Batman: The Animated Series (often shortened Batman: TAS or BTAS) is a four-time Emmy Award-winning American animated series adaptation of the comic book series featuring the DC Comics superhero, Batman.
The visual style of the series is based on the artwork of producer Bruce Timm. The original episodes, produced by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, were first aired on the Fox Network from 1992 to 1995. When the first season of the series aired on weekday afternoons, it lacked an on-screen title in the opening credits and was known only as Batman (and would be referred to as such in episode recaps that summarized what had happened "previously on Batman...") When its timeslot was moved to weekends for the second series, it was named The Adventures of Batman & Robin, a title originally used in the 1969-1970 animated series created by Filmation, to emphasize the crime fighting partnership of the characters and allow younger audiences to become more familiar with Robin, who would shortly afterwards feature in the 1995 film Batman Forever.
The series was the first of what fans refer to as the DC Animated Universe (DCAU), a shared continuity of Batman shows throughout the 1990s culminating in a Justice League cartoon in the early 2000s.
The original series was partially inspired by Tim Burton's 1989 blockbuster Batman film and the acclaimed Superman cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios in the 1940s. Timm and Radomski designed the series by closely emulating the Tim Burton films' "otherworldly timelessness," incorporating period features such as black-and-white title cards, police blimps, 40s influenced fashion, 40s influenced car styling and a "vintage" color scheme in a largely film noir-influenced style. The series initially took as its theme a variation of music written by Danny Elfman for Burton's Batman film; later episodes of the series used a new theme with a similar style by Shirley Walker. The score of the series was influenced by Elfman and Walker's work on Batman and Batman Returns and the music of 40s film noir. The art style of the original animated series was also partially a reaction against the realism seen in shows like X-Men; the second series in some ways was a further extension of that rejection of realism.
Like X-Men, the program was much more adult oriented than previous typical superhero cartoon series. In their constant quest to make the show darker, the producers pushed the boundaries of action cartoons: it was the first such cartoon in years to depict firearms being fired instead of laser guns (only one person has ever been actually depicted as shot; Commissioner Gordon in episode 49 was seen to have a gunshot wound after the firefight was finished), Batman actually punching and kicking the antagonists, as well as the existence of blood (such as Batman having a trail of blood from his mouth); in addition, many of the series' backgrounds were painted on black paper. The distinctive visual combination of film noir imagery and Art Deco designs with a very dark color scheme was called "Dark Deco" by the producers. First-time producers Timm and Radomski reportedly encountered resistance from studio executives, but the success of Burton's first film allowed the embryonic series to survive long enough to produce a pilot episode, "On Leather Wings", which according to Timm "got a lot of people off our backs."
The Emmy Award-winning series quickly received wide acclaim for its distinctive animation and mature writing, and it instantly became a hit. Fans of a wide age range praised the show's sophisticated, cinematic tone, character depth and psychological stories. Voice-actor Kevin Conroy used two distinct voices to portray Bruce Wayne and Batman, as Michael Keaton had done in the films. This series also featured a supporting cast that included major actors performing the voices of the various classic villains, most notably Mark Hamill, who defined a whole new career for himself in animation with his portrayal of Joker. The voice recording sessions were recorded with the actors together in a studio, like a radio play, unlike most animated films, in which the principal voice actors record separately and never meet (various interviews have noted that such an arrangement (having the cast record together) was a benefit to the show as a whole, as the actors were able to 'react' to one another, rather than simply 'reading the words').
Key to the series' artistic success is that it managed to redefine classic characters, paying homage to their previous portrayals while giving them new dramatic force. The characterization of villains such as Two-Face and the Mad Hatter and heroes like Robin (who had not appeared in the Burton film series) demonstrate this. The Penguin is based upon his appearance in Batman Returns, which was being released at the same time as the series. The series also gave new life to nearly forgotten characters like the Clock King. An often noted example of dramatic change is Mr. Freeze; Batman: TAS turned him from a clichéd mad scientist with a gimmick for cold, to a tragic figure whose frigid exterior hides a doomed love and a cold vindictive fury. Part of the tragedy is mimicked later in the plot of Joel Schumacher's live action movie Batman & Robin, although much of the drama was lost with the resurrection of the pun-quipping mad scientist image. Another example of dramatic change is Clayface, a character who to fans is believed to be far more intriguing to an audience due to his tragic past and almost 'sane' way of dealing with situations, and later influenced DC to recreate their version of the character to fit the animated universes. The most famous of the series' innovations is the Joker's hapless assistant, Harley Quinn, who became so popular that DC Comics later added her to the mainstream Batman comic continuity.
This series became a cornerstone of the Warner Bros.' animation department, which became one of the top producers of television animation. For years, Warner Bros. Animation had been known only for doing Looney Tunes and their offshoots such as Tiny Toon Adventures. This was Warner's first attempt at doing a serious animated cartoon and it ended up working better than they thought. It also sparked a large franchise of similar TV adaptations of DC Comics characters. Despite the marketing decision by Warner Bros. of making the series a Saturday morning cartoon, Producer Bruce Timm and the crew were not interested in making a show aimed squarely at small children.
A completely new version of the series was launched to match the more efficient animation style of Superman: The Animated Series. It also opened up possibilities for crossovers. All characters, vehicles and props were redesigned, with the exception of Two-Face. The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond and Justice League and Justice League Unlimited all form a continuity that fans refer to as the "DC Animated Universe."
New villains like Red Claw, the ninja Kyodai Ken, and the Sewer King were invented for the series, but to little acclaim. From the episode "Tyger, Tyger" another character named Tygrus was created, whose story was probably inspired by the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau and William Blake's poem The Tyger. Far more successful was the introduction of Harley Quinn, the Joker's sidekick who quickly became one of the most popular Batman characters and to this day still appears in various comics, TV series, games and movies, and Officer / Detective Renee Montoya (she would later become the super-hero the Question, in the comics) and the sociopathic vigilante Lock-Up, all of whom became characters in the comics. A new character called Baby Doll was also well received. In addition, Mr. Freeze was revised to emulate the series' tragic story. Clayface was reinvented, revised to be much more similar to the 1960s shape-changing version of the character. Poison Ivy's regular appearances on the show helped lead to more frequent appearances in the comics. In two episodes, Batman faces a ninja named Kyodai Ken ("Giant Fist" in Japanese) whose abilities seem to match his own. The Phantasm and general storyline for the movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm were modified from the Mike Barr-penned story Batman: Year Two, which ran in Detective Comics #575-578 in the late 1980s; the villain in the comics was named The Reaper. Some characters like Count Vertigo and the Clock King were modified in costume and personality.
One of the most noteworthy changes made is the treatment of Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne.
In nearly all other media, including the comics, television shows, and films, Bruce deliberately plays up his image as a vacuous, self-absorbed, and not-too-bright billionaire playboy, in order to throw off suspicion that he is Batman. In the series, his character is treated more seriously, shown as assertive, intelligent, and actively involved in the management of Wayne Enterprises, without jeopardizing his secret identity. In the episode "Eternal Youth", for example, he is shown angrily ordering one of his directors to cancel a secret deal with a timber company in the Amazon rainforest ("Shut it down, or you're gone!"). However, aside from displaying these positive aspects, he also deliberately portrays himself as being clumsy (as shown on the flashback of "Robin's Reckoning, Part 1"; when the announcer at the circus mentions him, Bruce is eating popcorn in his seat, and drops it accidentally as the lights focus on him). In the episode "Night of the Ninja", he revealed to reporter Summer Gleeson that he has some martial art training, as the reporter previously researched that Bruce once stayed in Japan. However, he only demonstrated himself to be a decent fighter, and nothing like Batman. Further, he did not fight at his best until Gleeson was unable to see.
Batman's tools such as the utility belt, grappling-hook gun and Batmobile were redesigned for the series; they had been rarely tweaked or redesigned over the course of Batman's comic book appearances. The blue cowl and cape were changed to be much darker, with the blue being more of a lighting effect with only the inside of the cape being light blue. The ears of the cowl were curved backward, previously they been straight triangles or subtly curved forward. The belt remained extremely slim without pouches, but the protruding capsules were now replaced with inward indentations of a similar shape. The buckle was simplified to look less like a low-tech "pirate buckle." The grapple gun, notably, was introduced with a motorized reel in the 1989 Batman movie, became an important aspect of the character's traversal of rooftops. Shayne Poindexter's Batmobile and Batplane are extremely similar to the form and function of the versions designed by Julian Caldow in the 1989 movie.
Certain episodes have become legendary in some fan circles. The most universally hailed episode is the Emmy-award winning "Heart of Ice", which is known for reinventing the character of Mr. Freeze, changing him from a comedic cold-themed villain to a serious, tragic character with a sympathetic backstory. "Robin's Reckoning" won an Emmy for Oustanding Animated Program (for Programming Less Than One Hour) , and is seen as one of the most mature and iconic Robin origin stories.
Other episodes to achieve high recognition are:
- "Joker's Favor", which marks the first appearance of fan favorite Harley Quinn;
- "Christmas with the Joker", which marks the first animated appearance of the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill)
- "Birds of a Feather", which gives a whole new outlook on Penguin and his human side ;
- "Two-Face", for its dark, serious, and respectful reinvention of a character that had been somewhat regarded by producers as too gruesome for television;
- "Mad as a Hatter", in which The Mad Hatter is portrayed as a more human and emotionally fragile member of Batman's rogues gallery, instead of simply a gimmicked madman;
- "The Laughing Fish", which adapts one of the Joker's best stories from the comics;
- "Read My Lips", a very dark and psychological introduction of the seemingly goofy duo Ventriloquist/Scarface;
- "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?", the show's cleverly-written debut for The Riddler;
- "House & Garden", showing a sad human side to Poison Ivy;
- "Shadow of the Bat", which introduced Barbara Gordon as Batgirl;
- "Harley and Ivy", the debut of the fan-favorite female villain duo;
- "Almost Got 'Im" First episode to feature 6 villains in one episode (7 If You Count Catwoman).
- "Trial" The episode with the largest gathering of villains (8) sending Batman on trial.
- "Beware the Gray Ghost", well known for its casting of Adam West as a has-been actor (this is noteworthy, as Adam West played Batman in the original 1960s live-action TV show), who became typecast as a superhero part he played in his youth.
- "Feat of Clay" establishes a break away from the common criminal version of Clayface, as seen in comics, to a more formidable foe with powers far outmatching the Batman's own strength.
The fan favorite episodes "The Man Who Killed Batman", "Almost Got 'Im", "Perchance to Dream", "Baby Doll" and "P.O.V." are also well known for their unique storytelling approach and interesting plot twists at the end.
Sixteen minutes of animated segments in the video game, The Adventures of Batman & Robin: The Video Game, for the Sega CD are sometimes referred to as a "lost episode" of the series. These segments are intended to be interspersed between gameplay elements of an early-1990s video game and as such, the sound, color and story are not of the same quality of the actual television program. And because Sega did not have to follow the censorship rules of the show, the fights are a bit more violent and brutal than on the show. Similar cutscenes appear throughout the video games Batman: Vengeance and Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu.
Theatrical and direct-to-video releases
The feature-length animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), based on the animated series, started production as a direct-to-video release, but was changed to be a theatrical release near the end of production. The film was well received by fans of the series, but only generated mediocre box office revenue. Some attributed this to limited last-minute marketing, but the series had good video sales (and later DVD sales) and eventually turned a profit. There was later a direct-to-video movie based on the series: Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero which was completed in 1997 as a tie-in to Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin but due to the poor reception of that movie was held back until 1998. This was followed by a second direct-to-video entry, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman in 2003. Movies based on related series include Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) based on Batman Beyond. A made-for-TV feature-length episode of the Batman/Superman series, "World's Finest", has been released on video as The Batman/Superman Movie. Collections of episodes from the series are also readily available on video. Recently, four volumes of four-disc DVD collections have been released in America and the UK, the latest collection contains the first series of The New Batman Adventures, and is available in America. The UK currently has the collection of the first and second seasons of Batman: The Animated Series on DVD, which are exclusive to HMV.
|Kevin Conroy||Bruce Wayne / Batman|
|Loren Lester||Dick Grayson / Robin|
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
|Alfred Pennyworth ("On Leather Wings", "Christmas with the Joker"|
and "Nothing to Fear")
(Zimbalist rest of the series)
|Bob Hastings||James Gordon|
|Melissa Gilbert||Barbara Gordon / Batgirl|
|Robert Costanzo||Detective Harvey Bullock|
|Officer Renee Montoya (Oliu 1992-1994) (Schirmer 1994-1995)|
|Lloyd Bochner||Mayor Hamilton Hill|
- Mari Devon - Summer Gleeson
- Marilu Henner - Veronica Vreeland
- Diana Muldaur - Dr. Leslie Tompkins
- Brock Peters - Lucius Fox
- William Sanderson - Carl Rossum
- Pat Fraley - Bat-Mite
- Julie Brown - Zatanna Zatara
- Ed Asner - Roland Daggett
- Hart Bochner - Arthur Reeves
- George Dzundza - Dr. Gregory Belson
- Alison LaPlaca - Mary Dahl / Baby Doll
- Dick Miller - Chuckie Sol
- Kate Mulgrew - Red Claw
- George Murdock - Boss Biggis
- Alan Rachins - Temple Fugate / The Clock King
- Mark Rolston - Firefly
- John P. Ryan - Buzz Bronski
- Helen Slater - Talia
- Steve Susskind - Maximillian "Maxie" Zeus
- John Vernon - Rupert Thorne
- Abe Vigoda - Salvatore "Sal" Valestra
- Bruce Weitz - Lyle Bolton / Lock-Up
- Billy West - Mo, Lar, and Cur
- Treat Williams - Professor Milo
- Michael York - Count Vertigo
- Robert Costanzo- Tweedledee
- Robert Costanzo- Tweedledum
- Batman: The Animated Series at BTAS Wiki
- Batman: The Animated Series Official Website
- Batman: The Animated Series/The New Batman Adventures @ The World's Finest
- The Animated Batman