FEATURE: Best Of Batman: The Animated Series (Part 2): The Top 10 Episodes
Its the Batman TAS anniversary- Here are Top 10 Episodes!
Welcome to Part 2 of my countdown of the best Batman TAS episodes! The first half of the list was an eclectic collection, but you may notice things get much darker on this half. The show was always at its best when they weren't afraid to be mature and go to places other cartoons wouldn't dare.
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.
Let's wrap things up with my suggestions for MUST-SEE Batman episodes. For the most part, this top 10 came down to writing/story and performance. Looking at today's cartoons, this stuff has no equal.
10. ROBIN’S RECKONING (1 & 2)
The Deal: Robin finally has a lead on the man who killed his parents, and he goes rogue on Batman, in hopes of getting his vengeance…
Why 10? This two-parter is outstanding. For as loved as Batman is, Robin has always been a bit a harder character to translate- what age is too old or too young? How do they make his partnership work? Well, the Animated Series struck a sweet spot with the boy wonder on all accounts, and voice actor Loren Lester’s benchmark episode, Robin’s origin gets the spotlight. Concurrently, the main plot has him disobeying Batman to directly go after boss Tony Zuko, and the climax, (with Robin ready to kill) is among the show’s most thrilling.
Did You Know? Biff from Back to the Future voices Zuko!
9. OVER THE EDGE
The Deal: Commissioner Gordon blames Batman for his daughter’s death, and stops at nothing to get him…
Why 9? What if Gordon pulled all his resources to get the Batman? Get ready for a wild ride, because this episode answers that question in Batman’s most intense episode. The tension is non-stop, as ally after ally is captured, and the situation gets more and more extreme, Gordon’s pain from losing his daughter, the graphic violence- the whole time we’re watching, we can’t believe our eyes. This feels like the creators of the show just wanted to go crazy. And in the best possible way.
But here’s another question: Why can’t Gordon put this much effort into catching the real criminals?
8. I AM THE NIGHT
The Deal: On the anniversary of Bruce’s parents’ deaths, his closest ally, Jim Gordon is shot…
Why 8? This is a heavy episode. In one of BTAS’ darkest entries, a potential main character is nearly murdered. “I Am the Night” features some of Batman’s themes at its best, including the reminder of why he does what he does, and the fear of losing someone he cares about all over again.
Great writing 101: Using the irony of visiting his parents’ graves (with the great Leslie Thompkins) as the reason he wasn’t there to help the commissioner catch the Jazzman. It’s about failure.
7. THE JOKER’S FAVOR
The Deal: a sad-sack everyman gets wrapped up in The Joker’s latest scheme…
Why 7? Just as “The Man Who Killed Batman” showed what our hero seems like to the criminals, this episode shows how a villain terrifies an average citizen. There is great dark humor to this episode throughout, as the Joker terrorizes a poor man for years, simply because he accidentally cussed him out on the highway. And performance-wise, this is some of my favorite stuff from Mark Hamill.
(But really, why 7?) The debut of my favorite character- Harley Quinn!
6. TWO-FACE (1 & 2)
The Deal: District Attorney Harvey Dent has a dark secret, and it’s about to get exposed…
Why 6? Ask any fan of the series, and they’ll tell you this is without a doubt one of the best episodes. Batman TAS revamped origins for several characters, and Two-face gets some very dynamic material, which suggests he had psychological problems beneath the surface, before he ever had the accident. Speaking said accident, I actually liked this better than the comics’ clunky courtroom acid splash. They blew his face away.
Never use the name “Big Bad Harvey”…
5. ALMOST GOT ‘EM
The Deal Gotham’s biggest villains swap stories about who came closest to offing The Bat…
Why 5? Two words: Instant Classic. Who doesn’t love a great villain team-up? While “Almost Got Em” isn’t exactly that, it does us one better with a fun story (or series of stories) of one-upsmanship.
We’ve got Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc each sharing their tales during a game of cards, and in usual BTAS fashion, there’s a great twist to the proceedings by the last act. A couple, actually…
I want one: an ‘Aviary of Doom’.
4. HARELY & IVY
The Deal: After getting ‘fired’ by Joker, Harley Quinn sparks a friendship with the dangerous Poison Ivy…
Why 4?Everybody’s got a favorite Harley episode (Harlequinade, Harley’s Holiday), but for my money, this team-up takes the cake. It’s so simple. The concept is basically just Thelma and Louise, but it’s in the way they put it together, that leaves a smile on my face the entire damn time. Quinn and Poison Ivy are a hell of a match, and so well-received, their friendship would continue off-and-on throughout the series. The episode was also a rare look at the character behind the villain. Beyond the usual scheme of the week, Harley and Ivy actually develop both characters nicely during their down time.
Girl Power! there’s definitely a feminist theme to this one, so it seems only fitting that female cop Rene Montoya is the one to bring them down.
3. HEART OF ICE
The Deal: Victor Freis will stop at nothing to restore his beloved wife…
Why 3? This was the Emmy-winning episode. I think that speaks for itself. But if you need more, Paul Dini and co. came up with such an affecting story, a complete reinvention of what was a gimmicky, one-note villain, and turned Mr. Freeze into an unforgettable rouge that can’t be denied. Another thing I loved, was the dichotomy of ruthlessly cold demeanor, driven by with unmatched motivation. It is not unlike what drives Batman at all.
Hey, Arnold, this is how you pun: “Revenge is a dish best served cold..”
2. MAD LOVE
The Deal: Harley’s background is revealed, and she also has a big surprise for ‘Mr. J’…
Why 2? Based off the comic of the same name, Mad Love (written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm) is an exemplary tale of obsession- in this case the hopelessness of Harley’s love for The Joker. This was the last Batman episode, and I believe they truly went out with a bang. The Joker, for as much as we love him, still shows how ruthless and cold he can be with an action that I nearly found irredeemable; he finally had enough, and pushed my Harley out a window!
That son of a bitch! That son of a bitch…
1. FEAT OF CLAY (1 & 2)
The Deal: Actor Matt Hagen makes the mistake of his life, and becomes the abomination Clayface…
It’s #1: It’s a tragedy. It’s about addiction. It’s a monster movie. All rolled into one, I believe this to be the finest storytelling Batman: The Animated Series has given us. Their version of Clayface is a mashup of several iterations from the comics, and it works amazingly well, with Hagen (in a horrifically shot scene) fed too much of what he needed to remain working. Maybe this connects with me more because of my own theater/film background, but I always find Feat of Clay something of a hard watch, even as I geek out at how effing intimidating Batman is, as he follows the case.
Also out-of-this-world good: Shirley Walker’s mesmerizing score.
So there you have it. But by no means is this the best Batman has to offer. Be sure to check out classics like “The Clock King” and “Beware the Gray Ghost” (feat the voice of Adam West). For purely great fighting the Keyodai Ken combo of “Night of the Ninja” and “Day of the Samurai” are among my favorites. There have been even more straight-from-the-comics adaptations like “Legends of the Dark Knight” and “The Laughing Fish”. "Read My Lips" (Scarface), "Baby Doll", "The Demon's Quest"- I mean I could go on and on, this show is so good.
You know what? Just do yourself a favor and check it all out- right now!
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