Way back in 1992, Batman: The Animated Series premiered, giving the world a cartoon unlike anything before it. What came as a greater surprise were the series that would follow, Superman, Justice League, etc., which introduced the world to the first superhero shared universe outside the pages of the comic books. Most credit the MCU with innovating the idea that multiple superheroes could show up in film and TV, connected by a shared universe, but that would be false. It was in fact Bruce Timm and company when they helmed the DC Animated Universe, otherwise known as the Timmverse
It’s no secret that shows like BtAS and Justice League are beloved by many, and for good reason. The DCAU was a masterpiece of interconnecting stories, in-depth characters and classic and modern takes on the superhero narrative. It’s a bit surprising that the folks behind this landmark on-screen universe don’t seem to have any involvement with the DCEU, since they could bring a whole lot to the table. With that said, we thought it would be interesting to pit the modern live DC shows and movies against the DCAU, a contest the Timmverse wins every time. Here’s why…
15. THE FIRST SHARED SUPERHERO UNIVERSE
We don’t want to make any wild claims implying that just because something was first means it was the best. That’s not what we mean here, but it is worth noting that the DCAU predates any other film/tv shared superhero universe. It’s easily arguable that the MCU is bigger and better than the DCAU at this point, but we should still praise Timm’s universe for its innovation and creativity.
Though it’s unclear if Batman: The Animated Series was planned to be part of a bigger universe, but following it came Superman: The Animated Series where the man of steel met several other DC superheroes including Batman himself. This began the first connections that would become a massive animated superhero universe. Gotta hand it to DC for making a shared universe before the idea hit the big screen.
14. STORY VARIETY
One of the strongest aspects of the DCAU was its ability to shift and scale its focus, meaning it had a lot to choose from in terms of what kind of stories it told. For Batman: The Animated Series, we got small-scale vigilante noir stories, and in Superman: The Animated Series, the scale was raised; bigger fights with a stronger character. Things got amped up more with Justice League and even further with Justice League: Unlimited. Every type of superhero story imaginable existed in the DCAU.
Even within each series, there was all types of stories; there were tales of heroes in grave danger to handle a high-stakes situation or sometimes just an all-powerful hero helping their friend through a tough time. While being a superhero universe, the Timmverse also managed to be a real world, one with all kinds of stories interacting with each other.
13. A LESS-SUPER SUPERMAN
Superman is an overpowered superhero, we all know it. He’s powered by the sun after all, an infinite source of energy to supply him with all the power he could ever need… and then some. Superman’s all-powerful status has been written differently by various writers, and it has been done well enough to make his ridiculous power seem, well, slightly less ridiculous.
However, what’s great about Superman’s depiction in Superman: The Animated Series (and later JL and JLU) is the fact that Superman is powered down quite a bit. Granted, Supes isn’t completely nerfed, but his strength seems to have a limit. He’s not quite as fast as The Flash, for example. In other words, we are presented with a Superman who, while still being the superhero of this universe, is no god among men; he can and does meet his match from time to time.
12. THE DESIGNS
What would Justice League and Batman:The Animated Series be without the signature style of Bruce Timm? A self-taught artist, Timm’s style is immediately recognizable by his use of sleek angles and creatively minimalized stylization. It’s a simple, yet effective aesthetic that became known as the DC animation style for a long period of time. Timm has said that his style is derived from classic ’40s and ’50s art-deco art.
The simple style of the DCAU also helped make animation easier, as it didn’t require complex movement, but still looked fluid in motion. Furthermore, the style helps make design easier, since there were essentially three superhero body types that were used for the shows and movies. Bruce Timm’s art also served to be a great template for the classic versions of superhero costumes, as the old-fashioned suits looks right at home on his character designs and became instantly iconic.
11. PAUL DINI & BRUCE TIMM
Speaking of Bruce Timm, he and Paul Dini are responsible for the creation, organization and writing of most of the DCAU. The DCAU has been called both “the Diniverse” and “the Timmverse” because of both creator’s contributions. Whatever you want to call this universe, there’s no doubt just how much work Dini and Timm put into crafting the stories involved.
Dini produced and wrote a majority of BtAS (including The New Adventures), StAS and Batman Beyond and contributed writing on Static Shock. Some of the greatest stories of the DCAU were written by Dini, and he and Timm’s collaboration was key to a lot of what we loved about BtAS. Timm himself was the powerhouse of the DCAU, serving as producer, writer, director and character designer for a majority of the DCAU before moving on to produce other DC animated features.
10. HARLEY QUINN
Harley Quinn is everywhere in nerd culture: t-shirts, cosplay, comics — she’s a beloved character by many. But where did she come from? Well, she was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for BtAS. She was based off of actress Arleen Sorkin, who would later voice the character, and only planned for a single appearance in “Joker’s Favor.” However, her popularity lead to a recurring role
The DCAU gave us Harley Quinn, and let’s be honest, BtAS is still the best version her. There are of course the spin-off comics that take place in the DCAU, but for the most part, Harley Quinn’s appearances in the comics are pale by comparison to her original medium. To be fair, she works best in the villain of the week format that BtAS employed, rather than the anti-hero she has become. Still, we’re thankful to the budding DCAU that she’s here in the first place!
9. BATMAN BEYOND
Speaking of Harley Quinn, one of the DCAU’s strongest traits was that it wasn’t afraid to create new characters. One of the best DCAU original characters (that would also find his way to the comics) was Terry McGinnis, the Batman of the future. The concept of Batman Beyond was unlike anything from the DC comics. It established a future Gotham that had gone without a Batman for years, until Terry showed up at old man Bruce Wayne’s door and took up the mantle.
The originality of the series and the incorporation of other DCAU elements, while still remaining its own story, was what made Batman Beyond so great. Further, Bruce Timm’s designs are amazing as always, from the new bat suit to all the strange and futuristic villains. There are even connections to Justice League and Static Shock in Beyond, and it also got its own spinoff series, The Zeta Project.
8. STATIC SHOCK
Static Shock wasn’t the first time that DC and Milestone Media crossed over, but it was the first time they existed in the same universe. Before the two universes were merged, there was Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan’s animated adaptation of Static Shock. The series followed Virgil Hawkins and the show took place after a mutagenic gas leak caused a group of people to develop superpowers in Dakota City. The resulting power struggle and gang wars inspired Virgil to use his newfound electromagnetic powers to defend the city as Static.
The show covered a variety of racial, social and political issues over its course and featured several crossovers with The New Batman Adventures, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and Batman Beyond. Many praised the show for its tackling of social issues.
7. TIE-IN COMICS
As most of the DCAU show were premiering, they also had comic book tie-ins. These comics continued the adventures of the Justice League, Batman, Batman Beyond and Superman in stories that were canon to the rest of the universe. One of these comics even ended up making its way back into the cartoons, Mad Love, the origin on Harley Quinn. The art style and writing of the DCAU comics remain consistent with the animated shows and even showcased some characters that had never been seen.
Though there are some canon disputes — things like character personality and appearance changes — comics like Adventures in the DC Universe served as a predecessor for the large, rotating cast of adventures we would see in Justice League Unlimited. These tie-in comics worked great as a way to keep people interested in the adventures of the DCAU.
6. MASK OF THE PHANTASM IS A MASTERPIECE
Often regarded as one of the best, if not the best animated Batman movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was a full-length continuation of BtAS. Though the film was originally planned for television, it was changed last minute to a theatrical release, which ultimately resulted in its box office failure. Despite its low returns, the film is critically praised as a masterpiece.
The film followed Bruce Wayne both before and during his career as Batman, revealing that he was in love with a woman named Andrea Beaumont, a love that almost stopped him form becoming Batman. There are twists and turns and deep themes explored in the film, the deepest perhaps being Bruce questioning his vow to avenge his parents because of his happiness with Andrea. Mask of the Phantasm was directed by Bruce Timm and Written by Paul Dini along with Alan Burnett, Martin Pasko and Michael Reaves.
5. THE DEFINITIVE JUSTICE LEAGUE
Before Justice League Unlimited expanded the cast of the DCAU, Justice League gave the world a definitive super team. The show started with the TV movie “Secret Origins,” in which alien invaders take over Earth, leading Martian Manhunter to telepathically summon Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl to rescue him from the aliens so that they could all join together to save the world. After working together, Superman invites them all to continue to work as a team, to which they all agree (though Batman is only a part-timer).
This cast of the Justice League came to be known as the lineup for a lot of kids who grew up with the show. Set in the classic DC team mold, this was the perfect balance of different powers, backgrounds and personality types; the very same that has allowed the League to last all these years in comics.
4. THE BEST AQUAMAN
While we’ve yet to see much of Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman, we can without a doubt say that the current best version of Aquaman comes from the DCAU. Aquaman’s first DCAU appearance came in Superman: The Animated Series, where he was believed to be a myth until Lex Luthor captured him. We wouldn’t see him again until Justice League, where he had become much more dismissive of the surface world.
This Aquaman is a king first and a superhero second. He is, in a word, badass, rocking long hair, a beard and a freaking hook for a hand. Plus, he commands a giant octopus at one point, and honestly what’s cooler than that?! It’s not just the appearance and actions of this Aquaman that make him great; his positions as a king, a father and a hero are explored in a way that deepen the character beyond what is on (pardon the pun) the surface.
3. THE VOICE ACTORS
Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as The Joker, Michael Rosenbaum as The Flash, Tim Daly as Superman: the list goes on. So many iconic voices came out of the DCAU; voices that we know associate as being those heroes. Conroy is so definitively the voice of Batman that he’s gone on to voice the character in nearly every other cartoon and video game. In fact, most of the original seven League voice actors reprised their roles for Justice League: Doom.
There were plenty of guest actors in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, too. Orion was voiced by Ron Perlman, Adam Baldwin played Rick Flagg, Robert Englund was Felix Faust, Brad Garret brought the main man Lobo to life and Nathan Fillion played cowboy hero, Vigilante. Those are just a few of the great actors that brought so many DC superheroes and villains to life.
2. JLU SHOWCASED A TON OF CHARACTERS
Justice League Unlimited expanded the cast of its predecessor, turning the episodes into different missions assigned to the many new league members introduced in the first episode. Everyone from fan-favorite heroes to obscure characters had their time in the spotlight, each episode serving as a peek into the big crazy world of the DCAU. Seriously, just about every DC superhero imaginable made an appearance, even somewhat forgotten characters like Hawk and Dove.
JLU was the last show of the DCAU, and what a way to go out, since it expanded this animated universe as big as it could get. The League’s adventures took place all over the universe, featuring a HUGE cast that ensured there wasn’t a dull moment in the entire series. The DCAU definitely went out with a bang.
1. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
It was the show that started it all; a show unlike any other at its time, full of action, drama, noir elements and classic superhero stories. Developed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, Batman: The Animated Series was sold as a kid’s cartoon, but its deep and dark storytelling found audiences of all ages. There isn’t much we can say about this show that hasn’t already been said by hundreds before us, so it’s without a doubt absolutely amazing.
Also without a doubt, we think we can claim that this Batman is the best ever. He’s a dark and brooding type, but he’s not two-dimensional (figuratively speaking), but rather a deep character with human flaws and human emotions. To this day, there has yet to be an on-screen interpretation of Batman as great as the BtAS, and we challenge you to disagree.
Do you think the DCAU was the best thing DC has done on-screen? If so, tell us what you loved about it and why in the comments!
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