Filmation (1977), Warner Home Video (June 26, 2007), 2 discs, 363 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $26.98
The Caped Crusader and The Boy Wonder battle the bizarre criminals of Gotham City, often aided by Batgirl and hampered by an other-dimensional imp named Bat-Mite.
The Sweatbox Review:
After the landmark Bruce Timm/Alan Burnett/Paul Dini (et al) version of Batman that arrived on the scene in the 1990s with Batman: The Animated Series, any previous versions seemed to fall by the wayside in the public consciousness. Batman: TAS was so totally iconic right from the start that some might assume that anything else just could not measure up (certainly many people view the current series The Batman with some disdain largely because it isn’t part of the so-called “Timmverse”). However, some of us old fogies still remember what we used to watch way before Batman: The Animated Series ever saw the light of day— back when Saturday morning was practically the only time to watch cartoons, and it was still a novelty to see our favorite comic book heroes brought to life on the small screen. Back in the 1970s, I can recall Super Friends (which had its own Batman, of course), repeats of Spider-Man, and the animated Batman show that I grew up on, 1977’s The New Adventures Of Batman. This was a Batman made for those of us still watching the reruns of the 1960s’ Batman live action show, particularly those of us too young to realize that that series was actually a comedy.
The New Adventures Of Batman was not the first Batman show from Filmation, but it is likely the best remembered. They had tried their luck with Gotham’s protector once before, in 1968’s The Batman/Superman Hour, repeated the following year as The Adventures Of Batman And Robin. For the 1977 version, the old designs were largely kept, except for aging Commissioner Gordon, taking away Penguin’s cigarette, and replacing Batman’s butler Alfred with a different character, Bat-Mite. The voice actors had a switcheroo, as the voices of Batman and Robin from the previous show, Olan Soule and Casey Kasem, had been hired by Hanna-Barbera to play the Dynamic Duo on their Super Friends program. Yes, this was a unique situation in 1977 where the same characters were appearing on two different programs on two different networks, on shows by two different studios. With Soule and Kasem working for the rival studio, Filmation went right back to the source of inspiration for their version of Batman— they went and got the actors who had portrayed Batman and Robin in the live action show, Adam West and Burt Ward.
Aside from West and Ward, The New Adventures Of Batman kept much of the feel of the live action Batman, though it did tone down the camp. Instead, campiness was replaced by some kid-friendly silliness, chiefly coming from the new addition, Bat-Mite. At first glance, Bat-Mite’s inclusion seems to be an inexplicable choice to make. The character appeared in a few years’ worth of stories in the comics, but had been excised from the comics for a good ten years. He simply didn’t fit in with what was known as the “New Look Batman”, a more serious version of the character (largely illustrated by Carmine Infantino) that was only briefly usurped by the camp craze that overtook the comics while the Batman show was at its height of popularity. Bat-Mite had been portrayed as a magical imp from another dimension who idolized Batman, and in a few super team-up stories teamed with Mr. Mxyzptlk to bedevil Batman and Superman. Once he disappeared from the comics, many would have assumed that he would fade into memory, yet he was oddly revived to be a part of The New Adventures Of Batman. In truth, Filmation always enjoyed adding silly mascots to their shows, and Bat-Mite seemed ready-made for Filmation. In the cartoon, Bat-Mite continually tries to assist Batman and Robin, but generally ends up making a mess of things. His inclusion in the series certainly differentiates it from any other version of Batman, if nothing else.
There is more than a trio out trying to capture crooks in Gotham City, however. Batgirl, secretly the daughter of the police commissioner, is also around for a number of episodes. She had been on the earlier cartoon as well, and this time she also got a new voice, going from Jane Webb to Melendy Britt. With Batgirl added to the mix, the cartoon feels very much like a fourth season of the live action Batman. Aside from West and Ward’s presence, the cartoon has many other references to the camp classic, including sliding down polls to the Batcave, and the red-black appearance of the various Bat-vehicles. They have a familiar, comfortable relationship to Commissioner Gordon, and the scripts are obviously tailored to the well-known deliveries of West and Ward, including the famous “Holy (place ridiculous exclamation here)” gag.
Given that this was not the first animated Batman, it is curious that Warner Home Video decided to release this version first. It is especially strange considering that it came out on DVD the same day as The New Adventures Of Superman, although the older Batman show was more contemporaneous. However, I’m not complaining. As I said, it is the Adam West versions (live action and animated) that I grew up with, so getting The New Adventures Of Batman on DVD is the next-best thing to seeing 1966’s Batman come out on disc. (Even though I now see it for the send-up it is, I still consider Batman to be perhaps the most brilliantly faithful comic adaptation ever done, as well as being my all-time favorite program.)
In Warner’s two-disc set ofThe New Adventures Of Batman, every episode is present, with bonus features being placed on the second side of Disc Two. The series is immediately dated in the first episode, The Pest, when we see Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson playing Pong(!) on a large monitor. While attempting to answer an emergency call, Batman and Robin encounter Bat-Mite in the Batcave, where Bat-Mite offers enough expository dialog to inform us who he is and that the Caped Crusaders have already known him for a while. Although Bat-Mite himself is played for laughs, the story otherwise plays straight, as the heroes try to stop The Joker from stealing an experimental car that runs on water. The next episode introduces us to The Moonman, who shows up in Gotham to steal moon rocks at the same time as Bruce’s astronaut buddy. Coincidence? What do you think? Batgirl makes her first appearance on the show here, immediately earning a crush from Bat-Mite. Batgirl finds more of the spotlight than she would like in Trouble Identity when Catwoman frames her for a crime.
Another original villain is introduced when Batman takes on chubby-faced Sweet Tooth in A Sweet Joke On Gotham City. Episodes like this one slide a little further towards camp, as we see Sweet Tooth employing hoods that appear to be children sucking on lollipops. Things then turn a little more serious (Bat-Mite notwithstanding) when a Professor steals ships in The Bermuda Rectangle. Batman then goes back to his 1950s crazy sci-fi period in Bite Sized, as an alien named Electro shrinks Batman and Robin in order to take them home. Then, the classic Penguin shows up in Reading, Writing, And Wronging. The last story on Disc One sees The Chameleon hire himself out to the underworld to take down the Dynamic Duo.
Disc Two begins with He Who Laughs Last, obviously featuring The Joker. The next title also gives away the villain, as Mr. Freeze shows up in The Deep Freeze. Dead Ringers brings in another classic Bat-foe as Clayface hires a Robin look-alike to help him impersonate his nemeses and frame them for a crime. In Curses! Oiled Again!, Catwoman and Clayface team up for a crude crime. Birds Of A Feather Fool Around Together sees Penguin turn Bat-Mite into more than just a pest for the Caped Crusaders.
Have An Evil Day Parts 1 and 2 is the epic of the series. Here, another imp from Bat-mite’s dimension of Ergo, a smug crook named Zarbor, brings together The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, and Clayface to distract Batman while he sets forth to steal Earth’s nuclear power plants. The action comes fast and furious (in a limited animation kind of way), with the scenes spanning the globe and more than one dimension. Zarbor tries to get revenge on Batman and Robin in This Looks Like A Job For Bat-Mite! when he turns them evil, leaving Bat-Mite responsible for putting everything right.
This is a pretty slick-looking cartoon, despite the limited animation. From the handsome posing of the Infantino-based character designs, to the rotoscope-assisted animation and the illustrative clean-line backgrounds, I have always found the look of the show quite appealing. Of course, you still have to deal with the stock animation that Filmation is infamous for, as well as frequent art mistakes like forgetting Robin’s “R” on his vest or the interposed colors of Batman’s bat-symbol. And then there is the “moral” tag at the end of the show. The “Bat Message” at the end of each story allows Batman the opportunity to point out what we should have learned from the story, as if it were not already obvious. While these may seem quaint today, you have to hand it to Filmation for trying to make these shows more than about superheroics (even if the studios were being nudged by special-interest groups at the time).
It had been years since I had seen these, and I had mixed feelings seeing them again. Bat-Mite played a much larger role than I had remembered (perhaps these were combined sometimes with episodes from the previous series?), and that keeps the viewer from ever taking things too seriously. However, there is simply no beating Adam West and Burt Ward’s deliveries, or the classic interpretation of Batman shown in the series. Each generation may have its own Batman, but my Batman works alongside Commissioner Gordon and takes his role as mentor to Robin seriously. The New Adventures Of Batman is a great introduction to the character for a child of today who may not yet enjoy the comic noir style of Batman: The Animated Series and simply wants to see a Batman who is a champion for Gotham City.
Is This Thing Loaded?
After enjoying a number of BCI Filmation sets recently, I have to say that this set leaves me underwhelmed in the production department. The menus are static, soundless, and boring. There are no features that actually pertain directly to the original production of the show. The Dark Knight Revisited: A Retrospective Featurette (18:45) is a nice try, but mainly has guys like comic writer Denny O’Neil, BTAS producer/writer Paul Dini, and BTAS Joker voice artist Mark Hamill share their feelings about Batman. This could have been as lame as the special features on the Super Friends sets, but fortunately Filmation historian Michael Swanigan and Filmation producer (and Bat-Mite voice!) Lou Scheimer do also show up to talk about the actual show this set is supposed to be about. Thanks to the inclusion of the latter two participants, this featurette becomes worth viewing.
Other than that, there is a Superman: Doomsday Sneak Peek (2:24), as previously seen on the Internet. Other Trailers include those for Popeye The Sailor 1933-1938, Batman Beyond Season 3/Justice League Unlimited Season 2, and the “Classic Cartoons From The Vault” selection that looks at Space Ghost, Birdman, and Droopy
The packaging for this entry in the “DC Comics Classic Collection” stays consistent with other recent releases. A thin digipack unveils overlapping discs (the second one being two-sided), and this all comes in a slipcase that duplicates the cover. Nice, though nothing too special.
Ink And Paint:
Ol’ Batman is showing his age a bit here. The prints used are generally satisfactory, but there is wear evident, with occasional scratches and other marks showing. Light grain is visible, but fortunately the compression work is pretty good aside from that ubiquitous shimmering effect on pans. I can’t complain too hard about the video, but this is certainly not Warner’s finest effort. Combined with the yuckiness of the menus and the near-lack of bonus material, it would appear this set was not given much of a production budget.
Per usual, Warner offers up the original mono soundtrack as an actual one-channel presentation, coming right from the center speaker. It sounds at least as good as anything any of us would have heard back in 1977, with all that that entails. There may be a narrow auditory range, but it’s all clear as a whistle.
No alternate audio tracks or subtitles are available.
Yes, along with the 1960s Adam West live action version, this is my childhood Batman, for better or worse. Caught somewhere in-between the campy and grimmer versions, the Batman in The New Adventures Of Batman is a superhero defender of justice more than a dark avenger of the night. He still plays the straight man here, whether pitted against his wild rogues gallery or the well-intentioned actions of Bat-Mite, but Batman himself is at least not being played for laughs. If you only want your Batman to be The Dark Knight, then this version may not be for you. But it certainly may be the one you want to share with your kids.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?