Batman: The Animated Series
When Batman: The Animated Series came to television in 1992, it changed the field of cartoons forever. Much like GI Joe toys moved the concept of toys as “dolls” to that of “action figures”, this Batman series moved the possibilities of cartoons from “kid shows” to “shows for everyone that just happen to be animated.”
Prior to its release, cartoons were simple. The plot lines were always wrapped up in 30 minutes. The stories were most often goofy and not just kid-friendly but rather kid-only. The animation was cheap and used a lot of repeat cells. When cartoons did have adult-leaning themes, such as the battles in GI Joe, there always had to be a comic relief element.
Continuing with the GI Joe example, Gung Ho and Bazooka typically always had to look like buffoons. Even as a kid at the time, these goofy scenes often annoyed me. Sure, they were sometimes funny, but, overall, they were just too silly. Apparently, this was to keep the show “for kids”.
When Batman: The Animated Series first aired, though? All bets were off. This launched a theretofore unheard-of show. It was animated, sure, but its plots were for young and old alike. Truthfully, some plot elements leaned older rather than younger! People took notice, and many, many viewers tuned in.
TV executives took notice too. Thanks to the success of shows like Batman, we got X-Men: The Animated Series, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, and many more. That trend of in-depth characterization, intricate plot lines, and more adult-leaning content continues, thankfully, to this day. Kids get it, they understand more than they were being given credit for. Now, parents can watch these types of shows right alongside their kids and bond while doing so. Cartoons can, therefore, almost be divided between pre and post Batman: The Animated Series.
In this series, the Batman of the comics was brought vividly to life. His supporting cast was done well also. A different cartoon would likely have turned Robin into that comic relief character of the show that so many earlier cartoons suffered from. Robin, after all, had occasionally fallen into that role in other series. However, this show didn’t put anyone into that goofy role, thankfully. Dick was portrayed as he should be, and tough hero that is almost Bruce’s equal. Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, and Alfred were handled just as well.
Batman’s villains, the superstitious and cowardly lot we all love, where just as cool, and the show pulled very few punches in their delivery. The Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Scarecrow, R’as Al Ghul, Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Clayface, Manbat, and Ventriloquist. They were all there. Even Bane showed up, though he’d only recently been introduced in the comics. The show is also known as the first appearance of Harley Quinn, who debuted here rather than in the comics. Each villain reoccurred, and their plot lines continued and grew as they returned.
Not only was the level of storytelling on this series unprecedented in animation, but the art style was also something new. Taking a note from 1989’s Batman movie, the characters, cars, and scenery were all done stylistically like a noir thriller. It was a smart choice by the show runners as it added to the cool factor of the show while connecting it, at the same time, to that very popular movie.
Another smart move by the show runners? Their casting choices. People often debate who the “best Batman” actor is. Normally, though, they only consider the live action actors, like Keaton or Bale. If the voice actors come up, though, Kevin Conroy generally wins the animated side of the debate every time. Some even choose him over the live action guys. Conroy’s iconic take on Batman has truly become the definitive animated Batman.
The other casting choice that knocked it out of the park was putting Mark Hamill in as the Joker. Prior to that role, Hamill was of course known mostly for the role of Luke Skywalker, and not much would ever compete with that. However, voicing the Joker has become well known enough that the role is a distant second to Skywalker.
Hamill had played Trickster, in a similar way, on TV’s first Flash series and was brought in to do the Joker from that. Since his pitch perfect and creepy rendition of the Joker, Hamill has continued on to be a prolific voice actor even while periodically returning to his most famous Star Wars role.
All of these parts added together to make a magnificent whole, the likes of which no one had quite seen in afternoon TV before. Like Pandora’s Box, though, once it was out there, and people knew that level of cartoon was a possibility, viewers clamored for more. Batman: The Animated Series answered that call with 85 episodes through 4 seasons before continuing Conroy’s Batman in The New Adventures of Batman and Justice League, both of which kept a similar art style as well.
Batman: The Animated Series – The Cartoon that Changed Everything
- Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
- Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Music - 10/1010/10
- Production - 9.5/109.5/10
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