Why Animated Batman Is Always Our Best Batman
For over 80 years, Batman has evolved and changed while still being one of the biggest forces in pop culture. This week, Cracked is doing a deep dive into the Dark Knight.
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Possibly because every real-life human being who takes on the part has had to put up with a shocking amount of crap, there have been a lot of animated Batman projects over the years. This makes sense, as animation seems like the most logical medium for a character who began as a two-dimensional comic book illustration. Still, Batman's first foray into cartoondom was a tad inauspicious; the 1968 Filmation series The Adventures of Batman, which seemingly tried to make up for its small budget by giving children as many seizures as possible. (Strobing warning for the video below)
But in 1992, we got the iconic Batman: The Animated Series, which some fans still consider to be the definitive take on the character. Clearly, the show has a lot going for it; a terrific voice cast, gorgeous art deco animation, clever writing, and a true noir sensibility. Even just the opening credits alone are a masterwork of style, visual storytelling, and padding Danny Elfman's bank account.
Unlike in live-action, animated versions of Batman can truly embody the core of Bruce Wayne's mission statement: to transform himself into a creature of the night. In animation, we actually get to see that transformation happen stylistically, most conspicuously, through the fact that the pupils of his eyes inexplicably disappear like in the comics.
Arguably the best Dark Knight movie of all, the animated Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm, is all about that metamorphosis, illustrating the backstory of how Bruce slowly shed pieces of his humanity to fulfill his oath. In one of the most memorable scenes, Bruce even freaks out Alfred when he first dons the cowl and becomes a whole new (pupilless) entity.
The aesthetic malleability of animation has also allowed for the medium to accommodate so many different, fully-realized takes on the character; from the tech-noir of Batman Beyond –
To the kid-friendly camp of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which impressively found room for both the high-concept camp of Silver Age comics (not to mention the Adam West TV show) –
– and also moments of genuine drama, such as when Bruce confronts his parents' killer: Joe Chill.
There was also the generally underrated, aggressively early 2000s show The Batman featuring a younger Bruce Wayne and a dreadlocked, straightjacket-wearing Joker.
Of course, not every Batman cartoon is great; that animated version of The Killing Joke is basically a crime against humanity. And we'll have to wait and see about Batwheels, the upcoming series in which Batman plays god and turns the Batmobile into a sentient toddler.
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Top Image: Warner Bros.