This year, for my Inspiration related posts, I want to talk about things I’m watching on TV and reading. Because part of me thinks that one of the reasons I have become lethargic about writing is that I’m not allowing myself time to experience other people’s properly.
We start with something from my childhood. I remember when I was a kid watching endless amounts of cartoons that, looking back, were intensely dark and weird. I was an avid fan of the X-Men cartoon and I watched Earthworm Jim and Animaniacs and stuff like that. But the cartoon that I remember most vividly having a huge effect on me was Batman: The Animated Series.
A lot of people say this. They should. It’s perfection in a cartoon.
I bought the entire first series on DVD a short while back (it was on offer for three English pounds in a book shop, weirdly) and started myself back on that fabulous road of nostalgia. I kind of imagined my re-run of B:TAS kind of like my re-run of X-Men, in that I’d start watching it and instantly feel far too old for the lame plotlines and stupid villains. I found a Youtube channel that ran the entire series of X-Men and couldn’t watch past the first episode. I felt… old. And cheated. And a bit embarrassed.
I remembered X-Men as the coolest, most of-the-moment cartoon of my childhood. It was edgey and it had explosions and all sorts of cool stuff. But as an adult, it was lame. And it kind of hurt.
So when I put the first disc of B:TAS in my DVD player, I was expecting disappointment.
Instead? Instead, I was transported back to exactly how I felt as a primary school child, watching that cartoon.
To start: that opening sequence. I mean, seriously. Get on Youtube and search it and watch it. Those clean lines, that harsh colour-scheme, that endlessly awesome theme tune. The opening sequence is the show in a nutshell. Dark, cruel and exciting.
And then we are treated not to an origin story, but to a Batman in the midst of his wonder-years. That’s how you start a strong Batman series. Everyone who was watching that cartoon knew, or didn’t need it, or didn’t rightly care. And why should they? Each episode is like a tiny film, perfectly crafted with brilliant characters and excellent writing. It stands up on its own. At the age of seven, Bruce Wayne’s tragedy didn’t matter to me. I wanted to see Batman defeating villains and solving crimes.
In that same way it appeals to that seven-year-old, it appeals to adults too. There are dark undercurrents of addiction, psychosis and death that haunt every story. And when I re-entered B:TAS I felt somehow like it had aged with me, like I had grown into it and it had been waiting for me all along to do so. I remember watching it with my Dad and having long conversations with him about it; I can see now why he agreed to sit through it with me on a Sunday morning in the first place.
No wonder the thing won awards.
I think this is what the films never hit quite right. That balance between the kind of gimmicky, fun side of Batman and the dark, awful side. Burton’s films got closer than the rest. We seem to fall on one side of Batman or the other, either with Joel Schumacher’s charicatures or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
X-Men was a cartoon of its time. B:TAS is something else. The way it blends all facets of Batman together is perfect. Every piece of writing should aspire to do what it did.
Having finished series one now, I’m searching for series two. Anyone who loved this cartoon in their childhood should watch it again. You will be glad you did.