Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Oct 31, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Produced by Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, and Paul Dini, based on characters created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane

Release Date(s)

1992-1999 (October 30, 2018)

Studio(s)

Warner Bros. Animation/DC Comics/Fox Kids/Kids’ WB (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+
  • Overall Grade: A

Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

The late 1980s and very early 1990s were a time of transition for American animation. Bluth Studios was in decline and near bankruptcy. Hanna-Barbera too was facing financial difficulties. But The Simpsons had just premiered on Fox and the “Disney Renaissance” was just beginning with The Little Mermaid (1989). Warner Bros. Animation was experiencing something of a rebirth as well with Tiny Toon Adventures, thanks to an assist by Steven Spielberg. Even so, animation in the States was still heavily biased towards light and silly fare directed mostly at preteens.

But the success of Tiny Toon Adventures gave Warner Bros. Animation an opportunity to push into new territory under the leadership of Jean MacCurdy. And the development of the Fox Kids afternoon programming block in 1990 led to an opportunity. Informed by the success of The Simpsons, Fox wanted to do something different with TV animation. As it happens, so too did Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, and Alan Burnett at Warner. The result was Batman: The Animated Series, which debuted on Fox Kids on September 5th, 1992.

Harkening back to the 1940s Fleischer Studios Superman animated films, Batman: The Animated Series went retro, drawing upon a “Dark Deco” aesthetic and the look and feel of Tim Burton’s Batman feature film. The series’ artistic style was simplified, with light and shadow designs and stories more common to film noir. Backgrounds were pained in color upon black paper, instead of white as was traditional. The artists were also given a freer hand in telling stories. Guns were allowed for the first time in kids animation, as well as fist fights, and limited (stylized) violence. Morally ambiguous stories, emotionally complex characters, poignant and tragic endings… all of this was new to TV animation. Combined with a terrific voice cast drawn from theater and the ranks of great character actors, as well as fully orchestrated music (including a theme by Danny Elfman and regular music composed by Shriley Walker), Batman: The Animated Series was an instant and iconic classic.

It’s also widely regarded as the best version of the Batman story and characters ever captured on film, the most true to the character’s comic book roots. The series voice cast includes Kevin Conroy (Batman), Clive Revill and Efrem Zimbalist Jr (as Alfred), Melissa Gilbert (Batgirl), Brock Peters (Lucious Fox), Adam West (The Gray Ghost), Richard Moll (Two-Face), Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn), Adrienne Barbeau (Catwoman), Paul Williams (The Penguin), Ron Perlman (Clayface), Ed Asner (Roland Daggett), Roddy McDowall (The Mad Hatter), and of course Mark Hamill (The Joker). Conroy and Hamill are so good in their roles, that many Batman fans consider the actors synonymous with those roles. Adam West, the great Batman of 1960s TV himself, even appears in the episode Beware the Gray Ghost.

Batman: The Animated Series was produced almost entirely by hand (though later episodes and the sequel films employed some computer animation) and it was shot entirely on film (in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio). It was broadcast on TV in analog SD with stereo sound. 109 22-minute episodes were produced in all, the first 65 seen on Fox Kids as Batman: The Animated Series (widely regarded as Season One), with 20 more released as The Adventures of Batman & Robin (aka Season Two), and a final 24 airing on Kids’ WB as The New Batman Adventures (or Season Three). Warner Home Video released four volumes of episodes on DVD starting in 2004, then followed in 2008 with Batman: The Complete Animated Series as a DVD box set. But this DVD set very quickly went out of print.

With the debut of Blu-ray in 2007, I began to lobby anyone who would listen at WHV to release this series in HD on the format. But the key question was: Did the studio have all of the original film assets? Though it was produced here in the States, the actual animation work was done by overseas production houses (in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Spain, and Canada). With so many companies involved, did all of the original film negatives make their way back to the Warner studio vaults? And had they been archived, cataloged, and preserved properly? Fortunately, the answer appears to have been: Yes!

The success of the Warner Archive Collection’s 2017 Blu-ray release of the sequel films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993 – reviewed here) and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1989 - reviewed here) apparently convinced the studio that there was significant fan interest in a Blu-ray box set of the entire series. And so the studio has now released exactly that.

Batman: The Complete Animated Series includes 12 Blu-ray Discs featuring all 109 episodes, along with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero as a bonus. The exact disc/episode breakdown follows below. Note that the episodes are included in production order (the original broadcast order was somewhat different). Episodes are listed with the major characters and villains that appear therein (aside from Batman himself) for easy reference. The extras are also listed on each disc:

SEASON ONE – DISC ONE

  • 01 – On Leather Wings (Man-Bat)
  • 02 – Christmas with the Joker (The Joker, Robin)
  • 03 – Nothing to Fear (The Scarecrow)
  • 04 – The Last Laugh (The Joker)
  • 05 – Pretty Poison (Poison Ivy)
  • 06 – The Underdwellers (Sewer King)
  • 07 – P.O.V. (The Drug Lord)
  • 08 – The Forgotten (Boss Biggis)
  • 09 – Be a Clown (The Joker)
  • 10 – Two-Face Part One (Rupert Thorne)
  • 11 – Two-Face Part Two (Rupert Thorne, Two-Face)
  • 12 – It’s Never Too Late (Rupert Thorn, Arnold Stormwell)
  • 13 – I’ve Got Batman in My Basement (The Penguin)
  • Audio Commentary for On Leather Wings with Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski
  • A Conversation with Bruce Timm: On Leather Wings (SD – 1:49)
  • A Conversation with Bruce Timm: Christmas with the Joker (SD – 1:41)
  • A Conversation with Bruce Timm: Nothing to Fear (SD – 2:47)
  • A Conversation with Bruce Timm: The Last Laugh (SD – 1:14)
  • A Conversation with Bruce Timm: Pretty Poison (SD – 3:07)
  • The Dark Knight’s First Night Pilot Promo: Hosted by Bruce Timm (SD – 5:03)

SEASON ONE – DISC TWO

  • 14 – Heart of Ice (Mr. Freeze, Ferris Boyle)
  • 15 – The Cat and the Claw Part One (Catwoman, Red Claw)
  • 16 – The Cat and the Claw Part Two (Catwoman, Red Claw)
  • 17 – See No Evil (Lloyd Ventrix)
  • 18 – Beware the Gray Ghost (The Mad Bomber, The Grey Ghost)
  • 19 – Prophecy of Doom (Nostromos, Lucus)
  • 20 – Feat of Clay Part One (Roland Daggett, Clayface)
  • 21 – Feat of Clay Part Two (Roland Daggett, Clayface)
  • 22 – Joker’s Favor (The Joker, Harley Quinn)
  • 23 – Vendetta (Killer Croc)
  • 24 – Fear of Victory (Robin, The Scarecrow)
  • 25 – The Clock King (The Clock King)
  • 26 – Appointment in Crime Alley (Roland Daggett)
  • Audio Commentary for Heart of Ice with Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Eric Radomski
  • Batman: The Legacy Continues Retrospective (SD – 18:03)
  • Tour of the Batcave (SD – 4 parts – 2:49 in all)

SEASON ONE – DISC THREE

  • 27 – Mad as a Hatter (The Mad Hater)
  • 28 – Dreams in Darkness (The Scarecrow)
  • 29 – Eternal Youth (Poison Ivy)
  • 30 – Perchance to Dream (Robin, Catwoman, The Mad Hatter)
  • 31 – The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy (Josiah Wormwood)
  • 32 – Robin’s Reckoning Part One (Robin, Tony Zucco, Arnold Stormwell)
  • 33 – Robin’s Reckoning Part Two (Robin, Tony Zucco)
  • 34 – The Laughing Fish (The Joker, Harley Quinn)
  • 35 – Night of the Ninja (Kyodai Ken)
  • 36 – Cat Scratch Fever (Catwoman, Roland Daggett, Professor Milo)
  • 37 – The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne (Hugo Strange, The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin)
  • 38 – Heart of Steel Part One (HARDAC)
  • 39 – Heart of Steel Part Two (HARDAC)
  • Audio Commentary for Robin’s Reckoning Part One by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski
  • Audio Commentary for Heart of Steel Part Two by Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, and Kevin Altieri
  • Robin Rising: How the Boy Wonder’s Character Evolved (SD – 8:24)
  • Gotham’s Guardians: The Stalwart Supporting Characters (SD – 10:15)

SEASON ONE – DISC FOUR

  • 40 – If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? (Riddler, Robin)
  • 41 – Joker’s Wild (The Joker, Cameron Kaiser)
  • 42 – Tyger, Tyger (Emile Dorian)
  • 43 – Moon of the Wolf (The Werewolf, Professor Milo)
  • 44 – Day of the Samurai (Kyodai Ken)
  • 45 – Terror in the Sky (Man-Bat, She-Bat)
  • 46 – Almost Got ‘Im (The Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, The Penguin)
  • 47 – Birds of a Feather (The Penguin)
  • 48 – What Is Reality? (The Riddler)
  • 49 – I Am the Night (The Jazzman)
  • 50 – Off Balance (Count Vertigo, Talia al Ghul)
  • 51 – The Man Who Killed Batman (The Joker, Harley Quinn, Rupert Thorne)
  • 52 – Mudslide (Clayface)
  • Audio Commentary for Almost Got ‘Im by Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, and Paul Dini
  • Voices of the Knight (SD – 8:08)

SEASON ONE – DISC FIVE

  • 53 – Paging the Crime Doctor (Rupert Thorne)
  • 54 – Zatanna (Montague Kane)
  • 55 – The Mechanic (The Penguin)
  • 56 – Harley and Ivy (The Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy)
  • 57 – Shadow of the Bat Part One (Batgirl, Two-Face, Rupert Thorne, Gil Mason)
  • 58 – Shadow of the Bat Part Two (Batgirl, Two-Face, Gil Mason)
  • 59 – Blind As a Bat (The Penguin)
  • 60 – The Demon’s Quest Part One (Robin, Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul)
  • 61 – The Demon’s Quest Part Two (Robin, Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul)
  • 62 – His Silicon Soul (HARDAC, Duplicate Batman)
  • 63 – Fire from Olympus (Maxie Zeus)
  • 64 – Read My Lips (The Ventriloquist)
  • 65 – The Worry Men (The Mad Hatter)
  • Audio Commentary on Harley and Ivy by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Eric Radomski, and Boyd Kirkland
  • Audio Commentary on Read My Lips by Bruce Timm, Michael Reaves, Boyd Kirkland, and Shirley Walker
  • Gotham’s New Knight (SD – 7:40)

SEASON TWO – DISC ONE

These episodes aired under the new title The Adventures of Batman & Robin.

  • 01 – Sideshow (Killer Croc)
  • 02 – A Bullet for Bullock (Vinnie the Shark)
  • 03 – Trial (The Joker, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, The Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, The Scarecrow, Two-Face, The Ventriloquist)
  • 04 – Avatar (Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul)
  • 05 – House & Garden (Robin, Poison Ivy)
  • 06 – The Terrible Trio (Robin, The Terrible Trio)
  • 07 – Harlequinade (Robin, The Joker, Harley Quinn, Boxy Bennett)
  • 08 – Time Out of Joint (Robin, The Clock King)
  • 09 – Catwalk (Catwoman, The Ventriloquist)
  • 10 – Bane (Robin, Killer Croc, Candice, Rupert Thorne)
  • Audio Commentary on Harlequinade by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Shirley Walker, and Eric Radomski
  • Video Commentary on House & Garden by Bruce Timm, Boyd Kirkland, and Paul Dini (SD – 22:18)

SEASON TWO – DISC TWO

  • 11 – Baby Doll (Robin, Baby Doll)
  • 12 – The Lion and the Unicorn (Robin, Red Claw)
  • 13 – Showdown (Robin, Ra’s al Ghul, Arcady Duvall)
  • 14 – Riddler’s Reform (Robin, The Riddler)
  • 15 – Second Chance (Robin, Two-Face, The Penguin, Rupert Thorne)
  • 16 – Harley’s Holiday (Robin, Harley Quinn, Boxy Bennett)
  • 17 – Lock-Up (Robin, Lock-Up, The Ventriloquist, Scarface, Scarecrow, Harley Quinn)
  • 18 – Make ‘Em Laugh (Robin, The Joker, Condiment King, The Pack Rat, Mighty Mom, The Mad Hatter)
  • 19 – Deep Freeze (Robin, Mr. Freeze, Grant Walker)
  • 20 – Batgirl Returns (Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, Roland Daggett)

SEASON THREE – DISC ONE

These episodes aired under the title The New Batman Adventures. They also featured an updated/simplified style of animation that would come to define the DC Animated Universe going forward.

  • 01 – Holiday Knights (Robin, Batgirl, The Joker, Harley Quinn, Clayface, Poison Ivy)
  • 02 – Sins of the Father (Robin, Batgirl, Two-Face)
  • 03 – Cold Comfort (Batgirl, Mr. Freeze)
  • 04 – Double Talk (Batgirl, The Ventriloquist, Scarface)
  • 05 – You Scratch My Back (Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman)
  • 06 – Never Fear (Robin, The Scarecrow)
  • 07 – Joker’s Millions (Robin, Nightwing, The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Edward “King” Barlow)
  • 08 – Growing Pains (Robin, Clayface)
  • 09 – Love Is a Croc (Batgirl, Killer Croc, Baby Doll)
  • 10 – Torch Song (Batgirl, Firefly)
  • 11 – The Ultimate Thrill (The Penguin, Roxy Rocket)
  • 12 – Over the Edge (Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, The Scarecrow, Bane, The Mad Hatter, Harley Quinn)
  • Audio Commentary on Over the Edge by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami, and James Ticker
  • Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes (SD – 12 parts – 27:41 in all)

SEASON THREE – DISC TWO

  • 13 – Mean Seasons (Batgirl, Calendar Girl)
  • 14 – Critters (Robin, Batgirl, Farmer Brown)
  • 15 – Cult of the Cat (Catwoman, Thomas Blake)
  • 16 – Animal Act (Robin, Nightwing, The Mad Hatter)
  • 17 – Old Wounds (Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, The Joker)
  • 18 – The Demon Within (Robin, Klarion the Witch Boy)
  • 19 – Legends of the Dark Knight (Robin, The Joker, The Mutants, Firefly)
  • 20 – Girls’ Night Out (Batgirl, Supergirl, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Livewire, The Penguin)
  • 21 – Mad Love (The Joker, Harley Quinn)
  • 22 – Chemistry (Batgirl, Robin, Poison Ivy)
  • 23 – Beware the Creeper (Robin, The Creeper, The Joker, Harley Quinn)
  • 24 – Judgment Day (Two-Face, The Judge, Killer Croc, The Riddler, The Penguin)
  • Audio Commentary on Critters by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Dan Riba, Glen Murakami, and James Ticker
  • Audio Commentary on Legends of the Dark Knight by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Dan Riba, Glen Murakami, and James Tucker

BONUS FEATURES

  • The Heart of Batman documentary (HD – 3 parts – 98:27 in all)
  • Concepting Harley Quinn (SD – 1:28)

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM

(Andrea Beaumont, The Joker)

  • Theatrical Presentation (1.85:1)
  • Television Presentation (1.33:1)
  • Trailer (HD – 1:05)

BATMAN & MR. FREEZE: SUBZERO

(Robin, Batgirl, Mr. Freeze)

  • Film (1.33:1 direct-to-video ratio)
  • Batman: TAS – Heart of Ice (in SD)
  • Batman: TAS – Deep Freeze (in SD)
  • The New Batman Adventures – Cold Comfort (in SD)
  • Batman Beyond – Meltdown (in SD)
  • Art of Batman: Music Montage (SD – 2:31)
  • Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman (SD – :51)
  • Trailer (SD – 1:03)

In terms of bonus features, the extras listed above include nearly everything that was offered in the original Batman: The Complete Animated Series DVD set save for the 22-minute Shades of the Bat: Batman’s Animated Evolution featurette, which is essentially replaced by the new Heart of Batman documentary that’s included on the Blu-ray. Heart of Batman is really fantastic. It’s in full HD and runs 98 minutes. It includes new interviews with Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, Jean MacCurdy, Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, Andrea Romano, and more. Mark Hamill also appears via archival footage. Presented in three parts, the documentary gives you a terrific look back at the show’s development and creation.

In terms of other features not included here, the original TAS DVD set includes promos for other Warner animated titles. The previous episode collection DVDs also included video introductions by Bruce Timm, a video trivia option on Heart of Ice, and a few interactive features. It’s really noting you’ll miss, though completists may wish to keep those discs anyway.

This Limited Edition Blu-ray box set also includes 7 lenticular animation artwork cards, book-and-slipcase packaging to hold the discs (with artwork and some liner notes), and a set of 3 Funko Pocket POPS figures (of Batman, The Joker, and Harley Quinn) for those who care about such things. You also get a Digital Copy code for the entire series on a paper insert, though our understanding is that the Digital episodes are SD only at the moment (it’s possible that Warner Bros. may upgrade these to HD at some point in the future).

In terms of A/V quality, the episodes are all presented in full 1080p HD at the original 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio. We believe they were scanned from the original camera negatives in either 2K or 4K. Either way, they look tremendous. Many shots are so detailed you can see the fine line artwork, not to mention subtle shadows between the layers of cel animation, the occasional flutter of paint brush strokes, and the odd bit of dust on the glass of the animation stand. There’s just a little bit of film grain visible too. Some shots are a bit soft here and there, but when this occurs it actually happened in camera. On the whole, the image is terrific, with deep blacks and bold, rich coloring. The original stereo audio is offered in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless and the tracks sound wonderful, especially if you turn up the volume. Dialogue clarity is good, the music has excellent fidelity, and the tracks sound full and warm. The episodes also feature optional French and Latin Spanish audio tracks, with optional subtitles available in English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), French, and Latin Spanish. You have truly never seen nor heard this show looking and sounding so good before… not in the original broadcasts and not on DVD. This is a revelation.

Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Blu-ray Disc)

Batman: The Animated Series is regarded by many fans as the best version of Batman bar none. It’s also considered one of the two or three greatest animated series of all time, and for very good reason. The series is a stylish and groundbreaking gem for American animation. Ten years I’ve waited for it to arrive on Blu-ray and the result is worth every minute. Along with Warner’s new 2001: A Space Odyssey in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, this is a strong contender for the Best Blu-ray Release of 2018. It is absolutely not to be missed. Very highly recommended!

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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