Following the success of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm—the animated Batman adventure that remains one of the Dark Knight's most unmissable appearances—Warner Brothers produced a series based on the film.
This new series kept the voice actors in their roles from the film, introducing the audience to the iconic growl of Kevin Conroy's perfect tone, as well as finding his ultimate nemesis in Mark Hamill's Joker.
Batman: The Animated Series became a widely critically acclaimed animated classic, with generations of children growing up with the incarnations that Bruce Timm and Paul Dini created.
Over two decades since the show, it's still the benchmark for superhero animation. Here are the core reasons why Batman: The Animated Series has held up for such a long time.
1. Phenomenal Voice Cast
After making Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Warner Brothers and DC retained their cinematic voice cast for the series, which gave the show a certain legitimacy and made it feel as though it belonged as part of a higher form of storytelling at the time.
Looking back from the lofty perch of 2022, anytime we hear another voice actor giving life to Batman, it feels cheated—as though Kevin Conroy's achievement in portraying Batman is devalued in some way.
Of course, this is unfair to those actors who have given their time to the role in animated form, but it speaks volumes about the talent and lasting impact that Kevin Conroy has had along with Mark Hamill.
While most know Mark Hamill from his time spent fighting Darth Vader with a glowing sword, his performance as the sadistic and psychotic clown Joker is perfect, complete with that cackle that gives all it needs to showcase the venom of the character.
Conroy and Hamill have taken their roles through various other adventures and mediums over the ensuing years, particularly in the Arkham video game series.
For many, the pair's vocal talents are all they want when they see those characters, regardless of the animation and project. Such is their impact on the legacy of Batman and the Joker.
2. Uniquely Dark Tone
In deciding upon a tone for any Batman project, the creative team behind it has to have clarity of vision. With the live-action films, directors like Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan had said clarity, driving their creations forward with their own unique styles.
For the animated series, which was itself partially based on Burton's iteration of the character, the gothic and grandiose version of Gotham City came to life in its animated frames.
The show's darkness is core to what makes it feel alive. It truly feels like a city where you'd find all the characters living amongst each other. When the Penguin or Clayface appears and Batman has to stop them, you can get lost in the complete journey and vibe of Gotham.
Even when Bruce Wayne appears in Gotham with his playboy persona, the tone doesn't shift. Danger can lurk around any corner.
3. Deep Character Arcs
For such an episodic series, there were few expectations for the overarching stories the show would carry from episode to episode. However, it maintained a near-visible line that threaded together the linear path that the series took.
Batman and Bruce Wayne are treated as two starkly different characters, each of whom appears to be walking their own paths, even if always connected to the one. Around him are the lives that he permeates.
Dick Grayson's Robin has his arc through the series, as does Barbara Gordon's Batgirl. Each of them, in their own way, drives a place in the series—yet all through the lens of Batman.
Even the criminals have their own linear stories of sorts, with the more well-known criminals afforded time to build themselves through the show.
The likes of the Joker, Scarecrow, Two-Face, and Mr. Freeze all have meaty roles in the series as they all follow paths set by their origin—or paths that were carried over from the Mask of the Phantasm film.
4. Stark Depiction of Batman
The enduring nature of Batman: The Animated Series ultimately comes down to how the audience perceives Bruce Wayne and Batman. His narrative must drive the series forward and give every episode the feeling required to keep the show's momentum going.
With Kevin Conroy's vocal talents widely regarded as the best of all the actors to play Batman, and with the solid animation carried over from the theatrical movie, Batman: The Animated Series gives Batman nightly adventures that the films don't show.
It has more in common with the comic series than it does anything else, as it follows the smaller adventures of the Dark Knight. Those nightly dealings he has with criminals and gangsters are brought to the fore by the nature of the episodic show.
Seeing Batman and Bruce Wayne dealing with various villains through the series gives weight to his belief in vigilante justice, showcasing who this Bruce Wayne and Batman are at his core. It's a feat that many live-action Batman movies haven't demonstrated as well as the series did.