I was a bit too young to watch the Batman animated series as a kid, specifically on a regular basis. During it’s early years, anyway, I missed a lot of the show while it was airing. It wasn’t until its later Fox Kids years that I started catching the show after school.
I remember seeing those episodes as a kid and them seeming so epic. There wasn’t a lot like it, until Gargoyles, that felt like an adult show I was getting away with watching. Those later episodes introduced me to Ra’s al Ghul and the forbidden romance between Batman and Talia, Killer Croc’s inability to reform and the Riddler’s obsessions. I still wasn’t able to watch the show on regular basis, but I knew it was out there and was telling stories that were cooler than any of the other shows I had been following. Images like Ra’s hand reaching out of the Lazarus Pit, Babydoll shooting a shattered mirror or that kiss between Batman and Talia have stuck with me for years.
When Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was released on VHS, my mom rented a copy for me. I don’t know how it all worked out but I ended up watching it alone one night when everyone was asleep. At the time, I couldn’t have been much older than seven and I knew instantly that I was getting away with something.
As people were dying, kissing and dealing with these huge issues on screen, I kept checking to make sure no one was coming. If my mom saw a mobster getting crushed underneath a tombstone, that tape was going back to the video store pronto. When the Joker was on screen, it was terrifying but thrilling. The clown was killing people! Everything about that movie felt dangerous and it was an eyeopener for my young self. It might be one of the best movie experiences I’ve ever had.
Years later, when the show moved to the WB and became an after school block with the Superman animated series, it became something I watched religiously. That block became a refuge for me. I looked forward to getting to it on time after another terrible school day and it lasted until my parents came home and life became slightly less ideal.
That rebooted version of the show, with it’s updated animation style, was the coolest show in the world for me. It introduced me to Nightwing, a Robin that I was actually jealous of and a Batgirl I would follow to the ends of the earth. Episodes like “Over the Edge”, “Mad Love”, “Growing Pains” and “Joker’s Millions” left huge impressions on me and influenced my view on all the characters. When I started reading Batman comics, starting with No Man’s Land, I was confused by any differences between the elements of the show and what was on paper. But, without the animated series, I would have never picked up the comic.
Batman Beyond and the Justice League series really deserve their own blog, as well as the Superman show. They all became important to me at different times in my life and kept the continuity started by the Batman animated series alive, as well as the character of Batman himself.
I was finally able to watch all the episodes I had missed when the series was released onto DVD. Those collections were wonderful and I’ve watched through them multiple times, always excited to restart the series. It’s the easiest show in the world to binge because it’s quality is so high and the characters are so compelling. It’s also one of the few shows I watched as a kid that stands up to watching as an adult. This anniversary has given me the bug again but it’s not something I’ll fight. The show is a treasure to Batman fans. It introduced me to so much of that world and influenced my tastes in huge ways. No other Batman series has topped it in quality, even though Batman: Brave and the Bold found it’s own identity and works on it’s on level. Only Batman Begins has ever come close to being such a faithful adaptation. Twenty-five years later and the original 90s show still has all the vitality of a much younger series. It’s timeless, it’s iconic, it’s Batman.
When I first watched Night of the Living Dead, I was fifteen. I had only gotten into the world of zombie fiction earlier that year when I watched the first Resident Evil movie. The very concept of zombies was relatively new to me, and creeped me right out. Even with that fear, as someone who found the first Alien movie not scary or that great, I wasn’t expecting to be put on edge by an older horror film, no matter the monster.
Watching George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead made me check my attitude at the door. It didn’t matter how old the movie was, it was still unsettling. The zombies were still creepy and only grew in number throughout the night. The building tension was just as palpable as I imagine it was at the drive-in during 1968. It also showed me what zombie fiction was really about, the living. The whole movie is a boiler because the occupants of the house are flawed, sometimes destructive people and just because there’s a horde of zombies outside doesn’t mean the survivors are going to work together. Technically, it’s an amazing achievement of budget constraints and independent film making. While aspiring directors may look to Scorsese or Tarantino for inspiration, what Romero did is both attainable and impressive. It helps that Ben is one of the great movie heroes of all time and the shambling extras make for convincing zombies.
Dawn of the Dead is all of that but bigger. While not as focused as the laser-sighted storytelling in Night, the sequel is great and stands on it’s own. Less frightening, its an examination of consumer culture, as well as the struggle to survive in a world that will never get better. The opening raid in the rundown apartment complex is brutal, but so is watching the relationships break apart. I’ve watched both Night and Dawn multiple times and they both bring something new to table with each viewing.
It was by luck that I came upon Day of the Dead on TV. I was hooked by that creepy synth playing over the calls for any survivors during the opening credits. The story is maybe less focused and maybe the budget wasn’t up to the Romero’s vision. Taking place in an underground military base, the movie does have a sense of claustrophobia akin to Night. New to the table is the idea that zombies can be domesticated, maybe brought back from the brink. Of course, being the dark film this is, it doesn’t work out but the journey is still entertaining. The end is one of the best shock/relief moments of the series as well.
For my money, one of the most underrated movies is Land of the Dead. It made money at the time, riding the wave of growing zombie mania, and most critics liked it, but no one talks about it like the previous films. The focus on rich vs. poor in the undead landscape is just as depressing as the zombies themselves. And Dennis Hopper’s character, ruling over the high tower, might have been too ahead of it’s time. If this movie was released today, it would be considered a political attack on the current administration. Luckily, the themes are relatively timeless. And it has some of the most impressive zombie carnage the series has to offer.
Romero would go own to make more zombie movies, such as Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead and he has a whole career of non-zombie films that are worth checking out. But what I find so fascinating with the man is that he created a genre of film, of storytelling, and then used it to make the movies he wanted to create. Others might have decided to focus on the lore of these new worlds or made them into action films, like World War Z or the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. But not Romero.
Romero wanted to tell stories about people, politics, race, consumerism and classism. So he told those stories, tricking viewers with zombie horror and gore. Creating a brand new genre wasn’t enough for him, he had to perfect it and show how many layers could be found within it. Heck, Night of the Living Dead could be done as a stage play and it wouldn’t lose anything in scale and would be just as compelling as Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Because of that, Romero made movies that will outlive him and remain watchable and timely. Because, while zombies may someday fall out of fashion, the ideas that fill his films will always be relevant. They’ll continue to inspire hopeful directors, writers and viewers. And they’ll continue to scare those who think age has weakened their potency.