Your weekly streaming recommendation: Batman: The Animated Series

Later this month, Amazon will be adding a number of HBO TV shows to its Instant Streaming service, giving subscribers who haven’t seen The Sopranos or The Wire a chance to see what they’ve been missing out on. But what about the TV shows that are already exclusive to Amazon Prime? All month, we’ll be counting down TV shows you should binge-watch while you wait for HBO to arrive. This week: Batman: The Animated Series.

Earlier this week, director Zack Snyder revealed the first picture of Ben Affleck in costume as Batman for his upcoming sequel to the Man of Steel. He has an uphill climb ahead of him: Man of Steel wasn’t particularly well-received, Affleck’s casting was met without widespread scorn, and it’s going to be difficult to convince even the most open-minded moviegoers that they need another Batman story so soon after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.

But while Nolan’s blockbuster take might feel like the definitive take on the character to modern audiences, Batman has an older history in both film and television that’s well worth exploring. While the campy 60s series and the dark Tim Burton movies have plenty to recommend them, many of the most influential Batman stories can be traced to another source: a mid-90s cartoon called Batman: The Animated Series.

Though it originally aired as a part of Fox’s after-school cartoon lineup, Batman: The Animated Series is the rare Batman story that walks a perfect line by remaining kid-friendly without sacrificing any of the character’s inherent darkness. Series creators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski designed a beautifully animated, film noir-inspired version of Gotham City that they populated with characters far more complex than the average cartoons of the era. 

Many of those strengths came as the series beefed up Batman’s rogues gallery. Mr. Freeze went from a campy, one-note mad scientist to a tragic villain. Two-Face’s gimmicky obsession with crimes involving the number two was swapped for a fascinatingly adult depiction of duality. The series even introduced a new villain who quickly became an icon in her own right: Harley Quinn, a onetime psychiatrist for the Joker who he successfully remodeled in his own deranged image.

All those compelling stories were brought to life by a first-rate voice cast that included Kevin Conroy as Batman, Ron Perlman as Clayface, and Mark Hammill as the Joker, in what many Batman fans still argue is the definitive take on the character.

There have been many new Batman cartoons since Batman: The Animated Series went off the air in 1995, but none that has come close to equalling its intelligence and dramatic power. Fortunately, all four volumes of the series are available on Amazon’s instant streaming service, so you don’t even need to wait for the right bat-time on the right bat-channel.