Phil shares his five favourite episodes from Batman: The Animated Series
If you haven’t guessed by now, I am a Batman superfan. Whether it’s Adam West‘s Caped Crusader, or cinema greats like Michael Keaton, Christian Bale or Ben Affleck, I love almost every incarnation of the Dark Knight. However, only one Batman truly holds the title of the best of the best. Only one has ever earned the accolade of being the definitive incarnation of Gotham City’s Caped Crusader…Batman: The Animated Series.
Arriving on our screens during the success of Tim Burton’s dynamic big-screen adventures starring Michael Keaton, Batman: The Animated Series harnessed the tone and scope of the comic books and amalgamated it with the ambience of Burton’s dark and gritty take on the Caped Crusader. The result was the perfect incarnation of the Dark Knight ever put on screen. It has never been bettered. It has never been rivalled.
Attempting to whittle my favourite episodes down to just five has been a daunting task, and despite omitting several of the best episodes ever made, I think I have my final five. Do bear in mind that this list is fluid and changes depending on what mood I’m in but as the adage says; form is temporary…class is permanent.
5. Fear Of Victory (Director: Dick Sebast) Season 1 | Episode #24
For me, one of the most underrated villains in the DC Universe is the Scarecrow. Professor Jonathan Crane has made a habit of plaguing Gotham City with his lethal fear toxin and in this episode, Dick Grayson/Robin is struck down by its side effects. Featuring some of the most breath-taking visuals of the series, Robin succumbs to the hallucinogenic properties of the gas whilst thwarting a burglary with Batman. What follows is an episode with Robin trying to overcome his fear and help the Dark Knight save Gotham from Scarecrow’s insidious plan.
4. Heart Of Ice (Director: Bruce W. Timm) Season 1 | Episode #14
The tragedy of Victor Fries can never be understated. After his tragic accident, Fries adopts the moniker of Mr Freeze and sets out on a quest for revenge against the parties responsible for his tragic and life-changing affliction. Serving as the first encounter between Batman and Mr Freeze, this episode has it all. The Batmobile succumbs to Ice, our beloved Dark Knight fights through the symptoms of a cold and uncovers the terrible truth behind Fries’ fall from grace. Nothing stands in the way of this action-packed episode.
3. Nothing to Fear (Director: Boyd Kirkland) Season 1 | Episode #3
Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow makes his second appearance on my list in this epic first encounter between this lethal foe and the Dark Knight. Whilst foiling an arson attack on the Gotham University, Batman is infected by Scarecrow’s fear toxin. After failing to prevent the attack, Bruce Wayne begins to hallucinate illusions of his dead parents who repeatedly chastise him for disgracing their memory and failing to uphold the family name. Despite suffering from these debilitating symptoms, the Dark Knight battles onward and channels the darkness within him to defeat the fear toxin and apprehend the Scarecrow. All the while giving Crane a taste of his own medicine. This wonderful episode saw the birth of the iconic phrase “I am vengeance, I am the night…I AM BATMAN!”
2. The Laughing Fish (Director: Bruce W. Timm) Season 1 | Episode #34
At long last, Mark Hamill‘s iconic incarnation of The Joker makes his debut on my list. I found it hard omitting many of his wonderful episodes from my top five. Notable mentions go out to “Christmas With the Joker”, “Joker’s Favor”, “Joker’s Wild” and “The Last Laugh” which narrowly missed out on making the final five, however, it’s “The Laughing Fish” that emerges victorious.
Where do I begin with this INCREDIBLE episode? This one has it all. The Joker has polluted Gotham’s waterways with his toxin, and every fish caught is emerging with The Joker’s sadistic grin. His scheme is to copyright every fish that shares his insane smile, but when the copyright officials refuse to submit to his demands, he launches an attack which leaves his victims grinning with insanity.
Enter the Dark Knight. With Batman on the case, The Joker and his beloved sidekick Harley Quinn capture Harvey Bullock and use him as bait in a trap to ensnare a bigger prize…the Caped Crusader himself. As always, Batman is one step ahead of his adversary, and after being dropped into a fish tank and matching wits with a killer shark, the Dark Knight escapes and rallies to overcome The Joker. As I said, this episode has it all!
1. On Leather Wings (Director: Kevin Altieri) Season 1 | Episode #1
My most adored villain from the entire DC Universe makes its presence known in the inaugural episode of this glorious series. Dr Kirk Langstrom has developed a formula which once ingested transforms him into The Man-Bat, a human/bat hybrid capable of flight and ferocious brute strength.
Harnessing the classic narratives of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Langstrom’s alter ego becomes far too powerful for him to control. The beast within determines which chemicals were required to bring itself about and it sets out to steal the components in the dead of night. With the chemical thefts attracting the attention of the Gotham Police and eyewitness reports pointing to a giant bat, the Dark Knight finds himself a wanted man and sets out to uncover the truth. However, what he finds is far more terrifying and he is forced to match wits with the monstrous bat creature and separate it from Langstrom before its too late.
This episode is sheer brilliance and it optimised everything Bruce Timm and his wonderful team were creating at Warner Bros Animation. It set the tone for everything that followed was instrumental in capturing the hearts of millions of fans around the world, myself included.
The legacy of Batman: The Animated Series cannot be understated. Boasting the voice talents of Mark Hamill, John Glover, Ron Pearlman, Roddy McDowell, David Warner, Kate Mulgrew, Loren Lester, Bob Hastings, Melissa Gilbert, Robert Costanza, Arleen Sorkin, Paul Williams, Adrienne Barbeau and the great Kevin Conroy, Batman: The Animated Series brought together one of the finest voice casts ever assembled. Kevin Conroy has been immortalised as the definitive Batman, Mark Hamill holds the title of the definitive Joker and the series was the birthplace of Harley Quinn.
For me, there is only one definitive Batman, and despite my love for Adam West’s charming and fun Caped Crusader, Batman: The Animated Series holds a special place in my heart. And long may it reign!
The Future of the Force. The future of pop culture writing.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager and Editor of Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, Batman, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter @philthecool where he uses the force frequently!