Why Batman: The Animated Series Nailed The Dark Knight Perfectly

After Kevin Conroy’s untimely death, many are revisiting his iconic work on Batman: The Animated Series, acknowledging that 1990s cartooning was hugely important to the Batman franchise. The series, which ran from 1992 to 1995, was repeatedly voted the second greatest cartoon ever made after The Simpsons and won four Emmy Awards. The series has been praised for its mature tone, orchestral music, and intricate themes. It’s often considered the greatest adaptation of Batman outside of the comics, and for very good reason.

Batman: The Animated Series could be the significant representation of Bruce Wayne’s Gotham adventures. The show, helmed by the ultimate Batman actor, Kevin Conroy, heralded the golden age of superhero cartoons and unified the various strands of Batman media into a cohesive whole. This marked a noted reassessment of Batman’s tone at this point in the franchise. He combined what had worked before through disparate adaptations, then crafted what would be the definitive version of Batman for years to come, serving as the blueprint for all subsequent Batman tales. It remains an categorical masterpiece.

Batman: The Animated Series Captures Everything Batman Should Be

The explosion of “batmania” after Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman definitely demonstrated that The Dark Knight had broad appeal while still being able to explore mature themes with a grown-up tone. Batman Returns is a true Christmas movie, but Burton’s sequel also further explored themes of duality and femininity previously thought to be beyond Batman’s remit. Batman: The Animated Series took those mature topics and presented them in a kid-friendly package that viewers can delve into as deeply, or not, as they want.

The Batman: The Animated Series design was also carried over from Burton. Over the course of Burton’s two Batman films, an aesthetic was crafted that combined elements of Art Deco, German Expressionism, and Gothic. By repackaging them in a more palatable film noir style, the series managed to perpetuate this take on Gotham’s sadness while delivering one of the first noir shows for kids. Interestingly, one of the reasons the series was able to capture the tone so perfectly was that it was animated on black paper, an industry first. This contributed to the tone of the series, which has become widely regarded as the gritty realism that Batman movies should continue to portray with Gotham.

With the continuation of the 1989 Batman film in the Batman ’89 comic book and its influence on other comics, depictions of Gotham across film, television, and print have all been unified. The same process happened to Batman himself, who, ditching his 1960s dancing shoes, became a darker, creepier incarnation of the Dark Knight. This characterization would become synonymous with the figure and was arguably explored to its greatest extent in Batman: The Animated Series. His influence can even be seen in Ben Affleck’s Batman movies.

The series also combined Burton’s character designs with early comic book versions. The most notable example is the penguin’s birdlike physical deformities. This take on the character has been around for decades, and in hindsight, his penguin blended every version of the film perfectly. Batman: The Animated Series even borrowed composer Danny Elfman’s theme from Batman before later composing his own updated version of the theme tune. In fact, each episode was orchestrally scored individually. Using Elfman’s themes as an initial basis, the scores deepened the previously established Batman aesthetic.

Batman: The Animated Series Defined Batman for a Generation

Batman: The Animated Series offered young fans an accessible Batman adaptation, with Burton’s films having a decidedly more grown-up disposition. Meanwhile, the mixed quality of the other Batman films available to fans during this period (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin and 1966’s Batman: The Movie) meant that for quality Batman adventures, Batman: The Animated Series was unprecedented. It was the best of both worlds, accessible yet mature and gothic yet friendly. It served as a gateway for children to move on to Burton films and instilled the passion that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy would later generate.

Batman: The Animated Series also defined the look and feel of Batman and Gotham. He coined many tropes and ideas now considered not just Batman canon, but integral to the franchise at large. This was aided by the stellar voice cast, which includes the oft-voted greatest version of the Joker (Mark Hamill’s), and a Batman performance in Conroy quickly becoming equally beloved. For millennials who grew up outside of the United States and had limited access to comics, the animated series was the closest thing available and left an impression on young Bat fans.

A prime example of Batman: The Animated Series’ lasting influence was its introduction of Harley Quinn. First created for Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn has become one of DC’s most popular anti-heroes encapsulating modern comic book feminism, a feat impossible without her animated debut. The big episode “Mad Love” explains how Harley Quinn met Joker. Another classic addition to the canon were airships. Many associate Gotham’s cityscape with heavy airships, unaware that it was their origin.

Kevin Conroy’s Batman Is As Important As Any Live-Action Version

Conroy’s iconic performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman: The Animated Series influenced all subsequent Batman performers. He brilliantly blended dark earnestness with dry humor and fragile humanity, making him a likeable person as well as a charismatic hero. Conroy also established the tradition of giving Batman a deeper, gruffer voice than his alter-ego Bruce Wayne.

It’s now ubiquitous with the character, including Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy and the Arkham video game series, most of which Conroy also voiced opposite Hamill’s Joker. The pair’s collaboration was so successful that it spanned more than 30 years, serving as the characters’ longest-serving actors across animation, movies, and games. Conroy’s Batman has been a franchise staple for decades, and for many, Conroy is even the definitive Batman.

Prior to the cancellation of Batman: The Animated Series, it was a triumph to merge the various comic books, movies, and very old TV shows into a cohesive whole, creating a quintessential version of Batman and Gotham. Taking inspiration from the films of Tim Burton and combining that with the source material and unparalleled voice acting, Batman: The Animated Series is rightly considered one of the greatest feats in television history.

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