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 Batman the Animated Series

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PostSubject: Batman the Animated Series   Mon Sep 17, 2012 6:26 pm

This opening is perfect. It tells you everything you need to know about Batman and his world. It's what you show to someone who knows nothing about Batman.

In order of the facts you learn from it:
You see police blimps and then some shady looking characters in front of a bank surrounded by gothic looking buildings.
FACT #1: Gotham City has criminals
The criminals BLOW THE BANK UP.

FACT #2: Crime in Gotham City is far more extreme than normal.
You don't see a single Supervillain. Ordinary crooks take things to a level much further than they do in our world. That's why there are police blimps searching around. These dudes are dangerous.

So far we have the setting perfectly established. We see it's aesthetics and problems.

Following this, we see a super awesome car. Oh yeah.
This tells us a few things. What we know of cars, it's a device which allows ordinary people go from place to place. Which tells us,
FACT #3: Whoever is driving that car probably doesn't have super-powers. But he can afford a slick car.

Next we see that the cops come across the abandoned car of the crooks who have climbed up the building. They are literally "Above the Law"
FACT #4: Criminals in Gotham are beyond the capabilities of the police.

One of the important aspects of Batman is that he is necessary. If the police could handle crime in Gotham, there wouldn't be a Batman.

Then it shows the criminals being absolutely terrified. If they aren't afraid of the cops, who could they be afraid of?

FACT #5: Whatever we're about to see, criminals are terrified of it.

We see Batman drop out of the sky. Crime may be above the police, but Batman is above crime.

The way he drops out of the sky is genius, too: It's done so that he looks like a bat, with his cape flapping around him in this beautiful fluid motion as he lands. And if you didn't know anything about Batman, you'd assume that he was flying above them and dropped down -- if you didn't already know that he drove there in a car, which we know is his because it has the same lines and blue-black color scheme as his cape. See how it all comes together?

It's the close-up that gives us our next crucial piece, though. For one thing, we see that he's a person in a mask and not some demonic creature, so I feel justified in calling this guy "Batman" even though we're never going to learn his name in this sequence. But more importantly is that awesome moment where he narrows his eyes. He's not just there to stop these guys...

FACT #6: Batman hates criminals.

It's not just a matter of wanting to uphold the law -- there's an emotion at the core of what we're about to see, and it's not a happy one. So we have Batman, who does not like these guys, and the criminals who fear him.

Now, there's a lot in this scene that happens very quickly, and it's all very, very significant. First, the criminals pull out guns, so we know that for all the fantasy of police blimps and art deco hot rods, there is something that we can immediately recognize as a deadly weapon. More importantly, this action means that Batman has to react, and right now, we have no idea what he's going to do. Is he going to draw his own pistol and have a rooftop gunfight? By conventional logic, he'd certainly be justified; the bad guys are the ones who escalated the situation by drawing their pistols first.

But instead, Batman pulls out...

Well, I don't know what that is yet. Looks kind of like a boomerang but with weird spikes all over it. What I do know is that it's not a gun.

Anyway, so this thing Batman just threw at these dudes is definitely not a gun. But maybe it's some other kind of weapon, like a throwing star. Maybe this Batman guy is like a ninja, who uses his own deadly weapons to take out criminals with extreme prejudice. Let's see!

Okay, so instead of taking out the men, Batman targets the guns, taking them away from the criminals. Huh. That's interesting, he must really not care for firearms. Otherwise he just would've used that crazy bat-boomerang thing (bat... arang?) to knock out the criminals. Maybe there's something specific about guns that's significant to this character.

Take all that together, what do we now know?

FACT #7: Guns exist and they are used by criminals.

FACT #8: Batman does not use guns. He doesn't seem to like them much either.

FACT #9: In lieu of a gun, Batman uses other weapons to fight crime.

The thing with the guns leads to something else that's really interesting, but it's not fully formed yet, so let's move on to what happens next:

And what happens next is that Batman cold wrecks one of those dudes. I love the reaction from the other thug, and the fact that this look of pure shock and terror is the most we ever see of him as a person. He has made some mistakes, and he realizes this now.

But the focus is on the other guy, the one who gets taken out. Batman puts him on the ground in one move while flipping through the air, and the crook does not get up again. So now we know something else:

FACT #10: Batman is awesome.

Seriously: The fluid movement, the quickness, the agility. If crime in Gotham is a step beyond crime as we understand it, then Batman is a step beyond people as we understand them. But not so far beyond that the other thug doesn't at least try to take a swing at him:

Again, even with just a silhouette and the shape of Batman's eyes, they're able to convey a contempt for the thug's punch in this brief moment. Just the posture as he watches the fist sail by -- it all reinforces the idea that Batman's a superior fighter, which continues into the next shot, where the thug tries three more times to hit Batman before Batman finally takes him out with exactly one punch.

But the fact remains that the thug tried to punch him, just like they tried to shoot him. Why? I mean, this guy just dropped out of the sky, disarmed two thugs and wrecked a dude in the span of ten seconds -- why doesn't the remaining criminal just start running? Because he has a chance. He at least thinks he does -- he fights instead of running because if he can land that punch, if he can get off a gunshot, it'll do something. We don't see bullets bouncing off Batman's chest and we don't see him take a punch to the face without reacting, we see him removing the guns from the equation and dodging fists. So now we know...

FACT #11: Batman is not invulnerable. He can be hurt.

The trouble is actually getting the chance to do the hurting, and that's not something these crooks are capable of. So Batman knocks them out, and it's a quick cut to the police showing up. There's no indication of how much time has passed, or what the cops are going to find, and since we don't know anything about Batman other than what we've seen, we're not sure what to expect either. Dead bodies? Batman drinking their blood and turning them into his vampire thralls? Are they going to have vanished without a trace, with a cryptic sign to warn others that they might share their fate?

It only lasts for a second, but there's suspense created in cutting away to see the police running towards the scene. And then the reveal:

The two crooks. They're alive; they're sitting up and the one in the hat is turning to look at the cops, and they've been tied up and positioned, clearly left for the police. This isn't something that happens instantly, so we know that Batman had to take some time to do this, which means he could have spent that time doing anything else. Since this is what he chooses to do, we have our final lesson:

FACT #12: Batman doesn't kill the people he fights, he leaves them for the police.

There's also a nice touch of one of the cops seeming surprised by this, which indicates that while Batman might be on the side of the law, he doesn't necessarily work with it. But since the guy could also just be impressed at seeing Batman effortlessly take those thugs in a matter of seconds, it's hard to say. I'd be stoked about it too.

So with those guys taken care of, we finally actually see Batman for the first time:

The whole opening builds to this moment, and by the time it gets to it, we already know this guy. Every single shot over the course of the last minute has been a choice, everything we've seen has told us something.

So what do we know? We know that this guy is a crime-fighter who probably doesn't have any super-powers. At the very least, he can't run faster than a car and if you punch him, he'll feel it. We know that he doesn't use guns, and instead relies on being an incredible fighter who uses other means to deal with his enemies. We know that he's violent, and that he hates crooks, but he doesn't kill them and instead hands them over to the justice system. We know he exists because there's unchecked crime in this city that the police just cannot fight by themselves, even if through extraordinary means. Also, he drives a dope car.

We do not know the names Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, or even Batman, but we know all of that, because of the elegant choices that the creators have made in crafting this introduction. We know everything we need to know about Batman, who he is and what he does, without a shred of origin, purely through the visual storytelling we're given. There's not even any text -- the entire sequence contains exactly two words: "POLICE" and "BANK." That's it. But the volume of information they're able to convey, well, just scroll up.

Total elapsed time: 57 seconds.

It all happens in less than a minute. And there's other great stuff about it too: The lack of credits and the fact that it's done with the same style of animation (albeit usually a hell of a lot better) as the rest of the episode means that it doesn't just feel like an opening, it plays out like the first part of the story. This is what Batman's doing in the minute before whatever you're about to see. And the music? Perfect.

I'd put it up against any opening from any other television show, or even any film, and I'm confident that it would hold its own in terms of economy of storytelling, style, and setting the mood, if not outright blow anything else out of the water. It is, and I say this without any of my usual exaggeration, nothing short of a masterpiece.

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PostSubject: Re: Batman the Animated Series   Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:05 pm

Dang. Hadn't really had the time to think about all that. Sorta reminds me of Egoraptor's Sequelitis episodes that he puts out only about twice a year. But this is really good!

Remember Skyrim?

Ah, those were the days....
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PostSubject: Re: Batman the Animated Series   Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:32 pm

I only ever watched a handful of episodes in my childhood, but that badass intro will always be embroidered into my head because of how AWESOME it was as a kid! Cool


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PostSubject: Re: Batman the Animated Series   Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:36 pm

It's my all time favorite show. Even better than FiM. It's basically as good as you can get to representing Batman without it being a comic. By comparison, the FiM opening, I kind of don't like and typically skip.

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