The “DCAU” is a collection of animated TV shows and movies based off DC characters which share a collective mythology, artistic direction, and voice actors. Sometimes referred to as the “Timmverse” by fans after animator/producer Bruce Timm who created or oversaw the design adaptations for most of the characters, it has also been referred to as the “Diniverse” after writer/director/producer Paul Dini, who worked on most of the shows up through the production of Justice League.
Shows and movies usually veiwed as being part of the DCAU include:
While much of the Batman, Superman, and Justice League episodes were screen adaptations of classic comic storylines, for the most part the shows used original plots and modified versions of characters. For instance while Mr. Freeze in the comics is a cold, unfeeling, psychopath, the DCAU version of Mr. Freeze, while still coldly distant, is a tragically sympathetic character worthy of redemption.
The DCAU over the course more than a decade managed to set up an internally consistent mythology. Characters and events from one show would cross over or influence events in others. Many of the original plots from Justice League and JLU involved expanding on or resolving lingering plot threads from the other shows. For instance the final episode of season 2 of JLU works to both resolve plot lines from the first two seasons as well as effectively being a final episode for Batman Beyond, on top of heavily referencing both Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker. Also, much of the plot of the third season of JLU had its roots going all the way back to a few episodes from the Superman show. However these shows were so well crafted that not having seen the previous material didn’t hinder your understanding of what was going on, but if you had watched the back catalogue you were provided a more nuanced perspective. Apart from voice actors of minor or one-off characters changing over time, there was very little fracturing in the overall narrative. The only real anomaly was that the character of Zatanna, when she appeared in a single episode of the Batman cartoon, was originally a simple stage illusionist, but when she was brought back for more episodes in JLU she was restored to her comic book characterization of being a practitioner of real magic.
An interesting thing about the DCAU is that, while it was an adaptation of comics, it managed to affect the original material. This is most notable in the character of Renee Montoya, who was created for the Batman cartoon but eventually was brought into the mainstream comic canon and eventually took up the mantle of The Question when the original Question retired. Harley Quinn, though originating in the comics, had her personality and dialect over ridden by her DCAU’s version. Also in recent years the Batman Beyond timeline has become less of an Elseworld and more the expected destination of the Batman family in the comics.
Part of the reason for the continued fan devotion was the continuity of voice actors. The imposing presence of Kevin Conroy as Batman, the unrelenting strength of Tim Daly as Superman, the intimidating confidence of Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor, the manic hostility of Mark Hamill as The Joker, the charming persistent curiosity of Dana Delany as Lois Lane, the supporting and humorous Efrim Zimbalist as Alfred Pennyworth, these actors didn’t just say their lines, they brought the characters to life. From the tragic events, to the earth shattering battles, to the subdued intimate moments, the actors provided so much depth and range to their characters.
While the cast and crew have worked on other DC titles such as Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Krypto: The Superdog, The Batman, Batman: Under the Red Hood, several video games including the N64 Superman game (often reputed to be one of the worst games ever) and the outstanding Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games, these titles don’t fall into the DCAU for reasons of irreconcilable differences in plot or characterization or just agreed upon crappiness.