I think the rule is, if you read comics you are more than likely partial to the odd bit of animation, or in most cases, more than likely obsessed with animation. For the longest time animation was the only place comic book fans could turn for decent adaptations. My childhood was filled with quality superhero animated offerings. I was lucky to grow up in the golden age of animation (in my opinion) He-man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have been my first obsession’s, but definitely weren’t my last. Oh yeah, and our generation had the best toys too :) I had the turtle van and it ruled, I’ve since repurchased many, many years later, kept in mint condition to add to my huuuge collection of unopened turtles figures (yes, I am still obsessed all these years later) I also had that kick ass purple snake mountain skeletor castle, well still have but definitely not in mint condition. I recorded every episode of the Spider-Man and X-Men 90’s series, a task spanning years, plus again collected all the toys (unfortunately since sold them all on ebay to make more Marvel Universe figure purchases, yep, I really haven’t changed a lot in the past 25 years) I was a Marvel kid through and through, but when it came to animation the obvious winner for great comic book superhero adaptations was the unstoppable DC. What seemed like just another superhero saturday morning toon adaptation was quickly recognised as the go to show for a serious comic book retelling. Batman the animated series was pretty revolutionary, basically doing the impossible in one quick swoop, breaking both stigmas of not only comic books but animation in general being a solely childish affair. This was the pre-cgi age, which is even more impressive when you see how well the animation holds up even today. Looking like it was just torn from a comic book panel, with an amazing retro, 1930’s art deco art style, with episodes filled, not just with breathtaking action and outlandish villains but also thematically heavy subject matter. Joker was a crazy, psychotic nut bag. No dumbing down for the child audience here, seeing the birth of Harley Quinn, in her first ever appearance, starting the path to household name and classic character status, created not on the comic page but as a character in a cartoon series? and seeing her birth from an infatuated, broken psychiatrist, suffering obvious mental illness, being manipulated by her psychotic, evil maniacal patient, with their relationship becoming something of a bdsm allegory for dom and slave, in a children’s cartoon. Within just the first few episodes we are treated to a much different take on the Two-Face/Harvey Dent origin story, with mental illness yet again the focus, as Bruce tries to help his likable, normal buddy from falling prey to his schitzophrenic, split personality disorder. Delivered with all the seriousness needed to create an even more tragic take on what was usually just a nasty gangster with a skin condition, now a flawed, sympathetic character, and another failure weighing on our heroes shoulders as he has no recourse in bringing his now very obviously insane best friend back to reality. It’s obvious the talent that went into the production of this show, everything was top class, super stylish animation, clever script, amazing voice talent… did I mention the voice talent? Kevin Conroy as the bats was so damn good, he has been the go to guy for all future animated offerings, not to mention numerous videogame appearances, from Batman Vengeance (the totally underrated and forgotten, first great Bat-game! Also begging for a HD remake) to the Arkham series, occasionally (read, glaringly) replaced with other less, talented actors. Some do good, but there is only one Conroy. If they totally nailed the casting of the bat then the following casting choice for Bruce’s arch rival, The Joker was inspired genius. Played with psychotic glee by Luke Skywalker himself, Mr Mark Hamill, he deliver’s every line with absolute lunacy. In the process perfecting the very essence of what makes the character, dangerous, batshit crazy, oftentimes genuinely funny, other times cold blooded and unsympathetic, he was truly amazing. In a lot of people’s mind’s Hamill will go down as the best Joker interpretation, and rightfully so too, if they ever adapt Dark Knight Returns into a feature film, which is honestly doubful considering how many element’s were used in the Nolan film series, not to mention how much the upcoming Batman Vs Superman film seem’s to be borrowing from the classic Miller tale, making it an unlikely option for true adaptation, but.. if they ever did decide to make it live action, I would hope Hamill be given the chance to truly shine as an appropriately aged Joker in all his big screen glory. Oh by the way aged Bruce could easily be played by Keaton or Bale for the record :)
It wasn’t hard to see why the average audience was aged in their 30s, thematically darker than anything else that came before it, the show opened a whole new market and revolutionised animation in the process. Bruce Timm had made something incredibly remarkable and the fans suddenly took notice. 30 year old’s watching cartoon’s may be commonplace now, with the success of shows like Clone Wars or Transformer’s Prime, but at the time, unheard of, well unless you were the 40 year old virgin, Batman made it cool. It portrayed Batman the way he should be, tragic, flawed, it was a serious adaptation. While Tim Burton’s Batman was groundbreaking, and there is no denying that for the time it was edgy, dark and thankfully treated the source material with the utmost respect but.. it was still campy fun. Then along came the animated theatrical release based on the Batman animated series, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the feature length film adaptation of the hugely successful 90s Batman animated series. This release was incredibly adult, mature and dark, themes that made the previous film release of Burton’s Batman look like Donner’s Superman in comparison. An animated film, based on an already groundbreaking (and quite dark too) Saturday morning cartoon series was truly pushing the boundaries. It begun an ongoing trend of truly high quality DC animated film and television series releases. Batman opened the doors for a successful adaptation of DC’s flagship hero Superman, riding the success of his previous effort, Bruce Timm went about creating the first superhero shared universe, much like an animate version of what Marvel are currently doing on the silver screen, DC has been doing with animation for the past 25 years, with the two popular show’s crossing over for team up episodes. Superman ran for three popular seasons, Batman ran for two, before being relaunched with a slight different animation style, but continued on from the first two seasons, with Batman finding himself as something of a team leader fighting alongside a new Robin (Tim Drake), Batgirl and Nightwing (Dick Grayson, original Robin) the relaunch lasted another two seasons before ending. Timm continued the series year’s later with Batman Beyond, featuring an aging Bruce (still Conroy) employing the talent’s of young Terry Mcguiness to take over the mantle in a future Gotham city, and becoming something of a staple of the series, a feature length film that was almost too dark for youngsters followed on from the success of the series, Batman Return of the Joker. The show became something of a cult hit and is remembered very fondly among fans with the character now an integral part of the comic universe. Next Timm and collaborator Paul Dini tackled their biggest project yet, the famous super team The Justice League in an all new animated series. Collecting up some of the comics biggest heavyweight’s and placing them all front and center could have ended badly, luckily the usual amazing animation, mature subject matter and exceptional writing style ensured the utmost quality. Plus the show serving as something of a sequel series for both Batman and Superman. Beloved by fans all over the world, the writer’s decided to change things up a bit for the show’s third season, Justice League took on the moniker of Justice League Unlimited, and while all our favorite characters stayed on, fans were also treated to appearances from pretty much every other character that had ever appeared in the DC comic universe, the show became a guessing game for fans and the pinnacle of fan service, plus a great, fun show to boot. The added special guest stars gave the show a whole new lease on life lasting two seasons following on from the original two seasons. Despite, all the other previous shows finishing up, straight to video film releases were keeping the shows alive and well, after Mask of the Phantasm’s release, Batman: Subzero and Mystery of the Batwoman followed, Superman had the release of Superman Vs Brainiac and Teen titans, the crazy teen hero series that followed on from Justice League Unlimited even scored the feature length, Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo after running for an incredibly successful five seasons.
The Timm/Dini universe was over. The shared universe spanning numerous television show’s and film’s had sadly, finally come to an end. Luckily fans didn’t have to wait long before another animated Batman adaptation was released, The Batman was wildly successful running for five season’s and one movie, the ludicrously silly Batman Vs Dracula. Batman: Brave and the Bold followed, an adaptation with it’s feet firmly planted in the 60’s featuring special guest’s and comedic storylines, if nothing else it showed the world Batman has more depth to the character than just the typical dark and brooding archetype he had become associated with. The show was fun and a smash hit too. While other series have since been released, all carrying the high quality associated with any DC animated release, ie Green Lantern, Beware the Batman, Teen Titans Go.. etc etc. It’s the subsequent film releases that have kept DC at the forefront of classic comic adaptations for the past several years. With Timm back on board, the movies have been outstanding achievements in animation, one of the few production houses keeping the lost art of flat 2-D animation alive, as it should, being based on a comic book its only right the art resembles the page, rather than some flashy, shiny version. I for one miss the old animation and as great as cgi can sometimes be I wish we didn’t have to throw away the old to make room for the new, these popular releases, if nothing else, prove people still enjoy 2-D animation, no reason both styles can’t exist harmonically in my opinion, but i digress. Yearly film releases have kept the ethics of what Timm and Dini started all the way back in 1992 when they created the definitive Batman animated series, well and truly alive. The films have been fantastic so far and only get better with every release. Under the Red Hood being a personal favorite of mine, though there have been many classic story adaptations, Justice League: New Frontier, Batman: Dark Knight Returns, Gotham Knight, Year One, All Star Superman, I could really go on and on, the fact is you could pick any film release at random and still be guaranteed a quality affair. That is something special. Us fans are lucky to have such huge choice these days when it comes to such quality animation on offer, Marvel may currently be owning the big screen but DC have been trailblazing the small screen for years now leaving Marvel no choice but to try and catch up. That’s just animation. I haven’t even made mention of the smorgasbord of quality live action DC hero action to be produced in the past 20 years.
Part 2 coming soon… DC live action television :P
Thanks so much for reading, appreciate any feedback in the comments, any issues or something I may have missed hit me up in the comments section and as always follow me on Moviepilot and twitter @johnnygeekcool