Posted September 10, 2017 by GP Manalo in Movies/TV

Batman: The Animated Series at 25 – How it Passes The Test of Time!


In the late 1990s, I was growing up in the last age of bright and colorful  cartoons about saving the environment, 22-minute long toy commercials, and the like. But one day around 98 or 99 while we were shopping around at Glorietta my younger self made quite the discovery. If anyone remembers, there’s always this Warner Bros. themed store in the mall that are full of Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics merchandise. In the middle of it all was this giant screen where all the kids would sit in front of just to watch trailers, Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry shorts. Then the WB logo appeared but it suddenly blasts into a police blimp with two blinding balls of light and you could hear notes of the Batman theme playing. It was then we knew shit is about to go down:


Property of Art of a Title

Property of Art of a Title

We were then trained to Gotham City with its crimson skies and dark city buildings. Deep in the quiet city, two shadowy criminals sneak in front of a bank before the entrance blows up in flames. We then cut to the Batmobile racing through the streets as it answers the call to chase down the perpetrators. The police tries to chase them but aren’t able to as they made their escape on top of a tall building. But they were stopped by a giant bat-like shadow, and it was the Batman! In time before they could get away, he glared at them to see the fear in their eyes before he attacked them in a snap of a finger. They tried to fight him but they were no match for the Bat as their punches and guns didn’t even wane down his ferocity. The battle ends as the police arrives to the scene only to see the crooks tied, unconscious, and defeated. And we were then given the last sight of Batman standing above the city of Gotham with thundering music as his cape whipped in the wind. As it fades to black, my mom told me (as she was panicking while looking for me around the area of the mall) we just sat there in silent and were in awe from what we have just seen. From then on, I was introduced to the world of the Batman.

 To many of us, that was our Batman at the time. In that one minute snippet, we were given a glimpse of how badass he is and the trademark dark deco made famous in the show by the show’s creator, Bruce Timm and artist Eric Radomski (as inspired by the Superman shorts in the 40s). But the overall feel of the show in the series’ entirety is the reason why we love him, his rogues gallery, and a good story in general. As we celebrate a milestone of 25 years of Batman: The Animated Series we look back on how it holds up to this day and even so of how it influences modern storytelling.

This came out around the time when Tim Burton’s Batman Returns film was in theaters. Though many have said that his films were an introduction to the masses of a more serious Batman, it has changed even more when The Animated series came along. The series was a response to the people who weren’t clamoring for more of the campiness of Adam West’s or the innocence of the Super Friends. What Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Eric Radomski ended up doing for the Animated Series however is injecting just the right amount of seriousness and levity in Batman’s dark and occasionally wacky mythos. It was like a mini-movie every time it airs, The series had something for everybody! It was an amalgamation of a crime-noir, a psychological thriller, mixed in this superhero mold.

B2 But how does one constitute a “Serious Batman” you ask? I think the better thing to say other than just it embracing its darkness, I’m sure they have meant that we never had seen a FULLY realized Batman before. A Batman who we knew that transcends itself from the usual superhero tropes; a prime example being that if every superhero has their alter egos like Clark Kent being Superman or Hal Jordan being Green Lantern, Batman has it the other way around. Bruce Wayne is the alter ego, his true personality, or for the lack of a better word his mask. So when he utter the words “I am vengeance, I am the night, I am BATMAN!” he literally meant that he is Batman.

 We’ve had hints that there is still some form of humanity in Batman where he can sympathize with the people he fights or even among his supporting cast, he can make mistakes, he can get carried away by his aggression, he is never this peak human being. To me it was fully realized in the animated tie-in film, Mask of the Phantasm (that I have talked of in detail before in a separate article), he was never this superhero who could defeat any foe when he immediately donned the mask, he struggled to the thought of having a normal life or take in this persona. He was never portrayed to be one-note, despite this terrifying persona he is still in fact human.

BatmanTheAnimatedSeries_-1373033700_AAS_01._V348548088_RI_SX940_In a book by Glen Weldon titled The Caped Crusade, he argued that animation is a great medium since it is moderately close to the comics. A feat in which certain concepts from the comic books that “it would never work” would not bother anyone. I mean if they could make Wolverine’s Tiger Stripes and  oversized Mickey Mouse hat for a mask work and have people think he’s still badass, then you know the art and the presentation of it succeeds. Let alone Batman’s – what will be at the time – signature look of black over a gray motif with a yellow oval at the middle over the black bat logo among other things. The Dark Deco does give a unique look to the show at the time, giving this streamlined and stylish world to its noir setting.

 B6In this 65-episode run (and more if you count The New Batman Adventures and further of a stretch like Batman Beyond) what also makes the animated series format work was because that the feel of Batman’s adventures being almost as if it is never ending. Allowing the format of the series to copy that aspect of the comics to great effect, in which they can have the two-parters with larger stakes whereas they can also have filler Saturday morning-y feel to them for the most part. One kid may expect the kick-ass fight scenes and the mystery but one would admire its mature storytelling of the episodes that addresses stuff like corruption, abuse violence, and even mental illnesses to a younger audience. Most of the time they’re just references but it does hint that there’s something at large here. The fun of it all was despite that this has Batman’s name on it, they often times center it to his villains and his supporting cast like say Robin or Batgirl. With a superhero centered show whose rogues gallery mostly consists of deranged lunatics, what makes it interesting is that they could use some of these characters to be rather sympathetic than the usual mustache twirling villains, a formula that has transformed B or C-List villains like The Penguin, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze and newer ones made for the show like Harley Quinn and Baby Doll into overnight superstars because of the amount of respect they were given in their own episodes.

 B4Then again they’ve always talked about mental illness in many ways as do most characters are just as tragic figures like Batman is; for one Two-Face is ultimately dealing with a dissociative identity disorder but Bruce never gave up on the troubled Harvey Dent by stating that there is nothing wrong with seeing a psychiatrist. The list goes on with Adam West’s Grey Ghost, Simon Trent is this depressed and bitter actor who he believes his life and career went nowhere after he became famous. But on the flip side, you have another character Baby Doll who unlike Trent turns to a life of crime because she wants to have her sitcom family together and be loved again, that there’s this anxiety in her that her baby-like appearance is all that she got now. There’s even an instance on how Batman tries to help Harley in trying to keep herself sane is because “I had a bad day once.”

 In the emmy-award winning episode, Heart of Ice, the once joked around C-Lister villain, Mr. Freeze is remodeled into a grieving widower. Making him this thespian like speaker whose attempts at trying to save his wife would lead to him becoming the villain he is now.  And to this day Mr. Freeze saying “Think of it, Batman. To never again walk on a summer’s day with the hot wind in your face and a warm hand to hold. Oh yes, I’d kill for that!” still give us a cold tear each time.


And then we have the actors who are responsible for being the voice that we would hear while reading their characters in the comic books, Kevin Conroy’s Batman/Bruce Wayne and Mark Hamill’s Joker do pop in the one’s geeky brain. But we don’t give enough credit to other names like Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s sassy Alfred, Robert Hastings’ commanding James Gordon, Paul Williams’ Penguin, Arleen Sorkin’s ditzy and animated Harley Quinn, Ron Pearlman’s Clayface, Aaron Kincaid’s humorously threatening Killer Croc, and Diane Pershing’s Poison Ivy to name a few for breathing life in these iconic roles through their voices no matter how short or long their appearances were. Before the video games came in years later these voices were references for me to how the way these characters sound and act like. These characters have such distinct nuances and personalities I could watch them just sitting down and make banter on a poker table…. Oh wait that actually happened.


Despite most cartoons geared towards kids having “family friendly firearms”, “frothy mugs of water”, or even dark and scary images were the products of the time for cartoons the show was originally they never shy away from pushing the envelope with those tropes and trusts its audience at this show’s darkest and wackiest. It’s these compelling and complex elements that we ended up seeing later on in different mediums like the live-action and other animated films, video games, and even different incarnations in comic books. Ultimately, the key to this show being the reason why superheroes in all forms of entertainment are here now is because of Timm, Dini, and Rodomski’s understanding of a certain character that has became a standard for more adaptations to come whether it is on film or television.




GP Manalo

G.P. Manalo is a student by day, and a resident tortured writer by night. Writing to keep him sane from all the Business School papers and presentations piling up each week.