In 1992, when I was only eight years old, my Batman knowledge was near non-existent. All I had to go on was the old Adam West Batman series that would repeat endlessly on the now-defunct Family Channel and Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, a movie that was too Tim Burton for my tastes. However, like any other kid, I loved cartoons. Getting home after school, my ritual was to grab a snack and watch The Disney Afternoon or Tiny Toon Adventures. Like the Adam West Batman, these shows were all lighthearted and mostly innocent.
Then Batman: The Animated Series premiered.
I remember the network had been advertising the premiere of this show for quite some time. It might’ve been the earliest experience of hype that I can remember. Eager to see what the fuss was all about, I sat myself down and watched with glee.
The now-famous opening to B:TAS was nothing I had never experienced before. A cold open featuring two silhouettes leaving a bank and then, BOOM! A huge explosion! The wonderful music went into high gear as the Batmobile raced into action. As the thugs try to outrun the police, they encounter their biggest roadblock — the Dark Knight himself. Closeup to Batman’s scowl as his theme plays. The robbers foolishly try to fight back as the music heads towards the climax. All that’s left for the police are two unconscious criminals — Batman proudly stands on top of a building, as lightning flashes before him. I was speechless, and that was only the opening.
One of the first things I noticed about B:TAS was the tone of the storylines. The Batman universe is obviously a dark one, but how could they keep that tone and still make it a cartoon for kids? I still wonder how they got away with some of the material. To me, the show was wonderful and frightening to me at the same time. I still remember freaking out when the first Clayface origin episodes were broadcast. Watching Clayface being drowned in the makeup by the mob terrified me, even when it was shown off-screen.
From Two-Face’s disfigurement being shown for the first time to seeing the victims of Joker’s laughing gas, this was not your average kid’s show. And that’s why I was so fascinated with it. It was like nothing I had never seen before. Despite some fears, I was hooked to the TV screen every time the show aired.
Visually, Bruce Timm’s design aesthetic was stunning. B:TAS always had this film noir meets modernism look to it, perhaps to reflect the timelessness of the universe. Cars were from the 1930s, and police blimps coexisted with things such as televisions and computers. The setting was always in dark colors, with buildings always being grey or just completely black. The sky was always either dark or blood red. Even though the show was in color, it definitely had that black-and-white feel to it.
The music was always catchy and pleasant to listen to. Shirley Walker’s orchestrated scores echoed the Danny Elfman music of the Tim Burton films while complementing and enhancing the action on the screen, whether it was a tragic recollection or a highly action-paced scene. Joker’s theme is one that I’ll never forget; it’s so playful and kooky, reflecting the crazy clown well.
Aside from the music, the voice acting is still one of the best I have heard.
Kevin Conroy did a perfect job at differentiating his voices for Bruce Wayne and Batman. While Bruce always sounded cheery and playful, Batman was more dark and serious (although not as gruff as Christian Bale’s ridiculous grunting). John Glover gave The Riddler the perfect cockiness whenever he had a challenge for someone. And while most people think of Luke Skywalker when they see Mark Hamill, I actually think he’s more famous for being the definitive voice of the Joker.
He managed to balance the over-the-top energy with a menacing tone whenever he was angry. Thanks to B:TAS, those two will always go hand in hand when I think of the Joker.
Despite what you think of Batman: The Animated Series, you can’t argue its legacy and its effect on the rest of the Batman universe. The character of Harley Quinn — who was created for the show by Paul Dini — was so popular, they incorporated her into the comics. Nowadays, you really can’t picture the Joker without her; I was actually surprised that she wasn’t in the comics before! An honorable mention goes to Detective Montoya, my favorite Dominican cop.
While technically introduced in the comics first, she was initially created for the show as well. Dini and company also transformed Mr. Freeze from a typical mad-scientist kind of bad guy into a tragic character that longs for his wife. It’s uncanny to see how much of the Batman mythos changed due to the show.
Also, if B:TAS wasn’t successful as it was, we would have been denied the animated “Timmverse” that followed afterward: Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited each extended that universe created in 1992. While superheroes were popular long before they were in the movies and television, B:TAS was a big contribution to its popularity in the media that exists to this day.
Thanks to Batman: The Animated Series, Batman went from someone I knew as a campy superhero into one of my favorite comic book characters of all time. I still remember some episodes clearly like it was still the 1990s. One of my favorite episodes is the Rashomon-like “P.O.V.”
Rather than following Batman, we see three different testimonies from police officers on a botched police raid. Seeing how they much they varied was fascinating to the 8 year-old me. Watching all stories get pieced together and eventually connect to a conclusion was something that influenced my tastes later in life; I now like stories with multiple point of views and parallel storylines. “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” is another favorite of mine; I’m a fan of the Riddler and watching his origin story was a treat to me. Also, being a fan of video games, I liked how the “Riddle of the Minotaur” game was implemented in the show, as a game in and outside the computer.
What were some of your favorite episodes? Feel free to share them below! As for me, I think I’m going to pop in my DVDs and watch some more episodes of my favorite cartoon shows of all time.