“I am vengeance, I am the night! I am…BATMAN!!!!” These words, among others, are staples of one of the greatest cartoon series ever made. Period. Batman: The Animated Series. The show that spanned 109 episodes, and many animated films and crossovers inspired not only a legion of other animated series but was a perfect introduction to the Caped Crusader, the World’s Greatest Detective, and other monikers.
This year has been a big one for Batman: The Animated Series. It celebrated its 25th anniversary, its legendary film counterpart Mask of the Phantasm got a Blu-Ray release, and it was revealed at New York Comic Con that the entire animated series would be put on Blu-Ray as well in 2018.
So…how can we celebrate? Well, how about with two superfans counting down their top 5 episodes? That sounds like fun!
Why Batman: The Animated Series Matters To Me:
Batman: The Animated Series is one of the best shows of all time. Period. No room for argument. Not only does it make a lot of dark subjects approachable enough for kids to understand, but it’s got layers of subtext that you can unpack for days. Not to mention that while it doesn’t put style over subtance, it is an incredibly sleek and well designed animated show. In fact, the aesthetic is almost half the reason why most people still can’t stop watching it. Lots of people say that it was one of the few 90s cartoons that took kids seriously, which you can definitely feel, but I think even more important is how seriously it takes creating a version of Batman we can all look up to.
5) Eternal Youth
So this might seem like a weird pick, but hear me out. Years and years after watching this show, I always remembered this episode. Maybe it was because of those creepy tree people (which should not have been curable, just saying). Maybe it was because the story focuses on Alfred. Maybe it’s because I liked Poison Ivy the best out of all the rogues. My money is on it being those weird fluorescent green cookies.
The plot is pretty simple: Poison Ivy sets up a spa to lure in the rich and ecologically irresponsible and then proceeds to turn them into trees as punishment. Bruce Wayne gets an invitation but sends Alfred and his friend Maggie in his place, as a treat. However, soon Alfred can’t help but want to stay at the spa, in a more permanent way. The whole idea of turning people into trees is pretty clever and created a really startling and compelling visual. I also like that it plays off the “evil getaway” trope that seems to become more and more popular every year. Apparently, self-care can get you killed.
4) Terror in the Sky
Batman does love its Jekyll and Hyde themes, and this episode is probably one of the best that encompasses that. Man-Bat is back on the scene, attacking people and being a general violent nuisance. However, Dr. Langstrom believed that he had been cured of his affliction, but it turns out, it’s not him with the transformation issues, it’s his wife Francine.
Holy shit did this episode spook me as a kid. The big shocker for me was when Francine began to transform on the plane, and the slow, terrifying build up to it and when the slow and horrible change comes, it’s almost too gruesome. I also flew a lot as a kid, so it definitely didn’t help to think about people turning into murderous monsters on a long flight. Still, the strength of this episode is in the portrayal of the relationship between Dr. Langstrom and his wife.
3) Growing Pains
This is the other episode I remember really vividly from childhood, and this one was actually darker than I remember. Robin finds a young girl with amnesia named Annie being attacked by some thugs. Once he saves her, she attempts to piece together her fragmented memory. However, she soon realizes that she is a part of Clay Face, a mere scout to look around and bring back information about where he was and if it was safe. Desperate to save her from returning to the villain, Robin does all he can to protect her but to no avail.
Maybe it was the tragic love story aspect, but I really dig this episode. I thought the chemistry worked well, the storyline was well written, and the twist is treated with the severity and care that such a weird and dark turn should. For me, that’s the best part of the whole thing – sure, it feels a little overdramatic at times, but I think it holds up better than you might think.
2) Perchance to Dream
This is one of the trippier episodes, as it explores Batman at a deeper psychological level. Bruce Wayne wakes up and has everything he ever wanted – his parents are alive, he’s engaged to Selina Kyle, and he doesn’t have to take on the burden of Batman. However, as he slowly comes to see that there is something deeply wrong with the world around him, he figures out that someone’s been messing with his head.
I think the very best part of this episode is that the villain (who shall remain nameless) tries a truly novel approach — if he gives Batman everything he wants or at least the illusion of it, then all of Gotham can be free of him, for better or worse. The problem is, of course, that Batman loves to punish himself and all those around him so even in a perfect fake world, he cannot learn to accept happiness and just go on with his life.
There’s absurd, and then there’s absurd, and this episode definitely falls into that other category. The central question of this episode is “Is Gotham better with without Batman?” After all, because of Batman, all of these villains keep flocking to the city, pushing their plans to new and more dangerous heights, and in many cases, pushed them to become villains. And, of course, Joker’s the judge.
What I like best about this episode is that it reaffirms that Batman is both good and necessary, that even though his presence might continue to bring villains in, crime in Gotham would continue with or without him. It makes a point about guilt and personal responsibility. However, it’s not painting with such a broad brush that it overlooks the obvious – the best version of Gotham is one where Batman isn’t always needed to save the day.
What Batman: The Animated Series Means To Me: I’m a comic book writer on the side, and when people ask me how I got into comics, I tell them, Batman TAS. My father got me hooked on this show, and because of that, I watch Superman TAS, Justice League, Static Shock, and more. And when I think about compelling stories, I can always remember some of my favorite Batman TAS episodes. There are two shows I off my comics career too. One is Legend of Korra, the other Batman: The Animated Series.
5. Over The Edge
Love or hate the new style of The New Batman Adventures, it led to many interesting stories, several of which could’ve been on here if we made a longer list. But what “Over The Edge” did was give us a very grim and believable story about what would happen if Batgirl died. And let’s be clear, her “death” was SHOCKING!!!!
Bruce Timm noted in the commentary that they had to show the death without being bloody, and boy did they succeed. What followed was minutes of horror and tragedy as Commissioner Gordon waged war against Batman and his allies, including bringing Bane into the picture to get even.
Now sure, this was all proven to be a lie…but it made you think…what if this actually did happen? Would it go that way?
4. Two-Face (Both Parts)
What makes Batman such a compelling character isn’t just that he is a great character himself, but that he’s able to show much of his abilities and characters through his villains. But, the villains are worthy in their own right because many are downright tragic. Best example? Two-Face. Harvey Dent was Gotham’s “white knight” (that sounds familiar…) and he was going to be the District Attorney once more, but when a secret of his life is found out by mob boss Rupert Thorne, everything shifts.
Soon, Two-Face is born and goes on the warpath to try and get back at Thorne, even if it means distancing himself from the love of his life. This two-partner beautifully showed why Harvey Dent not only meant so much to Bruce Wayne, but also the terrible tragedies that can turn a good man evil.
3. The Clock King
You’re going to find out that 4 out of 5 of my picks focus on villains. But you might think this one is the most oddball of them all. But let me be clear, I LOVE Clock King. As a villain, yeah, he’s a bit ridiculous, but what Batman: The Animated Series showed was that even the most “ridiculous” villains are ones you need to fear.
After Temple Fugate loses everything because of advice for the soon to be Mayor Hill, he waits to get his revenge. And oh…does he get it…well…most of it. What made Temple Fugate so special to me was that all he used was his brain and his ability to map efficiencies to perfectly plot out his revenge. Oh, and survived a clock tower collapsing on him, that’s got to give him some street credit.
Heck, in Justice League, he became a member of Task Force X! Even Amanda Waller admitted his usefulness!
2. Heart Of Ice
If there is ONE episode, that every single fan of Batman TAS can agree is legendary…it’s Heart of Ice. This episode took the joke character of Mr. Freeze and turned him into one of the most deadly and sympathetic characters in all of the fiction. Voiced by the amazing Michael Ansala, he gave Victor Fries a cold tone that lashed out at any who tried to stop his revenge.
What’s more, you KNEW he was justified in getting it! Which is honestly something you can’t say in the cases of the other 3 villains on my list.
But what made this episode so special was that the devotion of Victor to his wife Nora, and his desire to get revenge for her was so strong, that he was even trying to get it after he was beaten and basically dying.
And to this day, that opening monologue by Mr. Freeze literally gives me chills.
1. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
What is it with me liking revenge stories?
Regardless, this episode is the reason I love Riddler as a Batman villain and is the reason he’s my FAVORITE Batman villain. Edward Nygma was a brilliant man working at a game company. But, when he’s cheated out of money by his boss…you guessed…he plotted revenge.
Riddler has often been compared to Joker, but this episode showed just how clever he was. He had tricks and traps and clever ways to show his riddles, it was great! And it all ended in an epic showdown with a maze…a maze!!!! It was cool!
For me though, what set this apart was the ending. Because unlike so many villains, Riddler got away scot-free. Not even Clock King could say that. And his escape not only made his boss paranoid, it led to one of the funniest lines Batman has ever said…
“How much is a good nights sleep worth?”
What did you think of our list? Did your favorite episode make our cuts? Let us know in the comments below!