If you grew up in the '90s, chances are the first incarnation of the Dark Knight you were introduced to was either the Tim Burton film or Batman: The Animated Series. Both Batman incarnations are considered shining examples of the adventures of the Caped Crusader, but it's the animated adaptation that continues to be the ideal representation of the character. For an animated series, it had almost twice the action, suspense, drama, and thrills of the comics. It was dark, mature, intense, but it knew were to sprinkle in some levity, humor, and resolution so that younger viewers would still be hooked. It was a cartoon, but it didn't talk down to its audience, and it maintained the dignity one would expect from a hero of Batman's caliber.
That being said, as good as the show was, it wasn't without its faults. At times the cartoon aspects of the series did show, and some of the humor, lines, and setups are a little bit dated by today's standards. But warts and all, the show still stands as one of the best Batman adaptations, even if some of the choices are questionable. Batman: The Animated Series is good, but what elements are still good, and which ones haven't exactly aged the best? Does Batman's most popular series still hold up? Or should it hang up the cape and cowl? Here are twenty the strengths and weaknesses of Batman's animated adventures.
20 STRENGTH: MR. FREEZE REBORN
One of the forgotten features of the series was how it resurrected and recreated one of Batman's most recognizable villains. Before he was thawed out for the animated series, Mr. Freeze had been put on ice for some time. Before he had the heart of ice we see today, he was a comedic villain with an ice-themed gimmick, long before Schwarzenegger got into the suit.
The animated series turned the mad scientist into a Shakespearean tragedy. He commits acts of villainy not for personal gain, but to save the woman he loves. It separates him from his previous incarnations and makes him one of the most interesting and complex characters in Gotham's Rogues Gallery.
19 WEAKNESS: RED SKY AT NIGHT
One of the biggest changes the series went through in the later seasons was the Superman-inspired, art deco redesign. Along with the obvious art style change came more comic-book-esque storylines, stranger villains, and more sci-fi and fantasy elements mixed in with the traditional Batman formula. It was just a strange time for all.
This is an element of the series that divided fans for the longest time. Some accepted and even admired the new style and direction, but others thought it was odd and out of left field. We can understand the need for continuity, but we also believe in the old adage of if it's not broke don't fix it.
18 STRENGTH: SUCCESSFUL SPINOFFS
First came Batman: The Animated Series then came a slew of successful spinoffs that became an entire animated universe. After Batman's success, the Man of Steel soon found his own animated outing, as did the Justice League, and soon a sequel came in the form of Batman Beyond. Though these series were varied and different from the one that inspired them, we all know the show that started them all.
Thanks to the series, fans everywhere were introduced to more of DC's characters, villains, and stories of their favorite heroes. Though he prefers to work alone, we do love seeing Batman on a team. It still had notes of the Dark Knight's series, but it took a more sci-fi direction, not that we're complaining.
17 STRENGTH: BATMAN AT THE MOVIES
Not only did the series spawn some impressive spinoff shows, but some pretty gripping animated movies as well. Mask of the Phantasm and Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero were not only incredible outings for the Caped Crusader but impressive films as well. In what could have easily been longer and expensive episodes, the movies took the action and adventure of the series to a cinematic scale.
The one everyone remembers is Mask of the Phantasm, not only for being an awesome Batman adventure but exploring the inner workings of the character as well. The movie had drama, action, and a crime noir story centering around the Joker, what more could you need. It maintained what made the show great, but proved it was no one-trick-pony.
16 WEAKNESS: SOME DESIGNS FLOPPED
Some designs in the series were absolutely gorgeous. From the dark and dreary shadows of the Batcave to the garish palate of Joker's funhouse, most of the designs were appropriately cold or colorful, depending on the situation. Then there were some design choices in later seasons that were big fat flops.
We're talking about the spider-cyborg Mr. Freeze, the gothed-out Catwoman, and the color drained Joker that we saw in The New Batman Adventures, they weren't awful, but they were definitely jarring. Some of these designs were just silly, but others (namely Joker's) just didn't make sense. Call it a mistake, call it trial and error, but these design choices just didn't sit well with some fans.
15 STRENGTH: PICKED UP WHERE BURTON LEFT
From the gothic atmosphere to the Danny Elfman soundtrack, it's no surprise the animated series was inspired by the biggest Batman film at the time, Tim Burton's Batman. The film captured the look and atmosphere so well, it only made sense to take the same formula and apply it to the TV adaptation. Before The New Batman Adventures (seasons three and four), the series maintained that grim noir style from the movie and brought it to the small screen.
The first two seasons were simply saturated with gothic overtones, steeped in shadows and dark bleak environments. This not only created atmosphere but allowed the characters to pop off the screen. Though some liberties were taken, it definitely echoed the 1989 film.
14 STRENGTH: INTRODUCED HARLEY QUINN
Not only did the series bring to life some of DC Comics' most beloved characters, but it gave the brand a new one as well. Fan favorite Harley Quinn made her debut not in the comics, but in the animated series as Joker's sidekick and love interest. Formerly Arkham's psychologist, Dr. Harleen Quinzell, she became manipulated and seduced by the Joker, leading her to a life of crime.
We see Harley thrown through the wringer in this show. Though she gets an occasional solo outing or a refreshing pair up with Poison Ivy, she's also thwarted by Batman and abused by the Joker on a regular basis. Much more than a ditzy henchwoman, Harley is as big in the series as her abusive counterpart.
13 STRENGTH: IT WAS MATURE AND COMPELLING KID'S SHOW
One of the show's biggest strengths was the way it communicated to its audience. The series, though a cartoon, didn't talk down to its viewers. Kids aren't the only viewers who like Batman, and the writers and creators knew it. This allowed them to venture into the darker and potentially more mature subject matter.
In the series, we see blood, mob rings, attempted suicides, and several acts of violence, it's really quite surprising what the show got away with. It showed some PG-13 material, but it was never gratuitous and always balanced the light with the dark. It knew when to be strong and when to be subtle, drive home the dark to appreciate the light.
12 WEAKNESS: SOME CARTOONY PERFORMANCES
It's not a big flaw, but sometimes some of the personalities on the show were a bit too over-the-top for something like a Batman TV show. We're looking at you Creeper. Sometimes characters were solid and grounded like Two-Face, Bane, or The Penguin, other times they came off as a bit too animated and goofy like a certain
The Joker could be a bit too clownish, but he still emulated his comic book counterpart. Mostly it was newer characters like Klarion and the Creeper that shifted the tone to Saturday morning cartoon territory, but the point still stands. Seems even Batman can't be serious all the time.
11 STRENGTH: HEROES AND VILLAINS WERE FLESHED OUT AND DEVELOPED
In many animated superhero series, the hero is always the force for good with a fight for right attitude and the villain is always sneaky and sinister with a plot to take over the city/country/world/tri-state area. Batman: The Animated Series gave it's cast more substance than your typical cartoon. These weren't just flat filler cutouts.
In the series, we see the life of Bruce Wayne and Batman, but we also gain some background of the villains. We see the rise and fall of Harvey Dent, the tragedy of Jervis Tetch, and the horrific mutation of Clayface. We understand and identify with these characters much better than we should, and that helps drive the story home. We can all appreciate characters with depth and feeling.
10 STRENGTH: VILLAINS WERE NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE
One thing that certainly grabs our attention in the series is how much we actually see behind some of Batman's most notorious villains. We get our typical chaotic motives from characters like the Joker and Killer Croc, all chaotic and destructive. Then we see a more human approach to characters like the Mad Hatter, Babydoll, and the Ventriloquist.
We see not only bad guys with diabolical schemes but hurt people lashing back at an unforgiving society. Yes, villains can be pure evil individuals, but some can also be aching souls in need of saving. That doesn't make the things they do right, but it puts a different perspective on the comic book villain.
9 STRENGTH: A SCARIER SCARECROW
One character that had the most drastic change in terms of evolution was without a doubt the Scarecrow. In the first seasons of the series, there really wasn't that much remarkable about him. Yes, he had the fear toxin, the burlap mask, and the scythe, but he came off as more of a cartoon than an embodiment of terror. That is... until season four.
When the series got an art-deco styled makeover, Scarecrow's was the most changed, and easily the scariest. He went from cartoon to creep instantly. With a raspy voice, black undertaker attire, hangman's noose, and a mask like something out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the new design put the scare in scarecrow and made the villain much more intimidating and memorable.
8 WEAKNESS: NOIR CAN GO OVER PEOPLE'S HEADS
It takes more than some impressive fighting skills to keep Gotham safe. What some fans might occasionally forget is that Batman is more than just a kick-butt crime-fighting machine, but bears the title of World's Greatest Detective as well. Some of the episodes do have a more mystery and detective story to them, and the slow burn might be less interesting than battling Mr. Freeze with some high-tech gadgets.
Episodes like "Animal Act," "Beware the Gray Ghost," and "Perchance to Dream" are some intriguing and interesting Batman stories, but they can also be a little slow. The focus is more on solving the mystery than bashing the villain, and that could lose some viewers expecting more action-heavy outings. Sometimes it's the journey, not the destination.
7 STRENGTH: BEST BATMAN AND JOKER
Though Keaton and Nicholson's performances as Batman and the Joker were near perfection, the animated series's team of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil are tough to beat. The animated Batman and Joker were perfect opposites and their constant battle throughout the show was engaging and entertaining. The pair were near perfect examples of the ongoing battle of good and evil.
The two use their opposing elements to work in harmony. Batman is dark and mysterious, Joker is colorful and chaotic, and neither one can truly exist without the other. They are the yin and yang of the show and this is what keeps their conflict interesting and what keeps us coming back for more.
6 STRENGTH: SEASON 4
Also known as The New Batman Adventures or "The Red Sky Season", this season took things in a different direction. Though there were a few bumps, it was an intriguing and interesting time for the Caped Crusader. We were introduced to new characters like Tim Drake, The Judge, and Etrigan, and saw the further evolution of old characters like Harley Quinn and Nightwing.
The show got a new design, new adventures, and new perils for our heroes to face. It was a step away from the previous noir-styled seasons, but it still felt like Batman. It might be an acquired taste to some, but we can't deny it still had the action, adventure, and atmosphere that drew us to the Dark Knight.
5 STRENGTH: PAUL DINI'S STORIES
One of the biggest names behind Batman is writer, Paul Dini. Dini is responsible for some of the most gripping plots in DC Comics, and Batman: The Animated Series sports his best work. The stories by this DC legend were nothing short of phenomenal and kept us all drawn in with their action and drama.
"Mad as a Hatter," "Heart of Ice," and the heartbreaking "Mad Love" were some of the greatest Batman stories ever created, and we have Dini to thank for it. Dini's stories proved that an animated series could be bigger than just a show for kids. His stories could be comedic, tragic, and even frightening, which is why they were so successful. They gave Batman an edge, despite the kid-friendly exterior.
4 WEAKNESS: SOME CHOICES MAKE IT DATED
Let's be honest, not a lot of modern Batman adventures feature Tommy-guns, laughing fish, and police blimps. The retro design and aesthetic of the show's earlier seasons and even some of the art-deco choices of the later ones definitely date the series a little. It's not glaring, but one that many fans are sure to notice.
To put it bluntly, the '80s and '90s nostalgia will only get an older series so far for so long. It's great to reflect on a past favorite, but how well would it do with some modern audience members. There are some choices in the series that wouldn't fly on TV today. It's not a relic, but a few better choices could have been made.
3 STRENGTH: STUNNING VOICE CAST
The show not only sported some of the best stories brought to Batman but featured some top-notch vocal performances as well. We're all familiar with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil's contributions as Batman and the Joker, but you'd be surprised at how many big names are behind some Gotham City residents.
Even the golden stars of Hollywood can show some love for the bat. The cast featured many big-name actors like Adam West, Ron Perlman, Roddy McDowell, Billy Zane, and Ed Asner just to name a few. Whether they were behind the faces of friends and allies or played the part of the special-guest-villain a la the '60s series, there was some phenomenal talent in the show.
2 STRENGTH: INCREDIBLE DESIGNS
Both the early and later seasons sported some impressive designs and animation to help bring Batman's adventures to life. The early seasons featured a style heavily influenced by the crime-thriller film genre, complete with Tommy-guns, gangsters, and vintage urban Americana. The later seasons matched the art-deco style of the animated Superman adaptation but didn't rely too heavily on modernization.
The design choices gave us colorful characters, dark and gothic backdrops, and a look that was true to form for the comic book character they were trying to represent. Nowadays, this is a move that's seemingly forgotten in some superhero shows. Perhaps it would be wise to look to the past to improve future adaptations.
1 STRENGTH: NEAR PERFECT REPRESENTATION OF BATMAN'S MYTHOS
Batman has been adapted and rearranged more times than you can shake a Batarang at. From serious to silly, there have been countless comics, cartoons, and feature films that have morphed the Dark Knight over and over again. Be that as it may, it's this version that continues to be the ideal representation of the Batman saga.
From the design and animation to the characters and story arcs, the elements come together perfectly in the animated series better than most subsequent adaptations and even some of the films. It captured the dark and dramatic without going over the edge, and it kept its audience entertained and enraptured. With captivating plots and characters and respect for the material, the animated series became the definitive Batman.