I’m avoiding something, so it must be time for another Music Videos post.
Batman: The Animated Series
Having presented a few selections from Howard and Zimmer’s bat-music last time, I thought I’d spotlight the work of Shirley Walker and her team on Batman: The Animated Series.
Luckily I found a YouTube playlist of the whole six volume collection of B:TAS episode soundtracks. (Which I also own.) Some have called B:TAS the best kids’ cartoon ever made, and Walker’s scores – a mix of gritty noirish jazz and sweeping Wagnerian orchestral motifs – contributed to its darkly heroic atmosphere.
Batman: Mask of the Phantom
While the series itself used Danny Elfman’s Batman theme for its main title up until its soft reboot as The Batman and Robin Adventures, the first movie Mask of the Phantasm introduced another theme, composed by Walker, that wove through the old series and into the reboot.
Incidentally, the words are just the names of staffers sung backwards. Sorry to ruin it.
“Beware the Gray Ghost”
B:TAS brought a lot of Batman’s Rogues Gallery to the small screen: The Joker1, Catwoman2, the Penguin3, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Man-Bat, a reinvented Mr. Freeze, a revised Riddler, and a number of gangsters that quickly faded (in the comics and the cartoon) when the “freaks” showed up. But it also introduced wholly new ones.
Despite appearing only in one episode, one of the most memorable was Simon Trent, an actor who played a TV masked hero, The Gray Ghost. (Voiced by 1960’s Batman Adam West, naturally.) The episode reveals that the Gray Ghost partly inspired Bruce Wayne’s creation Batman. When a bomber in Gotham “borrows” his M.O. from an episode of the “Gray Ghost”, Batman discovers the real Trent is no hero; he’s a self-pitying out-of-work actor who just wants to be left alone. Trent eventually redeems himself and helps Batman find the copycat.
The music below includes the title card and the background music of the “Mad Bomber” episode of which Bruce remembers only the beginning …
“What A Dummy” (from “Read My Lips”)
On the noir swing music side, we have the motif from the episode “Read My Lips”. Here we meet a gangster named Scarface and his meek assistant, neither of whom are quite what one would expect from a criminal mastermind.
… yes, OK, it’s the Ventriloquist. Part of the genius of B:TAS was that it took the weirder and sillier members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery and made them both dangerous and sympathetic.
In the two-parter “Shadow of the Bat”, Barbara Gordon’s scheme to impersonate Batman for a quick cameo turns into a side gig as Batgirl. Oh, and Commisioner Gordon gets framed and jailed, Robin objects to some teenager putting on a costume and fighting crime, and Two-Face gets double-crossed.
The music below accompanies Batgirl’s attempt to gain clues from Two-Face’s lair. I include it mainly because Batgirl’s theme sounds very Robin Hood.
“Toxic Dump/“Crime Spree” (from “Harley and Ivy”)
B:TAS not only invented Harley Quinn, it paired her up with Poison Ivy. What started in the animated series and follow-up comics as a dysfunctional partnership became a semi-dysfunctional friendship and, at least in some continuities, even a halfway wholesome romance.
This music is from the scene where Harley goes back to Ivy’s place to … get immunity from the toxic waste dump where Ivy’s hiding. Then they go on a crime spree in a montage.
You wanna see it? Go stream, rent, or buy the series.
Introduced in Batman (1989), the movie that spawned this series, and voiced, surprisingly at the time, by
Luke SkywalkerMark Hamill. He would go on to voice the Joker in almost as many shows and games as the late Kevin Conroy would voice Batman/Bruce Wayne. ↩︎
Introduced in Batman Returns (1992). Because she was blonde in the movie she was blonde in the series, although The Batman and Robin Adventures reverted her to short black hair and something like Darwyn Cooke’s design. ↩︎
Also introduced in Batman Returns (1992). The first character design used the “deformed sewer-dwelling mutant” version from the movie. BARA reverted him to a mostly normal if portly and pointy-nosed human. ↩︎