Sunday, October 12, 2014


If you'll allow me to gush for a moment: There are days that I still can't believe I'm able to listen to this music. Getting a score album from BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was a pipe dream for me when I was in my teens. By the time I turned fifteen years old, I had been watching the show regularly for about two years and, along with the engrossing visual style and dramatic scripts and voiceover performances, I had fallen in love with the program's musical score.

Shortly after my fifteenth birthday, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM was released to theaters in the U.S., with an accompanying soundtrack album. I grabbed that soundtrack before I'd even seen the film, simply to get some of the ANIMATED SERIES-style music to listen to. At last I could hear, unencumbered by dialogue and sound effects, the great Shirley Walker's Batman theme (more befitting the character, in my opinion, than Danny Elfman's iconic contribution to the 1989 movie -- which of course also served as the main title theme for B:TAS), as well as snippets of the Joker's comically twisted music, both weaved into a wonderful full-length movie score. For fifteen years, that was the only BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES music available to me, and I played it often -- but still I wished for some scores from the actual episodes, which were nearer and dearer to me than the film.

Fast forward to 2008, the year I turned thirty -- and in fact it was the day after my birthday that La La Land Records made available for purchase a 2-CD set including scores from eleven different BATMAN episodes. The bulk of these were by the prolific Walker, the series' supervising composer, with a few contributions from a pair of her "junior" composers, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis. I pre-ordered the set instantly and spent the next few days listening over and over to the short sample tracks La La Land had posted, eagerly awaiting my 2-disc set in the mail. I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old again, and I was finally getting something I had long ago given up hope of ever seeing. And it seemed I wasn't alone: the album was a success, selling out fairly quickly and leading to an expanded release of the MASK OF THE PHANTASM score a few months later, which I grabbed as well.

(autographed by Michael McCuistion,
Lolita Ritmanis, and Carlos Rodriguez)
Then nearly four (frustratingly long) years passed. Finally, after resolving some disputes with Warner Brothers' record label, Watertower Music, 2012 saw La La Land publish a second volume of BATMAN scores. And where the majority of the first volume was devoted solely to the work of Shirley Walker, this 4-disc set included a whopping twenty-one episodes from Walker and ten of her composing team members, including some of my all-time favorite scores such as "The Demon's Quest", "Shadow of the Bat", and "Appointment in Crime Alley" (the episode whose catchy, urgent melody had been the genesis of my desire for a soundtrack release in the first place all those years before). This volume had pre-release availability at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con, where I snapped it up on the first night. I had listened to volume one a lot in those four years after its release, but I'm sure I've played volume two even more in just two years since 2012.

Which brings us to today and a third installment in the series, released earlier this week. I ordered mine at 12:00 on the dot Tuesday and it arrived in my mailbox three days later, and I've gotta say -- La La Land has outdone themselves again, presenting us this time with a whopping twenty-four complete scores from no fewer than fifteen talented composers. Obviously the music is, as it should be, the reason to purchase a set like this, but before I get to that I just need to comment on the packaging: This set has, easily, the most beautifully striking cover of all La La Land's B:TAS sets, MASK OF THE PHANTASM included. I absolutely love that richly vibrant image of batman, backlit by a lightning bolt, from the climax of the series' main title sequence. I must also note, however, that the graphic design of the liner note booklet's interior is a bit plain, especially following from the gorgeously designed SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES booklet a few months back. But this look is in keeping with La La Land's previous B:TAS releases, so the uniformity, at least, is appreciated.

But anything the liner booklet lacks in visual flare is more than compensated for by its contents. As with the SUPERMAN set and BATMAN volume 2, the notes for BATMAN volume 3 are comprised of an essay by album producer John Takis, along with brief synopses of every episode on the set, featuring a number of quotes from the various composers involved in the project, sharing anecdotes about their processes, the recording sessions, and their mentor, the late Shirley Walker. It's really a fascinating read.

And the music? Well, like I said, I've waited decades for this. First off, all the remaining Walker scores are included, so between the three BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES album releases, the woman who defined the program's musical sound now has nearly every credited note of her music from the initial sixty-five episodes released (aside from a few missing cues on volume 1 and perhaps a bit of work on the episode "Fear of Victory"). Here we have Walker's brilliantly suspenseful work on the menacing and noir-esque "P.O.V.", the exceptionally creepy "See No Evil", the unexpected "prison film" banjo-and-harmonica sound of "The Forgotten", the bombastically sinister "Prophecy of Doom", and the poignant return of Clayface in "Mudslide", among others.

Beyond Walker's contributions are the final pair of two-parters, "Robin's Reckoning" by Carlos Rodriguez & Peter Tomashek, and "Heart of Steel" by Richard Bronskill, Tamara Kline, & Carl Johnson, respectively. A pair of my all-time favorite BATMAN scores, the suspenseful "Night of the Ninja" by Mark Koval and its sequel, "Day of the Samurai" by Carlos Rodriguez -- both heavily influenced by classical Japanese music -- open up disc three back-to-back, creating a practically seamless experience, almost like another two-part episode, when the set is listened to in its presented order. I don't know how many cartoon series in the eighties and nineties utilized a pan flute for their underscore, but I'd be willing to bet BATMAN may have been the only one -- and the results are delightful.

And of course we have work from Walker's future regular team of Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis, and Harvey R. Cohen, with McCuistion turning in a darkly dramatic effort for the classic "I Am The Night", as well as the surprisingly good score to my absolute least-favorite Joker episode, "Be A Clown". Ritmanis revisits Poison Ivy in "Eternal Youth" (I had been unaware until reading in the liner notes that Ritmanis herself, rather than Walker, devised Ivy's creepy theme music), and Cohen's contribution to the album, "Cat Scratch Fever", is a particular favorite among these scores.

I could go on and mention Todd Hayen's outstanding "Tyger Tyger", Stuart Balcomb's beautiful contributions to "The Underdwellers", and even more of Walker's fantastic work on "Terror in the Sky" and "Paging the Crime Doctor" -- but the obvious truth is that music must be heard to be appreciated. In the end all I can do is urge anyone who loves Batman, whether they've seen THE ANIMATED SERIES or not, or even anyone who simply has a casual interest in classical film scores, to check out this set (and its predecessors, of course). Head to La La Land's site (links below) and listen to their samples -- you won't be disappointed. Each score is expertly crafted to work as the soundtrack to a mini-movie in the vein of the best features to come out of Golden Age Hollywood -- but the composers all put their own spins on that concept, keeping the music timeless yet contemporary at the same time.

And look: if the preceding seems a little vague, it's because I don't know a lot about music. I have no musical background and I'm by no means a connoisseur or an expert. But, to borrow a cliché, I know what I like -- and this BATMAN music is something I've dreamed of owning for two decades. I'll leave it to those more knowledgeable than me to break down the artistic and technical merits of the individual notes and motifs present on this album (and believe me, John Takis does a remarkable job of explaining a lot of this stuff in that painstakingly researched liner booklet). All I can say is that BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES volume 3 gets my highest possible recommendation. It's dark, brooding, dramatic, heroic, uplifting, comical, exotic, and probably several other things, all at once.

So once again, my profound thanks to La La Land Records for making a youngster's wish come true a few years after the fact. I tend to engage in hyperbole around here from time to time, but I'm completely sincere when I say that I treasure these sets and I will gladly continue to pick up any and all future BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (and SUPERMAN: TAS) releases for as long as La La Land keeps them coming.

Available now from La La Land Records:

Also available:
Note 1: I tried to tag every composer whose work is represented in this set in the "Labels" below, but they wouldn't all fit! The complete list of composers, from La La Land's site, is: Shirley Walker, Carlos Rodriguez, Peter Tomashek, Todd Hayen, Harvey R. Cohen, Michael McCuistion, Lars Clutterham, Stuart Balcomb, Mark Koval, Lolita Ritmanis, Richard Bronskill, Tamara Kline, Carl Johnson, Steve Chesne and James Stemple.

Note 2 (for those who care about this sort of thing): Having ripped all four discs into iTunes and added them to my BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES playlist -- which includes all three volumes, the expanded MASK OF THE PHANTASM, the SUPERMAN three-parter "World's Finest", and a sparse handful of suites and other cues from yet unreleased episodes, found, thanks to copious internet digging, in those dark, pre-La La Land days, I can report that the playlist clocks in at just about fifteen hours. Not bad, considering that a scant six years ago I never dreamed I might own any of this material!

The full La La Land BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES collection.


  1. I'm a huge film score buff, but I just stumbled upon La La Land Records a few months ago, and I really need to pick these up. I've been impressed with everything I've ordered from them so far (all scores I've long yearned to have, all in ridiculously comprehensive forms) and would love to have this Batman stuff as well.

    This sounds like an all around fantastic package - it's probably worth it just to have the title cards from the episodes all in one place, as in your second-to-last screenshot. I'll be picking it up soon.

    1. Yes, La La Land is great. I don't have a ton of their stuff, but I have all the classic DC animated albums plus a few others, including their STAR TREK original series box set which I received as a birthday present last year. And I've got my eyes on some of their Star Trek movie albums, too. But the Batman Animated albums get my highest possible recommendation, as I said above.