Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Brad0
Top 15 Episodes of Batman TAS
To many people, I think Batman: The Animated Series is the definitive take on the Dark Knight. It’s gorgeous to look at, exciting, and brilliantly voiced. The brainchild of Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, this was an attempt to make a Max Fleischer’s Superman-esque cartoon for Batman, and it’s glorious. I grew up with this on the air, and this, along with the Adam West series, was my introduction to the world of Gotham City. From this came Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, the DC animated universe affectionately known as the Timm-verse. Eighty-five episodes were produced in two spells between 1992-94 and 1997-98, the latter as The New Batman and Robin Adventures, and here are my personal fifteen favourites.
15. Dreams in Darkness
This one pretty much boils down to two elements – I love the Scarecrow, and the idea of Batman being committed to Arkham Asylum is always good. The episode opens with Batman locked up in the asylum, having been exposed to the Scarecrow’s fear toxin. Batman must escape, before Scarecrow is able to expose all of Gotham to the same nightmare, but is wracked by hallucinations. It’s a very creepy episode, which gives Kevin Conroy a lot to do, and I like it a lot.
14. The Last Laugh
“You’re going to melt just like a grilled cheese sandwich!” This won’t be the last Joker episode you see on here. This particular one isn’t here because of him, though; this episode is made special by the late Efrem Zimbalist Jr’s performance as Alfred. The Joker sails a barge up the Gotham River, releasing laughing gas throughout the city, and Batman’s need to stop him is made all the more urgent by Alfred becoming infected by the gas. It’s a very funny episode, and a showcase for what a great character Alfred is.
Of all of Batman’s glorious rogues’ gallery, the most tragic figure must surely be the fallen district attorney, Harvey “Two-Face” Dent. The emotional impact of his fall from grace in this two-parter (the show’s first, appropriately enough) is helped by the fact that Harvey was a likable supporting character in the previously aired episodes, making Batman’s failure to save him a truly crushing defeat. The episodes are also notable for introducing Two-Face’s black and white suit, and both Batman Forever and The Dark Knight have lifted the final shot with the coin for their own Two-Face endings. Massively influential, cracking episodes.
12. Beware the Gray Ghost
Adam West plays an actor whose career has stalled after being typecast from playing a superhero on a hugely popular television series decades earlier. Meta! As a huge fan of Batman ’66, I love this episode so much. Adam West proves a very good sport, and delivers a superb performance. It’s a great tribute to him, and to classic pulp heroes like Will Eisner’s The Spirit, Jack Kirby’s Sandman and Walter B Gibson’s The Shadow.
11. Joker’s Wild
Hey look, it’s the Joker again. Mark Hamill, man. What a performance he gave, every single time. This episode concerns Mr J taking offence to a casino owner using his likeness against his will in the new casino he’s opening. So he decides to blow up the casino and kill the guy. The animation’s a bit shoddy in this one, but it’s all about Hamill’s performance, and his interaction’s with Conroy. Lots of fun.
10. Birds of a Feather
Bit different, this one. Penguin gets released from prison and attempts to reform. Meanwhile, socialite Veronica Vreeland attempts to reignite her social status by surprising guests at a party with the Penguin’s presence for their amusement. As she attempts to woo Penguin into coming to the party, they seem to form a genuine connection, whilst Batman keeps a close eye, waiting for him to revert to criminal type. It’s got themes similar to I Pagliacci, and the French play Le Diner de Cons, though that premiered seven months later. It’s a great character piece, and one which shows the range and variety the show had.
One of the lasting contributions of TAS to the wider DCU is Harley Quinn. The Joker’s lovesick moll is a glorious creation who has taken on a life of her own, currently headlining her own bestselling comic every month. Having spent the bulk of her time as a sidekick for the Joker, there were the odd episodes where Harley would get to be the star. This was the best of them; Joker has a bomb and is preparing to destroy Gotham, and Batman recruits Harley to help track him down. Hilarity ensues. Batman and Harley make a great double act, and any episode that features the Joker to any degree can’t possibly be all bad.
8. Riddler’s Reform
I know he’s really difficult to write for at times, but I love the Riddler. He’s my favourite of all the Bat-rogues, despite the Joker love-in this article might appear to be. John Glover’s performance in this show is a big part of that, and this is the best showcase for him. After being released from Arkham, the Riddler appears to go straight, developing puzzles for a toy company. Batman doesn’t trust it, however, and follows the Riddler everywhere. In set-up, it’s similar to Birds of a Feather, but it goes in a very different direction with it.
7. The Laughing Fish
Because we can’t go too long without another Joker episode, right? Based on the classic Steve Englehart storyline, and incorporating elements of Englehart’s Sign of the Joker and Denny O’Neil’s The Joker’s Five Way Revenge, this episode is utterly hilarious. Joker poisons Gotham’s supply of fish, so that they all bear his distinctive visage, and then demands a copyright fee from every fish sold. When denied this, as you can’t copyright a natural resource, he vows horrible revenge. And he gets to say the line “Colonel Whatshisface gets his chickens, and they don’t even have moustaches!”
6. Over the Edge
This episode opens with Commissioner Gordon leading a team of cops into the Batcave, drawing his gun on Batman and declaring “Bruce Wayne, you’re under arrest!” Can you find me a better opening? Why this is happening, and who Gordon turns to in his obsessive desire to bring down Batman, is far too good to spoil here. See this episode.
5. The Man Who Killed Batman
I love episodes which do something different with the format. This episode is told entirely from the perspective of Sidney “Sid the Squid” Debris, a nebbish, small-time crook who has apparently done the impossible and killed Batman. This wins Sidney the respect and adulation he so craves from his criminal comrades, but attracts the ire of the Harlequin of Hate himself, who feels he has been robbed of his own epic victory over the Batman. Joker’s rage that some nobody got the Bat where he couldn’t is palpable, and anything which features Harley playing Amazing Grace on a kazoo is always worth seeing.
4. Heart of Ice
Perhaps the most legendary of all the episodes, Heart of Ice presents a revised origin for Mr Freeze, taking him from the ice-pun slinging thief of the past (and briefly future, thanks to Batman & Robin) to a tragic figure, taking revenge on the world for his lost humanity. Michael Ansara’s performance is haunting, and it’s a beautifully written, stunningly influential episode.
3. Almost Got ‘Im
Again, one which plays with the format. Barely featuring Batman at all, this features Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc sat around, playing poker, and swapping stories of how they almost got Batman. The interaction between the villains is great, and we get some great, varied action scenes as we see multiple episodes’ worth of climaxes over the course of the episode.
2. Perchance to Dream
Bruce Wayne wakes up in Wayne Manor. He is greeted by his parents, Thomas and Martha. When he checks the Batcave entrance, there’s nothing there, it’s just a grandfather clock. Bruce is the head of Wayne Enterprises, and due to be married to Selina Kyle. As he goes about his day, he discovers that another man is the Batman. Bruce is presented with everything he ever wanted. And his mind can’t accept it. It’s a tragic summation of his life, and a brilliant mystery. Wonderfully executed.
1. Joker’s Favour
Of course it’s a Joker episode. Did anything on this list make you think it wouldn’t be? Notable for featuring the first ever appearance in any media of Harley Quinn, this episode tells the story of Charles Collins, an ordinary man who, after a bad day at work, cusses out a driver who cuts him off. Unfortunately for good old Charlie, the driver is the Joker. Pleading for his life, he tells the Joker he will do anything he asks, and the Joker accepts. Years go by, and the Joker finally calls in the favour. This episode is everything I love about Mark Hamill as the Joker, it has the debut of Harley and, uniquely, Batman laughs. Out of genuine amusement, Batman laughs. Superb.
So those were my personal favourite episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. Do you agree? Which are your personal favourites? Drop me a comment and let me know.