The 1990s were an interesting time in the American comic scene, from beginning to end, good to bad. At one point you have books like Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane, X-Force with art by Rob Liefeld, and X-Men with art by Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri making Marvel millions, only for them to file for bankruptcy a few years later. Then we have 7 star artists, some of whom I just mentioned, leaving the big two and forming their own company, something unheard of, selling hundreds of thousands of copies of every series they would launch, helping to cause a speculator boom, which eventually led to the comic industry implosion, the worst thing to happen in this industry since Fredric Wertham four decades earlier.
We had deaths of Supermen, Green Lanterns going rogue, broken Bats, amalgamated universes, glow-in-the-dark holofoil die-cut chromium covers, comic character trading cards, distributor wars, new publisher imprints, and a few other Milestones. Oh yeah, and pouches. Lots and lots of pouches. It was exciting for a time, and then it almost ended.
The 1990s get a bad rap nowadays by many comic fans, and for good reason. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back on it all, it had to happen the way it did. But, and this is a big but, people forget that there was a whole lot of awesome happening. This column will be addressing that each week, starting with Batman: The Animated Series. I know, I know, it isn’t a comic, but it is based on one, and it is awesome, and it’s my column, so there.
For those of you not born yet, not into comics yet, or living in a cave, Batman: The Animated Series was the groundbreaking cartoon that ran from September 1992 until September 1995 on Fox. It took its inspiration from the then recent Tim Burton Batman movies, the Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s, as well as 1940s/1950s film noir and art deco design. It was a darker Batman than our screens were used to, a more adult version of the characters, and it was insanely popular.
Developed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, Batman: TAS as it is known to fans, was so different than previous super hero cartoons in its depictions of violence and adult themes the Warner Bros. Animation execs almost passed on it before a pilot had even been produced. Luckily, Tim Burton’s first Batman movie was such a huge, and I mean HUGE, success that these execs had a change of heart, and On Leather Wings became the first episode produced.
This series reintroduced many characters from the comics, albeit slightly altered to fit Timm and Radowski’s vision. Many of the character changes have survived the show and made it into the comic continuity, and a few popular characters created for the series jumped onto the comic page a few years later. Harley Quinn, Rene Montoya, and Lock-Up all began life on the small screen, and all three ended up with an extended life in comics after TAS ended. Though this wasn’t the first time something created for television became mainstream comic continuity, it still is a testament to Timm and Radomski, and the world they developed.
Pretty soon there was Superman: The Animated Series, then The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond, Static Shock, Justice League, and a shared DC Animated Universe. What Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Paul Dini, and a few others had done was impressive, and hadn’t quite been done before.
The series even had two spin-off movies, the straight-to-video Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, and the theatrically released Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Theatrically. Released. And while it didn’t perform as well as expected in theaters, it’s still yet another testament to how popular this show was. And it still is to this day.
Batman: TAS also had a fantastic for its time line of toys, that have influenced DC Comic character based action figures to this very day. That’s the thing. This show had such a lasting effect and inspired so many people, even though it only lasted 85 episodes. That is quite the achievement.
I remember I would race home every weekday after school, or go over to my friend’s house, and it was the only thirty minutes a day I would sit quietly, staring at this wonderful interpretation of, at the time, my favorite comic character and his wonderful friends and terrible rogue’s gallery. I still watch Mask of the Phantasm once a year, the VHS version that comes with the comic adaptation, and it is by far still my favorite Batman feature film. Sorry Nolan. Sorry Burton. It was exciting in its newness, while staying true to what had come before. And it was amazing.
The 1990s was a heyday for animated super heroes, with both DC, Marvel, and even Image characters gracing our small screen, but it all started here, at 4:30 in the afternoon on September 5th, 1992. Just one reason it was awesome being a comic fan in the 1990s. Next week, I’ll bring you another.