BATMAN, SUPERMAN, & THE
NEW BATMAN SUPERMAN ADVENTURES
By Todd Jackson
The New Batman Superman Adventures
is one of Pop Culture's bright corners.
The artwork is well-poised
between tooniness and realism. If it
were toonier there'd be the outside chance of something like
greatness-the personal touch one just might find in an actual comic book-but then
it might risk losing the episodic dailiness necessary for TV. TNBSA's
art,with its voluptuous bodies and creamy backdrops, would be-is-cheap, childish, in a comic book.
On TV it's perfectly smart.
The old Filmation superhero cartoons weren't bad simply because it was the hackwork of
whores, but because Filmation thought it would gain prestige from as strict a realism as
its beady little eyes could manage. It didn't
want to be Animation.
It wanted to be live TV; it failed to recognize that comics and animation are innately
superior media to live TV and film.
At least in the first of the recent films, it could be said,
They're trying. They gave Batman long ears and a Clint voice and made it
dark out. In retrospect, the whole series started to go gamey as soon as the
Bat Plane showed up, late in that first movie. It was a loud cheap
trick, inspired by blockbuster mentality; your laughter when Joker shot it
down was a pure, wholesome thing. The Batman movie franchise,
unfortunately, didn't take the hint, and it's been one big boom after another ever
since. I can't forget having to turn my eyes from the screen during Batman
and Robin only to see the splash of flickering lights on the seat in
front of me.
TNBSA centers the concern on Batman, even when he isn't present,
rather than on visual and sonic noise. It made the choice not to
attemptan interior monologue (unlike the Spider-Man cartoon), recognizing
that Batman is visually more powerful when silent, but somewhat at the
price of fully conveying his intelligence. Like other screen Batmen, the
NBSA Batman isn't, convincingly, The World's Greatest Detective-he
simply has a nice computer- and if Batman is to hold his own among the Justice League of America in the projected series, he'll have to get all his wits
back. The series does convey an element of Batman that's even more
central than his intellect: the sense of a man on a long patrol. Every
night, year in and year out. No final victory possible. He's worn out one
Robin, andyou just know he'll wear out the new one and Batgirl, too; this new
Batman Beyond won't be able to cut it, either, no matter Bruce Wayne's
advanced years. Somehow the series conveys that he catches supervillains
somewhat rarely, in between a steadier diet of muggers and pickpockets
(Prediction: if there's ever another good Batman film, he'll be up against a
common thug, in a smaller, more intimate story).
Batman isn't an "interesting character," in the Marvel sense. He's
interesting because he could be interesting but doesn't bother to
be, and he doesn't bother to be because he's got too much crime fighting to
do. Perhaps only an episodic medium, such as an animated TV series or
a comic book, can do Batman justice.
Even though it isn't quite as
good as the Batman series, this is
the best version of Superman in any medium, including comics, since the
Great 1940s Max Fleischer cartoon series. Like that series, the current
crew understands Superman's best attribute: You can really beat the shit
out of this guy.
You can shock him, pound him,
stomp him. You can throw
him through walls, dump construction equipment on him, blow his ass up.
Superman is kept a little on the dumb side just to facilitate the
whipping; he simply refuses to realize that Metallo has that
Kryptonite laser, so he shouldn't just stand there right in front of him, chin
up, hands on hips. He refuses to become an expert superhero, but
remains a regular guy who just happens to have all that power. In Frank
Miller's version of the Superman/Batman conflict, Batman had to concede
eventual defeat, sharply staging the defeat so his old buddy would let him
off the hook.
If the two protagonists of
TNBSA were to really go at it,
more seriously than in the delightful "World's Finest," my money says
Blue Boy goes down quick and goes down hard. By far the best new touch is the wonder of Super Speed. Never has Superman so beautifully zipped from one place to another. For this Superman, Metropolis is a small house made up of closely-fitted
rooms. Clark steps back, working at his tie; next scene, Superman appears,
often not just ready for action but already in action. Only a cartoon
could convey this so well. Christopher Reeve might spin the Earth back in
time and chase missiles down, but his zero-to-sixty seemed little better
than my grandmother's Buick. George Reeve's flight was a headlong hurtle
at what looked about Mach 5-never any slower. God knew how he managed
to turn, much less land. Surely he could never see where he was going.
In comic books, both Super Speed and flight itself are abstractions,
since motion itself is only a suggestion in a medium of still frames.
More often than not, Superman
simply floats. This Superman is also a genuinely nice guy. The Filmation Superman was a
stiff, a showoff; he was the Superman who got skewered so beautifully at the end of Cool
World. George Reeve was fine,
actually. His edge was that he was a '50s man, taking himself very seriously in
an effortless manner that didn't require pretension. What mid-thirties
white male in the '50s wasn't Superman? Christopher Reeve did wonders
with Clark Kent, but his Superman was, quite consciously, a corny Boy Scout
with slicked-back hair. He was Superman modeled upon the Adam West
Batman; We were meant to understand that superheroes must stand for things we
know are corny but which must be stood for anyway. That's why it was so
much fun to see him finally get to go evil for a spell, in that movie
otherwise noteworthy only for being perhaps the low point of the great
Richard Pryor's career. The new, animated Superman has real sweetness in
his soul, where Reeve was merely repressed.
You don't want Superman's
internal monologues. Batman's lack of
internal monologue means silence, and his silence means deep things
going on which we mere civilians, we the shamelessly uncommitted, can't
begin to fathom.
Superman's lack of internal monologue means the absence of any inner life, and Superman is better for it. We don't want him reflective, brooding. As for the floundering comic book Superman (Let's kill him! Let's make him a zap of static! Let's make twenty of him!) the less said, the better.
We're lucky to have such solid versions of the two most canonical superheroes. _______________________________________________________________