Was Batman: The Animated Series the Only Superhero Cartoon Viewers Took Seriously?

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Posted by No_name_here (1223 posts) - - Show Bio
No disputes.

Earlier this year, I did a some retrospectives on Fox’s X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN cartoons - - the fish-hooks that lured me into my lifetime comics fanatacism. Some of you maniacs begged me to do something similar on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and, frankly, I was reluctant to oblige. That show’s gotten so much love, already. It might as well be the equivalent of apple pie in this particular corner of pop culture. If you don’t like apple pie, you’re a contrarian purposely disagreeing with the majority. For most everybody else, apple pie’s such a basic choice that it's rather pointless to articulate why you like it. It’s a given, just like the merits of BATMAN: TAS are basically a given.

Still, I kept getting requests for a retrospective so here we are, looking back on a show that was so good, its quality was taken for granted. Maybe it’s even a little timely to look back on this during the launch of the New 52 and its concentrated effort to make these icons accessible to new readers. Look at this show and you'll be impressed by how it was able to capture so many eras of the character simultaneously without requiring any viewers to be versed in any of the sixty-odd years of history containing those eras. X-MEN, as I said, was almost exactly like the contemporary comics and, while that quality made it the flashier alternative for a kid like me at the time, today it looks significantly dated when held next to this, which is just as timeless as ever.

== TEASER ==
Lest we forget that this show introduced Harley...

Oddly enough, writing for Anime Vice has given some new perspective on how unique this show was - -especially in the landscape of American TV. Adult-oriented animation is an entire, multi-faceted industry in Japan but, over here, the niche is pretty much dominated by comedies. You’ll have a hard time finding much of anything dramatic on Adult Swim or Animation Domination. While this started airing on weekday afternoons and later went to Saturday mornings, there was actually a period - - albeit a brief one - - when it aired on Sunday night prime time. It’s kind-of inconceivable to picture a superhero toon airing between, say, 60 MINUTES and CSI: MIAMI today, isn’t it? Well, there's a reason it was the exception to the rule.

It was a dark show, to be sure. Maybe not as dark SPAWN: THE ANIMATION or THE MAXX, but certainly darker than any depiction of Batman on TV before or since. As colorful and fun as the rogue’s gallery was, almost every week’s episode felt like a window into a new form of dementia. Obsession, envy, sorrow, rage and identity confusion are unusual concepts for a kid chew on because of a toon… but chew on them I did, right along with my after-school mac & cheese. Outrageous heels like Clayface, the Penguin and Mr. Freeze were all given tragic origins in one-off episodes that underscored even their most loathsome villainy with a conflicting sense of tragedy. At times, the show felt almost like an animated version of Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY; each rogue’s back-story an expressionist morality piece capturing a specific, unpleasant shade of the human condition.

Saturday morning cartoon or German expressionist film?

If I had to hazard a guess about what one root cause made this show such a success, I’d say it was because the cast and crew took it seriously, and through angles atypical to superhero toons. There’s a memorable anecdote about how Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman, got the gig partly because he told the crew at his audition that their description of the role sounded more like Prince Hamlet than a superhero. That more-theatrical bent extended to the production process, as the show broke the usual M.O. by having the entire cast present for the recording process, like in a radio play, instead of having them record separately. As such, there was a greater sense of realness to the acting and to the interaction between characters and, more so than even the "dark deco" aesthetic and conscious callbacks to film noir, I figure that's the reason this show made, and continues to make, such an impression.

So there you go, some brief thoughts on the series that was actually a pretty significant part of my early fandom. I know for a fact that many of you maniacs had a similar experience with the show - - how about you offer your own takes below? And if you need a little memory jog...

#1 Posted by sinful (149 posts) - - Show Bio

the greatest show eva

#2 Posted by Decept-O (7270 posts) - - Show Bio

Possibly the pinnacle of what Batman really should be in many ways, a near perfect depiction of Batman, his Rogues Gallery, the Bat Family and especially Gotham City. Plus the introduction of Harley Quinn, the excellent voice cast--the list goes on and on!

#3 Posted by LordTaronji101 (277 posts) - - Show Bio

one of the greats

#4 Posted by LiquidSwords (115 posts) - - Show Bio

@sinful said:

the greatest show eva

That's the truth, Truth!

This was seriously watched by all when it was airing. Even friends who I didn't think cared for cartoons/comics/nerd stuff really dug the series! Really miss this show!

#5 Posted by MrMazz (980 posts) - - Show Bio

Pretty much this and Spectacular Spiderman are the only "serious" superhero shows ive seen. YJ could go that way eventually.

#6 Posted by cattlebattle (12305 posts) - - Show Bio

Definitely not.

#7 Posted by Caleb044 (3 posts) - - Show Bio

Batman: TAS is the reason I read comics today.

#8 Posted by fodigg (6094 posts) - - Show Bio
Embedding disabled by request.

Well, I guess I'll just have to hum it to myself.

#9 Edited by NightwalkerRevan (123 posts) - - Show Bio

Definitely the best animated super-hero show to date, with only 90's X-Men coming close. There have been other good super-hero cartoons, but none yet at the same consistent level of quality.

And I still think that as good as The Dark Knight is, Mask of the Phantasm is the best Batman film ever.

#10 Edited by CODYSF (2047 posts) - - Show Bio

Batman TAS,Batman Beyond TAS,Superman TAS,Justice League TAS are the best hero cartoons ever made and for Marvel Spider-man TAS.

#11 Edited by Master_Funk (26 posts) - - Show Bio

Almost 20 years later , second only to the Simpsons (seasons 1-10) for me in terms of animated shows. Absolutely timeless

#12 Posted by Grimoire (505 posts) - - Show Bio

@Caleb044 said:

Batman: TAS is the reason I read comics today.

The very same as me. When I watched this it was before I started to read comics and was happy to see the show be more than others that use slapstick or be a one trick pony to try and carry the show. The first comic I ever read was a issue of Batman because this one show was and still is so good.

#13 Edited by ComicMan24 (147021 posts) - - Show Bio

A very good cartoon, one of my favourites as a kid. Even though I like JL/JLU kinda more, the DCU IMO had the best superhero cartoons. They were serious, could be seen by both kids and adults and generally much better than the superhero cartoons of today. Young Justice is somewhat close to them but it still needs work.

#14 Posted by Duo_forbidden (1160 posts) - - Show Bio

I think anything to do with Paul Dini and Bruce Timm make great animated series.

#15 Posted by CODYSF (2047 posts) - - Show Bio

@Caleb044:

LOL same here.

#16 Posted by Soldier zero (250 posts) - - Show Bio

In my opinion what made BtAS (and the rest of the DCAU by extension) superior to all its contemporaries, and many shows after it, was the decision not to stick too close to the story but to rework it.

At the time comic book based series tend to move in two directions: sticking as close as possible to the source material (like X-Men did), or transforming the whole deal in a "villain of the week" show (it pains me to remember that Iron Man did this). BtAS found a third route, they took tons of source material and distiled a sort of essential version of the characters and setting. One that referenced many eras and versions without actually being strictly tied to any.

The other element that skyrocketed the serie was the decision to push the bonduaries of animation ghetto and try something more adult and visually stunning (I still have the creeps when I recall watching the Man-Bat transformation for the first time, until then my only TV Batman was Adam West).

#17 Posted by jazzblade (60 posts) - - Show Bio

This truly was one of the greats..every re-watch brought a new layer of awesomeness and deepness to the show as a whole.

Childhood me made a very good decision to watch this in the first place.

#18 Posted by Primmaster64 (21137 posts) - - Show Bio

It was great. Superman's was good too.

#19 Posted by BlackArmor (6121 posts) - - Show Bio

Went to you tube to watch the theme and got shivers
#20 Posted by MyraMyraMyra (296 posts) - - Show Bio

I agree - it was easy to take the show seriously because it took itself seriously enough. There was humor in it, too, but it wasn't as smugly self-conscious and ironic as many of the recent cartoon adaptations of comics have been. There was a strong focus on plot, atmostphere, and characterizion, and the visual style of the show was excellent, too. It still is way above most cartoon adaptations of comics.

I think humorous self-consciousness has become a staple in American animation in general, and frankly I've become quite tired of it. You rarely see an American cartoon or an animated film that isn't full of metafictional jokes, pop culture references, and goofy comedy. Pixar is really the only studio that takes the time an effort to create emotionally appealing and visually captivating animated films with relatable characters and interesting plots, but even Pixar films are heavily comedic. I love a good comedy, but I'm also hungry for animated movies and TV-series that aren't constantly trying to make fun of themselves. It's very difficult to take a show seriously when it isn't taking itself seriously, even when the subject matter is something that's fundamentally a bit silly like masked men and women fighting crime in tights.

Batman TAS was atmospheric and intriguing because it wasn't desperately trying to elicit laughs by turning itself into a parody of itself. It treated its audience with respect, and it treated its characters with dignity. It also wasn't dumbed down for kids, like many shows are. I guess network executives are usually afraid that shows as solemn and dark as Batman TAS aren't appealing or simple enough to kids, but I can say for myself that I grew up watching the show like an addict. I loved it, and I got the merchandise, so I suppose it worked the way it was planned as far as I was concerned.

I definitely do think that there's a market for comic book-based animated series aimed for more mature audiences (well, teenagers and older) because by now whole generations have already grown up watching cartoons. Anime shows have also paved way for the concept of the adult-oriented animated series, and the recent success of live-action superhero films indicates that adult viewers enjoy the genre as much as kids do. Maybe it's time we got an animated superhero TV-series aimed for older viewers.

#21 Posted by RedOwl_1 (1664 posts) - - Show Bio

If you put me that Intro song WHEREVER I am (yeah even in the bathroom) I think in Batman and one of my three favorite Batman's phrases comes from here "I'm the vengeance, I'm the night, I'm Batman" Yeah !!!

#22 Posted by Baddamdog (2222 posts) - - Show Bio

Just look at that picture of Harley,she's so epic

#23 Posted by Golden Cod (380 posts) - - Show Bio

I think I was about to enter middle school when I watched Feat of Clay and watching Matt Hagen melt and degenerate into a muddy monster terrified me. This was probably the point at which I realized villains could be more then two-dimensional gimmicks and have real (albeit immoral) motivations behind their crimes. Of course the later Clayface episodes did away with a lot of the character development but that episode was still a great moment for me.

I also loved the fact that Kevin Conroy was the first to use two voices for Batman. Now if only Christian Bale would realize that you don't have to garble marbles to make your voice sound different...

#24 Posted by ReVamp (22860 posts) - - Show Bio

It was good, but the JL cartoon was the best :P

#25 Edited by johnny_spam (2028 posts) - - Show Bio

God I loved this show. I think it is one that people who do not read comics or watch animation might be surprised at how good it was with the right episode some I think people would shrug off and hopefully no one's first episode is "I've got Batman in my Basement."

It was a show we needed that helped American animation raise it's bar and did lead to shows like Justice League Unlimited which I think is a bit more better.

Only two things bothered me one has nothing to do with how the show was made but the attempts at always replicating it or the impression it is the only way to do Batman. Kevin Conroy does not always have to be Batman. Joker does not have to only act like he did in this show. The other was introducing Harley Quinn, a worthless character that I think only works for nostalgic reasons she has done nothing of importance since Mad Love.

#26 Posted by Daniel_Newton (46 posts) - - Show Bio

I'm already rewatching the Justice League cartoon... and Spider-Man. Damn it Tom, your article has pretty much sealed the deal on rewatching this one too. Wait, no, I'll go through Batman Beyond/Batman of The Future first and then go all the way back to this.

Ahh what am I complaining about? It's great to have old superhero cartoons like this to go back to, and I can appreciate them so much more now that I'm older too.

#27 Posted by Telcalipoca (956 posts) - - Show Bio

i dont like apple pie or any sort of pie and cake is alright not great.not everyone has a sweet tooth man.

#28 Posted by joshmightbe (24101 posts) - - Show Bio

In the Comic community many have been taken seriously but to the general public this was pretty much the only one that anybody over 12 gave a crap about

#29 Posted by TenEyedMen (202 posts) - - Show Bio

To answer the question, no, it isn't. The DCAU and Spectacular Spider-Man are also superhero shows that are taken seriously.

But this show started the trend.

#30 Posted by 00MirageKnight00 (41 posts) - - Show Bio

i liked batman beyond

#31 Posted by Larkin1388 (1760 posts) - - Show Bio

I loved Batman TAS!

#32 Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus (6885 posts) - - Show Bio

Well, I think part of why this became so successful is that Batman TAS was riding on the coattails of success that the Tim Burton Batman flicks had. If anything, Batman had once again entered the mainstream of pop culture through those movies and Batman became an icon to nerdboy and layman alike. Some would say the same thing happened with the Adam West years, but unfortunately that just doesn't hold up since that was the campy era and the Dark Knight's popularity waned almost as fast as it had risen in the 50s with the equally campy storylines before being brought back to its solid roots by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams in the 1970s. I think the difference in the late 1980s/early 1990s is that the Caped Crusader was portrayed as a creature of the shadow as had been his traditional Golden Age roots per Kane's/Finger's vision, both in the films and then in TAS. All that the Dark Knight really had as far as a cartoon show as the Super Friends in the 1970s and that was just riding on the success of superhero campiness. Much different when you have a serious cartoon done in a later era. And that is why TAS was absolutely great. Let's not forget though that TAS is a product of Fox, just like X-Men, Spider-Man and others are and they had wonderful success in their runs too. Fox was just at the right place at the right time putting such shows out there for home entertainment.

#33 Posted by Superguy0009e (2259 posts) - - Show Bio

what made this show great was the balance...there was enough stuff dimmed down for the kids, yet mature and interesting enough stories so that kids stay engaged and parents can enjoy too

#34 Posted by Sekele (276 posts) - - Show Bio

One could say that this show ruined every single show that came afterwards

#35 Posted by Ultimate_MiracleMan (73 posts) - - Show Bio

This was my favorite show as a kid(along with Batman Beyond), and probably why i like comics in the first place. And whats even cooler is I'm going to me Kevin Conroy in just over a week, and Arkham City comes out at nearly the same time. I am so stoked

#36 Posted by TheCheeseStabber (7236 posts) - - Show Bio

IDK i think this 1 Batman Beyond an i think it was called The Batman with there freaky joker who looked apeish an the gothic riddler

#37 Posted by Shanana (52686 posts) - - Show Bio

I liked it, but i preferred Spidermans

#38 Posted by I'maDC/ImageGuy! (1648 posts) - - Show Bio

Well, Spawn on HBO was dark for the sake of being dark and it never made any sense. So yeah Batman was the only cartoon we ever took seriously with Gargoyles and The Maxx riding on it's coat tails.

#39 Posted by higher_evolutionary (2015 posts) - - Show Bio

No, no, no. no
there is the JL, superman(which is the most under rated show ever),avengers and spectacular spiderman
i love batman TAS i think it inspired other superhero cartoons to turn away from marvel's generic style
while marvel had an entire animted universe and tons of storyline were played very close to the source material
BUT the acting was corny, the animation was flawed some of the characters got bigger and smaller while moving, maybe due to the characters models being harder to draw, anyway the storys were thinly produced in the most boring way imaginable
characters werent allowed to say kill, or punch some one in the face, or use guns(except for the punisher appearance) and any violent scenes from the comic no matter how mild is it was censored
so GO DC keep on the good work

#40 Posted by Metatron_Da_Don (1037 posts) - - Show Bio

Love that intro. Nostalgia!

#41 Posted by TheDrifter (26555 posts) - - Show Bio

Spawn, The Batman, 90s X-men and TMNT (2003) were my favs.

#42 Posted by Edgeworth_11 (4656 posts) - - Show Bio

This and the X-men 90's will always be the best comic cartoons.

#43 Posted by Chibi-Iroh (388 posts) - - Show Bio

Considering the fact that other than the X-men cartoon from the 90's it was the only cartoon that was that gritty and serious I can believe that.

#44 Posted by Nathaniel_Christopher (1487 posts) - - Show Bio

BTAS was a classic ahead of its time. Not like the shows were stuck with today. Heart of Ice FTW!!!

#45 Posted by kashif1 (40 posts) - - Show Bio

Is it wrong that I like teen titans more? Anyway I loved this show and I'm glad that the HUB is reairing it.

@MyraMyraMyra said:

I definitely do think that there's a market for comic book-based animated series aimed for more mature audiences (well, teenagers and older) because by now whole generations have already grown up watching cartoons. Anime shows have also paved way for the concept of the adult-oriented animated series, and the recent success of live-action superhero films indicates that adult viewers enjoy the genre as much as kids do. Maybe it's time we got an animated superhero TV-series aimed for older viewers.

Young Justice seems to be doing that just fine

#46 Posted by EscGamer (105 posts) - - Show Bio

of course its great come on its THE BATMAN

#47 Posted by goldenkey (2927 posts) - - Show Bio

This show was so beyond what action cartoons were because they were not based off of action. They were in fact small films in their own right. Occasionally an episode here or there connected into another episode, like the Ras Al Ghul character being hinted at and then introduced, but other then that it was somewhat of an Alfred Hitchcock presents type of show based off of Batman. It was really well done because many many times the show was not about Batman, but a character in the Batman world. I remember reading in Wizard before the show was even on T.V. that it was going to be aimed towards adults and put on Sunday nights at something like 10 p.m.. In fact it debuted on a Sunday evening at 6.pm or 7.p.m.. The show was just so fresh. It honestly introduced me to a lot of the Batman characters. It made it easy for me when I started reading Batman comics. I own all DVD's and still believe that Bruce Timm and Paul Dini make the best comic cartoons out there. JLA was great unlimited was even better, but Batman still reigns king, and I don't see it being knocked off any time soon.

#48 Posted by MrErbac (115 posts) - - Show Bio

Great story and character, but I wish it would've had the same look as X-Men the animated series. Am I the only one who hates that square headed look. I would've liked it if the Batman looked like he does in the comics, not some square headed alien from another planet.

#49 Posted by GraphicCasualFreak (221 posts) - - Show Bio

It was a very good show. I remember my girlfriend and I watching it every day. But I think the audience for that type of show is probably more on Adult Swim than it would be during the day or evening these days. There really isn't a single solitary show, except maybe the new Thundercats, that even makes an attempt to be serious. Even the new Young Justice, which I love, is too often mired in silly tongue in cheek humor. I just think that everyone thinks that the audience for cartoons like this are MUCH too young to understand anything of substance. Which I completely disagree with. I would say that Young Justice would be a perfect proving ground for this; but again, considering Batman Brave and the Bold's terrible ratings, I don't think that DC/WB is willing to take what is perceived to be a big chance. But then that is 21st Century TV in a nutshell.

#50 Posted by Mbecks14 (2068 posts) - - Show Bio

Batman TAS was the epitome of all that was Batman. Greatest cartoon of all time, rivaled only by JLU.

They should've gone with a similar mentallity with the new 52, gotten down to the hardcore roots of each franchise.

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