While Superman may have preceded him in the world of DC Comics, Batman has arguably achieved even greater popularity than the Man of Steel himself. Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s masked protector of Gotham City has a long-standing history in pop culture, with the highest-grossing solo superhero film franchise in history. In addition, the Dark Knight has been at the center of countless television series that have explored the character’s colorful rogues gallery and tortured psyche in vastly different ways. Here are the five best characters to bring Batman to the small screen.
For many decades, this campy William Dozier series was the most widely recognized version of Batman. With Adam West hamming it up as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Burt Ward capably becoming Robin the “boy wonder”, the show took a comic approach to its tights-wearing heroes and gimmicky baddies. From ridiculous one-liners to graphics highlighting every “BAM!” and “POW!” of its action scenes, Batman proved that comic books were brimming with mainstream potential, even if the character of Batman himself would ultimately be considered far darker in subsequent adaptations. Dozier’s series also spawned the first full-length feature starring the Caped Crusader, and while the show may seem antiquated to today’s Bat-fans, it remains an integral part of the character’s history and a fun reminder that the escapist exploits of comic book heroes can be depicted in a vast number of ways while still remaining true to the source material.
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
Widely considered one of the finest animated series ever made, this show was created to piggyback off of the success of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. In fact, the series employs Danny Elfman’s unforgettable score as its main theme and hews closely to the dark, brooding tone of the films. Meanwhile, Kevin Conroy still stands as one of the best men to ever play Bruce Wayne/Batman, despite his performance being strictly limited to voice work. His distinct takes on both sides of the character’s personality truly convey his duality, and the series’ gorgeous art direction — which drew inspiration from Fleischer Studios’ Superman cartoons in the 1940s — perfectly set the stage for the morally complex tales of Gotham’s criminal underbelly. Batman: The Animated Series is a timeless show that has only gotten better with age, thanks to its sharp writing, stellar voice work and incomparable production value.
Batman Beyond (1999-2001)
A futuristic companion to Batman: The Animated Series, this show — which retains much of its predecessor’s creative team — introduces teenage Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle) as he assumes the mantle of Batman and is mentored by an elderly Bruce Wayne (again voiced by Conroy). Offering a new take on the character, the series became so popular that Warner Bros. was once considering a live-action adaptation to serve as a big-screen reboot following Batman & Robin. Despite the absence of Batman’s classic villains and recurring allies like Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon, Batman Beyond dared to explore an entirely new era for the Caped Crusader, including a radically different environment and a costume that even lacks his signature cape. Remarkably, the effort paid off handsomely and serves as the perfect continuation of the character’s story. A direct-to-video feature – Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker — even upped the ante with a controversially dark tale that saw Mark Hamill reprise his role as the Clown Prince of Crime, earning universal acclaim from fans and critics.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011)
Taking a break from the darker tone of most Batman stories, this show features a brisker, light-hearted feel that aims to recreate the feeling of excitement fans get with their favorite issues of the comics. In fact, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is largely inspired by the titular DC title and sees the Dark Knight teaming up with a different hero in each episode. Although the series was comprised mostly of standalone adventures, its lively pace and willingness to delve into the deepest reach of DC Comics pantheon of characters created an experience that viewers hadn’t seen in their Batman stories in a long time. With a voice cast led by funnyman Diedrich Bader, the show stands as something of an anomaly among recent incarnations of Batman. However, it is this ambition to set itself apart that is precisely why it remains such a highlight in the character’s storied history.
Batman’s most recent television series actually doesn’t involve the cape and cowl at all. Instead, Gotham takes the Smallville route in exploring a pre-Batman world and the parallel journeys of both young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and Gotham policeman Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie). In exploring the corrupt world that ultimately calls for a hero to rise, the series also incorporates the origins of numerous DC Comics villains, such as the Penguin, the Riddler and Catwoman. It remains to be seen exactly how Bruce will find his way to becoming the Dark Knight, but in its first two seasons, Gotham has already created a rich, complex world that — despite its storytelling flaws and fractured focus at times - has kept hardcore Batman fans glued to their seat to see the show’s distinct setting evolve into the version of Gotham City we all know and love, complete with psychotic villains and the World’s Greatest Detective.
What’s your favorite television series about the Dark Knight? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.