Thursday, March 23, 2017

Batman: The Animated Series (My Top 10 Favorite Episodes)


When it comes to classic superheroes, I love me some Batman, which is why it pains me to confess that I didn’t grow up with the original “Batman: The Animated Series” from the 90’s. Once in a while I’d catch an episode, but I never watched it regularly like other shows I grew up with, and didn’t even see it all the way through until I graduated from High School. Thankfully, the shows reputation is well deserved because it’s an awesome series, and dose Batman more justice then the majority of his live action movies. If your also a Batman fan, but missed your chance to watch this great series, here are some episodes that I highly recommend looking into. For this post I’ll be counting down my personal top 10 favorite episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series”, as well as episodes from “The New Batman Adventures” as it’s technically still part of the same series. My only condition is that I won’t be including any of the animated movies based on this show like “Mask of the Phantasm” or “Subzero”, those are for a different list all together. Finally, in order to talk about why these episodes are so great, I’ll have to go into some serious detail, so consider this a spoiler warning. With that said, here are my personal top 10 favorite episodes from “Batman: The Animated Series”.  

   
#10 Nothing to Fear 


Kicking off my countdown is an episode that’s really under looked, yet I’ve always regarded it as a classic. This is actually one of the phew episodes I saw as a kid, and I surprisingly remembered it over the years. Batman is one of those hero’s that seems utterly fearless, but even the Dark Knight himself has his own nightmares to face. His greatest fear of all revolves around his late parents, and whether or not they see him as a failure, or if they’d be disappointed in the vigilante he’s become. When a new villain called the Scarecrow brings everyone’s greatest fears to life, Batman must face the greatest terrors of his mind ... “if my parents saw me now, what would they think of me”. Rather than go for the clichéd horror, this episode brilliantly focuses on fear that’s more emotionally impactful to the human condition. Subsequently, it makes Batman feel all the more human, and I think many people can relate to this on some level. I also think the visuals in this episode are some of the most memorable in the series. On a side note, I don’t think Scarecrow ever got any more thrilling as a villain than he did in this introduction episode. Something about the simplicity of his design always stuck with me, but unfortunately he was never designed like this again in the series. Finally, this episode features one of my all time favorite Batman moments, when our hero says his classic line ... “I am vengeance, I am the night, I AM BATMAN!”     


#9 Tyger, Tyger 


At this point in the show, Cat-Woman has given up her life of crime and has chosen a quiet life. However, trouble still seems to find her even when trying to do something simple like attending a dinner date with Bruce Wayne. Case in point for this episode, in which she’s kidnapped by a mad scientist, whisked away to a secluded island, and mutated into a literal Cat-Monster with a humanoid body. Batman naturally is on the trail to rescue her, but soon finds himself being hunted by another humanoid cat-monster who calls himself Tygrus. This is one of those special episodes that explores the sole of a monster, while bringing the work of literature into the fold, and that’s always a plus in my book. This episode makes direct reference to the work of William Blake, specifically his 1794 poem “The Tyger”. Much like its literary source material, this episode focuses on themes of “what makes a creature evil, is it by design or natural instinct”. On a side note, it’s cool to see Cat-Woman take on the form of a real cat, as she’s been denying her humanity throughout the majority of the show. This makes it all the more satisfying to see her choose humanity over bestiality. The action is this episode is very exciting, it’s also an intriguing character study of a monster, and I really like that it brings awareness to the classic work of a poet.


#8 Growing Pains 


In animated programs, you commonly expect the hero to always save the day, and end everything on a positive note. However, in the case of Batman ... well, sometimes there just isn’t a happy ending at all. Personally, I think one of the most daring, memorable, and all around tragic episodes is this Robin centered episode from the final season titled “Growing Pains”. During patrol, Robin comes across a frightened little girl whose lost her memory, and is being chased by a shady fellow who claims to be her father. Robin naturally comes to her defense, and is determined to help this girl rediscover her past. Along the journey a sweet little relationship blooms between the two. Unfortunately the truth is revealed, and it turns out this little girl isn’t a real child at all. She’s a clay puppet created by Batman’s deadly shape-shifting enemy Clayface. During a tense battle, the girl rescues Robin, but at the cost of her own life. While the child technically wasn’t alive to begin with, she was real for Robin, and still the image of this sweet little girl melting away at the hands of Clayface is quiet horrific. Outside of the heartbreaking ending, this episode also features some some depressing elements of poverty. The most notable being when Robin finds a small group of homeless children living under a pile of rocks. That’s not the kind of content you typically get in a children’s program, but hay, that’s why this show is so great. It takes chances, and isn’t afraid to hit the kids with the drama. While the suspension of disbelief is very high in this episode, it’s still one of the more touching, yet darker Batman outings.     


#7 Girls Night Out 


Not every great episode of Batman has to be dark and tragic, and sometimes a light hearted excursion is very welcome. My favorite “fun” episode comes in the form of a crossover between Batgirl and Super-Girl titled “Girls Night Out”. When the Superman villain called Live Wire escapes from prison, she teams up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn to have a destructively fun night on the town. With both Batman and Superman out on missions, it’s up to Batgirl and Super-Girl to take action. Let’s face it, Batman and Superman have had so many crossovers that the novelty has all but warn out. On the flip side, it’s just a real treat for both of these iconic female sidekicks to team up. Also, unlike their superiors, Batgirl and Super-Girl get along great, and honestly make for a really cute pair of friends. It’s also fun watching the villains work off each other in this episode, and I like how their just out enjoying themselves, not hatching any evil scheme. There’s some funny lines, sweet action, and it’s just a really cute little episode.  

            
#6 House and Garden 


Just about every villain from the series has a reformation episode of shorts where they seem to have given up their life of crime and are committed to starting a normal life. Personally, I think the most memorable and impactful of this “reformed villain” episodes was this Poison Ivy episode titled “House and Garden”. Here’s the set up, some nasty plant creatures are attacking people all over town and Poison Ivy is the prime suspect. The catch is that Ivy claims to have given up a life of crime, and is living a simple life with a family. Upon further investigation, Batman discovers that Ivy was secretly growing people out of plant cells in her back yard. This is both one of the most disturbing yet saddest episodes of the series, highlighting just how sick and twisted the villain is, while also addressing the characters drama as she genuinely wants nothing more than to be part of family, which she can never have. This is another great episode that took a one-dimensional villain, and turned her into yet another sympathetic victim of circumstances.

    
#5 Over the Edge 


Here’s an episode that shows up on everyone’s favorite Batman lists, and for good reason because it’s firkin amazing. The premise is about as jaw dropping and brutal as they get. During a confrontation with the Scarecrow, Batgirl tragically loses her life, much to the dismay of her father police commissioner Gordon. Fueled by vengeance, the commissioner soon discovers Batman’s real identity, assembles an army of police officers to take him out and invades Wayne Mansion. Soon our hero finds himself on the run from both the law and from the criminals who now know his identity. Robin is forced to turn himself in, both Night Wing and Alfred are arrested, and to top off everything else, Gordon makes a deal with Bane to ambush Batman knowing that he’ll show up for her daughters funeral. It’s as insane as it sounds and it’s as epic as episodes get. It’s ambitious, unique, fast paced, and pulls no punches. The action sequences are among some of the shows best and the violence is very tense, especially by the standards of children’s programming. Batgirls death scene is a horrific spectacle, and one of the shows most heartbreaking moments. Also the final rooftop battle between Batman, Bane and Gordon is the stuff of legend. My only real quam with this episode is that the ending is a little too abrupt, and kind of a cheat. Never the less, “Over the Edge” is a great “what if” story, highlighting what would happen when both friends and foes discover our hero’s identity.  
         

#4 Two-Face 


This series really had a unique ability showcasing sympathetic villains, and personally I think the absolute best kind of criminal is one born from tragedy. Case in point, let’s look at Two-Face, who’s easily one of the shows best characters. Initially, he was a respected district attorney named Harvey Dent, and more importantly, he was Bruce Wayne’s best friend. This guy was Batman’s connection to humanity, and it’s great that the show introduced him in previous episodes, before he became a villain in the two part episode simply titled “Two-Face”. While fighting for peace in Gotham city, Harvey got in too deep with a mob boss named Thorne. To make matters worse, Thorne learns that Harvey suffers from multiple personality disorder, and one of the personalities colorfully calls himself “Big Bad Harv”. During a tense battle, an explosion destroys half of Harvey’s face, leaving him scared, and worse yet, forces his dominate side to take over completely. Aside from being a stealer villain origin episode, it also highlights one of Batman’s biggest failures. The visuals are dark, the concepts are depressing and the episode is just an all around Gothic spectacle that’s worthy to be ranked among some of the hero’s finest. 

    
#3 The Demons Quest 


While the Joker has always been Batman’s most popular villain, he was never really his greatest adversary, oh no, that title goes to the immortal cult leader Ra's Al Ghul. This guy wasn’t just a threat to Gotham City, he was a threat to the planet, and his episodes always had our hero acting outside the city boundaries. More than just being a global threat, Ra’s Al Ghul was the only foe smart enough to learn Batman’s identity on his own, casually walk into the Bat cave taking our hero by surprise, and raised the stakes higher than anyone before. However, unlike Batman’s other foes, Ra’s Al Ghul has a great deal of admiration for our hero, up to the point where he wishes for Batman to become air to his evil throne of world domination. In his introduction episode titled “The Demons Quest”, Ra’s Al Ghul captures Robin, sending Batman on a series of adventures around the globe. This of course is to test Batman’s capabilities, as well as possible loyalty. When Batman refuses to follow Ra’s Al Ghul on his quest for world domination, the two quickly become mortal enemies. It all builds to a thrilling climax between these two titans, which is personally one of my favorite showdowns in the shows one. The adventure elements of this episode are great, it's cool to see Batman travel the glob, and I especially love Batman's subtle relationship with Ra’s Al Ghul's daughter Talia Al Ghul. I think this is one of the more underappreciated episodes of the series, but really deserves more notice as it really highlights why Ra’s Al Ghul is Batman’s most challenging adversary.


#2 Almost Got’Im 


Here it is, the episode that’s often regarded by fans as one of the greatest if not the greatest of the whole series, and for good reason. How’s this for a perfect set-up ... The Joker, The Penguin, Two-Face, Killer Crock and Poison Ivy are having an annual bad guy get together at a poker table, and it only gets better from there. The rouges start betting on whose come the closest to killing Batman, so each of them in turn share’s there story of how they almost got him. This leads to a series of exciting short adventures fallowing Batman as he battles every one of his iconic foes. The action and creative cinereous are all very entertaining, but the highlight comes from simple watching these classic Batman villains at a poker table exchanging witty banter, and funny insults to each other. While Batman will always be one of my favorite superhero’s, the show honestly wouldn’t be half as good without his iconic enemies, and here they all are in one spot. For the time, this was the biggest gathering of classic Batman villains in the shows run, and their interactions off each other outstanding. It’s also cool to just see the villains be themselves for an episode. Throw in an ingenious plot twist at the end, and a sub-plot involving Catwoman being held hostage by Harley Quinn and you got a near flawless episode. This came very close to being my absolute favorite, had it not been for one other ...


Before I reveal my favorite episode, here are some quick honorable mentions ...


Trial

It's Never Too Late

The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

Harlequinade

The Cat and the Claw






#1 Heart of Ice 


Of all the iconic villain’s portrayed in this show, the one who seemed to make the biggest impact, and still stands as my personal favorite by far is Mr. Freeze. Initially in the comics, Mr. Freeze was a one-note joke villain, but this series took the bare principles of the villain and reconstructed him into a character that felt more fitting along with the best works of Shakespeare. Aside from a stealer vocal performance by Michael Ansara, Mr. Freeze is about as multi layered, complex and intimidating as villains got in this series. His introduction episode titled “Heart of Ice” was so good that it won the shows very first Emmy Award. While trying to cure his terminal wife from a fatal illness, Freeze was ambushed by a fellow co-worker, knocking him into various chemicals that transform him into a monster that can’t live outside of a subzero environment. Fearing that his wife was lost forever, Mr. Freeze vows vengeance against the man who ruined his life. This was the episode that got me watching this series, and it’s one that many fans believe really started things. We have a menacing villain with a tragic back-story, a haunting atmosphere to boot and some iconic imagery that people love to see emulated in Batman. This episode also features some of the best lines in the shows run, mostly from Mr. Freeze. For lack of better words, his dialogue in this episode is downright chilling. “Heart of Ice” did more than just introduce a great villain, it became the template for other works to aspire from, and proved that this series would break away from the conventional formulas associated with past superhero shows. If you’ve never watched this series before, yet have some interest in it, “Heart of Ice” is the episode I’d recommend starting with, it’s tragic, haunting, beautiful and a great show case for my favorite of Batman’s classic foes.         

The End 

The Lego Batman Movie (2017) (Movie Review)


      It’s been years sense that last theatrical Batman spoof movie came out in 1997 titled “Batman and Robin”. It’s been even more years sense the last “good” Batman spoof movie came out in 1966 titled “Batman: The Movie”. Now in the year of 2017, we’ve got a new theatrical spoof titled “The Lego Batman Movie”, and it’s not only the funniest by far, it’s possibly one of the best things to ever come out under the Batman logo. Okay, let me stop and back up a little. The 2014 animated film “The Lego Movie” was a huge hit, and took many of us by surprise. It was funny, it was imaginative, it was visually dazzling, and it had a heart at the center. One of the standout characters featured in that film was Lego Batman voiced by Will Arnett. It was decided that the Lego movie franchise should continue, but focusing on individual characters in their own set Lego worlds, beginning with none other than Lego Batman himself. Thus we have our film, which works as both a perfect follow up to “The Lego Movie”, and surprisingly works as an animated Batman movie.


      As our movie begins, we see the Joker enacting one of his sinister plans to blow up the city with the aid of every single Batman villain ever established. As you’d expect, our hero comes to save the day, but not without breaking the Jokers heart when he reveals his true feelings toured the famous clown prince of crime. This revelation upsets the Joker something awful, and he vows to make sure that Batman finally see’s his arch foe for what he truly is. On the other side of our hero’s life, Batman is actually very lonely, depressed, and while he’ll never admit it out loud, he’s longing to start a new family again. Thus we enter Robin, who through a series of events becomes Batman’s adopted son, and begins to fill the void in his empty life. Our hero also finds himself falling in love with the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon, whom Batman recruits as the crime fighting Batgirl. While this new Bat family is slowly coming together, the Joker unleashes yet another scheme on the city, and puts our hero to the test if he’s ready to fight as a team-player or risk the lives of his new family.


      I’ll admit, I was very underwhelmed by the trailer, as it looked like “just a silly children’s comedy”, and nothing more. Then I remembered how much I loved “The Lego Movie” and decided to give this one a chance. To my surprise, this film isn’t just a clever spoof ... it actually feels like a legit Batman movie, just in a different presentation then all the rest. It still covers issues and character arches that one would expect from a real Batman movie, and there’s even some moral substance at the center. Well, by kid movie standards anyway. Will Arnett is actually a very credible Batman, and might just be one of my favorite portrayals of the character. I like seeing this version of Batman go through his own arch of facing his fears and complications, while still being very charismatic and funny. Robin is voiced by Scott Pilgrim himself “Michael Cera”, who I’m personally not a fan of, but he was fine in the role. His relationship with Batman in this film is admittedly one of the best I’ve seen in any incarnation. I liked their banter, I liked how they poked fun at each others tropes, and it was just satisfying to see them come together. Now as for Batgirl, honestly, I just don’t get why this version of Batman has the hots for her. This is actually the second animated Batman movie in a row to feature some kind of relationship between these two, and it just feels out of place to me. Although, for whatever it’s worth, I do like the voice actress Rosario Dawson. 


        Now let’s talk about the Joker, who’s voiced in this film by Zach Galifianakis. This is like the sixth theatrical rendition of this character (second brought to life through voice acting), and it’s surprisingly a very original portrayal of the character. While this Joker is obviously unleashing his evil on the city, his goal is simply to have Batman admit that they complete each other’s lives. It's actually kind of a heartbreaking scene when Batman flat out tells the Joker he means nothing to him, and that he doesn’t even come close to being his greatest foe. I love how passionate this version of Joker gets to prove him wrong, and to see their relationship progress over the course of the film is very amusing. All of Batman’s other iconic foes all make appearances including Bane, Poison Ive, Cat-woman, Scarecrow, Harley Quinn, Clayface, the Penguin, and thank goodness they didn’t forget to include Mr. Freeze. Personally I wish they could have given Mr. Freeze a slightly bigger role then just a walk by cameo, but at least my favorite Batman villain was there in some form. The majority of these villains just make brief appearances, but there’s some nice touches here and there. I really liked that Two-Face in this film is voiced by Billy Dee Williams, who originally played the character Harvey Dent in the original Tim Burton “Batman”, but never played his evil alter ego. Also, the Riddler in this movie is voiced by Conan O’Brien, but you’d never recognize him. Just about every obscure Batman villain ever makes an appearance in this film, even Egg Head makes an appearance, which was a great little call back to the classic 60’s show.


       On that note, if you’re a long time Batman fan, and have been watching his countless movies, TV shows, spin-offs and even old cereals ... then you will have the time of your life noticing countless references, nods, jokes and Easter eggs aimed at just about every one of his incarnations. Seriously, this movie is a Batman fans wet dream. Every single movie leading up to this film is mentioned and satirized brilliantly. There are so many details that got me laughing a lot more than most of the little kids that were in the theater with me, probably because they don’t know about little things like “bat-shark repellent”. There were also some recognizable music cues from other Batman material, and the original songs for this film were nothing short of awesome. As for the comedy in general, I’m not going to lie ... this movie is HILARIOUS! I really don’t think I’ve had this much fun with an animated film sense “The Simpsons Movie” came out way back in 2006. I was honestly laughing so hard at some scenes that I got worried some security gourd might throw me out of the theater. Right from the start, I loved how this film parodied your standard action movie intros, especially in regards to the over saturation of logos that appear before a movie. I also loved the jokes aimed at Superman and the current DC cinematic universe. Surprisingly, one of my favorite jokes revolves around that classic cliché of “shocking news causing someone to spit out their drink”, and if you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what I’m talking about. 


      The animation naturally is amazing to look at, very colorful, very detailed, and it gives this movie its own unique atmosphere and style. Now the down side is that while this film is a visual marvel, and the jokes are consistently fast and funny, it can be a bit exhausting at times. There’s a lot of mayhem, and a lot of noise, so you really have to be in the right state of mind to watch this. You have to be in the mind set of a child that’s having fun playing with his toys. That doesn’t sound too hard to do, but the films frantic nature really clashes with the quieter, serious moments. I am glad the movie has some quiet scenes to let some character emotion sink in, but the transitions aren’t always handled that well. Even the shifts in tone can get a little rocky. Even the morals got a little repetitive at times. Now there are some genuinely touching scenes, and I do like the message overall. Heck, I’m amazed that a film of this sort even has a moral or theme, so good for this movie to even have something of substance as opposed to just mindless fun.


     For all those minor faults, it doesn’t spoil the films overall fun-factor, that is, as long as you’re in the right mind set. Let me put it this way, the climax is one of the most awesome things I’ve experienced at the cinema in years, making me feel like a six year old in a twenty-five year old man’s body, and I just embraced it. Here’s the set up for this mega finally, the Joker leaves Batman’s Lego universe and recruits various iconic villains from other franchises to concur the city. This includes Voldemort from the “Harry Potter” series, Agent Smith from “The Matrix”, The Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz”, Medusa and the Kraken from “Clash of the Titans”, Sauron from “The Lord of the Rings”, “Dracula”, King Kong, the Gremlins, and tons of others. Then Batman recruits his own army of all his iconic foes who were all betrayed by the Joker earlier. Thus a massive battle takes place between classic Batman villains and other classic movie villains, which is about as epic as they get. Ever sense I was a child I always wanted to see something like this, in fact that’s what I did with all my toys. I only wish they spent a little more time on individual characters here, and a little more banter between the two groups of villains. Also, when Voldemort arrives on the scene he’s voiced by Eddie Izzard, which is a very odd choice. That’s not to say he couldn’t pull off the role, it’s just that Ralph Fiennes who played Voldemort in the actual “Harry Potter” movies also provides the voice for Batman’s butler Alfred in this movie. So why not have Ralph Fiennes do the voice for Voldemort in this film instead of Eddie Izzard, I mean it’s his character and he’s right there in the recording studio.  


       In the end, I really enjoyed “The Lego Batman Movie”, and I honestly consider it to be one of the best theatrical spoof movies on par with the likes of “Space Balls”. It’s wildly funny, beautifully animated, and while it’s full of crazy mayhem, it’s still perfectly family-friendly material. Of course the real surprise was that despite looking at building blocks, it still felt like a real Batman movie in its own right. If you loved “The Lego Movie”, you’ll have a great time with this film, and if you’re a Batman fan, this movie is mandatory to see.


                                            I give “The Lego Batman Movie” 4 stars out of 5.