Was Batman Season 4 Hit or Miss?
July 30, 2013
(After the shortened opening, fade to the Nostalgia Critic at his desk)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(The clips from The New Batman Adventures, or the fourth season of the animated series, are shown mostly throughout this video. The footage from the intro for The New Batman/Superman Adventures is shown briefly at the beginning)
NC (vo): Just at the height of Batman: The Animated Series' popularity, Warner Bros. decided to do a spin-off with Superman, using a lot of the same people. And that show seemed to do well enough that for its 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 seriously 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 different Batman than what we saw three seasons before. Season 4, or the Red Sky series, as I 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 even broken.
NC: Whatever the reason for the changes, it, of course, invites the question: was Season 4 a hit or a miss?
NC (vo): From a character setup, 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 placed by another orphan, only half his age this time, named Tim Drake. It's nice to see Grayson go rogue and finally develop his own badass persona, but it's still strange to see Bruce Wayne take someone even younger now under his batwing as Robin! This guy has to be worst parent of the year! But... (sighs) ...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 to begin with. Plus, I surprisingly like this kid. He's got a lot of energy, he's smart on his feet, and he gets some actual funny one-liners here and there.
Bruce: Playing hooky?
Tim: (spinning, leaning on the back of the chair with one hand) 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 how his intelligence does indicate he 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's 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, you could say they're just going all the way with it. Plus, the red sky and blacker backgrounds did help the colors stand out even more. So the characters actually did pop out whenever they were onscreen. While subtle changes to characters like Alfred or Two-Face aren't 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 do really miss, but, to be fair, 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, gloves and boots. (sarcastically) Oh, yeah, you'll blend into the shadows much easier that way. (normal) At first, I thought this was a pretty silly change, seeing as how the original costume helped her to hide in the night a lot 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 distinctly unique about it. But maybe, this would help give her a little bit more of an identity.
NC: Plus, if Batman still dresses his adopted 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 60s, but...again, if they wanted him to run a ritzy nightclub, it makes more sense 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 than I have this one that's probably more fitting.
Penguin (S2): (to Batman) Haven't you heard? I've reformed.
Penguin (S4): $50,000 for the diamond.
NC (vo): I think I'm just too used 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 that these were women, maybe in their late twenties or early thirties. But in the redesigns, they look more like college students, maybe around Batgirl's age. I know they're not meant to, but it still certainly 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 almost look more like Animaniacs characters.
(The clips are focusing on the redesigned Joker)
NC (vo): (sighs) 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?!
(The pictures of various incarnations of the Joker are shown: in the 60s' TV show, the comics, Batman (1989) and The Dark Knight)
NC (vo): 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?
NC (vo): Yeah, I know a lot of designs were doing this at the time, and I still don't get why! He looks less like a Batman villain and more like a dancing prop from Steamboat Willie. 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've probably 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 that could be made about the Joker, in my opinion, it all evens out with the redesign of the Scarecrow!
NC (vo): Holy shit! Where did this freakiness come from?! This is one of the best designs the show has ever done. That calm, neutral voice suddenly sounds so much scarier coming out of 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-life Scarecrow, he looks freaking creepy in my book.
NC: But redesigns 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 superhuman...
(A clip from the episode Beware the Creeper is shown)
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 (Calendar Girl), and another creepy edition called the Judge.
(A clip from the episode Judgement Day is followed)
The Judge: Court is adjourned.
(Cut to Killer Croc falling down from a bridge with a scream)
NC (vo): While others kind of seemed out of place. Like this redneck farmer who grew mutated animals, or this ancient demon boy (Klarion) who uses a supernatural artifact to control a giant monster (Etrigan the Demon). I get the feeling these would be good in something else, but here, it's a little odd. Even for Batman.
(The still shots from an episode Growing Pains are shown)
NC (vo): 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.
(The clips are focusing on the episodes Mad Love and Over the Edge)
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 pretty gruesome death, and even the Joker gets axed off after mentally torturing and brainwashing Robin to be his psychotic spawn.
(The clips from the episode Cold Comfort are shown)
NC (vo): As I said before, though, darker doesn't always mean better. For example, in Mr. Freeze's return, he loses hope in humanity, and he even loses 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: Ahh, I was hoping to see you again.
NC (vo): Oh, Christ, that is beyond fucking stupid. This is Marvin the Martian science, guys! I...j...I... Wow. What am I looking at?!
(The clips are focusing on the episode named Legends of the Dark Knight)
NC (vo): 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 about 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 armor, and that flashy car. I heard it can drive up walls.
Nick: Yeah, sure, Joel.
NC (vo): The fourth season also liked to combine characters a lot. Teaming Nightwing and Catwoman, Croc with Babydoll, and even a few Superman crossovers here and there. This created combinations 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 darker stories. While some redesigns were widely questioning, others were incredible upgrades. While many stories were goofy and out of left field, others proved that they still understood the dark, tragic journeys of some of our favorite characters. So, as a whole, the fourth season is probably not 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 always get that feeling while watching it, I'll know that I'm always 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. The theme song from the animated series' intro is heard)
NC: (gets up and leaves, singing to the tune of the intro) I love this mask!
(The credits roll)