My B:TAS Essay


Jan 7, 2007
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Hey guys, I just wrote a 2500 word essay on Batman: The Animated Series as part of my course at university, just thought i'd put it out there and let everyone have a look.

How are expressionistic techniques
and film noir styles used,
and what do they signify in
‘Batman: The Animated Series’
with specific attention to the
representation of female characters?​

Batman, the caped crusader, the world’s greatest detective, the dark knight. Much has been written about the fictitious crime fighter over the years, especially due to his recent resurgence in popularity with two (soon to be three) film franchises involving him. He has become intrinsically linked with the idea of film noir, not just because of his cinematic appearances, but because of the notion of his character: A detective who is on a permanent quest. Started in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, The ‘Bat-Man’ soon became an iconic figure, crossing media boundaries to become a global icon. Early comics were informed and inspired by early silent films such as The Man Who Laughs and early Da Vinci drawings. The gothic overtones of both of these can be seen in the early comics, particularly the colouration of the comics and in criminal antagonists.

‘Batman: The Animated’ series is widely agreed amongst the Batman fan community to be the most faithful adaptation of Batman to be seen in the media, apart from of course, the genre creating comics. Most fans agree, that this is chiefly because of the strong art direction used in the series, in particular there use of film noir genre staples and Germanic expressionism to define both characters, and scenery.

The series, created in 1992 after the hugely successful ‘Batman Returns’, uses many of the same expressionistic visual styles as the Tim Burton films, albeit with a distinctive touch of their own. The series was originally conceived as an additional entry for Tim Burton’s films, utilizing the same characters and exact visual appearance, however, under producer Bruce Timm the series transformed into it’s own entity.

Its mix of children’s entertainment and adult style grittiness made it a cross boundary hit and drew plenty of plaudits. Indeed its visual style won the show four separate Emmy awards in America as well as various other genre specific awards. More importantly, it won viewers, enough for parents company Warner Brothers to movie it’s original air slot from Saturday morning to a Sunday evening prime-time slot. Such a move for an animated show was unprecedented at the time but it paid off, with viewing figures increasing steadily throughout the first season.

Further success was shown by its ability to create characters that were later incorporated into the comics, an unprecedented move at the time. The show also created new origin stories for many characters, which were incorporated into the books; one origin episode in particular, won an Emmy due to it’s mixture of heartfelt subject matter, touching dialogue and strong art.

Fans also attribute the shows success to the soundtrack, both musical and voiced. The musical score for each episode was original and performed by orchestra, meaning that no music was ever repeated. This lent a cinematic feel to each episode, something that fans often comment on as a superior aspect of the show. Another style in which this series differed to other cartoons of the time was in its voice acting. Unlike traditional animation where the voices are recorded separately then edited together, Batman used ensemble recording, adding another dimension to the emotional range available to actors able to work off of each others reactions much like radio broadcasts. Add this to a plethora of guest voices, including Tim Curry and Mark Hamill and the ‘Batman’ voice cast was as impressive as any.

However, on of the most highly praised and well-liked components of the show are its film noir and expressionistic elements. Although it may seem at first glance to be a regular comic book turned cartoon, several visualistic, stylistic, narrative codes and characterization add up to a distinctive film noir quality in the finished product.

As previously stated, ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ had a distinct visual style. Taking it’s inspiration from Tim Burton’s films ‘Batman’ and ‘Batman Returns’ which themselves took their style from German expressionism films of the 1920’s, the artists used the Germanic style of architecture design, incorporating elongated towers of a gothic style into their background art. Indeed the entire city is depicted as a claustrophobic tangle of shadows, narrow alleys, skyscrapers and brooding darkness.

The art team, who inked and coloured on black paper as opposed to traditional white, created part of this effect. Not only did this save them time when colouring, but also created the intensely dark and brooding appearance seen on screen. Indeed this effect was so convincing it was copied by other cartoons and used as a basis for further Batman related cartoons. This darker look, and muted colour palette of greys, blacks and browns used for the inking is a stylistic convention of traditional film noir, just one of the ways in which the cartoon used this technique.

This process, which utilized both film noir and art deco aspects became so popular that it coined it’s own term: Dark deco. This style added to the richness of art and was one of the reasons that ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ was such a success, and it owes this to its decision to use gothic art, and significantly because of its use of Germanic expressionism style to create atmosphere through use of shadow and gothic elements.

The set design, including clothing, transport and background art also makes a significant nod towards film noir aspects. Clothing worn by both primary characters and background characters is styled to look like the 1940’s, this era being key in the film noir movement. Indeed it uses these style themes so intensely that you could imagine almost any major character as a hard-boiled gumshoe detective in this era. Along with 1940’s style cars and little nods such as tommy-guns and police blimps this clearly shows how the creators of the show intended to use film noir as they’re base for story telling.

Another nod towards its film noir routes is the regular storylines involving detective elements. Although not exclusively used in film noir, most stories did revolve around a detective and some sort of crime or mystery. This is carried over into the show, with Batman being primarily seen as a detective, indeed throughout the series he is often referred to as ‘The dark detective.’ Producer Bruce Timm backs this up with his statement on the introduction to one episode that focused on one particular character: ‘We wanted to keep the detective element.’ This shows that the series’ writers were concerned with using this film noir aspect of a detective story even if it wasn’t necessarily needed.

Finally, the central characters themselves are styled upon film noir characterizations. Although this could be seen as a natural progression from the comics, each character is slightly altered from the comics, allowing the creators to put their own individual stamp on the show.

Bruce Wayne and Batman are both voiced by the same actor, however the difference between the characters could not be more obvious. Bruce Wayne is seen mainly during the day, always brightly lit, wearing a traditional suit. Batman however is only seen at night, adding an almost mythical status to his character. The film noir aspect of Batman is his detective work however. He is often referenced to as a great detective and seems to enjoy that side of his work. A more obvious representation of this however can be found in two police characters: Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock. Chief Of Police Jim Gordon is presented as a stereotypical gumshoe detective; he wears a raincoat, sports a moustache and could have walked straight out of any 50’s noir film. Harvey Bullock is similar, his large frame, gruff exterior and permanent cigar are again a cliché of film noir and both are characters created to show this significant relationship between the show the and the genre.

Another film noir aspect present in characterization is that of the females and their roles within the show. Traditionally females in noir films were either temptresses, often an obstacle to the detective, or as a stereotypical damsel in distress. This came from the culture of time when film noir was at its peak, however it has been followed forward, with recent films such as ‘Memento’ and ‘Se7en’ using the same base. It could be argued that this is however a genre staple of film noir, same as a muted colour scheme or a detective. Whilst ‘Batman’ took this same view in early seasons, by the end of the show it had changed radically.

In the first series several female characters are introduced, notably Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Barbara Gordon who was also Batgirl. Introduced in the first episode, Catwoman falls into both categories of a noir film heroine. Although at first she is seen as a villain due to her criminal nature, she later changes and needs to be rescued by Batman. She is also seen as a romantic interest, a mysterious figure that entrances Batman through her shady actions, a classic staple of film noir.

Poison Ivy is introduced much in the same manner, as a female temptress, seducing a central character and then using mind control to bend him to her will, which includes many criminal activities. Both these female characters are introduced in a flattering way, wearing slinky outfits, acting in a sexual manner. Laura Mulvey’s theory of female gaze explains this as a way to attract a male viewer and also to make them aware of the inherent sexual power of females, something that female protagonists in film noir often use to their advantage. Indeed both these characters are often presented in sexually provocative costumes, enhancing their femininity and countering the emasculation of them due to their criminal ways.

However another female villain, Harley Quinn is represented in the opposite way. Whilst still a criminal, her explanation for crime is due to her love for another criminal, namely The Joker. It is inferred that she was once his doctor and fell madly in love with him, changing her formerly upstanding ways and becoming a criminal. She can be seen as a damsel in distress type of character, constantly needing help from a male, and never seen as a threat on her own. In contrast to the other female characters she wears a full-length costume, that covers her figure and gives her a rather boyish appearance. This is a full inversion of the theory of female gaze, it makes men less attracted to her, which could be seen as a way of further enhancing the camp flamboyancy of her male partner by the writing team.

Similarly any love interests are presented in the same way. Whilst all show sex appeal, in a traditional bombshell way, none are ever seen as competent, more as ‘eye-candy’ for the central protagonist Bruce Wayne. They are the typical damsel in distress, and in several episodes were kidnapped in an attempt to blackmail Bruce. This shows how the writers willingly used film noir genre stereotypes to complete their stories.

The exception however, is Batgirl. Barbara Gordon, daughter of police Commissioner Gordon is seen as a strong female role model, neither a damsel in distress nor a temptress. Her role within the cartoon brought into sharp focus the opposite sides of previous female characters and as often used as a direct antithesis to these female villains. She soon became a love interest for Batman’s sidekick Robin, however this did not subdue her character, and if anything she became stronger for it, becoming an integral part of a highly organized male orientated unit.

This depiction of a strong female role model is against genre staples for film noir, and is an example of how the show sometimes stepped outside these boundaries in order to address a larger issue, in this case, female empowerment. Batgirl is there as a conduit to allow the female villains to continue operating, without her too much emphasis is put on the sexuality and how the female antagonists use this to their advantage. With Batgirl acting as an advocate that effect is negated, but also she provides a strong advocate for equal rights: Batman gives as much attention to her as he does his male sidekicks.

However, this effect was completely ended in spin off ‘Gotham Knights’. Batgirl, still working in tandem with Batman and Robin is killed in front of her father who is shocked to learn of her secret identity. He snaps, blaming Batman for his daughter’s death and launches a full scale police crackdown on Batman, attacking him, his lair and his vehicles in vengeance. This was the first time that Jim Gordon had turned against Batman, and only because of his daughter’s death. However this can be seen as a reaction to a female being killed rather then just a person. Because the victim is female, and in particular his daughter, Gordon reacts in a different way, which post-humously casts Barbara as a damsel in distress, someone who needs a man to fight her battles.

By doing this the writers were able to show how, as a society, we are still programmed to see females as a weaker sex. Surely a man’s death would not have provoked such a strong reaction, even if was Commissioner Gordon’s son. His attempt to exact vengeance is a direct reaction to a female dying, something that again relates back to the shows film noir routes and it’s style of a lead male character and a weaker female support character.

In conclusion, ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ uses several expressionistic techniques such as art design, characterization and colour to convey it’s film noir elements. This is done to convey to the audience a certain style, particularly that of German expressionism, in an attempt to show a particular genre style, in this case, that of film noir.

In particular, it uses classic characterization of females in a film noir style, casting them as either villainous temptresses, or as stereotypical damsels in distress. Even when one character broke that mould, it was her untimely death that re-established an equilibrium of strong, dominant male role models and quiet, subservient females that is often seen in film noir. It uses various elements within the show to do this, painting male characters as barrel-chested, gruff men and females as wide-hipped, pouting women. This particular characterization is essential to film noir, and is why ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ uses expressionistic styles to show film noir elements, especially when dealing with females.

Let me know what you think...
:wow: @ the white text my eyes hurt, make it readable first good sir.
Um, sorry to dissapoint, but all the text on Hype! is white...
Um, sorry to dissapoint, but all the text on Hype! is white...

Then how the hell have I managed to have read this site for almost 3 years now?
Oh man, i'm own the Drakon Board skin, sorry man, um, i'll edit lol...
What course do you that you're allowed to write about this?

I do a film course and I'm forced to write about 1930s, black and white, silent, French, Chick Flicks.
its a good start, but the two parts don't particularly gel well together, almost feels like two essays one after the other.
I always felt that one of the show's major weaknesses is its portrayal of Catwoman. because they couldn't have her behave sexually (or provocative in any real manner), her character never quite worked, sharing absolutely NO chemistry with the Batman character (name me ONE good Catwoman episode, I can't think of ANY decent ones).
I'm doing BA Film and Television Production at York St. John University. Hands down, it's an amazing course. We basically got set an essay that had to be about genre and semiotic codes and what-not, and we could pick our own media piece and style the question to suit our needs.
its a good start, but the two parts don't particularly gel well together, almost feels like two essays one after the other.
I always felt that one of the show's major weaknesses is its portrayal of Catwoman. because they couldn't have her behave sexually (or provocative in any real manner), her character never quite worked, sharing absolutely NO chemistry with the Batman character (name me ONE good Catwoman episode, I can't think of ANY decent ones).

Funny thing you should mention it, it actually is two essays. Well, two essay questions that had to be put together to form one long essay.

Really? 'Cause I feel the costume is sexualized enough, but that's just me.
Really? 'Cause I feel the costume is sexualized enough, but that's just me.

Sexualised costume is one thing, but she doesn't quite have the onscreen attitude I personally expect from a Catwoman character, since she was not allowed to play up the sexual chemistry with the Batman character (I think the particular law WB had was that Batman, as the main hero, could NOT get remotely involved with a villain). I think they make exceptions for mind-control plots, but otherwise, 'good' characters can't become romantically involved with 'bad' characters. It IS a kid's show after all. But it was all too much like how they played the Batman/Catwoman relationship in the 60s comic (where Batman is pretty much threatened by her sexuality... makes sense in the context of a children's comic though).

I think its wierd, parents groups kicked up a huge fuss over the Catwoman character's behaviour in the Batman Returns film for being too sexually provocative, but they didn't bat an eyelid over the Vicki Vale character (who sleeps with Bruce on the first date after getting blinding drunk). Is it female promiscuity or female sexual independance they have a problem with?
Female using their sexuality in an overt and masculine way I think. The fetishistic costume probably didn't help either.

I get what you're saying, they really play out the whole relationship and how Batman is almost threatened by Catwoman because she's an *actual* woman and he's not an *actual* man, psychologically speaking in the modern world comics.
I'm currently doing english literature at a-level at my school... so i extremely enjoyed reading your essay. It was great seeing the typical essay questions but being able to analyze them with Batman: TAS!

If i get into university, i will be doing 'english with film studies'...

Lets hope i get to write essay like this rather than Hamlet or 'lyrical ballads' :yay:
Oh man, that's awsome, glad I could inspire. In fact I ould definitely say that i'm now your idol, yes?

No seriously, film studies is good, i'm not on a film studies course per se, but we do analyze films, trust me, it's awsome. But we've all had to pay our dues so to speak, don't ever talk to me about Japanese pre-war cinema for instance!

But definitely do uni, best experience of my life so far!
wow, can't believe i read that whole thing...

great job though!
Simpsons quote? Nice if it is!

Thanks, just one of 10 essays I wrote this semester...

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