REVIEW: Batman: The Complete Animated Series
The second wave of Batmania was ignited in 1989 when Tim Burton finally got a big screen adaptation of the comic book hero into theaters. It was such a wild success in terms of merchandising that Warner Bros wanted more and quickly. Since features take two to three years, they needed something sooner and the success of their Tiny Tunes and Animaniacs encouraged them to bring the Dark Knight back to television.
Thankfully, the project was placed in the hands of Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm, and Paul Dini who were not only fans of the character but the earliest cartoon fare. Taking a visual cue from Burton and a stylistic one from the Fleischer Brothers Studio, they produced a Batman cartoon unlike anything from the 1960s or 1970s. Batman the Animated Series was sampled on prime time in September 1992 before launching on Fox Kids and for three seasons, there was nothing quite like it.
The episodes have been collected before; including a beautiful DVD box set in 2008, but now, Warner Home Entertainment has remastered the files for high definition and gifted us with Batman: The Complete Animated Series. This lush 12-disc collection has not only every episode of the series but the two feature films – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero — it spawned as well.
Not only did the series look grim and gritty, it was blessed with a Danny Elfman theme, further connecting it with the features. The stories were far from kiddie fare as the writing staff took the gruesome, tragic, and mentally deranged rogues and reinvented them for the small screen. This is where Mr. Freeze got an origin that made you feel for the scientist, and benefitted from the Mike Mignola redesign.
One of the series’ greatest strengths was in its voice casting, led by Kevin Conroy (Batman), Clive Revill and Efrem Zimbalist Jr (as Alfred), Melissa Gilbert (Batgirl), Brock Peters (Lucius Fox). The villains were led by Mark Hamill’s Joker, Richard Moll (Two-Face), Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn), Adrienne Barbeau (Catwoman), Paul Williams (The Penguin), Ron Perlman (Clayface), Ed Asner (Roland Daggett), and Roddy McDowall (The Mad Hatter). The show also paid tribute to the first era of Batmania with Adam West portraying The Gray Ghost.
Dini and Timm struck a nerve when they created Harley Quinn, designed as a one-off character but everyone fell in love with her, from the design to Sorkin’s voice. She has become DC’s answer to Deadpool in terms of ubiquity and is getting her own series on the DC Entertainment streaming service (although Sorkin is being replaced with Kaley Cuoco).
There was something for children, teens, and adults in every episode with visuals taken from the comics, stories adapted from the comics by scribes including Len Wein and Martin Pasko. It was such a well-crafted show that it earned multiple Emmy Awards and critical acclaim while the features, in lesser hands, crashed and burned.
The Blu-ray scans of the film negatives means we’re presented with the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio but the look is cleaner and clearer than ever before. This series was among the last to be predominantly hand animated and you can enjoy every frame. The video accompanying this review demonstrates the differences. The audio is offered as a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless audio track and sounds tremendous.
The 12-discs are lovingly packaged with fine graphics and offer viewers the 109 episodes in production order, including the ones entitled The Adventures of Batman & Robin and The New Batman Adventures. Most of the Special Features from previous editions are replicated here so you get commentary from Timm, Dini; writer Michael Reaves; directors Glen Murakami, James Ticker, and Dan Riba; and producers Eric Radomski, Boyd Kirkland, and Kevin Altieri. (Missing are the Timm intros from the 2008 box set but it’s a minor quibble.)
Shades of the Bat: Batman’s Animated Evolution is absent with the 22-minute featurette replaced with the three-part Heart of Batman, hosted by Dini. Reunited for the discussion are Dini, Timm, Radomski, Burnett, Fox’s Jean MacCurdy, now-retired voice director Andrea Romano and her finds, Conroy and Strong. Hamill’s is included via welcome archival footage.
The feature film discs are replicas of previous editions so some animated episodes are repeated as bonus features.
The Limited Edition box set also includes seven lenticular animation artwork cards, and a set of three Funko Pocket POPS figures: Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn. There is also a Digital Copy code and initially, there was a problem with SD not High Def versions available and Warner has been working on the issue, promising an upgrade in the future.