Batman has been swooshing across our TVs for over fifty years. It all started with Bruce Wayne taking center stage with a bang (and a POW!) In 1966, and his iconic alter ego still adorns our small screens today. In fact, if you consider how ubiquitous television is in the world, it’s likely that for many, their first exposure to Caped Crusader came as a result of flipping through the channels on a lazy afternoon until they finally landed on one of The many bat shows we’ve seen over the years.
Let’s take a quick look at Batman in live action TV and animation over the years, from the bubbling days of the West to the dodgy Gotham streets of Titans. Whether it’s campy and corny or gritty and graphic, each look is a step forward in the story of Dark Knight that shapes Batman’s legacy in the comics and beyond.
Batman and Prime Time
Bruce Wayne’s first attack on television as a comic book star was in the classic 1960s era Batman. The colorful show shows a very different Gotham City than modern Bat fans might be used to.
“The city seems to be carefree and quiet, right?” says the jovial narrator in “Fine Feathered Finks.”
One hundred and twenty episodes from 1966 to 1968 followed the beautiful playboy Bruce Wayne and his young department Dick Grayson on their many adventures under the sunny Gotham sky. (It feels strange even to say it!) They took on the Joker, the Penguin, the Catwoman, the Riddler and even more bombastic villains using both brains and brawn. Some villains, like Egghead and King Tut, debuted in the classic TV series and later appeared in comics.
Regardless of the crime, Batman and Robin were very serious and loved viewers of all ages who needed an escape to the funny sides. The unforgettable series ended in 1968. (Adam West and Burt Ward returned to express their iconic characters in the 1977 cartoon Batman’s new adventure and much later in the animated films Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and Batman vs Two-Face.) It would take a very long time before Bruce Wayne returned to live action on television.
The bright energy of Batman followed Caped Crusader into the landmark animated series Super friends. In 1970s-1980s cartoons, Batman and Robin stood alongside other legendary superheroes Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Teen detectives Wendy and Marvin and later Wonder Twins often accompanied the tour. Their mission “to correct what is wrong” led your favorite superheroes to battles against monsters, aliens, mad scientists and the Legion of Doom.
After the end of The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (the last iteration of the Super Friends series) in 1986, we had to wait six years until Batman returned to animation in a significant way. Yes, we are talking about the character defining Batman: The animated series.
Debuted in 1992 after Tim Burton’s darker recording of Dark Knight took the cinemas by storm, the colors and corniness of Batman’s previous small screen excursions were replaced by rainy nights and a thoughtful, experienced Batman.
The animated series was incredibly influential on Dark Knight in all media. It introduced great new characters like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya. It set the standard for series that would later take place in the same universe. And for many Bat fans, Kevin Conroy takes on Bruce Wayne is Batman.
“They really got into Batman’s psychology,” Conroy recalled in a 2014 interview.Batman: The animated series) became a real psychodrama. There are some episodes like ‘Perchance to Dream’ where you really get into Bruce Wayne’s mind and it’s wonderful for an actor to have those kinds of challenges in a role. “
After Batman: The animated series ended, Bruce Wayne went to Metropolis in the second season of Superman: The Animated Series. That meeting in the finest of the world was one of their most memorable (and simply funny, let’s be honest). Then it was back to Gotham too The New Batman Adventures, and then into the future of game-changing Batman Beyond in 1999.
These animated excursions restored Batman’s status as a team player and father figure to his own Bat family. He continued to be an indispensable teammate in the early 2000s in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
Bruce Wayne’s criminal career was reset in the 2004s Batman, who followed Dark Knight early in his career as a criminal warrior. In 2008, Batman again embraced the collaboration, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold joined him with a number of new and unusual allies. Then it was back to darker solo adventures in 2013’s CGI Watch out for Batman before rejoining his colleagues in the 2016s Justice League Action.
And that’s not to say anything about all of his guest appearances and cameos in animated series right from Static shock to Teen Titans GO! Puha. It’s very much Batman. For decades, Batman has been an animated powerhouse (in more ways than one), but in recent years, he has finally brought him back to live action … in a way.
The Dark Knight returns
It was 2014 Gotham it returned Bruce Wayne to primetime television, but as a 12-year-old who had just lost his parents. While Batman himself did not appear in the cover until the last episode of the series, the emotional story explored Bruce’s childhood unlike any previous one. It also never brought villains like Court of Owls from the comics to a general audience.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the crossover event “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in 2019 gave Arrowverse fans their first look at an older, disillusioned Bruce Wayne. This trend has been continued recently in Titans, with Game of Thrones’ Iain Glen portrays Bruce Wayne as a grizzled veteran who has seen Dick Grayson move away to form his own team. This season, Jason Todd’s death took Nightwing back to Gotham and reunited him with some of Batman’s old allies and enemies. The result was without a doubt the best and most cartoon-accurate Batman story we’ve had in live-action TV so far … only minus Batman.
These far-reaching initiatives continue to enrich the history and character of the Dark Knight and take him from his formative years to some possible futures. Best of all, more is coming. Batman: Caped Crusader, Dark Knight’s latest animated adventure, will be part of the DC FanDome on October 16th.
With such a legacy on TV, a “Bat-Channel” might not be such a crazy idea after all.
Titans, Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Batman Beyond, Super Friends and more can be streamed right now on HBO Max. Not a subscriber yet? Sign up today to enjoy the best of DC movies and TV.
Kelly Knox writes about comics and animations of all ages for DCComics.com, and her writing can also be seen on IGN, Nerdist and more. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk superheroes, comics and pop culture.
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