"Batman", later dubbed "The Adventures of Batman and Robin" and then rebooted to "The New Adventures of Batman" after a couple years of absence, is probably the most significant animated incarnation of the Caped Crusader there ever was. To some, it is the definition of who the Batman is, stripped of the extremely complex and often retconned story lines in the comic. And while some comic book purists may scoff at the PG nature of the show, I think that most viewers, both child and adult, found a lot to appreciate in its surprisingly mature storytelling, gorgeous animation and its lasting impact on both animation and well as the overall legacy of the Dark Knight.
"Batman" was the birthplace of the DC Comics animated universe, which would later spawn additional shows featuring the Man of Steel as well as the Justice League. A far cry from the more lighthearted version of Batman found in the campy old television show, this Batman had a lot more in common with the 1989 film, including its early scoring. However, it wasn't a cartoon take on the movie, rather, it was a synthesized take on Batman, bringing in characters from all over Batman's history and sometimes rewriting their history as well as creating all new characters, some of which proved to be so popular they ended up entering the comic book's universe.
The stories are primarily anthology, with a few two-parters here and there. However, this format works pretty well for the show and somehow, it avoids becoming a "villain of the week" premise by creating some very unique stories even while presenting a villain each week. Even early on, Batman provided a Rashomon-style tale in "P.O.V." with three cops providing their take on what happened when the Batman showed up at a crime scene. Later stories include extended nightmares, fantasies, epics, romances as well as stories that introduce Batman's allies, such as Robin. And although the show is titled Batman, it often is willing to make the Bat a supporting character in exploring the other characters in its universe, to great result.
"Batman" also can't be mentioned without talking about the amazing art. Here is a take on Batman, setting it in a gorgeous strongly art-deco inspired world, which is immediately eye-catching and sets a remarkably consistent tone for the series. Furthermore, one thing you'll quickly notice is that the show is dark. Perhaps in themes sometimes, but especially in color. In the DVD commentary, you learn that the show is actually painted on black instead of white, which leads it to have an incredibly dark overall look, which further helps paint the grim world that the Batman inhabits.
And then there's the acting. Kevin Conroy essentially created what would become what we know as the Batman's voice, alternating between the lighter playboy Bruce Wayne and the gruff growl of Batman. Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker) also helped create one of the definitive versions of the Joker with a laugh that can't be forgotten. Almost all the acting over the show's long run is remarkable, making it hard to replace these versions of the characters with others, even from the movies.
Halfway through its first run, the show's title was changed and reflected the stronger incorporation of Robin and other supporting characters, but outside of a less interesting title sequence, the show pretty much stayed the same. Then the show ended and the team went on to work on the "Superman" series, but revived "Batman" again in the "New Adventures". This incarnation revamped the art style to be more angular, simpler and sometimes much darker--the Scarecrow especially became rather creepy. The show also changed even more to incorporate extended allies into the story, including a young Tim Drake as Robin, the persistent presence of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and even the older Dick Grayson makes several appearances as Nightwing. Although I was hesitant to embrace the new incarnation at first, it become clear to me that the storytelling as well as the presentation remained strong, with some great episodes that would stand with the best of its previous incarnation.
Because of its impact on animation and the titular character, its willingness not to dumb down for children, its wise storytelling, its amazing art and the inescapable legacy of entertainment in my life, "Batman" remains one of the greatest animated series that I have ever witnessed. Even today, though its been well over a decade since the show debuted and almost a decade since the "New Adventures" ended, the show remains incredibly engaging. This is definitely a series that endures and perhaps one that I would continue to watch over the years, as an adult to appreciate the depth of the stories and the gorgeous art, and a series that I would not hesitate to share with appropriately aged children. Recommended without reservation. 10/10.
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