I must have been six years old when Batman: The Animated Series first aired. It immediately had my attention. I’d already seen Tim Burton’s Batman and was eager for more. Burton’s film and the series were my only real exposure to comics and to Batman for a long time after this, and it still surprises me that the series was so good. In the years since it’s left the air, I feel a twinge of sadness. Nothing will ever be made like that again. The noir style of show is what strikes me immediately. It has left a lasting impression on me, and was the first thing that made me really love films. I’ve gone back now that I’m older and watched movies of the noir-era and found how much I enjoy them for what they are. Yet I don’t forget that it was a cartoon (a cartoon!) that first exposed me to the cinematic style of noir. Also, it is amazing how well it worked.
The visual style of Gotham City lends to this very well. If you go back and watch them again, you’ll notice clothing styles, cars, buildings, even flying zeppelins that all seem like something out of the 1920’s or ‘30’s. How appropriate that the creators took the time to pay homage to when Batman first showed up in comics so many years ago by designing the setting around that style of culture from way back in yesteryear. Even Batman’s technology and gadgets aren’t too advanced, though his computer is the only thing that seems to not belong.
Also, to lend to this new look, Batman had to change. Since Burton’s film had been so successful at redefining Batman as the Dark Knight detective that he is, the creators (such as Bruce Timm and writers like Paul Dini and Alan Burnett) knew they needed to carry that over into this series. This was not the campy Batman that Adam West (still worth watching in my opinion, as that was also something I would watch growing up) had portrayed alongside Burt Ward’s Robin. This Batman was dark, not as dark as Michael Keaton’s portrayal, but dark for a children’s cartoon show. Then there were the storylines. The rise of Harvey Dent, and his fall as Two-Face; Dick Grayson’s recollection of how he joined Bruce in the never-ending war on crime; even an exceptional episode where members of the Rogues’ gallery villains sit around playing cards talking about one time they almost got Batman. An awesome episode for those of you who watched the show as religiously as I did (and own the box sets!).
Another thing to appreciate is the exceptional music score helmed by (not solely, but she did the bulk of the scoring I believe) Shirley Walker, not to mention the Danny Elfman theme music from Burton’s film. By using Elfman’s theme music it solidified for a young audience that this was the official Batman cartoon. There could be no doubt in your mind that of all the Batman stuff that had come before, that this was the one worth checking out.
And then there was the cast. The great Kevin Conroy (who also recently did a hilarious cameo on Adult Swim’s The Venture Brothers) voiced our beloved Dark Knight and it’s been keeping him busy ever since. He’s lent his voice to so many other animated adventures, both associated with the original series as well as new animated features, always returning to grace us with the real voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman. It will be hard to ever replace such a tremendous talent such as himself. Which brings us to Mr. Mark Hamill. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and had no idea until I was about 13 that Mr. Hamill had been voicing the Joker. This came as both a great shock and an incredibly wonderful surprise to me. Luke Skywalker as the Joker? Yes, please. And what a performance. Hamill was playing a slightly less murderous version of the clown prince of crime, but a dangerous psychopath nevertheless. The best Joker episode had to be the one where a casino uses the Joker’s likeness to entice him to blow it up so they can collect the insurance money. Hamill’s portrayal of a pissed off and vengeful Joker still scares me. And yes, I know the show is for kids, but when you’re 7 watching a very scarily drawn clown with a twisted evil laugh, it sticks with you. Adam West even made a cameo in an excellent episode where he played a failed actor that had portrayed a masked vigilante on television, and one who a young Bruce had idolized. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., of course adds his skills as Alfred, and what a terrific job he did. Even Alfred got his own adventure, not bad as I remember it, either.
Overall, I cannot think of any show that is as timeless as this was. Exceptional storylines, incredible visual style, excellent music score, and an even more amazing cast and the best animators Warner Bros. could bring together. Paul Dini cut his teeth on this show, and thank you Mr. Dini. I’m still a huge fan. Which brings me to my final point. The legitimacy of how amazing this show is, is supported by one thing: Harley Quinn. Some of you may be reading this and thinking, what Harley Quinn is the reason this show is legit? YES! Harley is one of a few characters to be added into DC continuity and the Batman comics line from the show. We have Paul Dini to thank for this, his creation brought us a lovable and tortured soul in the form of Harleen Quinzel. So, how can this show not be one of the best interpretations of the Batman to date? It actually added characters to the existing Batman universe. Pretty damn cool.
Posted by Chris Gering