The World's Finest
- Apr 23, 2001
Twenty years ago today, Batman: The Animated Series debuted and, essentially, changed everything. As viewers all tuned in for the first time - be it for the actual first episode to air "The Cat and The Claw, Part One," or for any of the other special 'premiere' episodes to air over the following couple of days - it was obvious there was something a little different about this series. And, I think, we all knew it based on just the name. Batman: The Animated Series. What is it about that name that seems so . . . iconic? So definitive? I think that alone made the attraction to the series even stronger. And, like I said, millions of children, and adults, were sitting down to watch this show. It was Saturday morning, and I wasn’t watching.
In fact, I missed the Saturday premiere, “The Cat & The Claw, Part One,” and the special Sunday-premiered episode “On Leather Wings,” too. It wasn’t until Monday, September 7th, 1992, when “Heart of Ice” played. And I barely caught it, too. I actually had no idea there were two special weekend airings. Remember, this was before the internet and TV Guides, while handy, weren't really prominent in my house. We received a monthly guide that was notoriously out of date. And late. It never arrived on time. I caught a few commercials for Batman: The Animated Series over the summer, but none had any specific timeslot details until we inched closer to September and, even then, I must have missed the ones that promoted the special airings. I can remember leaping over furniture as the time ticked down to the 4pm start time on that Monday. I managed to set up the VCR and flip it to Fox just in time and . . . wow. I was hooked. No one could move me. As “Heart of Ice” unfolded, I couldn’t be budged from the spot at all. Except for the TV, everything around me was silent and still. And that was the beginning of a love affair that has lasted the better part of twenty years. Even as a young kid, I knew this was different.
Sure, other cartoons have come and gone, but Batman: The Animated Series has reigned supreme ever since. Unquestionably. X-Men: The Animated Series? Fun and rewatchable, but it is sometimes hard to look beyond the animation. Spider-Man: The Animated Series? Not bad, but it falls apart quickly once we get into the second season. But Batman: The Animated Series . . . this show was different. I always return to this show, regardless of whatever I find myself watching. I actually just watched "On Leather Wings" this past Sunday, likely for the hundredth time or so, and it still has the 'wow' factor. The animation, the pacing, the characters, the ... everything. And the same can be said about a lot of episodes. "Heart of Ice" still gets to me. "The Demon's Quest" is still a rollicking adventure piece. This should has ... something about it that will always be timeless.
And, I didn't realize it then watching that first episode, but this series has had a long-lasting impact on my life in countless ways. My hobbies, my interests, my goals, a fair amount of those can be tied back to this very show. It inspired my writing, my art, my taste in music and appreciation of movies. I actually wanted to be a policeman for the longest time because of this show. And there are times I wish I still took that option. All of that I got from Batman: The Animated Series. The simple, yet complex, designs of each character. The dialogue that never spoke down to the viewer. The amazing score, a score that I am so glad is finally seeing the light of day. And the cinematic direction of each episode, each episode itself having a film noir serial feel. I could go one and one about this series, but many have before me, and better, I might add. I don’t claim to be the most skilled writer ever, but you don't have to be a genius wordsmith to write this obvious truth: this series is one that will remain.
I can remember watching an episode as it premiered, usually at 4pm on Fox, and then watching it later that night, taped on my VCR. I can remember going through so many tapes. I never really taped shows before Batman: The Animated Series, and this was pretty much my crash-course. I had to learn about different tape speed and quality, trying to decide whether to sacrifice the space on a tape or the quality of the image. And blank tapes were costly! But this show started it all for me. Next thing I knew, I was reading the comics, the toys, and finding anything I could related to the show. But, of course, with time that sort of withered. I stopped buying toys, but stuck with the comics and the odd book (mostly depending on the art and story), but my interest in Batman: The Animated Series didn’t end there. It never really did. Even though I had episodes tapes off television, I bought whatever episodes were released by Warner Home Video so there would hopefully be more and more. I always made sure to show my support for this series in any way I could.
In fact, it’s basically the whole reason for this site. True, this site did start as a Superman: The Animated Series message board, but that was only because at the time, there were already a couple great Batman: The Animated Series sites up - namely Batman: The Animated Homepage and the original The Animated Bat website. The Animated Bat, home to the Bat-Toon Board, surged when The New Batman Adventures hit Kids’WB!, but slowly disappeared after that. Batman: The Animated Homepage, to make it really simple, merged with my Superman: The Animated Message Board (along with my Batman Beyond: The Animated Message Board and Batman: The Animated Message Board) and basically became this site. Now, it’s much more complicated than that. To anyone who's been around here since the board originally started in 1998, you know that there were major changes made almost constantly from the get-go. The site was always evolving, with nary a year going by without some major changes, the biggest of which easily being Toonzone welcoming us into the fold. I know I'm doing a massive injustice to everyone who helped and worked on this site over the years by glossing over it so much. I’m sure a lot of them even remember posting here, and I’m sure some of them still view the board. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the notorious banned folks aren’t also peaking in (I know of at least two or three from way, way back - and I mean the 1990s - are). But that’s a whole different topic for another time!
Now where was I? Ah yes! Batman: The Animated Series. You know, I'd say that it’s hard to believe that twenty years ago so many of us where sitting down to watch this show, but it's not. We knew the quality when we saw the commercials, or read an article about the show's debut. We knew. What makes me thrilled is how we all latched on to it and, twenty years later, we're keeping it alive. Heck, the creators on this series kept it going even when working on different shows, and grew an entire universe out of it. It’s incredible for a show, any show, to still have such an impact on the fan base, and the industry, as a whole. When you think about it, the impact this show had on everything that came after it is truly stunning. There is an obvious influence in nearly every action/animated series from here on in thanks to Batman: The Animated Series. Who knew that, when we all sat down to watch this show, a whole universe would spawn from this series? That after it, Superman: The Animated Series would begin. That the creators behind the series would look into the future with the Batman Beyond. Of course, there’s also Justice League, as well, which would bring everything together in the end. Quite amazing, yes? And that's just counting the in-continuity DC Comics based shows. There are countless others obviously influenced by this series.
And it was the creators behind this show that made it so absolutely amazing. We had the likes of Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Eric Radomski, Stan Berkowtiz, Dwayne McDuffie, Boyd Kirkland, Dan Riba, Michael Reaves, Hilary Bader, among many others, who contributed. Even comic greats like Dennis O’Neil and Len Wein stepped in. And I know I’m missing awhile lot of people here, but there are just so many people that deserve thanking. Everyone had a role to play in the show, and the role was always crucial one. The storyboard artists, writers, designers, everything had to be in tandem to get the amazing results we were privileged to see. And that, to me, made the episodes work. Yes, sometimes the results weren’t all that good, I’ll admit, but you could always count on something memorable, even from the worst episodes (like that ridiculous screwdriver/sword duel in “I’ve Got A Batman In My Basement”). Even the spin-off comics enjoyed a wealth of talent that included the likes of Mike Parobeck, Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, Kelley Puckett, Scott Peterson, Dan Slott, and a pile more of endlessly brilliant folks.
But everything came together in this series. Driven by powerful scores, thanks to the late (and missed) Shirley Walker, this show was something to behold. Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis also contributed, among many others, some memorable and unforgettable music. Music, by the way, that were are finally seeing releases after years of requests and waiting. Batman: The Animated Series is just the show that keeps on giving.
And who could forget Kevin Conroy as Batman? Or Mark Hammill as The Joker. And the list goes on, people. This series was cast perfectly. Every last role. I dare you to say otherwise. I won't bother listing every one because we already know them. If say "Paul Williams," you know which character he played. Or "Loren Lester." "Bob Hastings." The talent, and how synonymous they became with their characters, is pretty astounding. Not for every role, mind you, but every major role was memorable.
There’s so much that can be touched upon here that I don’t think I could do it justice. I could write for days baout this show. Not sure most of it would be worth reading, but I have plenty to say. And there's so many people, countless people, who deserve thanking. I mean, besides, this posting is pretty much scribblings on a napkin when it comes to the likes of Batman: Animated, which has covered this show in so much fantastic detail. But I wanted to mark today, this day, as an important day for us animation fans.
Batman: The Animated Series will always remain that perfect distillation of what this character means. The perfect blend of ... everything. In those first 85 episodes, a perfect world was created for these characters. Everything fell into place and what we got was the Batman. This is my Batman, as far as I'm concerned. The perfect rendition of the character. Forget Burton, Nolan, Morrison, Miller, Synder, Aparo, Breyfogle, Adams, all of them. As prolific and historic as all those works can be considered, this, to me, is what got everything right. The comics can't beat it. The movies can't beat it. Even characters I cared little for here, at least, became a little bit more interesting. It has that quality about it that no other show had (or, debatably, has).
Even though some of the situations were quite fantastic, there was always a down to earth quality about them. Whether it was the Joker, Two-Face, or even Ra’s Al Ghul, every character seemed seeped in believability. This wasn't just an ordinary action cartoon, but it had the trappings of a serious drama. Real characters embodied those shells, and we followed every step of the way because of that. Sure, there were elements that sometimes strained our beliefs in what could be done, but everything worked in Batman’s world. Every impossible jump, every convoluted plan, everything. It all worked. And it was something to behold.
I guess, in the end, what kept me, and many others, going back to Batman: The Animated Series for years to come was how the show respected the characters. I think that has to do with the love the creators had for these amazing fictional creations, and it was a practice that continues on for many other related shows down the line. You could feel their appreciation for the characters and the hard work of the world they built in every frame. This was their show, and it was a labor of love. The creative team here stripped away the ridiculous and unnecessary aspects of the comic book lore and presented us with the best. They even created a few new things along the way, too, be it characters or status-quo alterations, which, in effect, brought out the best in the character, be it Batman, Superman, or whoever. They knew what worked, what didn’t, and what needed to be changed. What had a more dramatic impact? What was more important to the core of their character? What mattered most to them? What was real? They brought all these questions to the table and, from that, they created an amazing world.
And to think - this all started with Batman: The Animated Series. Twenty years ago. As we watched Batman chase down Red Claw and tangle with Catwoman, we knew what we were watching was pretty much golden, but who knew it's have such an everlasting effect That we’d be watching some of the most iconic, historic, and important animation we’d ever bear witness to? Animation that, to this day, is still an obvious influence on what we see on television. Quite an amazing legacy.
I could go on and on, but I'll spare you.
What are your thoughts and memories for Batman: The Animated Series' 20th Anniversary?
With luck, expect at least one 20th-anniversary themed special interview here at The World's Finest later this month!