Was Batman Season 4 Hit or Miss?
July 30, 2013
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it, so you don't have to.
NC (vo): Just at the height of Batman The Animated Series' popularity, Warned Brothers decided to do a spin off with Superman, using the same people. And that show seemed to do well enough that for it's next season, and Batman's fourth, they decided to combine both of them together in the New Adventures of Batman and Superman; but that wasn't the only surprise people were given. Batman went through some serious notable changes; including new designs, new characters, and just an all around new feel. It was still the same animation and same voice actors, but the evidence was clear: this was a a different Batman than what we saw before. Season 4, or the Red Sky series as I like to call it, was very controversial.... at least, among fans. Some say it was a welcome change of pace; others say it was trying to fix something that was never broken.
NC: Whatver the reason for the changes, it invites the important question: Was Season 4 a hit or a miss?
NC (vo): From a character standpoint, we still have the same backstory; only some of them have moved on since we last saw them. We see that Dick Grayson is fed up with being Robin, and has moved on to being Nightwing, leaving Robin to be played by another orphan, only half his age this time, named Tim Drake. It's nice to see Grayson go rogue and develop his own badass persona, but it's still strange to see Bruce Wayne take someone even younger under his batwing as Robin! This guy has to be worst parent of the year! But.... (sigh) you could argue that's the leeway of comic books, and even the idea of the original Robin took a pretty big suspension of disbelief. Plus, I surprisingly like the kid. He's got a lot of energy, he's smart on his feet, and he actually has some good one liners here and there.
Bruce: Playing hooky?
Tim: It's summer vacation!
(Bruce stares at him)
Tim: Never mind, forgot who I was talking to.
NC (vo): Batgirl's prominent in a lot more episodes, as is the Penguin. Only this time around, he has his own establishment. Running upscale parties at his nightclub, while still partaking in evil schemes on the side. This isn't such a bad idea, seeing as how his intelligence would be smart enough to know how to pull it off.
NC: The rest of the characters are pretty much the same. That is, of course, except for those controversial designs.
NC: Yep, let's talk about what many people consider the most jarring difference in all the season: the character makeovers. The whole style of the show has gone more angular, resulting in everyone looking less three dimensional and more.... um.... pointy. But, one could make the argument that's kind of what they were going for to begin with. I mean, Batman's chin does look like the bottom of a box doesn't it? So, here I guess you can say they're just going all the way with it. Plus, the red sky, and blacker backgrounds did help the colours stand out more. So, the characters actually did pop out whenever they were onscreen. While subtle changes to characters like Alfred or Two-Face aren't a major issues, but huge changes to characters like Catwoman and the Joker are; so let's go over them briefly. Batman has gotten rid of the yellow on his symbol, which.... I'll admit, I really miss; but, at the same time, it did sort of look like a bullseye.
NC: Not the best nightly camouflage.
NC (vo): But, oddly that doesn't stop Batgirl from changing into bright yellow cape and boots. (sarcastically) Oh yeah, you'll blend into the shadows much easier that way. (normal) At first, I thought this was a really silly change, seeing as how the original costume helped her to hide out in the night more. But, the more I looked at the original costume, the more I realized it did just sort of look like Batman's costume on a college girl, and nothing else distinct about it. But, maybe this would help give her a little more of an identity.
NC: Plus, if Batman still dresses his adoptive son as a neon fire...
NC (vo):...hydrant; I guess the same kind of bizarre logic can work here too. Penguin was an odd callback to the design of the sixty's, but again, if they wanted him to run a ritzy nightclub; it makes more sense that he would look a little more sophisticated. Strange as it is though, I have grown more accustomed to that upscale voice coming out of this monstrous design; then I have this one, probably more fitting.
Penguin (S2): Haven't you heard? I've reformed.
Penguin (S4): Fifty thousand on the diamond.
NC (vo): I think I'm just too use to it. Our femme fatales certainly look darker. That is, while Harley has few to no changes, both Catwoman and Poison Ivy have prominently blacker toned costumes, and paler skin. This results in them looking more threatening and badass, but I will say they may look just a touch too young. In the original, there was no mistake these were women; maybe in their late twenty's or early thirty's, but with the redesigns, they look like college girls, maybe around Batgirl's age. I know they aren't meant to, but it still comes across. Characters like Croc, Scarface, and the Mad Hatter look pretty cool, but they do sort of look like they should be on a different show. Again, the emphasized features might be just a touch too emphasized; they look more like Animaniacs characters.
NC (vo): And then you have the Joker. Um, how do I put this? He looks terrible. I mean, God Jesus, what have you done to him?! Of all the ways you could redesign, arguably, the best Batman villain of all time; it seems like this... intriguingly takes every wrong step. The Joker is Batman's opposite: he's a bright, loud, colourful clown; so, why suck out all the color from his face, and give him black expressionless eyes? Yeah, I know, a lot of designs at the time were doing this, and I still don't get why! He looks less like a Batman villain and more like a dancing prop from Steamboat Willy. I don't think it's any coincidence that on the dvd when they talk about the redesigns of all the characters, they smartly leave out the Joker. My guess is they'd already gotten enough complaints about him already. So much so that when the spin off movie, [Batman Beyond] Return of the Joker, came out, they went back to a design much closer to the original. It was definitely a welcomed return.
NC: But, for all the bitching about the Joker, in my opinion, it all evens out with redesign of the Scarecrow!
NC (vo): Holy shit! Where did this freakiness come from? That calm neutral voice suddenly sounds frightening, coming from between those skull like teeth.
Scarecrow (S4): Fear is the glue that holds society together. Fear is power.
(NC shudders in fear)
NC (vo): Even if, yeah technically he looks absolutely nothing like a real Scarecrow, he still looks freaking creepy in my book.
NC: But re-designs are one thing. How do the actual stories play out?
NC (vo): A lot of them try to focus on the creation of new villains. Some of them work like a hyper yellow skinned human,...
Batman: Who are you?
Creeper: They call me "Yellow Skinned Whackyman, but I prefer the Creeper.
NC (vo):..., a masked beauty, who thinks she's deformed, and another creepy edition called the Judge.
The Judge: Court is ajourned
(Cut to Killer Croc falling with a scream)
NC (vo): While others seemed kind of out of place. Like the redneck farmer, who grew mutated farm animals, or this demon boy, who uses a supernatural artifact to control a monster. I get the feeling these would be good in something else, but here.... they just seem out of place... even for Batman. There's a few stories that seemed a little odd too. Like this one episode where Clayface returns, and creates a little girl to scout the area to make sure he can take shape again. The girl, somehow, has a personality of her own, and forms a friendship with Robin; until she remembers who she is, and she has to return to Clayface. Yeah, creating another awareness out of clay, seems like a bit of a stretch. But, then again, it does prove to be one of the more touching, and even darker episodes.
NC (vo): In fact, a lot of them get a lot darker than before. We get an interesting dive into an abusive relationship with Harley's backstory, a funeral for Batgirl right after seeing her fall to a very gruesome death, and even the Joker gets axed off after mentally torturing and brainwashing Robin to be his psychotic spawn. As I said before though, darker doesn't always mean better. For example, in Mr. Freeze's return, he loses all hope in humanity, and he even looses the majority of his body to his disease resulting in him ending up as....
(Dramatic music plays as the camera pans up to reveal Mr. Freeze's head on mechanical spider-like legs)
Mr. Freeze: Ahhh, I was hoping to see you again.
NC (vo): Oh Christ, that is beyond fucking stupid. This is Marvin the Martian science guys! I (stutters) what am I looking at!? But for every episode that tries something new that doesn't work; there's another one right around the corner that tries something new and succeeds. One especially fun one is where three kids share their stories of what they think Batman is like, displaying the different interpretations that Batman has had over the years. They even take a pretty heavy hit at [Joel] Shumacher as one of the kids, named "Joel" has his own strange fixation on the dark knight.
Joel: I love Batman. All those muscles, the tight rubber armour, and that flashy car. I heard it could drive up walls.
Kid: Yeah, sure Joel.
NC (vo): The fourth season also liked to combine characters a lot. Teaming up Catwoman with Nightwing, Croc with Babydoll, and even a few Superman crossovers here and there. This created combinations that we've never seen before, making for interesting interactions. In a strange way, this made Gotham seem much more like a community, where the relationship of the characters was what drove the stories forward.
NC: So, with all of these elements combined, how does Season 4 hold up?
NC (vo): Well, it's give and take. While the suspension of disbelief was abused, it did often result in some darker stories. While some redesigns were widely questioning; others were incredible upgrades. While many stories were goofy, and out of left field; others proved they still understood the dark tragic history of some of our favourite characters. So, as a whole, the fourth season probably isn't the strongest, but it doesn't deserve to be overlooked or ignored. I admire these guys for taking chances, and trying something new, even if all of the changes didn't pay off. Batman has gone through so many interpretations over the years, and this is one of the few times we get to see the exact same team reinterpret themselves in a different way; that doesn't happen very often. And it allows a chance for artists and writers to come at something, they obviously love, in a completely new light. So, in answer to "is the fourth season hit or miss", I'd say it's both hit and miss. But the hits are still strong enough to give you the chills when the bat signal hits the sky, and the caped crusader takes to the air. And as long as I can get the feeling while watching it, I know I will always be watching the right Batman.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it (suddenly talks like Batman) because I'm Batman!
(Lightning flashes and NC is suddenly wearing the Batman cowl)
NC (singing in his Batman voice): I love this mask!
(Gets up and leaves)