Batman, as a hero, is iconic. Twenty-five years ago, the world was introduced to a whole new version of the caped crusader with ‘Batman: The Animated Series’, a new cartoon geared towards viewers of all ages that would effectively change what both Batman and cartoons, in general, could be. It had dark visuals, compelling stories, characters you loved and villains you loved to hate, and most importantly, it took it’s viewers seriously; something that had not really been done before in a superhero cartoon. This year marks ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ 25th Anniversary, and after a quarter of a century, it’s definitely still a series worth celebrating!
We recently sat down with series mastermind Bruce Timm at New York Comic Con 2017 to talk about this momentous occasion. Bruce Timm is credited on ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ as Writer, Producer, Director, Character Designer, and he even occasionally lent his voice to several small roles on the show! By and large, the series would be a much different show without all of his input, so we were excited to ask him about his experiences and feelings on ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ two and a half decades later. Check out our full interview below!
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’, did you ever imagine when you started working on this show that it would become the definitive version of ‘Batman’ to generations?
Bruce Timm: No! I mean, we kind of always knew that we had a lot of faith in our approach to the show. Because it seems kind of like “well it’s not brain surgery”, you know? But it seems like we cherry picked stuff from the entire history of Batman in the comics, and the movies, and the serials, and the TV show, and we took things and kind of messed around with them. But for the most part we really stayed faithful to the spirit of the character and the spirit of the comics. We had a feeling that it would go over really well! And back then we were coming off of the first Tim Burton ‘Batman’ movie, and people have a tendency to forget that back then that movie was huge! It was a mega hit back then! So Batman was just super hot. I had a feeling that the show was probably going to be a hit, whether it was any good or not. But the fact that it really resonates with people is awesome!
The first thing really animated or done for this show was the introduction, how did the style of the animation evolve from there?
BT: It was a combination of a lot of different influences. One of the obvious big influences on the look of the show was the old Fleischer ‘Superman’ cartoons, which were done in the 1940’s and I think in the back of my head I always sort of felt that the look that series had would have been even more appropriate to Batman than to Superman. If I had had my way, I would have actually set the show in 1939 and made it a national period piece! But you know, for a lot of reasons we didn’t do that because it wasn’t realistic. So we definitely tried to stay true to that aesthetic, both in the character designs and the background styling. Obviously, people seemed to like it!
Is there anything that you always wanted to do with Batman, but you couldn’t do?
BT: The only thing that I can think of really, and it’s not a big thing, definitely not something I lose sleep over, but I had an idea to do an episode where Batman got turned into a vampire temporarily. There’s a character in the comics called Nocturna! And it didn’t get much past the idea phase, we floated it past Fox Kids and they said “Nope! No Vampires!” and I said ‘well what if he wasn’t really a Vampire?” and they said “No Vampires!”
Spider-Man got to do it!
BT: Yeeeeah, but they did that really lame one right? He had like suction cups on his hands? So that was fine. Like if I wasn’t going to do it properly, I wasn’t going to do it. That’s probably the only thing that I can really think of because everything else we kind of got to do what we wanted to do!
What was it that happened with Tim Curry as The Joker? Because there are a few different mixed up memories on that. Recently Tim Curry said “I was sick so they had to recast me” but then the kind of accepted story for a while was that his voice was “too scary”, and then Mark Hamill told another story that nobody was really feeling it… so what really happened?
BT: Everybody is right!
Was there any C-List or D-List villains that you wanted to try and work in there but never got the chance to? Or did you have any ideas for villains to reinvent them for the show?
BT: No, we kind of got to do what we wanted to do. We knew going in that we were obviously going to do Batman and Riddler and Catwoman, but we were really interested in doing characters that had not gotten a lot of screentime. Either in the cartoons or in the movies at that time, so we were really excited to do Two-Face and reinvent Mr. Freeze and take him from being… and not to knock on the Adam West era version of the character, but he was kind of silly with ice-puns, and we thought we could make that character a little deeper. But also going into characters that had never even been done before in any kind of film, like Ras Al Ghul or Scarface! At that time, Scarface was a really recent addition to the rogues gallery, but I always liked that character because he seemed like such a classic Batman villain! Such a perfect kind of twisted take on a weird gimmick! But yeah, we pretty much got to do what we wanted to do.
How did the two-parters come about?
BT: I think organically? Probably the first one we did was the Two-Face story, and I think as Alan (Burnett) and the writers were breaking the story they just realized “this is too much story to do in one episode” and they just did it as a two-parter, and the bosses didn’t say ‘well don’t do this”. So when it came about occasionally with like “Robin’s Reckoning” or other two-parters where it seemed appropriate, we just went ahead and did it.
The Fox Kids years are what most people think about when they talk about this show, but the Kids WB years are often overlooked. Do you have any favorite moments from that era?
BT: Well… just because it was one of the times where we really pulled one over on the Broadcast Standards and Practice people. It’s a really good episode anyway, but “Over The Edge” is one of my favorites from that run! It’s just really good! Even though it’s a dream, and that’s kind of a cheat, I feel that the episode kind of earns that cheat so that by the end of it you don’t go “oh it’s all a dream?”. Because we’re telling you from the beginning, the second you see Scarecrow show up you know it’s not real. But that was a really good episode! And that whole bit where we get to kill Batgirl, it was kind of fun! Because we got to play with peoples emotions.
Was there anybody that came on to do a voice for a character that really surprised you?
BT: Well Mark! Mark Hamill was… never in a million years would I have thought to cast Mark Hamill as The Joker. But when we did come to the realization that we should probably recast the part, Mark had already told us earlier, when he appeared in the Mr. Freeze episode, that he really wanted to play one of the big villains! So we remembered that and brought him back in to audition for The Joker, and there wasn’t even anybody else who was even close. He just nailed it right away, and that was a big surprise! The first time I heard that voice coming out of him, was just “WOW! That’s Luke Skywalker!” so that’s probably the most obvious one.
We’re sure you’ve answered this a thousand times in the last twenty-five years, but do you have a particular episode that stands out as your personal favorite?
BT: No! I will say, and this is my stock answer but it’s true, it’s not the best episode or the most memorable, or the deepest, but I have tons of fond memories of “On Leather Wings” because it was the first episode we put into production, it was the first time we saw the characters animated, it was the first time we recorded an episode with our wonderful cast, and it was the first time I heard Shirley Walker’s amazing music, and it all kind of came together! I think it’s a really solid episode. It kind of “planted the flag” and did exactly what we intended to do with the show. It was a little bit spooky and a little bit fun, a little bit funny, it had a lot of adventure and didn’t talk down to kids, so it was great. Here’s the thing, we were doing a lot of things that, at the time, were revolutionary with how to style an animated show. With painting the backgrounds on black paper and the stylized look of the characters. We had no idea if it was going to work or not! So when we got the first episode, which was “On Leather Wings”, back from Japan, it was kind of like “Oh thank God it actually works! This is gonna be good!”.
You can most catch Bruce Timm’s most recent work in the upcoming direct to video home movie ‘Batman: Gotham By Gaslight’ and in the recently released ‘Batman And Harley Quinn’ available on Bluray, DVD and Digital now! ‘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!