first series Batman Beyond, known in other parts of the world as Batman of the Future, saw Bruce now in retirement from crime fighting. That may sound boring at first but not when you concider him having a new prodigy (literally). Batman was now portrayed by a young man named Terry McGuiness (who we found out in Justice League Unlimited was also Bruce's genetic son! *gasp!*) and Bruce acted as his contact at home base and his guide into the realm of capeless crusading.

This show featured new main villains Derek Powers/Blight, who was unfortunately the new CEO of Wayne Industries, and Inque among others. It also featured the return of Mr. Freeze in an episode but the big event was the return of Batman's original main nemesis.

The title pretty much says it all. Released in 2000 this movie marks The Joker's big come back in the twenty first century where he immediately sets about causing panic and mayhem in the future Gotham. It seems that poor Tim Drake (the second Robin from the last series) is also at the center of this latest shocking chain of events. Now Terry must defeat Joker as the new Batman and put a stop to the criminal clown's latest scheme. This is an interesting movie (not to mention slightly disturbing) and is the first animated movie to receive a PG-13 rating (especially the uncut version *wink wink*).

Well that's about it for the nostalgic part of the Warner Brothers Batman franchise for now. The early 00's have given us some pretty cool bat stuff too including two animated series The Batman and Batman: The Brave And The Bold as well as the live action Dark Knight trilogy. There is also a third animated series on the way called Beware The Batman and possibly another live action movie reboot. but for now I'll revel in my bat memories from the 1990's because that's were my best bat memories are.

Until next time retrojunkers, this is Batman's fellow crime fighter and vigilante Nightwatcher signing off.
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