Batman: The Animated Series expanded my horizons and transformed my life

Looking back on three decades of animation and art

Batman: The Animated Series celebrates its 30th anniversary. I felt obliged to write on the history and significance of Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski’s animated take on the Dark Knight as a lifetime admirer of the series. However, I do so knowing that the long shadow of that heritage has already generated a corpus of substantial critical work that would render any such endeavor unnecessary.

I could write about how Batman: The Animated Series came to be as a result of 1990’s Tiny Toon Adventures, and how the program went on to reinvent not only DC Comics’ legendary masked vigilante but the whole American animated television industry, but that’s a narrative best told by the show’s creators. I could have written about how the series resurrected Batman’s rogues’ gallery with subtlety and sadness previously unseen in any medium other than comic books, or about the show’s triumphant and daring title sequence.However, as you may have suspected, these topics are already well-trodden ground. To write about and celebrate Batman: The Animated Series in a way that isn’t wholly redundant, that is both true to myself and the auspiciousness of the event, I must tell a narrative that I’ve never really told or written about before: my own.

To be honest, I can’t recall a period when I wasn’t aware of Batman: The Animated Series. I can’t even remember which episode I watched initially. What I do remember is that once I was introduced to the series, I was fascinated, just like so many other youngsters my age. I’d seen a lot of cartoons up until that point, from Looney Tunes and Pink Panther through Tom and Jerry and The Jetsons.But Batman: The Animated Series was unique. It wasn’t simply a cartoon; it was also scheduled television. The exploits of the masked gloomy hero Batman and his battle for justice against a slew of criminals in Gotham City’s antiquated “Dark Deco” vastness jolted my young mind like nothing else.

Batman: The Animated Series expanded my horizons and transformed my life

I devoured the series with the type of indiscriminate adoration that only a child is capable of. From the iconic characters and dramatic symphonic soundtrack to the engrossing narrative and exquisite title card graphics, I adored Batman: The Animated Series. But there was a point when that love grew from infatuation to something more profound and thoughtful. While watching television in my father’s apartment’s living room, I wondered aloud, “Why does this appear so different from anything else?”

I knew there was something unique about Batman: The Animated Series, even if I didn’t have the knowledge to figure out what it was or put words to what I was thinking and feeling at the time. There was nothing else like it on television. For all I knew, there was no other Batman story like it at the time. I didn’t yet have home internet connection or the ability to put a question into a search box and be sent to an encyclopedic wiki page that answered all of my burning questions in chronological order.What I did have was my immediate circle of friends and family, and none of them knew or cared about animation, let alone how, by whom, or for what cause it was created. I had questions, but I didn’t have the resources to investigate them or the expertise to properly frame them. I didn’t simply want to know what inspired Batman: The Animated Series; I wanted to find the words to convey and describe why this program made me feel something that nothing else did at the time.

So, with no other option, I did what felt natural at the time: I continued to watch, read, and study about art as much as I could, delving beyond my first exposure to animation into the realms of cinema, visual art, music, and even architecture in search of answers to those burning concerns.

Batman: The Animated Series expanded my horizons and transformed my life

I finally found those answers after a lifetime of searching. I discovered them in Robert Wiene’s German Expressionist films, whose winding passageways reminded me of Gotham City’s back alleyways. I discovered them in the paintings of Giovanni Baglione, whose mastery of chiaroscuro lighting I recognized in the logo image of Batman scowling and gripping his cape against the backdrop of a blood-red moon. I discovered them in the futuristic environment of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Hugh Ferriss’ architectural drawings, and the Carbide and Carbon Building in downtown Chicago.Each of these finds spoke to a bygone communal image of a possible future that did not materialize. But that future existed in the universe of Batman: The Animated Series. Finally, I found my answers in a used bookstore copy of Paul Dini and Chip Kidd’s Batman Animated, which recounted the show’s production in vivid detail and finally allowed me to connect the dots of who the writers, artists, and animators behind the series were and what they were trying to accomplish.

My affection for Batman: The Animated Series extends beyond the character and the medium. The program didn’t just introduce me to the figure of Batman, nor did it simply solidify my love of animation; it introduced me to whole depths of art and expression and history that I would never have studied or known if I hadn’t been exposed to that series at a young age.In no uncertain terms, Timm and Radomski’s show is responsible for starting me on the path to a career writing about art and sharing that knowledge and love with others, no matter how many degrees distant. I’m a curation editor at Polygon, which means my job is to go through an ever-changing collection of movies, television shows, comic books, and games and highlight material that I think particularly notable, thought-provoking, and beautiful. Without Batman: The Animated Series, I would never have polished such sensibilities, let alone thought to write about them.

Batman: The Animated Series expanded my horizons and transformed my life

My story is not unique to me. Since its debut 30 years ago, Batman: The Animated Series has impacted the lives of innumerable audiences, inspiring artistic ambitions and aspirations in people from all walks of life. While Batman: The Animated Series is an exceptional illustration of the transformational power of art, it is far from alone in this regard. How many individuals do you believe were introduced to classical music through an episode of Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry? How many young artists were exposed to painters such as Frank Frazetta, Hieronymus Bosch, and Alejandro Jodorowsky for the first time because they grew up watching Adventure Time?

Anything capable of provoking such an emotion cannot be considered inconsequential. They are, in the most literal sense, incredible. Art is important. Animation is important. Stories are important. Find the ones that mean the most to you, and then tell your story. You are the only one who is capable.

Batman: The Animated Series is now available on HBO Max.

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