Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Happy Birthday, "Batman: The Animated Series"

20 years ago today, EVERYTHING changed.

September 5th, 1992 was one of the most quietly-epic days in the history of not only animation and comics but of the modern-day Geek Culture: the television debut of "Batman: The Animated Series." It was a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of good fortune: Warner Bros. was so eager to get ANY Batman-related toon onto afternoon TV to drive the brand in-between the movies, the production team on this series got an unprecedented level of creative freedom for such an important project... and the results changed not only the animation industry but also comics and even FILM in ways we're still feeling. It is, quite simply, one of the most important popular-culture artifacts of the 20th Century.

"BATMAN: TAS" almost singlehandedly restored "credibility" to the U.S. action cartoon genre, which had been (fairly or not) "ghetto-ized" as strictly the realm of toy merchandise-driven fluff since the 80s. And it struck, to my mind, a perfect balance between a "serious-minded" approach to the Batman mythos and an acknowledgement that Batman and his world still work best when also sharing threads with the more fantastical side of the broader DC Universe - a balance that the actual comics and the ongoing film adaptations are still struggling with. For a generation (maybe two, by now,) THIS version of Batman is seen as the gold-standard of the character.

And think about this: Before "The Avengers" and it's "Cinematic Universe" was even a gleam in a producers' eye, THIS series brought comic-book style continuity into the American mainstream by gradually spawning an unprecedentedly-massive shared-universe of it's own - "Batman: TAS" begat (and frequently crossed-over with) a "Superman" series and an entirely-original DCU-future in "Batman Beyond"... and then all three of those were linked by the two "Justice League" series.

I distinctly remembering seeing it for the first time ("Heart of Ice" was my first episode) after months of buildup, and even as an 11 year-old I knew I was seeing something important. Something game-changing... but I never imagined (how could any of us have imagined?) just how big, long-lived and influential this was. I sincerely hold that without this show and it's success the "Spider-Man" movies, the "X-Men movies," "Batman Begins," "Iron Man," Marvel Studios, "Avengers" and now the impending "Justice League" movie... NONE of that would've happened.

24 comments:

Fallen Angel said...

Huh. Today also happens to be my birthday. How about that...Holy Coincidence, Batman!

Anonymous said...

I unfortunately didn't really have a childhood as I was forbidden from watching "junk" TV until I was 14, so I didn't get to watch it much when I was younger, but one of my earliest memories was sneaking TV after I had pretended to be sick enough to get out of school, and watching the clock king episode while my mother went out to get groceries. Cheers

Anonymous said...

I WAS THERE!!!!!!!!

Seriously, I watched the first episode of Batman: TAS. When it first aired. Like, live and stuff or whatever.

Didn't mean anything in the long run. Is it really a big deal? I guess, maybe, prolly not. The show started sucking once they changed the art design, around season 3 or 4. I stopped paying attention, and everything that happened afterwards I didn't care about. But yeah, it was good while it lasted, I guess.

But...I WAS THERE. Man-Bat and everything. I remember thinking it was good, but taking it for granted, not realizing how rare it is that multi-million-dollar industries actually get things right. How rare that is. How...stupidly, unforgivably rare that is.

Felcat said...

I think what stands out the most for the series was how it was able to make shows that were perfectly appropriate for children, but still respected their intelligence.

Any episode with Mr.Freeze was fantastic, the episodes with Dick Grayson finding the man who killed his parents was amazing (one of the best moments for both Robin and Batman), and the episode with The Mad Hatter capturing Batman in a perfect wonderland was just beautiful.

And Batman Beyond is pure awesome too xD

*dashes into the shadows to Fanboy elsewhere!*

Paul said...

I was toward the end of my high school days when this came out and I remember trying to get into it but found it boring. It wasn't until the Superman series came out that I found it(this new DCAU) interesting. Loved Supes TAS and really liked JL and JLU shows but this first show that had to solely rely on Batman to be interesting just wasn't for me. But I still acknowledge it's historical importance and that it was a quality show, it's just that Batman has never been my thing(and never will be).

Fett101 said...

Anyone with a remote interest in Batman the Animated Series (or Batman in general) should do themselves a serious favor and listen to the Fatman on Batman podcast where Kevin Smith interviews various people such as Mark Hamill, Paul Dini, and what not.

http://smodcast.com/channels/fatman-on-batman/

CragN8R said...

I remember this series so well. The one I got hooked on completely was Batman Beyond, but the DCAU in general was a great success. The Justice League time travel episode was great, as was basically any season finale. Truly a great work.

Lord Slithor said...

After having suffered through the '80s with the majority of actions shows being nothing more than 30-minute long toy commercials with insipid morals being tacked-on at the end (Robotech being the only one true exception to this), Batman: TAS was a breath of fresh air, and Bob's right in that it truly changed everything for the better.

Even though Bob defended those earlier 80's shows, I'm sorry, but I still thought they lacked quality. For a variety of reasons, they weren't really allowed to have honest-to-goodness stories with real drama, character development or depth. Batman: TAS changed all of that, and thank gods. Becuase it really opened up the floodgates. And in the wake of that we got Gargoyles, the rest of the DCAU and a whole bunch of others. We may not like some of it, but all of what's on now owes a creative debt to TAS. The television landscape I think would be very different without it.

Paladin said...

I was there from the start. I watched every episode.

Even the terrible ones ("I've Got Batman In My Basement") are ingrained in my memory.

Joe said...

Nothing more to add about TAS. A really awesome show, and 15-year-old me was never embarrassed for watching it.

@Lord Slithor:

I have to agree. I loved those shows as a kid, but the first time I watched Thundercats again as an adult, the poor quality animation, preachy moralizing and bad voice acting shocked sense into me. (The new Thundercats--at least the intro mini-series--is quite good, however.)

The Sunbow/Hasbro stuff was a bit better because they had real money behind that and could hire huge and capable voice casts. Even so, the only series I can still watch from that stable are G.I. Joe, because there was a bit of maturity and character depth (the Dusty-is-a-traitor arc, Lowlight's abusive father, the Vietnamese children of US soldiers, the 20 Questions episode--all dealt with pretty heavy fare for a kid's show, and the Mainframe/Zarana star-crossed romance was handled a lot more maturely than you'd expect). There was also a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek approach in the writing that still holds up*. Jem, too, at its high points is alright, because the soap opera/corporate intrigue/globe-trotting plots gave it a bit more maturity than most of its contemporaries.

*Classic example in the very first episode, after Destro arrives at COBRA's Himalayan temple base:

COBRA COMMANDER: You're late, Destro. We expected you weeks ago.

DESTRO: Apologies, Commander. It took some time to assemble the components, and even longer to climb to this ridiculously melodramatic location.

Angry Man said...

BTAS is such a great show. I recently discovered that there is a cable network called The Hub (sort of another Cartoon Network type channel) that plays BTAS reruns all the time. I set my DVR to record them, and now I can watch BTAS any time I want! It's great.

Pat said...

You forgot to mention "Static Shock"!

Aiddon said...

good times, thought TAS was pretty segregated from the rest of the DCAU. Plus the more fantastical elements of Batman worked in TAS because it was a CARTOON. In live-action...those don't work so well

Lido said...

this show puts the movies to shame every time

Movie-Blogger.com said...

Batman:TAS is one of the greatest animated series. It was well ahead of its time. The format was great. I always loved the movie type cards at the beginning with the title of the episode. Also, the amount of darkness in the programme was crazy, even now nothing can compare to it.

TheDVDGrouch said...

Batman TAS was a real driving force in my life & helped shape me into the person I am today.

The DC animated universe really is something special. Even the lesser know stuff like The Zeta project is great.

strongstylefiction said...

When I think of Batman, this is what pops in my mind. When I read Batman in comics, I hear Kevin Conroy's voice in my mind. I love Nolan's films, but they don't hold a candle to this series.

Also, I would say that TAS' version of the Joker was the best in the history of the character. Yes, even better than Ledger's.

Arturo said...

Bob, if you hadn't done so many Batman episodes of TBP lately, I think this could've been a good topic. I guess you could make an episode about the ups and downs of the state of the US action cartoon genre , although I'm mostly suggesting this just so I can have at least one internet personality within my radar to discuss the work of Genndy Tartakovsky.

Anonymous said...

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Anthony said...

I loved this series growing up. I even remember learning how to play the intro theme in middle school band class.

Aaron said...

Strange. I just had a conversation with a dude about Batman:TAS, and soon after that, patted myself on the back for learning the Batman:TAS theme on guitar.
Was totally unaware.

Brick said...

It was the '89 movie, and this cartoon that introduced me, and made me a Batman fan. I owe a lot to this cartoon. The quality of it still holds up today, as it's one of those cartoons that I can now watch as an adult and still say it's a good show.

KevinCV said...

This is one of my top 3 favorite cartoons from my childhood. The other 2 being "Garfield & Friends" and "Animaniacs", in case you're wondering. One of these days, I've gotta bite the bullet and buy the entire DCAU on DVD. Unfortunately, I don't have the funds to do so. Thanks for giving it a tribute, Bob. :)

Popcorn Dave said...

The fact this show came out as well as it did was a goddamned miracle. They got a perfect creative team, a big budget and minimal studio interference - a combination that's rare today and virtually unheard of in the early '90s. And even more incredibly, instead of dying off and becoming a cult classic like most great shows, it ended up being a blockbuster success and spawning even more great shows. Whenever I get cynical about the state of the entertainment business (and in particular, their running the superhero genre into the ground) I just remind myself "holy shit, the DCAU exists".