Two and a half decades ago, the world of animation was forever changed as ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ redefined what a cartoon could be. It was dark and gritty, featured a star-studded cast of legendary actors, and did a number of things that had never previously been attempted in an animated show! Even with this year marking the series twenty-fifth anniversary, ‘Batman: The Animated Series‘ is still often referred to as the definitive ‘Batman’ adaptation.
In order to celebrate this milestone anniversary, we recently sat down with ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ producer Alan Burnett at New York Comic Con 2017 to talk about what it was like working on the show all of those years ago, and what it meant to him now as it turns a quarter of a century old! Check out the full interview below!
Alan Burnett: So I’m here to talk about the ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ twenty-fifth anniversary!
And you’re immortalized in the series because you appear animated in it!
AB: Yes I did! The first appearance of Harley Quinn and me! It was ‘Jokers Favor’! They did a number on me, but it was fun! I’ve still got three of the animation cells in my office.
Looking back twenty-five years on, did you ever imagine while you were producing this show in the beginning that it would become such a big hit and sort of become the iconic version of ‘Batman’ for generations?
AB: Not really, but I’ll tell you the truth, I thought it would be a popular show! I thought there was just a craving for a show like this and people wanted a serious superhero show! And Tim Burton proved that! What did that movie make, like fifty-four million the first weekend? Which now, might not sound like much, but years ago? That was something! I knew it was going to be popular, but I didn’t know how long this would last.
Who do you think is the most powerful duo in the DC Universe?
AB: The best duo? Like Batman and Robin? Batman and Robin! I think the new Robin Damian is a lot of fun, so I’d say the dynamic duo is the duo!
Was it fun to bring in all of these great characters and craft these stories? Did you take a lot of information from the comics, or did you try to come up with a lot of your own ideas?
AB: We were really taking from the comics. When I was starting, they flew me to New York and we had a meeting with DC. It was me, Martin Pasko, who was one of my story editors, and Paul Levitz who was I believe the Vice President of DC at the time. And we got all the comic books, ALL the comic books, all the ‘Detective’ Batman comic books from 1955 onward, and we went through them for two days. And Paul Levitz, who has just such an incredible wealth of knowledge and photographic memory, he was going through and explaining all of these stories in a nutshell. And a lot of them I recognized because by 1958 I was reading these things! So we took what we loved from the comic books. We really started with the comics, and if we could do a story that was a direct lift from the comic books, we would do that story. Like the ‘Laughing Fish’ story for example, except no one dies in our version they just go into a strange coma. We really went back to the original stuff!
Was there anything that was deemed “off limits” that DC didn’t want put into a cartoon from the ‘Batman’ source material?
AB: I don’t remember anything really! There was really nothing, they were with us 100%!
Romantically, who do you think Batman should belong with?
AB: Catwoman! But he does not really work well with a love interest. There is something about him! When I began on the show, the story at the time when it came to his sex life was that he is a monk! He’s not a virgin, but he’s done with it. Now he’s on to Batman, and I actually think that isn’t a bad way to go! But we gave him a couple of girlfriends too during the run. We did the movie! It was a story based on his first love!
The Kids WB years and ‘The New Batman Adventures’ often get overlooked when people talk about ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and their favorite episodes. Do you have any favorite memories of that transition from Fox Kids to Kids WB or favorite episodes or stories from that time?
AB: Kids WB… I just remember they wanted to do things differently. The original ‘Batman’ had an age nine-to-fourteen audience, but when we started to do Kids WB they really wanted to bring it down to a six-to-eleven year old audience. And at one point, they saw that we weren’t doing that, and we just couldn’t do that! We had been doing this, and we couldn’t change it. So they said “well let’s make a younger Batman!”, and we did ‘Batman Beyond’! And they thought that they were going to get, from the same crew, a six-to-eleven year old show! And they didn’t. So that ended up happening for sixty-five episodes or so. But it was a lesson! If you really want to change a show, just start a new one with new people. Because the old guys are still in that same frame of mind.
‘Mask of The Phantasm’ began its life as a direct-to-video project, at what point did it become a theatrical project and what did that decision entail for changes?
AB: An executive came over to see what we were doing, and Eric Radomski who was one of the producers, had the opening title sequence open which was essentially a trip through Gotham City in CG which was new at the time. So it was pretty striking! So the guy says “hey, why don’t we make a movie out of this?” So we said okay! Who are we to tell him that it was the only CG in the whole thing? So that’s how it became a movie. It wasn’t a success as a movie, but when it was in theaters it was a great pleasure for me because I would go and watch the audience and see their reactions! And it’s lasted! That thing has lasted, it’s still referred to!
Looking back over all of these years and having worked on the show, do you have a favorite villain that stands out to you?
AB: Well, The Joker I like of course! I like Two-Face very much also. I tend to like split personalities, so I like The Ventriloquist too. But there is something in all of them, and as much as I love Two-Face, I feel like he’s a pretty limited character. Coming up with stories for him aren’t easy. Coming up with stories for Riddler aren’t easy either! I think we got a good Riddler story in because we were going to do visual cues instead of the usual wordy riddles that slow things down a bit.
The voice casting on the series was amazing, you had a lot of good actors!
AB: That was all Andrea Romano, who recently retired! She did it, and I would come into the studio that I knew from my childhood in the 60s! I’m a big Hitchcock fan, and she brought in John Vernon and Rosco Lee Browne! So whenever I got one of the Hitchcock actors it always kind of stuck with me!
And Adam West as The Gray Ghost was inspired!
AB: Adam West, he was my first Batman! I worked with him on the last two years of ‘Super Friends’. Everybody loves Adam West! They may not love the campiness of his show, but we were starting to talk about how in the feature him, and somehow he became The Gray Ghost! We didn’t know if we could even get him! But I think he appreciated all of the love that he was getting. That’s one of my favorite episodes!
Alan Burnett is currently producing the upcoming ‘Batman: Gotham By Gaslight’ direct-to-video movie and also produced the recently released ‘Batman vs Two-Face’ and ‘Batman And Harley Quinn’! ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ is set to come to Bluray sometime in the next year thanks to Warner Brothers Entertainment. Be sure to keep an eye out for more news on ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ right here on ScienceFiction.com!