Batman: The Animated Series Celebrates its 20th
By Bert Ehrmann
September 21, 2012
I was exactly the wrong age to appreciate the animated TV series Batman: The Animated Series (TAS) (show intro) when it originally debuted 20 years ago in 1992. Back then, I was a geeky high school teen who was into comic books and movies but felt I was too mature to watch a "kids" animated TV series like Batman: TAS. So, I totally missed the three season, 100+ episodes of this groundbreaking show that would reinvent the "kid's" action cartoon and is still influential to this very day.
In the early 1990s most cartoons were aimed at children, but there were also a few that crossed over and pushed boundaries like the hilarious and subversive Ren & Stimpy and those directed at adults like the head-scratching to awe-inspiring and everything in between Liquid Television on MTV. To this animated fray would enter Batman: TAS.
Essentially, Batman: TAS was an attempt to cash in on the very popular Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman film franchise that was setting box office records. It's not like movies hadn't been turned into animated series before; there were animated versions of The Real Ghostbusters (1986), Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures (1990) and Back to the Future (1991) around that time. But what all these cartoons had in common were than they were squarely kid's cartoons and had childish storylines and themes while Batman: TAS was something different.
On one level, Batman: TAS appealed to kids, with lots of action, danger, thrills and excitement. But on another level, the the storylines of Batman: TAS operate on more dark and gritty turf and dealt with complex issues like death, the loss of youth and the idea of placing the need of society over one's own personal needs.
It would have been easy for Batman: TAS series creators Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm to simply ape the Tim Burton film version of Batman, to copy the costumes, designs and tones of the films and use this for the basis of their animated show. And while the TV version certainly does owe its existence to the film version, Radomski and Timm created their own version of Batman and Gotham city, something different and unique to what had come before.
Their version of Gotham was a dark, color streaked nightmare where the shadows hid things better left in the black. And this version of Gotham seemed to exist in some alternate reality where dirigibles were in everyday use, men still wore fedoras and the design of the day was art deco. But all this existed alongside modern conveniences like computers and other electric devices.
The Radomski/Timm version of character Batman/Bruce Wayne was different than the Burton/Keaton version too, in both tone and design. The animated Batman was dressed in his traditional blue and grey costume, could actually be hurt by his enemies and Bruce Wayne was a much darker, and dare I say complex, character in Batman: TAS than he was in the feature films at that time.
And the designs of everything in Batman: TAS, from the look of the characters to the cityscapes to the cars people drove were appropriate to the setting and simply amazing. Even to this day I'm surprised as to how well the animation has held up over the intervening 20 years and am still struck as to how visually dark the Gotham City of Batman: TAS is, and appropriately so.
But what I find most interesting about Batman: TAS was it that spawned a whole universe of animated series, some of which air to this very day. After Batman: TAS came a Superman cartoon, a futuristic Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League: Unlimited and even today the new Young Justice TV series as well as15 direct-to-DVD films that can all trace their lineage directly back to the original Batman: TAS.
Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series air daily on the cable channel The Hub, are available on DVD and are available to stream on the internet. A new Batman animated movie Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 is due out September 25 on disk and on demand.