Batman: The Animated Series was based on the DC Comics superhero Batman. It was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and originally aired on the Fox Network from September 5, 1992 to September 15, 1995. The series was widely praised for its thematic complexity, darker tone, artistic quality and modernization of its title character’s crime-fighting origins. The series also won four Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Animated Program.
The series was heavily influenced by Tim Burton’s live-action films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), and the acclaimed Superman theatrical cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios in the early 1940s. In designing the series, creators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski emulated the Burton films’ “otherworldly timelessness”, incorporating period features such as black-and-white title cards, police blimps (though no such thing existed, Timm has stated that he found it to fit the show’s style) and a “vintage” colour scheme with film noir flourishes.
The visual style of the series was based on the artwork of Radomski, although Timm is often mistakenly given credit for this due to the fact that the characters were based on his designs. However, the gothic backgrounds, look and feel of Gotham City were based on the initial designs laid out by Radomski. In addition, Radomski issued a standing order to the animation department that all backgrounds be painted using light colors on black paper (as opposed to the industry standard of dark colors on white paper). The distinctive visual combination of “noir” imagery and Art Deco design was dubbed “Dark Deco” by the producers.
The series initially took a variation of music written by Danny Elfman for the Burton films as its theme; later episodes of the series used a new theme with a similar style by Shirley Walker (Walker was occasionally Elfman’s conductor for films on which they collaborated). The score of the series was influenced by Elfman and Walker’s work on the Burton films, as well as music of 1940s film noir.
The series was more adult-oriented than previous superhero cartoons. It was the first such cartoon in years to depict outright physical violence against antagonists (though only one character was depicted as having been shot — Commissioner Gordon, in the episode “I Am the Night”, is shown lying unconscious due to a gunshot wound he received offscreen) and one of the first animated shows in years to depict realistic firearms. First-time producers Timm and Radomski reportedly encountered resistance from studio executives, but the success of Burton’s first film allowed the embryonic series to survive long enough to produce a pilot episode, “On Leather Wings”, which according to Timm “got a lot of people off our backs”.
The series was also notable for its supporting cast — a number of well-known actors provided voices for various classic villains, most notably Mark Hamill (previously famous for his role as Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy), who later found success in voice acting thanks to his “cheerfully deranged” portrayal of the Joker. The recording sessions (under the supervision of voice director Andrea Romano) were recorded with the actors together in one studio (as opposed to industry standard of voice actors recording dialogue separately). This method would later be employed for all subsequent series in the DC animated universe.
One of the series’ best-known innovations was the Joker’s assistant, Harley Quinn, who became so popular that DC Comics later added her to mainstream Batman comic book continuity. The Penguin underwent change for the series; his appearance was remodeled after the version seen in Batman Returns (though still incorporating classic elements of the character), which was in production simultaneously with the series’ first season. New life was also given to lesser-known characters for the series such as theClock King. In addition, dramatic changes were made to villains such as Clayface and Mr. Freeze — the latter character, for example, was changed from a gimmicky mad scientist to a tragic figure whose “frigid exterior [hid] a doomed love and vindictive fury”.
When the first season of the series aired on weekday afternoons, its opening theme sequence lacked an on-screen title (for episode recaps, the narrator would say “Previously on Batman…”), but when the timeslot was moved to weekends during its second season, the series was given the on-screen title The Adventures of Batman & Robin. The series was also the first in the continuity of the shared DC animated universe; spawning further animated TV series, feature films, comic books and video games with most of the same creative talent.