At San Diego Comic-Con this year, during the panel commemorating the 25th anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series it was announced that the series in its entirety (including the direct to video release of Batman: Sub-Zero and the released to cinemas Batman: Mask of the Phantasm). That’s two films plus the 85 episodes of Batman: The Animated series, plus the 24 episodes of Batman: The New Adventures, and all of it remastered in glorious 1080p HD. This is huge.
I’d argue that moreso than the films that inspired its creation Batman: The Animated Series had the most impact in getting superheroes taken seriously as a venue for popular entertainment. There had been adventure cartoons on Saturday mornings before; there had been superhero cartoons on television before (many featuring Batman); but BTAS was the first cartoon to introduce something that had only been seen previously in afternoon soaps or evening drama: actual character.
Our hero, while still stalwart and true, was profoundly damaged by the loss of his parents. The villains were not only dastardly and evil, but some of them were deeply human in a way that no one had ever explored on an animated series before. Don’t believe me? Track down the episode entitled “Heart of Ice.” The debut episode of Mr. Freeze. Mr. Freeze people, a character I’d only known as a lame villain on the Super Friends cartoon became a figure of absolute pathos and tragedy. By the end of the episode if you’re not just a little bit moved, you have to be a robot.
BTAS was also the first time I can remember being aware of the creators on a cartoon, from the producers like Alan Brennett and Bruce Timm, to the writers like Paul Dini and Tom Ruegger, to the excellent music by Shirley Walker. And the voice talent is nothing short of phenomenal: Kevin Conroy’s Batman is considered by many to be definitive, and Mark Hamill’s Joker has become so iconic that it’s difficult to imagine the clown prince of crime without his vocal cadence. Richard Moll’s amazing Harvey Dent and his chilling Two-Face. From the major players to the minor characters, everyone brought their A-game, and it shows.
I could go on about the visual aesthetic and how wise it was not to date the show in the 1990s, but set it in a kind of alternate universe where you could have computers and robots but black and white televisions, 1940s-era fashions and automobiles, and zeppelins. About the debt owed to the Fliescher brothers Superman cartoons when it came to character design. About my absolute favorite episode “Beware the Gray Ghost!” and the genius casting of Adam West as an out of work actor typecast by a previous role-playing a costumed avenger and his influence on Bruce Wayne. But if you’re even half as excited as I am, you likely already know all this.
The set will be released on October 16 of this year and you can pre-order it on sites like Amazon. It comes with the whole series, bonus content including interviews with the creators, a postcard set with key moments from the show depicted in print, and three Funko pops featuring Batman, Harley Quinn, and Joker in their BTAS attire. It looks amazing, and I for one can’t wait to get my mitts on a copy. It’s high time this series got the respect it so richly deserves.