This is 500 words about a Batman episode. This is the BATMAN 500.
Batman: The Animated Series’ “On Leather Wings” is probably the best first episode that a show could ever hope for. And not just for a Batman show. Any show in general. First episodes usually mix the best of good intentions with the worst of other, slightly more haphazard good intentions. You get a lot of jokes that don’t really work, characters that haven’t been fully developed yet, and a mood that seems to constantly switch back and forth between “confident opening” and “Please, God, please like me.”
“On Leather Wings” is one of those perfect distillations of Batman. Sure, it doesn’t have the psychological depth of stuff like “Perchance To Dream,” nor is it as purely adventurous as “Showdown” and “Almost Got ‘Em,” nor is it as downright fun as “Harley and Ivy.” But if someone came to you, pale-skinned and gasping for breath, and asked “I’ve just escaped the Screeching Pit of 1000 Years, and I’ve heard of this Batman fellow. Tell me more,” you’d show them “On Leather Wings.”
Not only does it nail Batman’s character, but you get a strong idea of what his supporting cast is like. I’m not saying that Harvey Dent’s one line in this episode is going to give you an indication of all of his sad inner turmoil, but you get an idea of how he functions in the Batman universe. You know what his job is, and you know his place among the cast. You can only build from here. A lot of pilots force series to shave off characteristics that don’t really work out. You get that a character is funny, but his penchant for throwing shoes feels a little clumsy, so you make him keep his footwear on for the remainder of the series. There’s none of that in “On Leather Wings.” No embarrassing little quirks that would make producers say “Oh, man. Alfred’s love of doing bizarre southern accents is not working out. Nix that for all future broadcasts.”
“On Leather Wings” is a simple twist story. You’re led to believe that a guy is going to be Man Bat, until it’s actually another guy. And the choice to start off the series with the closest thing that Batman has to a Spider-Man villain is pretty neat in retrospect. Man Bat doesn’t need a whole hell of a lot of explanation when you’re doing an origin story for him. “Who is Man Bat and why?” leaves a lot of room for Batman to do some adventurin’ and mystery solvin’ with it. And if you want to ask questions like “What kind of impact do constant Bat transformations have on a human’s mind?”, you can answer it in a later episode without losing anything.
With smooth animation and memorable character designs, “On Leather Wings” is a great start for this series. And it also provides a ton of goodwill to get you through the next three episodes, which are, for lack of a better phrase, a little less good.