Why I Dislike The New Batman Adventures
The New Batman Adventures was the revamped sequel series to Batman the Animated Series in 1997. Most distinguished by the different artstyle, having Nightwing, a reoccurring Batgirl, and Tim Drake as Robin, and most remembered by the Harley Quinn origin episode, Mad Love. It’s a show that doesn’t get a lot of talk, as far as I’ve noticed, but that might be because it does get lumped together with the original series sometimes. Some fans like it, others don’t, and I fall into the latter camp. I hope to properly explain why here.
While it’s sometimes lumped together with the Batman TAS, even the DVDs do it, but it’s definitely its own series. Made after Batman TAS was cancelled and when the creators, Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, were making Superman the Animated Series. They were contacted to make a new Batman cartoon and they applied the same principles and artstyle of the Superman series to it. It even crossed over a few times with the Superman show. It’s obvious they didn’t want to do the same things they’d already done on Batman TAS, which is a good thing albeit one that wasn’t executed well.
I think my big overall problem was how much the writing style changed between the shows. There was a shift from the old series ‘mini-movie’ format of 20 minute dramas to a more action oriented show. Because of the increased action there was less time for drama writing so half the nuanced mature storytelling was gone. It was still a fun show, but the only thing to make the other series really stand out and still good to this day wasn’t there anymore. There are only a couple of really good and memorable episodes out of the 24. One of those is debatable and the other is an adaption from the tie-in comic line for the previous series. The debatable one is “Over the Edge” essentially a “what if Commissioner Gordon turned on Batman” episode. It’s a good idea that is hampered by too much action and not enough on the personal drama between Gordon and Batman, among other bad story points. It’s memorable because of what happens in it, but how it’s put together is weak and is mainly a way of connecting actions scenes. Compared to the previous show’s “I Am the Night” where Gordon gets shot and nearly dies because of Batman, so he considers quitting, and you’ll see the difference in the personal dynamics and storytelling. The other DC series had a good balance between drama and action, this show did not.
The other big thing was the revamped artstyle. Now the style was more streamlined to get better and more consistent animation, which it did beautifully, but the redesigns were not so beautiful. The Riddler’s smart green suit and tie was replaced with a plain green spandex onesie with a question mark on the chest, he was also bald for some reason. Bane was a gimp, the Joker had no lips, Catwoman wore plain black and white make-up on her chin, plain or silly pretty much describes the rest. The best was the Penguin as they did away with the Danny DeVito inspired design into a gentleman shady business man, which was an improvement. The improved the designs for the later series, Batman Beyond and Justice League, but on this show they were pale shadows of the other shows.
A big change in the dynamic of the cast was that Batman became a dick. Now while that doesn’t sound like a departure from the norm with the character but here he seemed to be replaced by a robot, who was also a dick. In TAS he had a heart, we saw him care, and even a sense of humour. In this show he lost his humanity and became a humourless dick. The depiction of how Dick Grayson became Nightwing was a rehash of the TAS episode “Robin’s Reckoning” but instead of a moment of heartwarming where Batman confesses his fear of loosing Robin we get him being an arse to Dick without explaining his actions. Which forces Dick to quit and it isn’t until years later does he find out that Batman wasn’t being a cold monster like he though he was. It was alright in Justice League because he’s playing off of different personality types rather than being the star of the show. And in Batman Beyond he was a much older, more hardened, man who had experienced more and lost more, so he had reasons for being a bit of a dick.
Then there’s what they did to Mr Freeze. The breakout character from TAS, the one that was so good it changed everything about him from then on. He was a tragic villain who wasn’t just an iced themed crook anymore. In a DTV movie they resolved his story, his wife was alive, and he chooses to live out his life in solitude. Then he came back in this show he was destroying people’s life work because, “If I can’t be happy no one can!” because his wife had died. They turned a tragic three dimensional villain, the thing that set their series apart, into a petulant child who wanted to smash other kids toys.
Finally there’s what they did to Tim Drake, the third Robin. In the comics after Dick Grayson had left Batman took on a new Robin called Jason Todd, who, to put it simply, wasn’t liked by fans so they voted to kill him off by having the Joker bludgeon him to death with a crowbar and blow him up. Then the Tim Drake came along who was arguably the best Robin, smart, a detective, actually wore pants. But since they gave some of his personality traits to Dick in TAS, along with his costume, it was harder to adapt him. They didn’t want to use Jason because, much like Gwen Stacy, he’d become so well known for his death that they thought there was nothing they could do with him other than that. So since they could do Tim or Jason they merged them, giving Tim Jason’s personality and backstory. It was just a waste because I do like Tim and he hasn’t gotten a good animation showing. Sadder still, and much like with Mary Jane on Spider-Man TAS, they ended doing the tragic Joker story anyway, although twisted to fit the story and universe they were telling. It would’ve been much more harrowing for the fans, as well as a better twist, if they’d just called him Jason.
The series did just feel like a pale imitation of its predecessor and for me the worst of the modern Batman cartoons. There are only a few episodes I want to rewatch, mostly for fun than anything else, unlike all the other shows, including the infamous The Batman. There are positives to the show, the animation for one thing, but overall there’s little there I can’t point to and say Batman TAS did it better. Even for characters that got an “expanded role” like Batgirl, since she didn’t get any spotlight episodes unlike the rest of the cast, other than 1/3 of the holiday special episode. She only got three episodes in TAS, but they were episodes dedicated to her as a character, which was more than she got in this show.
Watch if you’re a completist, or if you want more Harley & Ivy or Batgirl/Supergirl subtext, but otherwise it’s not worth it.