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The New Blood: The Possible Return of Batman: The Animated Series, Part 6
By Joseph Davis

Welcome to Part Three of our review / speculation / fan fic analysis of Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery, and how they may fit into a potential Batman: The Animated Series reboot. This time it’s all speculation, as I look outside the BTAS vets to see who the new up-and-comers could potentially be in my “Series Bible.” Once again: not an insider, just a fan.

Before we begin, however, I wanted to say a few things to Bruce Timm.

Hi, Bruce. Long time devotee. You may remember me from our exchanges on the old Toon Zone message boards. For example, you walked me through the tangled web that was the Justice League’s path to green light, with the multiple presentation reels (the one with the junior Justice League, and the other all adults and the Flash instead of Impulse) and the ridiculous array of alternate pitches to Kids’ WB (still love the lunacy of Batman Beyond on Mars). You humored me by listening to my headcannon from Justice League Unlimited, where I speculated that Grodd and Dr. Destiny were the reason why Lex Luthor hallucinated Brainiac during his “Legion of Doom” arc (a theory I still stand by). And I was incredibly flattered by your response to my old essay about how Joel Schumacher’s awful Batman films poisoned the DC live-action well and allowed the DCAU free rein for a number of years.

Anyway, I wanted to talk to you (or, more specifically, write at you) about the upcoming Batman: Caped Crusader. I caught your rudimentary breakdown of the show at DC FanDome a few months ago and, of course, I was intrigued. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s a new Batman series with you at the helm! Then I heard you and your creative team explain that it was conceived as a new series not connected to the DCAU at all yet, at the same time, the series would still very much possess the trappings of BTAS. In your own words:

One of my elevator pitch versions of this show is that it’s more Batman: The Animated Series than Batman: The Animated Series. […] There were certain limitations on what we can do in terms of adult content, in terms of violence and adult themes. My idea is basically to say, ‘Okay, it’s 1990 again, I get to do what I want to do this time, and I got J.J. [Abrams] and Matt [Reeves] backing me up.

[…] What this does is that it gives us the opportunity to say, ‘Okay, well, the versions of Joker and Catwoman and Penguin—those versions that we did on Batman: The Animated Series were really great and iconic, but there’s lots of different ways we can take those characters that we hope will be just as iconic and just as powerful.

[…] The show will [d]efinitely [be] heavy on the German expressionism / fim noir kind of styling, set in a kind of timeless ‘40s world. If anything, we’re probably going to lean into that even more in terms of authentic clothes and hairstyles and hats and vehicles and architecture. The way we deal with the characters [, however,] is going to be quite a bit more modern in terms of inclusivity, representation…things like that.

While I welcome a new animated series about Batman (the first since 2013’s Beware the Batman) with your participation, I must confess that I’m disappointed that it’s not a continuation.

Of course, it still could be. Think about it: the zeitgeist is obviously hungry for more traditional reboots, and the DCAU is not exception. While you’re busy working on your show, Paul Dini has been writing Batman: The Adventure Continue since 2020 and Alan Burnett, Kevin Conroy, and John Glover are working on an audio drama featuring their own continuation of BTAS. It would be so easy to get the band back together and “go right back to those amazing fucking stories,” as Kevin Smith so eloquently put it. Please?

C’mon, Bruce! Marvel fans are getting a straight-up reboot of X-Men: The Animated Series on Disney+. Futurama is coming back. Again. Heck, they're even bringing back Beavis and Butthead, for God’s sake! Why can’t we bathe in a pool of arrested nostalgia?

[…]

Ahem. My apologies, Bruce. I’m just passionate about your work. And this is my sixth essay essentially pitching my version of the show. And I must admit the recent news that you’ve brought on veteran Batman writer Ed Brubaker as head writer has made me hopeful (and, if her Twitter feed is any indication, it appears that acclaimed screenwriter Halley Gross will be contributing as well). Before this ends, however, please allow me to make just two suggestions as you move forward:

1. While “getting to do what you want” is inticing, restraint isn’t always a bad thing either. I’ve read Batman: Animated, and while the broadcast standards for Fox Kids and Kids’ WB may have had a lot of arbritary hoops to jump through, I also didn’t need the show to have the Penguin make prison rape jokes or Alfred getting hit by bat guano. Also, consider that “getting what you wanted” has also included Harley Quinn farting in the Batmobile (Batman and Harley Quinn) and Batman and Batgirl having sex on a rooftop (The Killing Joke). Sometimes less is more.

2. Bring back Kevin Conroy as Batman. You can recast everyone else, but please keep Kevin Conroy as Batman.

All right; I got that off my chest. Moving forward, unless we hear otherwise, this is now 100% fan fic:

Black Mask

In my previous discussions, I’ve mentioned how Two-Face, the Number Two criminal in Gotham City, would have to deal with competition from rival up-and-comers who would also seek to stake their claim on the city and, in my reboot, his greatest rival would be Black Mask. Debuting in Batman #386 (August 1985), the criminal never appeared in the DCAU, but he has made quite a name for himself in other animated series (The Batman [2004-2008], Batman: Brave and the Bold [2008-2011]), as well as on live-action television (Gotham [2014-2019], Batwoman [2019-present]), film (Birds of Prey [2020]), and video games (specifically the Batman: Arkham series). However, in the spirit of inclusivity and representation, perhaps we don’t have to specifically use the caucasian Roman Sionis as the big bad under the mask. I’ve got two options here:

1. Black Mask is an unknown, enigmatic figure throughout the character’s season, and we are introduced to a number of people (from different genders, ethnicities, and walks of life) that could be the crime boss, resulting in a season-long mystery ala The Long Halloween. In scenes where the Black Mask is on screen, we could use lighting and shadow to make it appear that the figure is just a suit and a mask (kind of like Johnny Sorrow from JSA comics; see above). We would learn their identity at the end of the season.

2. Black Mask is an African criminal mastermind who has come to Gotham City to expand their empire. Here we wouldn’t have the mystery, but perhaps the signature mask could incorporate African tribal art.

What can I say? I’m not a big fan of the Black [Skull] Mask from the comics. I did enjoy the visual, however, from the DCAU-related Batman Adventures comic book series (2003-2004; top left image). Either way, the Black Mask would be an interesting addition to the Gotham underworld, as well as a formitable opponent for both Batman and Two-Face.

Firefly

In my second essay, I made the case that, in the transition from Fox Kids to Kids’ WB, the focus of the villains shifted—whereas BTAS villains were largely sympathetic, TNBA villains were just monsters, and that can be seen in Firefly. Arguably the first “new blood” Gotham villain with any staying power (sorry Roxy Rocket, Calendar Girl, etc.), Firefly is a villain who is indicative of the TNBA ethos. Stripped of his costume and gimmick, he was a stalker obsessed with a woman who did not return his interest. Compare this background to his closest BTAS equivalent: the Mad Hatter. While both men are 1) disturbed and 2) clearly in the wrong, the Mad Hatter’s story at least allows us to see him in a somewhat sympathetic light. By comparison, Firefly is just a creep.

Debuting in Detective Comics #184 (June 1952), the original character was merely one that used lighting effects and optical illusions in his crimes, sort of like Spider-Man’s Mysterio; it wasn’t until the post-Crisis that he became the arsonist that we all know today. Like Black Mask, he also has made appearances in the same aforementioned animated shows, live-action shows, and video games; he will also appear in the upcoming Batgirl film (2022) on HBO Max. He’s definitely a strong villain, but in the DCAU I found him to be a little underwhelming, with his incel tendencies and his drab gray body suit. My recommendation: downplay the stalker aspects and play up the pyromania.

I think a large part of Firefly’s problem in animation stems from the limitations of kid’s programming. In Wizard #72 (August 1997), Paul Dini recounted, “For a long time, we wanted to use a character who uses fire as a weapon and Fox said ‘no’ completely, and now [at Kids’ WB] we are doing […] Firefly.” I’m sure that, even at Kids’ WB, there were limits with what Lynns could and couldn’t do—sure, he could use fire as a weapon, but he couldn’t burn anyone (kind of like how the assassin Curaré couldn’t actually kill anyone on Batman Beyond). Doing a show on a streaming service would no double remove this limitation.

(In fact, I’d go one further—what if Garfield Lynns sexualized fire? That way it would fuse his two most notable traits—fire and his general creepiness—together. It’s not that far from Geoff Johns’ characterization of Heat Wave when he was writing The Flash [see above]. It might also be a good excuse to bring back Volcana, a sexy pyrokinetic and Superman villain that he met in the Justice League episode “Only a Dream.” Considering her history in the STAS episode “Where There’s Smoke,” I doubt she would have any patience or interest in being possessed or stalked.)

At any rate, I see Firefly as a wild card—capable of allying himself with either Two-Face or Black Mask or, perhaps, working both sides of the street in order to get paid and make the world burn. Also, as previously alluded, a touch-up to his costume wouldn’t hurt either. Considering the fan outcry from the risqué designs from The Batman, it’s kinda sad that the costume from that show is a little more spiffy than his duds in the DCAU.

Deadshot

Warner Bros. and DC Comics have done Floyd Lawton a great disservice, and I don’t mean by having him played by Will Smith in a clearance sale costume. Originally, particularly in John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad (1987-1992), the character was notable for his nihilism—he had nothing worth living for, and—while not truly suicidal—he was reckless with his life for the sake of recklessness (here’s a link to my old essay on the character). He was cold, calculating, and had a dark sense of humor. This is the character that appeared in Justice League (“The Enemy Below,” “Hereafter”) and Justice League Unlimited (“Task Force X”). And then, for reasons unknown, the powers that be decided to change him.

It began in Deadshot: Bulletproof (2005; center), where Floyd learned that he had a daughter (his son, from the original 1988 Deadshot series, was murdered by that story’s end, and this only fueled his existing nihilism). Donning a new, less iconic costume, the assassin turned antihero, taking out the gangs that plagued her inner city neighborhood. This change—giving a character notable for having nothing to live for a reason for living—corrupted the integrity of the original character. Gail Simone must have recognized this—removing the subplot early in her Secret Six stories—but his New 52 revamp made his daughter, and their relationship, a major facet of his character (along with a costume that would not look out of place in a 1990s Rob Liefeld comic book; far right). This character—the bad guy who wants to do right by his kid—was the character that appeared in the animated Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014) and Suicide Squad (2016), and it reduced him to just another gun-for-hire in the DC Universe (it’s pretty telling that Bloodsport had nearly the same motivation in the sequel / not sequel The Suicide Squad [2021]). I would strongly encourage a back-to-basics approach to Deadshot, should he appear.

In my revamp, Deadshot has been released from Task Force X and has returned to his old Gotham City stomping grounds to make some money in the turf war between Two-Face and Black Mask. On the run from the Dark Knight (and uninterested in working for Waller again), Lawton would find himself recruited into the Secret Six.

Okay, I’ll admit it: bringing the Secret Six into the DCAU (penned by JLU vet Gail Simone) is a requirement for my fictional reboot. In addition to the aforementioned Bane, the team could feature expert fighter and tracker Catman, contortionist Rag Doll, AWOL Apokolips warrior Knockout (or Parademon, if you prefer), and Scandal, daughter of Vandal Savage. In addition to being formitable adversaries for Batman (or Batgirl), the number of LGBTQA+ members would infuse some diversity into the Rogues Gallery.

On Justice League, Deadshot was reduced to mere cameos; on Unlimited, he got one solid appearance. I’d like to see the assassin with a death wish come back and get a rematch with Batman. This would also mean a return for voice actor Michael Rosenbaum (which also means potential cameos by The Flash).

Nocturna

Long-time fans of BTAS are no doubt familiar with the story behind of Nocturna. Long story short: the creative team wanted to do a two-part story featuring Batman versus Nocturna, a character who wasn’t a vampire in her debut in Batman #363 (September 1983), but may as well have been. Here’s Bruce Timm’s summary of the pitch, from Comics Scene #46 (January 1994):

“For the second season of Batman, we wanted to do a ‘vampire show.’ There was a character from the ‘80s named Nocturna, a female vampire. We really wanted to use her in the worst way and I came up with a really neat design for her.

“It was going to be a two-part episode involving a really sick love story. Nocturna falls in love with Batman and wants to vampirize him so that they can live together eternally as vampires. She puts the bite on him at the first episode’s end.

“Bruce Wayne wakes up the next morning, and says, ‘Oh boy, how did I ever get home?’ Alfred tells him, ‘I found you and dragged you home. Good thing you’re safe now.’ Bruce feels like he as a really bad hangover, Alfred pulls open the blinds and Bruce starts shrieking because his skin is on fire! He looks in the mirror and sees that he has vampire fangs.

“The second episode was going to focus on Batman trying to cure himself of the vampire taint. We were going to say he wasn’t a supernatural vampire but a biological vampire, with a chemical substance in his bloodstream. He’s in the Batcave frantically trying to cure himself and at the same time he’s looking at Alfred, thinking, ‘God, he looks really tasty.’ He’s about to attack Alfred, when he realizes, ‘This is horrible, I’m not gonna have time to cure myself of becoming a vampire; I’ll have to destroy myself before I’m a danger to anybody!’ Alfred says, ‘Just calm down. You’re too distraught to cure yourself. I’ll go get Kurt Langstrom [the scientist who turns into Man-Bat]. He’s the best guy to help you. Just lie down and relax.’

“Bruce tries to relax, but he can’t control the bloodlust. Batman goes out to Gotham City looking for victims when he realizes that he must cure himself. That was a far as we got, but we thought that would make a great two-parter.’

“The Fox Network said, ‘Nope, can’t do it! First of all, you can’t do vampires. You can’t have anybody sucking anybody’s else’s blood. You also can’t have Batman as a vampire looking for victims, you can’t have biological vampires, because you can’t have a disease that’s transmitted through blood, it’s too much like AIDS.’

“We went back and forth with them on this. We really wanted to do it and they really didn’t want us to, so we didn’t, but it would have been fun. […] I’m sure we would have played up all those traditional vampire clichés and put some kind of spin on them, but we never got past the development stage. […] Still, Nocturna would have made a really interesting story.”

Later, when the show went to Kids’ WB, apparently Paul Dini was asked if Nocturna was back on the table, to which he replied, “We’d like to use her, but the network still says ‘no’ to vampires” (this quote came from the Unused Villains Database). This indignity was compounded by the fact that, post-DCAU, the subsequent Batman shows got to have their vampire stories. For example, The Batman (2004-2008) released a The Batman vs. Dracula direct-to-video film in 2005, and Batman: The Brace and the Bold (2008-2011) got to do “Shadow of the Bat!” that was technically only a dream, but still. Timm finally got to do a vampirzed Batman in Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), but that was technically Kirk Langstrom, not Bruce Wayne. To this I say this shall not stand.

One way or another—take notes, Batman: Caped Crusader—this episode has to happen. I want, no, need, an episode with Kevin Conroy voiced-Batman versus a vampire Nocturna, preferably voiced by veteran voice actor Marina Sirtis, network be damned.

In addition, as Nocturna as a vampire would be a supernatural villain, it’s possible that her introduction could lead to the debut of another supernatural villain…

Brother Night

Sure, Gotham City is no stranger to organized crime, but what about supernatural organized crime? What if Two-Face had to deal with a crime boss with a type of power set that he had no protection against? What if Brother Night came to town?

Created by Paul Dini for his Zatanna ongoing series (2010-2011), Brother Night is a demonically-powered crime lord from San Fransicso. “In the late ‘60s,” said Zatanna, “[H]e was known as Eldon Peck, a fake hippie mystic who discovered a darker way to power by trafficking in human souls. In return, he got extended life and command of some seriously nasty mojo.” His only other major appearance thus far has been in the Justice League Action episode “Speed Demon,” where he used his power to augment other criminals. Put two and two together, and one could see an episode (or a series of episodes) where Brother Night makes Faustian bargins with Gotham supervillains—Scarecrow and Firefly, for example—as part of a bid to expand his influence in Gotham. That would place him in opposition of Batman, Two-Face, and Black Mask, to name a few. In fact, it could become a Batman-centric version of the 1995 crossover Underworld Unleashed, with Night in place of Neron. His appearance would also guarantee a team-up with Zatanna (and an appearance by Paul Dini as writer).

The Gentleman Ghost

Much like the aforementioned Nocturna, The Gentleman Ghost was another character that the BTAS creative team planned to use. He even was featured in the original Series Bible (1990):

“No one, even Batman, is sure if this semi-invisible, elegantly-dressed wraith is a real ghost or not. Still, the being known as the Gentleman Ghost has used his powers of dematerialization and levitation to confound the Gotham police on several occasions.”

Originally appearing in Flash Comics #88 (October 1947), James Craddock was originally a criminal who used visual effects to masquerade as a ghost, but in the post-Crisis he actually became a ghost, specifically the ghost of notorious 16th Century highwayman “Gentleman Jim” Craddock. Mostly known as a Hawkman villain, he did have several stories where he fought Batman in the ‘70s.

Unfortunately, if was reported that Fox rejected the character as a possible opponent (based on info from the Series Bible, it’s possible that he may have been intended as an opponent in the original pitch for the Zatanna episode; it’s also possible that the BTAS episode “See No Evil” may have at one time involved Craddock). And while he finally slipped in under the wire—a cameo in the JLU episode “I Am Legion” and a fight with Green Lantern in “Ancient History”—perhaps now would be the time to have him finally have his match with the Dark Knight.

Justice League (God and Monsters Universe)

In 2015, Bruce Timm spearheaded Justice League: Gods and Monsters, a film featuring reimaginings of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman the same way that Green Lantern and Flash were reimagined moving from the Golden Age of Comics to the Silver Age. Here, Superman is the son of General Zod who was found by Mexican migrant workers, Wonder Woman is Bekka from the New Gods, and Batman is a vampirized Kirk Langstrom. In addition to the film (and a tie-in comic), a partnership with entertainment company Machinima included a series of shorts called Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles, which was to be continued until it was unfortunately shelved. Considering how Batman and the Justice League are no stranger to visitors from alternate Earths, why not have them make an appearance?

It would be nice to see Timm revisit this property, especially considering what he originally had planned, as he recounted in a 2015 article:

“We’re still finalizing scripts for the second season. Some of the characters have been announced. Everything else I want to keep under wraps just to have some surprises. For the ones that have been announced … we have a new Mary Marvel. She’s black and kind of looks like Pam Grier from the ‘70s. Cool way to go with her.

“And we have a cyborg super soldier that is a mash-up of two different characters named Steel. A character in the ‘80s named Commander Steel who was a cyborg super soldier and the John Henry Irons version of Steel.

“And the other thing we announced was the Green Lanterns. We want to do a really bizarre version of the Green Lantern Corps focusing on the idea that they’re generally aliens. We want to explore some ideas that we haven’t before, like how alien can an alien be and still be understandable by humans. So we want to make sure that they don’t act like human beings, don’t think like human beings and don’t talk like human beings. They have different points of view on everything and they’re kind of scary.”

It is worth noting that there may be a return to this property even without the Batman reboot, if the rumors of a three-part animated Crisis on Infinite Earths series of films comes to pass.

***

As for those of you who have read my previous essays, you know that—in addition to the above—I have thrown out names for a number of new villains that I would like to see appear in my now-fictional BTAS reboot. Sinestro. Vandal Savage. Alice & The Wonderland Gang. These antagonists—along with the ones highlighted here—would be the “new blood” that could potentially drive the plot of these stories, either as opponents to the Dark Knight or as “the competition” for Two-Face and the old guard of Gotham City supervillainy.

Of course, it doesn’t have to stop here. For example, I would have no problem grandfathering in villains from the Beware the Batman series (2013-2014). Professor Pyg & Mr. Toad, Anarky, Magpie—no explanation needed; they would be part of Gotham’s “next generation” of costumed villains and side with Black Mask in opposition of Two-Face’s empire.

Other opportunities for guest stars could present themselves. With the limitations regarding what characters can and cannot appear is lesser than it was twenty years ago, perhaps now we could have a DCAU appearance of Deathstroke the Terminator (voiced by Ron Pearlman, naturally), either as an opponent for Nightwing’s team of Titans or as a hired assassin in Gotham’s turf war (I would dig a Deathstroke versus Deadshot shootout). Another longshot possibility is the Polka-Dot Man from The Suicide Squad (voiced by actor David Dastmalchian), in an origin episode of sorts.

Of course, not every bad guy has to be of supervillain status, as—like the my previous suggestions with the GCPD—supporting characters can come from all levels of the underworld. My personal choice: bringing in Anthony “Little Italy” Marchetti and Mr. Zzz, a pair of low-to-mid level criminals from Paul Dini’s Detective Comics run. A pair of grifters who occasionally hire themselves out as muscle, they would make interesting recurring characters, as well as convenient marks that Batman can lean on for information.

As much as we love the traditional Rogues’ Gallery of BTAS, there’s always room for new faces in Gotham City. Perhaps these humble suggestsion could provide for potential storylines.

Click here to discuss this editorial!

Previous installments of "The Possible Return of Batman: The Animated Series":
-Part 1: Why So Reboot?
-Part 2: Rebooting Gotham
-Part 3: The Usual Suspects
-Part 4: Bring on the Bad Guys
-Part 5: The Rogue's Gallery

Joseph Davis is a long-time contributor to the community, having run the Justice League Watchtower website and posting on WF forums under the name "Karkull" over the past 20 years.


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