The endearment of Batman: The Animated Series is undeniable. Even today, the show, which premiered in September 1992 and ran for 109 episodes, boasts a fanbase that honors its contributions to animation (and Batman lore, of course) with anniversary celebrations and audience commemorations. The show’s unilateral approach to the Caped Crusader is tight and focused, infusing its characters and events with a maturity atypical of that era’s kids’ programming. Even more impressively, it effortlessly blends ’90s energy with timeless takes on characters new and old who have shaped and influenced our sensibilities. Characters such as Harley Quinn, whom the show introduced to the world in “Joker’s Favor,” have since become some of DC’s most beloved characters.
Batman: The Animated Series follows Bruce Wayne as he dons cape and cowl and wages war against Gotham City’s most dangerous villains. The show was developed by Paul Dini and Eric Radomski and features the voice talents of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Loren Lester, Tara Strong, and others.
Regarding the show’s hotly anticipated Blu-Ray release, the cast eagerly shared their insights on the show’s persisting magic. When asked about why the ’90s vibe was integral to the show, series producer and co-creator Eric Radomski responded, “Because, at that time, nothing else took risks like Batman Animated did, and I think that represented the ’90s genre of animation. It’s carried over because we intended it to be timeless.”
Pop culture – particularly that of a specific era or generation – feeds off itself; many ’90s cartoons boasted different animation styles but drew from what had people interested at the time. Unfortunately, that approach doomed and dated many shows. Few endured because most lacked the prescience of Batman: The Animated Series. The fashion, weapons, cars, and aesthetic of the show point to a 20th-century setting, but the themes and characters are what keep it relevant. The series pricked a vein that everyone, whether they were five or fifty, could feel. It explored what happens when tenacity becomes bitterness, when trying too hard too often breeds darkness. Conversely, it also emphasized the hope that Batman possesses, and how that hope ultimately keeps him out of the dark. The show is a distant cry from the dated humor of Pinky and the Brain or the gag-worthy grossness of Ren and Stimpy, two shows that say nothing and haven’t aged well because of it.
Radomski continued, “This show in particular seemed to grab the core of what Batman is, and it did it in this sort of timeless period.”
In a separate interview, series co-creator Paul Dini provided his own perspective on this approach:
“I think it pinpoints it to a certain time without necessarily dating it. One of the things that we wanted to do through the visuals was show this as a story that took place in the 20th century. It could either be 1940, 2000, or anywhere in between. And yet we do recognize that the way of telling stories has changed a lot since then. They’ve gotten shorter. They’ve gotten faster. It speaks to the show’s, ya know, term that it does keep its appeal and that people are able to sit through it for 22 minutes. Current cartoons are barely 11 minutes. Hopefully our show will continue to hold up that way.”
Robin voice actor Loren Lester commented on the lovable sidekick’s place in the Batman mythos, saying,
“Robin really wanted to lighten Batman up. Batman was always the dark one, and Robin was the one who got to deliver the funny lines. He’d always say to Batman, ‘Come on, Batman! Lighten up!’ Batman wouldn’t, and that was one of the sources of their tension and why he eventually broke away and became his own man. There was a lightness to Robin and Nightwing that other sidekicks don’t have.”
Lester’s answer, coupled with Dini’s comments, strengthens the idea that the ’90s are alive and well through this series, and that kids loved the show partly because of the palette-cleansing levity. People loved Robin because he was a bright-eyed yin to Batman’s glowering yang. This dynamic plays a big role in roping in new fans of the show. That’s one of the series’s most notable accomplishments: it’s as entertaining for older fans as it is for more recent ones.
When compared to other animated takes on these characters, Batman: The Animated Series is indisputably superior, a masterwork of narrative finesse and undated brilliance. Even Justice League: The Animated Series, a beloved show stuffed with astounding moments, doesn’t enjoy the sturdiness of the support Batman receives to this day. Call it conceptual integrity, character loyalty, whatever. Without that timelessness in mind, it’s difficult to approach what this show does so easily and so effectively.
Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy said that Batman wants to “heal the world.” Elaborating, he said, “His way of dealing with the tragedy of life was to heal. He didn’t let it crush him.” It’s worth noting that half the reason the character is so iconic is because of Conroy’s impassioned performance. The guy can voice-act his pants off.
The complete Batman: The Animated Series hit stores on October 30. The set’s special features include a 90-minute documentary titled The Heart of Batman, the feature-length films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero, and interviews with cast and crew members. The entire set will run you $113, but we already know it’s worth it. Part nostalgia kick, all awesomeness, this is a must-have for any self-respecting Bat-fan.