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Saturday, May 13, 2006

End of an era: Timm/Dini animated DC saga wraps up tonight

Fourteen years of animated greatness will draw to a close later tonight as Justice League Unlimited airs its final episode at 10:30 PM on the Cartoon Network. So will end the DC animated milieu created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, by far the most successful cartoon franchise of the past two decades.

It was back in 1992 that Timm and Dini's Batman: The Animated Series first glided into the scene, and it cast a long shadow indeed over the 1990s. Chief animator Timm and series producer Dini created an animated version of the Dark Knight that was finally as edgy and complicated as the original comic. In the Timm/Dini Gotham City, Batman was a creature of the night (no daytime appearances ever) who really did lose his parents to a mugger, the Joker was a true psychotic and people actually died in horrible ways. The cartoon's dark style was borrowed from Japanese anime, particularly the look of Akira and other "serious" animated stories. And then there was that voice talent: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred, and a seemingly never-ending array of voices behind the rogues's gallery. The two that stick out in my mind most were Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze and Mark Hamill, who created a whole 'nother career after Luke Skywalker as he gave the Joker frightening new life (in my opinion better than Jack Nicholson ever could).

In the years following Batman: The Animated Series's success, Timm and Dini came out with Superman: The Animated Series, playing out in the same "universe" created in Batman: TAS. Tim Daly provided Superman/Clark Kent with his voice while Clancy Brown was brought in to counter Supes as Lex Luthor. And if you want to see the Timm/Dini 'verse at its most potent, watch the Superman series's two-parter "Apokolips... Now!": in my mind one of the DC animated team's two finest works from its entire decade and a half.

A few more series (mostly centered on Batman/Superman) came out during the Nineties, including Batman Beyond: a bold "foretelling" of the Timm/Dini DC saga set some 50 years in the future. In 2000 that series gave us Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, the other acme of Timm/Dini greatness... and probably (in the unedited version anyway) one of the most chilling stories ever told in the animated medium.

In 2001 the Timm/Dini setting grew dramatically with Justice League, and then broadened further in 2004's Justice League Unlimited. By that point the Timm/Dini environment had included darn nearly every super-hero (and villain) from DC's sixty-some years of history.

And tonight, something that began "On Leather Wings" in 1992 (actually the first Batman: The Animated Series episode was "The Cat and the Claw" that aired Saturday morning before the next evening's "world premiere"... I know 'cuz I watched both :-) will end with Justice League Unlimited's finale episode "Destroyer". The episode pits Batman and Superman and Lex Luthor and all those other heroes and villains against Darkseid: the biggest, most bad-a$$ enemy of the entire DC cosmos. Tonight we are supposed to see Superman go full-tilt berzerk with his powers against Darkseid... something I've been wanting to see happen ever since what Darkseid did in "Apokolips... Now!" Can't wait to watch it.

And afterward, I'll raise a toast to what Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and everyone they worked with have given us all these years. Thanks for the good times, guys!! And Lord willing, may you someday return to this great setting that you've given us :-)


Magnus said...

All good things must come to an end I suppose. I grew up with Batman in the 70's and it really was the first presentation to capture the best aspects of the comics. Supes never aired here in Canada as far as I know. JL/JLU was brilliant. My hope has always been froa Green Lantern Corps cartoon or a Justice Society cartoon.

Chris Knight said...

If you can, whether from a video store or download it or something, try to find the Superman:TAS "Apokolips... Now!" 2-parter. Can't say enough how good that story was. That and the "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" animated movie, the UNEDITED version. That one has the Timm/Dini story of what happened the last time Batman fought the Joker... and it was disturbing as hell!!! The Joker went all-out in this one, maybe too far for any children to watch.

If the Timm/Dini-verse is going to continue, it should be with a cartoon about the JLU version of Green Lantern, the John Stewart AKA "I'm Samuel L. Jackson with a power ring MOTHER-&#@$-ER" one :-P

qemuel said...

"Rabbit is good, rabbit is wise..."

I have a longstanding love of TWISTER, too! I had a tornado experience a few years back (if there is such a thing), and it scared the crap out of me--I wasn't looking for one, one found me.

Interestingly enough, I also just finished watching Season One of JUSTICE LEAGUE on DVD last night. These cartoons have been one of the high points of the past decade and a half (GEEZ, has it been that long?!), and I will also be sad to see this era come to an end.

I am 100% behind a GL cartoon! I was always impressed with their choice to use John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, or (shudder) Guy Gardner.

In brightest day, in blackest night...

Anonymous said...

I've loved all of the DC series. I'm more of a Marvel guy but Timm & crew made me respect DC. I agree GL is a great idea. I love there version of GL. It got me into collecting GL comics

Chris Knight said...

Wow, what an awesome episode!!

Very classy way to end it, seeing the "roll call" of the Justice League descending the stairs toward the camera, ending with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman... with Batman's chest logo filling the screen at the very end, like the whole thing has come full circle to where it began at Batman:TAS in '92.

So are Darkseid and Luthor gone for good? Looks like that'll forever be an exercise of imagination left for the viewer.

BTW, did anyone else happen to see Galactus from the Marvel Comics embedded in the Source Wall when Metron took Luthor to get the Anti-Life Equation? Timm/Dini-verse was full of "cameos" like that: Al Roker appeared as himself on a Superman episode, and Stan Lee and several other comic legends are seen during the funeral at the end of "Apokolipse... Now!" Putting Galactus in there was a neat nod toward Jack Kirby, IMHO.

Magnus said...

The Jon Stewart GL has always been my favourite. So flawed, so human - the "karmic" kick-bag of the DC Universe. If you guys have never read Cosmic Odyssey, do so. Earth's heroes and the New Gods team up with Darkseid to defeath the Anti-Life Entity. Stewart is in that one.