Holy super-saturation of animated depictions of Batman, Batman! Over the past few decades, we’ve seen many animated versions of the Caped Crusader, such as Beware the Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Batman Beyond. However, respect must be given where respect is due on the 25th anniversary of the launch of Batman: The Animated Series. More noir film than animated show, fans of the series are still talking about it years later. And why shouldn’t they? Batman: The Animated Series won over 10 daytime Emmys in its three-year run.
Batman: The Animated Series broke a lot of ground. Let’s not forget that this series was launched way back in 1992, way before Batfleck was looking sad talking about superheroes with Henry Cavill. This show gave us Harley Quinn, the Joker voiced by Mark Hamill, a revamp of several of Batman’s rogues and much more! These depictions of early artwork for the series show how much influence the 1989 movie had on the show, as well as how much influence the show had on the comic book, not to mention other media depictions of the Dark Knight.
15. THE BATMOBILE
Batman: The Animated Series was building off of the success of Tim Burton’s Batman, which debuted in 1989. The sequel would come out three years later and would continue to feature the noir, incredibly industrial look that Burton had created for his world. Before the movie, the Batmobile was seen in the 1960s television show starring Adam West. It was a Ford Lincoln Futura concept car, but when Burton had the chance to have Michael Keaton drive around in the Batmobile, he gave it a much different treatment.
The Animated Series borrows heavily from Tim Burton’s Batman. It maintains the same torpedo-like design and even builds upon its length and sleek build. Whereas the vehicle that Michael Keaton drove had more of a gothic, horror vibe, the animated Batmobile is more boxy.
14. HARLEY QUINN
If not for Batman: The Animated Series, the world may have never known Harleen Frances Quinzel, also known as Harley Quinn. Harley was an invention of the show, NOT a character that originated in the comics. Her first appearance was in the episode “Joker’s Favor” and what originally was intended as a minor character evolved into the iconic figure that she is today!
From the very beginning, you could see the intentions of Harley being a counterpart for the Joker. Even the notes tell artists to have her costume change expressions to match how she’s feeling, with her hat functioning in movement like eyebrows! Harley Quinn was voiced by Arleen Sorkin, who played Calliope Jones Bradford on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. She also provided Harley’s voice in several Batman video games. Glad you could join us, puddin’!
13. THE JOKER
It was a joy to see the maniacal Joker appear on the show, but it was an even bigger joy to hear what he sounded like. The Clown Prince of Crime was voiced by none other than Mark Hamill, who brought an intense energy that he couldn’t channel when he was playing Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. But did you know who was originally supposed to voice The Joker?
The person that was cast and actually did do some recordings for the Joker was Tim Curry, but due to bronchitis, he had to drop out of the role. Now that you know this, can you look at the Joker and not see Tim Curry’s legendary character from The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Was that a secret source of inspiration? We can kind of see it when we look at the mouth!
12. GOTHAM CITY
Christopher Nolan’s take on Gotham City in his Dark Knight Trilogy consisted of creating a city that was an amalgamation of New York City, Chicago and parts of Pittsburg. However, most of Tim Burton’s Batman took place not on real city streets, but on 18 sound stages at Pinewood Studios in England.
Tim Burton’s success paved the way for Batman: The Animated Series. It also was a huge creative influence on the show. Similarly to the 1989 Batman movie, The Animated Series felt both futuristic as well as a throwback. The show felt like a Noir crime drama but also depicted such quasi-futuristic things as the police having dirigibles. To make the city feel dark, artists drew on black paper, instead of the traditional white paper for most animated shows. The style of Gotham was copied for the show’s tie-in comic book The Batman Adventures.
11. BATMAN’S COWL
With animation you can take liberties with your artwork. Here in these mock up drawings, you can see such notes giving animators permission to change the cowl’s eye shape to help with emotional expression. Even the ears can change size and positioning for dramatic effect. Drama is further emphasized by avoiding certain un-cinematic angles and sticking to ones that make the Dark Knight look powerful and brooding.
Speaking of drama, the note to not have his mouth down too low to avoid looking “dorky” is hilarious! Also look at the note that says to show both of the cowl’s ears, even in profile. The big question to ask is: who the heck is punching Batman in the gut in the bottom left hand corner? Bats looks completely unprepared and we hope he got to respond in kind!
10. MR. FREEZE
Not all of Batman’s villains were meant to take the main stage. Some of them were meant to be splashy background figures and give Batman a good tussle from time to time. Before Batman: The Animated Series, Mr. Freeze was originally named Mr. Zero, but had it changed by producers when he appeared in the 1960s Batman television show.
It was the animated series that took him from a scientist who was the victim of his own ice gun to a tragic character seeking revenge on the people that caused the death of his wife, Nora. The origin was so well-received that it was incorporated into mainstream comic book continuity Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths. If you thought his first appearance in the episode “Heart of Ice” was good, the Emmys agreed with you. The episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program.
9. THE DARK KNIGHT
The style of the cartoon was so dark in its palette that it was dubbed by the producers as “Dark Deco,” a noir variation of Art Deco. Whereas most animations depict black drawings on a white piece of paper, the background drawings actually began on black paper, thus creating a moody, dark tone from the very start.
Batman loves to disappear into the background after speaking with Commissioner Gordon, but there are times when he wants to be seen. Here the drawings show how animators can prevent Batman from inadvertently blending into the background by using light on dark lines. To add to the dark theme, the music borrowed from 1940s film noir but also from the composer for Tim Burton’s Batman. Besides being the lead singer for the band Oingo Boingo, Danny Elfman scored the 1989 Batman film and his music inspired the score for The Animated Series.
8. BATMAN’S CAPE
Batman’s cape often serves as an extension for him being a creature of the night. In the upper left hand corner, you can see that the note encourages artists to cheat how long the cape can be to evoke less realism and go for a more overly dramatic effect. The note on the bottom as well talks more about the cheating that can be done to make the cape larger than it actually is (and then it magically shortens when walking).
The cape served as a dramatic extension of the crime-fighter, and it could adapt to him whenever the scene demanded it, such as spreading out like actual bat wings when he leapt into action, but not actually retaining that shape at other times. The best note is the one that says whenever possible to wrap Batman in his cape (cuz it looks so COOL). We couldn’t agree more!
Catwoman’s look has changed over the years. Currently in the DC comics, Catwoman retains the look that Ed Brubaker established back in 2001 that makes her look less like a supervillain and more like a thief wearing large yellow goggles and a sleek catsuit (Catwoman wearing a catsuit? Go figure).
The Animated Series borrows more from the images established in the comic in the 1990s, except the skintight catsuit worn in the comics at that time were depicted as purple. In the animated series, her catsuit is a gray color (similar to Batman’s) with long black gloves and a gold belt. It’s likely that the colors in the Animated Series were influenced by Michelle Pfeiffer’s costume in Batman Returns. Who wielded the bullwhip better: animated Catwoman or Michelle Pfeiffer?
6. BATMAN BATTLES
You may or may not have been a fan of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but you certainly were in a very small minority if you said you didn’t like seeing Batman fight over a dozen thugs to get to Martha Kent. Batman has always been depicted as an apex predator who has a mastery in a ridiculous number of fighting styles.
The fighting shown in The Animated Series shows off Batman’s fighting prowess very well, such as him being able to disarm multiple assailants with one batarang. The usage of shadows and angles obscure Batman’s face, showing just eyes and hands lunging towards the camera, was as creative and nuanced as his cape and more general visual presence. You also wouldn’t expect such a violent, dark depiction in a cartoon, and early on, producers were nervous about the dark tone and look of the show. Luckily, they found a very happy m
Audiences were used to the depiction of Robin from the 1960s Batman television series portrayed by Burt Ward. Robin sported tights and a giant golden “R” on his chest, with most of his lines being “Holy _____, Batman!” (which isn’t as profane as it looks). Fun fact: Robin in the 1960s TV series made 368 such exclamations!
Here, The Animated Series couldn’t borrow from Batman or Batman Returns, because Robin wouldn’t be introduced to the big screen until Batman Forever, which premiered in 1995. Robin’s costume borrows from the Tim Drake version, which appeared in August 1989 with Batman #436. The tights were gone and Dick Grayson was portrayed more seriously to match the look and tone of the show. Speaking of Tim Drake, who was he named after? Why, Batman director Tim Burton, of course!
4. COMMISSIONER GORDON
In The Animated Series, James Gordon still serves as the trusted ally of Batman serving on the Gotham City Police Department. He has his iconic mustache that seen on pretty much every iteration of Commissioner Gordon (except in the show Gotham, where he has still yet to grow one).
Producers early on were very concerned about the dark tone of The Animated Series and were worried how gloomy and violent it was. In the episode “I Am The Night“, Commissioner Gordon is shot by a man named Jimmy “The Jazzman” Peake, and there was a lot of concern from producers about the depiction of someone actually getting shot on an animated kids show. It’s also coupled with Batman’s grief over not being present during the shooting and him having doubts about being a successful crimefighter. Regardless of worry by producers, the episode was well-received.
3. BATMAN’S ARM-OR
If Batman isn’t throwing punches, he’s throwing batarangs at his enemies. He could also have a rope attached to it and he’s using his arms to swing from building to building. Besides his big, constantly active brain, Batman’s arms are important tools in his crime-fighting endeavors.
Here above, we see all the detail that goes into Batman’s arms when climbing, throwing, and fighting. There are very specific rules that go into the shape, angle, even the depiction of the three “scallops” that protrude from his gauntlets that artists were instructed to make magically disappear if they get in the way. White highlights were needed to make sure that the arms stood out from the extra dark background as well as give Batman definition in his arm.
The Penguin has always been depicted as someone who was short, stout, and bird-like. Although, in The New Batman Adventures, the direct continuation of Batman: The Animated Series, the Penguin is drawn more as a portly gentlemen in a tuxedo, the initial version has him much more portly. In fact, it borrows on big adaptation from Batman Returns that wasn’t featured in previous versions: a mutation.
In Batman Begins his parents reject their son, Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, due to the fact that he is deformed. It is likely that he suffered from a version of syndactyly, a condition where fingers are fused together, having them resemble flippers. In The Animated Series, you can see from looking a Penguin’s hands that he suffers from the condition — the deformity of his moral code, however, is what truly makes him a villain.
1. BRUCE WAYNE
Often times, alter egos are depicted as bumbling and goofy. Christopher Reeve’s depiction of Superman showed an iconic, strong hero we could all look up to. His Clark Kent was a klutz that constantly tripped over his own two feet.
In The Animated Series, the depiction of Bruce Wayne went in a different direction. Bruce Wayne was not bumbling or spacey, he was grounded and focused, using the resources of Wayne Enterprises for good. Kevin Conroy, borrowing a page from Michael Keaton, used a different voice when playing Bruce Wayne than when he was playing Batman. Whereas Bruce Wayne is drawn as handsome and accessible and dashing, Batman is drawn as shadowy and dangerous. Look at that smile… it’s more disarming than any batarang that Batman could throw!
What’s your favorite episode of BTAS? Let us know in the comments!
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