Now that Batman and Harley Quinn has finally been released, we can step back into the world of the iconic DC Animated Universe — a universe that began back in 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series and went on to spawn the likes of Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond and Justice League.
But when the final episode of Justice League Unlimited aired in 2006, it seemed like we had officially seen the last of the DCAU. However, thanks to Batman and Harley Quinn that was not the case, as the film ended up bringing both Batman: The Animated Series and its sequel show, The New Batman Adventures, together.
But this isn't the first time that we've seen the iconic series' Batman appear in a film. Over the span of the initial show's run, Batman headlined three animated movies before one more was released after the sequel series' conclusion. Thus, with that in mind, let's take a look back and see where #BatmanandHarleyQuinn ranks among the previous DCAU Batman classics.
5. Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman
Released in 2003, four years after #TheNewBatmanAdventures ended, Mystery Of The Batwoman saw the rise of a new vigilante in Gotham City: the Batwoman. With animation virtually identical to that series, we were instantly thrown right back into the world of The New Adventures. The original story proved that the creative team still had it despite the four year break, and the voice cast was as superb as ever. The mystery surrounding the Batwoman and the eventual reveal really paid off.
Furthermore, it was also nice to see the spotlight on the Penguin for a change, as he didn't appear as often in the 1997 revamp series. On that note, it was also sweet to see Rupert Thorne who was a staple of the original animated show but never appeared in the sequel series.
However, despite the unique original story, there were some drawbacks. While it may seem like a small insignificant detail, Batgirl's romantic relationship with Batman seemed out of place as the two never showed romantic interest in each other in either preceding series. Because of the character's amazing chemistry with Dick Grayson in those, this small but significant twist hurt the film, and was certainly a part I'd rather forget.
Having said all that, Mystery Of The Batwoman is a worthy entry in the list of DCAU films and holds up as a highly entertaining Batman film with a good selection of villains.
4. Batman & Harley Quinn
After a long 14 year period, we were finally reintroduced to the worlds of #BatmanTheAnimatedSeries and The New Batman Adventures with the release of Batman & Harley Quinn. But instead of having a complex, mature narrative like some of the other movies on this list, the film felt more like a fun extended episode that paid tribute to everything that came before. And because Harley Quinn was the film's protagonist, it totally worked.
However, while the film absolutely thrived on its use of Harley Quinn (she was one of the best parts), some of the humor often fell flat, with the film abandoning the serious tone that made both original shows such a success, in favor of a more crassly humorous one. But despite the completely off-the-wall portrayals of the characters and an unnervingly rude tone, Batman & Harley Quinn still managed to revisit some of the strongest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
With a solid storyline, killer one-liners and two epic musical performances dripping with Easter Eggs, Batman and Harley Quinn was a welcome, albeit different, return to the best iteration of Batman we've ever seen.
3. Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker
While Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker is technically a companion movie to #BatmanBeyond, this series was a spinoff sequel — set decades after the two previous shows. The film sees the future's new Batman, Terry McGinnis go up against his mentor's greatest foe as the Joker is mysteriously resurrected in New Gotham.
With the same voice cast as the beloved series, the film features Will Friedle reprising his role as Terry/Batman, while Animated Series icons Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammill reprise their roles as Bruce Wayne and the Joker. And despite having a completely different vibe to either original animated series, Return Of The Joker became an instant classic.
The strong storyline pays tribute to the two original animated Batman shows, and is arguably the strongest outing Batman Beyond has ever given. Furthermore, the 10 minute sequence which features the first death of the Joker takes us back to the world of The New Batman Adventures and kind of serves as a thrilling but grim season finale to that series.
2. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm
Back when Batman: The Animated Series was barely a year old, the creative team released Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm to theaters. Although it didn't do well at the box-office due to its short-notice release (it was originally planned for direct-to-video), it ended up crafting a legacy that few animated films could ever dream of.
Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammill once again led things as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Joker as the mysterious Phantasm made its presence felt in Gotham City. With strong performances, an incredibly well-written story and an even more Gothic version of Shirley Walker's series score, Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm is one of the Caped Crusader's most personal journeys and is renowned for giving us a chance to see how this Bruce Wayne ended up becoming the Dark Knight.
The first ever cinematic continuation of Batman: The Animated Series, Mask Of The Phantasm is widely considered one of the greatest Batman films of all time. And I can easily see why: almost 25 years later and few can even come close to matching this masterpiece.
1. Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
Batman: The Animated Series took an overlooked criminal in Mr. Freeze and turned him in a tragic, Shakespearean villain. Their rewriting of the character's origins (to include his wife Nora's illness) in the 1992 episode "Heart Of Ice" won the series an Emmy Award. Thus, it's only fitting that the character got a chance to shine in one of their feature-length films. And that's exactly what he did in Batman & Mr Freeze: SubZero.
The narrative once again goes above and beyond what was expected from animation at the time. We revisit Mr. Freeze's desire to save his wife as when he is unable to find a deceased match for her, he desperately seeks a live organ donor. With powerful performances from the Animated Series veterans Michael Ansara, Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester, the drama seemed like it was of an even higher standard than before. Moreover, the late, great Mary Kay Bergman did an exceptional job as Barbara Gordan/Batgirl. As for music, Michael McCuistion's score may be different to the one featured in the series, but it was just as epic, and always added to the drama, bellowing over the intense action.
Ironically, after 1997's critically reviled #BatmanandRobin borrowed the Animated Series' origins for the character and turned him into an ice-pun spewing comedian, Warner Bros. were wary about releasing another Mr. Freeze film, even if it was the acclaimed Animated Series version. But thank God they did — because Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is without a doubt the greatest film that the team behind the iconic series have ever produced. And it highlights that animation can indeed be far superior to live-action.
Batman and Harley Quinn has officially become the fifth film in a legendary line-up of the DCAU's standalone Batman movies. While it may not be as strong as some of the complex, emotional and downright thrilling outings from previous decades, it was still a welcome return to that universe.
It's hard to believe that the originator of the DCAU, Batman: The Animated Series, is almost 25 years old. And while its success has been well-documented over the years, we shouldn't forget about their award-worthy films either. So whether Batman and Harley Quinn is your new fun favorite, or Mask Of The Phantasm still gives you the most chills, sit back and re-watch the Dark Knight's Animated Series movies in awe.
Which Batman: The Animated Series film was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!