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Batman: The Animated Series

Batman: The Animated Series (often shortened Batman: TAS or BTAS) is an American, two time Emmy Award winning animated series adaptation of the comic book series featuring the DC Comics superhero, Batman.

The visual style of the series is based on the artwork of producer Bruce Timm. The original episodes, produced by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, and Eric Radomski, were first aired 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 but was officially titled Batman: The Animated Series, as evidenced in promotional advertisements for the series. When its timeslot was moved to weekends (on some Fox channels) for the second season, it was named The Adventures of Batman & Robin, a title originally used in the 1969-70 animated series created by Filmation, 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.

Overview

The original series was partially inspired by Tim Burton's 1989 blockbuster Batman film and the acclaimed Superman cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios in the 1940s. Timm and Radomski designed the series by closely emulating the Tim Burton films' "otherworldy timelessness," incorporating period features such as black-and-white title cards, police blimps, 40s influenced fashion, 40s 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 Batman film; 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 40s 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 second series in some ways was a further extension of that rejection of realism.

Like X-Men, the program was much more adult oriented than previous typical superhero cartoon series. In their constant quest to make the show darker, the producers pushed the boundaries of action cartoons: it was the first such cartoon in years to depict firearms being fired instead of laser guns (only one person has ever been actually depicted as shot; Commissioner Gordon in episode 49 was seen to have a gunshot wound after the firefight was finished), Batman actually punching and kicking the antagonists, as well as the existence of blood (such as Batman having a trail of blood from his mouth); 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 Emmy Award-winning series quickly received wide acclaim for its distinctive animation and mature writing, and it instantly became a hit. Fans of a wide age range praised the show's sophisticated, cinematic tone 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. 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 (having the cast record together) was a benefit to the show as a whole, as the actors were able to 'react' to one another, rather than simply 'reading the words').

Key to the series' artistic success is that it 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 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 Clock King. An often noted example of dramatic change is Mr. Freeze (whose character in the episode "Heart of Ice" won the show an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program.); 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 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. The most famous of the series' innovations is the Joker's hapless assistant/love interest, Harley Quinn, who became so popular that DC Comics later added her to the mainstream Batman comics continuity.

This series became a cornerstone of the Warner Bros.' animation department, which became one of the top producers of television animation. For years, Warner Bros. Animation had been known only for doing 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 better than they 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 DCAU, such as The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond and Justice League, are not children's programs but merely include children in their audience.

Characters

New villains like Red Claw, the ninja Kyodai Ken, Tygrus, and the Sewer King were invented for the series, but to little acclaim. Far more successful was the introduction of Harley Quinn, the Joker's sidekick, Officer / Detective Renee Montoya, and the sociopathic vigilante Lock-Up, all of whom became characters in the 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. Phantasm and general storyline for the movie 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; the villain in the comics was named The Reaper. Some characters like Count Vertigo and the Clock King were modified in costume and personality.

All characters received an update in The New Batman Adventures, having costumes, voices, mannerisms, and overall looks modified. The artwork and colors became sharper and somewhat more cartoonish.

Bruce Wayne

One of the most noteworthy changes made is the treatment of Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne.

In nearly all other media, including the comics, television shows, and films, Bruce deliberately plays up his image as a vacuous, self-absorbed, and not-too-bright billionaire playboy. 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 ("Shut it down, or you're gone!"). In the episode Night of the Ninja, he revealed to reporter Summer Gleason that he has some martial arts training, as the reporter previously researched that he once lived in Japan, though he later throws a fight with a ninja in front of Gleason to disguise his prowess.

Batman's equipment featured in the series

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 Batplane are similar to the ones used in the 1989 movie.

Episodes

See: List of Batman: The Animated Series episodes

Certain episodes have become legendary in some fan circles. The most universally hailed episode is the Emmy-award winning "Heart of Ice", which is known for reinventing the character of Mr. Freeze, changing him from a comedic cold-themed villain to a serious, tragic character with a sympathetic backstory. "Robin's Reckoning" 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.

Sixteen minutes of animated segments in the video game The Adventures of Batman and 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 of the same quality as the actual television program. Similar cutscenes appear throughout the video games Batman Vengeance and Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu.

Adaptations

The show also featured numerous adaptations of various Batman comics stories over the years to when the show was produced. The following episodes that were adaptations were:

  • "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy" was an adaptation of "The Cape and Cowl Death Trap!" from Detective Comics #450 of August 1975, written by Elliot S. Maggin.
  • "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne" was based on the comic stories "The Dead Yet Live" and "I Am the Batman!" from Detective Comics #471 and #472, of August/September 1977 by Steve Englehart.
  • Dreams in Darkness takes its cues of a graphic novel titled The Last Arkham.
  • "Moon of the Wolf" is based on the comic story of the same by writer Len Wein from Batman #255, April 1974.
  • "Off Balance" is a direct adaptation of "Batman: Into the Den of the Death-Dealers" of Detective Comics #411, May 1971 by Dennis O'Neil, famous for the first appearance of character Talia Al Ghul.
  • Also a direct adaptation is the two-part episode "The Demon's Quest", based on "Daughter of the Demon" from Batman #232, June 1971, and "The Demon Lives Again" Batman #244, September 1972, also by Dennis O'Neil. Famous for introducing one of Batman's deadlier foes; Ra's Al Ghul, father of Talia.
  • The episode "The Laughing Fish" was based on three Batman comics, blended together; "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" from Batman #251, September 1973 by Dennis O'Neil, followed by "The Laughing Fish" and "Sign of the Joker!" from Detective Comics #475 and #476, of February/March 1978, both by writer Steve Englehart. In a spotlight podcast from Comic Con 2007, Paul Dini explained that the reason why the episode combined those stories was because it was the case of them not able to adapt either story separate, due to the story's themes too much for the censors.
  • Part 1 of " Robin's Reckoning" takes its cues from Detective Comics #38 of June 1940.
  • "A Bullet For Bullock" is based on the comic of the same name from Detective Comics #651, October 1992, by Chuck Dixon.

The Batman: The Animated Series feature film, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is also an adaptation. The film's flashbacks were inspired by Batman: Year One, whereas the character of the Andrea Beaumont and the Phantasm were inspired by Batman: Year Two.

Theatrical and direct-to-video releases

The feature-length animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), 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 that movie was held back until 1998. This was followed by a second direct-to-video entry, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman in 2003. Movies based on related series include Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) based on Batman Beyond. A made-for-TV feature-length episode of the Batman / Superman series, "World's Finest", has been released on video as The Batman / Superman Movie. Collections of episodes from the series are also readily available on video. Recently, four volumes of four-disc DVD collections have been released in America and the UK, the latest collection contains the first series of The New Batman Adventures, and is available in America; a single box set of the complete series is set to be released November 2008 (in North America). The UK currently has the collection of the first and second series' of Batman: The Animated Series on DVD, which are exclusive to HMV.

Cast

Main protagonists

Actor Role
Kevin Conroy Bruce Wayne / Batman
Loren Lester Richard "Dick" Grayson / Robin
Clive Revill
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr
Alfred Pennyworth ("On Leather Wings", "Christmas with the Joker" and "Nothing to Fear")
Alfred Pennyworth (rest of the series)
Bob Hastings Commissioner James Gordon
Melissa Gilbert Barbara Gordon / Batgirl
Brock Peters Lucius Fox
Robert Costanzo Detective Harvey Bullock
Lloyd Bochner Mayor Hamilton Hill

Supporting protagonists

Main antagonists


Actor Role
Mark Hamill The Joker
Paul Williams Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin
Adrienne Barbeau Selina Kyle / Catwoman
John Glover Edward Nygma / The Riddler
Richard Moll Harvey Dent / Two-Face
David Warner Ra's al Ghul
Michael Ansara Dr. Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze
Arleen Sorkin Dr. Harleen Quinzell / Harley Quinn
Henry Polic II Dr. Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow
Diane Pershing Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy
Henry Silva Bane
Aron Kincaid Waylon Jones / Killer Croc
Roddy McDowall Jervis Tetch / The Mad Hatter
Ron Perlman Matt Hagen / Clayface
Marc Singer Dr. Kirk Langstrom / Man-Bat
George Dzundza Arnold Wesker / The Ventriloquist

Supporting antagonists

Reception and reviews

In the 1992 year end issue of Entertainment Weekly ranked this series in the top ten television series of the year.

Les Daniels described the show as "[coming] as close as any artistic statement has to defining the look of Batman for the 1990s.

Bill Wray criticized Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men for toning down violence seen in the original comic book stories. Wray cited Batman not killing in the television series and killing in the comic book, although Batman does not kill in modern interpretations and has only killed in his original incarnation in the 1940s.

Deirdre Sheppard, a reviewer for Common Sense Media who posted her review on Go.com, described the series as a "fairly violent cartoon" with an "overall grim quality.

Wizard Magazine listed Batman: The Animated Series as the #2 animated television show of all time.

Broadcasting

Batman: The Animated Series premiered on the Fox Network and aired there for its first several seasons during weekday afternoons at 4:30pm. In December, just three months after its debut, Fox began airing episodes of the series on prime-time Sunday evenings, marking one of the few times a show created for Saturday Morning Television was scheduled for prime-time broadcast. However, the TV ratings were poor (the show aired opposite the perennial favorite 60 Minutes), and the series was removed in March 1993.

After the series produced its 65th episode (the minimum number necessary for a TV series to be successfully syndicated), the show's popularity encouraged Warner Bros. to produce further episodes, furthering the animated adventures of the Caped Crusader. The series reached 85 episodes before finishing its run of original episodes in 1995.

Many of the creators went on to design and produce Superman: The Animated Series for Kids' WB before making an additional 24 episodes of Batman, better known as The New Batman Adventures, which aired alongside Superman in an hour-long Batman / Superman show in 1997 following the end of Fox Kids five year exclusive broadcast contract. The New Batman Adventures aired its final episodes in 1999, but continued to air on the network into 2000.

In 1999, a new spin-off series, Batman Beyond, was released to further critical acclaim. Then in 2001, the Justice League animated series was released, building on the success of both the Batman and Superman animated series and featured Batman as one of the founders of the League. In addition several direct-to-video features and video games reuniting Batman cast and crew members have been released, the most recent in 2003.

Also of note is the fact that several of the animators from Japanese animation studio Sunrise worked on the series - their work on Batman would become a great influence on one of their later series, Big O and the Cowboy Bebop episode "Pierrot le Fou".

The show began re-airing on September 30, 2007 on Toon Disney's Jetix lineup along with Superman (despite Warner Bros. being one of Disney's biggest competitors).

Home video release and DVDs

Volume DVD Release date # of Episodes
1 R1: July 6, 2004
R2: (original) October 10, 2005
R2: (re-release) June 14, 2008
28
2 R1: January 25, 2005
R2: August 21, 2006
28
3 R1: May 24, 2005
R2: TBA
29

Throughout the 1990s, selected episodes were released for home video, titled The Adventures of Batman and Robin or Batman: The Animated Series. On July 6, 2004, Warner Home Video released Volume One of Batman: The Animated Series on DVD, consisting of 28 episodes on 4 discs. Volume Two was released on January 25, 2005. Volume Three, containing 29 episodes (incorrectly listed by packaging as 28) was released May 24, 2005 to complete the collection of the initial series. They were released as "volumes" rather than "seasons" because the episodes were not aired in production order.

UK Region 2 versions of the Volumes 1 and 2 DVD sets were released on October 10, 2005 (Volume 1) and August 21, 2006 (Volume 2). These DVD volumes are exclusive to the retail chain HMV in the United Kingdom.
As of June 14th 2008 Volume 1 has now been re-released in the UK as a non-HMV exclusive. Both the artwork and the extras remain the same as the original HMV exclusive release.

In Bulgaria volumes 1 and 2 were released in early 2006. Each disc was sold separately in amaray case. They were Regions 2 and 5.

In Australia, (Volume 1) was released on October 19, 2005, but nothing has ever been released since.

On November 4, 2008 all 109 episodes will be released for Region 1 titled Batman: The Complete Animated Series. It will include all features from the four individual volumes plus a bonus 17th disc with a new special feature and a 40 page Collector's book containing artwork.

In other media

The television series was accompanied by a tie-in comic book, The Batman Adventures, which followed the art style and continuity of the television series instead of other Batman comic books. The Batman Adventures, through several format changes to reflect the changing world of the series and its spin-offs, outlasted the series itself by nearly a decade, finally being cancelled in 2004 to make way for the tie-in comic of a new, unrelated Batman animated series, The Batman.

There was also a short-lived series of tie-in novels, adapted from episodes of the series by science fiction author Geary Gravel. To achieve novel-length, Gravel combined several related episodes into a single storyline in each novel. The novels included:

  • Shadows of the Past ("Appointment in Crime Alley", "Robin's Reckoning" two-parter)
  • Dual to the Death ("Two-Face" two-parter, "Shadow of the Bat" two-parter)
  • The Dragon and the Bat ("Night of the Ninja", "Day of the Samurai")
  • Mask of the Phantasm (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm movie)

Several videogames (The Adventures of Batman & Robin (video game)) based on the animated continuity were released during the 16-bit game-machine era (roughly, that era spans from 1989-1996). Konami developed a game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), while SEGA released versions of the game for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Mega-CD and Game Gear. The SNES, Mega Drive/Genesis and Game Gear versions were side-scrolling action games, while Mega CD version featured a 3-D driving adventure. All of the games had art true to the series, while Sega's versions featured art elements directly from the show's creators The CD version has over 20 minutes of original animated footage comparable to the most well crafted episodes, with the principal voice actors reprising their roles. There was also a game made for the Game Boy based on the series. The critical reception of these games were varied but above average. Batman Vengeance was released for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in 2001, it was based on the Gotham Knights episodes and reunited much of the cast. Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu was released for the Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC it used the style of the Gotham Knights episodes. Batman: Chaos in Gotham was released for the Game Boy Color. It was based on the Gotham Knights episodes.

Influence

This series had a profound influence on the superhero animated genre, setting a higher standard of writing and animation quality. For example, the original television series adaptation of X-Men which premiered a few months before Batman featured animation that was typical of the artistic standards in superhero animated series. However, several years after Batman became a major television success, another series, X-Men: Evolution was produced, which emulated the Warner Bros. animated series' simplified graphics style (the series was also produced by Warner Bros.). In addition, the success of Batman encouraged The Walt Disney Company management to proceed with their own series, Gargoyles, which strove for the same sophistication as the competition and became a cult favorite in its own right.

Additionally, Batman: TAS was one of the first truly "serious" American on-going animated series in some time. Prior to that, most animated fare had been lighthearted and bright, even if it was action oriented. Batman: TAS brought a darkness and seriousness to animation that was almost unheard of at the time, and was more akin to an animated drama than a "cartoon", per se. The storylines dealt with more mature themes, there was no slapstick, although some episodes were touched with sophisticated humor, and the soundtrack itself was more akin to a film soundtrack (owing in part, no doubt, to the desire to make it have a similar feel to the Danny Elfman score of the two Burton films). The animation quality itself tended to be much smoother, with a higher frame rate than the vast majority of animated series prior to its premiere.

Furthermore, Batman: TAS had an impact on comics. Characters such as Renee Montoya and Harley Quinn were created for the series, but their popularity proved such that the characters were introduced into DC Comics (additionally, the character Harley Quinn appeared in the television series Birds of Prey and the new animated series The Batman). While the character of Mr. Freeze was taken from the comics, Batman: TAS redefined his origin to make him a more tragic figure, and his popularity caused DC to bring the character back from the dead and then retconned his origin to more closely match that of the series. This same origin was used for the character in the movie Batman & Robin. The Series was one of the first to suggest that Bruce Wayne uses a different voice while being Batman.

The dramatic writing and stylized art of Batman: The Animated Series sets it apart from traditional comic-book based cartoons. It can be considered the action-adventure equivalent of more mature cartoon shows like The Simpsons. For this reason the show's popularity (along with that of its various spin-offs) endures among older audiences and comic book fans.

The Lego minifigures of various Batman characters seem to be more strongly based on the designs from Batman: TAS than any other form of Batman media. More precisely, Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze and Harley Quinn's minifigures seem to have identical costumes and faces to the characters from Batman: The Animated Series.

Notes and references

References

  • Dini, P. and Kidd, C. Batman Animated, Perennial Currents, 1999. ISBN 0-06-107327-X

See also

External links

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