For those of you of a certain age to remember the monstrous success Tim Burton's 1989 film BATMAN brought to pop culture, you'll remember that anything Batman related that followed in the movie's wake had some large shoes to fill. Looking back I don't think any fanboy expected Warner Bros. to be able to capture lighting in a bottle for a second time, let alone surpass all of their expectations. Nevertheless, they did just that.
Premiring on television in 1992, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (TAS) proved to be the best of all worlds, giving Batfans young and old alike something to cherish just as much as their first comic book. The brooding Dark Knight that had been captured by Burton (and reinvigorated by Frank Miller and his comrades a few short years before in the world of comics) had been captured in a way so perfect that Batman and his gallery of rogues lost none of their menace but still could entertain young kids and their watchful parents. In the years to come when scholars of animation look back on the 20th century, chances are that BATMAN: TAS will make their short lists as the best programs of that era.
Now out in stores, Warners' second volume of TAS episodes compromise 28 individual episodes spread out over four discs. Included on this collection are some of the best entries from the show such as the origin of Robin, the introduction of TAS' version of The Riddler, a THELMA AND LOUISE-like team-up between Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and a special episode where a number of Batman's foes reminiscence about their fights with the Dark Knight when they almost came out the victor. Throughout the episodes you're treated to stellar writing (led by the godlike talents of Paul Dini) which never fails to treat these characters and their audience with respect; wonderful animation in the form of the shadowy cityscape of Gotham City, as well as the now legendary Bruce Timm-designed streamlined look of the heroes and villains (which is still used today on shows like JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED); and absolute first-rate voice work by actors such as Kevin Conroy (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Mark Hamill (The Joker), Loren Lester (Robin) and a strong selection of celebrities talents that lent their voices to the Batman's Rogues Gallery. All three of these fields combined to elevate TAS to not only first-rate entertainment, but leave a lasting impact on the medium of television animation.
In addition to the 28 half-hour episodes, BATMAN: TAS Volume Two features audio commentary tracks for four shows from Dini, Bruce Timm and directors/producers Kevin Altieri and Boyd Kirkland. All four of these fellas were key members of the show and their commentaries provide some great insight into the decisions they faced when making the series, from coming up with the stories to deciding what baggage they would incorporate from the hundreds of BATMAN comics into their show's characters.
As for new material, you've got three ten-minute featurettes to watch. "Robin's Rising" focuses on the creative decisions behind introducing Batman's young partner in crime fighting to the show, and how the groundwork was laid even early on for the character's maturation into Nightwing. "Gotham's Guardians" gives Gotham's police heroes, such as Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock, a moment in the spotlight. Finally, "Voices of the Knight" examines how the actors approached creating their characters just from lines on a page. All of these shorts are worthwhile to watch.
The only blemish on this collection is the occasional smudge or streak, artifacts from a decade of time's march on the cels of the show. Because it's been about a decade since the creation of these episodes there isn't really that of it, but if you're a die-hard DVDphile with a 40-inch plasma screen your eye will catch them more than the regular joe. Still, it's about time that Warners brought this gem to DVD where it can be rediscovered by those that watched it first on TV, and for any new fans about to watch these tales of the Batman for the first time.