A few months after Batman Returned, one of the most revered versions of the character arrived in Batman: The Animated Series. The series' 85 episodes debuted from 1992 through 1995 and spawned a theatrical movie (Mask of the Phantasm), a Direct-to-Video movie (Sub-Zero) a direct sequel series (The New Batman Adventures) with its own Direct-to-Video movie (Mystery of the Batwoman) and a whole slew of spin-off series (Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League, The Zeta Project, Justice League Unlimited) running through 2006.
Why did one show have such a lasting impact? It was not only good, but it really mixed up the way animation was done. First off, the stories were not made solely for kids. Each half-hour episode was made like a mini-feature film with decent production value and story that were accessible for a wide range of audiences. Batman was shown as being more than a guy with a bunch of gadgets and money. He was a highly trained fighter and a skilled detective.
The series had all the classic Bat-rogues with great portrayals from Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and Two-Face to Riddler, Catwoman, and Ra's Al Ghul. Even the Penguin was better than his Batman Returns envisioning.
Also, the series reinvented some of Batman's lamer foes, giving the likes of Mr. Freeze, Man-Bat, Clayface, the Clock King, and the Mad Hatter classic and tragic new origins better than anything that fans were familiar with.
The series even gave us new villains like the now classic Harley Quinn. There were really only a few misfires (the terrible trio).
The series also incorporated an interesting supporting cast. Gone was Bat-Mite, and in was an older Robin with a bit of depth, a driven Batgirl, and cops with varying degrees of questionable morals.
Over 15 years after its debut, The Animated Series remains to most the definitive version of the Dark Knight.
As an added treat, here is what is oft referred to as the Lost Episode - footage from a Sega CD Batman video game:
Up Next: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm