Batman: Caped Crusader may not be on everyone’s radars just yet – but it soon will be.
Despite being unveiled at DC’s FanDome, the upcoming animated series has been understandably overshadowed by The Batman, The Flash, and Black Adam. After all, those are multi-million dollar live-action projects, and the new show feels like a passion project writ large on HBO Max. Yet, it’s so much more than that.
Caped Crusader, as per Warner Bros, is being positioned as a “thrilling, cinematic, and evocative of Batman’s noir roots, while diving deeper into the psychology of these iconic characters.” Sure, that sounds great, but it doesn’t exactly have you shouting on Twitter about the next best Batman-related thing – especially when Michael Keaton’s just returned as the Dark Knight. Unleash your inner World’s Greatest Detective, though, and you’ll discover a series that has all the makings of an instant classic.
Framed as a spiritual successor to Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS) – largely thought of as one of the greatest interpretations of the iconic crimefighter – Batman: Caped Crusader has an incredible team behind it. BTAS co-creator Bruce Timm is joined by executive producers J.J. Abrams (yes, that J. J. Abrams) and The Batman director Matt Reeves. Then there’s James Tucker, an animator-turned-producer who can count Superman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond among his overflowing résumé.
Those are some of the best creatives working in the industry right now – and a team that provides a potent mix of fresh and familiar, combining the best of DC’s past and present. Each of them brings something that could refine and reinvent the original animated series and add something sorely lacking from Warners’ current superhero output: a link to the past and a vision for the future.
Timm described Caped Crusader at FanDome as “more Batman: The Animated Series than Batman: The Animated Series.” Throw in two of Hollywood’s leading lights (each equally skilled at handling franchises from Planet of the Apes to Star Trek) to buff out any rough edges and it’s seemingly a surefire recipe for success.
Now, you may be asking, ‘What’s the deal with Batman: The Animated Series? Why is another Batman show exciting?’ Let’s make like the Flash and step back in time to 1992…
Back with a vengeance
For a certain generation, Batman: The Animated Series is the golden standard in all things Batman. Its noir, art deco style was instantly memorable, and its approach to the title superhero left a serious cultural imprint that still exists today.
Rocksteady’s Arkham games, Joker, and 2022’s The Batman have all been directly or indirectly influenced by the ‘90s masterpiece. Alongside Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s defining graphic novels, Batman: The Animated Series helped the character shed the campy skin of the Adam West era and laid the groundwork for the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy to flourish.
Beyond that, it helped create icons: Mr. Freeze was largely a punchline before the series’ seminal “Heart of Ice” reinvention imbued the supervillain with a more tragic backstory. In a similar vein, Harley Quinn – now a pop culture icon – was born in the fertile ground of Batman: The Animated Series. The eternal question of favorite Batmen and Jokers, too, almost always have a thinking man’s answer, all thanks to BTAS (spoilers: it’s Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill and, no, this isn’t up for debate). With decades of experience and lessons learned behind Caped Crusader could lead to another creative renaissance for Batman. It’s that important.
Yet, that was almost 30 years ago. Times change and creative forces can fade. Thankfully, J.J. Abrams is along for the ride.
It’s easy to be dismissive of how Abrams’ last project Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker turned out, but the producer’s presence will only benefit Caped Crusader. It’s not merely a cynical step to give the series a household name and more mainstream appeal. For one thing, Abrams’ television track record – and longform narratives best characterized by his ‘mystery boxes’ – is stellar.
Lost and Fringe helped usher in a new era of serial storytelling that centered on core mysteries and MacGuffins that would help propel the plot along. Lost may not have stuck the landing, but before his departure Abrams helped make it fly higher than most series before or since. Apply that formula to Batman, including multi-episode arcs, and it could be one of the first Batman projects to really nail compelling longform stories outside of the comics.
Tucker confirmed as much during the FanDome presentation, stating that the show will begin in Batman’s early years, sans gadgets and allies. From there, the Caped Crusader will “grow together” with an assorted cast of heroes and villains.
With Tucker (perhaps in place of absent BTAS co-creator Paul Dini) and Timm onboard, it’s already got the best of both worlds – but Matt Reeves is also an essential component to Caped Crusader’s success.
A new era for Batman
For better or worse, the DCEU hasn’t felt properly connected since the Zack Snyder days, the upcoming movies taking a scattershot approach: The Flash will zig (and feature two separate, distinct Batmen) where Black Adam will likely zag. And who knows where Aquaman, Shazam, and Wonder Woman sequels will slide into the grand tapestry that DC has tried (and arguably failed) to build.
Caped Crusader will have no such problem. Reeves is already overseeing several Bat-adjacent projects, including a Gotham PD spinoff on HBO Max, and will help create a larger cohesion for the Dark Knight. He will ensure the tone is right, toes aren’t being stepped on and, crucially, it could end up being the more quote-unquote ‘adult’ choice for Batman fans who grew up with BTAS and are now approaching middle age.
According to Timm at FanDome, BTAS had “certain limitations.” Caped Crusader will not: more “adult content” will be present, cutting-edge technology will be used, and more diverse representation will be brought to the fore. The guiding hands of Abrams and Reeves will ensure things won’t get too edgy, though it’s already being presented as a tantalizing proposition: a noir-heavy, gothic Gotham with the Bat-gloves well and truly off. Sure, Caped Crusader hasn’t achieved anything yet, but the early signs are promising. It brings with it master storytellers, people who simply get the Dark Knight, and a lineage that harkens back to Batman’s finest hour.
If it fails, it’s not through lack of forethought and preparation. On the flip side of things, if it comes anywhere close to Batman: The Animated Series, it could be an all-timer. Caped Crusader has its own utility belt: Abrams, Reeves, Timm, and Tucker are a creative Mount Rushmore that will help provide the tools that could, whisper it, leave Batman: The Animated Series in its shadow. Now wouldn’t that be something?
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