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The classic cartoon ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ (1992) celebrates its 20th anniversary September 5, 2012 with 109 episodes. The series was the first in Warner Bros’ Animation lineup that went on to make ‘Superman: The Animated Series’ (1996), ‘Batman Beyond’ (1999), ‘Static Shock’ (2000), ‘Justice League’ (2001), ‘Justice League Unlimited’ (2004), and several feature-length films based in the same continuity. For twenty years, ‘Batman’ has been one of the best animated series on and off the air, with four Emmy awards under its belt and an entire generation of followers.
The show began with the talented work of developers Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, and then flourished under several different writers, such as the critically acclaimed Paul Dini, Michael Reaves, and Alan Burnett.
The dark tone and beautiful painted backgrounds were inspired by Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ (1989), which returned the Dark Knight to his original comic book status: that of a brooding detective, rather than the campy hero Adam West made popular in the 1960’s. The team used influences from film noir to create the crime-infested city of Gotham, and gave it a unique look that few people had ever seen before.
One of the most memorable things about the series is Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman. To date, Conroy holds the record for most performances as Bruce Wayne. He has been voicing the character since 1992. In addition to the 109 episodes of this series, Conroy went on to voice Batman in all of the DC Animated Universe shows, as well as in the highly popular ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ and ‘Batman: Arkham City’ games.
He also voiced the Caped Crusader in the animated features ‘Batman: Gotham Knight’ (2008), ‘Superman/Batman: Public Enemies’ (2009), ‘Superman/Batman: Apocalypse’ (2010), and ‘Justice League: Doom.’ (2012)
Renowned voice casting director Andrea Romano cast Conroy almost immediately after he gave his first reading, because of his striking baritone voice and his amazing ability to make a distinction between the voice of Bruce Wayne and the voice of Batman. His utter devotion to the character and his understanding of Batman’s mission is why many fans consider him to be the quintessential Batman, despite Christopher Nolan’s excellent film trilogy.
In addition to Conroy, there are a few other voice actors who have continued with their characters throughout the years. Mark Hamill, who most know as Luke Skywalker, voiced the Joker, and continued to fill the role of the Clown Prince of Crime in other animated series, and joined Conroy in the ‘Arkham’ games. Arleen Sorkin, the voice of Harley Quinn, grew to love her character and lent her voice for several other performances as well. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. stayed on as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, from ‘Batman’ to ‘Justice League.’
‘Batman’ is also noteworthy for its gorgeous animation style, which had a fluidity and style that few other cartoon series did in the early 1990’s. Most of the backgrounds were painted by hand, and the studio hired the most cutting-edge companies to animate the episodes, because they knew the visuals were just as important as the writing.
Another notable aspect of the series is the writing. ‘Batman’ was one of the first cartoon series to take its audience seriously, and provided gripping, intelligent, and compelling episodes that did not shy away from important issues. Its fans were blown away by its respect for them in telling the tales of the Dark Knight’s struggle against crime with plenty of laughs, impressive and creative fight scenes, and even a couple of truly amazing dramatic moments.
The series also released a film, ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’, that made it to the big screen in 1993. Though its gross was modest, it was one of the most highly praised animated films, and continues that legacy to date. IGN listed the film as the 25th best animated film of all time in 2010.
It is for all of these reasons that the show has endured for twenty years. Everything about it was memorable, from the voice acting, to the animation, to the writing. It inspired children to believe in heroes, and taught them that they could overcome anything if they had the willpower and the determination to make it happen. It is by far one of the most respectful adaptations of Batman to date and will continue to delight audiences for years to come.
‘Batman: The Animated Series’ currently reruns its episodes on The Hub. If you have never had a chance to watch it, there is no better time than the present.