In relation to DC Comics characters, the mid-2000s had been years of tumultuous change throughout almost each medium that they could possibly be present in. On the comedian ebook facet, the Infinite Disaster storyline promised a multiverse clean-sweep, one that might tidy up the continuity points which have turn out to be a norm for the publication. Within the motion pictures, Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. rebuilt the Caped Crusader with the extremely praised Batman Begins, eschewing any hints of the maligned efforts of the late ’90s and bringing audiences a grittier, frownier Darkish Knight. On TV, Smallville was nonetheless chugging alongside, and its producers had been eager to mine it for spinoff potential (despite the fact that separate ones that includes Aquaman, Inexperienced Arrow and the Justice League by no means materialized).
And within the realm of animation, the DC Animated Universe, a sprawling mythology that had begun with 1992’s seminal Batman: The Animated Sequence, was coming to an finish with 2004’s Justice League Limitless. Debuting that very same yr (and now streaming in its entirety on Netflix) was The Batman, a brand new origin story for the titular hero that might take him from his rookie years and his first encounters with arch foes like Joker and Penguin alllll the best way to being a foundational member of the Justice League. Within the span of 5 seasons, it successfully tells Batman’s complete story.
The speedy fan response to it was scathing. However nonetheless, The Batman stays an fascinating present to revisit and reevaluate, particularly because of the way it displays the speedy metamorphosis of the time interval and the countless potential that Batman has for adaptation.
From the primary episode, it’s clear that The Batman isn’t striving to be like Batman: The Animated Sequence, a cartoon that’s usually considered the most effective ever. BTAS had mixed its noir roots with superhero derring-do in a means that no different sequence actually has since, and it had ended the 50-year drought of strong superhero cartoons for the reason that Fleischer Superman shorts again within the 1940s. And BTAS had been such a broad demographic success that, for a short while, it was given a primetime slot competing with 60 Minutes. Sunday-night viewers would get to decide on between the fantastical adventures of Batman and Robin and the marginally much less fantastical adventures of Leslie Stahl and Mike Wallace.
Picture: Warner Media
However so much had modified since 1992, and The Batman mirrored that. Most noticeably, the affect of anime was all over the place, from the angular character designs (the work of Jeff Matsuda, recent off of the underrated Jackie Chan Adventures) to the hyper-kinetic combat scenes. Even the Penguin does backflips and roundhouse kicks right here. The Batman was for teenagers that had been raised on a food regimen of Toonami, ones that had been more likely to ultimately gravitate towards Naruto and Bleach. It was additionally inherently toyetic (despite the fact that later seasons would reduce on this), and plenty of episodes of The Batman’s first season are marked by the looks of a cool new action-figure-ready swimsuit or car or robotic.
Mix all of this with an initially diminished deal with pathos (BTAS’ Mr. Freeze was a tragic determine, unable to really feel and but determined for connection; The Batman’s Mr. Freeze had some dope ice powers and sufficient ice puns to place Arnold Schwarzenegger to disgrace) and you’ve got a sequence that was all however destined to be seen because the lesser Batman outing by older followers. It didn’t assist that it additionally needed to compete with Limitless, a present that handled DC’s expansive mythology with a sort of dignified grandeur, filled with characters that we’d gotten to know over the previous 12 years. Limitless was a full-fledged universe, rivaling and infrequently outdoing the tales from the comics that it was based mostly on. In its shadow and infrequently seen as little greater than a 20-minute toy business, The Batman would obtain horrible critiques; one of many first ones, showing on Toonzone, labeled it “an unmitigated catastrophe and a blight to the Batman identify.”
Picture: Warner Media
Picture: Warner Media
Clearly, this sort of on-line handwringing is now a staple of any reboot of a beloved character. And The Batman would evolve over time, particularly when it bought a full season’s value of villain origin tales out of the best way. Then, in its first season finale, it pulled a 180 from the comparatively shallow tales of its first 11 episodes and gave us the anguished transformation of one in all Bruce Wayne’s shut pals into the vengeful Clayface. Batman’s rogues’ gallery has all the time been an assortment of pitiable folks pushed by private obsession and paranoia and eventually, The Batman delivered for these searching for that.
The Batman would all the time should grapple with being a Saturday morning cartoon with a heavy toy line, however the storytelling would solely get extra impressed from there. In time, we’d see legitimately nice stuff like “Night time and the Metropolis” (Joker, Penguin, and Riddler scrap over management of Gotham whereas the police shut in on Batman); “A Fistful of Felt” (the Ventriloquist leaves Arkham with a clear invoice of psychological well being, solely to have corrupt psychologist Hugo Unusual toy with him); and “A Matter of Household” (Robin’s introduction to the present in a heartfelt episode that features BTAS mainstays like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill taking part in Dick Grayson’s father and the Grayson household’s assassin Tony Zucco, respectively). They’d all be stuffed with the thrilling anime-inspired motion, however there was now the emotional curiosity that’s the foundation of each good Batman story: Who’re these characters and what do they need outdoors of an countless cycle of “villain does stuff and Batman stops them”?
All through its run, we got visible overhauls of most main villains alongside everybody seemingly figuring out karate now. Bane would flip right into a hulking, rad behemoth whereas Riddler would gown in goth cyberpunk fashion, with the latter’s voice actor, Robert Englund (of Freddy Krueger fame) joyously hissing his traces. Because the present turned extra beloved, followers started to look ahead to seeing what these new incarnations would seem like, particularly compared to their usually comic-friendly BTAS varieties.
The Riddler (voiced by Robert Englund), in his remade The Batman look
Picture: Warner Media
However not all of Batman’s rogues would see a change. Having so many reboots and game-changers up within the air within the mid ’00s meant that DC would get somewhat anxious about its presentation. The concern of a child checking right into a cartoon and all of the sudden being confused about simply what Batman factor they had been really watching hit executives. In 2023, the place now we have over a half-dozen Batmans both on display screen or in manufacturing throughout movie and tv, that sort of considering appears outdated hat. The youngsters are sensible. They’ll determine it out.
In 2004, it might result in what turned often known as the “Bat-embargo.” Spearheaded by then DC Comics president Paul Levitz, the characters from Batman’s universe can be parsed out amongst completely different tasks. Justice League Limitless, starting in the course of its second season, can be allowed to maintain Batman and a smattering of his lesser foes and colleagues like Clock King and KGBeast. In animated type, the heavy-hitters of his world would belong completely to The Batman, as a brand new present on Youngsters’ WB would doubtless collect little or no public steam promising thrilling new variations of Electrocutioner and Kite Man.
Nevertheless, regardless of seemingly having the keys to the Batman kingdom, The Batman wouldn’t have carte blanche to everybody. With Batman Begins in manufacturing, it appeared that characters like Ra’s al Ghul and Scarecrow (and rumored Nolan future prospects like Two-Face) had been off limits to them, additional complicating the situation. Two-Face would’ve been difficult anyway, contemplating The Batman’s much less violent fare, so it’s fairly becoming that his narrative duties of “trusted pal turns into conflicted enemy” had been handed off to Clayface. However total, it made for a really irritating scenario for Batman followers, particularly those who wished to see his main antagonists present up once more within the remaining lap of Limitless.
Finally, futile petitions had been created, but it surely was maybe Bruce Timm, lead developer of the DC Animated Universe since its outset, that had the clearest head about issues: “Batman’s just one ingredient within the Justice League… I don’t thoughts a break from these characters after engaged on them for therefore a few years.” Although it restricted the quantity of villains that might seem, the Bat-embargo allowed for a deeper dive into the pantheon of fascinating DC villains. This was a Justice League present in spite of everything, not Batman: The Animated Sequence Half 8.
The “Bat-embargo” can be a thorn within the facet of these engaged on the present on the time and a grievous fandom wound to a subsection of its viewers, and we’re not fairly positive what both Justice League Limitless or The Batman would’ve seemed like had that they had full freedom in that space. Nonetheless, Justice League Limitless would go down as a spectacularly becoming finish to the DCAU, whereas Batman Begins would set a precedent for DC Comics movie reboots that it’s nonetheless making an attempt to comply with as we speak. And The Batman would go away its snark-fueled backlash in its early days, and hit a specific stride that might make all of it its personal. There, it might create a complete new era of followers, its mission from the start.
All 5 seasons of The Batman at the moment are streaming on Netflix and HBO Max.