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 

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