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Batman: The Animated Series – Batman Month on CartoonClack

Batman Month begins on CartoonClack with arguably the best of Warner Bros. animation and one of my favorite cartoons of all time. He is vengeance. He is the night. He ... is ... Batman!

Batman: The Animated Series   Batman Month on CartoonClack [batman animated series 425x265] (IMAGE)

It seems sacrilege to pick just one favorite superhero when we have a plethora of great ones throughout pop culture, but  Batman (or at least the Bat family) might just be my personal favorite. The Bat is just so cool and iconic while still evolving with each generation. We have less than a month until The Dark Knight Rises comes to the big screen (squee) and as a diehard Batfan and a lover of all things cartoon, it seemed the perfect time to look at four Batman cartoons of the last 20 years in what I’m calling Batman Month! And since my analysis of the other three cartoons will most definitely include comparisons to this week’s cartoon in one way or another, I knew I had to start with Batman: The Animated Series. And herein lies the problem — I love this series so damn much that it’s very hard to concisely write in one article all the amazing things about it. I’ve had to organize my love of this series into sections so that everything gets covered. Let us begin.

The Art
The animation of B:TAS took children’s programming to another level. It was simply stellar then and more than 20 years later the art is still strong. It borrowed from 1920s and 1930s styles to create a classic look that wouldn’t look dated in the years that followed. In fact, the only thing that really seems dated in the show is some of the technology (the computers are very 1990s), but considering it’s been over two decades since the show started, that’s still pretty good. And while digital animation has made cartoons much more crisp and even, it’s still a delight to watch this show and see how much of a wonder the animation was for the time.

And the character designs themselves! This ties into the writing and the voice acting of course, but what classic character designs on this show. They weren’t trying to be edgy and they weren’t trying to be too kid friendly. The classic example is the Riddler (who shamefully had just a handful of episodes) — unlike his previous renditions, this Edward Nigma is calm and calculated with just enough smarm and his costume completely embodies that by keeping with the early to mid-20th century bowler hat and suit. This is the only version of the Riddler I saw as a kid that didn’t seem to be Joker-crazy and his design fit that to a T.

The Voice Acting and Sound Design
I’ll be talking about the main bulk of the voice performances character by character, but the voice acting overall is absolutely dynamic. So much of this is thanks to legendary casting director Andrea Romano, who is also responsible for casting a large majority of my favorite cartoons, including Avatar: The Last Airbender, Animaniacs and two more of the cartoons featured later in the month (oh, and the video game for the third). It’s also the cartoon ballsy enough to use the gorgeous and dramatic Danny Elfman Batman score as well as a full orchestra for music within the show. Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman for the series, has told a story about when Mark Hamill and he did some redubbing of altered lines once the show was first animated. Seeing  the opening title sequence for the first time with that booming score, both of them were speechless. Even when I watch the episodes today, the music mixed with the stunning animation continues to move me.

Batman
Sorry Christian Bale, sorry Michael Keaton … Kevin Conroy will always be my Batman. Conroy gives two amazing performances since he’s equally fantastic as Batman and Bruce Wayne … most actors get one or the other. This was once of the first times when Bruce as Bruce was really likable, but his Batman is still so intimidating. Apparently it was Conroy’s choice to have two distinctive voices for Bruce and Batman and man, does it work. In addition to that perfectly Batman voice, all the aspects of Batman’s talents are here — the ninja warrior, the silent monster in the night, the protector of the innocent and, of course, the detective. In this show, he is the perfect balance of intimidating while still be kid-friendly enough to be marketed to kids. The show absolutely never talked down to its audience, which is probably why older comic fans took to the show so well.

The Joker
Mark Hamill as the Joker … what can I say? He is stupendous in the role.  In the same way Batman was genuinely intimidating, the Joker was genuinely homicidal while still getting on kid’s television. There’s such a melodic up and down to the tone of his voice that is both hilarious and also chilling. Still one of my favorite episodes is when the Joker thinks that Batman was killed by a low level thief. Once he realizes his play buddy is gone, the Joker holds a memorial for Batman/a killing party for the murderer. It’s that wonderful mix of sadism and silliness. Yes, Mark Hamill is my favorite Joker and it’s no wonder they paired him up again with Conroy in the hit video games Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.

Harley Quinn
B:TAS brought us two beloved female characters in the DC universe. The first was Officer Renee Montoya, who was featured in multiple episodes and has transitioned into the comic canon because she’s a badass despite being on the more respectable side of justice. Of course, the other new character was Harley Quinn, the main henchperson and sweetheart of the Joker voiced by Alreen Sorkin. In a lot of ways her relationship with the clown is the definition of an abusive relationship (he throws her off a building at least once and she keeps coming back for more), but you also get that this is the only kind of person who would willingly be with the Joker. I think she’s won the hearts of fans because of her genuine passion for chaos and her man. And yet despite being part of the comic relief for most of the series, the episode “Mad Love” takes a more serious look at just how sad the character is and how much the Joker manipulates her. It’s a far more complex character than anyone expected her to be.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros

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4 Responses to “Batman: The Animated Series – Batman Month on CartoonClack”

June 26, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Great post, Katie! This was so excellent! Batman was my favorite show as a kid, and my brother and I agree that it was NOT a cartoon, but an animated series! LOL I own all of the DVDs as well, and I watch them about three months. That show is my life! I am so glad you gave it the spotlight!

I have one tiny issue with your column though… no mention of The Riddler? John Glover was excellent as that villain, but I believe it was later revealed that The Riddler was just too complex of a character to write for…hence the reason he is only featured in a few episodes. I thought he was awesome. Also, I didn’t like Batgirl in the fourth season. Quite frankly, I found her annoying…and the new Robin. I preferred Batgirl in ‘Shadow of the Bat’ and ‘Batgirl Returns.’ I loved her in the third season. I thought she was great. Maybe it was the voice actress. I preferred Melissa Gilbert as the voice, and I liked Batgirl as more of a freelance loner working without the resources or tools of Batman and Robin. I thought she did a pretty good job on her own.

That show was such a major staple of my childhood. This post just brings back so many memories. I had all of the action figures. I actually have the Batmobile sitting in my closet now. LOL They just don’t make shows like this any more. The 90’s was such a damn good decade!

June 26, 2012 at 2:41 PM

I mention him briefly in a couple places, but I agree that Nigma needs more attention than I gave him. It got to the point toward the end of writing where I was struggling to stay awake to finish it and I realized I hadn’t even written about Alfred or Gordon!

There are actually a ton of things I wish I could have added about the show, so perhaps a follow-up post is in order sometime in the future.

June 26, 2012 at 8:39 PM

See, I like the on her own scrappy Batgirl too. The only problem with it is that the longer she continues on her own, without Bruce at least offering to let her in, makes Bruce look more and more like a jerk. I understand that from both sides, BG would have to not only prove her dedication and commitment, and Bruce can’t be giving his identity to anyone willing to throw on a cape and hockey pads. Just that at some point Batgirl has to be let in and be offered the help that she could use that Bruce can offer. A more caring Bruce more than likely does it sooner than other incarnations. The place where Rocksteady’s Arkham City series takes TAS Batman to is really dark and I really have to believe that Rocksteady’s Batman lost a Jason Todd. Regardless, I do see TAS Bruce taking in Barbara quickly after she shows her commitment. She’s very capable on her own, but to borrow from Ultimates “I want to SHIELD train you to not just be Spider-Man, but be the Ultimate Spider-Man.” Of course, Change Nick Fury to Bruce Wayne and Ctrl+V Batgirl in for Spider-Man. You could also Ctrl+c the SHIELD word, since it would make very little sense for Batman to say that.

June 26, 2012 at 3:20 PM

I’m actually currently watching through Batman: The Animated Series now for the first time since the nineties, and I agree with you completely. This is definitely my favorite Batman.