Back in the early ’90s when the animated series were just catching up, I used to be a die-hard fan of the Batman animated series. Not because of the thrill and the crime or the superhero in Batman, but because of the adventure and the plot and the story behind it.
This week I stumbled upon a Batman VCR, and it reminded me of the good old day. I had to binge on some episodes online just to live the moment. And I must admit that I am still as thrilled as I was in the early 90s. These stories never get old. Sometimes I wonder why it was short-lived. From the storyline, it is one of the stories that would amaze all generations.
The animated series was really not a re-invention of the Batman we knew, but a new story of its own. I loved how the scenes were planned and it made sense spending the weekend watching this show back then. I remember watching the season of darkness in one weekend. This was not like other adventure shows on TV. The stories were like a puzzle that the villain has to solve and that watching also had to think through the scene to get the story.
Background History of the Batman Animated Series
This was one of the most popular American animated TV series at the time based on the DC Comics superhero BATMAN. It debuted on the Cartoon Network in 2008. It originally aired on Fox Kids in 1992 to 1995, with a total of 85 episodes developed by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Mitch Brian and produced by Warner Bros. Animation.
The Adventure of Batman and Robin was the series’ on-screen title for the final 20 episodes, and it was also used for reruns of previous episodes. A number of other animated programs, feature films, comic novels, and video games have used many of the same creative talents as the original series.
In addition to its gloomy tone and visual presentation, the series was hailed for its thematic intricacy and use of cinema noir elements. Among the best Batman adaptations outside of comics, Batman: The Animated Series was ranked by IGN.com as the best comic book TV show of all time and the second-best animated series of all time after the Simpsons.
The animated TV series was also voted No. 2 by Wizard magazine. According to the TV guide then, it was the ninth-best cartoon ever made. As a result of the positive reception, the show was nominated for four Emmys, including Outstanding Animated Program.
Summary of The Show
It should not be confused with the Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and Batman Returns. But it borrowed most of the inspiration from the two legendary Fleischer Studios’ shows including the Superman theatrical cartoons.
While the series is clearly set in the 20th Century, it incorporates various elements from different decades of that century, incorporation period features such as black-and-white title cards, police airships (although no such thing existed), and vintage color schemes from film noir flourishes. Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski designed the series in imitation of the Burton films’ “otherworldly timelessness”.
However, the series is clearly set in the 2th century. Radomski’s artwork served as inspiration for the show’s visual style, and Gotham City’s gothic aesthetic was born from his vision. Radomski also orderd the animation staff to paint all background in light colors on black paper as standing command as opposed to the industry standard of dark colors on white paper.
The producers called it Dark Deco because of the way it combined color imagery with Art Deco design. Danny Eifman’s score for the Burton films served as the series’ starting theme; later episodes had a new them by Shirley Walker, who served as Elfman’s conductor on occasion.
Elfman’s work on the Burton film and 1940’s film noir music influenced the series score. In comparison to earlier superhero cartoons, this one is more focused on the adult audience; nonetheless, it is still regarded as kid-friendly and suitable for younger audiences in addition to realistic guns, it shows open physical violence against the enemies. Although only one character, Commissioner Grodon was ever depicted as having been shot in the episode). However, the success of Burton’s debut feature picture allowed the fledgling series to survive long enough to make a pilot episode, “On Leather Wings,”, which in Timm’s words got people off their back.
A silent episode named “Silent Night” was written by producer Alan Burnett for the series but it was never produced since it was intended to explore more Batman’s sexual life and the silent manner Burnett reportedly had grand plans for the female vampire episode in which she would bit Batman and drink his blood, but those never came to fruition.
How the Batman Animated Series Evolved
Numerous well-known actors provided voices for recognizable villains in the series, including Mark Hamill who was popular for his role as Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars triology, whose prominence as a voice actor was heightened by his portrayal of the Joker who was cheerfully deranged.
In the beginning, the character was assigned to Tim Curry. Unfortunately, he became ill during the recording session and had to be replaced by another actor. A future voice actor for the Riddler John Glover had also tried out to play the Joker. As the cast’s largest Batman fan, Hamill attributes his success in Amedeus in part to the comedic skills he developed while performing there.
Instead of making separate recordings as is normal, the actors were recorded together in one studio under the direction of voice director Andrea Romano. All following DC animated Universe shows would use this technique going forward. AI Pacino turned down the chance to play Two-Face in the animated series. Richard Moll, on the other hand was cast in the part. Some of the other notable actors were Ron Perlman as Clayface, Roddy McDowall as Mad Hatter, David Warner as Ra’s al Ghul, Michael York as Count Vertigo, Kate Mulgrew as Red Claw, George Murdock as Boss Biggie, and Ed Asner as Roland Daggett.
As a result of the popularity of the Joker’s assistant, Harley Quinn, in the series, DC Comics later included her into the mainstream Batman canon. The Penguin underwent a transformation for the series, adoption the look of Batman Returns, which was filming at the same time as the first season of the show. Minor series characters like the Clock King were given new life as well. Clayface and Mr Freeze were transformed from gimmicky mad scientist to a tragi person whose “frigid exterior, a doomed love, and vindictive wrath were among other alterations.
Batman Animate Series Characters
In addition to Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya, Lock-Up, and the former actor Simon Trent from Gotham City, there are a slew of other original characters who have made appearances in the comics, including the Joker's partner Harley Quinn.
The appearance and demeanor of lesser-known comic book villains including Count Vertigo, the Mirror Man, and the Clock King were altered for the series. Several others, like Roland Daggett, the Sewer King, the Red Claw, Lloyd Ventrix, and Emile Dorian, were developed but received little critical acclaim and never appeared in any other media. However, Daggett was reimagined as businessman John Daggett for The Dark Knight Rises.
Beyond establishing characters for the main DC Comics line, some reinterpretations carried over from the show were also carried on. A tragic story was created for Mr. Freeze in the comics, and its success persuaded DC to bring him back after "killing" him off a few years previously. To better match his animated counterpart, Clayface was redesigned to look like him, and Two-double-sided, Face's black-and-white suit has since become a regular costume choice for the superhero.
Batman (Bruce Wayne)
Bruce Wayne, the millionaire philanthropist's son, was eight years old when he saw the murder of his parents, Thomas and Martha, in a street mugging. As a result of the incident, he was permanently wounded psychologically. Alfred Pennyworth, the butler for the Pennyworth family, was left to look after Bruce as a result.
The pain and trauma Bruce had suffered over the years slowly turned into a burning fuel for a lifelong obsession, as he underwent years of rigorous training, including mental and physical conditioning, martial arts, criminology, and sciences such as manhunting and forensics, as well as detective work and intimidation tactics. Given what he had seen of Gotham City's rampant crime, crime-fighting, and corruption, he decided to take matters into his own hands, employing his years of training and swearing an oath of allegiance to the fight against crime as a way to avenge the murder of his parents and use his pain and suffering as motivation to do good.
He was also guided by his own self-imposed moral code, which prohibited him from ever killing anyone or using firearms. As a result of his boyhood phobia of bats lurking around his house, Bruce decided to adopt the guise of The Batman, a feared, almost mythical vigilante wearing a bat mask.
Wayne is a confident, outwardly brilliant businessman who is actively involved in the operation of Wayne Enterprises without revealing his true identity in the animated series. In the episode "Eternal Youth," Bruce is depicted yelling at one of his directors and threatening to fire him if he doesn't rescind a deal with an Amazon rainforest wood firm done behind his back.
Kevin Conroy's portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman were differentiated by the use of separate voices, a technique popularized by Michael Keaton in Tim Burton's live-action movies. For his dual-voice portrayal, Conroy studied the 1934 film version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which he adapted heavily from.
Robin (Dick Grayson)
Dick Grayson's comic book and television career histories are very similar. Grayson and his family used to work in Haly's Circus as acrobats, as revealed in the episode "Robin's Reckoning." As a result of the murders of Grayson's parents by gangster Tony Zucco, Bruce Wayne adopts Dick and later makes him his protege.
In addition, the show reimagined the Robin/Dick Grayson character. But his Robin suit is modernized with short sleeves and long tights just like Tim Drake's original Robin uniform with a non-italicized "R" emblem, despite the fact that much of Dick's past is the same.
And Dick has a more serious and mature personality now that the narrative has moved forward (although he does have comedic moments occasionally). Dick and Barbara Gordon are classmates and friends in the episode "Batgirl Returns," but neither is aware of the other's secret identity. In the film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, their romance is an important story point.
Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)
Barbara Gordon initially appears in the two-parter "Heart of Steel," where she suspects her father is a fraud. After her father, Commissioner Gordon, is arrested on corruption charges in "Shadow of the Bat," she first appears as Batgirl as her alter identity.
With the same gray bodysuit, blue cape and cowl, yellow bat symbol and utility belt from The Adventures of Batman and the Bronze Age of Comics, her Batgirl costume is precisely the same. The only difference is that Batgirl's blue gloves and boots match Batman's blue ones instead of yellow ones. Her crimefighting alter persona is unknown to her, yet she makes multiple appearances in the series and attends the same institution as Dick Grayson.
When Batman is abroad, Barbara and Catwoman work together to solve the mystery of the missing priceless cat figurines in "Batgirl Returns". Brynne Stephens wrote every episode where Barbara/Batgirl appears.
Because of this, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm gives us a glimpse into the character's past, even if his genesis is never portrayed on screen. The Joker is the only other series villain without an origin episode (the other being The Penguin). In flashbacks, we see him before the accident, but he doesn't say anything or have his name mentioned.
If he is Jack Napier (the same name as Jack Nicholson's character in Tim Burton's 1989 film), then his real name could be Jack Napier, as revealed in the episodes "Dreams in Darkness" by Dr. Bartholomew and "Joker's Wild" by a dossier entry. The reason for using Tim Burton's film as an inspiration for the program was because of the film's commercial success and cultural impact.
As seen in "Beware the Creeper," Joker's true identity was retconned as being just one of many aliases when The New Batman Adventures debuted during the Joel Schumacher film period, but his backstory was kept. As a result, his identity remains a mystery. In this way, the writers' efforts to reconcile the character's contradicting various beginnings from the comics were shown.
When Salvatore Valestra, Buzz Bronski, and Chuckie Sol hired him as a driver and hitman in Mask of the Phantasm, the man who would become the Joker got his start in the mobsters' employ. Years before they would face off as the Joker and Batman, he saw Bruce Wayne twice and exchanged looks with him both times.
It's hinted at in the rest of the series that the pre-Joker went it alone and created a tiny gang once the Valestra Mob split up. This is where Batman first came face to face. After a brief skirmish, Batman knocked him off a catwalk and down into a chemical drainage vat, which concluded with the pre-Joker tumbling into it.
However, before his audition, Mark Hamill was given the admonition "Don't do Nicholson," which was based on the character played by Jack Nicholson. Tim Curry had already recorded a few episodes, but when he became sick and had to leave the show, he was replaced by Mark Hamill. Hamill, who was the cast's largest fan of Batman comics, attributes his role in Amadeus to the laughter he developed on stage.
A musical instrument, his laugh could change to suit the Joker's current mood, as he sought to create one for the character. While the other actors were sat during the recording process, Hamill stood to better embody the character. Taking the Joker's laugh and the part in general, Hamill made significant contributions to the voice-acting business and went on to have an incredibly successful acting career in its own right. Claude Rains' portrayal in the 1933 film The Invisible Man was one of several influences for Hamill's performance, which also included appearances by Jay Leno and Howard Cosell.
Other Batman Characters
Poison Ivy, Catwoman, the Riddler (with her fake Scarface), Two-Face, the Mad Hatter, Ra's al Ghul, and Talia al Ghul were all featured antagonists in the series, as well as Man-Bat, the Penguin, the Scarecrow, the Killer Croc, and Bane.
Alfred Pennyworth, Harvey Bullock, the Gray Ghost (an original character created by the series to portray Bruce Wayne's childhood hero and crimefighting inspiration, voiced by Adam West, the actor who had played Batman in the 1960s Batman series), Lucius Fox, and Leslie Thompkins are some of Batman's friends and allies featured in the show but have not been previously mentioned.
Although it was short-lived, Batman Animated Series remains one of my favourite shows. If it was to get a re-run, I will be among the first to binge on it. Am glad Batman’s merchandise, toys and stuff are still on the market and they still make sense now as they did back then.
What do you remember about Batman Animated Series?
Did you get a chance to watch it back in the ‘90s?