The cast and crew of Batman: The Animated Series capped off New York Comic Con with a panel celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fan-favorite show, which included the announcement that the complete series will be available on Blu-ray in 2018.
Afterwards, producers Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, Kevin Conroy (the voice of Batman), and Tara Strong (the voice of Batgirl) sat down with CBR and members of the press for a roundtable discussion to recap the beloved show and share some behind-the-scenes secrets of its making.
First up was producer Alan Burnett, who admitted that he believed the show would be popular, though not to the extent it where it would be beloved 25 years later. “I’m a fan, and I just knew there was a need for a superhero show that was serious,” Burnett said. “When I saw Bruce Timm’s trailer for what they were going to do, I thought, ‘This is going to be amazing.'”
When asked whose idea it was for the art style, he praised Timm and Eric Radomski, with the latter responsible for much of the background look of the show. “[Radomski] devised the background look of the show. For example, the red skies and art deco feel,” Burnett said. “The show had a 40s mentality even though it had high-tech equipment.”
After the first 65 episodes, Batman: The Animated Series retitled itself The New Batman Adventures that included a redesign of the art style. “Bruce wanted to redesign the characters into slimmer characters, for whatever reason,” Burnett revealed. “It started to become less dark deco and more modern. That was a conscious effort on Bruce’s part to change the characters, so we went with that.”
CBR then asked what it was like to watch the series evolve from Batman: The Animated Series to some of the later shows, along with animated movies. “It’s been great,” Burnett admitted. “I’ve been through the whole thing. I didn’t do Justice League. That was the only show I didn’t do. Batman Beyond was great fun. Superman: The Animated Series was great fun. Superman and Batman together was my favorite thing I ever worked on.”
Another question prompted Burnett to say that Batman was his favorite character. “I’ve been through a lot with Batman. I go back to the last two seasons of Superfriends when Batman was played by Adam West. Which was a lot of fun, too.”
A focus early on in Batman: The Animated Series was to not show his parents’ murder since everyone was familiar with it. Burnett said, “I went to DC at the start of the show. I went through all the Batman stories from 1955 and up. I sat down with Paul Levitz (Vice President of DC at the time) to decide what stories to take from the comics.”
When asked about Batman’s relationship to the field of psychology, Burnett said some thought was given to researching psychology. “I had a psychiatrist I’d call up once in awhile to ask ‘Is this right?'” Burnett spoke to the psychiatrist again when dealing with Two-Face’s origin and split personalities. “Does a split personality begin with trauma?” Burnett asked. His psychiatrist said the show didn’t have to get into that since trauma can be caused by any number of factors.
One fact that many people didn’t know about Batman: The Animated Series is there was a strict no aliens, no ghost, and no Humanitas awards. “Our drive was to make a good comic book television show,” Burnett noted.
Timm echoed Burnett’s earlier comments by stating he always knew the show would be a hit. “The minute we started getting the episodes back in from overseas, animated and put all together, I said, ‘This is a really quality product.’ Back then, it was a mega hit,” Timm said. “Did I expect it’d be a show we’d be talking about 25 years later? Even that’s something I didn’t expect.”
CBR asked, in Timm’s opinion, what makes for a perfect episode of Batman: The Animated Series. “That’s tough. I don’t know if there’s a perfect episode of Batman: The Animated Series,” he answered. “I liked episodes that have a little bit of everything. That have a really strong story. That have a really good villain. That have a Batman B-plot. Something that is exciting and spooky and mysterious and dramatic. But not so dramatic that it’s a downer to watch.”
Batman: The Animated Series not only introduced many of Batman’s supporting heroes and villains from the comics, but also created new ones as well. The most popular of those characters being Joker’s on-again, off-again flame, Harley Quinn. “She was originally intended to be a one-episode, one-and-done character,” Timm revealed. Paul Dini had the idea of giving Joker a girl henchman, while Timm came up with Harley’s design.
“When we got that first episode back from overseas everyone said, ‘Wow, this is something.’ I was kind of reluctant to keep bringing her back,” Timm said. However, Dini was persistent in wanting to bring Harley back. Timm’s original thought was not to dilute the Joker as a villain by giving him a love interest and keeping him serious. In the end, Harley Quinn had such an appeal to the audience that she returned again and again. DC Entertainment Publisher Jim Lee even refers to Harley Quinn as the fourth pillar of the DC universe.
As far as creative influences, Timm namedropped Frank Robbins as a writer and artist, along with Jim Aparo. Also, Warner Bros. gave the Batman: The Animated Series‘ creative team a lot of leeway when it came to producing the show. The only times the company stepped in was to advise that Penguin and Catwoman align with the Tim Burton versions of the characters. Timm shared that much of the day-to-day operations went through the Fox Kids network, where Batman: The Animated Series aired.
“There was one episode that Alan Burnett wanted to do that would trace the history of the gun that killed Bruce Wayne’s parents,” Timm said as an example of an extreme story. “I don’t even remember reading that script all these years later. That was one episode where Fox Kids came back and said that’s too much gun for one episode on kids television.”
The backstory behind the unique red sky from the show’s opening is a simple one, with Timm offering up that “it just looked cool” when a background painter sketched it up.
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