Welcome back to Batman Reanimated, which takes a hard look at the Timmverse animated series about Batman. Just kidding, it’s really just an excuse to relive one of the greatest cartoon shows in history.
As we’re on to the 1997 update, colloquially known as The New Batman Adventures, we have little choice but to compare it and contrast it with the 1992 Batman: TAS. And, while New Batman‘s first episode, “Holiday Knights,” was a good indicator of the kind of show we’d get, the one thing that really sets this series apart from the previous has nothing to do with the simpler character design: it’s its new Robin, Tim Drake. Episode two, “Sins of the Father,” is all about him…and guys, he might be the Scrappy-Doo of this series.
I never really clocked it at the time of original broadcast–since I was 13 and not at all cognizant of such things–but the focus on the Bat Family in the New Batman is really in the forefront. The Dick Grayson Robin didn’t appear all that often in TAS, and even when he did, he was a college student and obviously an adult. Here, perhaps to draw in the younger Kids WB crowd–who had no representation on the Superman series–the decision was made to move Dick over to being Nightwing and introduce a new Robin…but he’s an annoying little kid, at least at the outset. And that really makes his induction into the world of Batman all the more troubling.
The story–written by Rich Fogel–essentially combines Tim Drake’s origins with that of Jason Todd; Tim in this version is a street kid whose father was a criminal who owed money to Two-Face. When Two-Face comes to collect, Tim–who hasn’t actually seen his father in some time–has to defend himself, and gets wrapped up with Batman in the process, returning to the Batcave in the Batmobile when the Dark Knight is incapacitated. It’s too late to keep him from learning the truth, but Batman in no way wants Tim to don the Robin suit. However, that doesn’t stop the young lad from endeavoring to help Batman and Batgirl take down Two-Face’s dastardly city-bombing scheme.
So, my problem with Tim is really that they don’t measure his brashness very well. Obviously any kid that grows up on the streets with a convict father will have a chip on his shoulder, but Tim’s much more arrogant than I think he should be. It also grates every single time he refers to Two-Face as “Puke-Face,” which is several. While I think his softer moments, which bring out the sadness of the boy and gives Bruce sympathy to his plight (another orphan who needs a father figure), are done well, he’s just such an annoying character otherwise in this episode that it really puts me off.
What I do really like, though, is what it says about Bruce Wayne as both a mentor and a taskmaster. It’s implied throughout the episode that Dick Grayson isn’t around anymore, and we’re led to believe–by Alfred most prominently–that he and Bruce had a major falling out, which made him give up the mantle of Robin. This series, far more than TAS, also shows Batman treats his young wards, and even Barbara Gordon who has her own life and family outside of the Batcave, as soldiers he puts through hell so they become better at crime fighting. Naturally, these two things–nurturing parent and pitiless drill sergeant–feel really at odds and introduce some very complex issues into Batman’s already scarred psyche. These things come to the forefront in many episodes in this series, and doesn’t shy away from Bruce’s culpability in putting the lives of children in danger for the sake of his crusade.
Let’s talk about the redesign of the villainous Two-Face for this series. Overall, the former Harvey Dent didn’t get changed too much from the earlier show to this one. His hair is still half black and half white, and his blown-up face is still blue. The biggest change appears to be the suit, which fully goes to white and black, from the off-white in the earlier series. He in general appears a little more demonic, but given the drastic changes of most of the other villains, I’d say that Two-Face got off pretty light.
Ultimately, “Sins of the Father” feels much more like a first episode than “Holiday Knights” did, and it introduced both the best and worst of whats to come in the further 22 episodes. If I remember rightly, Tim Drake gets slightly more tolerable as the show goes on–and he only appears in 12 of the episodes in total, so it’s not like we always have to deal with him–but he definitely didn’t make a great first impression. Maybe next week’s episode will be better. Episode 3 is the return of fan-favorite Mr. Freeze in an episode called “Cold Comfort.”
Until then, let me know what you think of New-Robin in the comments below!
Images: WB Animation/DC Comics