‘Batman: The Animated Series’: 30 Years of Gotham’s Greatest

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

In 1989, when Tim Burton somehow released a simultaneously grittier and more whimsical version of Batman, as opposed to the Adam West portrayal in the ‘60s, he set a precedent and baseline for what would become one of the greatest cartoons ever made, just three years later, in 1992. Batman: The Animated Series took everything of style and substance from the Burton films, and expanded upon it with a level of creativity, darkness, and fun that could only be done using the boundless freedoms of animation.

Animators Eric Radomski (Tiny Toons Adventures) and Bruce Timm (Secret of NIMH, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) came together to create a series that didn’t just thoroughly explore the life of Bruce Wayne in and out of the bat suit, but also did deep dives on the villainous and side characters as well, devoting several episodes to even the minimally-used villains of the franchise. This was something touched on a little more in Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) with Catwoman and Penguin, and very much paved the way for the villain empathy created in the series.

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

There were so many things that came together to make this cartoon an all-time best, starting with the theme and animation style. Rather than creating a new theme for the show, Danny Elfman’s iconic score from Burton’s films was re-used for the intro and theme of the series, giving the audience something both incredible and familiar. Timm’s animation style was perfect for the series. Believe it or not, Batman’s character design for the series was inspired by the 1966 animation of Space Ghost.


Timm had already shown his incredible usage of shaded reds and grays in Secret of NIMH and He-Man­, and that style fits perfectly for the noir-inspired personality of Gotham City that was established in Burton’s Batman. The masterful thing about this version of Gotham was that it felt like both present day and the 1930s at the same time, all thanks to Timm’s (and crew) animation.

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The most memorable thing about both Batman: The Animated Series, and Batman on screen in general, was the top-notch voice acting. After 150+ auditions, Kevin Conroy was chosen and absolutely embodied the character, and to this day, still voices The Dark Knight to perfection as he’s pushing 70.

This was also the first instance of Mark Hamill’s incredible run as The Joker, giving the character both the hysterical and maniacal edges needed for such a storied role. This series was one of the few cartoons to record as an ensemble cast, and while most of the actors sat for their parts, Hamill was allowed to roam the room and physically become Joker, adding to his stellar performances. Hamill would go on to voice Joker throughout many different Batman settings, including video games and animated films.

Hamill and Conroy weren’t the only memorable voices, though. A plethora of recognizable actors were added to the cast in recurring roles within the series’ three-year run, including Richard Moll (House, Night Court) as Harvey Dent, Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, The Fog) as Catwoman, Ron Perlman as Clayface, and Roddy McDowall as The Mad Hatter. Even tiny cameo roles pulled in big names, like Tim Curry, John Rhys-Davies, LeVar Burton, and even the ‘60s Batman himself, Adam West. Curry was actually the original choice to voice Joker but was re-cast after recording just four episodes because the production studio thought his voice was too similar to other roles of his.

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The series wasn’t afraid to constantly flip-flop between the satirical feels of the ‘60s to the grittier tone of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Even from the get-go in the first few episodes, the series went from a vicious Man-Bat hybrid monster terrorizing Gotham City to Joker breaking out of Arkham Asylum on a rocket disguised as a Christmas tree. There were no boundaries with the intent from episode to episode, and that’s part of what made it memorable and unique.

The series was also responsible for long-standing storylines throughout the Batman franchise, as the art and setting styles and specific arcs were used in the comics after the run. Popular characters also got their starts in The Animated Series, like Harley Quinn, who now has been in multiple movies and has an animated TV show of her own.

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The Animated Series would go on to spawn two fantastic movies as well. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm brought in Stacy Keach in an incredible role as Phantasm, another character introduced in this series storyline, and one that carried one of the biggest villain twists yet seen. We also got Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, a film that would continue two of the fan-favorite episodes of the series, “Heart of Ice” and “Deep Freeze”.


Looking back three decades, I’m not sure that any cartoon has been able to do what Batman: The Animated Series did. The show was able to perfectly accompany two popular, recently-released films, and somewhat continue the storyline, while keeping viewers hooked. DC tried their hand (and came close) at replicating the popularity and nostalgic force when they released The Adventures of Superman and the Justice League cartoon, but for me, they were never on the same level.

Even now, with the emergence of Disney+, shows like Marvel’s …What If?  And Baymax tries to replicate that success by tying their animated series in with their movies, yet, neither are able to fully capture what Batman: The Animated Series was able to in just three seasons. The fact that we’re writing about it after 30 years means it was truly great, and honestly, we’ll probably be able to write about it again in 30 more.




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.