Two weeks ago, we did a similar piece covering Spider-Man's rich history in animation. This time, with "The Dark Knight Rises" opening at midnight tonight, we'll do the same for Batman, who's had not quite as many series, and we will not include the 13-year Super Friends run.
The Adventures of Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder (CBS, 1968-70): Originally 1/2 of the Batman-Superman Hour, the show was split off and moved to Sundays for season 2. Olan Soule (Dragnet) and future radio icon Casey Kasem voiced the Dynamic Duo, Jane Webb, Filmation's #1 female talent, was Batgirl & Catwoman, and Ted Knight did almost everyone else. As I have noted previously, there has been debate over whether or not Knight actually was the voice of the Joker, as some have argued that it was actor-comedian Larry Storch (ex-F-Troop). Soule & Kasem, of course, would move over to Hanna-Barbera for a healthy run that started with The New Scooby-Doo Movies and 2 season 1 appearances, both involving Joker & Penguin, in 1972. Super Friends would launch in '73, and, well, you know that show's history, don't you?
The New Adventures of Batman (CBS 1977-80, NBC 1980-1): The live-action Dynamic Duo, Adam West & Burt Ward, reprised when Filmation gained a new license for the characters and sold this series to CBS as a mid-season replacement in February 1977. 7 months later, CBS merged it with Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle to form the Batman-Tarzan Adventure Hour, which a year later was expanded into Tarzan & The Super 7. After 2 seasons in that format, the reruns were shipped off to NBC, though Tarzan remained at CBS, now paired with a Filmation-produced Lone Ranger revival, and the show was renamed, Batman & The Super 7, which, when you think about it, was a bit of a misnomer, since Tarzan & Jason of Star Command weren't included. Melendy Britt took over as Batgirl, but some of the classic villains were missing, such as Riddler, who followed the Caped Crusaders to H-B the following year. New Adventures wasn't quite as campy, despite the addition of Bat-Mite, an imp who was introduced in the 50's, and was given a schoolboy crush on Batgirl for some unknown reason.
Batman: The Animated Series (Fox 1992-95): The most definitive animated interpretation of Batman, period. On the heels of "Batman Returns", Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and their staff retained the changes made to Penguin (now presented as a mutant) and Catwoman (blonde on the show due to her characterization in the movie), but also brought some other villains into the mix who hadn't previously been used, such as Two-Face (Richard Moll, ex-Night Court), Maxie Zeus, and Poison Ivy. As I noted the other day, the series also brought out a different side of the Joker (Mark Hamill, and, for a brief time, Tim Curry) by giving him a girlfriend in Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin, Days of Our Lives). Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) was more (girl)friend than foe here, but wasn't privy to Batman's secret identity of Bruce Wayne, although the reverse held true.
The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Fox 1995-97?, WB 1997-99?): After "Batman Forever", Fox & WB felt the need not only to relaunch the series with a new title, but rebooting some of the character designs, such as substituting Catwoman's grey costume with a midnight black ensemble. The series soon shifted over to Kids' WB! to be paired with Superman: The Animated Series as The New Superman-Batman Adventures (The first series under that title was a rerun compilation WB packaged for cable, first for USA, and later for Cartoon Network).
Batman Beyond (Kids' WB! 1999-2002?): Set in a futuristic Gotham, Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) is now retired, and has passed the mantle of the Bat to Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle, ex-Boy Meets World), who then gets a Rogues' Gallery all his own. In this version, Barbara Gordon (Stockard Channing) has retired her Batgirl persona and inherited her father's role as Commissioner. Ended too soon in some respects.
The Batman (Kids' WB/CW 2003-8): Former Sony producer Duane Capizzi and former Image Comics aritst Jeff Matsuda, who'd worked on Sony's Jackie Chan Adventures, were brought aboard for this series, which took a different look at Batman's early years. Catwoman (Gina Gershon) was given a new look--again--, but there was still plenty of flirting between Catwoman & Batman (Rino Romano). However, giving Joker a Rastafarian hairdo as a barefoot, hippie psycho was a turn-off. Penguin was played up as being in the same tax bracket at the Waynes, and even moved in next door to Wayne Manor in one episode. Wack!
Batman: The Brave & The Bold (Cartoon Network 2009-11): After 17 years of dark, gritty Bat-ventures, it was time to brighten and lighten things up. This last series was based on the long-running The Brave & The Bold book that Batman starred in for much of its initial run. Diedrich Bader (ex-The Zeta Project, The Drew Carey Show) did a near-perfect Kevin Conroy mimic as Batman, and while fans have their favorites, like cross-overs with Space Ghost and Scooby-Doo, the latter recalling the 1972 meetings of the two icons, the series, again, ended too soon. Then again, the suits at both CN & WB have made some boneheaded decisions on a number of other issues..........! Season 1 included an ongoing storyline regarding the made-for-TV villain, Equinox, but after that, and after Starro appeared in season 2, it was mostly done-in-one stories the rest of the way.
Due next year, and reportedly in CGI, is Beware the Batman, which previewed last week at Comic-Con International in San Diego. That will also air on Cartoon Network, which has picked up the Fox/WB habit of shuttling shows in and out of the lineup, with the concept of "seasons" having been redefined in cable parlance in recent years. However, given the shabby treatment given to certain fan favorites on the network, I'd be very wary.
Ranking them in order:
1. Batman: The Animated Series/The Adventures of Batman & Robin
2. Batman: The Brave & The Bold
3. The Adventures of Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder
4. The New Adventures of Batman
5. Batman Beyond
6. The Batman
Discuss & debate.