Batman: The Animated Series (B:TAS) is one of the greatest pieces of animated fiction of all time. It’s a landmark show, elevating cartoons to a medium of sophistication and maturity previously unseen on television. B:TAS ran from 1992 to 1997, under the titles Batman: The Animated Series and later The New Batman Adventures, which sported an updated art style. Throughout the show’s run, Batman maintained quality and drama at a level that still resonates today.
In my opinion, B:TAS is the best adaption of Batman that has ever come about, animated or otherwise, and I’ve come up with four reasons why The Animated Series continues to be the high bar for Batman media.
Check it out:
4. It looks awesome
A monolithic skyscraper stretches up from the cracked pavement and, atop a gargoyle, perches a shape, formless and inhuman. Only the eyes are visible in the blackness, piercing and all-seeing. Lightning strikes in the background, lighting up the creature.
The Batman, silhouetted against a blood-red sky.
In the distance, a police siren begins to wail.
In a flash, he takes off into the night in pursuit of justice.
There is not another cartoon in the history of the universe that looks like B:TAS. It’s slick, gloomy, dramatic, and visually compelling. Gotham City is a modern metropolis draped with a neo-noir aesthetic that permeates every aspect of the series, from the long-hooded cars that look like 1940s sedans updated for the 21st century, to the way criminals stalk down the dark streets, clad in dirty fedoras and trenchcoats.
Essentially, the animated series brought Batman brought into the future by way of years past. It’s fascinating, and no other Batman series has matched the visual impact. Later into the series, the art style was redesigned to fit in better with the mainline DC Animated Universe. It still looked good, but I think many would agree it lost a little something.
3. It’s hugely influential
The Animated Series took early inspiration from the 1996 Batman film, starring Michael Keaton, but quickly established an atmosphere and identity all its own. That identity led to the creation of the entire DC Animated Universe; a coherent series of television shows, comics, and movies with a continuity and a narrative quality previously unheard of in what was marketed as a “children’s show.”
Don’t believe me? Take a look at all the shows that came to life within the universe of B:TAS, many of which had long, successful runs on television.
And have you heard of a pair of gems called Batman Arkham Asylum and Batman Arkham City? Yeah, those games owe much of their success to the atmosphere created by The Animated Series. They even share a writer (Paul Dini) and a few voice actors.
And the show revamped a character completely, changing the way he was portrayed in all media from then on. Mr. Freeze went from a campy scientist obsessed with the “cold” gimmick to a socially awkward, broken-hearted scientist who longs only to save his wife from a disease that has no cure. His debut episode, “Heart of Ice,” even won a Daytime Emmy.
And don’t forget Ms. Harley Quinn, Joker’s sexy and psychotic sidekick who originated in this TV show, only to be adapted into most mainstream Bat-media soon afterwards.
2. It’s dark
Real dark. Bruce Wayne is tortured by the loss of his parents, the Joker is a homicidal maniac who lives to torture Batman, Harvey Dent is tortured by the split personality that eventually leads him to become Two- Face, and the aforementioned Mr. Freeze longs just to be able to hold his wife’s hand again, knowing that he’ll never be able to due to his condition.
No matter what the packaging and ratings may say, this show was not written for kids. Some episodes end on a supremely unhappy note, occasionally leaving Batman and his small group of allies to retreat back into the darkness with little to show for their efforts.
Oftentimes, a character will be treated to a gruesome offscreen fate, or adult topics, such as sex or drug addiction, will be referenced in a covert enough manner to slip it by children and censors. This darkness gets cranked to eleven in the movie spin-offs from the TV series, like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm or Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. The longer the series went on, the darker it got. This also holds true for Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond, which were all sequel shows.
1. Mark Hamill is Joker and Kevin Conroy is Batman
These two guys make the show all on their own. I’d pay to sit in a room with them and just listen to them talk back and forth in their respective character voices. No joke.
Mark Hamill is the perfect Joker.
He is terrifying, unpredictable, hilarious, and out-and-out insane. No animated actor has come close to capturing his insane energy and presence as the character (with all due respect to their performances), which is why Rocksteady knew they had to have him to make Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.
Mark Hamill took the Joker beyond the gimmick he’d been represented as so many times before (not to say that there haven’t been great interpretations of the Joker before this) and turned him into something…more. A true psychopath and the perfect counterpart to the Dark Knight.
Kevin Conroy is Batman.
There is no other actor who has done it better than him. He’s been Batman longer than any other actor, either in animated and live action form. He doesn’t rely on a forced “scary” voice to embody the Batman. He simply speaks. And it’s freakin’ terrifying. Using two distinct variations on a single voice, he can deftly flip from the relaxed, harmless playboy Bruce Wayne to the living embodiment of criminal terror with no effort at all. If I could have it done, I would surgically switch vocal cords with this man.
The quality of the performances of both of these actors has led to them being cast in their iconic roles in quite a few films and games outside the DCAU, most notable of which are the two critically acclaimed Arkham games.
If you haven’t watched Batman: The Animated Series, it is worth your time. I can’t praise it enough. In fact, all I have left for you is this clip of Kevin Conroy being terrifying.
Batman: The Animated Series has been released on DVD in its entirety, and you will not regret picking it up.
What’s your favorite piece of Batman media? Tell me in the comments section.