Batman may operate out of the shadows in Gotham City, but like it or not, he enjoys being the spotlight at the center of DC's animated world. Whether it's Super Friends, Justice League or the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, he's everywhere you look. Undoubtedly, the latter show and its spinoff, Batman Beyond, stand head and shoulders above his other animated incarnations, but there’s another Bat-tastic series that’s gone relatively under the radar for far too long.
Released in 2004, The Batman ran for five seasons, airing its final episode in March 2008. While it borrowed elements from popular storylines, the show prided itself on creating its own rules and taking huge risks. Additionally, it spread its wings into other mediums as it received its own comic book series called The Batman Strikes! and a feature-length film titled The Batman vs. Dracula.
Unfortunately, The Batman had the unenviable task of following the two greatest animated adaptations of the Caped Crusader. Fans were still on a high from the history-making run of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, making this new version a hard sell. Most people weren't ready to even give it a chance, because, well, how do you top perfection?
The animation style proved to be sticking point as well, being a major departure from Bruce Timm's celebrated DC Animated Universe (DCAU). That doesn't mean it was worse or better, but it was met with a lot of reluctance from the diehards who struggled to accept a different aesthetic.
When you consider the artwork in retrospect, however, it's unique and dissimilar from other series of that era. It brought an edge and flair that truly separated itself from what came before and after it. The mastermind behind the show's inimitable look was Jeff Matsuda, who also served as a chief character designer for Jackie Chan Adventures. Rather than repeat what had come before him, he created his own version of Gotham City and its citizens.
Matsuda went for the jugular, though, as he radically redesigned Batman's rogues' gallery. The Joker transformed from a well-groomed and sophisticated clown into a maniacal jester who preferred the barefoot life. Likewise, the Riddler traded in his green hat to become a member of Marilyn Manson, while Bane looked like he should've appeared as part of an electronic music troupe on America's Got Talent. Knowing the comic book community and its general reluctance to anything new, it's easy to understand how these tweaks could ruffle more than a few feathers as they were drastic departures from the source material.
Along with the updated designs came new origin stories for some of the characters, as well as continuity changes. For example, Barbara Gordon became Batman's first partner in the series, not Dick Grayson -- but he was introduced later in the series. Additionally, important characters, such as Jim Gordon, made way for new ones, such as Ellen Yin and Ethan Bennett, in the first season. Again, it was a bold decision, as many characters are considered the bread and butter of the Dark Knight's lore, yet they found themselves on the outskirts or altered here.
Speaking of characters, the voice cast for The Batman was nothing to sniff at either. While Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill didn't return to the roles of Batman and the Joker respectively (Hamill did voice Tony Zucco in Season 4, though), Rino Romano and Kevin Michael Richardson proved to be more than adequate replacements.
In an interview with GeekMom, Richardson admitted that he was apprehensive about stepping into Hamill's clown shoes, but he grew to love the part since he was afforded the luxury of formulating his own version of the Clown Prince of Crime. "The reason I loved playing him was because there was such freedom. There was very little direction from voice casting director Andrea Romano," he said. "I was allowed this complete freedom to deliver my lines the way I felt the character would fit and that freedom, when you get to play any role, and have the producers and directors like it, is very rewarding."
Romano and Richardson weren't the only stars, as the show boasted the likes of Gina Gershon as Catwoman, Clancy Brown as Mr. Freeze, Robert Englund as the Riddler, and Ron Perlman as Killer Croc. Looking at this immensely long cast list on IMDb, it's evident that the who's-who of Hollywood stopped by to make an appearance on the show.
Sadly, The Batman struggled to make the same dent in the pop-culture zeitgeist as its predecessors did. While it got a decent run and notched up six Daytime Emmy Awards, it remains the forgotten son of DC's animated series. Maybe now with its arrival on the DC Universe streaming service, more fans will realize how good it actually was.