One major thing to live by is to always be yourself, unless it possible for you to be Batman. He is the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, and most importantly he has had one of, if not the, best superhero cartoon shows to grace our television screens. Batman: The Animated Series was an innovative and gripping series that redefines what a superhero show could be come.
The series began in September of 1992. Bruce Timm and Eric Randomski created it, the former would go on to create multiple show in the DC animated universe. The Tim Burton films heavily influenced their work on the series. They also drew an influence from the 1940’s superman cartoon, however this series wouldn’t be anything like you’re typical kids show.
As previously mentioned, the Tim Burton Films influenced the show’s visuals. It maintained the dark tone by keeping steering away from the typical bright colors of the usual superhero shows and used more of dark colors. The show also featured slow jazz type of soundtrack; complete with a more somber tone akin to something that would be found in an old detective movie. This helped give the show a more unique feel to it. Another unique aspect of the show that steered away from the typical kids show but was right at home for our bat was that it mostly took place at night.
While most shows showed superhero’s saving the day, we witnessed our hero avenge the night in every episode. Typical locations were alleyways and abandoned warehouses. They were accented by rats running across the floors and broken windows. More often than not you could hear sirens in the background, emphasizing that crime is never asleep in Gotham no matter the time of day. The series also gave us a new look at the bat himself.
While in the comics Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne was billionaire playboy, the animated series gave more depth to the character. He was no longer playing dumb to refrain from the fact that he was Batman. Bruce Wayne was almost always shown handling some type of business regarding Wayne Enterprises or training in broad daylight. Another innovation brought on by this series was the use of two different voices for Batman and Bruce Wayne. While they were on in the same., the change of voice highlighted the extreme differences in the two. While Bruce used a casual voice, Batman was given a more brooding voice to highlight his intensity and dark nature. This inevitably inspired the same trick used in the Nolan Films. The show tried many new things; one major trait of the show was shining the Bat-Light on the caped crusader’s supporting cast.
Batman has a very robust roster of allies and foes alike to say the least. The amount of criminals that he has crossed paths with combined with the select amount of allies that he chooses to work with gave the creators a lot to work with. Instead of focusing on typical villains, the show chose to focus on lesser-known villains or ones that weren’t necessarily well received.
The best example of this would be Mr. Freeze. Freeze had been killed off in the comics shortly before the initial debut of the series, mainly in part being that he was not well received by fans. The series creators saw this as an opportunity to bring new life to the character. They gave him a tragic backstory where his wife had been frozen due to a horrible accident in their lab caused by their corrupt boss. This would go on to turn Freeze as somewhat of an anti-hero.
He was fueled by revenge and lashed out in criminal activity yet you had to feel for the guy because his wife was frozen solid with no signs of cure in sight. You see this extra layer added to the character took him from nobody to one of the most iconic characters in Batman lore. The episodes chronicling his tragic story ended up winning multiple awards and becoming an animated movie.
Other characters were tweaked to fit into the series and become more dynamic. Clayface was given a tragic story also. He became a fading actor who was addicted to a cream that made him look young. He was eventually set up and given a bad batch, which horribly disfigured his face and ruined his acting career. This, similar to Mr. Freeze, had become his official backstory. Other characters went through cosmetic changes that the creators felt fit with both their vision for the show and the characters identity.
The Penguin was remodeled to look more like the Tim burton films version of the character while retaining some characteristics of the original version. The Riddler lost his green spandex and took on a more respectable look with a green and black suit along with his classic purple mask. Two-Face gained a suit in which one side was black while the other side was white which fit with his character; this has become a more common appearance for the character across media. Batman’s rouges weren’t the only ones to receive new looks in the series however as the creators also gave his allies their custom touch.
Robin has always been, and always will, be the best sidekick in history. He helped keep batman grounded and gave the caped crusader somewhat of a lighter feel. However Robin has always been the victim of criticism, from his campy demeanor to his ridiculously short shorts. The creators took note of this and gave the boy wonder a much-needed update. Gone were the cursed short shorts that caused him to be the laughing stock in the comics and in their place were long green tights. In the story it was explained that these were the tights that he wore in his act with his family, The Flying Grayson’s. They also got rid of his clean comb over styled hair and replaced it with a spikey hairstyle to give him a more edgy look. The changes didn’t stop with appearance though.
In every way that the series was unique and innovative by redefining what a hero show for kids could be, it was still very much a kid’s show. This caused certain things to be omitted from the series. The most notable omission from the series and it progressed was the absence of Jason Todd, the second Robin. Jason was the successor to Dick Grayson, inheriting the mantle of Robin. this is nothing of note though as legacy heroes are nothing new to comics, what is interesting is what caused him to be omitted form the show. The Joker in a very gruesome fashion killed Jason, beating him with a crowbar within an inch of his life then blown up in a warehouse with his biological mother. This simply could not be inserted into a kids TV show. The series was the first to show intentional violence towards bad guys but showing death was something that simply would not be allowed. In the episode “Death of Batgirl” we saw Barbara Gordon die but that was eventually revealed to be a bad dream.
The creator’s solution was to combine both the appearance and background of the second and third robin, Tim Drake, into one. The character took on the name and backstory of Tim Drake while maintain the appearance of Jason Todd.
The uncanny ability of the shows creators to deliver such a unique and original adaptation of Batman’s lore was one that is unmatched. From the look to the sound, the show was one in a million. It had its own look and feel and it brought Gotham to life in ways that we could have only imagined at the time. The dynamic representation of Gotham city and its inhabitants gave birth to new directions for characters. The show adapted many beloved storylines into the show while also giving us new original characters.
Harley Quinn is one of the most beloved batman characters of all time and it was this show that brought her to us. She was created for the show and eventually brought into the comics. She isn’t the only one either as many features of the show were adapted into the comics. All in all Batman: the animated series will go down in history as possibly the best superhero cartoon of all time.