Despite being widely regarded as the most faithful adaptation of the Batman mythos ever, Batman: The Animated Series still made many changes to comic book continuity. We’re not just talking about the creation of popular new characters like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya, either. More than simply adding a few new faces to the Dark Knight’s supporting cast, series creators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski oversaw significant revisions to existing characters and settings, too.
Fortunately, the majority of these potentially controversial alterations (including the 10 we’ve rounded-up here) were met with near-universal acclaim. Indeed, some of the changes introduced by Timm, Radomski and their creative team have not only influenced subsequent Batman adaptations on the small and big screen – they’ve even been adopted in the comics, as well!
10 The Mad Hatter’s Motivations
The Mad Hatter has always been considered a second-string Bat-villain. Sure, his Lewis Carroll fixation is creepy and his mind control technology effective – but both of these elements are undermined by a goofy hat obsession and thin characterization.
When it came time to adapt the Hatter for Batman: The Animated Series, writer Paul Dini identified the character’s two main flaws and rectified them. Dini scrapped the Mad Hatter’s preoccupation with headwear and recast the baddie as an unrequited lover pushed over the edge – elevating him into the top tier at long last.
9 Robin’s Costume
The Dick Grayson who appears in Batman: The Animated Series is more or less the same guy from the comic books. He has an identical backstory, and his personality (both as Robin and Nightwing) is immediately recognizable.
What is different about this version of Grayson is the crimefighting outfit he wears. Gone are the exposed legs and quaint pixie boots, replaced by full-length spandex and functional boots. It’s an unqualified aesthetic upgrade, and one that owes a debt of gratitude to the Robin costume sported by one of his successors, Tim Drake, in the comics.
8 Bruce Wayne’s Public Image
As one of the few individuals in the world with a bank account large enough to bankroll Batman’s fantastical array of vehicles and gizmos, it’s important for Bruce Wayne to avert suspicion. That’s why he’s often depicted as assuming the public persona of a self-absorbed, unintelligent lush more interested in chasing supermodels than running the family business.
Surprisingly, Batman: The Animated Series opted not to go down this well-worn path with its interpretation of Bruce. In the show, Batman’s civilian alter-ego is both a high-flying playboy and a respected captain of industry shown to openly act on his principles – a more nuanced (yet still effective) form of disguise.
7 Harvey Dent’s Wardrobe
Ever since he debuted in 1942’s Detective Comics #66, disfigured supervillain Two-Face has favored business suits notable for being divided straight down the middle by different colors and patterns. The rationale behind this is to highlight his preoccupation with duality – but Batman: The Animated Series really kicked things up a notch.
By dressing Two-Face in a black-and-white suit, Bruce Timm not only created an arresting character model. He also made the tragic villain’s perpetual internal struggle between darkness and light all the more explicit. It’s no wonder that more than a few comic book and video game artists have copied Timm’s design in the years since!
6 Batman’s New Crimefighting Idol
A recurring aspect of Batman’s origin is that before Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered, the family had been watching The Mark of Zorro at the cinema. The upshot of this is that the swashbuckling vigilante ended up becoming one of the many influences that inspired Bruce’s own crimefighting alter ego.
That’s not exactly how things panned out in Batman: The Animated Series, though. True, Justice League Unlimited would later establish that Wayne did indeed see Zorro the night his parents were gunned down. But The Animated Series makes it clear that the young Bruce was more heavily influenced by the protagonist of (fictitious) TV series The Grey Ghost – and since the Ghost himself is voiced by '60s Batman Adam West, this is a change we’re totally on board with!
5 Clayfaces Combined
With so many years’ worth of stories to choose from, sometimes the smartest approach when adapting Batman in other media is to combine several concepts to create something new. This approach certainly paid dividends where the Batman: The Animated Series incarnation of Clayface is concerned, which brings together the most interesting aspects of two different versions of the character!
The show’s spin on this shapeshifting crook grafts the original Clayface Basil Karlo’s background as an accomplished actor driven to a life of crime onto the second, Matt Hagen iteration. The end result is a visually impressive villain who boasts not only memorable superpowers but a mildly poignant origin story, too.
4 Bruce Wayne’s Shared History With Zatanna
You don’t become a world class detective, scientist, gymnast, and martial artist without undergoing a lot of training – which explains why Bruce Wayne spent the better part of a decade preparing to become Batman. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until Batman: The Animated Series that we discovered that the Dark Knight sought out the tutelage of Zatara – the father of the Justice League’s resident lady magician, Zatanna!
As shown in the aptly-named episode “Zatanna”, Bruce sought out Zatara to learn the skills needed to become a master escape artist, growing close to Zatara’s attractive young daughter along the way. This new element of Batman’s formative years resonated with viewers and comics creators alike – so much so that it was eventually added to the official comics canon.
3 Gotham City’s Blimps
Part of the appeal of Batman: The Animated Series is that, unlike the comics on which it's based, it isn’t set in a specific time period. Ostensibly, it’s set in the present day: there are computers and other contemporary (or even futuristic) technology which confirm this.
Nevertheless, the characters sport outfits that would look more at home in a 1940s film noir flick, and the vehicles they get around in are likewise antiquated. Perhaps the finest example of this is the spotlight-laden blimps utilized by the Gotham City Police department, which epitomize the show’s gorgeous (and literally timeless) “dark deco” vibe.
2 The Revamped Scarecrow
Batman has many scary enemies, but few are more frightening than the Scarecrow. However, his cartoon counterpart initially struggled to scare anyone, as his comics-accurate design looked undeniably goofy when simplified to fit the Batman: The Animated Series style.
It wasn’t until the show was relaunched as The New Batman Adventures and Scarecrow – along with the rest of cast – was given a major visual overhaul that he became truly intimidating. Admittedly, Scarecrow’s new look barely resembles an actual farmyard mannequin, but there’s no denying that it gives us the heebie-jeebies, which is what really counts!
1 Mr. Freeze’s Origin
When it comes to declaring which Batman: The Animated Series change had the biggest and most lasting impact, there’s no contest: it’s the revised origin of Mr. Freeze. Scribe Paul Dini completely reinvented this previously one-note, gimmick-driven villain into something vastly more complex for the Emmy Award-winning episode “Heart of Ice.”
Dini introduced the concept that Freeze was motivated by the desire to cure his terminally-ill wife, Nora, and seek revenge on those responsible for his condition. Revealing the emotional warmth concealed beneath Freeze’s frosty exterior added genuine pathos and nuance to the character, and this sympathetic portrayal has been implemented across all other media (including the comics) ever since.
What are some other great changes Batman: The Animated Series made to comic book continuity? Let us know in the comments!