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Batman: The Animated Series Doc Proves the Definitive Caped Crusader Was a Cartoon

  • As the DC Extended Universe continues to try to find itself, and while we await Robert Pattinson's debut as the Dark Knight, it's worth remembering that one of the main reasons anyone is having any of these conversations now is thanks in large part to the massive impact of Batman: The Animated Series. For many people, this version of Bruce Wayne voiced by Kevin Conroy is still the definitive Caped Crusader.

    The 2018 documentary Heart of Batman (above), which DC has just made available for free online, goes behind the scenes with the creators, led by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, to explain the genesis of this groundbreaking show that's influenced every version of Batman that's come after it. It not only redefined Batman, but it reshaped his massive rogues gallery of villains, changing the way many look at animation in general. 

    The 1960's Batman series basically defined the character for decades afterwards, with all of its over-the-top campiness and BIFF! POW! ZOWIE! action. By the mid 1980s, comic books had undergone a tectonic shift towards darker, grittier fare, and Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film finally managed to bring some of that darkness to the screen, although it retained some of the camp in the form of Burton's typical gothic stylization. This set the stage for B:TAS to distill the best elements of that aesthetic and bring the tone down much closer to the earth we know, essentially creating a film noir drama. This was unheard of for cartoons at the time, but it opened the floodgates for what could be done with the medium and showed there was a market for animation that appealed to adults.

    The show brought us the glory of Mark Hamill's voice work as the Joker, it gave silly villain concepts like Two-Face and Mr. Freeze heartbreaking new origin stories that infused them with a whole new pathos, and it also originated the character of Harley Quinn as the Joker's sidekick/paramour, who has since crossed over into comics, movies and the general zeitgeist with the help of Margot Robbie.

    Batman: The Animated Series ran for 85 episodes, and was the building block for the DC Animated Universe (DCAU), which included Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, defining a wide range of DC Comics heroes for an entire generation. When the Batman film series wrenched back towards high camp and ran aground at the hands of Joel Schumacher, it carried the torch until Christopher Nolan brought us into the modern era with 2005's Batman Begins

    While we wait to see whether the Zack Snyder's Justice League cut can save DC movies, and as we wonder how much more steam the CW's Arrowverse has now that Arrow itself is gone and Supergirl and Black Lightning are closing up shop, we can always remember a time when they consistently knocked it out of the park, and that's the DCAU. In fact, the only time Bruce Wayne has actually appeared in the Arrowverse, he was played by Conroy in the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover. That's how much his version of Batman has endured.

    Batman: The Animated Series is now streaming on HBO Max. Justice League and Justice League Unlimited will also be streaming on the service "at some point soon," according to an email to subscribers sent out recently. 

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    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: Batman: The Animated Series, The Heart of Batman, Bruce Timm, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, DC Comics