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Batman's Most Underrated Cartoon Began 15 Years Ago

The Batman 2004 Series

If you ask any Batman fan what their favorite cartoon is, Batman: The Animated Series is still the default answer for fans of all ages. Then, there's also the likes of Batman Beyond and Batman: The Brave and the Bold that claim special places in many fans hearts for their unique takes on the Dark Knight.

One show that doesn't get as much attention as it should, though, is 2004's The Batman. The series aired for five seasons and featured Rino Romano as the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman. It also spawned its own comic book series titled The Batman Strikes! as well as a movie called The Batman vs. Dracula.

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Unfortunately, The Batman had its work cut out for it right from the get-go. As the first post-Bruce Timm/Paul Dini era Dark Knight cartoon, it had a mountain to climb to convince fans of its promise. After all, the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) is widely considered as the greatest animated superhero universe ever, and there were many viewers who were unhappy about the end of its iconic Batman shows.

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Instead of trying to establish some form of link between this new show and the DCAU -- through the voice actors or character designs -- The Batman went in the opposite direction. It proved to be a sweeping departure with its drastic reimagining of the Batman mythos as well as the look of the majority of the characters.

The rogues gallery, in particular, received upgrades (or downgrades, depending on how you look at it) with the Riddler appearing as if he'd joined My Chemical Romance's Black Parade, while the Joker went for a dreadlocks and no shows look. As expected, the not-my-character complaints from gurmpy fans circulated around the forums and remain topics of hot conversation today.

Yet, these characters clicked in the neo-noir setting of the show and reinvigorated the classic Batman lore with a fresh attitude. While most people are averse to change, it was incredibly gutsy and remarkable how comics creator and animator Jeff Matsuda (Jackie Chan Adventures) approached the design of this series in retrospect, knowing full well that he'd receive backlash from DCAU supporters. He demonstrated that creativity should always trump fan service.

Man-Bat in The Batman

Matsuda, though, wasn't the only creative talent behind The Batman, as he was joined by the likes of Glen Murakami (Teen Titans) and Duane Capizzi (Transformers: Prime). They might not have received the credit they deserved for their time on the show, but their future successes and resumes are living proof that the series might've been ahead of its time.

Similarly, the voice cast never received the plaudits it warranted. While it wasn't the iconic cast from Batman: The Animated Series, there were blockbuster performances from notable performers such as Gina Gershon as Catwoman, Robert Englund as the Riddler, Tom Kenny as the Penguin and even Romano as Batman. There was never a feeling that anyone phoned it in, and the portrayals still sound terrific 15 years later.

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The show continued to defy the norm with its writing. While most animated series lose their luster after a few seasons, The Batman did the opposite. Every season proved to be superior to the previous one, diving deeper into the history of Gotham City and being unafraid to tweak canon when it deemed it necessary.

The story arc of original character Ethan Bennett, for example, was engaging and tragic at the same time. It paralleled the usual transformation of Harvey Dent into Two-Face as Detective Bennett turned into Clayface on the show after being the hero for so long. Bennett, though, received his redemption and showcased that everyone can change and be saved -- a valuable lesson for a children's show.

Another fantastic modification was introducing Barbara Gordon/Batgirl as Batman's first sidekick. While this was done because of Teen Titans showcasing Dick Grayson/Robin, it changed the dynamic of the show and brought something unexpected to the fold. Of course, Grayson joined the show in the next season after the cancellation of Teen Titans.

No animated show is ever truly complete without a memorable theme song. In the case of The Batman, it had two. For the first two seasons, its theme tune was provided by the weeping guitar of U2's The Edge. The introduction of Batgirl in Season 3 marked a significant change, so the theme song followed suit with Andy Sturmer taking over from The Edge. While not as iconic as Danny Elfman's Batman theme, you can't fault the music here, which still remains distinct even today.

Despite being largely underrated, The Batman is still the longest-running Dark Knight cartoon -- something that none of the other "big" shows can claim. It also garnered six Daytime Emmy Awards during its run, cementing itself as an award-winning production. All things considered, this series is still worth revisiting today and deserves the accolades and recognition from the fans who once shunned it, because it's much better than anyone remembers.

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