How Batman: Caped Crusader Serves as a Spiritual Prequel to The Animated Series

Batman: Caped Crusader may look like Batman: The Animated Series but it isn't a direct sequel.

Batman: Caped Crusader
Photo: DC Entertainment

Batman: The Animated Series remains one of the most iconic reinterpretations of the Dark Knight’s world ever made, so it’s no surprise Warner Bros. wants to revive the tone and style of that ’90s hit for a new generation. This aesthetic revival will come in the form of Batman: Caped Crusader, which comes from legendary BTAS creator Bruce Timm, The Batman director Matt Reeves, and executive producers James Tucker and J.J. Abrams.

While we’ve yet to see footage from the new animated series, and WB has only released a single piece of art that teases a Golden Age-inspired cape and cowl, the Caped Crusader creative team some time at DC Fandome 2021 to outline their vision for the new series. In short, the show sounds as close to Batman: The Animated Series as we all expected, but it isn’t an carbon-copy revival or even a direct sequel. It doesn’t sound like it actually exists in the same continuity as the earlier show. Caped Crusader is more like a spiritual prequel, taking place in the early days of the Dark Knight’s career before he became the seasoned hero we got to know in BTAS.

“In this new iteration, it’s just Batman,” Reeves explained during the brief panel. “The Justice League doesn’t exist, there aren’t any other superheroes. You’re watching this lone figure swimming through the cesspool of Gotham. It’s Batman alone.”

Indeed, the show goes back to the roots of Batman: The Animated Series before WB expanded the DC animated universe with shows like Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League. But Caped Crusader isn’t just set before the formation of the Justice League but also before Bruce has made allies at the GCPD. This is before Robin and Batgirl, and even before the versions of villains popularized in The Animated Series. In the world of Caped Crusader, it sounds like Batman is still being considered a dangerous vigilante who must be taken off the streets, which could definitely add an interesting layer of complexity to the drama of the show.

Ad – content continues below

“We’ve reconfigured some of the roles some of the characters have. We’re starting before Batman has earned their trust and they’ve earned Batman’s trust,” Tucker said. “We don’t know that Commissioner Gordon will be Batman’s ally. The journey of the show is to see how they eventually grow together and learn to trust or not. Nothing is assumed in this series as far as what we’re used to seeing in the world of Batman.”

Setting Caped Crusader so early in the Dark Knight’s career also means that we’ll see him fighting crime without all of the high-tech toys that have become a staple of the character. While Batarangs and the Bat-grapple are so essential to the character that they’ll like show up from day one, Tucker teases that you’ll see Batman’s arsenal evolve and grow over time.

“As he develops as a character, we’ll start introducing those gadgets, and the audience can see how he developed the Batmobile using different prototypes,” Tucker explained. “Part of the fun of this series is that we’re finding him discovering these things that [in] most other Batman series they already were there.”

Timm said that reviving the style of BTAS in a way that also went in a different direction “gives us the opportunity to say, ‘Okay, the versions of Joker and Catwoman and Penguin, those versions we did on BTAS were really great and iconic but there’s lots of different ways we can take those characters that we hope will be just as iconic and just as powerful.” He also promised that “the way we deal with the characters is going to be quite a bit more modern in terms of inclusivity and representation,” which is very exciting as it will undoubtedly provide cool ways to refresh classic characters and tell new types of stories with them.

But while Caped Crusader will explore aspects of Batman’s early career that weren’t present in BTAS, Timm also stressed that the show is really striving to recapture the feeling of the ’90s show, down to the art style, which is “definitely heavy on the German expressionism slash film noir kind of styling set in a timeless ’40s world.”

Indeed, part of the reason BTAS has such a strong presence and identity to this day is the timeless quality of its setting, which floats somewhere between 40s era Art Deco but with modern flourishes. For Caped Crusader, Timm said that the team is “going to lean into [the 40s] even more in terms of authentic clothes and hairstyles and hats and vehicles and architecture,” which makes sense since taking a more retro approach will allow Batman’s early career on the show to have its own unique sense of place.

Ad – content continues below

“It’s more BTAS than BTAS,” Timm said of tackling a Batman cartoon in 2021. “It goes back to the original principles of the show that we originally came up with back in the early ’90s. There was certain limitations on what we could do in terms of adult content, in terms of violence and adult themes, and my idea is basically to say, ‘Okay, it’s 1990 again, I get to do what I want to do this time.'”

Over the years, we’ve heard many stories from Timm, as well as writers and producers Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, about the story ideas that had to be cut because they were too dark or adult for a Fox Kids cartoon. There’s “The Gun Story,” which would have told the story of the weapon that killed Bruce’s parents, from its creation all the way to the moment it found itself in the hands of Joe Chill as well as what happened after its involvement in Gotham’s most infamous crime.

Another episode would have had Batman turn into a vampire: “He’s dark and spooky-looking and he’s got that badass costume and the bat imagery. So I always wanted to go all the way with it and actually make him a vampire,” Timm told Den of Geek in 2017. “We never went as far as a design for him. But there was a character in the comics named Nocturna who is not really a vampire but she was vampiric. So I did do a design of her, but that was as far as we got. We had the idea, but Fox Kids said, ‘No way, don’t go there.’”

Caped Crusader could be the perfect platform on which to finally tell the BTAS stories we never saw — especially since the Golden Age comics that clearly inspired this show featured a vampire! — as well as go deeper into the darker elements of the character that were considered too grown-up for kids in 1992. Abrams described the first season as “an incredibly complex, psychological story about someone who in a way needs to be redeemed.”

It’ll be very interesting to see all of these different pieces come together — the shift in Batman era to a less fully formed Dark Knight, the darker storylines, and the noir sensibility (as Reeves said in the panel) could give a new generation of Bat-fans an animated series that could define this character for them in the same way it did for kids in the ’90s. The longtime fan can’t wait, either.

No release date has been set for Batman: Caped Crusader, but we’ll bring you more details as we learn them. The show will air on HBO Max and Cartoon Network.

Ad – content continues below