Here we have it then, as promised, the first of my retrospective looks at the original Batman: The Animated Series.
Episode one, as appears on the DVD boxed set – ‘On Leather Wings’
What I love about this initial episode is that is has all the wonderful trappings of a classic monster movie.
Batman has face many foes during his time as the Caped Crusader, not all entirely early, not all entirely human, and not just crime bosses and lunatic clowns.
Kirk Langstrom, aka the Man-Bat is one of my favourite of the more fringe Rogues Gallery. He’s ultimately a pitiable figure, a victim of his own chiropteran serum that turns him from mild-mannered scientist to hulking, bat-like horror.
There’s a wonderful parallel here between the superstition of the Gotham PD about whether the Batman is a snarling, winged horror and the actual real deal itself.
A recurring theme within the Batman animated series is that of monsters; more specifically, what makes a monster? Gotham has many, and they don’t all need serums to come out and show their darker sides. What’s interesting, I think, about Langstrom is that here is a man that becomes a monster through weakness. His monstrous side is overt, it’s obvious and primal. Unlike many other of Gotham’s monstrous denizens, who appear as men (albeit garishly attired) but are even more hideous within, Langstrom is just a fool whose hubris gets the better of him.
I think one of the stand-out moments in this episode is where the night guard first encounters the Man-Bat. His look of horror, the physical reaction and the way the scene is directed and ‘shot’ is remarkable, terrifying and stunning all in the same few seconds of animation.
Bear in mind that this is a Gotham City that is new to the Batman and so the Dark Knight has yet to cement his reputation with the GCPD, especially the likes of Harvey Bullock. Gordon, of course, knows better, but it’s not until he sees both bats (costumed and otherwise) fighting it out over Gotham City’s brooding skyline, replete with zeppelins and strafing search lamps, that Jim knows for sure that the creature terrorising his city is in fact a monster and not the mysterious ‘Batman’.
A great opening episode, I’d mark ‘On Leather Wings’ as one of my favourites from the first series.