I recently finished watching through the old Batman: The Animated Series episodes [again], and was impressed with how well that show really holds up [It's now sitting at about 20 years old.] Good writing, beautiful animation, fantastic voice acting, and adult themes in a daily afternoon cartoon… and all this while the movie versions were busy killing off all the villains. So I decided to take a few minutes and jot down some of my favorite episodes from the series for those poor souls who have never seen the show [I'm talking about you, Andy.] I’ve just started watching The New Batman Adventures, which continues the universe/story/characters (albeit in a new art style, and a small ways into the future). I’m not a fan of the art style, but the stories and voice acting remains great… so I’ll prolly have to add a few episodes once I’ve made it all the way through. So here are some of my favorite episodes, in no particular order:
One of the things I really liked about Batman: The Animated Series is that it took minor characters and made them awesome. Heart of Ice was one of the first episodes, and it created the backstory of Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze, a scientist obsessed with curing his terminally ill, cryogenically frozen wife, Nora. When his employer tried to shut down his research [and essentially kill Nora], the resulting scuffle leads to an accident that leaves Victor stuck in a cryogenic suit, unable to touch or feel, and seemingly emotionless to all things save his wife.
A new DA considers Batman a menace, and wants him out of Gotham. After she and Batman are captured by the villains in Arkham Asylum, she is forced to defend him in a trial set up by the Arkham lot. Joker is judge, Two-Face is the Prosecutor, and The Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, the Scarecrow, the Riddler, and Harley Quinn are the jury. I love any episode with the Joker and/or Harley Quinn, and they are just great here. You also get to see all the main villains interacting with each other, which is somewhat rare, and very entertaining.
Sidney Debris, a clumsy fool who dreams of fame in the Gotham crime scene, is telling his story to Rupert Thorn, one of the biggest crime lords in Gotham. He was along on a drug run [essentially as bait for Batman], when Batman appears. Sidney’s clumsiness ends up sending Batman over the edge, and into a giant explosion. Sidney instantly becomes a big-shot in the crime world, dubbed “Sid the Squid”, the man who killed Batman. He also becomes a target for every other criminal looking to make a name for themself. He ends up in jail after a massive bar fight, and is freed by a mystery woman who turns out to be Harley Quinn. Sid is brought before the Joker, who holds a funeral for Batman, and curses Sid for denying him the opportunity to outdo Batman himself. One thing that stood out about this episode is that Batman is barely in it… almost everything is from Sidney’s point of view. This episode also features Harley Quinn playing “Amazing Grace” on the kazoo, and one of my favorite quotes in the series. Harvey Bullock sees Harley at the jail, when she’s incognito planning to bail out Sid:
Harvey: Hey, Don’t I know you?
Harley: I believe I served you a subpoena once… It was a small subpoena.
A two-part episode, Heart of Steel introduces us to H.A.R.D.A.C., an artificial intelligence capable of making robotic replicants of humans. H.A.R.D.A.C. begins systematically replacing key people in Gotham City with robots. When Commissionar Gordon is replaced, his daughter, Barbara, becomes suspicious, and seeks out Batman’s help. A couple things about this episode that stood out to me: First, it features Barbara’s first steps towards becoming Bargirl. Second, there’s a scene where Batman kills Harvey Bullock [He pushes him into the Bat Signal]. Now, it turned out to be a robot, but it’s not at all clear that Batman knew that, and Barbara is crying when he gets electrocuted. Finally, it features the classic line “Please let go of my cape.”
This is my favorite episode. In it, The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy are hanging out playing cards, and each telling the story of when they almost killed Batman. Once again, you get to see the key villains interacting with [and making fun of] each other, and each tells a brief story that nicely captures their distinct styles.
Poison Ivy tried to poison Batman with gas hidden in Halloween pumpkins, only to be run down by a remotely controlled Batmobile.
Two-Face was robbing the Gotham mint of $2 Million in 2 Dollar Bills when Batman arrives. When Batman is captured by Two-Face’s gang, he’s strapped to a giant penny, and flipped in the air (“The coin lands face down, you’ll be squashed flat. It lands face up, it’ll just break every bone in your body”). Batman breaks free while in mid-flip, and captures them all, and the mint let Batman keep the giant penny (You can see it in subsequent episodes in the Bat Cave).
Killer Croc threw a rock at him! (“It was a big rock…”)
The Penguin broke into the aviary at the Gotham Zoo, and various dangerous birds attack Batman when he chases after him. The Penguin eventually flies away using an umbrella0-copter.
The Joker and his gang took over the Gotham City version of “The Tonight Show“, holding the audience hostage. When Batman is captured trying to save them, he is strapped to a laugh-powered electric chair. The studio is then pumped full of laughing gas, and the Joker remarks that “these people would laugh at the phone book.” Cut to Harley Quinn reading the phone book, people laughing, and Batman getting electrocuted. Catwoman arrives, and attacks the Joker, Batman escapes from the chair, and Catwoman is eventually captured by Harley Quinn while pursuing the Joker. The Joker points out there is more than one way to “get” someone, and then explains that Harley is busy turning Catwoman into catfood at that very moment.
Killer Croc then rises, and reveals himself to be Batman in disguise [including this amazing little bit of animation here -->]. The entire place turns out to be filled with cops, and as the villains are arrested, Batman runs off to save Catwoman. Once she’s saved, and Harley Quinn is defeated, Batman and Catwoman are alone on the rootops. Catwoman, again trying to kindle a romance, leans in to kiss Batman, who then disappears when she’s distracted. She quips “Almost Got ‘Im”.
This episode sees Bruce Wayne waking up to find that he’s not Batman, his parents are still alive and well, and he’s set to marry Selina Kyle. Confused, he eventually heads in to work at Wayne Enterprises, and during the day sees Batman apprehend some criminals, and can’t make sense of it. Eventually, he gets some therapy, and is told he’s just mentally identifying with Batman because his life has been so easy, and he doesn’t feel like he’s accomplished anything. Relieved, he returns home happier then you’ve seen him the entire run of the show, only to become enraged when more strange things convince him that none of this is real. Ultimately, Bruce Wayne gets to fight Batman, and when he pulls off the mask, he finds The Mad Hatter. The part about this episode that I really liked was the idea that Bruce doesn’t really like being Batman. Just like in The Mask of the Phantasm, you’re reminded that he’s doing all of this because he vowed he would after his parents were murdered. It’s also the only time in the series where Bruce Wayne gets to admire how truly impressive Batman is.
Another two-part episode, this one tells the story of Harvey Dent / Two-Face. Harvey had been in a few of the previous episodes as Bruce’s friend and Gotham’s DA. Here we get to see his struggle with his aggressive alternate personality, “Big Bag Harv”. In typical Batman fashion, an explosion involving chemicals nearly kills Harvey, and leaves him horribly disfigured. The Big Bad Harv personality takes over, and he becomes Two-Face. Bruce/Batman vows to save Harvey, while Two-Face goes after Rupert Thorn (the cause of his troubles before, and ultimately of his accident). In the end, you’re left with the hope that some day Harvey might be saved… This episode, like Heart of Ice, presents you with a villain you can sympathize with, and who might have been okay were it not for the evil deeds of others. Mirroring Bruce’s inability to save Harvey with his inability to save his parents when he was a boy also added to the story.
I love the Joker, and Mark Hamill’s Joker voice is amazing. It can go from comical, to menacing, to completely insane instantly. This episode is one of those great “The Joker is crazy and scary” episodes. This time, Charlie Collins (another Gotham nobody) curses out the Joker when he cuts him off on the highway. The Joker chases him down, and Collins, terrified, agrees to do anything the Joker asks.
Flash forward 2 years. The Joker has kept tabs on Charlie as a little pet project, and decides to collect his favor. As expected, a simple favor [Holding open a door for Harley Quinn] proves to be far more complicated [He's stuck to the door and the room is going to explode], and Batman has to come and save the day.
Two bits that make this episode stand out: First, you get a terrific glimpse of Joker’s warped sense of humor. Second, it’s the first appearance of Harley Quinn anywhere, ever, and she’s fantastic.
Another two-parter, this time it’s the origin story for Clayface. Famous movie actor Matt Hagen develops an addition to the cosmetic chemical “Renuyu”, which can cover up physical flaws (and essentially change your appearance to whatever you want), after a serious car accident. The addiction leads to Hagen performing various criminal activities for Roland Daggett, and when Hagen fails, Daggett’s men attempt to kill him by forcing him to swallow an entire vat of Renuyu. Naturally, this turns him into Clayface, a shape-shifter. Hagen eventually discovers his new ability, and decides to take out Daggett. Various confrontations ensue, leading to a Batman vs. Clayface brawl that ends with the first of a couple “Clayface fake deaths” during the shows run.
This episode is pure fun. The Joker has stolen an gigantic bomb, and Batman and Robin need Harley’s help to track the Joker down. Included in this episode: Harley singing “Say that We’re Sweethearts Again”, the Joker dressed in old pilot garb while manning the guns of a WWII bomber, and the Joker exclaiming “Baby, you’re the greatest” after Harley attempts to shoot him with what proves to be a fake gun.
Others episodes that are high on the list: Harley and Ivy, If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Rich?, Harley’s Holiday, Beware the Grey Ghost, Robin’s Reckoning, and The Demon’s Quest. Also, Mask of the Phantasm was super great.