It is hard to find a day and time where things simply worked. As an artist, whether your craft is engineering finely worded pieces of lore, or sketching & aligning destroyed figures on stretchers on a canvas, it is never a question of “getting it right.” There is no moment where something clicks; something gives and we have a vision: the image from our heads clear, defined, absolute.
25 years ago Bruce Timm and Paul Dini resurrected Batman and galvanised a hero. In Batman the Animated Series we were painted a picture of a dark art-deco Gotham City reminiscent of 1930’s New York, forever placed in Autumn with shadows running rampant; against the backdrop of the vibrant neon 1966 Batman, which exploded with colour, this wasn’t just a statement of artistic intent, but a vision.
This was Batman.
Created in 1939, Batman transcended the boundaries of the simple panel and into American folklore, becoming an American folk hero. Reflecting his audience, Batman became a catalyst for dynamic storytelling, ranging from the zany 1950’s B-Movies on Planet X to being an effect social commentator of the 1970’s. However, in the constant identity crisis between shadows and discos, Batman as an intellectual property was a mystery in itself: across the infinite earths, who would finally tame the Bat?
In Batman, the Animated Series, Batman became Batman. A ‘rogues gallery’ was showcased that introduced the world to the iconic Harley Quinn, as well as people like Renee Montoya, while defining the character of the Joker through former Skywalker, Mark Hamill.
It was a fluid influx of self-definition that brought us the Dark Knight: a creature of terror, of passion, of hurt, who does not fight for vengeance out of love for the craft, but of a boy hurt from Joe Chill’s rage.
While the show’s legacy speaks for itself (an Emmy Award and a reputation never disputed on Top 10 lists) Batman here was cast in stone: Kevin Conroy changed the game in introducing a dual voice for the Bat; Mr. Freeze, once a cheap gimmick, now a tragic hero worthy of a Shakespearean verse; Joker rattled our childhood insecurities through Mark Hamill’s excellent characterisation; Harley Quinn has been woven into Pop Culture bibles; Renee Montoya was an LGBTQ pioneer in DC Comics.
And it’s the show which changed my own life. The show which thought me, the writer, the joy of storytelling and strong, dominant visuals. It was a show which was a friend to a lonely five year old. 25 years on, Batman the Animated Series is a tombstone and a testament to the superhero cartoons.