On September 6, 1992, The FOX network aired the pilot episode of what would become one of the greatest and most influential animated television programs of all-time — Batman: The Animated Series (or, Batman: TAS for short). Yes, you read that correctly. Batman: TAS just turned 20.
Twenty. Years. Old.
Still with me, or did your ticker give out, old-timer?
The show became an immediate hit, and ran for 65 episodes before transitioning to The Adventures of Batman & Robin in 1994, then wrapping up in 1998 as The New Batman Adventures. The series’ look and fluid animation style was completely groundbreaking at the time, combining aspects of 1940’s film noir with modern technology. Series creator and artist Bruce Timm’s designs launched a thousand spin-offs and imitators, from official DC Comics series like Superman: The Animated Series, Static Shock, Batman Beyond and The Justice League, to programs like Spawn and Gargoyles. In fact, just about every animated series developed after 1992 had the Bruce Timm “dark deco” style.
While the Batman on the big screen in 1992 was a nightmarish, black-clad figure influenced by German Expressionism, inhabiting a neo-Gothic Gotham City — Batman: TAS featured a retro-future aesthetic, with police blimps hovering over an art-deco Gotham City, and a fluid, Fleischer-esque Batman wearing his classic blue and grey costume. Batman’s broad-shouldered, large-eyed, lantern-jawed design became instantly iconic, as did his unmistakable baritone voice, provided by Kevin Conroy. Conroy still voices The Dark Knight from time to time to this day, and he set the bar impossibly high for anyone voicing Batman in the various animated projects that followed TAS. One could argue that his Batman is the single greatest interpretation of the character – outside of comic books – in history.
Batman: TAS is also notable for giving Mark Hamill a second career. After languishing in B-Movie hell for a decade after the Star Wars films ended, Hamill was able to create another iconic role for himself, this time as a villain. Before Heath Ledger came along, Hamill’s vocal stylings were synonymous with the colorful visage of the Clown Prince of Crime. He put a stamp on The Joker that is still being felt today, as Hamill provides Batman’s nemesis with his unforgettable laughter in the wildly popular Arkham City/Asylum video games.
The landmark series also gave birth to one of the most popular foes in Batman’s extensive Rogues Gallery – the ditzy, demented Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a female psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum who fell head over heels in love with The Joker and started a life of crime by his side as Harley Quinn. The character became so well-loved by fans, that she was brought into DC Comics continuity and given a starring role in the long-running Batman comic books.
The impact that Batman: The Animated Series had on pop culture is still being felt in 2012. It’s mature themes and scripts brought a whole new audience to afternoon animated series and kicked off a boom period for more complex, adult-oriented superhero cartoons. It was well-written, dramatic, and intense, with a superb design concept that still looks and feels fresh today. Happy 20th Anniversary, Batman: TAS!