|"STRANGE DAYS" by Bruce Timm|
The film is as beautiful as it is succinct.
Heavily influenced by the original comics created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the self-explanatory short is in black and white, and features a narrative-style and aesthetic common to Batman's first days in comic form. The subtleties of the short are particularly enjoyable for Batfans that have been fortunate enough to get their hands on an anthology and sift through those early comics; Batman's basic gloves, elongated, curved ears, and art-deco-style plane (a pre-cursor to the Bat-Wing - complete with auto-pilot even back then).
Have a look for yourself and enjoy:
Batman's earliest adventures were filled with damsels in distress, mad scientists, monstrous villains, and trips to far away, sometimes supernatural lands - stories that would be widely regarded as absurdist-camp by today's standards, but inevitably retain the soul of the character and the spirit of adventure.
The Dark Knight was initially conceived as a cross between Sherlock Holms, Zorro, and Dracula and this combination of archetypes and psychologies is felt very clearly in Timm's short film.
While the examination of fear has become an incredibly significant psychological staple of many recent Batman stories, this short film examines the fear of the supernatural and the unknown, as it was explored in The Golden Age of Batman comics. The moment that highlights this form of fear is in the end when the villain tells Batman, in a quivering voice, "I'm not afraid of you". After this, all The Dark Knight needs to do is take a single step through the fog and the fear this step inspires essentially wins the day.
|Beautiful camera-work/animation - simulated focus.|
While the basics of Batman and Bruce Wayne's origins are very present in the first batch of Batman-comics, prior to being fully realized over the course of various iterations created by various artists, the comics were a blend of dark, eerie noire and lighthearted camp.
As Bruce Wayne, the character was less a brooding recluse masquerading as a playboy, and more a good-spirited chum, an aristocrat with high morals and an affinity for sleuthing.
Regardless of the subtle changes, the crux of the character has remained unchanged for 75 years: an orphaned playboy billionaire trains himself to physical and mental perfection, dons a cape and cowl, and takes off into the night to fight crime.
|Astonishing to see how such imagery remains largely unchanged in today's comics.|
Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) via qagoma.qtix.com.au
The Wolfman (1941) via dvdtalk.com
Dracula (1931) via blidesowitz.com
In what might be another subtle nod to the animated series, this Batman defeats the Solomon Grundy-like foe by blinding him with his hat and forcing him into a rock wall. In the first episode of Batman: The Animated Series, titled "On Leather Wings", Batman covers the eyes of Man-Bat whilst riding on his back, forcing the violent creature to crash into the side of a building.
Skip ahead to 20 minutes in to see the similar fight. Or just treat yourself and watch the whole thing.
If this action isn't an overt homage, it's at least in keeping with the history of the animated crusader, and how he goes about his badass business.
It's particularly worth noting how violent Timm's short-film is. Batman repeatedly smashes the brute's head into a rock to the point of excess, and in tried and true serials fashion, allows the main villain (who looks an awful lot like Hugo Strange) to fall (seemingly!) to his demise.
Timm obviously had more creative freedom here than he did on the animated series in the 90s, seeing as how the creative team barely got Tommy Guns past the censors. Here there are villains holding knives to women's throats and The Dark Knight himself firing a Gatling gun (albeit one loaded with tear gas pellets). All of these instances are nice winks to the animated series and how it sneakily managed to present mature, oftentimes violent content on a Saturday morning cartoon show for kids.
Seeing that close up on the "Tear Gas" label provides a smirk, eliciting emotions reminiscent of those inspired by the cutaways in the animated series that revealed Batman's dispatched thugs hadn't actually fallen to their deaths. They'd landed in a pool or a terrace.
At first we might be shocked to see Batman wielding such a massive, mechanical tool of death, and then, with that "Tear Gas" close-up we are reminded of his benevolence and can rest easy.
Fans of The Dark Knight that haven't read the early comics will likely be surprised by how violent they actually are. Batman wasn't above using a gun or letting people die back in those days...before the one rule.
For all the interpretations of Bruce Wayne/Batman that have existed throughout his legendary 75-year run, there is a consistent thread of adventure, excitement, and altruism that endures. The character appeals to our deepest sense of self, our deepest understanding of reality. In him we see what we hope to become, but we also see what we inevitably are. We are inherently flawed beings, scarred by our experiences.
But it is in our resilience that we achieve greatness. It is in our unwillingness to submit to despair that we prove our worth.
It is in our ability to overcome our selfish, darkest desires and ascend to a place of passion and self-sacrifice that we reveal our true nature.
Batman represents what is best in us all.
He wouldn't have lasted this long any other way.
In this short Bruce Timm demonstrates that Batman is a timeless hero, and that he shall remain so for generations.
I can think of no better way to wish The Dark Knight a happy birthday.
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