“I am Vengeance. I am The Night. I am also a Podcast!” So begins Batman: The Animated Podcast, a new variety hour that celebrates the 23-year-old, Bruce Timm-designed cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series, often considered one of the preeminent incarnations of the Dark Knight. With each episode of the podcast exploring a single episode of the show, host Justin Michael (half of the comedy duo behind the popular Before You Were Funny podcast, and co-creator of Friendship All-Stars), combines sketches, interviews, and clips, with the showmanship of a vaudevillian and a Rain Man-like knowledge of the Caped Crusader, to create a truly enjoyable audio-journey through ’90s nostalgia.
Michael is not alone in his Batma-philia. Within a week of the first episode’s posting, the series shot up the iTunes podcast charts, breaking into the top 50, reaching as high as #3 in the TV & Film category, and earning a much coveted feature in the iTunes store. It probably didn’t hurt that his first guests included Team Unicorn’s Clare Grant and Robot Chicken‘s Seth Green (who, we learn, provided a voice for the series as a kid).
Nerdist had a chance to sit down and chat with Justin Michael, the Caped Podcaster just before the release of the second episode. Topics included childhoods spent in front of the TV, future podcast guests, and who would win in a fight between Batman and Jaws (His answer may surprise you… But only if you’re easily surprised).
Nerdist: Why make a podcast about a 20-year-old TV show?
Justin Michael: That’s a good question. I don’t think I have a reasonable answer.
N: That was kind of a softball of a question.
JM: Well, guess what, they’re all hardballs when you don’t prepare for an interview. Honestly, it’s my favorite show of all time. It really is. I was thinking that if I had to go to a desert island and had one show to watch over and over again, it would be Batman. Which is insane. It was made for eight to ten year olds.
N: How many episodes where there?
JM: In the original animated series, there were 85. And there’s kind of an expanded fourth season, if you will, The New Batman Adventures, with an additional 24, where they kind of changed the style, but it was all within the same continuity. And then there are the feature films, all direct to video and one theatrical release. They are such big events, I wan’t to devote more time to them. I definitely want to tackle Mask of the Phantasm. That’s my all-time favorite Batman movie.
N: So if you were on a desert island with only these DVDs, how long would it take you to get through them all?
JM: Oh, real fast. I mean, I’m alone? I’m imagining there’s no technology in this scenario, so I just have the DVDs and no way to watch them. I open up a coconut and put a DVD in there, and I’ve gone so insane already, so I think I’m watching “Heart of Ice”.
N: Do you have the episodes memorized?
JM: Yeah, so in this scenario, I’m saying all the dialogue out loud. I used to do 30-40 minutes shows with the action figures, that I would advertise around my house -to my mom and to my babysitter and my sister. It must have been painful to watch an eight year old go through a fully rehashed Batman episode where he’s singing all the music in between the dialogue, and it’s longer than an actual TV show, but with less attention to detail or plot. Just spouting out lines that I heard and then mashing action figures together.
N: How were your ratings?
JM: They plummeted after people arrived and saw that it was a child.
N: What drew you to the show when you were a kid?
JM: I was drawn to anything super hero related, but what endured about BTAS was that it was a higher quality of storytelling, of artistry, even of style; they coined “dark deco” for the show. It was all very visually appealing. Most of the time, the show didn’t treat you like a kid. Sure, there were “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement” and “The Underdwellers”, that were kind of weaker episodes, because they were so clearly targeted to kids. But the good ones have extremely adult scenarios. For example, the first Two-Face episode, which barely has any Batman in it, is a man having a mental breakdown and dealing with his anger management issues. It ends without a big fight; just some acid exploding in his face. There was something about that darkness, and of being treated like an adult, even if it was implicitly, that was appealing.
Other cartoons had such strict rules, like Spiderman, who wasn’t allowed to land punches. But Batman, I can’t believe they got away with what they got away with. They had tommy guns spraying people with bullets. I mean, Dick Grayson’s parents died in an episode: “Robin’s Reckoning”. I think the story behind it was there was a Standards & Practices note that said, “You can’t actually show their death.” So they cut around it in a way that is almost more effective and powerful. “Limitation breeds creativity.” That old Jaws vibe: because the shark didn’t work, they didn’t use it as much, and the result ends up being even scarier. Batman is Jaws, that’s what I’m trying to say.
N: Who would win between Jaws and Batman (and not Adam West’s Batman, since we know he has the shark repellent)?
JM: I got to say Batman. Jaws has died at least four times in movies. And I’ve seen Batman wrestle, and essentially kill, a shark in “The Laughing Fish”. Sorry, Jaws. I still love you.
N: Who do you have in store for future guests?
JM: I made things difficult for myself by making the podcast a variety show instead of strictly an interview show. So I have some banked interviews, but I’m working to fill out the rest of those episodes. For example, comedian Ben Garant came in, which was pretty cool. He talked about his favorite episode, “Beware the Gray Ghost”. But the dream is to also get Adam West [who guest starred on the episode] on the phone for that, so I’m holding out on Garant for now.
The new episode features Jeffrey Combs, who was the voice of The Scarecrow, but also played The Re-Animator and a bunch of aliens in Star Trek. He’s a cult movie and TV icon. He was down to do some bits for the show beyond the interview. So I had Jeffrey Combs, in my closet, recording as The Scarecrow.
I also bring in my oldest friend, Harry Chaskin. Who better to start with than the guy who watched me manically pause and un-pause the commercials while I live recorded the episodes. And now Harry is a stop-motion animator, director, and voice actor himself.
JM: When the first episode came out, I thought nobody was going to listen to this thing. Instead it exploded. It got so much more of a response than I ever thought it would. I’ve had worldwide fans reach out, which is nuts. Hopefully the special guests will keep coming, too.