News To Make You Feel Old: ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ Turns Twenty

Batman: The Animated Series debuted September 6th, 1992.

And, until Christopher Nolan came along, it was, and remains, probably one of the best adaptations of Batman in any medium.

This is the show that brought us Harley Quinn, turned Mr. Freeze from a rogues gallery also-ran mostly notable for being in the ’60s TV series into a major Batman villain, and was also one of the few TV shows to show characters using actual firearms instead of laser weapons.

And it was sheer continuity porn, as well. The episodes were largely based on Batman comics from the ’70s and the show was happy to dig out obscure characters like Clock King and turn them from jokes into serious characters.

What makes the show as an adult, though, are the clever artistic decisions that make the show just that much more vivid. The backgrounds were famously drawn on black paper with light colors; the voice cast recorded their parts together in one room, not separately, letting the actors put together a stronger performance.

What gets me the most, though, and still does, is the writing. It was, essentially, noir to its bones: A man loses his company because he takes a coffee break (“The Clock King”); A woman suffering from a disease can’t move on with her life and tries to go back to the way things were (“Baby-Doll”); A washed-up actor struggles to make ends meet trading on memories of a cheesy old TV show and winds up suspected of a series of bombings (“Beware the Gray Ghost”, featuring one of the few times Adam West has ever been asked to genuinely act instead of mug for the camera).

That was what made the show work so well. The villains were rarely pure evil. More often they were just people who made a mistake, or got screwed by somebody, and were too blinded by sadness or rage to see the dangers of their actions. The best bad guys think they’re doing the right thing, and that was the show’s guiding principle in many episodes.

Heavy stuff for a show aimed at kids, but it’s what makes the show a classic and still airing on cable. Now, if only we could get some new episodes…