Show: Batman: The Animated Series
Network/years aired: Fox, 1992-1995
Now here’s a show I’d been wanting to review for a while, but never quite found the time until now. I’m especially pleased because it’s been a while since I did a Western animated show on here, and this one’s a classic- a huge trendsetter in the 90’s and a superb piece of work back then and now: Batman: The Animated Series.
Starting with a bit of history, this show was actually the first in a series of Batman animations that had continuity with each other, including later series like Batman Beyond, but also was the launching point for a DC canon in the medium. Prior to this point in time (1992), superhero shows were self-contained premises for the most part, and there was a lack of depth in storytelling and development that this show managed to bring to the forefront, by executing those very details at a high level.
Also of note was the neat juxtaposition of noir elements, which evoked the origins of the Batman franchise from the 1940’s, synthesized into a far more focused set of tales that brought the Bat into the 1990’s and beyond. This show set the groundwork for both its own iconic franchise and DC’s other properties as a whole moving forward, but beyond its historical significance, was it a great watch over 20 years from its conclusion?
Based on my experience, it holds up. The voice acting in this show still shines through, as does the characteristic art style. The characterization is on point, and overall, it has that classic Batman feel without being ham-handed, possessing a great understanding of the medium. The show proved to be excellent even in comparison to today’s modern animation, so you can start to imagine what it was probably like when something this complex released in ’92, after the era of “toons-to-toys” in the 80’s (gotta sell those action figures!) Interestingly, Batman could also sell plenty of toys without sacrificing quality here, which you’d expect from an iconic franchise, but it also proved again that Western animation had a far greater capacity for storytelling and vision than just some generic plot of the day story.
A Fox classic before the era of Seth MacFarlane, Batman: The Animated Series was a compelling look into the caped crusader’s universe, complete with the terrific voice acting of Kevin Conroy as Batman himself…and perhaps more memorably, Mark Hamill’s Joker, which in certain circles is seen as a definitive version of the character, an astounding achievement in a world where live-action interpretations of everything seem to dominate the common perceptions of series. Also of note was that the series spawned Harley Quinn, who would go on to become a huge part of the Bat-verse and a very popular character in her own right. She still bears the distinction of being the only main series rogue that was conceived in an animated show!
Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation. Unique to this show, the animators masked everything with a black background to help convey the darker tone of the show. It’s smooth, hand drawn animation with silver age influence and a unique style that the show could call its own. In turn, it enhanced the storytelling objectives the writers sought to do in any given episode. 5/5 points.
Characterization: The show featured a darker take (at the time) on Batman and his sizable rogue gallery; in the process a number of origin stories were detailed; Robin, who was Dick Grayson in this series, also was fleshed out further, and the show also introduced new characters; of these, the afromentioned Harley Quinn rose to prominence beyond just the show. It would also be amiss not to mention again Mark Hamill’s and Kevin Conway’s voice work as the Joker and Batman respectively- it marked the beginning of their association in voice acting for the series. While I would normally detail the main cast further in this section, Batman is such a well-known, iconic property that he hardly needs too much of an introduction, but just in case you really have been out of the loop on one of the world’s most famous superheroes, he’s a billionaire (Bruce Wayne) who after witnessing the tragic deaths of his parents as a child, vowed to change society not just from his vast walth, but in action as well as the Batman. There’s variations on this basic origin, but it’s the framework of the character, which rings true beyond just this one show. 5/5 points.
Story quality: Episodic, with continuity and a canon. Batman had certain “villain of the day” plots, but there were references to past episodes and time continued to move forward in the universe. The format was solid, and the tales were usually very good and a lot of fun to watch. The elements of animation, characters and plot melded together in a cohesive manner and the dialogue was pretty well-written most of the time. 4.5/5 points.
Themes: Batman, by its nature, is darker in tone, but it explored a lot of questions about the human psyche, tragedy and relationships. For a show initially aimed at kids, it was significantly darker than one might expect, and the implications of many actions is quite serious, but befitting of the mood. 4.25/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: The show was smartly written, with a excellent characterization of the Batman universe and intense, yet relatively clean action. Special mention to a nice soundtrack and a unique visual style. 5/5 points.
Total Score: 23.75/25 (95%). Truly the spark of DC animation in the 1990’s and beyond, Batman: The Animated Series put the “dark” back in the “Dark Knight.” With superbly unique animation, cohesive storytelling and compelling characters, it continues to serve both as a reminder of what animation can do and as a classic of superhero TV series.
Like what you see? Big fan of the Batman franchise? Leave a comment!