HEAT VISION

Why the Time Is Right for 'Batman: The Animated Series'

There are plenty of stories to adapt, characters redefine, and new ones who could end up being the next Harley Quinn somewhere down the line.
'Batman: The Animated Series'   |   FOX/Photofest
There are plenty of stories to adapt, characters redefine, and new ones who could end up being the next Harley Quinn somewhere down the line.

There is no better adaptation of Batman than Batman: The Animated Series. The series, which ran from 1992 to 1999 under the names Batman: The Animated Series, The Adventures of Batman & Robin and The New Batman Adventures, is responsible for much of the Bat-fandom that exists today, and it’s arguable that the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was built on the foundation of a certain generation’s familiarity with B:TAS. More recently, the prominence of Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya in Cathy Yan’s 2020 feature Birds of Prey can be traced back to those characters' original appearances in the series, years before they made their comic book debuts. And speaking of comics, current Batman writer James Tynion IV has cited B:TAS as a central influence on his current run. From the depiction of Mr. Freeze and the upcoming debut of the Phantasm into canon to Rocksteady’s Arkham games, the legacy of creators Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Mitch Brian’s animated series has shaped the public perception and adoration of Batman for nearly 30 years.

After all that time, B:TAS remains the perfect introduction to the character, but Batman has been through a lot in the 20 years since the series ended. Yes, the animated form lived on through the cult-favorite Batman Beyond (1999-2001), the excellent Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-2006), itself spun from the threads of Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2001), and several direct-to-video animated films. But there are so many aspects from Batman’s 21st century adventures that never made it into what collectively formed the DC Animated Universe (DCAU). While some have been incorporated, with varying degrees of success, into the separate continuity of DC’s Animated Original Movies, a revival of the animated series would allow new characters like Hush, Red Hood, Dr. Hurt, the Court of the Owls, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown and Damian Wayne to interact with Kevin Conroy’s iconic and irreplaceable Batman, all drawn in Timm’s singular style. With Batman celebrating his 81st birthday this week, it’s as good a time as any to take stock of what we really want to see next from the Caped Crusader. Continuing comic book greatness? Yes. Matt Reeves’ film? Of course. The Snyder Cut? Naturally. But at the top of the list: It’s time for Batman: The Animated Series to make a return.

There seems to be something in the air in regard to the DCAU. Susan Eisenberg, who voiced Wonder Woman in Justice League and JLU tweeted just this week that 2021 would mark the 20th anniversary of the series, and would be the perfect opportunity for a reunion, sparking the imagination of fans. And Wednesday marked the release of Batman: The Adventure Continues, a new digital comic miniseries from producers Dini and Alan Burnett, with art by Batman Adventures artist Ty Templeton. The series continues the style of Batman: The Animated Series while introducing characters, like Jason Todd, who were not seen during the show’s run. The digital comic is the closest we’ve gotten to a true continuation of Batman: The Animated series, and its ties to a popular toy line, done in Timm’s style, indicate increased interest in the property. Dini, Burnett and Templeton spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how the comic came together and their initial arc in what they're referring to as “the first season.” One would have to imagine that if the series is a hit, which the toy line is already proving to be, that there must follow some internal discussion at Warner Bros. Animation about bringing the animated series back.

Indeed, there’s no better time to revive B:TAS than now. All the original creators, writers, voice cast, and acclaimed casting director, Andrea Romano, are still around and working in the business (though Romano is technically retired). And DC has its own streaming service, DC Universe, that’s already home to original series like Titans, Doom Patrol, Stargirl and the animated Harley Quinn, which has its second-season premiere this Friday. And if not DC Universe, then HBO Max would surely make a great home for the series.

With Warner Bros. Animation winding down its universe of DC animated films with the upcoming Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, and hopefully returning to the stand-alone and stylistically varied format of their films pre-2014, a return of B:TAS could be the very thing that drives Warner Bros. Animation in a new direction going forward. It speaks volumes that the cast, creators and fans are all so enthusiastic and on board with the idea of the DCAU making a return. There’s plenty of stories to adapt, characters to redefine, and new ones who could end up being the next Harley Quinn somewhere down the line. But the history of the DCAU shows that the best bet is found in starting small, with a man dressed like a bat, chasing a familiar villain through an art-deco Gotham, its red skies populated with police blimps and searchlights. There’s a whole new world, crafted from the past two decades of DC stories, that is ready to be explored in animation, and there’s no one better to lead the way, like he did 28 years ago, than Batman.

  • Richard Newby
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