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Why So Reboot? The Possible Return of Batman: The Animated Series
By Joseph Davis

Amid the chaotic transition of January 2021, it was easy to miss a small entertainment news story that caused great excitement among geeks who swear that—Nicholson, Ledger, and Phoenix be damned—Mark Hamill will always be their Joker. On the January 16th installment of Kevin Smith's Fat Man Beyond podcast, our man Silent Bob and his co-host, Marc Bernardin, revealed that there is talk of a Batman: The Animated Series revival on HBO Max. “I’m not involved, but I too have heard this, and I’ve heard this from very reliable people,” Smith said, adding, “I think that’s gonna happen, and how f***ing amazing would that be because you can just literally pick up and keep going. It’s not, like, ‘Oh, we gotta explain why everyone’s older.’ It’s f***ing animation, man, so you can go right back to those amazing f***ing stories.”

Among those excited geeks was me, a man who has lived and breathed the show since it premiered one Saturday morning on September 5, 1992. I was such a fan that, in the golden age of Internet geekdom when The World’s Finest set up shop, I created a little fan site called The Justice League Watchtower for what was previously Toon Zone. Originally a grad school web design project, it took off in a way I didn’t expect, and it became a place where I could develop my writing skills to create essays about the DCAU and its characters. I enjoyed this time immensely, but after graduation and Justice League Unlimited ended my attentions were pulled elsewhere, and I reluctantly had to step away.

Until now.

As soon as I read the news I was swept up in speculation as to what shape this new series might take. Would it literally only be a revival of Batman: The Animated Series, discounting The New Batman Adventures, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited? Would Bruce Timm and Paul Dini be back, or would their baby be in the hands of someone else? For that matter, would Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill come back? And what of recasting? In the decades since BTAS ended we’ve lost Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (Alfred Pennyworth), Bob Hastings (Commissioner James Gordon), Adam West (the Gray Ghost), John Vernon (Rupert Thorne), Aron Kincaid (BTAS Killer Croc), Michael Ansara (Mr. Freeze), Henry Polic II (BTAS Scarecrow), and Roddy McDowall (The Mad Hatter). Do we find new voices for these classic characters, or should they remain retired, like The Simpsons did with Phil Hartman’s Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz after he died?

And, finally—and most importantly—why do this at all? To even joke about Hollywood’s current obsession with reboots is cliché at this point, as it was already devastatingly satirized on a recent segment of Animaniacs (itself a reboot). For the past five+ years, the entertainment industry has kicked its obsession with nostalgia into overdrive, bringing back numerous television shows from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, such as Full House (1987-1995), Ducktales (1987-1990), Roseanne (1988-1997), Murphy Brown (1988-1998), and X-Files (1993-2002), among others. Yes, talks to bring back BTAS were inevitable, but it’s not like there haven’t been other Batman shows in the past twenty years. There have been three—The Batman (2004-2008), Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011), and Beware the Batman (2013-2014)—or five, if you count Young Justice (2010-2013, 2019-current) and Justice League Action (2016-2018). Why not just make a new Batman show? Why excavate the DCAU now after it was finally buried in 2006?

Despite the trepidation over digging up a beloved show, I believe they should do it. In fact, I can think of three good reasons why Batman: The Animated Series should return.

The first reason the show should come back is due to the show’s already existing legacy. In fact, BTAS already come back: we just called it The New Batman Adventures in 1997. Then it came back again, and we called it Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. The truth is that the larger DCAU is an evergreen property that has never truly died. And when the last show ended in 2006, we had 2010’s Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, a direct-to-video film that, despite the rewriting of Dwayne McDuffie’s original script, still fits pretty snugly into DCAU continuity (just swap Hal Jordan for John Stewart and you’re fine). We had Batman Adventures (2003-2004), a comic book series created by Dan Slott (of Spider-Man’s One More Day fame), Ty Templeton, and Rick Burchett that continued the plot threads from the original BTAS and TNBA shows. Speaking of comic books, we had Paul Dini’s incredible stint writing Detective Comics (2006-2009), Gotham City Sirens (2009-2010), Batman: Streets of Gotham (2009-2011), Harley Loves Joker (2017-2018), and the digital-first Batman: The Adventures Continue (2020-current), which has perpetuated his vision of Gotham for fifteen years. The DCAU has never died; it just stepped out of the limelight for a while.

Despite its popularity with fans, I don’t think that people get how culturally significant BTAS (and the larger DCAU) are in terms of how we think about animation, comic books properties, and Batman himself. Much like how the campy 1960s Batman series captured the zeitgeist of its era, so too did the original BTAS embody the defining spirit of its time. Due to its longevity, it has shaped popular culture in a way that only The Simpsons has had the honor of doing. Consider: there is an entire generation of fans, writers, and artists who were introduced to superhero mythos through Kevin Conroy’s Batman, Mark Hamill’s Joker, and every other character and story that has graced the DCAU. The series also served as a means to filter what was (at the time) fifty years of DC Comics’ material into their best, and purest, formulas. It created new characters that still are popular today (Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya, Terry McGinnis’ Batman Beyond), and it changed existing characters into modern forms (Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Clayface). And this goes beyond DC Comics. I’m convinced that the Marvel Cinematic Universe owes the DCAU a great debt—you cannot watch The Avengers without thinking that Joss Whedon must have picked up some of his fight scene choreography from the animated Justice League series. Hell, the DCAU itself provided a prototype for a shared universe that Kevin Feige and company must have seen and appropriated.

The second reason is due to the changing landscape of television since BTAS went off the air. At its best, the series was still hamstrung by execs at both FOX and Kids’ WB in terms of what it could and could not show. There was a continual push to move the creative team away from stories featuring film noir and psychological introspection—arguably what made the series so classic to begin with (“On Leather Wings,” “Heart of Ice,” etc.)—to stories featuring more Robin and more “supervillain of the week” episodes. Another factor were rights issues, as back then DC and Warner Bros. were more territorial, deeming certain characters “off-limits” due to rights issues. For years, characters like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel were prevented from appearing in the DCAU for a variety of reasons, and every fan recalls the dreaded “Bat-Embargo” that prevented the use of characters on Justice League Unlimited that had been snatched up for The Batman (as well as the “Aqua-Embargo” that took Aquaman and related characters after Season One, as they were pitching a Smallville-like pilot for The WB).

A revival of BTAS would likely make these concerns irrelevant. With a debut on a subscription-only streaming platform, I doubt that the creative team would have to deal with these former restrictions. Provided they follow a basic metric that maintains the integrity of the property, I suspect they could tell any story they like. And as for any “embargos,” it’s worth noting that these appear to have been relaxed in recent years, with DC and Warner Bros. appearing to be more open to multiple interpretations of characters appearing in media at the same time (the Flash television show and the upcoming Flash movie, for example). Finally, there’s the issue of the rise of serial storytelling in television. While BTAS was an example of episodic television (where each episode was a stand-alone and could be watched in any order), a BTAS revival may offer an opportunity to do a serialized story, like Justice League Unlimited and its Cadmus arc, where a continuous story can be told gradually over a season. Imagine a BTAS revival that allows for a mature story arc that would have the luxury of unfolding over several episodes! Finally, Batman could be featured in an honest-to-God detective story, one that his usual two-hour movies cannot afford him.

The final reason why the show should come back is a simple one: why not? Why shouldn’t there be a return of a beloved animated series with a legacy stretching over thirty years? Think about it: even after fifteen years of stories, both in live-action and animation, why do we inevitably come back to this Batman? We’ve physically had Christian Bale and Ben Affleck play Batman (with Robert Patterson waiting in the wings), as well as Jason O’Mara (the DC Universe Movies), Bruce Greenwood (Young Justice), Rino Romano (The Batman), Diedrich Bader (Batman: The Brave and the Bold), and Anthony Ruivivar (Beware the Batman) providing their voices to The Dark Knight, but we just can’t say goodbye to Kevin Conroy’s Batman. And why should we? His Batman has become legitimately iconic. Hell, for a significant portion of fandom, he is Batman. Besides, there’s been over twenty years of new Batman stories since the show went away. Are you telling me you’re not the least bit curious as to how BTAS could adapt The Court of Owls? Or Professor Pyg? Or Batman Incorporated?

On a final note, if I may be so bold, one could argue that the past ten years have been divisive for DC Comics fans. Between their “New 52” and “Infinite Frontier” reboots and Zack Snyder’s grimdark films, this could be a way to bring back disenchanted fans who have stepped away. Fans like me.

In the end, we have no idea whether a revival of Batman: The Animated Series will occur, or what form it may take, but I will gladly watch it if it comes to fruition.

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Joseph Davis is a regular contributor to the community, having run the Justice League Watchtower website and posting on WF forums under the name "Karkull."


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