The success of Batman: The Animated Series can not be understated. Debuting on September 5th, 1992 until September 15th 1995, the series has long been known for its dark atmosphere, in line with the Tim Burton Batman films, humanizing formerly one dimensional villains, and helping to establish what have now been regarded as the iconic versions of the characters for an entire generation. Alongside praise for the thematic and artistic qualities of the show, Batman:The Animated Series is also the foundation of DC’s Animated Universe, which would build off of the original Batman series and include shows such as Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and The Justice League. However, as with any television show no matter how critically acclaimed, or how many Emmys the show has won (4 in this case) there always is a nominal “worst episode” and for Batman: The Animated Series that episode is “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement”
As far as plots for an episode of the series go, “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” is utterly straightforward. What sets aside this episode from many others is that Batman is not the primary focus of the episode, it is instead two children, Sherman Grant and his spunky Robinesque sidekick Roberta, who stumble upon The Penguin (debuting this episode and voiced wonderfully by Paul Williams) after he has stolen a Faberge egg. Sherman is an aspiring detective and after following a South-American vulture, the two end up in an abandoned bird seed factory that The Penguin is using as a hideout. As would be expected Batman appears to apprehend the criminals and retrieve the egg. After rescuing the kids who have fallen onto a conveyor belt that will grind them into birdseed, Batman is ultimately gassed in a fashion not unlike an episode of William Dozier’s Batman series from the 1960s, which immobilizes him for the much of the remainder of the episode. Following this knockout-gassing Batman is brought back to the house of Sherman after the well known “kids driving a car sequence” in that one steers the wheel while the other works the pedals. Enlisting the help of two bullies, Sherman and Roberta set traps in the house for The Penguin and his goons who track the kids down while also giving Batman an antidote capsule from the Batmobile. Following a humorous romp through a booby trapped living room, The Penguin apprehends the kids and is just about to have Batman fall victim to his umbrella before Batman wakes up and proceeds to duel him with a screwdriver. The Penguin is defeated and Batman watches over Sherman who has gained the respect of the bullies starting his own junior detective agency.
There are many legitimate reasons as to why this is the “worst episode” of Batman: The Animated Series: The primary focus on characters who are not Batman, the campy tone in the complete opposite direction of what the series was trying to do, and the animation in certain scenes (namely the car chase) being of predominantly low quality. I’m not going to argue with these criticisms, as they are all sound. Any argument about how people just don’t “get it” that this episode could be seen as a callback to the William Dozier series simply does not hold as:
1. Moving away from the campy tone was what DC was trying to do with Batman related media outside of comics. It does not help that the critically acclaimed “Heart of Ice” followed this episode of the series, redefining Mr. Freeze.
2. The series was only 12 episodes in and still establishing itself. Such a callback would more appropriate to later episodes of the series such as “Beware The Grey Ghost” featuring Adam West, and it’s wonderful
3. Such an argument is really pretentious. Loving something is being able to admit to when things don’t work as well as praising it for what it succeeds at, and nothing should be so blindly devoted to.
The criticism I will argue against however is one that I am seeing more and more these days as new and different media (comics specifically) are being released that really aggravates me: pandering. In this case that “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” supposedly panders to children.
As much as the series is lauded for all the wonderful things that it accomplished and delivered rich complex narratives, a lot of people seem to forget that the show was a cartoon for children. The fact that the end result was a series that could be appreciated by a variety of age groups should be seen as a blessing, as the show to this day remains a benchmark to which all other Batman animated media is compared to. But yes a cartoon for children, one that played Saturday mornings and late in the afternoons that kids (myself included) watched when they got off the bus, and had an extensive toy line. While I’ll admit it wasn’t amongst my favorites, I can distinctly remember the episode unlike many others that I only had vague recollections of by the time the DVD box sets were started to be released. Perhaps the fact it had kids in it, unlike many other episodes, made it so memorable to a younger me. And if it wasn’t for shows like Batman: The Animated Series I probably wouldn’t be writing here.
The more I see the term “pandering” whether it’s pandering to kids, SJWs, Tumblr, etc. the more I realise the argument is really “I am not part of the target audience and I am offended by that, how dare (insert company here) do this to me a loyal devoted fan of blah blah blah”. Comics have long had a perceived audience of predominantly white young adults/men and although this is nowhere near the case, companies have been trying to shatter this stereotype. While you could cynically comment that it’s only because these companies want to increase their profits by appealing to untapped markets, it’s much more appealing to think of all the great things different voices can bring to the comics industry, and the best way to do that is to offer up a great variety of material to make everyone want to be part of it. Yes, you probably aren’t the target audience for some things, and that’s ok. But if the comics medium wants to be taken seriously by the general public as something beyond the goldmine for which studios plunder for summer blockbusters, we the audience as a whole can’t dismiss the things that aren’t directed at us. I barely have enough time to read what is directed at me as it is.
Really enjoyed the article. I find it really interesting what you say about the argument of pandering as sometimes I come across people arguing in regards to silver and golden age comics “well Comic X was intended to appeal to children, so by definition doesn’t have any entertainment value and isn’t worth reading” which is silly! Silver Age Spider-man and Fantastic Four are great if you ask me and they were aimed at children as I understand it. I think sometimes comics fans tie themselves in knots arguing that stuff that clearly was targeted at 9-13 year olds “wasn’t really for children” but instead they should be saying “it was aimed for children but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless”. Just like how films like Fantasia were aimed at children and I think film fans would be comfortable saying that Fantasia has lots of interesting ideas in it despite (or because of) it’s intended audience.
Anyway, that’s today’s ramble out of the way. Again, really enjoyed the article. I’m going to have to check out Batman the Animated series out some time. :)
I think there’s a difference between pandering and actually making diverse content. Pandering is where narrative/thematic quality is forgone for inclusion of specific things that are intended to draw a demographic. Like Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles prominently features women, trans people and people of color, but no one would ever consider that book to be pandering to an audience. Warren Ellis’ Authority features a female lead superteam with prominent homosexual pastiches of Superman and Batman but no one would consider that pandering either.
I’ve always liked this episode. This (not this article, I mean the fact that everyone hates this episode) is one of those many cases of the internet coming along and telling me I was wrong for liking something that I had no clue that people didn’t like, because there was no internet when it aired and for a while after that (see: many fan hated X-Files and Buffy episodes I also love and was shocked to find they were all “worst” episodes.) Oh well.
Would have liked a longer article on the pandering topic though! I think there’s a lot more to dig into there…Also was hoping you’d specifically talk about Batgirl after seeing the picture from it, because I could not make it through the first issue because I just really really felt like it was not intended for me at all.