Batman the Animated Series just won in Toonzone’s “Battle of the Brackets,” getting selected as the top action cartoon in a tournament of 64 different shows, so it’s well past time to give the show’s superb opening sequence its due.
One noteworthy element of the opening credits is that they don’t even bother to tell you what show you’re watching. After the Warner Bros. logo, there are no credits anywhere in this opening sequence. However, even if you had never seen or heard of Batman before, this opening tells you everything you need to know, and is hopefully compelling enough for you to keep watching. I love how it’s a complete story told in one minute (as other top cartoon intros have done), and how efficiently the opening encodes information for the viewer. You can tell instinctively that we’re looking at bad guys from their bulky figures and shifty eyes, and from Shirley Walker’s musical cue as they walk in front of the bank (thankfully named “BANK”). First there are anxiety-inducing staccato musical figures when the bank facade explodes, followed by a dramatic shift to the heroic (but still dark) Batman theme as we see the impossibly long Batmobile launching into action.
Watch how those musical cues shift again as the thieves try to make their getaway, and the beautiful reaction done only with body language and eyes as Batman leaps from the shadows and lands in front of them. Then we’re treated to a brief fight sequence done entirely in silhouette. We can only see eyes, but even then it’s abundantly clear that the thieves are entirely outmatched by Batman. If you watch closely, you can also pick up several cues that tell you Batman is relatively new in town: the surprised reaction of the thieves when Batman appears, and the quick shot of the police officer scratching his head when they find the thieves bound up on the rooftop. We don’t even get to see Batman clearly until the very end of the sequence, when he is lit dramatically by a lightning bolt.
Unfortunately, it seems that the DVDs of both Batman the Animated Series and Superman the Animated Series both use each show’s older opening credits sequence, and the superb opening used for The New Batman Superman Adventures has never been released on home video.
I love the alternation between ominous and heroic themes throughout this sequence, which underscores the differences between Batman and Superman, and between the heroes and the villains. It’s also interesting that this opening credits sequence is the one and only time that Batman the Animated Series showed Batman’s origin story. It had been hinted at in “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” and commemorated (but not shown) in “I Am the Night,” but the minimalist presentation here (as silhouettes of Bruce Wayne and his fallen parents disintegrate into a flock of bats) is far more striking than any more explicit depiction of the origin on screen could ever be.