in Top Ten

Batman the Animated Series was a landmark in animated television. Not only because of its dark decor animation, but for its hardboiled plotlines and complex characters. This is a show that premiered on Primetime. How many non-sitcom animated shows can claim such a feat? This is the show that gave the world Harley Quinn, Mark Hamill’s Joker, and turned throwaway villains such as Mr. Freeze and Clayface into fan favorites.

As good as any live-action “adult” drama of the time BTAS excels with mature storylines and unflinching action. It’s a show that meant a great deal to many of us that grew up in the 90s, and will continue to captivate generations as the best incarnation of the Caped Crusader. With that being said I present my favorite episodes.

Honorable Mention
“Heart of Steel” (Parts 1 and 2)
“Heart of Ice”
“Two-Face” (Parts 1 and 2)

10. “Perchance to Dream”

“What if Bruce Wayne’s parents never died? What if he never became Batman?” This episode follows a befuddled Bruce as he stumbles through a world where his parents are alive, he’s engaged to Selina Kyle, and never became Batman. Desperate to find out if his superhero persona was a product of own psychosis, Bruce searches for the truth in a dreamlike reality.

“Perchance to Dream” is one of the most cerebral episodes in the entire series. It’s a fascinating exploration into Bruce Wayne’s thoughts, reexamining who he is without his Batman persona. The twist ending is predictable, but it’s the trip itself that makes the experience so memorable.

Bat Fact: At the end of the episode, Batman quotes Humphrey Bogart from The Maltese Falcon, quoting the famous line, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”

9. “House & Garden”

Batman uncovers a wave of plant-related crimes that mirror the style of Poison Ivy. The only problem is that Poison Ivy has hung up her green tights. Since being released from Arkham, Pamela Isley has married a doctor and has two sons. How could this be? And if she’s not responsible for these villainous vegetable men, who is?

“House and Garden” is a chilling episode with plenty of twists and turns. Especially, when Batman digs up the truth behind the crimes (Spoilers!) It turns out Poison Ivy’s husband is being held against his will and that their two children are in fact mutant plant people. The children begin as babies in pods, become children a few days later, and then transform into monstrous plant monsters before dying off. It’s surprisingly disturbing and in moments hauntingly sad.

Bat Fact: As this was Poison Ivy’s last appearance in the original series, a later issue of the Batman Adventures comic series suggests the revamped version of the character seen in The New Batman Adventures was another plant clone made to keep Batman off her trail.

8. “Harley and Ivy”

Another classic Poison Ivy episode. After Harley Quinn is fired by the Joker, she finds a kindred spirit in Poison Ivy and goes on a crime spree with a feminist flare. Penned by one of the show’s best if not best writer Paul Dini, this episode provides a surprising amount of maturity to an animated children’s program. Harley Quinn provides a slew of memorable gags and one liners, and the Clown Prince of Crime is in top comic form. But most of all, this episode shows that the Batman universe is more than just a boy’s club.

Bat Fact: This episode references three classic movies. Ivy’s car, “Rose Bud”, is a reference to Citizen Kane. There’s Ivy’s tribute to the last line of Casablanca. Also, a woman jerking her dog’s leash to avoid the Joker’s car is a reference to a scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

7. “Trial”

In this episode, Batman is put on trial by all those he’s put away. Maybe my favorite concept for a Batman episode, “Trial” raises the interesting question, “Can Batman be blamed for turning his enemies to crime in the first place?” Of course, there’s little fairness to be had for Batman with The Joker as the judge and Two-Face as the prosecutor, but it’s engrossing nonetheless.

As added conflict, Batman has to be defended by D.A. Janet Van Dorn, a self-proclaimed opponent of Batman’s vigilantism. “Trial” is a rich idea that finds humor while addressing the important question of what it means to be Batman.

Bat Fact: The Mad Hatter appearance as a witness is a reference to original Alice in Wonderland story, where the Mad Hatter is a witness at the trial of the Knave of Hearts.

6. “Baby-Doll”

Mary “Baby” Dahl is a former TV child star with systemic hypoplasia, a rare condition that gives her the perpetual appearance of a toddler. Upset by her inability to find acting work as an adult, Mary turns to kidnapping her former cast members from her show “Love That Baby”. She then forces the cast to reenact episodes of the show until Batman and Robin show up to cancel her crimes.

Despite the episode being played for comedic effect, Baby is a tragic character. Driven insane by forces out of her control, the character’s best moments come when we see her snap out of her childlike persona and speak of her pain. Overall, it’s an engaging character-study that explores the struggles of child actors and those who may have at one time, flown too close to the sun.

Bat Fact: Baby shares many similarities in appearance and personality of Elmyra from Tiny Toon Adventures, another 90s Warner Bros cartoon.

5. “Almost Got ‘Im”

The Joker, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Two Face, and Killer Croc gather around a game of cards to reminisce about how each of them “almost got” Batman. This episode is split up into shorter stories that each reflects the methods and madness of Batman’s most iconic adversaries.

Just seeing all these Batman baddies interacting together is entertaining in itself. The dialogue is sharp and funny and the stories are quick paced and imaginative. It also highlighted Killer Croc’s affinity for throwing giant rocks.

Bat Fact: This episode was based on a four-part story from the Batman comics issues 291-294, “Where Were You on the Night Batman Was Killed?”

4. “The Forgotten”

To solve the mystery of Gotham’s disappearing homeless community, Bruce Wayne goes undercover as a disheveled vagrant. Bruce is then assaulted by two men on a late night patrol and knocked unconscious. When he awakes, he is in a desert prison camp where he has no memory of his identity. Thus, it’s up to Bruce to not only find a way out, but remember his past.

It’s a nice change of pace to see a dilemma that Bruce Wayne must face without the aid of his classic symbol. Though really, this episode is about Bruce rediscovering how important Batman is to the people around him. The rest of the episode plays out like a an extended scene from Cool Hand Luke and there’s nothing wrong with that, boss.

Bat Fact: Actor George Murdock (who portrayed the camp warden Biggis) ate food during his lines for authentic slurping/gulping sounds for the slovenly character.

3. “See No Evil”

Separated from his wife and daughter, former con artist Lloyd Ventrix, steals a suit capable of invisibility. Approaching his daughter as an imaginary friend named Mojo, Ventrix schemes to take back his daughter while supporting himself on a life of crime.

From an animation standpoint, this relatively simple episode is a lot of fun. Who would have thought watching Batman swap punches with an invisible man could be so funny? Gimmicks aside, this episode has heart. Ventrix may be a bad man, but his love for his daughter is real.

“See No Evil” isn’t often considered one of the show’s more notable episodes, but it’s been a favorite of mine for over twenty years.

Bat Fact: Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson form Mad Men) voices Ventrix’s daughter Kimmy.

2. “Feat of Clay” (Parts 1 and 2)

Matt Hagen, played by veteran character actor Ron Perlman, is a famous movie star renowned for his ability to transform into any character. Thw twist: Hagen was horribly deformed in an accident years ago and has since become addicted to a chemical that can reshape his facial features. Performing odd jobs for Roland Daggett, a pharmeceutical kingpin, Hagen soon loses control and attempts to steal the chemical from Dagget. Hagen is caught by Daggett’s henchman and punished by being force-fed a too much of the chemical. This turns Hagen into the villainous shapeshifter Clay Face.

Though fans will often mark “Heart of Ice” as one of the more moving villain stories in the series, I lean towards this one. Mr. Freeze has always been a little too robotic for my taste, while Clayface on the other hand is an emotional ball of rage. Not to mention his powers were a fantastic showcase of the show’s animation.

Here’s the ending to that episode, which may be my favorite scene from any Batman episode.

Bat Fact: The show’s version of Clayface is a combination of the first two Clayfaces from the comics. First, like the original Clayface, this incarnation is an out-of-work actor looking for revenge, and like the second, his name is Matt Hagen.

1. “Joker’s Favor”

“Joker’s Favor” might seem like an odd choice for number one. The episode doesn’t feature much Batman or action, but that’s why it’s so memorable. “Joker’s Favor” shows the strength of the Batman universe outside of the character of Batman. The episode follows Charlie Collins (played wonderfully by Ed Begley Jr.) a depressed, middle aged, family man who has little to celebrate. Charlie’s life takes a turn after he cuts off none other than the Joker in a high speed chase, which leads to a scary off-road confrontation between the two. Charlie goes into witness relocation, but is eventually discovered several years later to do “a job” for the Joker.

“Joker’s Favor” is a brilliant idea for an episode. It shows us what it’s like for the average blue collar Gothamite to live among heroes and villains. Additionally, this might be the Joker’s best appearance on the series. The Joker finds the perfect balance of funny and terrifying. It’s episodes like this that make me believe this show was and still is the greatest animated drama of all time.

There you have it Bat-fans! Thanks for reading!


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