Words By Dr Hip-Hop | @DrHipHop85
The 1990s redefined the American action cartoon. Gone were the camp-stylings of the Super-Friends or 30-minute toy advertisements of the Transformers. It was an era that really brought great storytelling and top-notch animation. The star of this movement was, of course, Batman: The Animated Series.
The series depicted a dark, brooding and mysterious Batman. He was one part detective, one part kick-ass fighter. Batman developed as a complex character who existed in a very nuanced world. His Gotham was a city set in a perpetual dusk, with red skies giving it this menacing feel. The music, the voice-acting, all of it was just pitch perfect. The show produced some fantastic episodes in its nearly decade-long run.
We went through the archives and gathered the 10 best episodes from our estimation. Tell us what you think in the comments as always.
10. “On Leather Wings” (Original Air Date: 09/06/92)
This is the episode that started it all (well, technically.) It set the tone for what this universe’s Batman and Gotham would be like. And to buck convention they made Man-Bat the first villain he faced. Instead of sticking with the familiar and going with the Joker or the Penguin, they pitted our Caped Crusader against his literal inversion. And man, it was such a fantastic episode. I watched it as a kid and, for the first time, a cartoon blew my damn mind.
9. “What is Reality” (Original Air Date: 11/24/92)
So not only could Batman TAS entertain with compelling stories, they could also mind f*** you. Featuring the best Riddler story outside of comics, this episode had the Dark Knight pitted against the Riddler in the ultimate battle of wits. Tired of losing all the time, the Riddler used a Matrix-style technology to trap Batman in a virtual reality world of his control. Instead of relying on brute strength, Batman used his greatest asset, his brain, to prove his dominance once again.
8. “Day of the Samurai” Original Air Date: 02/23/93)
One of the things I loved about this show was the writers ability to take things that could easily be very cheesy or camp and turn them into such inspired ideas. This episode, which is essentially a spaghetti samurai western, is premised on a simple idea: Batman has to face off against his old rival and former best friend Kyodai Ken, last seen “Night of the Ninja”, for the life of his former master’s daughter.
And the best part of the episode? Both Batman and Ken, mask-less and battling while a volcano is erupting. The choreography of the fight scene was just brilliant and the ending? MAN…that was so edgy for an American kid’s cartoon.
7. “Joker’s Millions” (Original Air Date: 02/21/98)
Some “purists” like to snub the third season of Batman TAS (titled: The New Batman Adventures) for it’s change in animation and style. While I will always love the original, the new look was sleeker and would lead to the creation of the larger Bruce Timm-animated universe. And it’s not like the quality of episode’s dropped either. This one in particular is a favorite of mine because it focused on The Joker and had plenty of funny moments, particularly the end. Plus, you have to love an episode where Batman gets the last laugh.
6. “Robin’s Reckoning” Parts 1 and 2 (Original Air Date: 02/07/93, 02/14/93)
An emotional two-parter, “Robin’s Reckoning” was one of the first episodes with Batman and Robin that really delved into their relationship, as well as Robin’s past. It gave us the origin of Robin and juxtaposed it alongside Robin’s thirst for revenge.
On one side you had Batman trying his best to protect his “son” from succumbing to vengeance and killing Tony Zucco. On the other, you had Robin (Dick Grayson) overcome with emotion and driven to make Zucco pay for his parent’s death. It was an emotional ride and another reason why this was such a well received show.
5. “Two-Face” Parts 1 and 2 (Original Air Date: 09/25/92, 09/28/92)
Before the terrible…terrible portrayal by Tommy Lee Jones, there was Richard Moll’s Two-Face/Harvey Dent. Moll’s ability to give Harvey and Two-Face two distinct voices was key to elevating this from hooky to real dynamic storytelling. At the time the episode first aired, I had no clue who Two-Face was, so watching Harvey devolve in the Two-Face persona in this origin story was gripping and heart-wrenching television. Harvey represented what could happen to a good man if pushed too far which stood as a reminder to Batman of what he could’ve become.
4. “The Demon’s Quest” Parts 1 and 2 (Original Air Date: 05/03/93, 05/04/93)
He might have been the main foe in Batman Begins, but if you want the definitive Ra’s al Ghul story then you look no further than this two-part story from ’93. Ghul was unlike the rest of Batman’s rogues, he wasn’t out for money or power. He simply wanted to save the environment. However Ghul’s plan was, as all great supervillain plans, convoluted and deadly.
Ghul was a great villain because he matched up with Batman physically and mentally, putting the Dark Knight through the paces with his mind and physicality. Put the struggle together with perfect choices in voice-acting and you got a perfect Batman TAS episode.
3. “Feat of Clay” Parts 1 and 2 (Original Air Date: 09/08/92, 09/09/92)
Say what you want about it being just a cartoon, but the transformation of Matt Hagan into Clayface was as emotional a trip as I’ve ever seen on television. You start off with a guy who had everything and you watch as his life falls apart as quickly as his face. The animators’ design for Clayface was incredible too. For a character who easily could have looked silly or uninspiring, Timm and the team made sure that he was certified creepy looking.
The best scenes of the episode has to be the final confrontation between Batman and Clayface. Everything from the eerie shifts Clayface went through to Batman’s scheme to win, it was all fantastic storytelling and a great way to end it.
2. “Almost Got’Im” (Original Air Date: 11/11/92)
One would think an episode featuring Killer Croc, Two-Face, the Joker, Poison Ivy, and the Penguin would be one big slugfest. Well let’s just say we weren’t fully wrong. “Almost Got’Im” made it this high on the list because not only did it have great action, beautiful animation, and the usually great voice-acting, but it’s such an extraordinarily smart script. They took something that could have easily been cliché and give us an episode that completely pulled the rug from under you. So much could be interpreted by the way the villains construct their stories about Batman that you could get a different feel for this episode each and every time you view it.
1. “Heart of Ice” (Original Air Date: 09/07/92)
Some episodes of Batman TAS were great because they had well choreographed fight scenes. Other episodes were great because they were great mystery stories. Other standout episodes were character studies into the human psyche. Then there were episodes like “Heart of Ice” which combined all three and gave you a total experience.
Every episode on this list could easily be the best one. Yet “Heart of Ice” takes pieces of what made all of them exceptional and elevates it even higher. It completely changed the way Mr. Freeze was seen in all forms of media. No episode before or after more completely justified that comic books could be the perfect inspiration for other forms of media.