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Detecting Batman in Animation

Detecting Batman in Animation

By Amy Ratcliffe Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

The cartoons of my youth aren't like cartoons today. The animation may not look all that different, but the storytelling techniques have grown by leaps and bounds. While cartoons can still be fun and light distractions, more than a few of them are sophisticated and just as suitable for adults as they are for children. Variety. It's a neat thing. Talented voice actors, original scores, creative scripts, and countless other pieces come together into animated series that shouldn't be dismissed as being "just for kids." The format offers the opportunity to bring new angles to familiar characters, and that's been the case with Batman.

Bruce Wayne has appeared in a number of animated series over the years, and what better way to spend Batman Day on September 17 than by reliving your favorite episodes from those series or diving into the pool of animated Bat-history for the first time? If you're worried about committing to dozens of installments of an ongoing show, don't be. Batman's been on the screen in one-off animated movies too—many of which are adaptations of classic Batman comic books. It makes sense, right? If any medium was meant to be morphed into a 2D, cartoony format, it's comics. The character designs are right there for the taking; they just need adjustments for movement and action. Batman has appeared in many animated series, from the ’70s-era Super Friends to the relatively recent Beware the Batman, but he particularly came to life in these animated roles:


Batman: The Animated Series

Everyone has a version of Batman he or she likes best, and for many people, it's Batman as he's seen in Batman: The Animated Series. Developed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski in the early 1990s, the show ran for 85 episodes. Kevin Conroy voiced Batman (and still continues to do so—he recently reprised the role for Batman: The Killing Joke) and helped bring a driven, whip-smart version of Batman into our lives. The show has a dark, noir aesthetic, which sets it apart from most other animated series, and also gives it a timeless air. And hey, this version of Batman brought us the now-classic line: "I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!"


Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Batman does well enough working alongside Alfred and Robin, but on the whole, he prefers to work in solitude. If he operates on his own, he doesn't have to worry about anyone else. So, what makes Batman: The Brave and the Bold such an enjoyable series is watching Batman (voiced by Diedrich Bader) team up with others in the DC Universe to stop rogues. This cartoon from the late '00s played up Batman's dry wit, and it wasn't afraid to get wacky and meta. Besides the joy of seeing this particular, somewhat more lighthearted Bruce, this cartoon went deep and incorporated characters such as Scooby-Doo and the Mystery, Inc. group, Jay Garrick, and a plethora of lesser-known villains.


Batman: Year One

Switching gears to animated films, consider Batman: Year One. The 2011 direct-to-video movie was based on the comic of the same name. The story follows Bruce when he returns to Gotham City after spending some years away and shows Batman suiting up and working to restore order in Gotham City just as Jim Gordon is settling in. The movie brings the comic to life vividly, and it's worth checking out to see the ebb and flow of the relationship between Batman and Gordon. Though Batman's not offered up as a flawless character, this particular depiction showed his process of trial and error. As a bonus, Batman was voiced by Ben McKenzie, a.k.a. Jim Gordon in Fox's Gotham.


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Including 1993's Mask of the Phantasm is a little bit of a cheat because it ties into The Animated Series. Featuring the same vocal and behind the scenes talent from the animated show, this theatrical release (the only animated Batman movie to be released theatrically until this year’s Batman: The Killing Joke) explored the relationship between Bruce and his ex-girlfriend Andrea. It showcased striking character design and Batman's superb detective skills.


Teen Titans Go!

Teen Titans Go! is a 180 degree flip in tone from Batman: The Animated Series, so it seems like a fitting stopping point. Batman doesn't speak when he makes cameos in the goofy shorts, but he doesn't need to. His iconic status means he can show up and make an impression without any dialogue—in this case, it's usually to hilarious effect.

Since Batman is one of the most popular DC Comics characters and a constant caped presence, this is far from an exhaustive list of his appearances in animated series. Tell us about your favorites in the comments. Is there any we left off the list that you particularly enjoy?

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