Proof That The Creators Of Batman: The Animated Series Knew What They Were Doing From The Start

Batman: The Animated Series still remains one of the most iconic takes on the Dark Knight years after it graced our screens. But to get there, the team behind the show needed to lay out their grand plan for who their Batman should be — and reading through the guide they wrote ahead of the series gives us some fascinating insights.

The series bible — the guide written by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Mitch Brian outlining the show's plans for its take on Batman and his supporting characters, the world of Gotham and even just the general writing style and format of the series — has been floating around the internet for a while, having first been re-discovered back in 2009. But even now, flicking through the entire document, it's remarkable to see how the plans for what would become one of the most famous and beloved animated series of a generation were put together.

No Batman Origin Stories

One of the most crucial parts of the bible is in part of its opening statement about how the series will differ from myriad other takes on Batman: An unflinching resolve to never explore Batman's origins, out of respect to the fact that their audience is likely already more than familiar with the hows and whys of Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. Which, in hindsight — and in an age where we've seen a ton of takes on Bruce's origin story since Batman: The Animated Series — is perhaps one of the best opening statements the writers could've had.

Fun, But No Camp

One big emphasis throughout the bible is an ardent desire to tell darker Batman stories; after all, the last solo Batman TV series before this one was Batman '66. Like Tim Burton's 1989 movie, The Animated Series sought to distance itself from that interpretation. Sometimes it did so subtly, with mentions like "no Bat Signal or hotline" to keep him separate from the Gotham police, or by making Robin an occasional partner rather than a full-time companion.

The Mask of Bruce Wayne

Although today the idea of Batman being the real person and Bruce Wayne being the disguise isn't exactly new, for the time of The Animated Series it was a relatively fresh concept. Bruce Wayne is barely a character in the show, and that was always the intention, according to the guide, because the show is about Batman and what he does, rather than the times he's not fighting crime.

The Secret Origin of Renee Montoya

Harley Quinn is obviously the most famous character created for Batman: The Animated Series that eventually came to the comics, but she wasn't the only character made for the show who'd eventually have a life beyond it in DC's comics.

Ahead of her debut in the show, Renee Montoya was preemptively introduced into the comics in the early '90s, but the BTAS writer's bible has a bit of background story not used in the show that would have eventually clashed with her arc in the comics: She was meant to be a widower, having lost her husband, a fellow officer, in the line of duty. In the comics, of course, Renee went on to become one of DC's most prominent lesbian characters instead.

How to Write the Joker

Since the series was already concerned with how to handle its humour avoid Batman '66-style camp, it was extra-careful in how it wanted to portray Batman's most famous villain, the Joker. Comical, classic clowning around was encouraged when it came to stories featuring the character, with reminders that funny faces and slapstick routines should be part of his repertoire.

But not too much — one-liners and bad puns were apparently off the table. Above all, the guide tells us, the key to the Joker's goofiness was that it could always snap back to his violent, dangerous streak. He might have been clownish, but he was always fiendishly clever and a ruthless killer, too.

The Importance of the Setpiece

While the guide mostly focuses on how to interpret Batman, his rogue's gallery and the show's host of supporting characters, it also features some commentary on the show's writing style and main format. Like many shows before and after, the classic three-act structure was used, but with one specific request of writers: There must always be a major, action-packed set-piece sequence in every episode.

Writers were pushed to be as big and as bold as possible in their writing to use the almost limitless scope of animation to their advantage, and that this imagination should be particularly applied to coming up with the biggest and best fight sequences they could imagine... which is why we eventually got crazy stuff like Batman duelling his own robot duplicate in "His Silicon Soul", or an unmasked Bruce fighting a ninja in front of an erupting volcano in "Day of the Samurai". When The Animated Series wanted to go big, it went big.

So Much Concept Art

One of the best things about reading the writer's bible is that it isn't just a roadmap for the series, but an early insight into its visual style as well. It's packed with different sketches of characters, action sequences and the vistas of Gotham City as it tried to nail down its "Dark Deco" visual aesthetic. Here's just a selection of some of the art found within:

You see can the entire series bible for yourself here. It's a fascinating look at what is still arguably the finest superhero cartoon ever created.


    They knew Batman was going to bone Batgirl?

      Judging from the bible and series, they had a huge impact on the Batman mythos, but thankfully little to do that creepy chestnut.

        There was plenty implied across the Batman Adventures, Mystery of the Batwoman movie and Batman Beyond that Batman and Batgirl were an item.

        This is all long before everyone cracked the sads about them porking in The Killing Joke animation.

    This is extremely facinating for somebody that doesn't like Batman all that much, but adored the animated series.

    It's no wonder the series was so successful when the very aspects that elevated it, were the defining aspects of its conception.

    I now find myself playing some of the memorable scenes and stories in my head and seeing just how focused they were.
    I remember little of Bruce Wayne for example, I now see that was intentional.

    One episode that always stuck in my head was about somebody hired to get Batmans cowl.
    He traps Bats and forces him to hand over his mask and cape, revealing he wears a bandana underneath.
    The villain states he isn't surprised Bats had the foresight to have another mask just in case. (Lol)
    The villain returns to the old gangster who hired him and gloats about his victory.
    The old gangster takes the cowl, puts it on and becomes a towering shadow, revealing he was Batman and was pulling the strings all along.

    It confused me as a kid as to why Batman would go to such lengths just to show his secret identity wasn't a weakness that would stop him.
    Now I realise it had a much deeper and purposeful meaning, Batman willingly handed over his "mask" to show it didn't hide who he is, but was simply a costume that adorned who he really is.
    Even now writers fail to grasp this kind of depth in the character, having Batman declare these things directly and treating the readers/watchers like idiots.

    I'm only finding more love for the series...
    I wonder if they knew that by giving us kids the benefit of the doubt in knowing who Batman was, they inadvertently built so much of who he now is? (The good stuff anyway)

    Last edited 15/01/17 9:34 pm

      Brilliantly put. It really is an amazing series that spoiled us as kids and we never even realised!

    I really wish they would release Batman TAS in HD, such an awesome show.

      Got an Xbone? If yes or windows 10, get the Free Movies 8 app and it's there in HD. 720, but it is there and free.

        hm, good to know, thanks ! I haven't an xbone and my win 10 doesn't have the app store, but I will find a way !

    Someone should probably email this to Zack Snyder.

      "This is FANTASTIC.....but I think I can make it even better by changing all of it" - Snyder

      Except directors/producers inmeduatly reject everything the cartoon and television series produce... and they decide its their vision and only reference the comics without establishing the world for a larger scope beyond (My Movie... and the Sequel setup) like how they automatically rejected any CW DC characters for the DC Movies. There are two batman vs superman aninated movies and they told the story so much better.

      Planning beyond the movie is only being done by Disney with Marvel and Star Wars and if DC wants in on it they got to drop the director solo act per movie.

      Ps Game makers... stop putting in Crine Alley flashbacks in batman games.

      I would bet money that he has a similar document he's working off of. But where as Timm was trying to discard aspects of the '66 show to make it more serious, Snyder is doing the same with the bloated comics continuity and unfortunately tossing the baby with the bathwater.

      Plus I think Timm is just a more talented writer.

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