Batman is turning 80 on March 30, and it’s time we celebrate the man, the bat, the legend.
Welcome to day seven of this series as we tackle Batman in the 1990s. We will break it down by comics, TV, films, and general culture. Because of the breadth of his impact on the world, there is no way we can hit every landmark moment, but we’re going to try our best to bring you an overall history of the infamous Batman.
Batman in the 1990s
Back in the 1960s, the Batman TV series had requested the creation of a new Batgirl from the comics. In the 1990s, it was a TV series that would have a lasting impact on the overall Rogues Gallery.
Launching in 1992, Batman: The Animated Series would go on to win awards and be pretty much hailed as an animated masterpiece. It would also end up giving us what some would argue is the best Batman film in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. And there are many who now consider Kevin Conroy the best actor to have played Batman despite having never done it a live-action film or TV series.
Two of the most notable changes the series would be responsible for include the heartbreaking changes to Mr. Freeze’s origin. Airing as the third episode of the series in 1992, “Heart of Ice” was the first time we were given the origin that centered around Victor Fries committing all of these crimes to save his ailing wife, Nora. It forever changed the character, and it’s hard to think of a time where this wasn’t always the back story.
The biggest addition, without question, came in episode seven, “Joker’s Favor,” where a henchwoman of the Joker made her first appearance, the ever-popular Harley Quinn. It would be a few years before she was introduced into the main comics continuity, but she made a splash in the overall Batman mythos from the first time we saw her. She has gone on to appear in multiple comics series, TV series, and is now taking on live-action movies beginning in 2016 with Suicide Squad.
The series would go on to spawn two other series with The New Batman Adventures serving as a continuation in the same timeline in 1997. In 1999, however, while staying in the same timeline, time jumped forward for Batman Beyond and gave us a brand new hero in the form of Terry McGinnis. He takes on the moniker of Batman while being mentored by Bruce Wayne who has now retired from the superhero business. This series still enjoys some life in the comics and is a beloved addition to the overall mythos by many fans.
In the realm of live-action movies, Batman received three new films throughout the decade.
Following up on the success of the 1989 film, Tim Burton partnered up again with Michael Keaton for 1992’s Batman Returns. This time around it would be multiple villains facing off with Batman as Michelle Pfeiffer took on the role of Catwoman, Danny DeVito was the Penguin, and Christopher Walker starred as the evil businessman, Max Schrek.
The film released on June 16, 1992. While the original film did $411M globally off of a budget of $35M, the follow-up did not have the mad frenzy surrounding it. Batman Returns still did very well for the time taking in $266.8M globally, but the budget had also more than doubled to $80M.
This is where the series went a bit askew, however. Warner Bros. decided at this point it wanted to go with a more family-friendly tone, and Burton and Keaton decided to pass on the third film. At the same time, talk of a Catwoman spinoff film started that ended up going in a very odd direction after years in development.
Eventually, the third film, Batman Forever, went to Joel Schumacher to direct and Val Kilmer was chosen as the new Batman. The villains this time were Two-Face to be played by Tommy Lee Jones and the Riddler to be played by Jim Carrey. We also would finally be introduced to Robin with the role going to Chris O’Donnell. The budget again increased this time to $100M, but the tone difference seemed to work and the film took in $336.5M globally after launching on June 16, 1995.
And then Batman & Robin happened. Schumacher returned, but Kilmer did not, so George Clooney was picked as the new Batman. O’Donnell returned as Robin, and then the film went into overload with adding Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, and Jeep Swenson as a mostly mute Bane. The film, to be blunt, was a lot. From visuals to over-the-top acting, it was just a rough film. It opened on June 20, 1997, with a budget of $125M and went on to gross $238.2M globally.
At this point, Batman live-action films were shelved for the time being, but would roar back to life in the next decade.
After the insanity of the 1980s for Batman in the comics, things were still huge in the 1990s, but not nearly as industry-altering. Of course, this is also the decade where he got his back snapped like a twig, so it’s a matter of perceptions one could say.
There were a lot of big stories for Batman during the 1990s such as The Long Halloween and “No Man’s Land,” but it’s impossible to not focus on “Knightfall.” Bane was introduced in 1993 in Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1, and we were off to the races. It’s hard to imagine a villain that has had a more meteoric rise than him. A mere four years after his introduction he was already in a live-action film (no matter how badly portrayed he was). That tells you what an impact he made on the comics.
The combination of the three storylines – Knightfall, Knightquest, and KnightsEnd – had lasting ramifications on the overall Batman storylines. Following the breaking of Batman’s back by Bane, the mantle of the Bat fell to Azrael, but his increasingly violent ways broke the trust of Gotham City with Batman. After taking back the cowl, Batman found himself with a damaged reputation, Alfred had quit, and he realized he could no longer fight this war alone. This gave rise to the Batfamily as an actual group as opposed to just being people who all happened to fall in his orbit or share his theme.
The 1990s were a boon time for the comic industry as a whole, and it seemed Batman was enjoying a lot of the fruits of that. There were new bat titles and storylines popping up left and right it felt like. Even Azrael got his own book for a time, and Batman was taking the lead in multiple titles. And no where was this more obvious than the year-long “No Man’s Land” event that crossed over 14 titles including Azrael: Agent of the Bat, Batman, The Batman Chronicles, Catwoman, Robin, and more.
Through all of this, he also received some new enemies and friends.
- Victor Zsasz – Shadow of the Bat #1 – 1992
- Renee Montoya – Batman #475 – 1992
- Stephanie Brown – Detective Comics #647 – 1992
- Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley Jr.) – Batman #489 – 1993
- Bane – Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 – 1993
- Harley Quinn (in continuity) – Batman: Harley Quinn #1 – 1999
- Cassandra Cain – Batman #567 – 1999
We make the distinction on Harley as she did appear in B:TAS related titles before the main continuity appearance.
The 1990s were a huge decade for Batman. While he may not have had the zeitgest melting omnipresence of the 1980s, he certainly found a way to be everywhere. And it sure didn’t seem to slow down when the new millennium dawned. Tune back in for the 2000s.
Jay Yaws contributed research to this post.
Check out the other installments in this series:
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1930s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1940s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1950s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1960s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1970s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1980s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 2000s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 2010s
Be sure to enter our Batman 80th Anniversary giveaway!