Wayne, you alive? (Holiday Knights)

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It’s still September 13, 1997. Mere minutes have elapsed since the end of “Speed Demons,” so the headlines and charts are unchanged.

One thing of note, at least for us, did happen in those minutes: a new opening sequence proclaiming the next hour of Kids’ WB to be The New Batman/Superman Adventures, a programming block which aired reruns of BTAS and STAS on weekdays, and a mix of reruns and new episodes on Saturdays. New episodes of STAS would sometimes air immediately before NBSA, sometimes as part of it, but from here out all new episodes of BTAS–including this one–aired as part of NBSA, and as such have no opening sequence of their own (although streaming and DVD versions often replace the NBSA opening with the original BTAS or New Adventures of Batman and Robin opening).

The new opening heavily plays up the idea of the block as combining Batman’s and Superman’s respective shows in a number of ways. The color palette shifts back and forth between Superman’s blue skies and Batman’s red; characters are initially shown only in monochrome silhouette, but once color starts showing up it almost always fits the pattern, the two exceptions being the transition from young Bruce screaming by his parents’ corpses (silhouettes on red) to the Batman logo, which then dissolves into a swarm of bats on a yellow background, and the transition from Superman flying up to Krypton turning yellow and exploding into Darkseid, wreathed in yellow flames. Otherwise, however, all scenes from STAS episodes have a blue filter and all scenes from BTAS have a red one. Yellow is reserved to mark that which the characters share: both, when they were young, had their worlds shattered.

(Interestingly, Darkseid–who, keep in mind, has not yet actually appeared in an episode–is thus presented as parallel to the Bat. More on this quite a bit later.)

Even more than the imagery, the music serves as an announcement that BTAS and STAS aren’t just being aired next to each other, but are being in some sense combined into one, as it meshes two themes, one stylistically similar to the BTAS theme and the other stylistically similar to the STAS theme (although neither actually reprises or remixes a prior theme). The final shot before the title shows this as well, being a brief scene from the (not yet released when “Holiday Knights” first aired) crossover film/three-part episode “World’s Finest,” in which Batman and Superman meet in person–the only time they, or indeed any characters introduced in their respective shows, are onscreen together in this opening.

But note the music in that brief shot: it is the triumphal STAS-style theme. The filter on the shot, too, is blue, which is associated with STAS characters and clips throughout the rest of the opening. The one moment which has both of them is being treated as, essentially, a Superman moment–as, indeed, will be “World’s Finest” as a whole: it is primarily set in Metropolis, uses STAS’ lighter color palette and Bruce Timm character designs, and would subsequently be included in STAS collections, not BTAS collections. Appropriately enough, Superman is still the one who gets to be in the sun; Batman remains in his shadow.

This is true for the entire final season of BTAS, especially where color palette and character designs are concerned, all of which have been changed to integrate better with STAS. The look of STAS will be the look of the DCAU from here out.

“Holiday Knights” itself thus serves as something of a transition between the old BTAS look and the new. An adaptation of the Batman Adventures Holiday Special we covered some time back, it takes stories originally written for and drawn in the style of the old BTAS and changes them to the new. Since it occurs entirely at night, the shift in color palette is also not as obvious. Similarly, the sequence of stories is changed from the Holiday Special, moving “The Harley and the Ivy” to the beginning so that the first characters seen are Poison Ivy (whose character design changed significantly in the revamp) and Harley Quinn (whose design barely changed at all): the opening scene thus simultaneously demonstrates that we are looking at a visually revamped show, and that it is nonetheless the same show as past seasons of BTAS.

The next segment, adapting the Holiday Special’s “Jolly Ol’ St. Nicholas,” indicates another change. In both the comic and televised versions of the story, Barbara Gordon is at the mall when Clayface reveals himself and attacks the cops, so she has to put on her Batgirl costume without being seen. Both make a point of showing her taking off her clothes and putting on the costume, implying nakedness in between, but choosing angles where nothing is visible that wouldn’t be allowed in an all-ages comic or Saturday morning cartoon. This is in keeping with one of Timm’s major influences, “good girl art,” a school of pinup and comic artists originating in the 1940s. The style is characterized by conventionally attractive women in skimpy or formfitting outfits, and often involve a voyeuristic element in which the subject is depicted in an improbable or private moment that involves a state of partial undress, such as being in the middle of changing clothes. Indeed, the original script for the Holiday Special was even more voyeuristic, as it called for Batgirl to change her clothes out in the open in a crowded mall, relying on the distraction provided by Clayface to ensure no one saw her naked. The comic’s editors considered this excessively risque, so it was changed so that she ducks into a changing room before stripping.

The episode, however, has her merely duck into the aisle between two rows of shelves, leaving open the possibility that someone unseen is watching her change. It is not quite to the level of the comic script, but still has a distinctly voyeuristic tinge. More importantly, its presence implies that the show is now a little less concerned with being child-friendly than the comics–which is interesting, since the comics repeatedly showed that they were a little less concerned with being child-friendly than the cartoon. That the revamped show is a little less worried about The Children than it was previously–a change at least partially explained by the accompanying shift from initial airings on Fox to WB, which had a generally less strict Standards and Practices policy for children’s programming–is confirmed in the next segment, adapted from the Holiday Special story “What Are You Doing New Years’ Eve,” in which we have a successful on-screen murder for the first time in any televised DCAU story (Mask of the Phantasm having been a theatrical release). The act itself is not shown, but Commissioner Gordon shows Batman video of the Joker threatening to go on a killing spree, then tells him that there’s already been a victim and hands him photographs of a chalk outline and a man with the grinning rictus brought on by Joker gas. All previous episodes involving the gas took pains to indicate that victims were hospitalized and treated, but there is no mention of hospitalization here, and both the Joker’s threat and the chalk outline clarify that the man is dead.

The third segment also demonstrates a much bigger change, namely Robin. He does not appear in the comic story, but figures prominently in the episode, and his design has changed even more than Poison Ivy’s. His costume’s color scheme has changed, now more red and black than red and green, he himself is much shorter, and most notably, his voice actor has changed to the much younger-sounding Mathew* Valencia. He also seems to have become less experienced, making the rookie mistake of turning his back on one of Joker’s goons when distracted by what’s happening to Batman. These changes combine to make him seem like a much younger character, which he is: it is stated nowhere in the episode, but this Robin is a new character: Dick Grayson has left and been replaced by Tim Drake. The details of how and why Grayson left, where he went, and how Drake came to be the new Robin will be gradually revealed over the course of the season, forming an ongoing story arc.

This is a huge development, because outside of the occasional two- or three-parter, the DCAU has never attempted a preplanned story arc. Going forward, however, they will become increasingly common, especially in STAS and Justice League. The DCAU is thus both deepening its continuity by introducing ongoing story arcs, and broadening it, by emphasizing that BTAS and STAS are part of a shared continuity.

Story arcs, crossovers, shared continuity: the DCAU is suddenly sounding a lot more like the comics–for better and, as we shall eventually see, for worse.

*Not a misspelling.


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2 thoughts on “Wayne, you alive? (Holiday Knights)

  1. the show is now a little less concerned with being child-friendly than the comics

    For instance, a quick Google search confirms my recollection that this episode includes the moment when, after Clayface’s defeat, Bullock says “So much for Frosty the Lawn Cigar.” (Was that line carried over from the comic version?)

    Like

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