Why “Batman: The Animated Series”
is Simply the Best
By Matthew Arcilla
Twenty-five years ago today, Batman: The Animated Series premiered on Fox Kids. That’s right, twenty-five years since a mere cartoon took the best elements of every era of the Caped Crusader, making anyone who saw it a fan.
Batman: The Animated Series was meant to capitalize on the success of the Tim Burton film and extend the ongoing renaissance of WB Animation that began with Tiny Toon Adventures, and it ushered in a sophisticated yet grounded style of action adventure animation. Ironic, considering it aired at a time when the movies were becoming more outlandish and cartoony.
Batman: The Animated Series changed Batman forever by embracing everything about him: the colorful camp of the 50s and 60s, the swashbuckling style of the 70s and the gritty maturity of the 80s. It cherry-picked the very best to set the template and the foundation for succeeding comics and feature films.
The famed intro sequence was actually the pitch.
In developing the pitch, creators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski produced a short animated ‘pilot.’ A simple segment in which Batman ambushes a gang of thugs then disappears into the night, it demonstrated stunning animation quality and the unique style they wanted. After they received the full season order, the sequence was recreated and became visually synonymous with the show itself.
It doubled down on the dichotomy of Batman and Bruce Wayne.
As a series, the show’s story editors and producers could move the spotlight from one part of the Caped Crusader’s world to another. As a result, the dichotomy between Bruce Wayne and Batman was drawn into sharp relief. Batman was mysterious and commanding while Bruce Wayne was sarcastic and flippant. Kevin Conroy, who played both sides of the Dark Knight, emphasized this duality with distinct voices for each.
The cast recorded not separately, but as a group.
If you’ve ever seen ‘behind the scenes’ footage of recording sessions, you’d know it’s standard practice to have actors record their parts separately. With different schedules, it’s difficult to get all the actors together in the same room. Under the supervision of voice director Andrea Romano, Batman: The Animated Series took the high road. Group recordings resulted in top-notch performance energies.
Black paper gave it a noir-inspired ‘dark deco’ look.
The signature look of Batman: The Animated Series was driven by several conscious artistic decisions. Character designs were inspired by the animated works of Max Fleischer and title cards were inspired by 1940s film noir. But the most novel choice was the standing order from producer Eric Radomski to paint backgrounds on black paper. The lights and colors of Gotham literally emerged from the shadows.
It introduced Harley Quinn into the Batman mythos.
Original characters were frequently introduced into the Animated Series with no big deal. But no other original creation took off like Harley Quinn. Conceived as a ‘walk-on’ part to provide the Joker a sidekick to talk to, the Maid of Mischief was so well received she became a mainstay of the animated universe. Harley Quinn was quickly introduced in the comics. Since then Harley has shed her abusive relationship, reclaimed her autonomy and become one of the most iconic women of the DC Universe.
Mr. Freeze was reinvented and given pathos.
Mr. Freeze was a one-dimensional villain, with his cold based gimmick serving as a substitute for a personality. But on Batman: The Animated Series, he was reimagined as a lonely scientist driven by the hopes of curing his terminally ill wife to commit a crime. Frozen by sorrow, this characterization became the template that other depictions Mr. Freeze are based on, even the goofy pun-slinging one portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman & Robin.
Adam West was honored in the most meta way.
The episode ‘Beware the Gray Ghost’ is just about the most loving in-series tribute there could ever be. It’s about an aging down on luck his actor named Simon Trent, who played ‘The Gray Ghost,’ a costumed crime fighter who inspired Bruce Wayne as a boy. Adam West voiced Trent, and in our world, played Batman in the 1960s television series. West struggled after Batman, but is fondly remembered for his inspiring and earnest portrayal of the Caped Crusader.
Its legacy penetrates into all things Batman.
The influence of Batman: The Animated Series is so strong it continues to be felt in all Bat-media today. No project gets announced without a call for Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to reprise their roles as Batman and Joker. Character designs are taken from the series wholesale. And even video games and animated movies presume a continuity close to that of The Animated Series. The Batman comics maybe over seven decades old, but The Animated Series changed Batman forever.