I mean, when it comes to comic book cartoon dominance, I would say DC STILL owns the crown. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s works aside, you also have the Fliescher Superman serials from the 40’s...and they STILL hold up today! Then you need to talk about Hanna Barbara’s Super Friends cartoons that span nearly a decade....right up to Young Justice which was so popular it just recently got renewed for a 3rd season on Netflix!
As much of a “Marvel Guy” that I am, even I got to admit that when it comes to cartoons, Warner Bros. has always done an amazing job with their DC Comics properties. So how did I narrow it down to 10 ‘toons? How do you choose the best? What do you leave out?
Well, as always, I will get complaints no matter what. So...no pressure or anything. I chose and ranked these the best I could! The truth is, these would probably all be #1 in someone’s book.
10. The Batman (2004-2008)
I admit, this wasn’t the greatest Batman cartoon ever, but it also wasn’t the worst one either! It was marketed towards the younger audience and it featured a younger Batman fighting redesigned, cutting edge versions of Gotham’s Rogues. All of the character designs were by comic/concept artist Jeff Matsuda, who also did the same for the Jackie Chan Adventures.
I personally never could get engaged with The Batman no matter how hard I tried. It felt like it was trying to fix what was not broken. And the Dini/Timm series was SO great I can’t see any Batman reboot ‘toon topping it. But its 6 Daytime Emmy Awards and 5 seasons don’t lie. The Batman is a cartoon that will be remembered by many.
9. Super Friends (1973-1985)
You can’t do this list without mentioning the cartoon that introduced many 70’s and 80’s kids to their favorite DC superheroes. If you count all of the consecutive iterations of the original Super Friends, this show ran over 13 years and had a total of 103 episodes! That’s actually a STRONG achievement for a Saturday Morning cartoon show.
And while by today’s standards it was campy, corny, childish and badly animated, Super Friends to this day has so much retro charm, that you just HAVE to respect it. And let’s be honest, we wouldn’t know who the Wonder Twins and Gleek are! They were created entirely for the show as well as many other heroes, some in order to bring a bit more diversity to the cast such as Apache Chief, El Dorado, Samurai and Black Vulcan.
If not for quality, this cartoon makes the list simply for its legendary noteriety and all of the children it inspired to go and read comics and fall in love with superheroes during its monumental run on TV.
8. Batman: The Brave And The Bold (2008-2011)
Brave and the Bold sure looks like a cheesefest, but I implore EVERYONE to give it a chance, it is actually a pretty fun cartoon! This is basically a Batman team-up cartoon which had a non-grim and brooding Caped Crusader (voiced by Diedrich Bader) joining forces with other famous DC heroes such as Flash, Wonder Woman, Blue Beetle, Deadman, Aquaman...and even Scooby-Doo and the gang and Space Ghost! And there was a slew of celebrity guest stars like Morena Baccarin, Mark Hamill, J.K. Simmons, Adam West, Wil Wheaton, Michael Jai White and “Weird Al” Yankovic... and so many more.
Old school comic fans and new ones alike will find pretty much all of their favorite and cult favorite heroes and villains in this show, and that’s what made it so fun. You never knew who was going to show up! And it showed also that Batman didn’t ALWAYS have to be this brooding gargoyle on a darkened rooftop to be entertaining.
Another thing, the opening theme will no doubt have you doing some sort of weird “jazz hands” dance everytime you hear it. I promise you that.
7. Teen Titans (2003-2006)
Let me make this clear. I don’t have anything against Teen Titans GO!, I watch it pretty regularly and it makes me chuckle, but everyone can agree that the 2003 Titans cartoon was much more superior to it. With a slightly more serious tone than Go!, the original TT still served up the laughs as well as some stylistic action too!
The show actually has such a following with millenials that it has pretty much revived the Teen Titans franchise, which was one of the top-selling comics of the 80’s. By updating the concepts and bringing Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven and Beast Boy into the 2000’s...the Titans as a team are now a household name. And it’s about time.
6. Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000)
After the success of The Batman Animated Series, Dini and Timm decided to adapt the Ying to the Dark Knight’s Yang, and give The Man of Steel’s world the same treatment. While it felt slightly more PG than Batman, the Superman cartoon was almost flawless and did justice to the Fleischer serials (which also had a part in inspiring the iconic, minimalist look of the Batman series as well).
What can I say about this one? It pretty much had it all, from tough cookie big city female reporter Lois Lane to Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen, to amazing renditions of villains like Darksied, Toyman, Metallo and maybe one of the best iterations of Lex Luthor ever voiced by Clancy Brown (who could play a live-action Lex just as well, in my opinion). And the first-ever meeting between Superman and Batman was well, one of my favorite 2 episode storylines ever in American cartoons. It was done so perfectly that even the Batman v. Superman movie pales in comparison. It just simply captured the dynamics between not only the characters, but their supporting cast and main villains as well (was there ever a cooler scene than Joker and Lex plotting with Mercy and Harley Quinn duking it out in the background?! No, there wasn’t...ever).
This show proved that the team of Dini and Timm were not a one-trick pony, and they could not only bring us a definitive Batman, but also a Superman that could stand the test of time and also flesh-out the ENTIRE DCU in their signature style. And they eventually did just that.
5. Young Justice (2010-???)
You want to see a show that truly continues the legacy of the Dini/Timm era? Look no further than Young Justice. Very loosely based on the late 90’s Peter David/Todd Nauck comic series, this show took the same concept of the comic and went much further with it and improved on it...which is indeed pretty rare.
Featuring the core team of Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian, Artemis and Red Arrow, this sort of became the serious alternative to the more juvenile, fun-loving Teen Titans as well as the unofficial continuation of Justice League Unlimited. What made the show so great was its unconventional way of evolving the status quo of the main characters and having them actually age, mature and even turn evil. It’s common in Anime shows, but this is actually sooo rare in American cartoons. I mean, let’s be honest, Maggie Simpson would be a woman in her late 20’s and have kids of her own if she aged at all.
But as great as the show is, it actually somehow got cancelled in 2013 after a mere 2 seasons. The uproar from fans since then was deafening. As more and more fans discovered the show on Netflix, they wanted a third season so bad that it was petitioned. And what do you know? Warner Bros. and Netflix HEARD them! It was announced not long before this column that a third season of Young Justice would be produced and streamed exclusively on Netflix. See? Sometimes nerd rage actually pays off!
4. Superman (1941-1943)
It sure isn’t easy to find the entire collection of Fleischer Studios Superman serials, but if you somehow ARE able to find them, please do treat yourself. Especially if you are a Superman fan or a classic animation fan or not even those, these shorts really were an achievement and I would say an important part of pop culture. These were essentially, the first animated Superman cartoons as well as the first animated COMIC SUPERHERO series! It all started here and DC Comics never looked back as far as producing amazing shows based on their heroes.
I should probably say the reason the entire run has never been released is highly likely because these cartoons were essentially created during WWII and features Superman battling Nazis and even worse, the Japanese and much of it can be seen as war propaganda and even racist at times. I think though, if you understand the time these shows were made, the conent is generally understandable, maybe just not suitable for young children anymore. At any rate, the animation is some of the smoothest and best ever produced.
This cartoon isn’t just a cartoon, it’s a part of American history, and I would say the best cartoon based on Siegel and Shuster’s Man of Steel ever.
3. Batman Beyond (1999-2002)
I would say this is probably the coolest Batman cartoon ever produced, and actually pretty ingenious. After Batman: The Animated series ran its course, Dini and Timm just weren’t finished telling Batman stories. So, they boldly took the Dark Knight where he’s never gone before. Into a techno-advanced, Bladerunner style future Gotham with a young teenager named Terry McGinnis taking over the mantle of the Bat from an aging Bruce Wayne. He is armed with a state of the art, sleek Batman supersuit, and it could be one of the coolest looking versions of Batman ever.
Right from the AMAZING cyberpunk industrial opening theme to the amazing minimalistic style we became so accustomed to. This series managed to continue B:TAS in the most mesmerizing way possible, and it was SO good that DC still publishes Batman Beyond comics to this day! If you never have, you NEED to see all of this series as soon as you can, and throw in the made-for-video Batman Beyond movie, Return of the Joker as well. You won’t regret it.
2. Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-2006)
Wow, this series actually defined and capped off the Dini/Timm era of DC cartoons perfectly. Finally, the “dynamic duo” of cartoons had the entire DCU at their disposal and they went full on, especialy when the show evolved into Justice League Unlimited in 2004, and had the original core Leaguers (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern John Stewart, Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter) expanding and mentoring an ever expanding new generation of heroes.
Basically almost EVERY major DCU character made an appearance at some point, and almost every classic story not-yet told by Dini and Timm up to that point was told in some form. They even ended off Batman Beyond properly in one of the later episodes, revealing a shocking revelation about McGuiness. It was a delight for comic fans. Quite honestly, the entire series was...and most comic creators look at this series still today as an archetypical guide to most of these characters.
It would be #1 if not for the cartoon that changed Saturday mornings for a lot of people...
1. Batman: The Animated Series (1992-2000)
Simply put, Batman: The Animated Series was a television masterpiece. It may never be officially recognized as so, but it made Kevin Conroy the ultimate voice of Batman, and gave Mark Hamill a SECOND iconic character to be known for. Hamill may forever be Luke Skywalker, but for most fans, he will also be the greatest Joker of all time as well. When you hear Hamill’s iconic Joker laugh, It’s a hard case to argue.
The show also had a plethora of amazing voice talent over its 86 total episodes including Ron Perlman, Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Asner, Kate Mulgrew and many more. Let me put it this way, the scope of cartoons to this day owes a lot to Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and this series that they concocted. Did I say cartoons? Pop culture as a whole, to be exact. They actually created one of the most popular, most cosplayed characters today, Harley Quinn. Yeah, the star of Suicide Squad wouldn’t exist if not for B:TAS! The show is also responsible for many of the modern designs of Batman’s characters such as Two-Face, The Riddler, Clayface, Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze.
Originally created to coincide with Tim Burton’s Batman film franchise, it’s safe to say that the show surpassed and even when it evolved in it’s 4th season and the look of the show was updated (when it became “The NEW Batman Adventures”), it maintained the same stellar quality and told a wider scope of stories involving not just Batman, but Nightwing, Batgirl and Robin as well.
There’s not much more I can say about Batman: The Animated Series. It literally changed everything and in my opinion deserves this spot without question.
Well, there you have it kiddos. I know people will disagree with me on some points, so let me have it! The comments are below!
‘Til next time. Bleed out!