DCAU #182: Holiday Knights

IN THIS ONE... The Batman Family's adventures over the course of the Holiday season. Again.

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Dan Riba.

REVIEW: The New Batman Adventures are off to an odd start. I'm not talking about the redesigns (I'll keep those to the end), nor even about the fact this Christmas/New Year's episode was broadcast in mid-September. Rather, and this would have been lost on viewers not also invested in the tie-in comics, it's that this trio of stories (plus coda) are adapted straight from Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1. It is essentially a repeat. And they had a wonderful opportunity to tell different stories, and still end on Batman and Gordon's tradition of meeting on January 1st to toast their surviving another year. For comics readers, it would have been a nice "they did it again" moment. Alas.

And yes, sure, the stories retold were pretty great to begin with, and I suppose Dini and Riba (who contributed to those stories) must've not wanted to "waste" them on a smaller audience. Adapting them to television allows for some excellent atmospheres, animation and character acting. But to my eyes, they don't manage the same energy they had on the page. Harley and Ivy trying on clothes and all that was a fun and detailed spread in the comic, for example, but while the show bathes the sequence in color and music, its pace is languid. The Batgirl vs. Clayface story has some horridly drawn kids, even if we're supposed to understand they're "unfinished" for a reason, I guess. Joker's plot to kill revelers at midnight was my least favorite story in the original book, and is perhaps only notable here because it introduces a new Robin and the Joker's Three Stooges-inspired henchmen, Mo, Lar and Cur. All four stories are, and I've just checked, almost beat for beat what was in the comic, except some of my favorite bits (Batman breaking the fourth wall, Barbara using a changing room) are missing. And what of every other writer and artist who worked on the Special? Where are their credits?

Some of the only differences have to do with the redesign of the Batman universe - new Robin, new looks for most of the characters - so let's address the so-called Revamp. Chronologically, this would have come about a month before World's Finest, which has already been covered here, so I'm already kind of used to it. The characters are more angular, more simplified, and seem to draw more overtly on anime influences. Generally, these redesigns don't really move me (Ivy with pale skin), or I like less than the originals (Joker without red lips, Gordon having lost a lot of weight), but y'know, whatever, they're not deal breakers. Having moved to Kids WB, there can be talk of murder (the Superman show was likewise allowed a few deaths), and I think we'll see the technology become more modern to Gotham more in line with contemporary Metropolis. The weird thing is Batman reverting to a Year One look - no oval, pouches on belt - and with a young Robin tagging along (who will only later be revealed to be Tim Drake, while Dick has grown up to become Nightwing), you could mistake this for the past, if not for all the relationships with villains and allies already set. And they haven't changed the opening sequence, which admittedly is the best in television history, even though it shows, in its final shot, the yellow oval. Ultimately, there's more good than bad here, and it's really up to the scripts to dazzle us, as I think the animation side of things is well sorted by this point, no matter what "skins" the characters wear.

IN THE COMICS: Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 beat for beat, like I said, even shot for shot, at times. The Special does have a Mr. Freeze story that was not animated, and reversed the order on Batgirl and Harley/Ivy. Robin (any incarnation) did not appear in the Joker story.

SOUNDS LIKE: Tim Drake is played by Mathew Valencia; this is his only famous credit. Mo, Lar and Cur are all played by Ron "Hellboy" Perlman (on loan from Clayface) for this episode only. Batgirl's Melissa Gilbert is replaced by Tara Strong, the voice of Raven on Teen Titans, Bubbles in Powerpuff Girls, and many more. She was glimpsed in live action as the unnamed Harley Quinn in an episode of Arrow.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - If you don't read the comics, a Medium-High. I don't mind adapting old Batman stories from the 70s, but this was already a DCAU story from only a couple years back.


LiamKav said...

(Surprised there aren't more comments on the redesign...)

From what I understand, there were two reasons for the revamp. One was to bring it inline with STAS, and the other was to make it cheaper to animate as the had a bit of a smaller budget. Batman's face has less lines, the blacks of his costume now blend in together so they don't have to draw seperate parts... it's certainly very distinctive. It's notable how lots of people aren't mad on the redesigns, considering how many of those elements (lack of yellow oval, pounches instead of capsules on the belt, the increased use of red on Robin's custome) ended up in the DC Universe proper.

I think the producers have admitted that they went a bit too far with the Joker redesign, in particular losing the red lips. When he reappears in Justice League and BB:Return of the Joker (er, spoiler?) he's basically an amalgamation of both designs. Apparently part of the reasoning for his redesign was that some animation studios kept getting his face wrong, leading to costly re-takes. A similar reason is behind Ivy's redesign... some studios kept making her overly buxom, so she's been redesigned to make that harder to do.

Other thoughts:

- I think this is the last time we head Conroy's "Bruce Wayne" voice. From this point on he uses the same tones for both Bruce and Batman.
- Ivy and Harley in a single room with just a double bed in it. That subtext is becomming less and less "sub".
- I don't know if it's just me getting older, but the DCAU dedication to making women all sexy, all the time it starting to get a bit weird. Ivy's chunky sweater with the belly cut out is one thing, but if store elves looked like Montoya and wore outfits that tiny, I'm sure there would be complaints.
- Harley stands out as the BTAS character who has changed the least. A similar thing happens with Two-Face. As to who has changed the most, we'll get to him...
- I recall a fan-theory behind Gordon's weight loss as being that he'd suffered a stroke, or similar health issue. A bit depressing, but it makes sense.
- I really miss the old title cards. Again, I believe this was a money saving exercise and makes sense with the "modernisation" of the DCAU, but it's a shame. I have similar thoughts with the more modern but less distintive Batmobile.
- There actually was a new title sequence, but it was a combined one for The New Batman/Superman Adventures. For the DVDs they've just used the original, I believe.

Hang on, have you skipped Sub-Zero? It definitely needs to be watched before the next Mr Feeze episode.

Siskoid said...

I haven't skipped SubZero, it just isn't out yet! By which I mean, the Freeze episode (come back tomorrow) was broadcast months before SubZero was released! I address the boneheadedness of this in the review, but I'm committed to reviewing these in the order they came out.

Thanks for all the extra content about the redesign.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Actually, I left a long treatise on the redesign- and my phone swallowed it as I went to post it. In brief:

Ugh. I mean, don't get me wrong- I like the overall style. And I think some characters (chunky-cheeked Bruce Wayne, whose look I never liked, Batgirl, who looks better than ever) benefit. Still much as I grew up with these designs, after watching all the preceding seasons- yeah, Joker fares worst. Gordon and Bullock look too simplistic; Ivy and Catwoman who have a new pallor (the latter's inexplicably, as we'll see in Cult of the Cat, since her out-of-the-suit skin tone is still normal). Tributes to Tim Burton are all well and good, but there needs to be some rhyme or reason to it.

Worse is the much more juvenile tone that comes in to this era. The humor is sillier, the writing more kiddie, and even the action somehow less engaging, less gripping. Everything feels more in the realm of cartoon then animated adventure, and that's... just frustrating. It's not like this era can't still tell some good stories, but it has a much more uphill battle to do so.

For the overall DCAU, I like this style. I think STAS is great, and the redesign is of benefit to the DCAU since it allowed the show to continue more cheaply and bring us great shows like STAS, Batman Beyond, and Justice League. But, looking at BTAS in isolation, this was not good for the show; it is kind of a pale shadow of its former self. BTAS took one for the team, and while this change was for the greater good, it wasn't for Batman's good. Still, the design changes themselves might not be so objectionable if it wasn't for the writing dropoff/re-targeting that came along with them; something that I never recognized until watching these all the way through. That's the real problem; it's just so inextricably linked with the visual redesign that it's hard to see the two as separate changes.

Oh, and I agree with everything you say, LiamKav- particularly missing the titlecards. And I wish we did have the phenomenal Batman/Superman Adventures opening on the DVDs somewhere. Shirley Walker does it again- another magnificent theme tune.


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