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Batman: Caped Crusader can recapture the spirit of the DC Animated Universe

Though it comes at an awkward and worrisome time for HBO Max, the J. J. Abrams, Bruce Timm, Matt Reeves, and Ed Brubaker-helmed Batman: Caped Crusader animated series still has the potential to rekindle the classic days of the DC Animated Universe. Earlier this week, it was announced that Caped Crusader will no longer be moving forward at HBO Max following Warner Bros. Discovery’s merger and its new brass going scorched earth on many original projects.

The silver lining, however, is that the show itself hasn’t been canceled and will continue production as usual while the animated series is shopped out to other prospective outlets/streamers. Hopefully, that fine print proves to be the series’ saving grace since the talent attached to the project could breathe life into a new world that echoes the same “dark deco” aesthetic and atmosphere of The Animated Series.

Serialized Batman adventures

The silhouette of Batman standing atop a building in Gotham.

The aforementioned Batman: The Animated Series nailed the episodic format for the Dark Knight’s adventures, effectively feeling like the stories coming from the monthly comic book source material. For decades now, it seems like Warner and DC held a firm stance against having a Batman-led TV series in live-action — presumably to save him for the theatrical box office — but even solo animated shows have come at a premium in recent years.

Admittedly, there’s certainly no shortage of Bat-content across the various mediums the brooding hero appears in, but the last serialized solo TV show he’s had was 2013’s Beware the Batman. But even nostalgia aside, having Caped Crusader potentially depict a series of fun week-to-week adventures — with the occasional two-part story — and cases for the World’s Greatest Detective to solve seems like a winning formula based on what BTAS accomplished.

Batman definitely has the supporting cast of allies and enemies to back this structure. Especially if the recent reveal of the suit is anything to go by, it seems like Caped Crusader is set to reimagine the Dark Knight’s mythos starting from his early career. That would imply that the likes of Robin and Batgirl might be a ways off, but seeing a growing dynamic with (soon-to-be) Commissioner Jim Gordon tackling the hero’s colorful cast of rogues would be plenty of reason to stay tuned in to this developing world.

It’s the perfect smaller setting to get more colorfully inventive with the Batman mythos while keeping the iconic gloomy tone of this corner of the DC universe. This would be the gateway to getting to see new takes on classic villains, which the superhero has a revolving door of, as well as getting to shine a deserved spotlight on underused villains.

If the likes of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm could make storytelling magic in episodes like Heart of Ice and Two-Face Part I and II, there’s no reason the likes of Hugo Strange or Hush couldn’t become major players in Caped Crusader.

Animated comic book noir

Batman holding his cape under the moonlight in Caped Crusader key art.

The visuals of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s Batman universe are still one of the most instantly recognizable aspects of it. It was a masterful amalgamation of noir, style, and vintage 1940s aesthetics that carried over into the acclaimed Mask of the Phantasm movie.

That overall atmosphere is part of what cleverly paved the way for a series that managed to appeal to practically every demographic; it was friendly enough for kids to be excited about while filled with the nuance that longtime fans felt immersed in. Judging by the words that The Animated Series co-creator said at last year’s DC FanDome, that same tone is what Caped Crusader aims to double down on.

The technology behind animation and the hunger for the superhero genre has evolved over the decades, so striking a balance of crime-noir with the inherently fantastical nature of the genre in this new show will be the final key to its success. Being a show initially targeted at kids doesn’t mean it has to be unintelligent or disrespected as an artform like some higher-ups at WBD might think, and Batman’s previous tonal balances in animation are proof of that.

Batman’s corner of the DCAU was dripping with stylized crime-noir art direction and the possibility of seeing a modernized incarnation of that setting and the stories is way too much potential to pass up. Especially so with some accomplished Dark Knight storytellers like Reeves, Timm, and Brubaker backing the project — so long as Timm’s infamously less favorable character directions (i.e. Batman/Batgirl) are reined in.

Planting the seeds for a new universe

Batman with other members of the Justice League.

Of course, going through an entire series focused solely on Batman’s early years could be a missed opportunity. So, assuming Caped Crusader gets picked up and succeeds critically and commercially, you’d imagine the creative team will be charting what lies ahead in this upcoming canon.

Should that plan out as fans would hope, growing out the greater Bat Family is a must. Seeing new renditions of Robin, Batgirl, and maybe less mainstream supporting characters like Orphan, Bluebird, The Signal, and Spoiler would round out an exciting overall cast. Batman being characterized as a perpetual lone wolf is a common misconception of the superhero. And something this new series could do differently from its revered predecessor is to be able to see his growth from a loner into a team player and leader.

The potential success of Caped Crusader could also lay the foundation for other DC heroes getting animated adaptations and absorbed into a wider animated universe. It would certainly be poetic considering The Animated Series did just that for the DCAU in the ’90s, and it would be just as satisfying to see Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and more get their time to shine and interact with this new Batman.

Though it’s a lot to think about for a show that’s yet to even premiere and a Discovery merger that seems hellbent on making things as tense as possible, Caped Crusader has virtually endless possibilities worth exploring, and deserves at least a chance to win fans over and build a more modern animated world for Batman and other DC characters to thrive in.

The series was reportedly planned for a 2023 premiere before the HBO Max announcement but, at the time of writing, Batman: Caped Crusader has yet to receive a new platform.

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