Home > B-plus, Batman: The Animated Series, Episode Reviews > Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 105 – “Legends of the Dark Knight”

Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 105 – “Legends of the Dark Knight”

November 2, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

LOTDK

Story by: Robert Goodman, Bruce Timm
Written by: Robert Goodman
With acknowledgement to the works of Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, and Frank Miller
Directed by Dan Riba
Original Airdate: October 10, 1998
DVD: Batman TAS, Volume 4

Summary: A trio of children reveal what they think Batman is really like, prior to getting involved in a showdown between Batman and Firefly.

Background:

This episode features three distinct segments – much like similar anthology episodes P.O.V. and Almost Got ‘Im from the old format – but is unique in that the first two segments are visually very different from the usual DCAU style. They each pay tribute to a separate era in Batman history, and were the result of Bruce Timm… not really liking where director Joel Schumacher had taken the Batman franchise in Batman Forever:

… it was right after Batman Forever had come out, and, obviously, I didn’t really like that movie very much. But I started thinking about how there’re (sic) so many different interpretations of Batman – everything from Adam West to Frank Miller to Tim Burton and Shoemaker (sic) started bringing the Adam West elements back in – and how everything comes around and goes around.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, page 61

Timm hit on the idea of an anthology episode featuring kids’ differing interpretations of Batman that coincidentally matched up with various eras in the character’s history. The two eras chosen were probably at two polar opposite eras in the history of Batman – Dick Sprang and Frank Miller. Sprang’s era was notable for its over-the-top action, gadgets, and especially the giant props which certainly gave Gotham City a distinct visual look (this was the type of place that would have buildings with giant crossword puzzles on them). Miller, of course, famously wrote The Dark Knight Returns in the mid-1980s, featuring an aged Batman forced to come out of retirement to attempt to save Gotham City. His grizzled, dark take on Batman was and still is a major influence on the character and comics in general, especially in terms of Batman’s single-minded approach to crimefighting and the post-apocalyptic nature of Gotham City.

(I don’t like DKR that much, really; I’m a much bigger fan of Miller’s Year One, largely because I love pre-supervillain Batman stories).

Note: Batman “co-creator” Bill Finger is given a tribute notice in the episode along with Sprang and Miller, which is a bit odd as even though he was the writer of many of Sprang’s stories, Bob Kane’s notorious contract with National Comics (which turned into DC) meant he never got credit for his Batman work. I’m fairly sure this is the only acknowledgement of Finger in the DCAU, although like most historic Batman creators he has had a tribute paid to him via the canonical Map of Gotham, as one of Gotham’s many rivers is named after him.

Thoughts on the Episode:

One of the reasons that Batman is as popular a character as he is is that Batman works well when written in any fashion. For a character that has relatively mundane roots as a 1930’s mystery man, the sheer longevity of the Batman concept has resulted in dozens of different versions of the character being put forward in the ensuing seven decades. From those influenced by spy movies to camp to Gothic horror, they’re all valid simply because Batman is a moving target, character-wise. Not that I usually use Timm quotes to illustrate my points in this section, let’s just say that if you don’t believe me, just ask him:

There’s a certain validity to all those different versions. They don’t cancel each other out, they’re all, to a degree, justifiable.

Bruce Timm, ibid.

What makes this episode work is that because the DCAU Batman is such a melange of other interpretations – he’s dark, but occasionally funny, and balances the superhero and vigilante aspects of the character – that any time you go outside that style, the effect is really dramatic.

The order of the segments is smart; even if the viewer doesn’t go into the episode knowing “oh, this is the one that riffs on DKR“, the Sprang-era segment is was just so strange from a modern perspective that it’s almost a bigger shock for a viewer to see that as opposed to the Milleresque second segment. For all the bashing that some modern fans direct towards this type of Batman, I really like this section of the episode, as it’s just corny enough that you crack a smile, but not – as opposed to the 60s Batman TV series – so corny that you’re basically laughing at the stupidity of the whole thing. Essentially, as long as you accept that a museum could have a gigantic piano within it, you can go along with the entire episode without much trouble. I like the stilted look of the animation in this segment, which is reminiscent of the quick-and-dirty look of shows like Superfriends and other Hanna-Barbera cartoons; as we’ll soon see in Legends, it’s sometimes a bit off to have concepts this goofy rendered in a modern style.

On the other hand, Miller’s DKR was as effective in animated form than it ever was on the printed page. The Miller Batman in his segment is somehow even more imposing than the print version – it helps that it’s not quite as washed-out as the comic (or that could just be compared to my dog-eared copy of DKR). This episode went into production around the same time as Batman Beyond was ramping into production, and between the hard rock soundtrack and colour scheme, it’s a nice prototype. But by being more explicitly based on a famous Batman story, the potential for in-jokes and trivia is a lot higher, from the “My name is…” goons to Batman’s semi-internal dialogue to Carrie Kelly showing up as Robin armed with her slingshot. It’s a shame that they could only get the mutant battle in, as it would have been neat to contrast DKR Joker with the Sprang one earlier.

While I don’t think it would ever be appropriate for a full animated treatment to be done for DKR – it’s a work that, much like Watchmen, loses a lot of its impact when taken off the printed page for which it was designed (mostly in the talking-head media sidebars) – this segment’s good enough that it’s not too crazy to suggest such a thing for DC’s DVD line. Of course, after making this episode, it took ten years for someone at WB to think to make an entire series in Sprang style, so maybe there’s hope for grizzled old guy Batman after all.

The linking story isn’t especially much to write home about, but the final battle does show each of the kids – well, maybe not Joel – enough that they still can fight over what Batman’s really like, in spite of seeing for themselves. It’s a pretty neat ending.

Grade: B+. The flashbacks are great fun, but the backbone of the story isn’t very strong.

Random thoughts:

  • Firefly‘s a pretty minor Batman villain, all things considered, so I won’t say much about him other to point out that the creators had wanted to use him in the original run of episodes, but Fox censors objected to the usage of a fire-using villain, so he didn’t show up until the new style episodes. He was a Sprang creation, which makes his usage here appropriate.
  • The title of the episode is, of course, that of the famous Batman anthology comic which only just ended.
  • I don’t think the shot at Schumacher was as evil as some have made it out to be, and I understand where Timm was coming from, but it did lack something in subtelty (seriously, a feather boa?).
  • Remember that shot I posted back in “The Call” (go on, look!) of Batman with Warhawk’s helmet embedded in the windshield? Well… does this look familiar?
    Batman Beyond-ish
  • Isn’t it a bit weird how the kids can’t pin down Batman, but instantly know Firefly?

Line of the Episode: “I love Batman. All those muscles, the tight rubber armour, and that flashy car – I heard that it can drive up walls!” Well, at least Schumacher would make better movies after he was done screwing up Batman.

Next time: Either back to Justice League with “Legends” or that surprise I was talking about. Who knows.

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  1. SHough610
    September 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    I always thought that the idea of camp in a Batman story could still be effective. Grant Morrison has used it to great effect in Batman and Robin and subverting the humor in it and turning it into something dark and disturbing is always a possibility.

  1. November 2, 2009 at 2:15 pm

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