As part of my continuing series of articles about Batman The Animated Series, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the show, i’m focusing on characters, moments, or stories that really exemplify what made this show so special. One of the things that Batman The Animated series did so well that we haven’t really seen in other adaptations of the character, is showing how unexpectedly and deeply compassionate Batman can be. Like my Mr. Freeze article I wrote a few days ago, (if you haven’t checked that out yet here’s the link ) nowhere is this better exemplified than in how the “villains” are handled.
I used the word “villains” in quotes because I feel like the word denotes a very black and white view of morality, which the show does a phenomenal job of transcending. Just like in real life, human beings aren’t broken down into “good guys” and “bad guys”. People aren’t that simple. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly Batman villains that are full blown monsters, The Joker comes to mind as an obvious example. But as I’ve said before, many of Batman’s villains are the byproduct of tragedy or mental illness. Many of them are victims. Sad, broken people that got completely rolled over by the world. That’s something Batman is intimately familiar with. He knows how easily a life can be destroyed and how fragile our seemingly safe and happy worlds can be.
Take the episode “Baby Doll”, written by the incredible Paul Dini. The episode centers around a woman named Mary Louise Dahl, an actress who suffered from a rare disease that the essentially stoped her from aging. She is roughly in her 30s but she looks like she’s 6 years old. Her one upside was that she became a household name and sitcom sensation playing the main character, the “adorable and precocious” Baby Doll, in her hit sitcom “Love That Baby”. It was the cheesy type of thing you would see on TV in the 70’s and 80’s. On the show, her famous catch phrase was “I didn’t mean to”. This show was the one instance where looking like a little girl was a huge advantage. Eventually the show was canceled and all the fame and adoration that gave her life meaning was gone in an instant. Without the show, it was monumentally difficult for this woman to lead a normal life, to be just like everybody else. Over the years, never really getting over her show being cancelled and being a grown woman trapped in the body of a child her entire life, causes her to have a mental breakdown. She decided she wanted to re-create that perfect time in her life, when she was the star of the show on “Love That Baby”. She kidnaps all her former cast mates from the show and with a group of armed thugs as her muscle, she forces them into a sick reenactment of the show. It’s a sad attempt to relive the only part of her life that gave her happiness and meaning. Even though she’s doing something awful, this woman’s plight is heartbreaking
Of course Batman becomes involved and with the help of Robin, he’s able to free the hostages, Dahl manages to slip away but with Batman in hot pursuit. He chases her through a carnival, eventually ending up in the house of mirrors. I’ll let the scene speak for itself:
That’s one of my favorite scenes in the series. It’s not some epic, save the city battle. It’s a tragic story about a woman who was born different. Batman putting his hand on her shoulder and taking the gun away while she’s still pulling the trigger on empty chambers was masterfully done. This series took an episode that could be pretty stupid on paper and made it a heart wrenching tale of a troubled woman trying to find meaning in her life. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a supposed “kids cartoon”.
Like I said I’ll have more articles on Batman The Animated Series to come. Also, Tim and I are getting together to record the next episode of the podcast, which will be exclusively about Batman The Animated Series in honor of the 25th anniversary of that show. So please keep an eye out for that. And again, as always thanks for reading!