Well, that’s it. No more bible to go through. We’ve looked at every entry put into the story bible for Batman: The Animated Series. This is my favorite take on Batman, a serious show that knew when not to take itself so seriously. Batman was even allowed to smile now and then. When do you see that unless he’s putting on his “Bruce Wayne” act?
Over the course of the past bunch of weeks we’ve seen the original ideas and what they eventually went with and it’s rather telling what can change between the initial ideas and when it finally gets on-screen. So why make a show bible at all?
Well, it makes a good starting point at least. Sure, some things, like Penguin’s mother or Renee’s late husband, never made it to the show while others, like Clayface or Freeze’s origins, were drastically changed from the original idea. However, these facts did give the writers a place to start from rather than going in cold (no pun intended) and having to guess everything unless they were a fan of the comics. There were some really good ideas there but what they came up with was also good. Mr. Freeze’s origins as the show finally presented them became canon in the comics and the Joel Schumacher film Batman & Robin. It makes his appearance in The Batman, the next series to take on the Batmythos, stand out by using the original origin of a thief who got hit with chemicals during a robbery foiled by Batman (only with the ability to create ice beams from his hands), which had also been used by ’66 and the Filmation cartoons. He became more than a thief but someone trying to survive and find a cure for his wife, or alternately became so filled with despair that he decided NOBODY should be allowed to have their dreams come true since he no longer could. (Sure, Nora was cured in Sub-Zero but he’ll never get to be with her.)
There were also the characters that made the transition to the DC Universe that were created here, Renee Montoya and Harley Quinn. Renee was originally created for the show but in the DCU underwent a 180 in every aspect of her character outside of being physically attractive, a policewoman (although she got a promotion from officer to detective), and a woman of color. Where TAS Renee was snarky at times but good-natured, DC Renee is an angry bitch who gets in everybody’s face, even her allies. Where TAS Renee was trying to live on in her husband’s memory and bring justice and truth to the city she grew up in, DC Renee is an in your face lesbian…although as I just noted “in your face” is her default setting of every aspect of her personality, especially her bad traits that question her status as a “hero” (a good cop in Gotham and later the new Question) so why not her sexual orientation as well? She once blew of Black Adam for a one-night stand. And somehow survived. Her return to Fox in the form of the live-action “I hate Batman” series Gotham used this version of Renee, who is full of herself, not trusting of anyone, but will happily put the moves on the fiance of the cop she’s investigating, namely the future Commissioner Gordon, just to prove she can get even worse. TAS Renee is one of my favorite characters. DC Renee is the exact opposite, in keeping with modern DC I guess.
Harley Quinn, however, was never a concept in the beginning. While DC has screwed her up as well, it’s more not understanding that some characters work best as the flunky/sidekick or villain. Harley was intended as a one-shot flunky for the Joker, like so many Gotham villain flunkies in the franchise with supporting gimmicks. However, something about Harley remained. Was it Arleen Sorkin’s performance? Actually, it was Sorkin herself appearing in a jester costume during a dream sequence on the soap opera Days Of Our Lives that led to Harley’s creation. So that ties one of my mom’s favorite shows to one of mine in a weird way. Her origin first came up in the tie-in comic GN Mad Love, one of the few tie-in comics that was made canon to the show (along with the Lost Years mini-series I’ll be getting to eventually). Or maybe it was the hot body the artists gave her? I can’t recall seeing a girl cosplaying as Harley at cons who didn’t look sexy…despite the fact they’re dressed up as a potentially bisexual (yes, even I think Harley and Poison Ivy were…connected) psychopath who went from therapist to patient because the right guy put the moves on her and that man happened to be the Joker. She’s a great character to pair with the Joker in an on/off romance. Then DC got everything wrong. Again.
However, I think the biggest change was Bruce Wayne compared to what we saw in the bible. In the bible they wanted to keep him hands off, barely there except to acknowledge his existence as another of Batman’s tools in the war on crime. However, the writers did things with him. Kyodai Ken has an issue not with “Batman” but with “Bruce” and attacked Bruce rather than his alternate persona. Bruce had friends who sometimes needed Batman’s help. He was more openly part of charity giving instead of doing it secretly and held balls for the police. He questioned his life as Batman a few times, and that was before Mask Of The Phantasm, when he met Andrea and considering not ever becoming the masked defender of Gotham City. He was even convinced to just sit with Dick and watch It’s A Wonderful Life.
Bruce wasn’t just the man behind the mask; he was a character in his own right, that part of Batman that still longed for the life he should have had with family and friends who didn’t dress in tights (or nowadays some kind of padded body armor). Of all the things ignored in the bible’s original ideas, it was fleshing out Bruce Wayne as a person that made Batman relatable and human, something modern DC writers and media creators are forgetting when they write Batman or really any superhero by ignoring the “secret identity” and making everyone an angsty Batman clone. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. They aren’t gods! They are people who for one reason or another are tasked with doing the extraordinary to protect others in ways the police, various government institutions, or the military can’t. How many of the “proper authorities” can handle a shapeshifting goo man, or a guy who wants to wipe out the world because dipping into the magic lake has driven him insane?
Batman: The Animated Series grew past the depictions in the bible and became their own characters, which any good series of any format should do. However, the bible (and other show bibles) make for a good starting point to expand the universe and flesh out the characters, giving them histories and base personalities to build on. Nowadays you could probably download wiki software and create an expanding/evolving bible, making sure all of the writers are on the same page with the characters and limit continuity hiccups, changing things that were dropped or better still pointing to the histories created and saying “this is where the character came from and defines where he/she/it (for sci-fi) is going to respond to whatever situation you plan to write”. The show bible is the most important tool to make even an episodic show with no running stories between episodes feel like one solid continuity. This is the beginning of the world that is being created.
Reminds me of another Bible of larger importance to the universe.
If I come across another show bible (I do have one for Star Trek: The Next Generation in my library that I may go into in the future) I would love to go over it, maybe other DCAU productions. I’ve just started the Superman: The Animated Series tie-in comics so I wonder what that bible would look like. Or maybe look at other Batman cartoon bibles like the Filmation or more recent ones, to see what those look like in comparison to this one. That’s for the future. It’s time to reclaim the Monday posting for other thoughts. For now anyway.