Sun
Sep 16 2012 1:00pm
Introducing the Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch

Introducing the Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com

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.”


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

16 comments
Alan Brown
1. AlanBrown
I am a lifelong Marvel guy, but this show, along with the Superman show that ran at about the same time, caught my eye, and I had a lot of enjoyment watching them. Some really good stories were told.
Mordicai Knode
2. mordicai
Kevin Conroy is such a great Batman. I'm reading the new Superman book & much like Bud Collyer doesn't get enough credit as an excellent Clark/Superman, Conroy really owns the role.
DarkKnightDamsel
3. DarkKnightDamsel
Oh, what a delightful idea! I loved this show when I was in high school. Looking forward to the rewatch!
DarkKnightDamsel
4. Zephyr Stone
Favorite episode? Has to be "Almost Got'im," at least off the top of my head. It was (and is) such a novel look at a hero's rogues gallery being more than just a colorful collection of villains who only live to defeat the good guy.

It helped further define each of their voices and personas, with some genuinly humorous interaction between the ne'er-do-wells.

(to Poison Ivy) Two-Face: "Half of me wants to hit you with a truck."
Poison Ivy: "And the other half?"
Two-Face: "Wants to strangle you!"
(aside to other villains)Poison Ivy: "We used to date."
(collectively): "Ah."

And the episode even managed to throw another great Batman escapade into it, with Catwoman giving the final, almost self-aware, nod to the title of the episode.

Brilliant!
DarkKnightDamsel
5. mirana
This show has always been one of my top favorites. It's why I got into comics in the first place, and why Batman will always be my fav superhero.
DarkKnightDamsel
6. John C. Bunnell
Out of a great number of superb episodes, I have always been especially fond of "Mad As A Hatter". It's a beautifully written script, and then Roddy McDowall comes in and gives the Mad Hatter a definitive, whimsically tragic characterization that takes the whole thing to another level. The followup, "Perchance to Dream", is nearly as good (and has one of the best climactic lines in the whole series), but the "...could not join the dance" speech at the end of "Hatter" is a gem of the first order.
DarkKnightDamsel
7. Wizard Clip
Over at the Onion AV Club, they started a "Batman: TAS" rewatch last year (or maybe even 2010). It might be worthwhile, as Steven makes his way through the episodes, to look up the Onion critiques and compare each writer's assessment of them. Meanwhile, The Onion is currently doing a rewatch of The Justice League cartoon.

Also, it looks like the Hub has begun re-running "Superman: TAS" weekday evenings.
DarkKnightDamsel
8. Stego
This is a fantastic idea and I look forward to reading each one of these! While I don't have time currently to watch each one, I've committed so many to memory after repeat viewings that I still plan to chime in.

So many favorite eps (like "Harley's Holiday") but least fav would probably be "Critters"...I can still remember watching it when it first aired and thinking "OK, guys, that's a bit if a stretch even for me!". Not sure what the origin of that story was, but either way it seemed to not quite "fit" the Batman universe for me (even taking into account all the 'splicing eps.).
DarkKnightDamsel
9. Erik Dercf
My favorite episode is "The Demon's Quest" parts one and two. I alway wonder what life would have been like if Bruce had married Raj Al Guls daughter. My favorite single episode would be Day of the Samurai the ninja is a wonderful foil for Batman.
James Whitehead
10. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I always enjoyed this series & have watched it with my kids; we get the dvd editions as they come out.

I loved the stories, animation, film noir aspect of the series. I also liked that the themes were serious, especially for a kids' cartoon; particularly that people do get shot & can die.

I also liked that they made Batman more 3 dimensional & not simply dark & brooding. Today's Batman, to my mind anyway, has become far too serious. The fact that this Batman can laugh & joke & have fun even as he fights crime makes him less of a force of nature and more human.

Kato

PS - Thanks for starting this rewatch.
DarkKnightDamsel
12. John C. Bunnell
Kato@10: If you liked the lighter aspects of B:TAS, you might have a look at the more recent series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I picked up several of the DVD sets at super-bargain prices (one of the big box retailers was having a serious sale during the runup to Dark Knight Rises), and have been very pleasantly surprised.

The series pulls in a truly astonishing range of DC-universse characters (Challengers of the Unknown! Bwana Beast! Phantom Stranger! Detective Chimp! Multiple Blue Beetles!), and draws on every aspect of the Bat-legend all the way back to the Adam West series The tone is definitely lighter than in the "Timmverse" extended canon -- see especially the renderings of Aquaman and Green Arrow, and the musical episode guest-starring Neil Patrick Harris -- but it's not without its own darker elements.
Andy Dillbeck
14. AndyD273
My favorites was Feet of Clay and the other Clay Face episodes.
I don't have the DVDs... Wonder if this one is on Netflix or Amazon.
DarkKnightDamsel
15. MannieJo
Before the Christopher Nolan movies, this series was how I defined Batman. It started when I was a senior in high school, and into my college years, I made sure to try and watch Batman: TAS (as well as Animaniacs which followed).

This series had exactly the right combination of noir, comedy, and morality.

Even now, while I like Nolan's movies, I still turn back to TAS as my Batman.
Alan Gratz
16. agratz
A few years ago, I introduced my then five year old daughter to the series. As I rewatched the episodes, I made notes on each episode and gave each a simple one to four star rating. I'll be very interested to see how our opinions of the episodes match my own!

One of the very best animated series of all time, and well deserving of another watch-through.
DarkKnightDamsel
17. redwall_hp
Nice write-up...but how could you not mention Mark Hamil as the Joker? Sorry Ledger fans, but Hamil wins first place for the creepiest, most criminally insane (and spot-on) take on the character. That's one of the highlights of the series, in my opinion.

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