PG Cooper: Top 20 Batman: The Animated Series Episodes

Posted: January 23, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists, Retrospectives
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PG’s Top 20 BTAS Episodes

BTW, I’ve abandoned my “no spoiler” policy. You have been warned.

20. His Silicon Soul

Written by Marty Isenberg and Robert N. Skir. Directed by Boyd Kirkland.

“His Silicon Soul” started out as nothing more than a story board from the episode “Heart of Steel”. There was suppose to be a scene where Batman fought an evil robot Batman, but the scene was cut for time. However this idea was resurrected for this episode. What I like isn’t so much the evil robot part of the episode, but the arc that the robot goes through. When the character wakes up, he believes himself to be the real Batman, and eventually thinks he’s stuck in a robot body. There’s a great scene where the robot Batman confronts his creator and he’s told he isn’t human. Eventually, the robot Batman is reprogrammed by HARDAC (the computer from “Heart of Steel”) and begins to try and program HARDAC into computers the world over. Kevin Conroy is great in this episode as both the regular Batman, and the robot Batman. The climax between Batman and his robot counter-part is also pretty awesome, and I like the way Batman defeats him by exposing his humanity.

“I’ve taken a life”

19. Growing Pains

Written by Paul Dini and Robert Goodman. Directed by Atsuko Tanaka.

I don’t like how they simplified Clayface’s design for the New Adventures, but this is still my favourite Clayface episode. Basically a little girl is on the run and finds herself turning to Tim Drake’s Robin. She doesn’t know who she is, she just knows she needs to stay away from her father. We eventually find out her father is Clayface and that the girl is sort of an offspring of Clayface. The question of whether or not this girl is actually alive is pretty interesting, as well as being a genuinely creepy twist. I find the final sacrifice she makes sad, and very dark. This episode is also an important one for Tim Drake and really builds his character. He works on his own through most of the episode and has to go through a traumatic event. He actually experiences some serious loss.

“Sometimes, there are no happy endings.”

18. Almost Got ‘Im

Written by Paul Dini. Directed by Eric Radomski.

A bunch of villains sit around playing cards and telling stories about how they almost killed Batman. It’s a simple concept, but I think it’s a really good one. The chemistry between the villains is the best part. It’s fun to watch the Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, the Penguin, and Killer Croc all play off each other. It’s interesting to see what they’re like when they aren’t planning anything villainous. This is also one of the more campy episodes, and I like the way the series acknowledged that side of Batman. I think my favourite story is the one from Two-Face. I don’t really have a good reason for this, I just think it’s cool. I also think the twist and epilogue with Catwoman do a good job giving the episode a climax.

“The coin lands face down, you’ll be squashed flat. It lands face up, it’ll just break every bone in your body.”

17. Legends of the Dark Knight

Written by Robert Goodman and Bruce Timm. Directed by Dan Riba.

I still say the ending to this episode is a let down, but I don’t care. This episode deserves to be here, if nothing else because there isn’t any other one like it. Three kids walk around and two tell stories on what they think Batman is like. The first is one of the more old school type stories from the fifties and sixties, where Batman and Robin thwart the Joker’s attempt to steal from a music story. This scene has a very campy feel, and the animation has an old school flair to it. It’s the second story though that makes me really love this episode. An adaptation of one of my favourite comic book stories ever, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”. The episode combines Batman’s two encounters with the mutant leader. The animation does a great job capturing the graphic novel, and the tone is bang on. I especially love the casting of Michael Ironside as the elderly Batman. Awesome.

“You still don’t get it, son. This isn’t a trash heap, it’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.”

16. The Demon’s Quest

Written by Denny O’ Neil and Len Wein. Directed by Kevin Altieri.

There’s a lot to admire about this episode. For one thing, Ra’s is a pretty unique Batman villain. He isn’t a deranged maniac, but a leader of a terroist group. His goals, while extreme, make sense. He wants to eliminate crime and stop the damage being done to the planet. That’s understandable, but he doesn’t care about how many people he kills to pull off these goals. I like the trials that Ra’s puts Batman through, and this does feel like one of the biggest and most epic episodes. I also love David Warner as Ra’s Al Ghul. The action scenes are pretty awesome and the whole thing is a lot of fun. It almost makes me feel like I’m watching Lawrence of Arabia or Raiders of the Lost Ark. A big, fun episode and Ra’s Al Ghul’s finest hour.

“Victory is yours, Detective. Perhaps it is time I am finally one with the planet I so love.”

15. Old Wounds

Written by Rich Fogel. Directed by Curt Geda.

One of the things I always admired about Batman TAS was how they showed a more strained relationship between Batman and Robin. In this episode, we see that relationship meet it’s apex. We see Dick Grayson’s final night as Robin. I like watching Grayson struggle with how he feels about Batman. He has differing views on how crime fighting should be done and he also struggles with a life growing up as a costumed hero. Grayson decides he’s had enough after he finds out his girlfriend is Batgirl. He realizes Batman knew the whole time but never told him. He also feels Batman endangered her life by not trying to stop her. I like how Grayson has more than one reason for abandoning Robin. I especially like the scene where the two need to interrogate a thug, and Robin doesn’t want to do it in front of the guy’s family. And the dramatic showdown between Batman and Robin is pretty intense. Now I will admit, at the end when Grayson, who was Nightwing at this point, encounters the same thug he and Batman had to interrogate is a pretty big coincidence. But at the same time, it leads to a pretty nice moment between the two, and shows a lighter side to Batman.

“Things change, I changed. The game’s over Batman. I quit.”

14. Second Chance

Story by Paul Dini & Michael Reaves. Teleplay by Gerry Conway. Directed by Boyd Kirkland.

After Two-Face’s debut, the show played him as a pretty straight villain and made little reference to the fact that he was once a good person. This episode returns to that good person. Harvey has almost completely removed the Two-Face persona from his mind. He just needs to undergo a surgical procedure to remove the physical scars. But before he can, he’s kidnapped by some thugs. Batman and Robin have to investigate who it is. It’s pretty obvious that Two-Face is responsible for kidnapping himself, but I still enjoy watching Batman and Robin work at it. I find this episode very sad. To see Harvey come so close to being normal, only for him to ruin everything for himself is pretty tragic. The climax between Batman and Two-Face is especially sad. When Harvey is unable to make a decision because the coin keeps landing on edge, it’s really quite pathetic. I also like the little sub story about how Robin feels inferior in Batman’s eyes in comparison to Harvey. All in all, I love this episode and I feel it’s often sadly overlooked.

“Good old Bruce. You never give up on me.”

13. Over The Edge

Written by Paul Dini. Directed by Yuichiro Yano.

Batgirl is killed, Gordon discovers she was his daughter, and feeling betrayed, wages a war on Batman. Wow, talk about a premise. Getting the obvious out of the way, yes, the episode is a dream. There was no way the producers would kill off Batgirl. Anyway, this is still a great episode. Starting the thing off with Gordon and a S.W.A.T team breaking into Wayne Manor and the Batcave was a pretty epic start. The animation here is stellar, and it really shines in the action scenes. But the best thing about the episode is the emotional torture that both Batman and James Gordon go through. Bob Hastings is especially great as Gordon, and this is his finest performance as the character. This episode is also very atmospheric and tense, and full of shocking moments. The death of Batgirl, the arrest of Alfred, the death of Batman and Gordon together, there’s a lot. Finally, the ending to the episode has a nice little reveal, and I like that an episode of such scale felt comfortable ending on a small, character moment.

“How could you? I worked with you, trusted you, and you never told me? She was my daughter, my daughter…”

12. Mask of the Phantasm

Written by Alan Burnett, Martin Pasko, Paul Dini, and Michael Reaves. Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm.

I know this isn’t technically an episode, but I’m just viewing the movies as three part episodes. Anyway, in my retrospective, I was pretty harsh on “Phantasm” which looking back, was a bit much. On the whole, “Phantasm” is really awesome. I love seeing so much insight on Bruce Wayne’s past. I love seeing his one shot at happiness be ruined by crime, the very thing that through his life out of proportion. His relationship with Andrea is a pretty interesting one, and I think the two have good chemistry. Now it is pretty easy to guess Andrea is the Phantasm killing gangsters, but I still find her arc pretty interesting, and she’s a nice mirror to Batman. Now while Joker’s appearance here does feel a little forced, when he comes in, he’s pretty awesome. The climax is pretty awesome, and I find the ending pretty sad. There are three scenes that really stand out. When Bruce begs for happiness, when the Joker encounters a corrupt politician, and the final scene with Alfred. “Phantasm” also has a lot of awesome action set pieces. Also, I can’t say how awesome it is to see a story delve into how Batman got started. In that respect, it’s like Batman Begins before Batman Begins.

“I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy. Please, tell me that it’s okay.”

11. Trial

Written by Paul Dini and Bruce W. Timm. Directed by Dan Riba.

This episode works on a number of levels. For one, it is a lot of fun. Batman is put on trial by the inmates of Arkham while being defended by a lawyer who doesn’t believe in what Batman does. It’s so cool to see all these villains together. The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, the Ventriloquist, Killer Croc, the Mad Hatter, all the crazies are here. I really enjoy the villains testimonies against Batman, and Joker is awesome as the judge.The villains have a lot of memorable moments. I think my favourites is one the Ventriloquist tries to silence the court and fails, only for Scarface to come in and do it. “He says oyez, dirtbags! Dummy up!” I also love how Joker and the villains declare Batman innocent, and decide to kill him anyway. On a deeper level though, the episode is actually a direct response to the graphic novel “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth”. While that work argued Batman his responsible for the villains, this episode argues the oposite. That they would have turned out sick and twisted, Batman or not. I find this very interesting, and I like watching the lawyer go through this arc. I admit, this episode would have benefited from being a two-parter, but it as it is, it’s still really awesome.

“You’ve proven that Batman didn’t create us. That we in fact messed up our own rotten lives. And since we are so rotten, vile, and depraved…we’re going to waste you anyway!”

10. Perchance to Dream

Story by Laren Bright and Michael Reaves. Teleplay by Joe R. Lansdale. Directed by Boyd Kirkland.

Getting my one complaint out of the way, this is sort of the Batman equivalent of Alan Moore’s amazing Superman story “For The Man Who Has Everything”. That said, I do think they have an interesting twist on it. Bruce Wayne wakes up in a world where he isn’t Batman, and has never been Batman. His parents are alive and his life seems perfect. But he feels it isn’t real. It’s very much like a Twilight Zone episode. The mystery is pretty intriguing and I love the reveal that it’s the Mad Hatter. I also love how Bruce doesn’t actually see the Hatter, he just puts together all the clues himself. I think the episode also does a good job showing how strong Batman’s resolve is. That he refuses to abandon his crusade no matter the cost. Kevin Conroy, who was always fantastic as Batman, is especially excellent here. You can tell he’s been pushed mentally and you feel the confusion and frustration in his voice. Great episode, with a very dramatic climax.

“I won’t live a lie! No matter how attractive you make it!”

9. Mad Love

Written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. Directed by Butch Lukic.

By far my favourite episode of the New Adventures. We see Harley Quinn’s back story presented, as well as her attempting to kill Batman so her and the Joker could be together. Most of the series, the relationship between Joker and Harley had been played for comedy. And to be fair, it usually was pretty funny. But here it’s presented in a more serious light, and it’s a pretty tragic portrayal of abusive relationships. The ending where Quinn almost decides she’s done, before falling for the Joker again, really brings that home. The scene where Batman actually starts to mess with Harley’s head and makes her question the Joker’s relationship is pretty sad. Batman breaks Harley down in a very harsh way. Of course Joker really cranks up the harsh factor when he pushes Harley out a window, nearly killing her. The scenes that reveal Harley’s back story are also quite good. There’s something really sick about the way Joker seduces Harley. Arleen Sorkin is awesome here as Harley, and brings more emotional depth to the character than ever before. One of the best, most emotionally involving episodes.

“You’re wrong! My puddin’ does love me, he does! You’re the problem! And now you’re gonna die and make everything right.”

8. Dreams in Darkness

Written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Directed by Dick Sebast.

Batman is poisoned by Scarecrow and begins hallucinating before being locked away in Arkham Asylum. This is a very tense episode. Seeing Batman locked away and partly insane is really cool, and in a weird way kind of scary. I also like that Batman actually narrates the episode. It’s a small detail, but again, I think it makes the episode really tense. I like really getting to spend an episode in Batman’s head. Batman also has three extremely memorable hallucinations. One is when he’s trying to get to Scarecrow, he starts imagining himself getting attacked by giant versions of all the villains. Another one is a very small one, but while working, Batman thinks he sees the reflection of the Joker coming at him in the Batcave. It’s a very small moment, but I love it. Finally, there’s an amazing dream sequence where Batman is walking through a version of crime alley, before seeing his parents. He calls to them, but they can’t hear him. They start to walk into a tunnel, as Batman warns them not to. Suddenly the ground begins to shake and the tunnel rises from the ground, revealing it to be a giant gun. The gun fires at Batman, snapping him out of the hallucination. Finally, I love Scarecrow in this episode. He’s genuinely very scary, and Henry Polic II gives a great performance. I’ve always loved this episode, and still have memories of it scaring me as a kid.

“Some thought I’d gone mad. Others thought I’d always had been. And so they put me where they thought I belonged.”

7. House & Garden

Written by Paul Dini. Directed by Boyd Kirkland.

Batman TAS had a lot of episodes about villains going straight, and this one is easily the best. Poison Ivy has given up her criminal ways in favour of a life with a family. She’s gotten married and has become the step-mom to her husband’s kids. But at the same time, a series of poison related crimes leads to Ivy being the most likely subject. First off, this episode is really well executed. The music, animation, and lighting are all quite good. There’s also a creature which is well designed and cleverly hidden throughout most of the episode. I also like watching Batman try to solve what’s going on. But what really makes this episode special is Poison Ivy. It’s interesting watching Ivy live a normal life, and I like how after they reveal she is behind the robberies, she still enjoyed having a family life. It wasn’t something she just did as I front for her crimes. Speaking of the reveal at the end, it’s really creepy. Ivy has essentially been growing children out of plants. The reveal is really dark, with children crawling out of pods repeating “Mommy”. I also like how Ivy escapes Batman and Robin at the end. But it’s the character that really makes this episode special. It’s interesting seeing Ivy living her version of a normal life. Diane Pershing is awesome as Ivy, and this is easily the best Poison Ivy episode of the series.

“For what it’s worth, I believed her when she told me for the first time in her life she was happy.”

6. The Laughing Fish

Written by Paul Dini. Directed by Bruce W. Timm

The Joker was easily the most used villain of the series. Of all his episodes, it’s this one that proves my favourite. The plot has to do with Joker poisoning fish so they smile like he does. Then he tries to copyright them. He’s told by a wimpy worker that it’s illegal, so Joker threatens to kill him. What I love about this episode is I think it’s the perfect balance of the funny clown and the psychotic killer. I don’t think Joker really cares about the fish, he just wants an excuse to torment people. I love the music in the episode, and I think it’s got a good, tense feel. Mark Hamill is at his best with Joker, being both scary and hilarious. There’s a lot of fun Joker moments. Any TV broadcast from him is awesome, and I love the scene where he first goes to the copyright office. The laughing toxin he he uses in this episode is really creepy and two scenes it’s used really stands out. It may not be the deepest of episodes, but I think it’s awesome fun executed brilliantly.

“Normal criminals usually have logical motives. But the Joker’s insane schemes make sense to him alone.”

5. Two-Face

Story by Alan Burnett. Teleplay by Randy Rogel. Directed by Kevin Altieri.

Harvey Dent has been trying to take down crime lord Rupert Thorne, but in doing so makes Thorne a powerful enemy. Harvey has also been struggling with his own personal demons, which Thorne attempts to exploit, leading to the accident which created Two-Face. One of the things that really makes this episode work is the fact that Harvey had been introduced episodes earlier. Because of this, we actually care about Harvey and it’s emotional when he becomes a monster. I also like how they gave him psychological problems before he actually becomes Two-Face. The animation is also quite good here, and the design they came up with for Two-Face is really cool. Another great thing about the episode is not just the torment Harvey goes through, but the torment Batman goes through. Harvey and Bruce were genuinely good friends, and you can tell Batman feels responsible for what happened to Harvey. There’s a great dream sequence involving Harvey, as well as the death of Bruce’s parents, suggesting Harvey becoming Two-Face is as tragic a lose to Bruce as the murder of his parents. Richard Moll is great as both the charismatic and charming Harvey Dent, but also as the villainous and threatening Two-Face. I also enjoy watching Two-Face wage his private war against Rupert Thorne. I find the ending quite sad where Harvey almost redeems his sanity before plunging back into darkness. Finally, the scene where Two-Face can’t decide because he can’t find his coin I find especially sad and pathetic. What more can I say? It’s one of my favourite origin stories to one of my favourite villains.

“So what are you dreaming tonight, Harvey? Peaceful dreams? Nightmares? Maybe both at once. Wherever you are, whatever you’ve become, I promise I will save you.”

4. The Man Who Killed Batman

Written by Paul Dini. Directed by Bruce W. Timm.

A dorky gangster thinks he’s killed Batman and has to live with the consequences. This episode is so awesome. For one, it’s interesting to see an episode entirely from another character’s point of view, in this case Batman’s supposed killer, Sid the Squid. Sid himself is pretty likable in his awkwardness, and Matt Frewer is hilarious in the part. It’s just fun watching everything go wrong for Sid. After killing Batman, he’s in a bar with his friends celebrating. Some thugs think of they kill Sid, the man who killed Batman, then that’ll make them the toughest guys in Gotham. A bar brawl breaks out, which features what is, in my opinion, one of the funniest moments of the series involving a random bartender. I don’t even know why I love this moment so much, but I do. After that, Sid is put in jail. Things seem pretty low for Sid, but they get worse when he’s bailed out by the Joker. Joker doesn’t actually believe Batman’s dead, so he pulls a job just to be sure. But when Batman doesn’t show up, Joker begins to believe he’s really gone. He falls into something of a depression and has a funeral for Batman. During Joker’s eulogy, he starts to get pissed and decides to throw Sid in a casket and roll him into a vat of acid. It’s this part that’s my favourite. All the stuff with Joker is great. This episode is a must see. It’s a great story, it’s funny, and it’s full of fun moments.

“Where is he? He’s never been this late before. There’s a certain rhythm to these things. I cause trouble, he shows up, we have some laughs and the game starts all over again. Only now thanks to you, I have this terrible feeling that he’s not really coming. Without Batman, crime has no punchline.”

3. Robin’s Reckoning

Written by Randy Rogel. Directed by Dick Sebast.

I’ve always defended Robin, and this two-parter is a big part of why. We see flashbacks into Dick’s childhood, revealing what happened to his parents, as well as a modern story of Robin seeking revenge on the man who killed his parents. The origin story is where most of the emotional moments come from. The way portray the death of Dick’s parents is very effective and sad. Bruce’s empathy toward Dick is quite interesting, and I like seeing how their relationship began. It starts out pretty rocky. Bruce isn’t around much because he’s obsessed with finding Tony Zucco, the man who killed Dick’s parents. Personally, I viewed this as Batman using Zucco as a surrogate for the man who killed his parents. Though Alfred suggests that what Dick really needs is a friend. From there, Bruce begins to spend more time with him, leading to my favourite scene where the two talk about their parents. In the present day story, I like that there’s tension between the two. This was the first time a more complicated relationship was suggested. On top of that, I love that Robin actually comes off as an equal to Batman here. Finally, I like the final scene. Robin assumes Batman wanted him to stay away from Zucco because he was worried Robin would be too emotional, but it was really because Batman was afraid of losing Robin. All in all, it’s a great episode. An emotional ringer that turns Robin from just a sidekick to an accomplished partner.

“You keep thinking, ‘If only I’d done something differently. If only I could have…warned them.’ But there isn’t anything you could have done. There isn’t anything either of us could have done.”

2. Heart of Ice

Written by Paul Dini. Directed by Bruce W. Timm.

Is it typical to name “Heart of Ice” among the best episodes of the series? Yes, but there’s a reason everyone loves it. It really is one of the best episodes of the series. After losing his wife in an accident that also turns him into a monster, Victor Fries becomes the villain Mr. Freeze, and starts to take revenge on the corporation that did it to him. It’s a simple premise, but what really makes it great is the character of Mr. Freeze. Freeze is a compelling character who we feel sympathy for, because of the tragedy he suffered. He also has a brilliant design, and is brought to life by an excellent performance from Michael Ansara. Ansara brings an appropriate robotic cold to the part, but with an undercurrent of sadness. He’s such a compelling character you’re almost rooting for him by episode’s end. The episode also has some amazing scenes. There’s the reveal of Mr. Freeze’s origin, where we see him trying desperately trying to protect his wife. We have the scene where Freeze discusses why he’s willing to kill with Batman. We have the scene where Freeze finally confronts Ferris Boyle, the man who ruined his life. And finally, we have the seen where Freeze sits alone in his cell, crying. “Heart of Ice” should also be credited as the episode with the best dialogue of the series. Almost all incarnations of Mr. Freeze have borrowed from this episode since broadcast. It’s a brilliant episode, with great writing and interesting characters. It’s not my absolute favourite, but it’s easy to see why so many have championed it.

“You beg? In my nightmares I see my Nora behind the glass, begging to me with frozen eyes. How I’ve longed to see that look frozen on you.”

1. I Am The Night

Written by Michael Reaves. Directed by Boyd Kirkland.

No super villains and little action scenes. It isn’t colourful and it isn’t funny. This is my favourite episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Why? Because it heavily focuses on Batman himself. As the episode begins, Batman is questioning if he makes any difference. After years of crime fighting, he finds criminals still running wild and wonders what the point of it is. As he says himself, “I’ve put out a few fires yes, won a few battles. But the war goes on Alfred, on and on.” To see Batman at such a low point really is fascinating, and it’s rare we see that in any medium, let alone from this series. Things get worse when Commissioner Gordon is shot and put in a coma. Batman feels responsible for this, and has something of a mental breakdown. It’s just a fascinating look into the mind of the dark knight. This might be Kevin Conroy’s finest performance as Batman, and that’s really saying something. There’s also a subplot here involving a punk kid caught up in crime. At the end of the episode, Batman confronts the kid thinking he’s stolen something. The kid explains that he’s actually leaving town to move back in with his folks and try to start over, and thanks Batman for inspiring him to do it. It’s a clever way for the difference Batman makes to be revealed to him. But my absolute favourite scene is when Gordon finally comes out of his coma. The brief exchange he has with Batman is really touching. This is dark, somber, and at times depressing episode. But it’s also a cathartic tale about why Gotham needs Batman. It also features a great script and great performances. This isn’t an episode for the kids and it’s not exactly a fun episode. What it is, is the greatest episode in the history of Batman: The Animated Series.

“Gotta keep fighting, never stop. What I try to live by. Maybe if I had been younger, coulda been like you. Always wanted to be a hero.”

“You are a hero Jim.”

  1. Ipodman says:

    Nice List!

    “Legends of the Dark Knight” is cool because they did it straight out of the comic book, “Mad Love” is good too.

  2. This…by far…is one of the best posts I have ever read. I own all of the BTAS and was glad to be in agreement with a lot of the episodes you wrote about! Good choices! Perchance to Dream, I am the Night, and all the rest you mentioned!


  3. Eric says:

    This is pretty awesome. I just discovered this series recently and have been slowly working my way through. It will be fun to compare with your list as I go along. Thanks for sharing!

  4. […] Cooper delivered his list of the Top 20 Batman: The Animated Series episodes. I just started watching the show myself, and it will be fun to […]

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