It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since Warner Bros. unveiled the crown jewel of its animation revival with Batman: The Animated Series, coming as it did on the heels of "Batman Returns" earlier in the summer of 1992. With the conclusion of Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy, "The Dark Knight Rises", opening next week, I thought we'd take a look back at the series that also revived the toon noir animation style that was originally created by the Fleischer brothers for their Superman shorts some 51 years earlier.
Fox's strategy was to debut the series on a Saturday morning, but otherwise air it after school on weekdays. There were some primetime airings, too, on a few Sundays early in the run, but it didn't matter. Batman launched what is known as the DC Animated Universe (DCAU), which of course differs from the DCU in the comics.
Job 1, obviously, was finding an actor who could create the appropriate mood for the Batman. Imitating Michael Keaton, who'd essayed the role in Tim Burton's two Bat-flicks, wasn't needed. Kevin Conroy (ex-Tour of Duty) landed the primo gig, and the resulting icon status that went with it. By comparison, that seemed easy. As for the rest, they actually went through two actors apiece for the Joker and Alfred, Batman's faithful butler. Graham Revill was originally cast as Alfred, but before the first season was over, 60's icon Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (ex-The F. B. I, Zorro) took over for Revill. Meanwhile, Tim Curry, still best remembered for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", was the first Joker, but he too was cast aside in favor of Mark Hamill ("Star Wars"), marking his return to cartoons after nearly 20 years away (Jeannie). Working on the show reunited Hamill with one of his Jeannie castmates, Bob Hastings (General Hospital), who was also returning to toons, having last worked for Hanna-Barbera in the late 70's (he was heard in a few Super Friends shorts) before signing on as Port Charles Police Captain (later Commissioner) Bert Ramsey. Coincidentally, that experience prepared Hastings to play Commissioner James Gordon.
The rest of the star studded cast included singer-songwriter Paul Williams as Penguin, Melissa Gilbert (ex-Little House on the Prarie) as Batgirl, Adrienne Barbeau ("Swamp Thing", ex-Maude) as Catwoman, and, in a nod to the live-action Batman of the 60's, Roddy McDowell as the Mad Hatter (who certainly got more mileage than he did in the 60's), and Adam West himself, playing a newly created character, the Gray Ghost. It was this gig that started West on his current voice-over career (currently on Family Guy), leading to his recent stint of commercials for Hebrew National hot dogs.
Around the time of the controversial "Knightfall" story arc in the comics, the series was rebooted as The Adventures of Batman & Robin, which stayed on Fox for another couple of seasons before moving to the WB network in 1997 to join Superman. The series would continue for another couple of years under this format before it was finally laid to rest.
Right now, here's the open everyone knows:
Between now & next Friday, I'll see if I can find some Catwoman-centric material to put up, and there's plenty to be had. One of the cool things that came out of this show was the decision to give Joker a girlfriend, in the form of Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin, Days of Our Lives), in answer to the hot & cold relationship between Batman & Catwoman. In one of the most boneheaded moves of all time, Cartoon Network let the series get away, and rights have changed hands twice in the last few years, going first to DisneyXD (when it was still Toon Disney), then to its current home, The Hub, where it airs weekdays. Expect Hub to do a marathon in time for "Dark Knight Rises"' opening next week.