Monday, June 20, 2005

A Guide To The Best Of Animated Batman

With Batman Begins now in theaters, I think this is a great opportunity to take a look at the excellent animated versions of Batman that Warner Bros. produced during the 1990's and beyond. You'll find that like Batman Begins, the 90's animated version of Batman is closer to the spirit of the comic books than anything else. Unlike Batman Begins, however, most of these works are suitable for kids.

Batman: The Animated Series
Premiering on FOX in 1992, this stylish show set a new standard for "kids" television. It featured a dark, art-deco look (achieved in part by drawing backgrounds on black paper) and surprisingly serious, intelligent writing. The show had an excellent voice cast with the biggest surprise being Mark Hamill as the voice of The Joker. You'll never think of The Joker the same way again after hearing Hamill's chilling performance. This series ran for more than 80 episodes and later spawned The New Batman/Superman Adventures on Kids WB.

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm
This was the first Batman animated movie and it's the only one to ever receive a theatrical release. Before the release of Batman Begins, Roger Ebert considered this film to be the best Batman movie ever made. Darker and a little more violent than the TV show, it's also the perfect companion to Batman Begins. In this film, a Batman-esque vigilante known as The Phantasm is killing mobsters and Batman is getting the blame. Batman struggles to solve this mystery while Bruce Wayne deals with the return of a woman from his past. This film offers its own take on Batman's origins. Given that this film and Batman Begins share a couple of plot elements (the origin of Batman, the woman from Bruce's past), it's surprising that Warner Bros. hasn't yet reissued this film in a special edition on DVD.

Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker
This film is a good example of just how mature the animated version of Batman could be. It's based on Batman Beyond, the futuristic TV series that has an elderly Bruce Wayne helping a new, teenaged Batman. Just as the title states, Batman's greatest foe, The Joker, suddenly returns to Gotham City. But how could The Joker return when he's supposed to be dead? This surprising, action-packed film received some controversy before its initial direct-to-video debut. Warner Bros. edited the film upon release because it wasn't very "kid-friendly." After fan outcry, Warner did release the uncut, PG-13 rated version of the film. If you aren't watching this film with a young child, the PG-13 version is the one to watch.

These three are what I consider the best Batman animated releases. However, the other releases are also worth watching. Batman: Sub-Zero features Mr. Freeze as the bad guy in a movie that is a whole lot better than Batman & Robin. The Batman/Superman Movie is a double-length episode of The New Batman/Superman Adventures and has the World's Finest working together for the first time. Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman is the most recent direct-to-video movie release. It features Batman trying to figure out the identity of a new female superhero that takes the Bat name. The Batman, the newest Batman animated show currently airing on Kids WB, is now out on DVD. It features a version of Batman/Bruce Wayne that is younger than the ones of the previous animated shows. Also, you can get your animated Batman fix from the old-school show Challenge Of The Super Friends or the recent superhero hit Justice League.

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