Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and Superman


Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1999)
Batman Beyond (1999)
Justice League (2001-2004)
Justice League Unlimited (2004-    )
Superman (1996-2000)
Type: Shared Reality
Group 19

   Okay, I normally avoid cartoons as far as crossovers and spin offs are concerned. It just gets too ugly. Hanna Barbera for example will have just about any character meet any other character just for the hell of it. The Laugh-A-Lympics, Yogi's Space Race... they just grab characters from shows long out of production and slap them all into a new show together. And then there was the Scooby Doo Movies show where Scooby teamed up with everyone under the sun: from real people like Sonny And Cher to super heroes like Batman and Robin. In general I try to steer clear of that area - that way madness lies.

   But there are exceptions to every rule. For me one exception is if a cartoon aired as a prime time series: I'll bend the rules for The Flintstones or The Simpsons especially if they have a big time crossover with another prime time show. Another reason to make an exception would be quality. I mean if a cartoon show is just jaw droppingly good and original, you can't lump it in with shows like The Smurfs (please, no hate mail from the pro-smurf lobby). With these exceptions in mind, I must include Batman: The Animated Series, The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Batman Beyond and The Justice League Of America. They fit both of these exceptions. They are heads above most other cartoon shows and Batman: The Animated Series actually had a short run in prime time.

   First of all, there have been tons of Batman and Superman cartoon shows. The ones I am talking about are a specific interrelated set of shows. Following the success of Tim Burton's feature film adaptation of Batman which sported a moody noir look and feel, the decision was made to try and make a new Batman cartoon with the same attitude. That is not to say that the show would be a knock off of the film.

   Just as the film had fully exploited the noir film look, the cartoon would be a noir style cartoon. That cartoon part is the important difference; the reason it wasn't a knock off of the film. Unlike past Batman cartoons where the characters were drawn to look like they fit in our world, the characters and world of Batman: The Animated Series were drawn with a specifically cartoony look to them. And that's not an insult. Taking inspiration from the look of the earliest Superman cartoons created by the Fleischers (the same guys who brought you the original Popeye cartoons), the producers gave their show a similar look and style. It was a style with lots of curves and lots of hard angles. If you had a square jawed character, that jaw was big and square - not like a charactiture mind you, just distinctly cartoonish.

   Gotham City itself along with all the things in it sported a fantastical gothic style that seemed to defy setting the show in any certain era. The architecture might look like something from the 40's. The cars too. But then the characters would use computers and cell phones. The show created its own world for Batman to play in.

   And play he did, very successfully. The show started out on weekday afternoons on the Fox network. The show was so good and was getting such attention that for a time Fox put it in its prime time lineup. In fact, an animated film based on the series titled Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm was even produced. It was supposed to go directly to home video but turned out so impressive it actually was given a theatrical release. Not only that, film critics Siskel and Ebert even proclaimed it as being better than most of the live action Batman films.

   The show was produced by Warner Brothers and so when Warner Brothers started its own network, The WB, they decided to take Batman off Fox and put it on their own lineup. On both networks the show went through a couple of name changes (The New Adventures Of Batman, The Adventures Of Batman And Robin...) and some very minor style changes but it was essentially the same show.

   Wishing to expand on Batman's success, Warner Brothers decided to expand and started a Superman cartoon in the same style and that would existing as part of the same reality. For a time Superman knocked Batman out of production. But eventually Batman ramped up again with the new title Batman: Gotham Knights. Then Superman was quickly paired up with airings of older Batman episodes and episodes of the newer show as an hour long program titled The New Adventures Of Batman And Superman.

    But you can't pair these two up without actually doing a full on story pairing the two. That story had to be told. The first meeting of Superman and Batman came in the form of a multi part story called "World's Finest", named for the comic book series which had featured both Batman and Superman as principals. In it, Batman and Superman meet up when, of course, their arch enemies Lex Luther and the Joker join forces. By the end of the adventure, both heroes discover the other's secret identity and are friends. It was a great story.

   But still, couldn't there be a way to expand this cartoon reality even further? The producers played around having heroes like The Flash and Green Lantern showing up perhaps with the thought of seeing if they could be spun off but nothing happened. Well, not immediatley. Eventually they came up with the idea of a whole new Batman show with a whole new Batman titled Batman Beyond.

   Batman Beyond, quite frankly, shouldn't have worked. The fact that it not only worked but became a hit should again show you the level of quality in these programs. The basic premise was that this would be a Batman show set in the future with someone other than Bruce Wayne as Batman. The same sort of thing has been tried in other cartoons and has never really worked. Comic books are always coming out with "future" titles that never seem to catch hold. I have a signed first issue of The Uncanny X-Men 2099, a comic book series that died on the vine. And anyone remember that cartoon show featuring a future incarnation of The Phantom? Of course it probably would have helped the show if anyone gave a rat's ass about the current day Phantom. Or how about the futuristic Spider-Man cartoon?

   While Bruce Wayne was not Batman in Batman Beyond he was part of the show. The series started a short time in the future with an older Bruce Wayne still acting as Batman but using a powered suit to help compensate for his aging muscles. In the middle of a fight with a villain, Bruce suffers a heart attack and is nearly killed by the bad guys. Immediately after this, Bruce Wayne hangs up his cape and retires as Batman, living a lonely solitary life in his huge mansion.

   The story then jumped further into the future. Where Batman: The Animated series showed a Gotham City with a 40's noir vibe, we now see a Gotham with a future sci-fi noir look similar to the cities in films like Bladerunner and the Japanese animated classic Akira. Very quickly, our soon to be Batman Tery McGinnis finds himself wanting to avenge the death of his father by industrialist Derek Powers (who has also taken over Bruce Wayne's Wayne Industries) and falling into contact with an old and bitter Bruce Wayne. Terry takes one of the Batman power suits to use in his quest for justice. Bruce Wayne finds out and, after some initial resistance, agrees to let Terry continue as the new Batman. Bruce agrees to act as Terry's mentor and guide, communicating with him through a radio in the suit while he stays at Wayne Manor working with his massive computer setup.

   The show was an immediate success. It started out airing only on Saturday mornigns while it built up enough episodes to be aired every weekday. That should not be a problem. The success of the first season guaranteed a second and also assured that yet another series of some sort would follow follow.

   Which brings us to The Justice League Of America. The JLA is a comic book featuring a large roster of DC Superheroes banning together to combat situations none of them could handle alone (although, who are we kidding - unless there was some kryptonite around when would Superman need anybody else's help?). The the 1970's there had been a JLA-ish animated series in the form of the long running Superfriends. The Superfriends was a kiddified version of the JLA which ran on Saturday mornings forever but it really wasn't the JLA.

   Cut to 2001. The Batman and Superman shows I've been talking about have not only been huge hits for Fox and The WB, they have also started airing with great success on cable's Cartoon Network. With such great success in fact that The Cartoon Network ordered up a new Justice League Of America series set in the same reality.

   This would be no watered down hero show like The Superfriends. In fact in the first plot - the orgin story of The JLA - one of the characters scoffs at the idea of the group, condescendingly asking, "What, are we going to be some kind of Superfriends?"

   The Justice League's core group consisted of Batman, Superman, the already introduced Flash as well as several classic heroes new to this animated universe. The Green Lantern had been introduced on The New Batman/Superman Adventures but for The JLA a different Green Lantern was brought in. The JLA chose to use a black Green Lantern named John Stewart who had been featured in the comics many years earlier. Totally new additions included Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl. In addition to this core group, other heroes popped up on a story by story basis. Aquaman was brought in as the bad ass leader of Atlantis (yes, Aquaman a bad ass). Angry at the surface dwellers (that would be us) for their treatment of his oceans, the JLA had to convince him to talk peace before resorting to violence and war. The result was Aquaman losing his throne when a rival convinced everyone that his quest for a peaceful answer was a sign of weakness. Not only did Aquaman lose his throne but, like his comic book counterpart, by the end of the story he had also lost an arm! Like I said, this was no wimpy Superfriends.

   After two season on the air The Justice League got a bit of a revamp. The title was changed to Justice League Unlimited. Along with the name change came a change in concept. For the first two seasons The Justice League mainly featured the characters mentioned above with other characters being worked in only occasionally as guest stars. The thing is, in the comic books The Justice League has been around so long that they have a big stable of characters who have been members most of whom are technically on call for duty. With tons of characters to pick from why limit yourself to such a small cast? Justice League Unlimited felt free to use any and all League members needed for any given episode. This meant they could do tons of interesting things. They could do all sorts of character combinations. Green Arrow, Supergirl and Captain Atom? Sure. How about an episode where the Earth is so endangered that you need thirty Leaguers all lined up and fighting. Can do. How about an episode where Wonder Woman is turned into a pig by her arch foe Circe, runs away and trying to keep the search for her low profile Batman calls in all the obscure Leaguers to find her? Some you would never have otherwise seen in cartoon form. And if Batman sings live on stage at the end even better. The other thing this change did was to enable the show to use characters who might only be appropriate to use for a single episode or so. For instance they did an episode about the need for war and so aptly chose to use the duo of Hawk and Dove. Even better was the Booster Gold episode. Whose Booster Gold? The fact that nobody knows the character was the point of the episode. A huge attack occurs requiring the help of the entire League. Being such a B-level character Booster is given the thankless job of crowd control. With the huge battle happening just off screen the episode instead focused on Booster Gold's small thankless side story. A kid tells him his aunts are trapped in a building. He rushes in to save them only to discover the kid meant "ants" as in his ant farm. He saves them for the kid though and is rewarded with the kid yelling after him, "Thank you Green Lantern!" He receives the same thank you throughout the episode. He even discovers and stops another BIGGER threat to the world. The other Leaguers don't believes him or care to even listen. Without this new format you would never see a story like this where a hero walks around questioning whether or not maybe he sucks at being a hero.

Other Batman: The Animated Series Crossover Links
Batman: The Animated Series and Static Shock
Batman: The Animated Series and Teen Titans

Other Batman Beyond Crossover Links
Batman Beyond and Static Shock
Batman Beyond and Teen Titans
Batman Beyond and The Zeta Project

Other Justice League/Justice League Unlimited Crossover Links
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited and Static Shock
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited and Teen Titans

Other Superman Crossover Links
Superman and Static Shock
Superman and Teen Titans


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