Twenty-five years ago, Batman: The Animated Series premiered on the Fox Kid’s Network as one of a litter of cartoon shows that was made to run five days a week for a year or two, sell some toys, then disappear into obscurity.
At the time, nothing in entertainment was more disposable that a weekday afternoon show aimed at kids. But Batman: The Animated Series was special, from its animation style to its storytelling, and it was leagues above all other animated adventure shows of the time. Which is why so many years later it remains the most beloved series of its kind. So beloved, in fact, that it’s receiving a high definition restoration and getting the deluxe treatment on Blu-ray later this year.
Officially announced for October 16, the set will collect all 85 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, the 24 episodes of the redesigned Batman: The New Adventures, and the movies Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman and Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero. The limited edition box set will also feature behind-the-scenes featurettes about the show, 11 audio commentaries, a collection of postcards depicting iconic moments from the series, and three mini Funko Pops of Harley Quinn, Batman, and the Joker in their BTAS looks. You can see the cover to the set below, which is now available to preorder on Amazon for $113. Two side-by-side clips from the series were shown before and after restoration, from the episodes "Almost Got 'im" and "Nothing to Fear,"and the difference was remarkable.
To celebrate the show’s impending Blu-ray release, the series creators Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, and Eric Radomski were joined on stage by casting director Andrea Romano and actors Kevin Conroy (Batman), Loren Lester (Robin) and Tara Strong (Batgirl) to discuss the show's legacy, and why after all these years, it's still the greatest animated superhero series of all time. To the four series creators who were gathered together on stage, Andrea Romano said, "It's been my experience that the best animated series are made when you have producers who are artists, and producers who are writers. Sometimes shows are made by one or the other, but it's the combination of the four of you that was the key to the series being as successful as it was."
Although the show is legendary today, Bruce Timm recalled how daunting it was to receive the original series order for 65 episodes, saying, "It was terrifying. Early on we thought, 'Are they all going to be great? Or are we just going to focus on the ones with the most potential to be great? And for the ones which can't get quite up to that level, is it okay if they're just good enough?' We tried to make every episode as good as we could, but clearly there were episodes like 'Heart of Ice' and 'Two-Face' that, when we got the scripts for them, we were blown away."
"On Leather Wings" was the first episode the team developed, storyboarded, and animated, and was also the first to air. Romano mentioned a little-known bit of trivia about that episode for the fans in attendance: the first character to speak any dialogue in the show, an unnamed helicopter pilot, was voiced by none other than Kevin Conroy himself. Meanwhile, Loren Lester got to be the first actor to portray Dick Grayson in his transition from Robin to Nightwing, and he was cast mainly for the perpetual youthful nature of his voice. According to Romano, while they could have gone with a genuine kid for Robin, his voice would have changed over the course of a series that they all hoped would run several years. Meanwhile, Lester got to play the character again last year in Batman and Harley Quinn.
Alan Burnett spoke about how he and writer Marty Pasko would go through the DC offices' entire library of Batman comics, spanning from 1957 through 1991, when coming up with stories for the show. Pasko then brought legendary Batman creators like Len Wein and Denny O'Neill into the fold of the show's writing staff.
As Batgirl actress Tara Strong said, “Every damn episode of this series was movie quality. You feel like you're in the comic that you grew up loving... That's why it holds up." Conroy reiterated how they never wrote down to the audience.
For Romano, ensemble recording was key, and she bemoaned the fact that it was something that was barely done anymore. When going through the very impressive roster of guest actors for the show, Conroy gave a special shout out to original Batman Adam West, who played the Gray Ghost in what remains one of the series' most beloved episodes.
"He was such a gentleman to work with," Conroy said. Of course, he couldn't not mention Mark Hamill, who played the series' Joker. “To be in a booth with Mark Hamill is dangerous... He’s got a Jim Carrey kind of rubbery face... it’s a dangerous place to be!” Nevertheless, Romano lamented that she was never able to catch her big fish: Christopher Lee as Ra's al Ghul.
Anticipation is very high for this new release. According to the panel, the preorder page for the set just went live this week, and in the first 24 hours, 2,000 orders were placed. In other words, that little cartoon still has an impact on its audience far greater than anyone could have dreamed two decades ago.
Are you excited to see Batman's old adventures in an all-new way? Be sure to let us know your thoughts down below in the comments!
Images: Warner Bros