The DC Animated Universe ("DCAU" for short; also referred to as the "Timmverse" by fans) is a group of animated series based on DC Comics characters and, unlike other DC adaptations, all sharing the same continuity.
Batman: The Animated Series began first, intended as something of a tie-in with Batman Returns but with its own distinct canon and take on the mythos and airing on the Fox Kids network. The high-quality animation, scripting and voice work received near instant praise, helping to redefine Batman to the general public as neither the campy Adam West Batman or the ultra dark Michael Keaton Batman, but as someone who often has to protect his Rogues Gallery from themselves. The specific character design is referred to as Timm Style, and has been very influential with elements based on it seen in many western animation action shows. After 85 episodes over 3 seasons (65 episodes in the first season alone, generally unheard of) the show ended in 1995. Soon afterward, the same creators went on to make Superman: The Animated Series for the Kids' WB! network, featuring a similar but more streamlined art style. When the license to BTAS on Fox Kids expired, they went on to make a Sequel Series called The New Batman Adventures for the Kids WB, which in practice was more of a revival and featured a massive art redesign to match up with STAS.
The inevitable crossover occurred with World's Finest, which teamed Batman and Superman against the Joker and Lex Luthor and firmly placed them in a Shared Universe. After several more crossovers, both shows ended about the same time in 1999, when Batman Beyond came on to take their place. While initially divisive for its premise as a teenage Batman in the future mentored by an elderly Bruce Wayne, Beyond was able to continue the legacy of the prior shows and had many standout moments of its own. In fact, an episode featuring a future version of the Justice League proved popular enough that Cartoon Network made an order for the production to create Justice League in 2001. This new show introduced what can be considered a third Timm Style revamp, an attempt to include more individuality between characters that was lost with the streamlined design. With two seasons showcasing seven core members of the league, the production staff made a massive retool for the following season to include dozens of characters never before seen in the DCAU, rebranding itself Justice League Unlimited. After another couple of seasons, reaching the absolute height of ambition to showcase the entire DC Comics roster, the DCAU officially ended in 2006.
There are two other shows that take place in the same universe but are considered more of on the fringe than being a core series. The first is Static Shock, based on the comics character Static and initially taking place in its own continuity (there is a reference to Superman as a fictional character in an early episode) but eventually having contemporary Batman and Justice League crossovers with a Batman Beyond appearance via Time Travel, Static himself appears in Justice League Unlimited in another time travel story. The second is The Zeta Project, which was a Spin-Off inspired by a standalone episode of Beyond about a shapeshifting android assassin gaining a conscience and his struggles to avoid his handlers who want to reprogram him, unique in that it features entirely original characters and stories, excepting a later Batman Beyond crossover. Neither show was as successful as the primary shows, but had its fans.
It is generally accepted that the DC Animated Universe includes:
- Batman: The Animated Series / The Adventures of Batman and Robin / The New Batman Adventures (1992-1995; 1997-1999)
- Superman: The Animated Series / The New Superman Adventures (1996-2000)
- Batman Beyond (1999-2001)
- Static Shock (2000-2004) note
- The Zeta Project (2001-2002) note
- Justice League / Justice League Unlimited (2001-2006)
Webseries based on DC Animated Universe cartoons:
Comic Books set in the DC Animated Universe include:
- Adventures in the DC Universe note
- Batman Beyond note
- Batgirl Adventures
- The Batman Adventures
- Harley & Ivy
- The Superman Adventures
- Justice League Adventures
- Justice League Beyond
- Justice League Unlimited
Video Games based on the DC Animated Universe:
- Batman: The Animated Series
- The Adventures of Batman and Robin
- Superman 64
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
- Batman: Chaos in Gotham
- Batman: Gotham City Racer
- Batman: Vengeance
- Superman: Shadows of Apokolips
- Justice League: Injustice for All
- Superman: Countdown to Apokolips
- Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu
- Justice League: Chronicles
The DC Animated Universe is sometimes referred to as the "Timmverse" (after character designer Bruce Timm) or the "Diniverse" (after writer Paul Dini). Some purists argue that "Timmverse" is more appropriate, as Bruce Timm was a more consistent creative force in the various shows than Paul Dini, who left before the end of it. Rather more to the point, Dini is a writer, not a character designer. Timm, who is a character designer, is the one responsible for the "standard DCAU art style". On the other hand, the writing of the DCAU is as notable as the art, plus the name is catchier (having three syllables and all). On the other hand, Paul Dini was just the foremost of several writers and worked for Alan Burnett, who thus technically had more to do with the managing of the DCAU than Dini did. The debate continues.
The DC Animated Universe ended production with the final episode of Justice League Unlimited. However, its influence continues to this day both in Comics and Western Animation, and due to the distinct art style of the 'verse (aka Timm Style) being applied to later animated adaptations of The DCU, other properties are frequently and incorrectly cited as part of the DCAU. It is also partially responsible for most of Warner Bros. Animation's production having a Latin American Dub produced in Venezuela.
The Direct-to-Video DC Universe Animated Original Movies line is considered something of a Spiritual Successor, featuring many of the same production staff with a similar design aesthetic and story tone, but (until Justice League: War) its films are mostly in their own self-contained universes. Some of these works are extremely close to the DCAU in some fashion, but ultimately in an Alternate Continuity all the same:
- Superman: Brainiac Attacks: a tie-in work for Superman Returns. The production team used the Superman: TAS character designs and many of the same voice actors, but otherwise has no connection to the series story arc (Brainiac is treated as his first appearance).
- Superman: Doomsday: The art style is obviously influenced by Timm Style, but the specific character designs are different (Lois Lane, most obviously) and it has a darker color palette.
- Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths: originated as a DTV midquel movie between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited called Justice League: Worlds Collide, but it was cancelled at the last minute before recording started. Years later, they decided to turn it into an original story with original character designs. The overall script was basically unchanged, though, and the story connections are obvious.
- Justice League: Gods and Monsters was personally overseen by Bruce Timm and uses his art style, but it's an Alternate Universe-style story with a radically reimagined Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all with different alter-egos.
- Batman and Harley Quinn was also personally overseen by Timm and uses virtually the same character designs from the New Batman Adventures period, although the tone of the film is much more adult. Timm himself has said that for all intents it is a part of the DCAU.
The DC Animated Universe provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc: With the exception of Batman, whose cast and storyline had a near complete beginning-middle-and-end across the entire franchise, the other heroes and characters left quite a few dangling threads:
- In Superman: TAS we never see Lois finding out about Clark Kent and Superman. There were plans to bring that scene at the end of the episode “Divided We Fall”, but executives forbade the writers from including it. There was also plans for a Future Superman story to be included in Batman Beyond which would have seen an aged Lois Lane, and potentially feature an illegitimate child between Superman and Lashina leading another Apokoliptan invasion in the far future.
- More or less the future of Justice League is not shown. Although as per "Epilogue", Superman is still operating in the future, and somewhere down the line Green Lantern and Hawkgirl reconnected and started a family, which led to Rex Stewart /Warhawk, and Wonder Woman probably did live and operate at an advanced age owing to being immortal.
- The some of the villain arcs were not resolved, such as AMAZO who disappeared after “Wake the Dead” (although he was planned to appear in a Brick Joke late in Season 5, but the writers couldn't find a way to include him). Likewise, the members of Batman’s allies, supporting cast, and rogues gallery were not allowed to appear in Justice League owing to an embargo, meaning Dick Grayson (aside from a sly cameo) never appears again, and the Noodle Incident of Ra's al Ghul's "Near Apocalypse of '09" is never expanded upon.
- Adaptation Distillation: All of the DCAU installments took the best parts of all DC Comics elements and modernized them.
- Art Evolution: The universe as a whole steadily improved in animation with each new installment. This was first done with The New Batman Adventures in order to tie it in with Superman: The Animated Series, as well as make it easier to keep characters On Model.
- The first superhero ever seen in the DC Animated Universe was Batman. The last hero in the final Curtain Call at the end of Justice League Unlimited is Batman.
- The final scene in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue" mirrored the first shot of the very first Batman: The Animated Series episode, with the episode being written before the series was renewed for its third & final season. Whilst it didn't end up book ending the DCAU (at least, not by our chronology), it did book end the first shot of Batman: TAS with the final shot of the future Batman.
- Character Development: The DCAU is praised by fans for its subtle characterization where even when it isn't directly spelled out, characters visibly change across the entire series and develop organically from earlier interactions:
- In Batman: The Animated Series, Batman was on the whole quite humanistic, friendly, and willing to crack some quips despite being a serious detective in addition to sharing smiles and bonding with both Alfred and Robin (Dick Grayson) and being a Big Brother Mentor to the latter. By the time of The New Batman Adventures, he has become Drill Sergeant Nasty to the Bat-Family (particularly to Batgirl and Tim Drake) and very standoffish and rude (as in the case of his first meeting with Superman) in addition to becoming a more colder and driven hero.
- In Superman The Animated Series, Superman began as a smart, affable, somewhat smug superhero who was more or less confident and happy in both his civilian and superhero identity. However, the invasion of Apokolips by Darkseid, which leads to Dan Turpin's death and much later his brainwashing by Darkseid. These events cause him to lose his naivete, his idealism, and even his reputation, which leads to him becoming a little more cautious, jaded, irritable, even paranoid by the time of Justice League. His Hot-Blooded nature even makes him a target for Gaslighting by Luthor and Cadmus, and his hatred for Darkseid nearly leading him to kill himself on Brainiac's asteroid before Batman comes and teleports both of them away.
- Family-Friendly Firearms: Averted in most cases, making the DCAU installments unique among animated TV shows and feature films of the late 1990s and early 2000s eras. Although it's pretty rare for anyone (other than Superman) to actually get shot, as most bad guys who use guns seem to have graduated from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Well...
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Compiled here (as well as Curses Cut Short). The only one that doesn't count is the Lobo series because it is very R-rated.
- Growing with the Audience: Especially Justice League Unlimited.
- Leitmotif: A constant element of the universe's musical scores - Batman: The Animated Series famously had motifs for every major character, including full themes for every member of his rogues gallery. Superman had them less often, but most villains and heroes still had their own themes. The most famous themes from both of these installments remained with the characters for the entirety of the DCAU, and this practice continued on to Justice League (along with Justice League Unlimited), which gave several of the most important heroes themes.
- Loose Canon: The animated installments are the only "definitive" part of the DCAU. Any comics set in the universe have very little importance to the larger story, and when they do, they can be overwritten if the author sees it fit. If you count them, then fine, if you don't, fine too.
- Motif Merger: In the DCAU crossover "World's Finest", the Bat-Signal (Batman's emblem) is broadcast onto the globe on top of the Daily Planet Building (Superman's).
- Not His Sled: Hawkgirl is a spy and a soldier, not a space cop. Likewise, Bane and Doomsday don't do what they're best known for (respectively breaking Batman's back and killing Superman).
- Race Lift:
- Angela Chan is an Asian-American expy of Cat Grant.
- Likely inspired by getting Mel Winkler to reprise his Lois & Clark role as William Henderson (albeit here, according to the credits, at the character's then-current rank in the comics as Metropolis's police commissioner), Henderson is now black.
- Puff is reimagined from a white blonde into an African-American.
- Copperhead is Latino.
- Ruritania: Kaznia, a Balkan nation that is referred to multiple times in several DC Animated Universe installments.
- Shared Universe: The DCAU is a famous animated example. It was Superman: The Animated Series that really built it, since Batman: The Animated Series (barring Zatanna and Jonah Hex) did not feature or acknowledge other heroes, whereas Superman's three-parter pilot had Martha Kent mentioning "that nut in Gotham", and had Superman meeting the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Lobo and of course, several cross-overs with Batman, which ultimately led to Justice League.
- Serial Escalation: Obvious in the two most common recurring villains of the DCAU:
- The Joker in Batman: TAS started off kidnapping and murdering people, but he was still solidly Laughably Evil, with schemes like tormenting stand-up comics and trying to copyright Joker-poisoned fish. However, he becomes more obsessive and vindictive over time as Batman successively shuts him down. By the time of The New Batman Adventures, he was still willing to make a play at "going legit" in the episode "Joker's Millions", but eventually he is forced to leave for Metropolis (for "World's Finest" and the Justice League episode “Injustice for All”), then to Dakota (for the Batman: TAS/The New Batman Adventures-Static Shock crossover), and later Las Vegas (the Justice League episode “Wild Cards”) and each time he is thwarted, ultimately leaving him with such hatred for Batman that he crosses all kinds of lines in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
- Lex Luthor in Superman: TAS was The Man Behind the Man and Greater-Scope Villain—rather than fighting Supes one-on-one, he would instead fund supervillains through Lexcorp, and often Superman had to show up and rescue him from his own stupidity. By the end of the series, Luthor was overshadowed by Darkseid, Joker, and Brainiac in terms of menace and personal feud. By the time of Justice League, he loses his company and gets imprisoned in addition to becoming a fugitive and important antagonist in the installment. He also gradually becomes a more desperate, dangerous, and impressive villain than he was in his earlier days, which results in him finally becomes a Villain Protagonist in the final season of Justice League Unlimited.
- Story Arc:
- Batman: TAS had a few story arcs, namely Selina Kyle's obsession with Batman but dislike for Bruce, her Chronic Villainy and finally her Redemption Rejection by the end of the series. Other arcs also dealt with corrupt businessman Roland Daggett and the final episode of the series (“Batgirl Returns”) had him finally arrested for his crimes.
- The New Batman Adventures were largely standalone but the main story-arc was the Joker losing his influence in Gotham thanks to Batman shutting down his operations, and being on the verge of being chased out of Gotham. The Joker's story-arc of going broke was used to explain his crossing over in the following DCAU installments, since being shut down in Gotham means he has to go to Metropolis and team up with Luthor (for the “World's Finest” crossover), and later to Dakota where he engages with Static Shock and finally in the Justice League where he becomes a national level threat, and also informs his actions in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
- Superman TAS and Justice League (Unlimited) were very arc-based in structure, and related since the former built the Shared Universe of the DCAU. Key arcs include Luthor going from businessman to criminal to politician and finally aspiring God, the other arc was the Fourth World / New Gods with Superman's rivalry with Darkseid which had long term consequences on the entire franchise.
- The Cadmus Arc in Justice League more or less brought all the story arcs not only in Justice League but across Batman and Superman together, Arc Welding Darkseid's brainwashing of Superman which directly created Cadmus, Joker's stealing of Cadmus tech which led to his return decades later, Terry McGinnis becoming Batman and Bruce's successor, and finally Luthor's transformation and Character Development.
- Stuff Blowing Up: The vast majority of installments set within the DCAU feature scenes with the villain's hideout exploding, for reasons ranging from self-destruct devices to joy buzzers falling into loose wiring.
- Timm Style: Trope Namer, Maker, and Codifier.