When I first started getting into American comics fandom, a friend of mine took it upon himself to instruct me in the ways of learning about Batman. He lent me Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns, and sent me off to learn about Bruce Wayne. To augment these, I also acquired the entirety of Batman: The Animated Series to help in my journey. And say what you want about the literary value of those three comics—I enjoyed them immensely, but I feel like I got a much better handle on the Batman mythology and rogues gallery from B:TAS than I got from the books.
A lot of kids in my generation were raised on this cartoon, but it was never something I watched as a child. I spent many an afternoon earlier this year watching it while working on cosplay, making an effort to remedy the grievous lack of cartoon Batman in my life.
There are a lot of really great episodes in this series—they deal with real problems in ways that are accessible to children but are still meaningful to adults. One of the most famous episodes is “Heart of Ice”, which reimagined Mr. Freeze as a tragic character obsessed with reanimating his cryogenically frozen wife. This episode proved so popular that Victor Fries’ history in the comics was retconned to include the tragedy of Nora Fries. (You might remember her from the Batman and Robin movie, if you feel like dredging that out of the sewers of your memory.)
You might also be familiar with a young lady by the name of Harley Quinn – Harley was actually invented for the TV show and was later incorporated into the comics as well. In fact, she’s actually getting her own title later this year.
In general, the storytelling is compelling and organic in a way that the comic-based cartoons of today—looking at you, Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble—just haven’t managed to grasp. This is probably why they remain enjoyable to watch, even for those who are only young at heart.
The art is also really cool: I watched one of the behind the scenes specials where they talked about their design influences, and they explained that they created Gotham to look like a city would if art deco design had never gone out of style. Because of this, Gotham has a film noir aesthetic, filled with sleek, long-lined cars and elegant skyscrapers. Furthermore, in order to give the whole show a darker atmosphere, the animation was done with light colors on dark paper rather than the opposite, a unique move for the show’s artists.