SDCC [Chapter III, Verse I]: BAT-Comics’ ‘Gateway Drug’ Turns 21!

After I sat through an interesting hour of Image Comics — in a method we like to call “the panel before the panel” (or, as our Monsignor would call it, “the beauty of Comic Con”) — Room 6DE was jammed to capacity in anticipation for Batman: The Animated Series Turns 21. There was a huge difference in atmosphere, as the easy-going, fun air turned back to big and corporate. The screen in front reminded us that there is “ABSOLUTELY NO RECORDING OR PICTURE TAKING DURING THE PANEL.”

Yeah, we’d hate to spoil anything that happened over two decades ago, DC.

Principal BTAS producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, and Eric Radomski made their way to the stage, greeted by a huge applause. Cut to a short video montage of classic scenes, and right off the Bat, the mediator began asking some pretty nostalgic questions.

“What made you think the show would work?”

Timm explained that they really didn’t think it would. They had sent a copy over to a test audience in Korea [for some strange reason], and they hated it. But, the network ran with it anyway. The showrunner continued to claim there was nothing like BTAS on television in 1992. They were taking a huge gamble, and fortunately, it became “a generation’s gateway drug into comics.”

When they first had the idea (inspired by Tim Burton’s darker take on the Caped Crusader in the 1989 Batman film), the network was under the impression it was in for a remake of the old Adam West show, and boy were they wrong. “I had two requirements,” Burnett said, yearning more “Dick Tracy” than “Sesame Street” when approached to do the project. “Can I have fist-fights and guns? If I can’t have fist-fights and guns, it’s not Batman.”

Another interesting question reflected casting. “Was there anyone who was a complete surprise [in handling their character]?”

I need to clean this one anyway.

“When Kevin Conroy read, Batman just came to life,” Radmoski answered, when the producers were just bored to tears following all of the other countless Bat-auditions. Even crazier, Mark Hamill was originally cast as a random thug for a memorable Mr. Freeze episode (written by Dini), and the original voice for The Joker was Tim Curry. After Hamill insisted on being one of the main villains — obviously, right? — and producers didn’t see Curry “as a good fit for our version of the character,” Batman’s “shadow” was recast; and, now, whenever we read anything the Clown Prince of Crime says, the manic voice in our head is none other than Luke Skywalker himself.

Despite the star power of the two leads, the biggest influence that “Batman: The Animated Series” had on the DC Universe was the phenomenon that is Harley Quinn. For those of you who didn’t know, Mistah J’s girlfriend was one of the only characters in mainstream comics that did not originate in the books, but, rather, on the boob tube. She was taken so well and liked so much by fans, that Miss Quinn went on to become a huge part of the Batman titles; often having a premier place on team titles (Gotham City Sirens, Suicide Squad), or even her own ongoing monthly series (which, by the way, is coming back. Harley Quinn #1 in stores this November!).

Nice of you to “dress up” for my 21st Birthday, Mistah J!

Timm and Dini refer to Harley’s fame as bittersweet, however, since the creators receive no profit from any of her merchandise sold; since she was developed in such a unique way, she’s not Timm and Dini’s creative property, but the property of DC. Of course, their attempt to collect with a similar character — Roxy Rocket — hasn’t paid off. “I’m still waiting for the royalty checks from her,” Timm joked.

To close off the panel, the producers were asked what attracted them to the Batman character in the first place. Timm (who at this point in the article, clearly did most of the talking) jumped in immediately, saying he wished he had a less superficial answer, but it’s primarily because Batman “just looks so freakin’ cool.” And, of course, when old writers almost curse, they’re met with roaring applause. Timm further explained that his first real exposure to Batman was the old Adam West television show. “Batman [was] just a buff and really smart guy. He’s the good guy who dresses like the bad guy!”

Hey, what do ya know! An actual panel at Comic-Con where this Minister was able to relax and take in all the wonderful nostalgia, and not witness so many fans bug creators about the future, or try to milk out spoilers. It proved that, every once in a while, us geeks can just chillax and have a sweet time talking Batman.

And who could ever complain about that?

  • Here’s just a rundown of some off-sight San Diego Comic Con things I did, since the Minister was only able to snatch a One Day. Yes. Woe is me. The Walking Dead Escape: I almost did this event, but it would have left me broke (hence the One Day). In all its brilliance, Dead Ringers have the option to become a walker or a survivor on 6 different courses reminiscent of the actual show. Or of course, you can just be a spectator, which may have come off like a live-action episode! From the sound of screams heard throughout the night coming from Petco Park, let’s just assume it was a huge success.

  • Adult Swim Funhouse: Tickets to this giant bouncy castle were free, but numbered. The course opened up later in the evening, After getting through, visitors received a free shirt. Fox also had an off-site area set up for their new Adult-Swim-like animated block of shows “FOX ADHD” or “Animation Domination High Definition.” They were laying pretty heavily on their new shows Axe Cop, (which is based on the web-comic turned comic book series written by 5-year old Malachai Nicolle, and illustrated by his 29-year-old brother Ethan Nicolle) and

    I AM GROOT! (At least for today…)

    High School USA, which looks like an Archie parody themed for a more mature audience. The off-site area had a miniature golf course set up, as well as a giant inflatable Axe-Cop towering over the area. Altogether, the whole Fox ADHD thing seems a bit “old executives trying to be cool” with it’s random as hell animated shorts, and Ren and Stimpy art style. Fluff it.

  • BREAK Videos took over Dick’s Last Resort in the Gaslamp Quarter, with old school video games, a free photo booth, and some awesome 8-bit style decor around the restaurant. Just like most places trying to trend, if you checked in on Twitter with the hashtag #breakinvaders, you were able to receive a pair of red, more importantly free, 8-bit style sunglasses. I think I’ll stick with my trademark white aviators, but getting free #swag is what #sdcc is all about! #movingon…
  • If you wandered over south of the Con, towards the Hilton you were most likely greeted by GIANT, inflatable versions of DC’s latest animated reboot Teen Titans Go!. All 5 of the young heroes stood in the middle of the front lawn of the fancy hotel, surrounded by a random assortment of other franchises. They weren’t all that impressive to look at, but served as great landmarks for “My phone’s gonna die! Where can I meet you? In front of the giant Beast Boy? Perfect, I’m on my way!” ‘Til next year, friends.

Gabe Carrasco
Comic book collector, reader, and future artist -- far beyond the milky way -- Gabe Carrasco has been around geek culture is entire life. A sort of Jack-[ass?]-of-all-trades, he's done everything from building replicas, to drawing comics, to designing cosplays for Cons. And, he won't mind kicking your butt in a little Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 27. Follow @Gooberade

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