The Dark Knight.
The Caped Crusader.
Whatever you want to call him, Batman has been around for 75 years of kicking henchman ass and not bothering to learn their names. Given the number of TV shows, movies, video games, and comic books on the subject, we’re all pretty familiar with his origins. And if you’re not, Fox is planning on a TV show this fall that will investigate those origins until they lose all meaning for Batman and everyone around him they can shoehorn in. Poison Ivy as a kid? Sure. Why not? Because if there’s one thing we really need to learn about, it’s the early days of The Penguin. Besides, we all know Batman’s origin story.
He was bitten by a radioactive bat. Wait…is that right?
But for all the terrible parts of the Batman mythology that are currently out there and are coming, one of the shining pieces of greatness is Batman: The Animated Series, later known as The Adventures of Batman & Robin.
Running from 1992 to 1995, Batman: The Animated Series chronicled the adventures if the Caped Crusader and his allies as they faced off against his vast and deadly rogues gallery. Developed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm, this series formed the foundation for the next 20+ years of DC animation and absolutely set the bar for Batman-storytelling outside of the comic books.
The neo-noir, Dark Deco setting gave The Animated Series the most authentic on screen Batman vibe of any piece of animation before or after it. You can’t pinpoint the era the show is set in. The technology is advanced but the series has a classic 50s look that’s reminiscent of pulp noir detective films. This gives Gotham the aesthetic it needs to feel like Gotham, both new and dated at the same time.
Beyond the setting, the voicing makes everything work. Kevin Conroy, who has voiced Batman in TV series, films, and video games, was key to the success of this series. He was the first to give Batman and Bruce Wayne distinguishably different voices, a style Christian Bale borrowed for the Nolan Batman films. Naturally, voicing Joker was also key. The job first went to iconic actor Tim Curry. Depending on what source you believe, that changed either when his version of the Clown Prince of Crime, as good as it was, reputedly scared the living crap out of kids or when his performance was too strenuous on the actor’s vocal chords. Either way, the part ended up going to Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill, who has been as influential on the characterization of the Joker over the past two decades in the same way Conroy was on Batman. A big part of the reason the Arkham video games developed by Rocksteady are great is because these two are involved in its voicing.
This series is about as Batman as it gets. It won multiple Emmys and has been on more than a few top ten animated series of all time type lists. It defined a generation of animation for DC/Warner Bros., and was a big part of the careers of people who have been keys players in the world of animation in general.
If you want to watch something that exemplifies The Dark Knight perfectly on his 75th anniversary, Batman: The Animated Series is it. And the best part?
It gets right to it and doesn’t open with the well-worn origin story of Batman.