Batman: The Animated Series 25th Anniversary #86: Holiday Knights

After Batman: The Animated Series ended its’ run in 1995, many of the Warner Bros. Animation shows moved over to the newly established Kids WB! lineup the following fall. 1996 saw the same team behind Batman: TAS doing the same thing for Superman: The Animated Series with equal success, some ever considering it better than Batman.

With Superman being a big hit critically and commercially, Batman: The Animated Series was revived to air as part of The New Batman/Superman Adventures and to also connect both series together into one universe. Hence The New Batman Adventures was born:

Unfortunately, The New Batman Adventures never had an official intro seeing as how it was paired with The Batman Superman Adventures so that is not an official intro unfortunately.

You also saw a lot of creative changes taking place in the new incarnation. The animation style was changed significantly from BTAS due to budgetary issues. The animators decided to make the show look more compatible with the smoother Superman: The Animated Series with which TNBA would air in tandem as part of The New Batman/Superman Adventures on The WB. TNBA was later given the same opening theme of BTAS when aired in syndication.

The show had a significant change in focus from the original series, with episodes focusing less on Batman and more on the many characters that inhabited Gotham City. The art became more streamlined and darker with simpler color schemes, while the Art Deco and film noir imagery from the original series were replaced with a more modern look.

Batman was given a sleeker, brawnier appearance with an overall darker costume; the golden ellipse surrounding the bat emblem on his chest and the blue highlights of his cape and cowl were both removed. His gadgets and vehicles were given a sleeker, redesigned look with a more black color scheme. Bruce Wayne’s appearance was also changed from the previous series; his hair was brushed back to highlight his face, with blue eyes instead of black, and his regular business suit was changed from brown to black. Kevin Conroy’s voice for Batman became more stern, as well as less distinguishable from his voice for Bruce than in the original series. The writers made an effort to keep Batman’s dialogue as terse and grim as possible, in order to heighten the contrast between him and the lighthearted supporting cast.

Batgirl’s costume was changed to a look similar to her original outfit from her comic debut in Detective Comics #359. Producer Paul Dini said that Batgirl would appear in every episode of the new series because “Kenner wants to do a line of toys, we’re taking advantage of the publicity from her being in Batman & Robin, and we just love Batgirl.” Melissa Gilbert was replaced by Tara Strong as the voice of Batgirl. Strong would reprise her role over a decade later in another Batman animated television series Beware the Batman and Strong also reprised her role as Batgirl on the DC Nation short, Super Best Friends Forever, Teen Titans Go! and in the animated feature, Batman: The Killing Joke which reunited her with Conroy and Mark Hamill.

Tim Drake was introduced as the new Robin in the episode “Sins of the Father”. However, Dini remarked that “The Tim Drake origin in the comics as written now didn’t work for us with him having a father and living so close to Wayne Manor. It seemed to work fine in the comics, but we needed our own little family unit of Batman, Robin, Batgirl and occasionally Nightwing – and Alfred of course.” For these reasons, the production team came up with their own origin for Tim Drake, though they later realized this new origin was extremely similar to Jason Todd’s.[2] Batman made a new suit which is similar to the first one but the color scheme was simplified to red, black and yellow, eliminating green entirely. The costume retained the familiar red short-sleeved shirt, as well as the black cape with yellow inner lining. New elements included black sleeves, gloves, trunks and boots with red leggings. The familiar domino mask had also changed, giving the new Robin a more wide-eyed, innocent look. The original costume was seen in “Old Wounds” and “Over The Edge”.

Dick Grayson, having abandoned his Robin persona as a result of a falling out with Batman adopted the identity of Nightwing. Grayson’s build became sleeker, with broader shoulders, showcasing his emergence as a mature hero in his own right. The short spiky hair that Grayson wore as Robin had grown longer, styled to flow down the back of the neck. In his civilian guise, he wore it in a ponytail. As Nightwing, he wore a V-shaped mask and an all-black unitard with light blue hawk emblem that borrowed some elements of the comics version from the 1990s. The costume also featured collapsible wings under the arms that allowed Nightwing to glide for short distances.

The designs of most of the villains from Batman’s rogues gallery were also changed considerably, generally developing darker color schemes. Most controversial of the redesigns was that of the Joker, whose white skin now had a bluish-gray tinge, while the eyes had their scleras removed, and were replaced by cavernous black spaces with white pupils. The ruby-red lips were gone, focusing more attention on the teeth, and the green-tinged hair now was almost completely black. His primary suit colors were changed from purple and yellow to purple and green.

Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Clayface, and Harvey Bullock were among the few characters who did not receive any drastic change in appearance or color alterations. Harley Quinn is also the only villain aside from the Joker who appeared in six or more episodes. Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia also did not receive any drastic re-designs, although their only appearance during this time was in the episode “The Demon Reborn” from Superman: The Animated Series.

The Kids’ WB censors were much more flexible with episode content than the Fox Kids censors were with Batman: The Animated Series. Producer Bruce Timm recounted that “When we were at Fox, after every single storyboard, we would get five single-spaced pages of notes on things we couldn’t do. On the WB, we usually get maybe two paragraphs of stuff we can’t do. At Fox, they were really picky, not just about things you couldn’t do, but just in terms of content and story. They had a million opinions about what we should be doing. Nobody bothers us like that at the WB.”

So, there was a lot of creative changes done but the show was given more abilities to do whatever the hell they wanted without having to deal with the censors too much. So there’s both a yin and yang to this.

With all that said, let’s talk about the first episode of the new revival, Holiday Knights:

First broadcasted on September 13, 1997, three months before the Christmas season, this episode was written by Paul Dini and directed by Dan Riba.

Three holiday-themed vignettes:

(1) Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn kidnap Bruce Wayne and use his credit cards for a shopping spree.

(2) While shopping for a gift for her father, Barbara Gordon spots a group of shoplifters that turn out to be portions of Clayface.

(3) Batman and Robin race to stop the Joker from killing the crowd at the Gotham City New Year Celebration.

So, right off the bat, it’s pretty clear this episode is out of order compared to the rest of the series. I mean, you could tell from a couple of things, one the last time anybody saw Clayface was in Mudslide when he was “killed off” and Robin in this is much younger, almost at a middle school kid level. Well, that’s because this episode actually takes place before a couple of other episodes that follow, “Sins of the Father” and “Growing Pains”, which introduces Tim Drake and brings Clayface back after his apparent death in “Mudslide”.

Yeah, it’s confusing and you really will not notice it a whole lot, you’ll be more interested in a lot of the cosmetic changes they make here….and there is a lot.

I mean, from the start, both Poison Ivy & Harley Quinn don’t look like women, they look like teenage girls, in fact, most of the women in this look like teenage girls.

Yeah, it’s the same voices but I don’t know, hearing full grown women’s’ voices coming out of designs that look like teenagers is distracting….at least at first, once the series gets going, you do let it go a little bit.

At least with Batgirl, she at least looks like a full grown woman:

Oh by the way, that’s pretty much most of the majority of these shorts. These are literally short segments where not a whole lot happens and they all run quickly like that second segment with Batgirl and Clayface, that goes by so fast you’d swear you missed something.

And then, you have the Joker design for the season, you all know I had to bring it up so here it is:

Honestly, the design is not the worst but really, those eyes are what killed it, all black with little white pupils? I mean, it just doesn’t look right, it looks like a bad mix of Mickey Mouse, Skeeter from Doug, and that generic villain from Mulan’s eyes….yeah that’s right, he was so generic I don’t even remember his name, sue me….actually don’t, trust me, I ain’t worth that much.

Bottom line, it’s not a very good design but once again, after a while, you do get used to it even if it ain’t that good of a design.

Overall, the three segments are decent, there’s nothing about them that truly stand out on their own all except for the epilogue they do at the end where it’s just Batman and Commissioner Gordon sitting in a coffee shop having a traditional coffee on New Year’s Day:

It’s a great scene and with the passing of Bob Hastings a couple of years ago, it makes this moment all the more sweeter and one of the more memorable moments of the episode.

Holiday Knights isn’t a bad episode, the three segments are overall decent but nothing breaks loose except for that final epilogue at the end. I get the feeling this was a test episode to see if the same talent from the original series could still do it and while it’s not a great return, it shows some promise and luckily, the rest of the series would show the gang returning to their old ways soon enough and thensome.

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