As a kid , my main loves in my life were comic books and cartoons. I had many favorite comics and cartoons but I loved when they combined. At the time , there were three that did just that. On the Marvel side was X-Men and Spider-Man. Both are fantastic shows that stayed loyal to the overall scope of the comics but were able to separate into their own path. As good as those shows were, however DC Comics had come up with one of the best cartoon series of all-time in Batman : The Animated Series.
Thanks to the success of Tim Burton's Batman film , Warner Brothers hired Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski to work on a Batman cartoon. Using Radomski's designs on the characters and Timm's idea to have the show look and feel like a film noir, it was debuted to WB in 1991 in this 2-minute clip designed to show what the series would look like.
As you can see in the clip, the style was very reminiscent of gangster/noir films. Batman was no longer a talkative , loving hero like he was in the 1960's. This Batman was angry, violent and tougher. On the strength of this, Warner Bros. green-lit a new Batman cartoon to make it's debut in 1992.
The Series officially made it's debut in September 1992 and it was a hit from the beginning. Everything matched together from the artwork that made Gotham City look like a city from the 1940's to the Danny Elfman/ Shirley Walker theme and music that fitted every scene from the high action to low-key dramatic emotional ones. It honored the comics (and in some cases took stories from them ex: The Laughing Fish ) but was able to make it's own mark to the enjoyment of comic book and cartoon fans alike. With the help of Paul Dini, Timm and Dini were in charge of the show and helped grow it's success. Writers like Dini , Michael Reeves, Alan Burnett, Brynne Stephens and many more, the stories and characters became legendary. But all of this also wouldn't have worked without the right voice as Batman.
In my opinion, the best Batman from West to Ben Affleck now, is Kevin Conroy. He has been the voice of Batman now for over 20+ years now and still is great at it. Kevin added a distinct voice to Batman, giving him a gravelly tone but without making it too much (which some believe is a flaw in Christian Bale's portrayal of Batman). He makes you feel every beat and bang Batman gets with a "Unnn" or "Ahhh". Another thing that Kevin added to the role was how he voiced Bruce Wayne, Batman's alter-ego. He gave both Bruce and Batman two distinct and different voices.
Also the rest of the voices for the show were outstanding. Loren Luster as Dick Grayson/Robin was a standout as he brought humor and fun to some episodes and yet was always able to get serious (Robin's Reckoning). Bob Hastings and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. were great as respectably Commissioner Gordon and Alfred. Both were mentors and friends to Batman, yet always stood up to him.
In later seasons, the show added Batgirl who was originally voiced by Melissa Gilbert,of Little House fame. Then we get to the villains and the most famous of them all.
The Joker. One of the best villains in pop culture history. To voice him, you have to master the terror he has, the anger boiling in him and the sick humor he has of the world while also being able to laugh at it all. Mark Hamill nails all of this completely. The way he says simple lines can make you laugh and fear him all at once. Also the man had the perfect laugh for the Joker. 'HAHAHAHAHAHA"
And you can't mention Joker on here without HARLEY QUINN. Voiced by Arleen Sorkin, she was first created for the show by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm as a simple one-off role. However though, she became popular with the writers and then became a huge hit with fans. Her craziness and obsession with her "puddin" made her a fan-favorite with kids and adults alike and led her to getting her own comic and one of the leads in the new live-action "Suicide Squad" movie.
Other great villains in the series were : Mr. Freeze who finally was treated with respect in his heartbreaking origin story in the episode "Heart of Ice" , Catwoman who toggled the good/bad line but was always interesting to see. Man-Bat who was the first antagonist in the series, Two-Face who we got to see as Harvey Dent first which made what happened to him even worse to the Demon's Head himself Ra's Al Ghul. (If you didn't like how he was done on Arrow, watch this and see how good the character is.) Such a great hero deserves great villains and Batman: The Animated Series delivered.
So what is the legacy of this show? Well it led to many other super hero shows from Justice League to Batman Beyond to countless DC cartoon movies. It is still watched today and lives on in many homes in their Dvd collections. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm went to work on most of those shows and continue to work on superhero shows as we speak. The ultimate legacy of the show however will be that it was one of the best comic book adaptations of all-time , regardless of what platform it was on. It showed that you don;t have to dumb down shows for kids, you can have it be gritty and rough like the city of Gotham. And most importantly of all is that it was a damn good show.