FEATURE: Best Of Batman: The Animated Series
Batman TAS celebrates 20 years. So do we. With the Top 20 Episodes!
Batman: The Animated Series. What can I say, that hasn't already been said? I believe it to be (next to maybe the 90s Simpsons) the best cartoon show of all time. For many of us of a certain age here at comicbookmovies.com, this is not simply nostalgia talking. This series shaped us into the fans we are today.
Inspired by the popularity of the Tim Burton '89 Blockbuster, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini created a kids' animation that was groundbreaking for the medium. Not only in artistic style, but in quality of writing and even voice performance. The show is basically legend now- it has influenced all of the DC Animated Universe to come, and some of BTAS' material has found its way into comic book canon, including characters like Detective Montoya, Harley Quinn, and a retcon of Mr. Freeze's origin. For me, its the definite iteration of Batman, moreso than any of the movies. But the creators will tell you they weren't reinventing the dark knight, they were simply building on what we knew from him.
Well, in honor of my favorite series' 20 years, I've put together what I believe to be the 20 best episodes of the show. Believe me, it was not easy picking favorites and making cuts. So much of this show, so many episodes were great.
20. GROWING PAINS
The Deal: Tim Drake comes across a mysterious young girl who can’t seem to get away from her “dad”- who is a very bad man…
Why 20? For me, this Robin-centric episode was the first standout episode of the New Adventures. Despite spiritually being a continuation of The Animated Series, the show revamp felt more kiddie in tone, but here was a slight return to form. You have a little girl trying to get away from a seemingly bad father,
Kinda sad: The twist that she is actually an extension of Clayface, a literal “piece” of his body, is really cool, but also tragic. She seemed to have emotions and a mind of her own. Seeing her get sucked back into Clayface, is to essentially watch her die.
The Deal: Rupert Thorne hires a specialist from outside Gotham to eliminate Batman…
Why 19? As the show aired, Bane as a character was just getting popular in the world of comics. It was great to see them fit him into the cartoon. They cover the basics- his prison origin, the venom, a rumble with Killer Croc, and even a little pro-wrestling love!
Check her out: Thorne’s girl, Candice was established as having a thing for bad boys and bad situations. In this ep, I got kind of a vibe from her and Robin.
18. JUDGEMENT DAY
The Deal: Going one step further than Batman, a new figure in Gotham City calling himself The Judge, takes criminal persecution into his own hands…
Why 18? You’ll often get these stories in crime fighting tales- the fellow vigilante that takes things too far, accenting why our hero show more self-control. What seems kind of corny at first, actually goes in some clever directions.
*Spoiler* The Judge turns out to be a THIRD alter ego of Two-Face! This cleverly rounds out 3 concepts for one man: Judge, jury (Harvey Dent) and executioner (Two-Face).
17. THE MAN WHO KILLED BATMAN
The Deal: Third-rate wannabe gangster accidentally gets notoriety he may not have deserved…
Why 17? What I like best here is how the episode builds on the Batman myth- particularly in the eyes of criminals, whom he terrifies. Poor loser Sid DeBris accidentally stumbles upon a lucky situation, and instantly gains fame in the criminal underworld. Except surprisingly (or not surprisingly) from The Joker, who laments the loss, always dreaming he’d off Batman himself.
*Another Spoiler* Don’t worry kids, Batman doesn’t really die.
16. OLD WOUNDS
The Deal: How Robin became Nightwing…
Why 16? There are many changes from The Animated Series to The New Adventures, but none more drastic than a completely new Robin. We’d gone on most of the season at this point with no explanation and it looked like we just had to accept it. Until Tim Drake runs into Nightwing while out crime fighting. Here, Greyson gives the flashback story on how he and Batman ‘broke up’. This episode essentially bridges the two series, puts their own spin on the origin, and adds tension between our heroes. Barbara even gets caught up in it all!
The ‘F you, Goodbye!’ Robin punches Batman in the face!
15. SHADOW OF THE BAT (1 & 2)
The Deal: Batgirl debuts!
Why 15? Barbara Gordon got some early taste of action, out of costume, in the two-parter “Heart of Steel”. (That’s actually another great episode if you want to see the animators go nuts and totally mame some characters) For Barbara to suit up, The Animated Series gives another great original take on an origin, while also giving Two-Face some of his best villain work.
I love this exchange:
BATMAN (to Robin about their new arrival Batgirl): Robin! I see you brought a date?
ROBIN: Me? I thought she was with you! She's got your taste in clothes!
The Deal: Grilled by Commissioner Gordon, three cops give varying accounts of a sting operation gone awry…
Why 14? I love point of view episodes, and this is a really great take on the formula. Besides the individual testimonies, on top of that, we’re getting a Batman story from the point of view of the GCPD. Montoya and Det. Bullock shine here, particularly Bullock who is very anti-Batman, and even as a cop, is very rough around the edges. And how about the fact we’re watching a cartoon where the police can get suspended and you have investigation from INTERNAL EFFING AFFAIRS! We kids were not worthy
The best story? Rookie Officer Wilkes, who only adds to Batman’s mythic persona with his memory of what happened!
13. PERCHANCE TO DREAM
The Deal: Bruce Wayne wakes up to find his life is happy. He is engaged, he’s not Batman, and his parents are alive. WHAT?!
Why 13? There are few things better than exploring the deepest desires of a superhero. Vindicating his or her fears, and giving them what it seems like they can never attain. And there are few heroes that are more interesting to examine than Batman. Layered on top of that, are many film noir and poetry themes, including the title itself, taken from Shakespeare’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. This time I’m not spoiling who’s behind this very personal scheme, but it says something that even when he’s happy, Bruce Wayne cannot be satisfied.
Really? There’s something about reading (the big clue) that I’m going to have to look up, now.
12. IF YOU’RE SO SMART, WHY AREN’T YOU RICH?
The Deal: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Riddler!
Why 12? If Edward Nygma is your favorite Bat-villain, you will be very pleased with everything about this episode. And even if The Riddler doesn’t do it for you, this is a quintessential Batman story, complete with villain harboring a grudge on someone who did him wrong, and how his own theme comes back to haunt him. The riddles themselves are clever, as they are wrapped around a neat idea of a maze with mythological themes.
Fun Fact: Batman has needed Robin in all of The Riddler’s appearances on The Animated Series.
11. MAD AS A HATTER
The Deal: Jervis Tetch kidnaps a girl to play a role in his sick obsession…
Why 11? The Mad Hatter does not get enough love among Batman’s rogues. At least in this series, he gets a standout episode that really highlights his obsession, which may be the most severe of all Batman’s bad guys. His Wonderland set piece is an idea similar to Riddler’s maze, (he even has a maze, too) but the fantasy flourishes are better, and there’s even something relatable to him. And the end of the day, he’s a poor guy who couldn’t get the girl.
Off topic, but not really: With Johnny Depp, Tim Burton finally gives us a Mad Hatter, and it’s not even in one of his Batman movies! Damn it!
Just like the series' biggest episodes, this countdown can't be summed up in one article! Too great, and too big to be contained, we're gonna get down to the nitty gritty. The MUST-WATCH material. Check in tomorrow for my Top 10 in Best Of The Animated Series Part 2!
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