On September 5th, 1992, Fox Broadcasting aired “The Cat and the Claw, Part 1,” the first episode of Batman, now known as Batman: The Animated Series. The show, created by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, would run for 85 episodes between 1992 and 1995, spin off six television series and four movies, and largely define the character of Batman for a generation.
Now, in honor of the twentieth anniversary of that first episode, Tor.com is proud to launch the Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch.
Before we begin the episode by episode articles, a little background: 1992 was also the year Batman Returns premiered and the influence of the Tim Burton Batman movies is present throughout the series, especially in the music, the setting, and the general atmosphere of the show. The creators of the show fused that sensibility with an animation style inspired by the Max Fleisher Superman cartoons of the 1940s (which, if you haven’t seen, I highly recommend) to create a style they referred to as “dark deco.”
And through that filter the writers and artists strained (what was then) fifty years of character history across multiple forms of media. The show takes its influences from the 1939 Batman comics to the Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams 1970s reinvention to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, to Knightfall; it’s influenced by the Adam West Batman from 1966; the two Burton films; and countless toys and video games. From these varied interpretations they cherry picked the best parts to put in their show, sometimes adapting a story word-for-word, sometimes transforming stories to fit the style of the show, sometimes adapting Superman stories or stories from Marvel Comics books for the show, and often inventing new stories whole cloth.
To that they added incredible animation, famously drawn onto a black background to give the show its distinctive dark look; scores performed by a full orchestra, which at its best gave the show an epic, operatic feel; and some of the best voice actors in the business. Not enough good things can be said about Kevin Conroy’s performance as Batman and Bruce Wayne. Conroy uses two distinct voices for the two sides of Batman’s personality, and his Batman voice is somehow rough, authoritative, full of dread, and yet not the hilarious Cookie Monster growl Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, and others fell into. And that’s saying nothing, yet, of Mark Hamill’s brilliant portrayal of the Joker.
Batman: the Animated Series also brought more adult themes and situations to children’s programing. Make no mistake, Batman is a children’s cartoon, which is why no one dies, swears, or explicitly has sex but, to give a concrete example, they do fire guns. After years of G.I. Joe, where two armies at war shot nothing but lasers and also never hit anybody, it was shocking to see bullets flying and occasionally hitting people. The animators got away with it because the crooks used tommy guns in nominal 1992, but still, there was violence with the threat of real consequences. And that’s before the show deals with issues of domestic abuse, stalking, drug addiction, pollution, torture, seduction, corruption, mental illness, recidivism, and a series long debate about law versus justice. Heady stuff for a lead in to Tiny Toon Adventures.
A couple programming notes: first, I’ll be reviewing the episodes in production order, starting with “On Leather Wings.” Sixty of the originally produced sixty-five episodes all aired between September 1992 and May 1993 in somewhat haphazard order, so breaking them into seasons isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Production order better demonstrates the progression of the show for the creators and the characters, and also it’s the order my DVDs are in, so it’s just easier for me.
Also, it’s a rewatch, so I’m going to assume you’re watching the show along with me. That means I’m not giving a spoiler warning for a twenty year old show. It also means that besides a quick summary, I’m not really going to go over the plot and skip right to the analysis about the episode is about, what inspired it, and how well it came off. Having just rewatched all of it, I can safely say some episodes have withstood the test of time, some have not held up that well, some are hidden gems, and some were never, ever good.
Obviously, your participation is encouraged. If you have something interesting to share, an interesting tidbit to offer, or, dare I suggest, an opposing viewpoint, please add it to the comments! What’s your favorite episode of the series? And your least favorite? Why?
Now let’s look at “On Leather Wings.”