Essential Episodes: Batman
Favorites from the animated series
When it comes to 90's cartoons, I tend to consider myself a seasoned veteran from that era. Everything from Animaniacs, Doug, Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin and so on. Then in 1992, I saw Batman: The Animated Series. I was already a solid Batman fan due to the Tim Burton film I saw at age 7, but then came this show that boosted my fandom to a higher level.
The show had a unique style of artwork that was unlike anything that had been done before, and this included new designs on most of the Dark Knight's enemies. Batman TAS, as it came to be known, also featured an excellent voice cast, with top notch guest stars voicing other characters.
I've recently rewatched the show via the four DVD volumes, and have picked twelve essential episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
HEART OF ICE
Widely considered to be the best episode of the series, Heart Of Ice was where my viewing of the show began. It gives us an all new design and back story for Mr. Freeze, who in years past had not been taken very seriously as a villain. His new look was done by Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and he was voiced by Michael Ansara.
Freeze is seeking revenge on the CEO of GothCorp, whom he blames for his subzero condition, and for the loss of his terminally ill wife, Nora. Micheal Ansara gives us an excellent vocal performance as a man who while claiming to be dead to emotions, is clearly very angry, and hurting deeply. Even to the point where Batman seems to sympathize with him. The overhaul of Mr. Freeze's image really helped boost the character as a fan favorite, and brought great attention to this young series. So much so, that Heart Of Ice won an Emmy for outstanding writing for animated programming.
What's great about this episode, is that it doesn't just give us a new a villain out of the blue. Harvey Dent was seen in several episodes prior as Gotham's district attorney, and as a close friend of Bruce Wayne.
But now, we see Dent is struggling with his darker self, another personality named Big Bad Harv that can rise up at a moment's notice.
Gangster Rupert Thorne catches wind of this, and threatens to blackmail the good DA. One thing leads to another, and Dent is caught in an acid explosion that severely scars him physically, and emotionally. Big Bad Harv becomes the dominant personality, and Harvey Dent is reborn as Two-Face. Deciding fates with the flip of a coin, feeling that chance is the only real justice.
As I say, what makes this one great is earlier episodes foreshadow the eventual coming of this legendary Bat villain. His deep dark voice is provided by Richard Moll, and he would go on to reappear in numerous episodes.
Charlie Collins is having a bad day. While driving home, he has a moment of road rage, and screams insults at another driver.....
Uh oh, that's not just some random motorist. Joker soon corners Charlie, who tries to find some way to apologize or make it up to the clown prince of crime. Joker agrees to let Charlie go, on the condition that he do a favor for the Joker whenever he needs it.
Sometime later, Joker brings Mr. Collins in to collect on the favor, which turns out to be nothing more than Charlie opening a door...so Joker can blow Commissioner Gordon to bits. Charlie agrees, but only because of Joker's threat to the man's family if he doesn't cooperate.
Charlie manages to get Batman's attention, but they both wonder if Joker's favor will really end here. But then again, Charlie might just handle it himself.
This episode is interesting to see Joker dealing not with other supervillains, but an everyday guy who is lured into a bad situation.
MAD AS A HATTER
The Mad Hatter is another villain that was seen as camp, but here, voiced by Roddy McDowell, I find him much more appealing. Jervis Tetch is a smart, yet lonely scientist working for Wayne Enterprises, researching neurotechnology on rats. He also has an attraction to a secretary named Alice. After a fight and breakup with her boyfriend Billy, Alice is taken out on the town by Jervis.
We find that he has used his neurotech knowledge to make a series of mind control cards, and just about everyone they see on their date is under his influence. Things go well, but the next day Alice has reconciled with Billy, they are now engaged. Jervis then goes to extremes to make Alice his own, even putting her under his new form of mind control.
The Mad Hatter is another character that usually might not be taken seriously as a villain. But like Mr. Freeze, this show does the Hatter well because of the overall presentation. Good writing and a great performance by the late McDowell give this installment a creepy, yet sad tone that I really enjoyed.
I AM THE NIGHT
This is an emotional episode. It is the anniversary of the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, and the Dark Knight is feeling lower than usual.
He wonders if even after all this time, he's doing any good at all. Nonetheless, he departs for his usual appointment in Crime Alley to meet Dr. Thompkins.
Elsewhere, police commissioner Gordon is on a stake out to nab the Jazzman, who has a vendetta against Gotham's commish. While Batman pays memory to his parents, Gordon is severely wounded in action. Already feeling down, combined with the injury to his closest ally, Batman begins to consider hanging it up for good.
Questions, self doubt, and faith in good all play parts in one of the more emotional episodes of the series.
ALMOST GOT 'IM
Penguin, Two-Face, Joker, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc have all joined together......to play poker. One of the most different episodes, Almost Got 'im features these five baddies sharing their stories on the closest they've come to taking out Batman.
Ivy tried poison Jack o'lanterns, Penguin lured the Bat into an aviary of doom, Two-Face flipped him while tied to a giant penny, Joker strapped Batman to a laugh-o-meter electric chair, and Croc...well, I'll let him tell you.
When villains like these get together, they would usually be plotting some new scheme, but not today. Almost Got 'im is a neat change of pace to see them just chilling out, dealing cards and sharing their respective tales.
THE MAN WHO KILLED BATMAN
Meet Sidney, a small time hood who has gotten a rep as the man who killed Batman. This episode is mostly told in flashback, as Sid recaps his story to Rupert Thorne. While trying to move up in the underworld ranks, Sid is brought in on a job by Eddie G, who only sees the young hood as bait for Batman.
It turns out that Sidney really is as timid as he looks, so when he meets up with the Dark Knight, he's not so sure what to do. A hapless struggle ensues, and Sid inadvertently causes an explosion that the other hoods believe Batman perished in.
Sid is then hailed as the toughest guy in Gotham, but some thugs aren't too happy with this little guy taking out Batman. The Joker of course, is the one who really isn't pleased. Soon convinced that Batman is gone for good, Joker holds a mock memorial service, and then decides to bump off Sid by sending him into a vat of acid.
Matt Frewer is the guest voice star as Sidney, and does a great job as a hood who clearly isn't ready for the violence or fame that goes with mob life.
READ MY LIPS
When a weekday cartoon starts to deal with schizophrenia and multiple personalities, you know you're watching a show isn't squarely focused on kids. Read My Lips was the first I ever knew of the Ventriloquist and Scarface, and even as a kid was pretty scared and intrigued by this bizarre bad guy.
Even better is that Scarface returned in the episodes Catwalk, and Double Talk. But this one is where my interest in this character began. This shows us once again..what could be seen as cheesy, comes off as very convincing because of how this show was done. It reminds me a lot of the movie, Magic.
THE DEMON'S QUEST
Robin has been kidnapped by a group of masked figures. While he prepares to investigate, Batman is greeted in the Batcave by a man called Ra's al Ghul...the demon's head. Ra's knows that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same, but that doesn't seem to matter much to him. He needs the Dark Knight's help.
Batman had previously met Ra's' daughter Talia, in the episode "Off Balance", and she has also been kidnapped, likely by Robin's captors. They eventually find the two, but the Dark Knight realizes that despite his intelligence and charm, Ra's al Ghul is a radical eco terrorist, who has a plot to wipe out a great deal of humanity to restore earth's natural state.
Ra's also sees the Dark Knight as the only one worthy to aid him in this quest, and also to marry Talia. He insists Batman join him. The detective refuses, and an epic battle for humanity begins.
It seems that before the film Batman Begins came along, the general public had no idea who Ra's al Ghul was. He had never been seen in any of the previous movies or TV shows, so really only comic readers knew him. This episode of TAS was his major media debut, and also the the first I ever knew of the character. Voiced by the always excellent David Warner, The Demon's Quest was key in introducing this storied enemy to audiences at large. Also just like in the comics, Batman in this cartoon feels a conflict between his duty, and his love for Talia.
Fed up with being defeated by Batman, Rupert Thorne has brought in help. He is Bane, a muscle-bound assassin, who is physically enhanced by a liquid steroid. He knows of Batman well, and is eager to take out Gotham's guardian.
In a scene taken from the comics, Bane beats the snot out of Killer Croc to begin observing Batman's style. He then kidnaps Robin, and lures our hero to a showdown where Bane insists he will break the Batman.
All the while, Bane plots with Thorne's secretary to overthrow the crime lord after beating Batman. Henry Silva brings Bane's intelligence in a great vocal performance, as well as in talk during his brutal style of fighting. I remember showing a friend this episode to make him understand Bane is not a mindless thug, mumbling incoherently like a certain 1997 movie showed.
However popular he may be, Bane only appeared twice on this series.
The Joker has come into possession of a massive bomb that could wipe out all of Gotham! Batman needs help in tracking down his long time foe, so he decides to to enlist Harley Quinn.
This is one of the funniest episodes, as it should be when you mix Batman's stern nature, and Harley's wacky manner of doing things. We even find out that Quinn can sing!
Things really get interesting when upon finding the Joker, Harley realizes he had no plan of coming by Arkham to get her before blowing Gotham sky high.
Not many today realize that Harley was introduced on this show, and then was put into the comics. I hope her voice actress, Arleen Sorkin, is proud of this legacy.
OVER THE EDGE
Commissioner Gordon and Gotham police have stormed the Batcave with guns blazing. Gordon knows who Batman is, and wants him taken down. Alfred is arrested, but Batman, Robin and Nightwing manage to escape.
Hiding outside the city, Batman recaps: Scarecrow had taken city hall, and while he and Robin tussled with henchmen, Batgirl went after Scarecrow on the roof. She was amushed, and fell to the street where Gordon found her...and her true identity.
With the loss of his daughter and a feeling of betrayal, Gordon swears to bring in the Dark Knight. He even gets Bane released to aid him.
Over The Edge is well written, and features a great performance by Bob Hastings as an angry, hurt James Gordon. What a concept to have two of the greatest allies in comics, become enemies over the loss of one.
That's about it. Batman TAS had many great episodes, but these are my top picks. Rewatching them has brought back a lot of great memories for me, and I'm sure many of you have your favorite episodes and moments of this legendary show.
Thank you for reading.
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