Batman: The Animated Series (often shortened Batman: TAS or BTAS) is a four-time Emmy Award-winning American animated television series adaptation of the comic book series featuring the DC Comics superhero, Batman.
The show's visual style is based on the artwork of producer Bruce Timm. The original episodes, produced by Timm and Eric Radomski, first airing in the United States 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 summarised what had happened "previously on Batman..."). When its timeslot was moved to weekend mornings for the second series, it was briefly re-named The Adventures of Batman & Robin, a title originally used in the 1969-1970 Filmation series, 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 the modern DC Animated Universe. It was entirely separate from the previous continuity of animated Warner Bros. DC Comics adaptations such as Superfriends.
It is widely regarded by fans as the most iconic modern representation of the Batman characters and mythology, and also as among the most faithful animated series based on a comic book. This show is well known and regarded, and as arguably the best Batman animated show ever produced.
The original show was mainly inspired by Tim Burton's 1989 film blockbuster Batman and the acclaimed Superman cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios in the 1940s. Timm and Radomski designed the series by closely emulating the Burton films' "otherworldy timelessness" incorporating period features such as black-and-white title cards, police blimps, 40s influenced fashion & 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 films; 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 1940s film noir. The art style of the original animated series was also partially a reaction against the realism seen in cartoons like X-Men.
The program was far more adult oriented than other typical superhero cartoon series'. In their continuing quest to make the show darker and more gothic, the producers pushed the boundaries of action cartoons. It was the first such cartoon in years to depict firearms being fired instead of lasers or other such stand-ins. However, only one character was ever actually depicted as shot; Commissioner Gordon in I Am the Night was seen to have a gunshot wound after the firefight was finished. Batman was shown actually punching and kicking the antagonists, as well as the existence of blood.
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 show quickly received wide acclaim and awards for its distinctive animation and mature writing, and it instantly became a critical and commercial 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, setting an informal precedent which would be continued still by Val Kilmer and others. 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 cheerfully deranged portrayal of The 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 of having the cast record together was a huge benefit to the show as a whole, as the actors were able to virtualy 'react' to one another, rather than simply reading their lines.
Another key to the series was its artistic success that managed to redefine classic characters, paying homage to their previous portrayals while giving them new dramatic force. The characterisation of villains such as Two-Face and the Mad Hatter and heroes like Robin (who had not yet 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 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 and 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.
The series became a cornerstone of the Warner Bros.' animation department, which became one of the top producers of television animation. For years, Warner Bros. had been known only for doing the 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 far better than they ever 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 kid's show and they have often stated that this series and others in the DC Animated Universe, such as The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond and Justice League, are not childrens' programs but merely include children in their audience.
New villains like Red Claw, the ninja Kyodai Ken, and the Sewer King were invented for the series, but to little or no acclaim. In 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/love interest, and Officer Renee Montoya (she would later become the super-hero the Question, in the comics) and the sociopathic vigilante villain Lock-Up, all of whom became characters in DC comics.
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 (meaning "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. 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 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 could be 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.
However, aside from displaying these positive aspects, he also deliberately portrays himself as being clumsy. In a flashback in Robin's Reckoning Part I an audio announcer at the circus mentions his name, Bruce is eating popcorn in his seat, and drops it accidentally when the light focuses 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 and Batmobile were redesigned for the series; they have been previously redesigned numerous times over the course of Batman's comic book series as well as for various movie and TV incarnations of Batman. The grapple-launcher, notably, was introduced in the 1989 Batman movie from Tim Burton, and became an important aspect of the animated character. The Batmobile and Batwing are similar to the ones used in the 1989 movie.
Some episodes in the series are highly praised by critics and fans alike. The most universally hailed episode is the Emmy-award winning Heart of Ice, which is well known for reinventing the character of Mr. Freeze, changing him from a comedic cold weather-themed villain to a more serious, tragic character with a sympathetic backstory. Robin's Reckoning also won an Emmy for Most Outstanding Half Hour or Less Program, beating out The Simpsons and is seen as one of the most mature and iconic Robin origin stories.
Other episodes to achieve high recognition are:
- 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.
- Joker's Favor, which marks the first appearance of the fan favorite character Harley Quinn.
- Two-Face for its dark, serious, and respectful reinvention of a character that had previously been somewhat regarded by producers as too gruesome for television portrayal.
- 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 villain.
- 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 for the superhero part he played in his youth.
- If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?, the show's cleverly-written debut for The Riddler.
- The Laughing Fish, which adapts one of the Joker's best comic book stories.
- Harley and Ivy, the debut of the fan-favorite titular duo.
- Birds of a Feather, which gives a whole new outlook on The Penguin and portrays the human side of his character.
- Read My Lips, a very dark and psychological introduction of the seemingly goofy duo The Ventriloquist and Scarface.
- Shadow of the Bat, which introduced Barbara Gordon as her alter-ego Batgirl.
- House & Garden, showing a sad, more human side to Poison Ivy.
- Trial The episode with the largest gathering of villains, eight in all, sending Batman on trial.
The fan favorite episodes The Man Who Killed Batman, Almost Got 'Im, Perchance to Dream and P.O.V. are also well known for their unique storytelling approach and interesting plot twists at the finale.
Precisely sixteen minutes of animated segments in the video game, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, 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 quite 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. Many of the shows voice actors reprised their roles for the game, and are thus in the lost episode as well.
The 1993 feature-length animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, 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 the aforementioned movie it was held back until 1998 .
- Mari Devon - Summer Gleeson
- Marilu Henner - Veronica Vreeland
- Diana Muldaur - Dr. Leslie Tompkins
- Ingrid Oliu - Officer Renee Montoya (1992-1994)
- Liane Schirmer - Officer Renee Montoya (1994-1995)
- Julie Brown - Zatanna Zatara
- Ed Asner - Roland Daggett
- Henry Silva - Bane
- Kate Mulgrew - Red Claw
- Alan Rachins - Temple Fugate / The Clock King
- Helen Slater - Talia al Ghul
- John Vernon - Rupert Thorne
- Michael York - Count Vertigo
- Steve Susskind - Maxie Zeus
- Treat Williams - Professor Milo
- Batman: The Animated Series Official Website
- Batman: The Animated Series/The New Batman Adventures
- The Animated Batman
- "Batmanimation" The home for all things animated Batman
- Batman: The Animated Series in Filmaffinity
- Homage to the Animated Series through the Riddler character, Flash games and animations