This week, on September 5th, Batman: The Animated Series celebrated its 25th anniversary. The show launched in 1992 on Fox with ‘The Cat and the Claw’, and introduced a whole generation of fans (myself included) to the character. It would go on to create modern day beloved characters (Harley), rewrite origins (Freeze) and gave us the definitive “voice” of Batman (Conroy).
One of the unique things about Batman, is the wide variety of versions of the character that can be adapted. He can me light and campy, dark and gritty, realistic, “comic booky”, exist in his own bubble, as well as fight among gods and monsters. However, when a lot of fans think of “their” Batman, the Batman from Batman: The Animated Series is what they think of. After all, that version of the character touches a little bit of everything from Batman lore.
Any fan of Batman: TAS knows the heavy hitter names that have come out of it, such as Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. The masterminds behind some of the most brilliant stories from the series. And while they do, and should, receive most of the credit for the show’s success, they weren’t alone in their quest.
In the early stages of development for the show, artist Kevin Nowlan drew designs for the characters that were later adapted by Timm. He recently shared some of his best designs.
It’s interesting how some designs like Killer Croc, Robin, and the Joker’s designs remained mostly the same. Catwoman’s design wasn’t in the original show, but her all black design would make its way back to The New Batman Adventures when the show was relaunched in 1997.
The Penguin and Riddler designs, by Nowlan, seemed to draw heavy inspiration from the 60’s comics and Adam West show. The final design for the Penguin, by Timm, drew more inspiration from Danny DeVito’s character in Batman Returns, which makes sense since both were released in the same year. Timm’s design for the Riddler dropped the spandex look and gave him a suit, though the spandex would return for Nigma in The New Batman Adventures.
While he didn’t share his design for the Mad Hatter, the version Timm ended up with was Nowlan’s least favorite design from the series.
“The Penguin was changed to the Tim Burton movie version. But I hadn’t done much more than sketch the ’66 TV character so I didn’t have a lot invested in that one. I also had Frank Gorshin in mind when I drew the Riddler. The Mad Hatter always looked very awkward to me. I was thinking of the toothy, chinless, Tenniel drawings from the original book. In the end, it didn’t matter because Roddy McDowall did the voice and just acted up a storm. No one noticed the character design, good or bad. They were focused on Roddy’s virtuoso performance.”
The interpretation Nowlan describes lines up with the redesign of Mad Hatter in The New Batman Adventures, which seems to be a common theme with a lot of these characters. In terms of which design was his favorite, Nowlan said this:
“Probably Killer Croc. That was a unique challenge because we had to start from scratch. The comic version was covered with tiny lizard scales and I didn’t think that would work. So I had to create a long monster face that suggested a human crocodile with the huge jaw and odd proportions. Instead of scales, he had just a few little bumps on his brow and shoulders. I was very happy to see how faithful the animators were on the follow-through.”
Funny enough, Croc received one of the most drastic redesigns in The New Batman Adventures.
In terms of Nowlan’s favorite episode from the show? Well, I’ll just say he has good taste.
“‘Heart of Ice’. And I’m impartial because I had nothing to do with it! They gave Mr. Freeze a sad, tragic backstory, with a heartbreaking score and a beautiful new design by Mike Mignola. Then you had Micheal Ansara doing that cold, emotionless voice and it was just a little 22-minute masterpiece! Not only was it better than the earlier comic book versions of Freeze, it was ridiculously superior to the Schwarzenegger movie that came along a few years later. ‘Heart of Ice’ is just beautiful and poetic and I think it’s still haunting most of us who saw it 25 years ago. ‘On Leather Wings’ is a close second but I’m a little biased on that one.”
You can read my review of ‘Heart of Ice’ for Batman: TAS’s 25th anniversary here.
What do you think of these early concept designs for Batman and co. for Batman: The Animated Series? Which designs are your favorite and which do you wish were kept? Let us know!