It's hard to believe that it has been two and a half decades since the iconic Batman: The Animated Series debuted on our TV screens. First airing on September 5, 1992, the show would go on to amass a legacy that many others couldn't even dream of.
Renowned for its exceptionally mature narratives, thought-provoking episodes and for reinvigorating some of the Dark Knight's most beloved foes, the series transcended animation to give us some of the most enticing Batman adventures ever brought to screen.
Now, as #BatmanTheAnimatedSeries turns 25, let's take a look back at the major impact it made on the world, and why it is still the greatest Batman story ever told.
Its Mature Form Of Storytelling
Over the years, some of the best animated shows have found it impossible to overcome the stereotype that animation is for kids. For many of us, that's just how we choose to view the genre, especially when it comes to #superheroes. Thus, with an abundance of animated Batman kids shows coming before it, you could be forgiven if you thought Batman: The Animated Series was going to follow in their footsteps. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. Batman didn't just overcome that stereotype, it shattered it.
Heavily influenced by Tim Burton's acclaimed 1989 film, the creative team of Batman: The Animated Series gave us a Gothic retelling of the Dark Knight's tale. For the first time in animation, the character wasn't a colorful superhero who triumphantly saved the day at every turn. Instead, we saw a flawed human being, struggling to overcome his internal demons in order to rid the city he loves of darkness and despair. In fact, you might even say that those demons were as big a villain as any other criminal in Gotham.
This mature writing didn't just extend to Bruce Wayne/Batman. It paved the way for strong narratives surrounding all of the show's characters and explored a lot of gritty themes while doing so. Whether it was Two-Face's new origin story, or the birth of Robin, the characters involved in these storylines were confronted with emotional obstacles that made all of them well-developed three-dimensional characters.
The strong characters and compelling storylines led to the show receiving universal acclaim, and proved that animation is capable of telling an engaging story just as well, if not better, than live-action films. Moreover, the mature writing also won the show an Emmy Award. Speaking of which...
Its Stories Were So Good, The Comics Borrowed Them
As Batman: The Animated Series is technically an adaptation of the comic book character, it's no surprise that it featured almost all of the Dark Knight's legendary villains from the comics. But that didn't stop the creators from adding some original elements, unique to the show, in order to make their mark on the DC universe.
It's impossible to talk about The Animated Series without discussing "Heart Of Ice." The Emmy-winning episode is synonymous for rewriting Mr. Freeze's origin story, setting this show apart from any other Batman adaptation that came before. While the character had been around since 1959, few people really believed in him. After all, it's hard to take a walking snowman with a freeze-gun seriously.
However, through "Heart Of Ice," Paul Dini and Bruce Timm turned Freeze from a cartoonish rogue into a tragic Shakespearean character, racked with guilt and motivated by vengeance. By transforming the once colorful villain into Victor Fries — a scientist who places his terminally ill wife, Nora, into a cryogenic stasis until he can find a cure — the show turned Mr. Freeze into the most interesting Batman villain of them all. And there's no doubt about it: We were all emotionally invested in this iteration of the character.
In many ways, the episode was the first time that the show pushed the boundaries of animation, delivering a mature, well-written, heart-wrenching story. And in an epic twist of fate, the Animated Series' version of Mr. Freeze's story was so popular that it was later incorporated into almost every subsequent Mr. Freeze story, popping up in comic books, animated films, video games, and the 1997 live-action film #BatmanandRobin.
But Mr. Freeze's backstory wasn't the only original aspect that Batman: The Animated Series brought to the table...
It Gave Us Harley Quinn
It's impossible to talk about the best aspects of Batman: The Animated Series without speaking about its other greatest accomplishment: The inception of Harley Quinn. Originally conceived as a walk-on role, Dini came up with the idea of giving the Joker a female sidekick. Basing her appearance upon a dream sequence from Days Of Our Lives, in which actress Arleen Sorkin wore a jester costume, Dini introduced the world to Harley Quinn in the 23rd episode, "Joker's Favor," and even got Sorkin to voice the role.
Known for her boisterous personality, loud voice and undying affection for "Mr. J," Quinn ended up becoming far more important to both the series, and Batman lore, than she was initially meant to. She would appear in countless episodes of the series (two of which she played the leading role) before returning in the 1997 sequel series The New Batman Adventures. She would also appear in the sequel film Batman: Return of the Joker, as well as spinoff shows Justice League and Static Shock. But her crazy antics didn't stop with the DC Animated Universe.
Much like Mr. Freeze's origin story, Harley Quinn's popularity led to her inclusion in the main comic book canon. Since then, she has become a pop-culture icon, appearing in countless iconic stories, animated movies and video games. Her popularity reached even greater heights when the character made her long-awaited live-action debut in 2016's #SuicideSquad, in which she was portrayed by Margot Robbie.
A mainstay of the Batman mythos, it's hard to imagine a world without Harley Quinn, but that's exactly what we would have had if it wasn't for the genius creative team behind Batman: The Animated Series.
The Voice Cast
A TV show is only as good as its lead actor, and when it comes to Batman: The Animated Series, Kevin Conroy was every bit as exceptional as the show itself. The legendary voice actor's portrayal of the Dark Knight has gone down in history as one of, if not, the most iconic Batman of all time. Known for being the first actor to use different tones when voicing Bruce Wayne and Batman, Conroy's Wayne was headstrong, troubled and seductive while his Batman was commanding, powerful and downright terrifying.
Moreover, every great hero needs a great villain, and Mark Hamill's show-stealing performance as the Joker played that role perfectly. But Hamill didn't just portray the Joker, he became the Joker. That chilling laugh has become so synonymous with the character that it's impossible to imagine the character sounding like anything else.
Both Conroy and Hamill's performances received universal acclaim, and the two would end up reprising their roles in every DCAU project that followed, as well as video games, standalone series' and multiple animated movies. I guess this Batman and this Joker really are destined to do this forever.
Aside from those two, the series also had an incredibly talented supporting cast. Efrem Zimbalist Jr's endearing portrayal of Alfred was always a pleasure to watch, while Loren Lester's charismatic outing was perfect for Dick Grayson/Robin/Nightwing, and Bob Hastings and Robert Costanzo made the perfect double act as Commissioner Gordon and Detective Harvey Bullock. Melissa Gilbert brought the heart as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, while Michael Ansara voiced Mr. Freeze with all the emotion we could have hoped for. And Paul Williams' Penguin was just about the classiest villain in the show.
When you think of all the phenomenally talented performers who brought Batman: The Animated Series to life, that list barely scratches the surface. Over the years, a plethora of voice talent made their mark on the show, and gave us memorable iterations of some of Batman's most beloved characters.
It Spawned The DCAU
When it comes to Hollywood, it's undeniable that we are living in the world of shared and extended universes. In fact, Warner Bros. have recently joined the party with the DC Extended Universe. And while it hasn't quite yet reached the level of success many fans had hoped for, it's in safe hands, because this isn't the first time Warner Bros. have spawned a shared universe.
Long before the MCU, Arrowverse or MonsterVerse dominated our screens, Warner Bros. had the DC Animated Universe. But the DCAU would not have been possible without Batman: The Animated Series. The popularity of the acclaimed series led to the show spawning an entire universe of spinoffs and sequels.
After Batman's initial animated run came to an end in 1995, the universe continued with spinoff Superman: The Animated Series before the Dark Knight returned in 1997 to headline sequel series #TheNewBatmanAdventures. After that, we got to take a trip into the future in spinoff sequel Batman Beyond, before returning to the present day in #JusticeLeague and sequel series Justice League Unlimited.
The DCAU also spawned a number of acclaimed animated movies, including Batman: The Animated Series films Mask Of The Phantasm and SubZero. Furthermore, after being absent for a decade, the shared universe made a recent comeback, shining a spotlight on its most iconic original character, in animated film #BatmanandHarleyQuinn.
If Warner Bros. ever find themselves having doubts about the #DCEU, they should undoubtedly draw inspiration from their first shared universe: the DC Animated Universe. The DCAU has been a significant part of our #TV screens for over two decades, and its very existence is proof that a shared universe can work very well if executed properly.
It's impossible to sum up the true extent of the impact made by Batman: The Animated Series in just one article, but it's clear that the show is on an entirely different level to anything else Batman-related. It may have first hit our screens 25 years ago, but its adoration and appeal have never wavered. And it has left behind a legacy that has influenced future versions of the Caped Crusader in every way possible.
It may have been based on a comic book character, but the show ended up originating elements that were so good, they were later incorporated into the comics. And in doing so, it redefined our perception of animation, producing some of the strongest Batman narratives of all time.
With the character of Batman continuing to rise to new heights in film, TV and comics, we often find ourselves comparing the newest outings to the legendary Batman: The Animated Series. And the reason for that is because it is undoubtedly the yardstick of Batman mythology.
Happy 25th Anniversary, Batman!
Are you a fan of Batman: The Animated Series? Let us know in the comments below!