02 February 2011

Sort of Old News, but still interesting- Concept Art for a Rejected animated Batman series

Ok, the basic pitch- Move Bruce Wayne and all of his famous Rogues Gallery into Gotham High, make them all16/17, give them angst and issues and drizzle it with truly sumptuous art work.
Honestly, I'm mesmerised by it. I've posted the link to the giant-ass version.

That's the link as it appeared on my Facebook a while back. Considering I've decided to kick into some writing again, but am still incredibly lazy, I'm going to share the discussion I dived into head first. This sort of prompted a bit of a surprise from my poor friend who was probably expecting "Wow, kool, thx dude" as opposed to the in depth, incisive and deeply comic book geeky analysis that confronted his notifications.

Above is a link to more of the beautiful artwork. There's clearly been a lot of detail worked out as regards style, but problematically, it's the substance, or the confusion of it, that I've become so interested in.

Don't get me wrong- this is not so much a fanboy rant, as a fanboy lament.

A lament for what might have been, if only in our dreams and darkest (most non-canonical) imaginings.

Considering the rather weird but not necessarily, in my opinion only, stuff coming from Batman comics, I'm not too surprised this stuff has surfaced, but also quite glad.
It's an original take, for one, but the level of skill and life put into the images begs you to take a second glance, have a closer look at the idea before dismissing out of hand.

I'll admit it- I'm terrible at coping with change. I'm a 75 year old trapped in a man of 22's body at times. I don't even like it when Facebook decides to change around its format a little. Partly because I'm suspicious of Mark Zuckerburg's intentions and partly because once I'm used to something, I like it to stay that way- comfortable.

However, I'm like a cat with a ball of wool (or yarn, whatever) with this one, as poor Darragh found out.

For those of you who know me, you'll know my comics go-to guy is burly, russet coloured lover of all things movies and comics, Tom "Octagon White Boy" White.

Tom and I have a long standing debate over Grant Morrison's run on Batman- there are some things I don't like (don't get me started on Damian Wayne), I'm not very comfortable with Dick Grayson suddenly turning all brooding and serious as stand in now seemingly permanent Batman of Gotham in the current Gotham Inc. stuff in the pipeline. Makes it all the more infuriating when some of the stuff I've read is actually very good.
Perhaps I'll give my take on Batman RIP (which I really enjoyed) to The Return of Bruce Wayne (which is well worth a look, if not as high calibre as it should have been in places) but that's for another entry.

To business- myself and Tom had been harrumphing about the idea of Gotham High and to be perfectly honest, it's a very interesting idea but it's one where we can't see an easy transition.

As noted by the journalist Tom Goldman here (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/106879-Trashed-Batman-Cartoon-Made-Joker-a-Psychotic-Teen) the original Batman: The Animated Series was beloved of kids in its day, of which I was one, but thanks to the wonderful dark Gotham, serious well written stories and a 'growing up' of the otherwise childish Robin and Batgirl it has aged tremendously well. I've recently been trawling through it again and it's been a delight. Sure you can tell its age. But you don't care- it still stands up so well thanks to the performances and art direction.

It would be really unfair to compare such an established cultural icon that is B:TAS to the handful of beautiful concept images that never made it past the drawing tablet. I am instead going to analyse and possibly brutalise this beautiful image http://dailyblam.com/sites/all/files/users/InstigatorGIRL/GothamHigh1.jpg.

It's for its own good, honest....

Oh, and, uh, SPOILERS! You probably don't care, but last thing I want is emails from irate strangers screaming at me.

My problems stem from the interpretations that they've taken with the characters, most specifically that of Barbara Gordon's inclusion and that of the design and look of some of the others.

Harvey Dent already scarred physically, for one thing. Much more interesting to have him developing a darker side full of repressed rage, which is what B:TAS did so successfully. The story was less about Two/Face and more about the tragic fall of Harvey Dent from successful District Attorney, friend of Bruce Wayne, ally to Batman and engaged to a beautiful woman who adored him. This, as we all know was done superbly in The Dark Knight, although I think the chemistry between Eckhart and Maggy Gyllenhaal was damp at best. Perhaps that's just me. They seem to have totally forgotten how Harvey's disfigurement was something that happened much later in life. Although if they started playing with how he struggles to control his rage and represses his negative emotions, they might be able to get away with the way too clean division of him into one side purple, one side normal they have here. Also.. Shorts. On Harvey. Hmm. They're lucky the other artwork has him running for class president or whathaveyou, nice link to his future in legal affairs as District Attorney, if a little obvious.

Also Clayface... Hmm. not too happy with how they seem to be making him some sort of messy art student, although on the other hand it could be handled well.
Much better to make him an obsessed drama student, but that's just me. There's been more than one version of him, so he's ripe for experimenting. The clay on his arms is puzzling to me- would there have been some 'accident' transforming him into the fully fledged gloopy ball that is Clayface or perhaps have it slowly take over him.

One thing I'm really not certain about is Barbara Gordon (Bruce's junior by about 20 years) being set up as something of a love interest.

I just can't get comfortable with that one... In Batman: Year One we follow Bruce Wayne as he returns to Gotham, formulates the idea and symbol of the Batman, makes mistakes but succeeds in taking the fight to the corruption at Gotham's heart. Central to this journey is the parallel journey of a Captain James Gordon-expecting his first child. We see Jim's young son James in the comic, and considering that Barbara (named after her mother) is his daughter, then that would place a huge age gap between the two. Barbara's elder brother, by this logic, was not even a twinkle in her father's spectacles by the time Bruce Wayne was of secondary school (high school in Americano) age.

I'm well aware that she's quite flirtatious with Bruce in The New Adventures of Batman when Nightwing returns and Tim Drake becomes Robin, but that's in the DC Animated Universe and contains its own continuity.
It's doubtful this show would take place in such a universe, so from that point of view, there's no problem, but back in this Batman fanatic's head all I see is "Agh!! That's his oldest ally's daughter! He's old enough to be her dad!!".
So, while Babs is always a welcome addition in any Batman story for me... She might not work out here so well. Although... looking at Joker's appearance... Well, call me twisted but a tragic high school shooting anyone? Would be an interesting, if very, very dark and complicated route to follow if we're to include some of the nailed as canon events of The Killing Joke.
Considering the trauma the American audiences have been exposed to with the recent shootings in Stateside, I doubt we'll ever see that. That said, I see they've gone with the "Nerd girls can be hot" approach to her design. The pretty obvious Bat symbols on her and Bruce are a bit much, though.

I like the weird goth thing they're going for with Jonathan Crane, later to become Scarecrow, but I think the facial expression here is sort of out of character... Nearly too sympathetic outcast more than the snide, sadistic, cruel and utterly creepy Crane of later life, although it'd very interesting to map out that transition. Crane in Batman Begins enjoys the power the mind can grant him over people via his use of his patented Fear Toxin. If you haven't seen the movie at this stage, stop reading and do that now. Come back when you have become a true Bat-disciple! That said, the noose around his neck is a clear nod to Scarecrow's finally incarnation in the Animated Series, his look being one that had never been quite satisfactory to the shows producers Bruce W. Timm, Eric Radomski and Alan Burnett. He is, I think, perhaps too shy and sympathetic looking here. These villains have some of the most interesting and gothic origins in comics and while I'd love to see these origins referred to in B:TAS, if they're going back to the characters' roots they've got to respect the source material.

Which is something that the artists are trying to do while giving a fresh spin.. But I think that it's not working as there's really few ways to 'cutefy' these characters- Another thing- Selina Kyle's a little too obviously Selina Kyle. Leopard print skirt ffs... Rather too obvious and is a high school really the ideal environment for a jewel thief? What would her role be in this ensemble? I see they've gone for a hint at a love triangle going on with Bruce-Selina-Barbara in the artwork The Escapist link has, but as I've already outlined, that doesn't really hold much water with me.

Still, gets her slinky side down.

Bane looks fine, if too damn happy. I want to see a venom as steroids abuse story arc, abusive upbringing and a little teddy bear (relic of his childhood) to appear every now and then in the background. Another problem being that Bane is a highly intelligent criminal mastermind who's also highly skilled at martial arts, and that's before he jacks himself up on Venom. Still, full of potential for doping in high school sports story arc, Bane getting kicked off the wrestling team, possibly because of Bruce passing on info to the coach etc. I suppose I have to overlook the part of his origin story that explicitly states that Bane grew in a prison on Santa Prisca for most of his life until he was exposed to Venom in secret dodgy research.

Riddler looks fine, if not nearly condescending and snide enough. I know Edward Nigma's the uber nerd, but he's also a cocksure, arrogant and preening buffoon. He delights in showing off his self proclaimed intellect. This kid here seems perfectly happy sitting in the library keeping to himself.

Croc is bugging me, because he's already clearly transformed... Depends on the version of his story they're using, but it should not be so obvious at this stage of life. It swings between rare avatism (ancient reptilian dna manifesting itself) or a hideously disfiguring ailment called epidermolytic hyperkeratosis (which is actually real and totally debilitating in real life).
If they make him a wrestler with a cannibalistic streak/ penchant towards thuggery I might calm down.

All this is purely academic, I know, but I actually love the idea of the show. I think it might have lasted one season, because they seem to have watered down so much of the characters without following their 'falls'.

And the later to be a qualified scientist Doctor Pamela Isley as a cheerleader??
Shenanigans! She's already green and covered in leaves. While Poison Ivy should be an utter bombshell, she doesn't make sense as a dittzy cheerleader type. Why so interested in plant biology when she's been placed in such a stereotyped role?

Joker and Harley form an interesting, if flawed duo here. Harley is actually the one character who's easiest to work out because her origins were done so wonderfully by the great Paul Dini.
I agree with Tom Goldman- Joker as the class clown really doesn't work, because while he probably started out wanting to get a laugh, Joker is only ever interested in making himself laugh, and maybe forcing a chuckle out of the grim Dark Knight.
"Why can't you see the funny side?" springs to mind, from Alan Moore's brilliant work on the character.

Similar problems with Penguin and Mr. Freeze- Victor Fries got a brilliant and tragic origin story in B:TAS, while Penguin was initially just a watered down version of Danny de Vito's grotesque portrayal of the character.
I see they're trying to make them recognisable, but I think they just put polo shirts and jeans on potentially interesting characters.

I wonder how young an audience they were thinking of pitching this to?

In all, a fascinating, if ultimately unworkable idea. There's so much history, so much baggage, so much of a cultural landscape surrounding the entire Batman mythos that I doubt we'll ever see this appear, even though I know it was officiall rejected.

Still, that's what non-canon stuff is for! It'd make a wonderful mini series after some careful re-tooling.