Batman The Animated Series is arguably the best animated show of all time. It cannot be disputed, however, that it is the best comic book animation in existence; this is an empirical fact. It’s blend of classic style, modern storytelling, and undiluted Batmannery make it an instant classic held up as the gold standard of cartoons. Not only did the show distill Batman down to his most pure and relatable form, it innovated and evolved not just the main character, but many supporting characters as well. Without this show, Batman would not be the same as he is today.
The show was not your typical kid's superhero show with bright colors, mustache-twirling bad guys and a moral at the end of every episode. In the same way Batman brought dark and gritty storytelling to the mainstream in both comics and superhero movies, so too did the animated series. It was the first widely popular “mature” kid’s show that put storytelling above merchandising (at least, for a while). We certainly would not have gotten the excellent DC Animated Universe without the show, but we also may never have had cartoons like the Avatar series or Samurai Jack had Batman not paved the way for harder hitting, unsterilized stories in cartoons.
Batman The Animated Series (TAS) was not set up for success, however. The show creators had to fight and persuade their way to get greenlit, and many of the successful components came about by coincidence. Also, with a universe as storied, diverse and well-liked as Batman’s, tons of past influences affected the show and it had future impacts on the franchise that are not so apparent. So, there are a lot of surprising backstage stories and lesser-known facts about the show floating around that even casual fans of Batman would be interested to know.
25 One Of The Show’s Creators Loves Drawing...
Bruce Timm was the lead character designer for Batman TAS. He wasn’t the only show creator, but he drew the Batman characters in their iconic animated designs and set the style for the future of the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) also known as the Timmverse. But Timm didn’t get into comics to draw kids stuff. His interests were more... mature.
Timm made a name for himself and continues to be popular for his first love: Pin-ups. Drawing female characters in lewd or flat out unclothed poses helped make him the darling of comic fanboys everywhere. His classic style influenced by art deco and the 50s and 60s has made him one of the best artists to ever draw delightful stuff. There’s a reason Harley Quinn is a global symbol these days. Speaking of her…
24 The Show Invented And Redesigned Some Of Today’s Favorite Characters
It isn’t exactly a secret that Harley Quinn was an original Batman TAS character. The now ubiquitous antiheroine was invented by show creators Paul Dini (lead writer) and Bruce Timm specifically for the show after being inspired by a bit in a soap opera starring Arlene Sorkin. She’s been a major player ever since.
But a lesser-known contribution to modern canon is Victor Fries. Before Batman TAS, Mr. Freeze was one dimensional and goofy. Just some schmuck with an ice ray who turned evil. But the animated series reimagined him as a tragic character who became physically altered in a botched experiment designed to save his dying wife. His failure drove him to a life of crime to acquire resources in an attempt to bring her back. The result was the complex and relatable villain that we know and love today.
23 Fate Has a Sense of Humor
If you didn’t know that Mark Hamill, Luke freaking Skywalker, voices the most iconic and loved iteration of the Joker ever, do me a favor and Bat-slap yourself. Every Batman fan should know that and Hamill deserves all the credit in the world for his fantastic portrayal. But him becoming the Joker was more or less an accident that was set in motion by Hamill’s nerd status.
Hamill loves comics and Batman. When he heard that the animated series was happening and that they were doing it right (all dark and stuff), he asked to be part of the show. Not wanting to disappoint a Skywalker, the show creators gave him a guest part as the tycoon responsible for Mr. Freeze’s wife’s death. Hamill geeked out and asked to be part of the show permanently, hoping to be a minor character without a history of representation like Clayface. The show’s creators, however, needed to replace the current actor playing the Joker and had Hamill read for the part. The rest is history.
22 Almost a Very Different Joker
But wait! Who was the Joker before Hamill? Who did he replace? The first choice for the Joker was actually Tim Curry of Rocky Horror, Home Alone and Wild Thornberrys fame. Curry is a phenomenal and unique actor, so why give him the ax? He just sounded too scary. Seeing as how he played Pennywise the clown in It, yeah I can understand that.
One of the show-runners just thought that Curry’s Joker was too sadistic and had him replaced after already recording a few episodes. They felt that the Joker needed to sound goofy as well as dangerous, with evil lurking just below the surface. They wanted a more whimsical and maniacal Joker as opposed to a sick and twisted one. It’s too bad Curry was too old by the time The Dark Knight rolled around; he would have nailed it.
21 The First Laugh
So Mark Hamill strolls in and creates the Joker off the top of his head because he’s a legend, right? Not so fast. Hamill, like many voice actors, draws upon personal experiences, observed people or past roles, then mix in some emotions and backstory. The show-runners loved the broken soul and unhinged psyche that Hamill added to the character, but where did the trademark Joker laugh come from. Did Hamill spend hours watching patients in an insane asylum? Interview killers on death row? Watch some episodes of Dance Moms? None of the above, but the Dance Moms was actually the closest.
Hamill had experience on Broadway starring in the lead role in Amadeus. In the play, Mozart is this misunderstood and kind of odd genius and Hamill gave him a silly yet oddly eerie laugh. The unsettling cackle was intended to hint at the darkness underneath the facade and chill the listener. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that the Joker’s over the top camp came from the bright lights and the big stage.
20 Robin Ruined The Show
Dedicated fans of the series know that the show went through some changes as it went on, going through several iterations. The title of the show changed to The Adventures of Batman and Robin, and then to The New Batman Adventures. The quality also began to go downhill as the style and charm of the first run was replaced by less compelling stories and brighter colors. The turn falls at the feet of one person: Robin.
Ok not actually Robin, but the idea of him. The suits and executives up in marketing loved the success of the show and naturally wanted more. They fell onto their old standby: market hard to the kids. They demanded that Robin be in every single dang episode to grab the kid audience. Later, they demanded again that Dick Grayson transition to Nightwing and Tim Drake take on the younger, more relatable Robin role. Needless to say, the show declined under such constraints.
19 A Huge Missed Opportunity
Not convinced Robin ruined the show? Well, take for example one idea for an episode that never made it. The episode would have had Catwoman teaming up with Black Canary, the classic fishnet wearing DC heroine. Bruce Timm drawing two of the best DC ladies in their own episode? Sign me up. But alas, Robin strikes again.
Notice anything about that Selena/Canary team idea? Yeah, no Robin. The suits did not like that. Since the higher-ups wouldn't budge on excluding Robin for one episode, the idea got scrapped. Robin is like the little puke kid barging in on mommy and daddy time and ruining it for everyone.
18 The Episode Almost No One Has Seen
The lady team idea episode never saw the light of day, but there was another episode that only saw daylight for a brief moment before being nearly forgotten. You guys remember Sega CD? It was a gigantic add on to the Sega Genesis that played, naturally, CDs. Despite its innovation, it fell victim to a godawful games library including a terrible Batman TAS game.
The silver lining to this game, however, was around 16 minutes of original animation voiced by the original cast. It lived up to the standards of the show, and fans consider the collected animation to be a lost episode. One reviewer described the game as a good Batman episode with a mediocre driving game forced into it. Check it out.
17 Dark Beginnings
Batman TAS was a dark (literally and figuratively speaking), violent and morally grey show from the first episode. Normally, this is where I would say, “but it wasn’t always that way.” But that just wouldn't be true. In the early stages of the show’s creation, the creators set forth a sort of constitution. A document laying out the series’ spirit and direction.
In the show bible, as it was called, the creators set forth with three primary rules: “No aliens. No Ghosts. And no [humanitarian] awards. Batman was not some squeaky clean, smiling G.I. Joe who gives a moral or lesson at the end of each episode. They began with the idea that “One thing and one alone keeps Gotham from drowning in a sea of corruption and despair. It is a grim being cloaked as much in mystery as he is in shadows. Like a bat he dives out of the night to feed on Gotham’s evil... He is... Batman!” They stuck to their guns on these ideas despite pushback from the studio, and eventually convinced everyone they were on to something special.
16 Outsmarting The Man
Just because the show-runners got their way, however, doesn’t mean they never caught flak from the censors. They had to pitch the ideas for their show to the studio heads and got clever when “following their rules.” In the beginning, for example, the network would say things like, “You can’t show violence!” and the show-runners would say, “Well you just hear gunshots in an alley and someone falling over, so you never actually see any violence!” The executives admitted that they were technically right, and those rascally show-runners got away with it. When it came to more adult things, they grabbed their thinking caps and got even more creative.
At one point, Bullock asks a disguised Harley where he’s seen her before. She replies, “I think I served you a subpoena once... it was a small subpoena.” Harley and Mr. J also have a slew of innuendos just between the two of them such as Harley asking the Joker if he wants to “rev up his Harley” or “try some of her pie.”
15 But They Couldn’t Get Away With That?!
Despite their best efforts, Timm and company couldn't always squeak by the censors. There were a couple of instances when the crusaders of family values put their collective foot down and blocked some of the less kid-friendly moments in the series. So what was it? Batman snapping a guy's arm? Two-Face gunning down unarmed civilians? Bruce and Selina getting down with some hot bat on cat action? Nah, it was a bunch of crap.
Really, it was crap. The network objected to a gag in which Alfred stands in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets pooped on by a bat in the Batcave. That's it. All that talk about Harley’s pie and Harvey’s undersized subpoena, and they end up censoring a bit of bat guano. Realistically speaking, the bat cave should be full of that, well, crap.
14 Just Growly Enough
Kevin Conroy voiced Batman throughout the animated series, and still reprises the role from time to time. To many fans, he is just as iconic as Batman as Mark Hamill is as Joker. His intense Batman and convincing Billionaire playboy voices brought the caped crusader to animation in a way never before done. So was Conroy’s gruff and menacing throat-full-of-gravel Batman voice that got him the job? According to the format of many of my entries, no. No, it wasn't.
The voice director and show creators went through a mountain of voice actors until the settled on Conroy. The thing they liked best? His “dangerous” and “attractive” Bruce Wayne voice. Anybody can growl up a Batman, but the voice director wanted a Bruce Wayne that was a domineering, shrewd, and charming business tycoon. They wanted Wayne to be just as fleshed out and important to the show as his alter ego, and Conroy’s sultry voice fit the bill.
13 Voice Newbie
Judging from the quality of Kevin Conroy’s voice our job on Batman TAS, you could be safe in the assumption that he was a seasoned voice actor with a ton of cartoons under his belt already. But the Dark Knight was actually his very first animated voice-over role. He had never done anything even remotely similar before, and he beat out over a hundred experienced voice actors for the position.
Conroy was mainly a stage actor at the time, and his agent happened to be friends with a staff member on the show. His agent explained that the show-runners hadn't found their Batman yet and that they were looking at non-voice actors to fill the role out of desperation. Conroy auditioned, and besides his inherent attractiveness that we mentioned above, he won over the casting staff with his layered performance of a haunted and conflicted hero.
12 Why Did It Take Them So Long To Figure It Out?
These days, when you see Batman on screen, he’s barking out in that spooky meat-grinder-for-a-throat voice. Christian Bale did it almost to the point of parody, and Ben Affleck's Batfleck uses a voice modulator for extra tough guy points. And it makes sense; why would Batman have the same voice as his secret identity? Why wouldn’t Batman use an intimidating voice, since his primary weapon is fear? It took people a lot longer to figure this out than you might think.
Michael Keaton was the first onscreen Batman to use different voices when he was playing Bruce Wayne and Batman. Before that, Batman bafflingly spoke the exact same way Wayne did (check out Adam West’s show for proof). Keaton’s was a more natural difference based on what the character was doing, but Kevin Conroy, the rookie voice-over actor, really made the distinction. He took artistic license and changed his voice so that they sounded like two completely different people. After all, in more ways than not, Bruce Wayne and Batman are two distinct characters.
11 So Nice, They Used It Twice
Batman TAS’s opening sequence is pure gold. The heavily stylized and slick action sequence immediately enchants the audience. It so perfectly distills what Batman is, what he does and how he does it that you’re put into Gotham from the first few frames. The intro is so good that it was the thing that got the show greenlit in the first place.
Bruce Timm and his partner Eric Radomski put together a pilot animation to show off their vision for the savior of Gotham. It was an action set piece with little dialogue, but what little sounds they had were made by the two show creators. These guys were no voice actors, so it sounded amateurish, but the art direction and action were so impressive they were greenlit on the spot. That pilot was so remarkable, they basically recycled the best parts, remastered them, and that was the opening sequence we now know and love.
10 Less Is More
Think back to that fantastic opening sequence for Batman TAS. Got it playing in your mind? First, stop singing the theme song, people around you are growing concerned. Second, do you notice anything strange about the title sequence? Something missing that other TV show title sequences have?
Yep, you're right. There is no actual title. If you didn't get it right, just fake it, I won't tell. The opening sequence for the first season of the show never displays the title, Batman The Animated Series. The series creators believed that the striking image of Batman illuminated by the lightning was enough and I’m inclined to agree. It wouldn't be until later, when Robin got shoehorned into every episode, did the title of the show change and a new title sequence complete with text title was added. Chalk up another great thing the boy wonder ruined in this series.
9 Black, Like My Soul
From the intro sequence, you can clearly see the Art Deco influence on the series’ art direction. But the thing that made it stand out so much was just how dark the whole thing is. And I'm not just talking about how Batman beats and threatens criminals; Gotham and the other locales in the show are shrouded in shadow and darkness, even during the day. To achieve this aesthetic, the art team used a simple but clever trick.
Normally, when animators draw backgrounds, you just get a piece of paper and draw on it. Up until then, however, animators almost always used your standard white paper. The artists for Batman TAS on the other hand used black paper when drawing all of the backgrounds; the first major production to do so. This technique made sure that everywhere had the unsettling and shadowy feel that the show-runners wanted to associate with a Gotham City that was drowning in crime.
8 The OG
I’ve taken a couple of pot shots at Adam West's portrayal of Batman thus far, but in all fairness, his show did a lot to popularize the Dynamic Duo and is loved by legions of fans. So much was his contribution to the character’s mythos, the animated series wanted to give him a special tribute.
In an episode titled The Gray Ghost, child Bruce Wayne is inspired to be a hero by his TV idol, The Gray Ghost. This TV superhero was played by an actor who gets typecast as the hero type, and his career severely declines as a result. He then spirals into depression. The character then helps Batman solve a mystery and beat the bad guy. The Gray Ghost character and the actor that played him in the episode were based on Adam West's real life, and he voiced the part personally. The showrunners actually refused to do the episode if they couldn't get West, so great was their desire to pay him the respect he was due.
7 Unlikely Cameos
Batman TAS is littered with cameos and guest stars because it was a popular show, and because all sorts of people requested to be involved they due to their love of the character (see Mark Hamill above). This collection of famous nerds included one recurring cameo from a most unlikely source.
Patrick Leahy is a senator from Vermont who has served congress since 1975. This veteran congressman is a die-hard Batman fan and has appeared in no less than five Batman film adaptations and has a cameo in the animated series. You may recognize him as the guy that tells off the Joker in The Dark Knight at Bruce Wayne's Harvey Dent fundraising dinner. He gets a knife held to his face because he reminds the Joker of his father. In the animated series, he played a governor in the American Southwest in 1885.
6 Gotham... Gotham Never Changes
But senators and classic Batman aren’t the only celebrities to appear in the animated series. One actor enjoyed a meteoric rise in fame and popularity thanks in part to his excellent work on the show. Ron Pearlman is a fan-favorite actor whom you may recognize from his work in video games as the narrator for most of the Fallout games. He delivers the famous line about war never changes. You may also have seen his onscreen work as Hellboy, (the coincidently named) Clay Morrow from Sons of Anarchy and many others.
Pearlman plays Matt Hagen, and his villainous alter ego Clayface in Batman TAS. His gravely voiced portrayal of the shape-shifting rogue was his first major voice-over role, and it launched him into his successful career. Pearlman also continued his work with the DCAU playing Orion from The New Gods and Jax-Ur, a Kryptonian villain as well as Deathstroke in the Teen Titans universe. He owes a lot to the Dark Knight.
5 What Could Have Been
These guest stars and cameos were awesome, but we almost got some that would have been even greater. For the role of Harvey Dent and Two-Face, the show-runners wanted a really hard hitting performance for their two-part origin story. They wanted an equally tragic and grim origin story in line with the show's direction, inspired by Frank Miller’s reinvention of the character a few years before. So, they went big.
The role of Two-Face was offered to veteran actor and Hollywood legend Al Pacino. Can you imagine the intensity of Pacino in the role of the coin-flipping criminal? It could have been phenomenal. Pacino declined the part, unfortunately, but the performance we got from Richard Moll was still excellent. The writers paid tribute to Pacino anyway, giving Two-Face a line in his origin story which goes, “For the next five minutes, I’m in control!” A line from Dog Day Afternoon.
4 Better Together
Usually, when you record voice-over recordings for shows, each actor goes into the booth and does their lines, then the next actor and so on; rinse and repeat. This is especially true for guest stars such as Adam West, as they aren't part of the main cast and have different schedules. But this wasn't good enough for the showrunners of Batman TAS. They wanted something more personal.
The directors insisted that the whole cast record the episodes together, at the same time and in the same room. This method makes the process difficult, as you have to have a big enough sound booth and mix the audio so that lines aren't picked up by different mics. The result, though, is that the actors can play off of each other’s actual lines and react realistically, making for a more authentic performance. They went the extra mile to ensure the quality that many people couldn't notice consciously.
3 Do It For Danny
It's safe to say that without the success of the Tim Burton Batman movies, the animated series never would have gotten made. The films proved that there was a market for Batman stories that were darker both in content and aesthetic. Fortunately (in my opinion), the show eschewed the camp and character designs of Batman and Batman Returns and started fresh with the direction created by Timm and Radomski. There was one design, however, that the studio required be taken into account. The Penguin.
To get Tim Burton’s design of Danny Devito’s Penguin for his show, he needed firsthand insight because the studio would not release pictures of the secretive shoot. The Tim(m)s met on the set of Batman Returns and Timm, the animator, sketched Devito while he was in costume.
2 Starting Fresh By Looking Back
Bruce Timm wanted to distance himself from Burton’s aesthetic, sure, but that doesn't mean he went for something completely out there and original. Instead, he looked to the classic art styles of the past, such as his loves for pin-ups and Art Deco. He then mixed in some inspiration from nostalgic depictions of golden age superheroes such as Max Fleischer’s Superman cartoons of the 30s and 40s. His inspiration for Batman’s costume came from a more obscure source, however.
Timm looked back to an old Hanna Barbera cartoon of the 60s called Space Ghost. You may recognize him from his excellent talk show of the 90s, Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Timm borrowed the flowing cape and cowl look with the utility belt for his Batman design. Thankfully (or perhaps, unfortunately) he didn't borrow the space monkey or wisecracking giant mantis keyboard player for his show.
1 Lady Lovers
If you were a fan of the show, or if you've just been reading my Bat-raving for this whole article, you have hopefully come to realize that Batman TAS was a font of originality. They broke a lot of ground in the design and storytelling areas, but they also paved the way for representation of same-gender relationships in comics and cartoons. Seriously.
DC makes no secret of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s on again, off again relationship, but they can't take credit for its conception. As we know, Harley first appeared anywhere in the animated series and from her very first team up with “Red,” the two have enjoyed a special connection. The show wasn't shy about it either, showing them being affectionate to each other, walking around in various states of undress with each other, and even sharing a one-bed hotel room. Batman TAS gave us so much, and you can add endless fanfic material to the list.