Wednesday Whittling: Batman: The Animated Series and Lighting

Welcome to Wednesday Whittling! This week I admire a cartoon
that shaped me and examine how. Batman:
The Animated Series
ran 85 episodes from 1992-95 and was brought to us by Bruce
Timm
and Eric Radomski. From the time it aired it was dark, it was gritty, it
was nuanced noir. And it was beautiful.

I recently had a conversation over email with one of my
brothers about the lighting BTAS
used. He told me that, until a Reddit thread that day, he felt it was corny how
Batman was always coming out of the dark. As a kid, I never thought about it
much. As an adult I have more scope of the world of Gotham. I replied saying
how it made so much sense, that it’s another character.

See, the criminal element thrives in the Darkness. It also defines Gotham. If you’re going to
play against people in the Dark, you can’t be noticed doing it. You have to go
to the heart of it.

Take, for example, episode 25 of the series, “The Clock King.” It centers
on a time-compulsive Temple Fugate being influenced by a lawyer, Hamilton Hill,
to alter his daily routine. Instead of taking his coffee break at 3:00, Fugate is convinced
to take it at 3:15. He does it outside instead of at his desk. He’s attempting
to relax in a park while tending to extremely important files for his business.
To say the menial experiment goes awry would be a gross understatement – he falls
into a series of events that make him late for court and cost him everything.
But the Darkness was humming to us well before that.

In the opening minutes of the episode, Fugate is sitting on
the train on his way to work, across from Hill. He looks sideways out the window
after airing revulsion for the train being six minutes late, and there’s a
beat. Suddenly it turns very
Nietzsche-esque.
He’s looking out the window into Darkness that he submits
to; that he allows to cover him as if it’s harmless. His mistake, though. It’s
whispering that he should be looking elsewhere.

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By the time he turns just a moment later, Hill is giving him
the fateful advice. He’s saying it from the light, his face in full,
uninhibited view to Fugate. And it’s too late. The shadow still consumes Fugate
while the jovial tip tries to wade through it. Fugate’s face quivers in
terrible, terrible fear.

image

Seven years after Fugate loses it all, he comes back as the
Clock King to exact his revenge. Hill, now mayor, has been captured and tied to
the hour hand on the face of the Gotham clock tower. As the minute hand slowly
bites away at what’s left of his life, a shadow leans forward like it can’t
wait to consume another existence. As I watch the episode now, the lighting’s
influence is nerve-wracking. I can’t remember watching a show and wanting so
badly for direct sunlight to make an appearance.

image

Episode 25 of BTAS is
just one example of how the cartoon treats lighting like another character. It
runs rampant in every episode though, and it’s an utter marvel. Here I am,
some 20 years after first watching, and I can’t get over it.

I also can’t believe how I was allowed to watch it, let
alone understood what was happening. That’s the thing, though…kids understand
far more than they could ever articulate. But they know it. So for as much as the lighting helped appeal and add to
the ethos of the Dark Knight, it also transcended age and helped the series become remarkably enduring. The lighting taught – and still does – that shadows are
projected from the light. They’re two sides of the same coin, which is why they
can never see each other despite always occupying the same space. And that’s
why Batman, whatever he is for a place or person, is so necessary.

And now, your free, original comic! 

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