It is time for us to reflect on the much loved animated series and one of the issues of its related comic with the same theme. This week, we are evaluating two surprising appearances of The Dark Knight Returns in the Batman: The Animated Series canon. To be precise, the appearances of Batman’s new Robin, Carrie Kelley.
A large number of fans are not familiar with Carrie’s earlier appearance in The Animated Series plot, which is an issue of the related comic Batman & Robin Adventures Issue #6 (May 1996) created by the iconic team of Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett, the story had a cover which could draw anybody’s attention to it.
“Round Robin” starts when Robin jumps out of the shadows to prevent a petty store robbery and gets overpowered by the apparently normal youngster who was robbing the place. The camera moves in closer and reveals that the unconscious Robin had light color hair and freckles. The newspaper box lying next to him sets the tone for the story as it shows a tabloid with a headline about Batman firing Robin.
Back at home in Wayne Manor, Bruce and Dick are talking about the brand new fiction story from the “National Insider” and Dick expressing his dismay about how anyone could believe that he would get fired for not being competent and Bruce stating that nobody believes in tabloids anyway.
However, when he makes a phone call to Commissioner Gordon, he is proven wrong because the commissioner talks about the city facing problems with the “replacement” Robins who have been auditioning to take up the job and the ransom note left behind by the criminal in the opening sequence of the issue. He has taken the freckled Robin as a hostage and is asking for a ransom of fifty thousand dollars. Before Batman and the real Robin get going on the case, they are intercepted by a flash of light.
Apart from giving Harvey Bullock the ideal dialog that deserves Robert Constanzo’s voice, the page also provides us with the first glance at a DCAU version of Carrie Kelley. As stated earlier, most of the Batman & Robin Adventures got published when The Animated Series was not being produced under the assumption that the show didn’t feature new episodes and most of the production crew had moved on to Superman: The Animated Series. Therefore, Templeton/Burchett didn’t think about stomping on anybody’s feet when they introduced a character that was going to be loved by the devoted Bat-fans, and that was Frank Miller’s replacement Robin from a dark and unlikely to be approved BS&P future.
The remainder of the issue is about Batman and Robin locating the kidnapper and finding several wannabe Robins unwittingly interfering their pursuit. Later, it is discovered that this version of Carrie Fisher’s father was a city councilman. Therefore, she is let go from custody on that very night, and she goes on to bug Batman twice more. First, she finds out the payphone that the kidnapper would use and then she manages to track Batman to the place that was fixed for his rendezvous with the kidnapper.
Eventually, the criminal gets caught after the real Robin spots the exact window frame seen in the video and once again underlines the fact that he can’t be replaced when he overpowers the kidnapper. He manages to convince Batman to get photographed with Robin for a change and to dispel any rumors of their separation. The “Insider” publishes the photo along with the headline that Batman and Robin are undercover CIA sleuths.
Almost two years after this comic was published, the Batman cartoon came back as The New Batman Adventures, sporting a new look and advanced continuity. An iconic second season episode of the series was inspired by the movie Batman Forever. The producer Bruce Timm didn’t think about the movie, but, it turned out to be seen as a reminder of the fact that the Batman legends of the 1990s were extremely malleable.
Timm conceptualized an episode featuring various versions of the Dark Knight, and in tandem with writer Robert Goodman, he prepared a common sequence to knit around the various vignettes. “Legends of the Dark Knight” aired on October 10th, 1998 and it featured some amazing art from the animation team and director Dan Riba and also featured a character from Dark Knight Returns push her way into the narrative.
There are three friends in this episode, Matt, Carrie and Nick who are reading a newspaper story about Batman chasing a criminal and that motivates each one of them to come up with their own individual opinion on Batman. Matt is influenced by Dick Sprang’s Robin design whereas Nick is just a random childish design and his theory about Batman is very weak.Carrie is evidently a tribute to the Carrie Kelley of Miller.
Matt claims his version to be true because his uncle is familiar with Batman and it is the show’s way of paying a loving homage to the iconic Bill Finger/Dick Sprang era of the Caped Crusader featuring bright basic colors and extremely large props, “comic book” dialogues and a sense of innocent fun which is typically associated with the early Silver Age of Batman. The animator James Tucker considers himself to be the world’s biggest fan of those comic books and his delight about working on this sequence is explained on the DVD release of the episode.
That’s sweet. However, the lovers of the contemporary Batman got their fill in the next sequence which showed Carrie teach her younger friends about who Batman truly was. He is the ‘Dark Knight,’ which is a hint that the story will move into a sequence that fans of that era would have never expected to see. The Dark Knight Returns with a suitable artwork, color palette, and ridiculous 80s music, all of them appearing together on a Saturday morning Batman animated show? It was certainly fun to see the girl who resembled Robin feature in the starting. However, the producers were not aiming to focus on that, were they?
Yes, they really were. In one sequence that was storyboarded by the late Darwyn Cooke, a vital sequence from Dark Knight Returns was introduced to the TV when Batman took on the leader of the Mutant gang in a muddy and violent fight. Was there a design change to suit the show’s sensibilities? Was the scene less brutal compared to the comic? Yes, but, it was still much closer than we ever expected to see on TV and if we see that sequence today, it still shocks to imagine that the Warner Bros. censors allowed that one. (The crew back then was really very lenient during the initial days of the network).
A third plot, featuring a tribute to Neal Adams was trashed because the producers were not sure about their budget being able to manage Adams’ art pattern (the nearest to it are the Zellers department store ads of the late 1980s). On the contrary, the last image of the Batman that you see in the episode is the real “Batman,” one that is not as flimsy as Matt’s imagination and neither as grim as Carrie’s perfect Batman.
A whole generation of fans still believes that Batman to be the most ideal adaptation of the Dark Knight and it was voiced with an appreciable degree of humanity by Kevin Conroy who is occasionally guilty of taking himself too seriously, but, has the talent to display compassion and a sincere wish to act like a hero. The children watch how he overpowered the rioting Firefly, and all of them were convinced that what they saw was proof of their being right about the Batman.
The “Round Robin” displays some harmless adaptations of the core Robin look, but, “Legends of the Dark Knight” showcases what might be the best designs ever in the history of the series. Therefore, it was a very risky thing to closely translate the two varying styles from the comic books and the outcome was far better than most fans would have ever thought of. During an era, when the last WB project was an animated adaptation of Dark Knight Returns, there came to be a real Dark Knight Returns on a Saturday morning! (It may sound weird, but, the co-writer of the episode Bob Goodman went on to write the DTV version of Dark Knight Returns, several years after its airing).
“Legends of the Dark Knight” is the title of a long-term Batman spinoff comic series. When he pitched that story, Bruce Timm had no idea that the raw concept had already been attempted in Batman #250 (published in July 1973) by Frank Robbins and Dick Giordano. The 1970s period of Batman has always appeared to have a massive impact on this show, even if by mistake.
The Unforgettable Voice
The iconic comedian Michael McKean gave voice to the Joker in the 1950s and another SNL alumnus, late Charles Rocket gave voice to the Mutant criminal Rob. The iconic voice of Space Ghost aka Gary Owens also happened to be the voice of the Batman in that era and the go-to strongman Michael Ironside gave his voice to the Batman of Dark Knight Returns.
Brian Siddall has done a decent work as the Robin in the 1950s, but, it was a pity that they didn’t rope in Casey Kasem to give voice to Boy Wonder. Adam West had got a tribute on the series. Therefore, it was not difficult to understand why was not approached to give voice to the “classic” Batman (although, he was just a few years off from Batman ’66, but, very close). And then it is difficult to deny how incredible it is to hear Space Ghost voice the Dick Sprang version of Batman. Kasem is missed from the action. Casey Kasem is even more highly reputed than Burt Ward as the “classic” voice of Batman, purely because of the years he spent voicing the character on Super Friends.
Approved By Broadcast Standards & Practices
The Batman vs. Mutant leader’s battle could have never been aired during the FOX period and certainly won’t be able to air on a Saturday morning network show these days even if such a show still existed.
Battle of the Carries
Carrie’s role in “Round Robin” was a fantastic tribute to fans, and eventually, it turned out to serve some story function in a comparatively light-hearted issue of this run.
This Carrie makes us say “heh, I see what they did there” exclamation. “Legends of the Dark Knight” truly placing the Robin of Dark Knight Returns in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series and let’s remind you again; it was absolutely unimaginable back then. True that the cartoon could explore darker topics and the censor limitations were not as severe on the WB, however, to let this episode air without any warning (in the early days of the Internet) and just dump it in plain sight of the viewers was a massive shock, probably the biggest in the entire history of the series.
Yet another bonus for fans was that there is nothing about “Legends” which is in contradiction with “Round Robin,” implying that the Carrie that we saw guessing about the real identity of Batman might just be the wannabe Robin named Carrie that Templeton and Burchett had introduced. Therefore, the loyal fans familiar with “Round Robin” might even think of “Legends” as a sequel to a part of the linked comic books. Despite the criticism that is occasionally faced by the New Adventures episodes, we don’t think there would be anybody unhappy with this one. At the same time, there might still be some orthodox Dark Knight Returns loyalist who has figured out that the DKR future in this canon is meaningless and just the fantasy of teenaged girl.