Batmonth and Robin: Over the Edge
The Ladies of Comicazi are pleased to present Bat-Month: a four week event in which we discuss our favorite episodes of the amazing Batman: The Animated Series, culminating in an in-store Batman event at Comicazi. In this week’s post, Cartoon Sara gushes about her favorite episode: Over The Edge.
As with all of the Bat-Month posts, this one is written with the assumption that you have already seen the episode. If you haven't, we can help! We'll be showing Over The Edge, the other three episodes featured during Bat-Month, and a fifth episode chosen by you on May 10 at 7PM at Comicazi. Watch the episode, then read the post. It'll still be here. I promise.
With that bit of business out of the way, let's dive right in to my favorite Batman episode: Over the Edge.
Over The Edge is an episode of The New Batman Adventures, a continuation of Batman: The Animated Series that ran for two seasons on Warner Brothers' fledgling WB network. Unlike, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, which was essentially the same show with an increased focus on Robin, The New Batman Adventures made significant alterations to the series. The show was set approximately two years after the final episode of The Adventures of Batman & Robin. Batgirl had joined the team full time and Dick Grayson had left to pursue a solo career as Nightwing while Tim Drake took up the mantle of Robin. Characters were given new designs ranging from minor tweaks to complete overhauls, all featuring a more streamlined look. Gotham itself went from a timeless mix of technologies and architectural styles from varying eras to a more standard modern/near-future city. Despite these changes to the series' style and roster of heroes, The New Batman Adventures is still treated as part of Batman: The Animated Series. The voice cast and animation crew are largely the same and the characters are consistent throughout. The two seasons are available on volume four of the Batman: The Animated Series DVD set and they are run alongside episodes from the preceding versions of the show in syndication.
In case you don't recognize the title, Over The Edge is the episode that begins with Batman and Robin running for their lives as the Gotham City police storm the Batcave. We soon learn that Batman's secret identity was revealed after Batgirl was pushed off a building by the Scarecrow and died in her father's arms.
Now even if you had never seen an episode of Batman: The Animated Series before, you could probably guess that this storyline can't be "real." Unmasking Batman would effectively end any Batman television show and killing off a hero - particularly a young hero - well, it's just not done in an American animated series where the main target audience is kids. It has to be - to borrow a phrase from DC Comics - a dream, a hoax, or an imaginary story. An episode like this is at a disadvantage from the start, as it runs the risk of viewers detaching from the story in anticipation of the reveal that none of it really happened. In order to overcome this, such an episode must be so interesting that the audience is drawn into the story and cares about what is happening to the characters, even as they know it will all be explained away by the show's end. Ideally, the story should have some kind of real consequences as well. The biggest problem with imaginary stories is when they have no impact on the world of the show and reveal nothing about the characters involved: "Wow, what a weird dream! So that's what it would be like if Superman went crazy and killed everyone for no reason. Oh well, guess I'll go have some toast." Over The Edge hits all of the criteria for a great "imaginary story" and features some of the most gorgeous visuals and amazing vocal performances in all of Batman: The Animated Series.
I admit that the first time I saw the revised designs for The New Batman Adventures, I was not happy. I loved the original look of the show and I didn't want anything to change. These days, I can see that the more streamlined characters made the animation process easier. I've grown to like many of the new designs, some even more than the originals. The Scarecrow gets a definite visual upgrade from his previous costume, trading in his scarecrow rags for black robes and a grim skeletal visage with a severed noose around his neck. Bane, who shows up later in this episode, looks a little more leather fetish than Mexican wrestler, but his personality has changed for the better. He's less the musclebound thug who yells "I will break you!" at every opportunity and more a fierce, intelligent, and darkly comedic hunter. He still hasn't figured out how to reinforce his tubing though.
All that said, the Riddler? Not a good look. I'm guessing the inspiration here was the Riddler costume from Batman Forever, which should not be an inspiration for anything.
The animation in Over the Edge is done by TMS, the venerable Japanese animation studio that has worked on everything from Tiny Toon Adventures to Akira. In addition to top quality animation, TMS had started doing storyboards for Warner Bros. on select episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. When it came time for them to board and animate Over the Edge, they had truly hit their stride and produced some of the best television animation of any era. Every character is drawn beautifully and consistently. In fact, you can pretty much pause the episode at random and get a beautiful drawing every time.
Of course, animation is about movement rather than individual drawings, and that's where Over The Edge really shines. Every motion from a full force punch to the tiniest flick of finger is both fluid and believable. The facial expressions communicate the emotion of the moment perfectly. Even the computer animation, which was often hit or miss for TV animation of this time period, still holds up. I know it's a cliche but every time I watch this episode, I notice some new little detail that just adds to my enjoyment, like Robin skidding to a stop to narrowly avoid a grenade or the way Nightwing shifts the weight of a cop he's just lifted above his head before tossing him at his fellow officers. Heck, I still love the fact that some artist remembered that Batgirl's boots and gloves detach from the rest of her costume.
With a plotline this dark, it would be easy for the story to cross the line from genuine emotion to half baked melodrama. Fortunately, the episode stays on the right side of that line, partly due to the top notch voice acting that is one of the constants of the series. Bob Hastings in particular deserves a lot of credit for his vocal portrayal of a grief stricken Commissioner Gordon. Hastings does an amazing job of avoiding the temptation to chew the hand painted scenery. His accusatory "How could you?" to Batman rips me apart every time I hear it, not because Hastings wrings every possible drop of emotion from the words, but because the delivery is so quiet and understated. Throughout the episode, Gordon's grief and rage boil just under the surface, in a way that's much more believable than a full volume breakdown.
So we've got the gorgeous visuals, the top-notch voice cast, and a fantastic Shirley Walker score. All that's left is an amazing story, and Over The Edge more than delivers. Prolific DC animated scribe Paul Dini takes the device of the imaginary story and uses it to show us something that we would never be able to see otherwise: Batman and Commissioner Gordon having everything they care about stripped away from them, including each other. The episode hits you with one emotional gut punch after another, with only a brief respite of dark humor as Batman's foes realize he's loaded and declare their intention to sue on a Gotham talk show. Batgirl dies, the Batmobile is blown up, Alfred gets arrested, Nightwing is taken into custody, and Tim Drake is forced to leave his bat-family for an uncertain future. If that's not enough, there's the scene pictured above, where Bruce takes a last look at the portrait of his parents just as he's about to lose their home and the legacy he's built in their name and quietly says "I'm sorry." It's brutal, and yet it never feels forced. Everything that happens is a believable consequence of the story's central premise.
On the off chance that you've completely ignored my warning and read this far without having watched the episode, I won't give away the ending (though you'd have no one to blame but yourself if I did.) I will say that it ends with a revelation that sheds a new light on two major players in the world of Batman, one that comes about because of the grim events of the imaginary story. The potential aftermath of Batgirl's death is interesting enough on its own, but it's what happens after that story ends that gives the episode its weight and reason for being.
Over The Edge gives you everything you could want from a Batman episode. It's visually stunning and masterfully acted. The story is at turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, all the while staying grounded in the characters and what they're going through. Whether it's the animation, the voices, the story, or some other element, there is always a reason to watch Over The Edge. In every way possible, it is an example of the best that Batman can be.
So that's my favorite episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Now it's time to pick yours. We've selected six amazing episodes in addition to our four favorites. (Believe me, it was not easy to narrow it down.) Your votes will decide which one will be shown alongside our favorite episodes on Bat-Night, May 10th at 7PM. Will it be On Leather Wings? The Laughing Fish? Baby-Doll? Beware The Gray Ghost? Heart of Ice? I Am The Night?
The poll closes at 5PM on May 9th, so be sure to cast your vote before then. We'll see you at Comicazi!