Called simply The Batman, the series focused on a much younger Bruce Wayne (Rino Romano) who was only into his third year as Batman. His existence was largely an urban myth when the series began, until he gradually worked his way into the spotlight as Gotham City’s defender. While his Batsuit resembled a modified version of the original one seen in Batman: The Animated Series (with shorter ears to make him resemble a boxer, and talons on his gloves), the show had no connection to the previous one or the DCAU. The series was largely inspired by Batman comics from the Golden Age, although it did take elements from the various incarnations over the years; particularly the 1960s live-action Batman series as evidenced by the shape of the bat-symbol and the casting of Adam West as Mayor Marion Grange (changed from a woman in the comics).
Batman went up against two types of antagonists. The first were the GCPD, headed by Chief Angel Rojas (Edward James Olmos for one episode, Jesse Corti for the remainder). Rojas viewed Batman as dangerous as any criminal and assigned two officers to bring him down: Detective Ethan Bennett (whose appearance was based on his actor, Steve Harris) and his partner, Metropolis-transplant Detective Ellen Yin (Ming-Na Wen). Bennett largely regarded Batman as necessary to preserve the peace in Gotham, while Yin took some time to come around to the idea.
|Riddler, Bane, Poison Ivy, a Riddleman, Black Mask, Man-Bat, Mr. Freeze, Temblor, Spellbinder, Firefly, Ragdoll, Killer Croc, Joker, Harley Quinn, a henchman, Penguin, the Kabuki Twins and Cluemaster.|
The other type was the standard assortment of villains. Character designer Jeff Matsuda took a great many liberties with the appearance of the classic villains, and many of their stories were heavily revamped for the series. Of the ones featured in the previous Batman series was mobster Rupert Thorne (Victor Brandt), depicted as younger and sporting 1970s-style clothing; Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson), who was more physical and almost ape-like, sporting dreadlocks and a straightjacket with bare feet initially before adopting something closer to his traditional purple suit; Penguin (Tom Kenny), depicted as more athletic and capable fighter (inspired by heavyset characters in martial arts movies), and often accompanied by his silent bodyguards, the Kabuki Twins; Catwoman (Gina Gershon), given a more exaggerated version of the costume appearing at the comics at that time; Mr. Freeze (Clancy Brown), reimagined as a diamond thief who got trapped in a cryonic freezer that gave him a freezing touch; Firefly (Jason Marsden), a professional arsonist who transforms into the unrelated villain Phosphorus after overexposure to the isotope; Ventriloquist and Scarface (Dan Castellaneta), with the murderous puppet redesigned with an outfit reminiscent of Al Pacino in Scarface; Man-Bat (Peter MacNicol), who developed his formula because of an obsession to want to be like Batman; Bane (Joaquim de Almeida, Ron Perlman & Brown), a South American mercenary whose usage of Venom for extra strength not only increased his muscle mass, but also turned his skin red; Riddler (Robert Englund), a disgraced inventor who turned to crime, adopting an almost goth-like visage; Killer Croc (Perlman), given a Cajun accent, he was designed to look like a humanoid crocodile in a vest; Spellbinder (Michael Massee), a mystic who achieved the power of the “third eye” allowing him to create illusions and hypnotize; Hugo Strange (Frank Gorshin until his death, then Richard Green), the head of Arkham Asylum who was more interested in learning how the criminal mind worked than curing them; Poison Ivy (Piera Coppola), a teenaged eco-rights activist who ended up exposed to a powerful plant growth compound, giving her powers; Maxie Zeus (Phil LaMarr), an eccentric billionaire obsessed with Greek mythology who sought revenge against Gotham in a specialized suit of armor after losing the mayoral election; Tony Zucco (Mark Hamill), upgraded from a thug to a Mafia don and former circus performer that accidentally killed his own father; Killer Moth (Bennett), Penguin’s gofer that ended up transformed into a moth creature; Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch), a disgraced television psychologist whom the Joker takes a liking to; The Wrath (Christopher Gorham) and Scorn (Daryl Sabara), an anti-Batman and Robin who wanted to make sure hard-working criminals could stay free; and the Terrible Trio (David Faustino, Grey DeLisle and Googy Gress), university students who get ahold of Langstrom’s formula and become aspects of their namesakes. Because Christopher Nolan had begun development what would become his Dark Knight Trilogy, the characters of Scarecrow, Two-Face and Ra’s al Ghul were prohibited for use on the series (Bane escaped this restriction since his film was not yet in consideration). Joker was only allowed due to his strong connection to the franchise.
Newly adapted for animation was Cluemaster (Glenn Shadix, Kath Soucie as a kid), changed from a failed game show host to an overweight former contestant on a child’s game show who believed he was cheated out of a victory; the triple-jointed Ragdoll (Bennett), who could bend himself to fit into impossible spaces; Gearhead (Will Friedle), a crook who could hijack any vehicle via cybernetic implants in his arms; and Black Mask (James Remar), the ruthless head of a criminal organization whose face was always covered by (what else?) a black skull-like mask (Back Mask was set to make an appearance on the revival version of the previous show but was never worked into a story).
Villains newly created for the show included Toymaker (Patton Oswalt), the former CEO of a toy manufacturer whose dangerous toys led Bruce Wayne to campaign for their closure; Prank (Michael Reisz), a university student who became the Joker’s sidekick; Temblor (Jim Cummings), a mercenary that used shockwave-generating gauntlets; D.A.V.E. (Digitally Advanced Villain Emulator, voiced by Bennett), an AI created by Hugo Strange whose storage of a combination of insane intellects led him to believe he was a human trapped in a machine (based on H.A.R.D.A.C. from the previous series); Rumor (Perlman), a former bodyguard who decided to kill all of Gotham’s criminals after he failed to protect his client from the Joker; and Everywhere Man (Brandon Routh), a wealthy scientist that accidentally created an evil duplicate of himself.
Straddling the line between new and classic villain was their interpretation of Clayface. Initially, Clayface was Bennett after he had been captured and tortured by the Joker, and exposure to the fumes from Joker’s “putty” gave him the ability to reshape himself; similar to the Silver Age Matt Hagen version. As Clayface, he did take the form of the powerful zombie Solomon Grundy (Kevin Grevioux) for the episode “Grundy’s Night”. He was eventually cured in order to make room for the Basil Karlo version (Wallace Langham & Lex Lang). Karlo was still a poorly-reviewed actor, but this time he stole a formula from Waynetech that was designed to cure Bennett in order to give himself the right look to get the work he wanted. After Bennett’s change, Yin’s new partner became Cash Tankinson (Patrick Warburton).
The Batman debuted as part of Kids’ WB on September 11, 2004, running for five seasons through the network’s change to The CW. The series was developed by Michael Goguen and Duane Capizzi and was produced by Alan Burnett, Glen Murakami, Linda M. Steiner, Goguen and Matsuda. For the first two seasons, the show opened with a moody theme composed by U2’s The Edge. For the remainder of the show, the theme was switched to a lighter, ‘60’s-inspired theme by Andy Sturmer. Thomas Chase Jones served as the series’ main composer. Writers for the series included Capizzi, Burnett Steven Melching, Adam Beechen, Thomas Pugsley, Greg Klein, Greg Weisman, Christopher Yost, J.D. Murray, Robert Goodman, Joseph Kuhr, Michael Jelenic, Alexx Van Dyne, David Slack, Paul Giacoppo, Stan Berkowitz, Paul Dini, Douglas Petrie, Jane Espenson, Steve Cuden, Brian Swenlin, and Len Uhley.
During the third season, a direct-to-TV film was shown on Cartoon Network called The Batman vs. Dracula. Written by Capizzi, the film involved Batman going up against the real Dracula (Peter Stormare) after he’s accidentally resurrected by Joker and Penguin as they escaped Arkham. While it may seem an odd pairing, Batman has gone up against several vampires—including Dracula—in comics, both in canon (such as Detective Comics #455, 1976) and in alternate tales (Batman & Dracula: Red Rain). The film also introduced The Batman’s version of reporter Vicki Vale (Tara Strong).
The series departed from the established mythos further by introducing Batgirl (Danielle Judovits) before Robin (Evan Sabara). Robin was unavailable until the fourth season due to his being used on Teen Titans, so a younger Batgirl was brought in the third season along with her father, Commissioner James Gordon (Mitch Pileggi), who became a series regular after two previous appearances. Batman, however, was reluctant to take her on and resisted formally making her a sidekick until Robin’s debut. The younger heroes developed a sibling-like rivalry between them. Robin’s origin remained mostly unchanged, with former Joker Mark Hamill voicing Tony Zucco, the man who killed his parents during a trapeze act at the circus, and former Batman Kevin Conroy voicing his father. Batgirl’s costume utilized the original 1960s coloring scheme but looked like a long dress. Robin’s design remained relatively close to his Titans appearance, however with the colors of his “R” symbol reversed like in The New Adventures of Batman. Season four would end up being Matsuda’s last, but before he left, he redesigned Batman to be more angular; increasing his resemblance to the previous show’s incarnation.