Who doesn’t love cartoons on Saturday mornings? They’re the perfect pairing.
I can’t remember all the shows I’ve watched but I think they fall into three categories: watched and forgotten, watched and remembered fondly, and the most important, will watch until I die. For me, the last category has four cartoons: Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, The Spectacular Spider-Man and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Tomorrow, marks the end of the only cartoon I have been watching which is currently airing: Young Justice. I am not sure if it has left the type of impressions the previous four have. My gut feeling is that if it was renewed for another season it might but right now it will not break into the last category. That being said, I will miss this show, and who knows, next week when there isn’t a new episode, I’ll be going back to re-watch old ones. The fact that I’m already having this feeling, let’s see how Young Justice stacks up with the cartoons I will always love. Also, I will not be ruining Saturday morning cartoons by coming up with a metric that measures how awesome they are. Cartoons are supposed to be fun and something you can enjoy no matter how old you are.
Last thing before I dive into cartoon nostalgia. If you haven’t watched any of these cartoons, do yourself a favour and go check them out. Trust me.
Batman: The Animated Series
Full disclosure: this is the only cartoon on this list that came out when I was under the age of twelve. Since I didn’t read comics when I was younger, this show was the definitive version of Batman. I loved Batman from watching re-runs of the Adam West show but even when I was five I knew it was silly but who cares? It was Batman on my television. It took me the opening sequence of B:TAS to forget all about Adam West. It was as if everything else was what cartoons were and this show was what cartoons would become. I don’t remember my first reaction to this show but if I did a back flip I wouldn’t be surprised. There was a depth to this show that wasn’t present with other superhero cartoons. It didn’t feel like a Saturday morning cartoon. It still doesn’t, I own the first season and will re-watch it when I’m home. My view and understanding of Batman has evolved as I’ve grown older but to have this show as a base for my idea of the character, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Episodes which stand out to me are: “Heart of Ice”, “Robin’s Reckoning”, “Perchance to Dream”, “Beware the Grey Ghost”, and “Almost Got ‘Im”. If I had to pick one which represents what the show is, it would have to be “Heart of Ice“. It is the perfect balance of drama/action/empathy/humour. The best part of this show in my opinion and what makes me coming back is that the characters feel real. They’re sympathetic, they’re born of tragedy, thus, their motivations are greater than trying to rule the world. To call this show simply as something for kids, is an insult.
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited
It is fitting that the next cartoon to stick with me forever was also created by one of the developers of B:TAS: Bruce Timm. Where do you go after B:TAS, Superman: The Animated Series, and a World’s Finest movie? Got to think bigger of course. Solution: the Justice League. I own the entirety of this series, all 52 episodes. I will be throwing this box set along with Season One of B:TAS at my future kids. This show debuted about six years after the last episode of B:TAS. In those six years cartoons evolved and as much as I love JLU, it is not held in the same esteem as B:TAS. Even if it isn’t the more ground breaking show, it did allow the world of DC to thrive on television. In the first two seasons, the main cast was the seven founding members of the team: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Green Lantern, Flash, and J’onn J’onnz. Every episode was broken into two episode story arcs, which for the most part were self-contained. So anyone could jump into an episode and have good idea of what was happening. After the first two seasons, it evolved into JLU. The main cast was expanded to have basically every character that they were allowed to use in the show. It was a who’s who of DC Comics. However, even with an expanding cast, the show never lost track of anyone, it knew who it wanted to develop and left the rest to simply have screen time. Even if the show story arcs got bigger and more intertwined there are still many episodes where certain characters got to shine, particularly The Question. Story arcs as well began to grow bigger, more importantly, characters grew and changed as the show progressed. Yes, their core character traits would remain the same but their relationships, and personal motives would react to the story. It felt like a real team, not every got along, egos, ideologies, and even money come into play. Even as other cartoons did more serious and dark story lines JLU seemed more willing to push the boundaries of what is a Saturday morning cartoon. I am older now, and the draw is no longer seeing heroes punch the bad guys but my investment in the story and even if this was a cartoon, I had no idea what was going to happen. JLU took everything I love about B:TAS and put it on a larger scale. The best thing about it is it never falters under that pressure.
Episodes which stand out to me are: the five episode Cadmus arc, “The Greatest Story Never Told”, “Twilight of the Gods”, “A Better World”, “Flash and Substance”, and “Kid’s Stuff”. Honestly, there’s too many to list. If I had to pick an episode which showcased the show’s greatest strengths, it would have to an episode which focused on the interplay of the League members. For B:TAS the draw was Batman’s relationship with his rogue’s gallery. For JLU, it’s the Justice League’s growth not only as individuals but as a team. I would suggest people start with: “Double Date”, “Flash and Substance”, and “Kid’s Stuff”.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
While Justice League, did things that B:TAS could never do, I never got a sense that anything could happen. There was humour but it was smart because for the most part JLU is a serious show. As nice as that is, sometimes it is nice to be reminded that cartoons are supposed to be fun. Batman: The Brave and the Bold gave you the sense that anything could happen. It was as if the writers got in touch with their childhood selves and asked them what would they would want in a Batman cartoon. Gone was the grounded, dark, Batman. This was Batman if he went on a galaxy spanning tour. The premise of the show was Batman would team up with another hero from the DC Universe and take down the bad guy. This Batman went on adventures where gorillas rode robot Pterodactyls, there was a musical episode which guest starred Neil Patrick Harris as the main villain Jeff Ross even makes a cameo during the roast of Batman. There was no world, no time which this Batman could not go. Some would say this is a betrayal of Batman’s core character, for me, this is Batman’s greatest character trait. He can fit into any type of story. Even if it had a lighter tone, he writing still catered to an older audience. If you enjoy puns, this Batman dishes them out on the regular, most of them are justice related, obviously (my favourite one). It isn’t for everyone but for me it’s a reminder that Saturday morning cartoons are supposed to spark imagination. The situations and characters feel real, nothing feels dumbed down, yet it isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself either. There’s an innocence to this show that isn’t present with B:TAS and JLU, those shows redefine what cartoons could be. Brave and the Bold focuses on the other side and reminds ourselves that it’s a television show, let’s entertain and put smiles on faces.
Episodes which stand out to me are: “Sidekicks Assemble”, “The Knights of Tomorrow”, “Emperor Joker”, “Chill of the Night”, the Owlman arc, and “Terror on Dinosaur Island”. If you’re looking for an episode which captures the sheer and utter ridiculousness of the show, watch “Emperor Joker”, “Terror on Dinosaur Island”, or “Sidekicks Assemble”. If you want something more character based (which most of the episodes are) but less ridiculous situations check out: “Chill of the Night”, the Owlman Arc, and “Knights of Tomorrow”. This show has one of the best goodbyes to its fans ever, for a show that is a love letter to comic fans, there wouldn’t have been another way.
The Spectacular Spider-Man
The theme song to this show is addicting. If this show had been around when I was growing up there would’ve been a chance that Spider-Man, not Batman would be my favourite hero. Spectacular Spider-Man is that good. To me, this show is the best representation of Peter Parker outside of comic books. It nails every character aspect of Peter, from his awkwardness and unpopularity, to his relationships with his few friends and aunt, and the balance of his double life. I say Peter and not Spider-Man because the show takes its cue from Peter first and foremost. He’s a high school kid who can’t decide if his powers are a curse or a blessing. Yes, he saves the day countless times but what about the people closest to them? Doesn’t he have a responsibility to them as Peter Parker? As the show progresses, the answer isn’t an easy one. He has a responsibility to both and he has to figure out how to balance it. It’s his journey not learning how to be a hero but how to be a good person. Even if that’s the main theme, it doesn’t drown you in it. There’s no episode where Peter is emo, sure he has bad days, and he beats himself up but the tone of the series is a cheerful one, it reflects his personality. Out of the four shows, I find myself re-watching Spectacular more than the other three. I’m still mad they cancelled it after two seasons.
Episodes which stand out to me are: “Reinforcements”, “Identity Crisis”, “Gangland”, and “Intervention”. To me, almost all 26 episodes are near perfect in execution. There isn’t a bad one in the bunch. You’ll care about these characters, wonder where the story is going, laugh, maybe cry, and you’ll fall in love with this show. I might be still mad that this show is cancelled but at least I still can re-watch it. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe it.
So does Young Justice stack up? It isn’t as ground breaking as Batman: The Animated Series. Isn’t as personal as Spectacular Spider-Man. The scope isn’t as tight as Justice League. It isn’t as fun as Brave and the Bold. However, those are what makes those series great. What makes me coming back on a Saturday morning to Young Justice? The Team, the show’s stars, you grow up with them, the first episode felt like watching a group of kids going to their first day of school. It is those bonds, yes Justice League was about their team but with so many characters, it never felt like a family, more like a community. With YJ, the Team is made up of sidekicks, Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Superboy, Miss Martian, Zatanna, Artemis, Speedy, and Rocket. Like in Spectacular, we see them go through their journey of what being a hero means, except instead of just one character, it’s an entire group. Like, JLU, not all the characters get along, some have different goals and agendas than their teammates but at the end of the day they have each other’s backs. They start out as uneasy allies but grow into a family by the end of Season One.
Season Two is when things kick into high gear. Seeds are planted carefully in season one, it is obvious the writers have big plans. Season Two those seeds erupt and in my opinion they are out of control. The original team is no more thanks to a five year time jump forward. We’re introduced to a larger team, with some members MIA the first episode. Unlike, JLU, part of me feels like the show buckles under the ambition. That being said, it is still enjoyable even if you want your favourites to have more of the spotlight. Most characters do have a memorable sequence or set piece in the second season, it just seems that the show overextended itself at times.
Episodes which stand out to me are: “Humanity”, “Misplaced”, “Performance”, and “Auld Acquaintance”. I think most of my problems with the show would have been solved if there was going to be a Season Three. Overall, still a solid show, one that wasn’t afraid of planting Easter Eggs in for the fans, and one where you felt a part of their family. I will miss it, maybe even re-watch an episode or five. I need to get my Wally West fix somehow. Thanks for reminding us that not everything has to be so serious, isn’t that the point of cartoons?
It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Nicole
I wonder where Beetlejuice ranks? Or Recess? Pinky and the Brain? Definitely in forever territory.