|This article is written from the Real World perspective|
Bat-embargo was the term used for the decision to limit or ban the use of Batman-related characters from any media source outside of the new The Dark Knight Trilogy movie franchise that started in 2005 with Batman Begins and The Batman animated series. This decision meant that only obscure Bat-villains such as the Clock King, the KGBeast, Gork, Professor Milo, or Blockbuster would appear in the DCAU.
During a long time, it was unclear who enacted the embargo, but it was commonly believed to be either DC Comics or Warner Bros. In 2007, it was revealed via The World's Finest that DC Comics writer Paul Levitz was the one who enacted the embargo. The reason Levitz supplied is that with the coming of The Batman, children (their target demographic) would be confused to see two different versions of the same characters at the same time.
This reasoning does not explain everything associated with the embargo. A number of Batman characters reserved never saw use in The Batman (i.e., Two-Face, Ra's al Ghul, the Scarecrow, and the Mad Hatter), most likely because they were to be used in the Christopher Nolan movies (except the Mad Hatter), although there were indeed plans to use them in that show. Other Batman character that couldn't be used was Robin, because he was appearing in the Teen Titans animated series at that time, but was allowed to appear after the production of Titans wrapped. It also does not explain why Batman himself was allowed to continue appearing in Justice League Unlimited while appearing in The Batman. These questions present (but by no means confirm) the possibility that there were other reasons involved in the ban.
Words from the creative team
|“||I don't see the Bat-embargo lifting anytime soon but, to tell you the truth, as much as I [...] love those characters, I don't really miss [them] all that much. It's not like we don't have tons of other interesting characters to play with. If I were doing an actual Batman show, and not allowed to use those characters, yeah, that'd be pretty galling, but Batman's only one ingredient in the Justice League's brew. The Bat-clan aren't really essential in any way to the current show [...] I mean, did you guys miss Ra's al Ghul in "Wake the Dead"? Would "The Return" have been a better episode if Nightwing were in it? I know your answer would be yes, but seriously, I don't mind a break from those characters after working on them for so many years.||”|
— Bruce Timm on Toon Zone
|“||All I know is [that the Batman characters] they’re off-limits for the foreseeable future. If it changes we'll use some of them but I wouldn’t count on it happening soon||”|
— Dwayne McDuffie on DwayneMcDuffie.com
Implications of the Bat-embargo
- Characters exclusively reserved for other TV shows and movies in development or production include most characters from the Batman comics due to the "Bat-embargo" that reserved those characters for the new Batman cartoon The Batman and the new Batman movies. Only Batman could appear, although Nightwing made an uncredited cameo as a silhouette atop a building in Blüdhaven in the episode "Grudge Match".
- Originally, Barbara Gordon was to appear in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Double Date". The episode would have her getting injured during a case as Batgirl. Since Bruce forbids her from participating, she would recreate herself as Oracle, and get in touch with Black Canary and Huntress to finish her case. Neither of them would meet her in person. Due to the Bat-embargo, the story was changed to include Green Arrow and The Question instead. The creative team, however, has stated that at the end, what ultimately became the episode's story was better than the original they initially planned.
- The introduction of the Legion of Doom in season three of Justice League Unlimited conspicuously lacks the major Batman villains the Scarecrow and the Riddler, both of whom were part of the original Legion of Doom in Challenge of the Super Friends. Ironically, that version of the Legion of Doom was also under its own version of a Bat-Embargo, as Filmation was producing The New Adventures of Batman in 1977 which kept A-list Batman villains Joker, Penguin, Mister Freeze and Catwoman off of that version.
|“||As you suspect, many Batman characters are unavailable for JLU, at least for the time being. It's only been a problem a couple of times [...] I wanted to use Hugo Strange [...his appearance in "Doomsday Sanction"] was to set up a later appearance. The later appearance won't happen now.||”|
— Dwayne McDuffie on DwayneMcDuffie.com
- The "Bat-embargo" started around the middle of the second season of Justice League Unlimited, seeing as Hugo Strange was featured in "Doomsday Sanction" but was unavailable onward. Dwayne wanted to use the character later in the second season, presumably for the interrogation scene in "Question Authority", but couldn't do it due to the embargo. His role was later taken by Doctor Moon, a brain surgeon who is the go-to villain of the DC Universe when 'evil' brain-washing is required.
- No more Joker appearances, which was unusual, since he had appeared prominently in earlier seasons and there were initially plans to include him as a cameo appearance in the episode "This Little Piggy". This decision, however, didn't stop voice actor Mark Hamill to voice other characters in the show, like Solomon Grundy and the Trickster.
- The Penguin or other Gotham City influential mobsters like Black Mask, Two-Face, Rupert Thorne or Scarface did not appear in further episodes. According to Bruce Timm, after his redesign of the character for The New Batman Adventures, the Penguin started to have a very influential role as a kingpin for Gotham City underworld, working behind the scenes a la Lex Luthor. His power and position was especially shown when he was last seen, on the Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman movie. The Iceberg Lounge, however, was shown in the episode "This Little Piggy".
- During the Batman Adventures (2003–2004) story arc, the last comic book based on Batman: The Animated Series, all the rogues evolved. The Penguin became mayor, Black Mask and Red Hood made their first appearances, and Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Talia, and the Riddler had also major changes in their lives. Although the comics based on the DCAU stories aren't considered canonical to it, the producers have often adapted some of the plots to the actual DCAU in the past, especially when Timm was involved in the comic's production, like in this case.
- The long-anticipated reappearance of Ra's al Ghul and his related League of Assassins, which is already part of the DC Animated Universe continuity, wasn't possible. Bruce Timm himself had hinted that there were plans to use Ra's al Ghul in the episode "Wake the Dead", but the embargo prevented it for his appearance as he was the main antagonist in Batman Begins.
- Even characters created in the DCAU and then incorporated into the mainstream DC Comics (like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya) were included in the embargo.
Many fans were unhappy with this policy and expressed their discontent through petitions intended to reverse it, or at least to convince Warner Bros. to allow the inclusion of Batman's archenemies the Scarecrow and the Riddler in the Legion of Doom. Some even stressed that it wasn't fair and it was ironic that while Lex Luthor could have three versions of himself at the same time (the Smallville version played by Michael Rosenbaum, the Justice League Unlimited version voiced by Clancy Brown and the then upcoming Superman Returns version played by Kevin Spacey), Batman couldn't have three versions of himself. However, it had no effect, because the show ended before the ban could be lifted.
End of the embargo
Many web articles that refer to the Bat-embargo were last updated in the year 2005, meaning very little current news is available. The use of formerly banned characters in Batman: The Brave and the Bold suggests that the ban has been lifted or altered. However, with the closure of Justice League Unlimited and no other current media that would make effective use of these characters, details have not been widely circulated.
- The Aquaman embargo:
- DC Comics has asked the Justice League Unlimited staff not to use Aquaman or any of his family or characters, this is due to the recent appearance of the character on Smallville, a storyline featuring the character on the television series Entourage, and the announcement of a Smallville-esque Aquaman spin-off series with Justin Hartley in the lead role. A pilot episode, "Mercy Reef", was filmed, but it didn't get picked up by the network.
- The Wonder Woman embargo:
- Bruce Timm admitted in an interview shown on the first season DVD that he initially ran into some legal issues once he told Warner Bros. that he wanted to use Wonder Woman for the series. He was eventually successful in being able to use the character for the show, but later other animated series ran into similar road-blocks preventing the use of both the Wonder Woman character as well as established Wonder Woman supporting characters, like Cheetah and Steve Trevor. Although it was never clear which was one of the main reasons of this embargo, it's believed that it could have been the production of the Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman, which was ultimately never made.
- The other heroes:
- The same happens with some of the rest famous superheroes not seen on the show. There was a list of superheroes with "rights-available" and others unavailable, especially the ones from the Vertigo imprint.
|“||I think (Nemesis) was on a list of 'rights-available' guys that DC gave to us. And he is a unique 'type,' so we said, 'What the hell, put him in the show, we need bodies.' I would much rather have had Phantom Stranger, Spectre, Blue Beetle, etc, but they were off-limits for whatever reason.||”|
— Bruce Timm on DrawingBoard.org