TOP 5 BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES EPISODES
What can I say about Batman The Animated Series that hasn’t already been said? Outside of comics it is the most consistent portrayal of the Dark Knight. You can count on one hand the amount of bad episodes. Even then you can still marvel at how beautifully rendered they are and how great the voice performances are. It is a lot of peoples go to for brilliant Batman, a go to for good memories, a spark for starting peoples interest in comics.
We are living in a era now where the people that this show inspired are writing Batman comics. What made it a success was the great staff involved in putting it together. They weren’t afraid to push the boundaries. Yes it was mainly aimed at kids but there was so much going on in each episode it appealed to older fans and fans of good story telling. My childhood wouldn’t have been the same without it. There are loads of fans out there who will whole heartedly agree with me.
Before I get into the Top Five I want to give an honourable mention to two other episodes, for two very different reasons.
Major spoilers ahead of course. Also I am using the DVD running order as my continuity as opposed to the order they aired.
Theres nothing particularly amazing about this episode but bare with me. I only mention it because of its potential for potential. Part of BTAS’s huge success was down to it’s done in one episodes. Tight and concise self contained stories. The plot is Harvey Dent collapsing after a meal with his fiancé Pamela Isley and friend Bruce Wayne. Turns out he’s been poisoned, Batman investigates and finds Isley and her alter ego Poison Ivy to be the culprit. Now watch it again and take something’s into consideration. It is the fifth episode. Harvey Dent is just the DA. There is a flashback scene which is done in sepia tones which is a perfect fit for this Gotham. There is a nice scene showing the balancing act between being Batman and being Bruce Wayne. There is a scene where the police don’t take a crooks description of big wings as genuine. It is a very subtle origin for Poison Ivy. Anyway my point is if you take all these elements you could actually make BTAS better. Bold to say I know. But imagine if it had been on continuous narrative… Minds blown right?
On Leather Wings
You have to include this because it’s what started it all. At the time it must have felt like a bold move to open up with Man-Bat as the main villain. This aired three years after Batman 89 and three months after Batman Returns. So to pick Man-Bat ahead of Joker, Penguin and Catwoman was a sign of the confidence those at Warner Bros. had in their product. Also it was bold to go with a character more based in sci-fi/fantasy and putting him to their Neo-Noir world they had nailed down in pre production. It is the first time we hear the brilliant score. The first time we are introduced to the dark moody colour palette. The first time we hear the genius of Kevin Conroy at work using the two distinct voices for Bruce Wayne and Batman. Also this episode highlights how the creators weren’t afraid to explore other genres within the world they had created. Yes Batman is based on a comic book and has strong routes in crime/noir stories. But what the creators did with On Leather Wings is add a horror vibe to the episode. Vibes would later be added to episodes depending on the villain. This episode is probably where it is highlighted best.
Man this episode is fun! For me it always had that 90’s action movie vibe. Essentially it is a riff on Die Hard. McClane and Gruber are replaced by Batman and Joker. The Nakatomi Tower is replaced with a casino. The plot revolves around Cameron Kaiser a seedy business man who has opened a casino using The Crown Price of Crime as its icon. Of course Joker sees someone making a buck from his name breaks out of Arkham to blow up the casino. Batman too suspects foul play so begins to investigate. This gives the episode a James Bond vibe as Batman checks into the hotel as Bruce Wayne and is thus playing right in the enemies face. Plus you know Bond likes casinos. Batman really just ends up getting caught between Kaiser and Joker. Kaiser was planning on blowing up the casino anyway as an insurance scam. When you get older you question the morality of having a casino glorifying a criminal. Something that shows this show wasn’t just catering to kids. It would be like having a Jeffrey Dahmer casino opening up in Atlantic City. The name Kaiser to is something that once you learnt about WWII at school you would forever associate with Nazis. With the casino setting is perfect opportunity for the writer of this episode Paul Dini to homage the work of Batman artist Dick Sprang. I won’t ruin the ending but it involves a big over the top set piece. Not the most intellectually challenging episode, although I don’t if younger viewers would be clued up on the ins and outs of insurance scams. But like I said it is very entertaining. Batman vs The Joker is always a winner.
This is very much a personal choice. I am a complete Nightwing addict. Before I got into comics I had Batman toys and I learnt from the back of them that Dick Grayson had grown up and got a new identity as Nightwing. Which really appealed to me. Then fast forward to when Batman Begins came out in the UK they aired re runs of BTAS and I see this new younger Robin. My first thought is “Man they’ve made it a kids show.” Couple episodes later Nightwing shows up and even though I’m older now he looks fucking cool and still appeals to me. This episode acts as closure inn a way as Dick Grayson vanished between seasons. The main crux of the episode is Robin and Nightwing running into each other whilst on patrol. They get talking and Robin wants to know why his predecessor left Batmans side. In short it is because Dick has grown tired of the bullshit that comes with living in Batmans shadow. Theres actually a lot crammed into this episode other than the legacy of Robin and Nightwing. There is a fiendish plot as ever by the Joker. There is an exploration into the relationship and subsequent web of lies between Batman, Robin and Batgirl. Also in true Saturday morning cartoon tradition it has a morally up lifting end to the story. The banter between Nightwing and Robin is on point. Its a relationship that deserves a lot more attention that it receives in the series and in comics in general. The New52 does a nice top looking at Nightwing/Robin dynamics. What stands out in this episode is how far they went with Batman roughing up a crook in front of his kid! Plus one cool moment when Dick sucker punches Batman!
Heart of Ice
Come on it had to be here right? If you haven’t seen it or your only memory of Mister Freeze is from Batman and Robin do yourself a huge favour. Stop reading, get the DVD and watch Heart of Ice. Beautiful isn’t it? Paul Dini again man! This episode won a Daytime Emmy in 1993 for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program. Before this episode Mister Freeze was little more than a joke in Batmans strong Rogues Gallery. A Captain Cold knock off. Dini and there others were so respectful in its treatment of Mister Freeze this became his origin story across all formats. Heart of Ice also contains Batman doing a lot of detective work. Finding out what happened to Victor Fries wife Nora thus discovering his motivations. Its a far cry from a kids cartoon when the motivations of the villain aren’t cut and dry. They are living in a grey area and even Batman is divided. Outside of this episode I can’t vividly remember many more of Freeze’s appearances in BTAS. Obviously I can’t forget the robot spider body which I have no problem with. But it speaks volumes that this episode is revisited time and time again. The levels of language and voice performance are what set this apart from your average cartoon. Michael Ansara really tapped into something and I think it’s fitting I leave you with this; “Think of it Batman. To never again walk on a summer’s day with a hot wind in your face, and a warm hand to hold. Oh yes. I’d kill for that.”
This for me more than Heart of Ice was when it really hit home this show wasn’t just for kids. At times it didn’t even feel like it was for kids at all. Apart from Mad Love this is the only really in depth origin story of a villain. In the comics there were several characters to use the Two-Face moniker in the 1940’s. Harvey Dent would return and be the only one in the 1970’s. So like they show did with Mister Freeze they were treating Two- Face with complete respect despite his less than stellar comics background. Again it is testament to great story telling that this is a double episode where Batman is essentially a tertiary character. Harvey Dent is obviously front and center. Rupert Thorne and Gilda Dent all play key roles. Two-Face had a much more defined origin in the comics after Andrew Helfer re wrote it for Batman annual #14. But this episode makes changes whilst keeping the core values of that story. There is an element of pity for Harvey when he loses his will and gives into his dark alter ego. A successful man leaving a good life to be closer to those he has been trying to put away as Gotham’s DA. There is stuff going on in these two episodes which must have gone over younger viewers heads. You have a man with split personality. A man going from good to bad via every shade of grey in between. For me these two episodes provided me my first reference point to the complex and at times tragic relationship between Batman/Bruce Wayne and Two-Face/Harvey Dent. This relationship is the bedrock of two of the greatest Batman comics ever in Year One and The Dark Knight Returns.
Over The Edge
Wow! That was my immediate reaction when I first saw this episode. It is still my first reaction whenever I re watch this episode. Wow! It doesn’t hold back. It jumps straight into an adrenaline fuelled high stakes adventure. When the pace slows it just swaps action for high tension. It is amazing, perfect. The adrenaline starts pumping right at the start as Batman and Robin are being chased through the Batcave under a hail of bullets. The heart pumps faster when you see the bullets are coming from the GCPD. Then the heart skips a beat entirely when Gordon says those fatal words. This episode showcases the greatness of Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon. He gets to travel the whole spectrum of emotions. When you hit the commercial break you brain finds a bit of time to start processing what you have just witnessed. I’ll admit the first time I saw it even at the mention of Scarecrow I didn’t think it was a nightmare scenario because I just got so caught up in how the story unravels. Paul Dini does what every Batman writer dreams of and pens the perfect final story of the Caped Crusader. But why stop with Batman? This story really does end the dream. Alfred and Nightwing are arrested, Gordon uses Bane to kill Batman and they both end up paying the price. It really has everything. Even a little comedy. Once Bruce Wayne is outed as Batman the inmates of Arkham all make claims for compensation. The two best moments and best as in creatively are how Batman and Gordon meet there demise is just truly poetic. Then there is the scene where Batgirl falls from a roof right onto the hood of her fathers car. Just another example that when you watched this you weren’t just watching your average Saturday morning cartoon. I will never tire of watching this episode.
About Ian Wells
Ian currently runs the THEBLOGOFCOMICSHOTTOPICS blog. Check him out on Twitter @IanWells87.
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Together Richard and Shawn formed the podcast The Language of Bromance and from there it has been nothing but fun. The duo laugh about things they go through, stories in the news and even getting serious discussing net neutrality along with other issues. Every so often their friendship turns to a bitter rivalry with their nerdiest creation the draft episodes. An original take on a best of or a top 10 list. The draft episodes are done like an NFL Draft 7 rounds where Richard and Shawn flip-flop picks on various topics.
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