With news breaking that HBO Max and Cartoon Network are planning to produce a brand new Batman animated series entitled Batman: Caped Crusader, as much mystery surrounds the show as the titular Dark Knight himself. In a joint statement, the leads of the creative team, Bruce Timm, J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves teased the show “will be thrilling, cinematic, and evocative of Batman’s noir roots, while diving deeper into the psychology of these iconic characters”. With the team wearing their intentions for the series on their sleeve, it’s to the animated Batman shows of the past to determine what inspiration the team will pull and how exactly their vision will complement the Caped Crusader.
Already the promise of exploring the psychology of the characters of the Batman mythos appears a natural way in which to integrate characterisation within an engaging narrative, given the insanity surrounding much of the Dark Knight’s gallery of rogues. It worked consistently throughout the classic Batman: The Animated Series of the 90s, in which some of the Batman’s greatest villains came to be defined through the method of exploring their psychology – the most notable of which was Mr Freeze from the episode ‘Heart of Ice’, which defined him less as a unreasonable madman from the comics and more as a nuanced tragic figure turning to a life of crime to save his dying wife.
Elsewhere, previously defined storylines in the comics were given the gravitas they deserved through a more cinematic portrayal, a personal favourite being that of Two-Face who was (rather appropriately) given a two-parter to flesh out the horror of his transformation from District Attorney Harvey Dent to one of the Caped Crusader’s most enduring villains in ‘Two-Face’. If the show can nail the teased psychological characterisation deserving of Batman’s legendary villains to a similar cinematic degree as the animated show of the 90s, then those legendary moments like the horrific reveal of Harvey Dent’s faces or the conflicted conclusion of Mr Freeze’s capture may at last be rivalled.
It would certainly be underselling the potential of Batman: Caped Crusader, however, to limit its psychological exploration of characters to just that of its villains. Bruce Wayne himself is subject to much exploration, whether in the form of his childhood trauma, his conflict with his villains, or the relationship between himself and his alter ego. In the episode ‘Nothing to Fear’, the villain Scarecrow exposes Batman to his fear toxin, forcing Bruce to visualise his deepest fears. As the episode continues, Bruce must confront his fear of disgracing the Wayne name, leaving him to question his role as the vigilante protector of Gotham City, as much as he must confront the Scarecrow himself. The implementation of Scarecrow to reveal more of Bruce Wayne reinforces the character-driven narrative found at the core of the greatest Batman shows.
The potential of the announced show appears promising
For all the mixed reception the lighter-toned and more simply styled Batman: The Brave and the Bold received, it too understood the importance of exploring the depth of Bruce Wayne. The episode ‘Chill of the Night!’ brought Bruce Wayne face to face with Joe Chill, the man who killed his parents, presenting him with the opportunity to avenge their death by killing Chill. Bruce’s character is tested in the best way possible, as even after revealing his identity to Chill he chooses to spare him; leading to a satisfying conclusion as Batman’s greatest villains hold Chill accountable for creating Batman, turning on him in a series of events which lead to Chill’s demise. While the question of whether the lighter tone of Batman: The Brave and the Bold was a detriment to the series is debatable, what can’t be denied is how moments in the show such as Bruce confronting his parents’ killer are iconic in their characterisation of the Dark Knight.
Finally, it has to be said that regardless of the team’s intention for the show, it’s hard to imagine a series reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series without Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill returning to act as Batman and the Joker respectively. With both being the defining voices of the animated depictions of the characters for over three decades, what better opportunity is there than to reunite them in a show directly inspired by the one that started it all, helmed by Bruce Timm no less.
The announcement of Bruce Timm’s involvement is particularly interesting as the parallels in font and art style the image draws from Batman: The Animated Series implies it to be a grittier spiritual successor to Timm’s animated show from the 90s. Aided by no less than Matt Reeves, whose upcoming film The Batman appears evocative of just the darker, noir tone the team will attempt to portray, the potential of the announced show appears promising.