Twenty years of art and quality.
If you’re over the age of 25 your childhood was set by several things: Power Rangers, Super Nintendo and of course Batman: The Animated Series. Today is a very, very special day. 20 years ago this day, Fox launched Batman: The Animated Series to a very unsuspecting public. Once it aired things were literately never the same again. Batman was a show that was developed originally to surf on the hype of the Tim Burton Batman movie starring Michael Keaton, and in many ways should have been nothing more than a cash grab. Instead, a group of talented artists and writers who had genuine love and passion for Batman came together and dared to dream boldly.
Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski developed the show for Warner Bros. They, along with writers Paul Dini, Michael Reaves, Randy Rogel, Steve Perry, Brynne Stephens, Sean Catherine Derek, Alan Burnett and Laren Bright sat down and molded the world of Batman from a failure background of the Burton films into something unique and original. From there, this team developed a show that was more than just a children’s show. It was animation. Pure and true. From the art deco look, and the noir sensibilities. It was something that more than just children watched to pass the time. It was a show that gathered it’s audience from young and old alike. Kids to teens, to the parent of said kids. Everyone loved this show. For the first time in a very long time, Batman was taken very seriously by someone outside of the comic books.
Indeed. From Adam West to the Super Friends, Batman had never before been treated with such passion in the animated medium. From Dini and Timm, throw away characters like Clayface and Clock King were made into formidable foes. Mr Freeze, once a goofy ice based villain, became Victor Friez. A scientist who’s wife was dying from an incurable disease. To save her, he froze her until he was able to find a cure, only to be horribly inflicted with a terrible condition by the very freezing process that holds his wife’s sickness at bay. He became a monster out of necessity, not greed. What other cartoon can you say ever did that to a pre-established character?
Then there’s Batman himself. Some say that until Nolan, Burton came the closest to getting the character down. Nay, I say. The Animated Series did it first. Batman in this show is the Batman that we all see in our heads. An unstoppable force of justice, never giving in to greed or ego. Bruce Wayne, millionaire playboy just as stern and heroic as his alter ego. Unwavering in moral value to do good.
Under the guiding hand of Andrea Romano, a cast assembled that would define these characters for the next two decades. Kevin Conroy, a man who has never worn the outfit, to many, is Batman. His deep brooding voice gave Batman that sense of fear into the criminal psyche. A serious, no nonsense tone that is now the voice I hear in my head any time a read any book with Batman in it.
Then there’s Mark Hamill’s Joker. Sure, Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger both gave epic performances of the clown prince of crime, but it was Luke Skywalker himself that would cement the Joker into the minds of children everywhere. And for what was suppose to be a children’s show, Joker pulled no punches. All of his schemes were deadly in nature. His goal to kill Batman and get a sick laugh out of it was the fundamental core of the character, and Hamill’s insane performance is the stuff of legends.
Add the show’s greatest accomplishment, the creation of Harley Quinn, Joker’s best girl. At first a throw away character, she developed into one of the most recognizable rouges in the history of the comic. All because of this show. Brought to life by Arleen Sorkin, Harley Quinn was a unique fold into the Joker mythos. A girl for the Joker, who treated her like shit, yet, in his own way, loved her very much.
That’s the kind of brilliant storytelling this show did.
From my all time favorite episodes like the aptly named 2 part episode Two Face. The fall of Harvey Dent and the rise of Two Face, crescendoed with the epic shot of Two Face’s reveal at the end of episode 1 with a brief flash of lighting to glimpse at the damage the acid had done to Dent. Richard Moll, best known as Bull from Night Court, gave a lifetime performance as Two Face that I think he has yet to reach again.
Or Heart of Ice, the introduction of Mr Freeze. Then there’s Beware the Grey Ghost that got Adam West in on the action. How about Almost Got ‘Im, where Batman’s greatest enemies sit around a poker table and tell tales about how they almost defeated the Bat. What about what The Demon’s Quest, which introduces Ra’s Al Ghul. Then there’s possibly the best Joker episode Joker’s Favor, which a man lives in fear for years for a favor he owes the Joker after he cut him off in traffic one night. If you go to the later season when the character model animations changed, there’s Growing Pains, where a Tim Drake Robin tries to protect a young girl with no memory from a violent man who turns out the be Clayface.
Then there’s Over the Edge. One of the most daring episodes I’ve ever seen taken on daytime TV in which Batman, Robin and Nightwing are being hunted by Commissioner Gordon and the entire Gotham PD after Scarecrow kills Batgirl by throwing her from a skyscraper’s roof onto Gordon’s squad car. This episode is a masterpiece of writing that I revisit often. But, that’s just a handful, there are over 80 episodes to choose from, and there is not a bad one in the lot.
In 1992, there was NOTHING like this on TV. Japan might have been coming close to doing something like Batman TAS, but it was still years off. Instead, a group of talented fans got together to show the world something that titans like Walt Disney, Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth knew. Animation isn’t just for children. 20 years later, Batman is still at his peek of popularity. This show remains a cornerstone of quality to anyone who’s watched it. It spawned a Superman series, a future spin off in Batman Beyond, and 2 Justice League series. Batman: The Animated Series is to animation what the Godfather is to film. Without it, I dare say that a lot of the shows we love today would not be around because of it.