When Batman: The Animated Series was confirmed to be released on Blu-ray as a complete package, I was not only thrilled to learn that as a longtime fan, but also eager to review it as a critic. As you may know, this was a show that changed the game when it came to superhero cartoons because there’d simply been nothing like it beforehand. Seriously, it boasted rich, dramatic storytelling that was mature enough for adults to enjoy, yet still accessible for kids – plus it featured actors whom you normally wouldn’t think of as participating in such a production.
These days, it could be argued that some series have surpassed B:TAS (I think Justice League Unlimited now takes the cake for me), but there’s no denying the impact it made, or how it has held up more than two decades later. Maybe it’s the film noir quality that’s afforded it a timeless feel – and perhaps it’s because Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett and the rest of the creative team managed to nail the Dark Knight and his supporting characters on every level.
Don’t forget, this was where the now familiar Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill made their respective debuts as Batman and the Joker, with both being regarded by many as the definitive voices for each. And if that weren’t enough, those fortunate enough to pick up this handsome set will witness just how Mr. Freeze was redefined and get a look back at when the world was introduced to a gal named Harley Quinn.
Make no mistake, before I even typed the headline for this review, I made sure to relive all 100+ episodes on Blu-ray so that I could more accurately judge the high definition upgrade. Well, there’s that and the fact that I wanted every tale to be fresh in my memory, as opposed to just going on recollection and doing a rush job.
Speaking of which, I should probably tell you how this baby looks since getting a face lift. In short, it’s downright beautiful. I gather Warner Bros. had a team going over every single frame because the whole darn thing looks so much more vibrant than the DVD releases from more than a decade ago.
Having said that, you’re probably wondering if the vibrancy I mentioned ruins that noir-ish feel, and the answer is “no.” Hey, this show was drawn on black paper, so it’s just as dark as ever. What I’m getting at is that some serious cleanup was done to avoid some scenes looking worn, or like dust was all over your TV screen for a moment. Granted, a very, very minute amount of frames are still somewhat marred, but that’s because the original product was all hand-drawn and elbow grease. Oh yeah, it’s also presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio, so that’s preserved.
Getting back to watching the series in its entirety, it’s still quite difficult to choose a favorite amongst so many classics. But in case you’re curious, this go-round did see me enjoying “Heart of Ice,” “Mad Love,” “I am the Night,” “Almost Got ‘Im,” and “The Laughing Fish” as if I’d seen them for the first time. Plus, I very much dug whenever the writers were afforded more breathing room in two-parters like “Two-Face,” “Robin’s Reckoning,” and “The Demon’s Quest,” because I think that’s where they really shined.
If there’s one way B:TAS differs from more modern DC cartoons like, say, Young Justice, it’s that it was far less serialized. If you’ll recall, it was done in a pre-24 world, so you can jump in during any episode and not feel lost. Still, I admire how characters such as Harvey Dent and Barbara Gordon were built up for a bit before becoming Two-Face and Batgirl, respectively.
Continuing on that note, the viewer is indeed rewarded with the passage of time because The New Batman Adventures – or the “revamp episodes,” as they’re often referred – are also included. Aside from character models being given redesigns, Dick Grayson transitions to becoming Nightwing and Tim Drake becomes the second Robin. It’s cool stuff, that’s for sure.
When it comes to bonus content, all featurettes and commentaries from the original DVD releases are carried over, but a new documentary, “Heart of Batman,” is there to provide extra sizzle. Clocking in at over 90 minutes, it taught even this Batman scholar a new thing or two about how the series got off the ground and really took shape.
Let it also be known that two animated movies – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero – are included in the deluxe edition, but I was not sent those discs for review. Therefore, I can’t judge the HD transfers, though I’m guessing they’re presented well. Either way, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman was completely overlooked for this set, and it’s something that should’ve been thrown in for the intention of giving a complete experience.
Those omissions aside, I’m geeked to add Batman: The Animated Series on Blu-ray to my shelf, and it’s something you should likewise do if you haven’t already. Let’s just hope that Warner Bros. are also giving Superman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond HD upgrades of their own over the next couple of years because both are overdue.
Often regarded as being the definitive portrayal of the Dark Knight, Batman: The Animated Series on Blu-ray is a must buy for any fan.