100th Post – Batman: The Animated Series

Bruce Timm pushed all his Tiny Toon Adventures work aside the day the opportunity to work on Batman came in. He began creating sketches and designs for the character, establishing the timeless tone. Batman: The Animated Series changed everything. While it had some problems, Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) is the only reason this show exists. Batman was a damaged property before Burton came along. Most people knew the character form the camp of the ’66 series. Burton brought the dark and serious tones of the character to life, Timm took it even further. Every aspect of the show was meticulously thought out, from the design, to the voice work, score, and especially the writing.

The show’s style is a cross between noir and Art Deco set against dark backgrounds. At the time, the industry standard was to use dark colors against white backgrounds. Fellow designer Eric Radomski set the precedent in the animation department that dark backgrounds would be used instead. Gotham looked perpetually stuck in the 1950’s aesthetically with the buildings, clothing, and police blimps. Many shows deteriorate over time because of poor design choices. Not the case here, with the animation and stories still holding up today.

Kevin Conroy played the career defining role of Batman. Both Batman and Bruce Wayne had two distinct voices; a harsher, gravely voice for Batman and a lighthearted, happier tone for Bruce. Conroy owned this role. While every performance was amazing, from Bob Hastings Commissioner Gordon, to Efrem Zimbalist Jr’s Alfred Pennyworth, all were out done by Mark Hamill’s Joker. His maniacal laughter and general tone is crazed, yet cheery. For many, Conroy and Hamill are Batman and the Joker, as the two have voiced the characters in various formats for 20 years. Again, changing the standard, all the voices were recorded together, rather than each actor recording separately. This pioneering technic is still used in many DC animated productions today.

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The show touted a superior score from no less than 24 different composers, with Shirley Walker, Lolita Ritmanis, and Michael McCuiston considered the main contributors. The brillant music is still being released on CD soundtracks today. While most Batman music is instantly recognizable, none is better known than the theme song from Danny Elfman, which played over the opening and closing credits.

Batman had the good fortune of having many outstanding writers penning tales. Alan Burnett (also a producer), Michael Reaves, and most notably Paul Dini amongst them. While Dini wrote or had a hand in many of the episodes, there’s two things he’s most known for from the show. Episode 7 of the series, “Joker’s Favor” had the first appearance, ever, of Harley Quinn, the Joker’s right hand woman and Dini’s creation. Perpetually voiced by Arleen Sorkin, Harley Quinn instantly became a fan favorite, with barely an appearance of the Joker going by without her in tow. No matter what he did, she always loved her Mr. J. The character became so popular she was eventually added into the comic books proper.

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Dini also scripted what is widely considered the best episode of the entire series, “Heart of Ice.” Dr. Freeze was a joke of a character; a mad scientist with his freeze gun. He was a stock villain for Batman to face. “Heart of Ice” changed that, making the man a tragic character. This episode defined the character, informing a change in the comics. Trivia: In this episode, the Bat-symbol on his chest inverts twice.

While those are the two most popular examples, there has been many times where concepts from the show were brought over to the comics. Alan Burnett had Harvey Dent show signs of split personality before his accident. Detective Renee Montoya and vigilant Lock-Up were also brought into the comics. The list goes on. Comic books are typically taken as gospel by many fanboys. For a different medium to have such an influence that the source material changes is unprecedented. While this has happened a few times since with different properties, it was never on this scale.

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The show’s success eventually spawned a companion series starring Superman. Around this time the show moved from Fox to WB. The two were then paired during weekday afternoons, even having an amazing crossover episode. Another 24 episodes were ordered, named “The New Batman Adventures.” The show had a different, cleaner animation style, while still keeping the previously established design. Many of the side characters evolved, with a shifted focus on the supporting cast. In this season Dick Grayson was now Nightwing while Time Drake replaced him as Robin. Jason Todd was never mentioned, avoiding the messy death in a children’s cartoon. Barbara Gordon was now full time as Batgirl.

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During the initial three seasons (pre Adventures), the writers (Dini in particular) started introducing other DC Universe characters they favored that would not be seen otherwise. Dini, ever the Zatanna fan (writing her own comic series in the mid 2000’s), showed Bruce training as an escape artist under her father Zatarra. Another tale (narrated by Ra’s Al Ghul), told of a time during the Civil War when Jonah Hex thwarted his schemes. The Adventures season took this even farther introducing Jason Blood, Klarion the Witch-boy, Etrigan the Demon, and even the Creeper.

The show also payed homage to it’s roots. An early episode showed a young Bruce watching the serialized noir-Zorro like adventures of the Gray Ghost. The invented character was created to be an inspiration for Bruce. He was voiced by Adam West. Another later episode titled “Legends of the Dark Knight” was told from the P.O.V. of three kids, as they told stories about what they thought Batman was like before actually meeting him after being rescued. One tale was in the style of 1940’s Batman artist Dick Sprang, while another was a scene from Frank Miller’s 1986 The Dark Knight Returns. They chose the later because they never thought they’d make an animated feature out of it. Thankfully they eventually did.

The show had three feature films. The first, released in theaters in ’93, was Mask of the Phantasm. The story told a slightly different, tragic origin to Batman, introducing a love interest that took a different path from Bruce. The next, a direct to DVD movie, Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, was released in ’98. Originally to be released alongside the theatrical Batman & Robin, the movie was delayed a year because of the live-action’s poor reception. Considering the shows track record of expert handling of Mr. Freeze, this wonderfully told what could be considered a final Mr. Freeze story. In ’03 Mystery of the Batwoman was released. This movie’s art style was in line with the Adventures season.

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Though Batman: TAS ended in ’98, it’s legacy went on for years. Because of this amazing show, we had Superman: TAS, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League: Unlimited, Green Lantern: TAS, and every DC Universe animated movie. The staying power of this show carries on to today.

This show took many liberties with the characters and license, changing them for the better. For many children watching this show, they took these episodes to be canonical, explaining why these changes were eventually brought into the comics. What I don’t understand is why this was acceptable here, but no where else since then. The “Timmverse” team has certainly earned the ability to do whatever they want, but why can’t anyone else get the chance? Any change for any superhero property whether it be animation, movies, or TV is automatically considered heresy before the product is even seen. These characters are mythology and more importantly, beloved by the creators. No harm will come to them. While there have been a few different animated incarnations since TAS (The Batman, Brave and Bold, Beware the Batman), each are different interpretations of the character. All of these can coexist, I promise. If you don’t enjoy a take, don’t watch it. Not everything has to be for you.

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I can’t put into words what this show meant to me. This was my first introduction into superheroes. Though my online/blog persona is of the Hulk, I have always been a Batman fan, even keeping a Bat-symbol charm on my ever-present dogtags. I watched this show religiously, and still watch the DVD’s regularly today. The idea of a self made man who walks amongst, and goes toe to toe with gods has always resonated with me. I will forever be a Batman fan.

Did you watch Batman: TAS in your youth? What was your favorite episode? Enjoy a different animated version more? Comment below!

“I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!”

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29 responses to “100th Post – Batman: The Animated Series

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