Running between 1993 and 1995 Batman: The Animated Series is not only the definitive Batman TV cartoon but also one of the best adaptations of the classic comic hero ever made.
With 109 episodes over 4 seasons the critically acclaimed, Emmy-winning series brought tales of the Dark Knight old and new to life in its own artistically brilliant style developed by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Mitch Brian, and produced by Warner Bros. Animation.
Taking major cues from Tim Burton’s two Batman movies as well as the Superman theatrical cartoons from the early 1940s Gotham is a film noir enthused world from its air ships to its dark alleyways exist in an otherworldly timelessness that perfectly fits Batman and his rouges gallery.
From the iconic titles and epic theme, which is a variation of Danny Elfman‘s original score, each 20 minute episode is packed with adventure and action as well as all the iconic Batman gadgets, vehicles, sidekicks and villains that have made the character such a success since its inception.
Every voice from Kevin Conroy’s deep baritone Batman to Mark Hamill’s hugely influential turn as The Joker is spot on and the number of perfectly cast guest stars is immensely impressive including the likes of Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman, Ron Perlman as Clayface and Roddy McDowall as Penguin among so many others.
Although billed as a kids show many episodes contained dark and adult themes that would have flown over the heads of its child audience. Released in High Definition on Blu-ray offering over 35 hours of the capped crusaders adventures there are several stand out episodes across the brilliant boxset of Batman: The Animated Series some of which I have picked out to detail below to hopefully give the uninitiated an overview of the show.
The opening episode of the series On Leather Wings avoids an overdone origin story diving straight into something more akin to a classic monster movie as the police hunt a giant bat they have mistaken for being the heroic crime fighter. Setting up the world and key players it is a great start to a superb series.
Heart of Ice took a B-list baddie and transformed him into a sympathetic psychopath as we learn that the villainous Mister Freeze is in fact the victim of an evil corporation who killed his lady love. A tragic tale of revenge you can see why it won the 1993 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program.
Beware the Grey Ghost opens with a young Bruce Wayne watching old B&W TV show featuring the heroic exploits of the Grey Ghost. An obvious inspiration to his future heroic exploits Batman discovers an episode of his favourite show is being brought to life and must seek out his childhood hero to help. Voiced by Adam West the original TV Batman from the 60’s hit show it is a sensational story offering insight into the complex character and wonderful way to pass the touch between the two iconic incarnations.
As mentioned Mark Hamill’s voicing of Joker makes his version of the character one of the most interesting and insane and both are clearly on show in Jokers Favour where a normal family man crossed the clown prince of crime and ends up owing him. Displaying Batman’s psychotic nemesis perfectly the unhinged end where the tables are turned is particularly disturbing for a kiddies cartoon.
Perhaps my favourite episode from the series and one that has always stayed with me Perchance to Dream serves as a superhero It’s a Wonderful Life as Bruce awakens to find out that he is no longer Batman and that his parents are still alive. Living his best life all is well until Bruce starts to suspect something is not right leading him to a confrontation with his alter ego and an epic ending.
Although full of influences one thing Batman: The Animated Series can claim credit to is the creation of Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel aka Harley Quinn a character that has become increasingly popular especially after Margot Robbie’s took the role of the Joker obsessed villainess in Suicide Squad. It is obvious to see that Robbie’s portrayal is heavily inspired by the animation and Arleen Sorkin’s fantastic voice work both of which crafted this beloved and barmy sidekick. Although first appearing in the aforementioned Jokers Favour in Harley’s Holiday we get a real look at the archaic character in a comedic episode as sweet as it is unhinged.
The last episode to mention is Over the Edge perhaps one of the darkest and most nihilistic stories in the series which starts with Batman and a young Robin being hunted by the Gotham police led by their friend Commissioner Gordon. It transpires that Gordon’s daughter also known as Batgirl has been murdered at the hands of the Scarecrow leading the chief of police to blame Batman and seek justice by whatever means necessary. On the run and without a plan Batman is forced to face the damage he has done to all who join his crusade. Displaying a plotline rarely visited in the comics seeing the hero without a plan or faith in himself is a stark reminder of his humanity.
Packed with action, adventure, drama and horror Batman: The Animated Series shows the power of animation to bring not only one of the greatest super heroes to life but our darkest fears and greatest hopes. Available now in a Deluxe Limited Edition Blu-ray set alongside the two feature films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero, this is a series that every Bat-fan should own bar none.