Remember, remember the 5th of November. A significant date for the ages. No, I’m not talking about Guy Fawkes or bonfire night. Instead I’m talking about the release of something special: Batman: The Animated Series has come to Blu-Ray.
This is not a review of that box-set, as I am not yet fortunate enough to own a copy. But it is definitely worth noting this is not some hasty dump of all 109 episodes that offers nothing more than the existing DVD collection already did. Warner Bros. have gone ALL out on this one. Every episode has been remastered, much like how Disney handle their remastered releases, giving them a new lease of life. And boy do they look fantastic.
What always amazed me about Batman: The Animated Series, above all other animated shows, was the sound and the ambience of the show. The explosions were like nothing else on television at the time, certainly not cartoons. And the explosive launch of Batman’s grapple gun still gets me every time. You can feel them, let alone hear them. As an 11 year old upon its release, watching via the Warner Bros-sponsored UK children’s entertainment show What’s Up Doc?, it was a feast for the eyes. Now by all accounts, this box-set is just that all over again, and somehow more.
Then there are the extras, including the excellent spin-off movies Mask of the Phantasm and Sub-Zero. There are commentaries for several key episodes, several feature shows, even a 98-minute documentary that traces the origins of the show through to today’s still-existent influence. I cannot wait to get my hands on it.
In the meantime, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the series via Prime Video. Their affiliation with Warner Bros is worth the subscription alone, with the entire Batman and Justice League runs on offer, as well as several of the DC Animated Movie series. And so I offer you my pick of the 9 best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. This does not include the movies, but does include episodes of the latter series The New Batman Adventures. Nor are they in any particular order. I’m sure my picks will differ from yours, but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?
Appointment in Crime Alley
Adapted from the 1976 Denny O’Neill-penned comic story “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley”, writing legend Gerry Conway brings this tale of remembrance and reality to the small screen. Batman has an appointment to keep in Crime Alley, the location of Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murder. Corrupt businessman Roland Daggett however has plans to blow up Crime Alley in order to expand his own empire. It is in this wonderfully-scored episode that the relationship between Batman and Leslie Thompkins comes to fruition. Although a simpler episode with regards to scripting, this is an episode that instead lets its actions and soundtrack do the talking. This episode was also successfully adapted into a novel entitled Shadows of the Past, A first for the series.
Girls’ Night Out
On a recent episode of the Kevin Smith podcast-style show, Fatman Beyond, the magnificently talented Tara Strong (the voice of Batgirl in The New Batman Adventures) declared this among her favourite episodes to work on. It’s easy to see why. Forget DC Superhero Girls, this is the ultimate Superhero girl team-up. With both Bats and Supes away, Batgirl and Supergirl come to the forefront to take on the recently-escaped Livewire. Things escalate further when Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy also join the fray. The chemistry is electric (literally, in the case of Livewire, voiced perfectly by Tank Girl’s Lori Petty), as Batgirl demonstrates her true capability as a member of the Bat family. Even more so for Supergirl, desperate to prove herself and realise her dream of becoming a hero in her own right. What better place than Gotham? Speaking of Tara Strong (who is undoubtedly the best Batgirl, in one of the few roles using her natural speaking voice), she recently also spoke of the recording sessions taking place with the cast together, as opposed to separate recordings. This is key to the entire series, and imagining such a great cast bouncing off of each other only reinforces the fantastic character chemistry throughout.
Heart of Ice
I heavily considered this one as being my favourite episode, and is definitely up there with the best. In its first season, this is one of the few episodes that sat apart from the rest, establishing Batman: The Animated Series as a truly special series. This traumatic tale of tragedy depicts Victor Freeze as an exploited scientist, who becomes Mr Freeze after his former employer accidentally kills Freeze’s wife Nora, and also forces Victor to live on in an ice cold suit. As a result vengeance consumes him, as the now literally cold-hearted Mr Freeze will stop at nothing to harm those that harmed him and his beloved Nora. With Heart of Ice, the stakes in BAS were risen to new levels. Real drama is thrust at you, and as a fairly early episode of the show, Heart of Ice proves that the writers, Paul Dini in this case, were not kidding around. Even in a kids show. The screenplay for Heart of Ice also won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing. Cold as ice.
Another contender for best-ever episode, Joker’s Favor is the perfect combination of everything Batman: The Animated Series is all about. Comedy, suspense, action, and in the case of Charlie Collins, a very relatable, very human protagonist. Charlie is just like you and me; living the responsibilities of an everyday working family man. After a bad day on all fronts, Charlie takes his anger out on a random driver – only to find that random driver is none other than The Joker. Now Charlie has to pay for his mistake by being on hand when the Joker comes calling. Joker’s Favor is a perfect BAS specimen; Joker wants to blow up the city, Batman needs to stop him, an innocent is inadvertently in the firing line, an all too familiar Batman tale. But its simple synopsis paves the way for a disturbing villain to be his chilling best as he terrorises Charlie into doing his bidding. But even the every-man has his limits, with Charlie’s standoff with The Joker proving that Batman isn’t the only hero in Gotham City. This episode also marked the debut of Harley Quinn into the DC Universe in an unremarkable yet subtle taste of what was to come. And although Batman does feature prominently, Joker’s Favor is a perfect tale of Gotham City. It proves that Batman: The Animated Series is not just about Batman or his Batmobile and Batcave.
Perchance to Dream
Every series has a “dream-scape” episode. Perchance to Dream takes that plot device and adds a typically Batman mystery feel to the proceedings. Bruce Wayne wakes up one morning to find his life as Batman is no more. Why? Because his parents are still alive, that’s why. Despite his memories of being Batman, there is no Batcave to speak of, with Bruce now living the idyllic life he never had. Or so it seems, as even this new life soon unravels to reveal the truth. Perchance to Dream delivers an emotional roller-coaster for Bruce, giving him a taste of the world where he no longer needs to be The Batman. The battle between Bruce and the Batman in this new life is one of the most humanising moments in the entire series, once again proving this series is playing for keeps.
Few episodes of Batman: The Animated Series delivered a different point of view from Batman or his numerous iconic villains. But P.O.V dials that concept up a notch by delivering four. After Detective Bullock rushes in alone on a planned heist without waiting for backup, who are still en route, the heist goes south. Bullock cements his place here as an unfavourable protagonist, willing to throw his fellow officers (and Batman) to the wolves (not literally) in order to protect himself and his self-proclaimed image. In the face of disciplinary action, all parties tell their side of the story to divulge what really happened. The concept of P.O.V is hardly ground-breaking. And yet its quirkiness and purpose of humanising the GCPD, particularly Montoya as potential detective material, shines throughout.
Robin’s Reckoning Part 1
Boasting some of the best animation in the entire series, this first half of Robin’s origin recap centres on some of the most tragic material also. Robin’s Reckoning displays intensity and sorrow like never before as flashbacks depict Dick Grayson’s defining tragedy. In a show that has very few clear-cut deaths to speak of, here we see the fate of Dick’s parents with their deaths taking place just off-screen. Couple that with Robin’s heart-rending dialogue as he recounts feeling the guilt of his parents’ death every single day, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a roller-coaster ride. And this is just part 1. All of the feels.
The Man Who Killed Batman
What begins as a cautionary tale to the super-villains of Gotham descends into some of the show’s funniest moments. When small-time gang help Sidney Debris supposedly (and accidentally) causes Batman’s demise, Sidney, now dubbed the “Squid” given his developed reputation, seeks out Rupert Thorne and The Joker to tell all. Naturally, neither believe him, with The Joker becoming somewhat despondent at the news. The Man Who Killed Batman plays out in a similar manner to P.O.V, with Sidney’s flashback taking up the first half. But it’s Mark Hamill’s Joker, as is often the case, who steals the show with some of his best scenes. Joker’s eulogy for Batman is terrific viewing, and further cements Hamill’s Joker is the best Joker. Having seemingly disposed of Sidney, with Harley performing Amazing Grace on a Kazoo, Joker then declares “Well that was fun. Who’s for Chinese?” Genius. Pure Genius.
Two Face Part 1
Like the first part of Robin’s Reckoning, the Two-Face origin story is one that began in the very first episode, On Leather Wings. There, a scene takes place with District Attorney Harvey Dent, repeatedly flipping his trademark coin during a discussion at City Hall. But here is where one face becomes two, as Harvey struggles to contain his anger in the eyes of the press as he seeks re-election. Following Rupert Thorne’s threat to reveal to the press that Harvey has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, Harvey cannot repress his anger any longer, and “Big Bad Harv” takes hold for good. Despite Batman’s intervention (and Harvey being one of Bruce’s closest friends), an electrical fire scars Harvey’s entire left side, thus creating Two-Face. There are several 2-part stories in Batman: The Animated Series, and Two-Face is up there with the best. Being only the 10th episode, this half was another episode that cemented the show’s quality. Immaculately acted, brilliantly animated, with tension you simply rarely see in cartoons anymore. I must add that there is nothing wrong with Two-Face part 2, but given only a few BAS villains have their origins told in its present time, this is a special one. And as Two-Face origins go, it beats both Nolan’s and Schumacher’s efforts.
And there you have it. Picking just 9 standout episodes from 109 (almost 10%) wasn’t easy. But I certainly had fun watching them again to come up with this list. As an 11 year this show was all about Batman and how cool and dark he was. The cool villains and the gadgets. If Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns were my starter, this was the main course. Now, as a 37 year old adult, I see Batman: The Animated Series for what it was truly intended to be: It’s not all about Batman. It’s Batman’s city, Gotham City, which is on show. The film-noir style and vintage timelessness is simply a joy to watch with each and every episode. Now I just need to get my hands on that Blu-Ray set. Anyone got £60 they could lend me?
Batman: The Animated Series on Blu-Ray is available now from Amazon and many other retailers.