Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Review - Batman: Animated

Batman: Animated
by Paul Dini and Chip Kidd
1999 Eisner Winner for Best Comic Related Book
1999 Eisner Winner for Best Publication Design

It's shocking to me that Batman: The Animated Series is close to twenty years old. When Batman started airing it was thin picking for comic book superheroes on the airwaves; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the closest you'd get and the only thing it had in common with the comic book was the title. So when Batman came along and managed the incredible balancing act of being a serious show about a superhero for children it was a revolution. I have never been a Batman fan and the animated series made me interested in him. Batman: Animated is not a history of the series even though it has a bit of that. And it's not a dissection of the production even if there's a bit of that in it as well. Batman: Animated is a celebration of series that set a yardstick for superhero cartoons and it does that very well.

The text in the book is minimal; there might be a paragraph or two on any given topic and I didn't find it very illuminating. If you've ever read an article on the series production then there's little in here that will come as a surprise. There's the expected gushing about the staff that Dini worked with, complaints about the network standards and practices, and the studio executives making unreasonable demands like making the the show about Robin. It's at its best when it goes into the details of the process but those glimpses are rare and fleeting.

What Batman: Animated has that makes it worth checking out is a wealth of art. If it's been drawn, painted, or sculpted for the series then there's a good chance that it's showing up in the pages. There's storyboards, key frame sequences, background paintings, model sheets, design sketches, color guides, and more. While it can't be all inclusive just due to space constraints it's hard to think that someone who likes the series will be unhappy with the book. While your favorite bit might not get featured there's bound to be another five things that you'll love included in its place.

I do have a few insignificant complaints about the selections. A very large portion of the book are double page spreads giving a look at a villain or minor character. It's not that I didn't like these, it's just that the book is far too short which means that they take up a disproportionate amount of space. I wanted this book to be twice as long.

I'm also not fond of the production design. It is extremely busy and it can be hard to tell what captions are referring to. The titles for pages are in tiny text on thin red bars which can be hard to spot. There are multiple gatefold spreads inside the book but due to how the pages are structured the felt redundant.

These are nitpicks, though. Batman: Animated is a wonderful collection of material and page after page holds some nifty treasure from the show. Sometimes it's a glimpse into what might have been like the original design for Harley Quinn or the redesign of Catwoman for an abandoned spin off, and sometimes it's the gritty details that are squeezed into the backgrounds. This book made me appreciate the art of the series even more.