Why can audiences not get enough of Batman? The unsung hero in the Batman universe is The Animated Series, an art-deco-inspired take on the classic superhero. This dark and sophisticated approach to The Dark Knight was a welcome visitor to Saturday morning cartoons, and you can currently stream all eighty-five episodes on Max. Time for a look at the episodes from Batman: The Animated Series that everyone needs to watch.
Almost Got ‘Im
Told from the perspective of Batman’s foes during a poker game, this episode gained praise for shifting narrative perspectives. The entry presented the Bat-Rogues as working-class people complaining about cruel bosses or low pay while having some time to unwind after a long day. Framed in a vignette style, the villains take turns sharing their close calls when they almost defeat their nemesis.
The episode breaks from a traditional format, getting closer to seeing popular villains in a humanizing way. What if the Rogues Gallery had a reality show? Give them a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and hear what they really think about Batman.
Told in a similar style to “Almost Got ‘Im,” this episode focuses on the supporting characters who make up the Gotham Police Department: Officer Montoya, Officer Wilkes, and Detective Bullock. In an exciting way, it teaches the viewer about differing accounts as each officer shares their perspective of a police bust gone bad. The show also features an unlikely amount of comedy as Bullock’s interpretation of events is so clearly different from what viewers see on the screen.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
This Riddler origin story hits every note with absolute perfection. It reveals Edward Nygma as a disgruntled employee working for a tech company. He designs an exciting new game, but his greedy bosses take credit and fire him. He then transforms into The Riddler and seeks revenge. This deconstruction of Riddler lore gives the character an interesting dimension: he doesn’t want to take over the world. It’s a simple revenge plot, and viewers can’t help but feel sympathy for him.
A fantastic climax in a giant computerized maze makes this one of the greatest and most compact of Batman’s adventures.
The Clock King
The Clock King actually doesn’t have a history of dueling Batman in the comics. He has a reputation of fighting Green Arrow. His origin here potrays him as a deeply punctual and particular lawyer who has his Worst Day Ever, arrives late to court, and loses everything. He takes revenge on the Mayor whom he blames for his misfortune.
The tension between Clock King and Batman has a near-comedic quality and marks a welcome break from the mayhem of the Joker or the fear-based attacks of the Scarecrow. The Clock King is everyone who has arrived late to work and decided to take their well-deserved revenge.
Beware the Gray Ghost
Another non-Rogues Gallery episode, this entry brought together two Batmans: Kevin Conroy and Adam West. In this highly meta storyline, West plays Simon Trent, an out-of-work actor most famous for his role of the Gray Ghost, a show Bruce Wayne watched as a child. A copycat is on the loose in Gotham and Simon teams up with Batman to bring down this usurper Gray Ghost.
This episode feels like a one-act play in the best way. Charlie Collins is on his way home from work, stuck in traffic and turned down for another promotion when he accidentally curses at the absolute wrong person: the Joker. The Joker chases him through the woods. Rather than do away with poor Charlie, the Joker takes his license and promises to call on him when he needs a favor. A few years later, he does, and Charlie gets caught up in the Joker’s plan to kill Commissioner Gordon.
This episode is famous for introducing fan favorite and Joker sidekick Harley Quinn. “Joker’s Favor” qualifies as a frightening entry into the Joker’s mythology, revealing his subtle sadistic practices and making us wonder if he doesn’t call in a lot of favors for poor, unsuspecting Gothamites.
Christmas With the Joker
This Joker entry first aired on November 13, 1992, as the second episode in the series. In this episode, the Joker escapes Arkham Asylum to wreak havoc on Gotham during Christmas. Robin wants to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, while Bruce is skeptical of a crime-free evening. It’s a fun episode that showcases more of the Joker’s mischief than his psychotic tendencies in other capers.
Fresh out of prison, Edward Nygma becomes a toy designer. Batman doesn’t believe the Riddler can change, and he keeps looking for slip-ups. While this episode wants to critique the justice system and America’s high recidivism rate, though it also comments on Batman’s own toxic behavior. He is often as unbalanced as the villains he chases, and he almost can’t function in a world in which the Riddler has changed his ways.
Towards the climax of the episode, we learn Batman was right all along, and the Riddler executes one final puzzle for Batman. Still, his return to crime derives from the belief that he couldn’t actually rejoin society, that people like Batman would always hunt him. As much as Batman fights to keep Gotham safe, he luxuriates in crimes committed because, without them, he would have to examine himself.
Poison Ivy always tap dances between villain and antihero. Her motives for crime and murder tend to gravitate toward environmental causes, so can anyone really blame her? In this episode, Poison Ivy lures rich people to her special spa where she turns them into trees. She punishes a group of the 1% for all their anti-environment actions. Unfortunately, Alfred and his *maybe* girlfriend go in place of Bruce Wayne.
“Eternal Youth” shows Ivy at her best: a sympathetic sociopath with a well-thought-out plan. Women villains have plans. The Joker could never be this organized. It’s also a great opportunity to see Alfred outside his butler role.
The Laughing Fish
In this caper, based on three different Batman comics combined, the Joker develops a toxin to poison fish, leaving them with a sadistic red smile resembling his own. He tries to patent his new product, but he doesn’t execute his plan well, so the show climaxes with him kidnapping Bullock and taking him to the Gotham Aquarium.
After his showdown with Batman, the Joker is presumed dead, having fallen into the ocean with a shark, never to resurface again. The tension of this episode comes from the audience never fully understanding what the Joker is going to do, and his random madness that makes him terrifying.
Much like “Almost Got ‘Im,” “Trial” stands out thanks to a team-up of villains, and the deeper philosophical questions a character like Batman raises. A group of Arkham inmates, led by the Joker and Two-Face, kidnaps a Gotham DA named Janet Van Dorn with the plot to put Batman on trial. Van Dorn has no love of the Caped Crusader, and must defend him before this kangaroo court to save both their lives.
Heart of Ice
No roundup of the best Batman: The Animated Series episodes would be complete without this Emmy-winning entry that redefined the character of Mr. Freeze. “Heart of Ice” reimagines Freeze–often scolded as one of Batman’s most ridiculous enemies–as one of his most tragic. Brilliant scientist Victor Fries searches for a cure for his wife, Nora’s, terminal illness. A dispute between Fries and GothCorp’s CEO, Ferris Boyle, resulted in Fries horribly injured into becoming Mr. Freeze: a villain who requires a sub-zero life support suit to stay alive. The episode exemplifies the creativity and innovation of the entire series, and the genuine love the writing staff had for the Bat-characters.
Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.