25 Years, 3 Day-Time Emmys and 1 Primetime Emmy Later: Batman The Animated Series

Everyone is exposed to comics in various different ways. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe revved up in high gear those movies become a catalyst for change. Providing that initial spark of interest. For an older generation, the Adam West Batman from the 60’s provided wonder and imagination. Creating comic book fans out of baby boomers. An older brother could have been the culprit too. Even toys and video games such as Injustice: Gods Among us (the joint Mortal Kombat and DC tournament fighting game) can expose children to comics. I have gone on record here in a podcast stating how I was introduced to comics. In the early 90’s when I was a small boy DC put out a magnificent cartoon entitle Batman: The Animated Series. This would be my open door, from here I would follow the path to other comic book inspired television programming. All leading up to becoming a serious collector. This cartoon was created in the wake of the two Tim Burton Batman movies. Marrying dark art deco imagery with compelling storytelling. Prominent writer Paul Dini and Bruce Timm the visionary who created Gotham as I would come to know it made sure that I wasn’t too young to and that I wasn’t too old to for their stories. The Danny Elfman opening score always takes me back to my childhood.  Don’t get me started on the voice acting! Mark Hamill’s Joker is still the voice I hear when I read anything with the Joker in it. Kevin Conroy and Arleen Sorkin are truly the Batman and Harley Quinn of my Generation.

September 5th 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of the show, it didn’t go unnoticed if you were wondering why this article didn’t coincide with date. I want to compile a list of 10 or so episodes that any of the uninitiated would automatically see and understand how incredible the show was. As well as how it still holds up today.  I do not want to turn this into a love letter to iconic episodes such as “Heart of Ice”, “Mad Love”, “Two-Face” part 1 and 2, “Over the Edge” and the like. I will promise to only give a few key points to each episode and to not include spoilers. If I do happen to mention a spoiler or 2 all I have to say is “come on man this cartoon is 25 years old!”

If I were to pick a truly oddball episode it would have to be “Almost Got ‘Im”. Very simple premise but very affective storytelling. The skinny on this episode is pretty self-explanatory. A group of Batman’s most dangerous villains come together for a card game. Exchanging quips at each other’s expense (mostly Killer Croc’s) and their greatest stories when they almost “got” Batman. As a child, I really liked Batman’s foes interacting with one another. It was entertaining because I feel like now they hardly work together. In the current Batman arc The War of Jokes and Riddles, the Riddler and the Joker are feuding for the city. It doesn’t share the comradery that “Almost Got ‘Im” hits home perfectly.

This episode was always a really special one. For many reasons, I can’t narrow it down to, it was highly stimulating. Perhaps what “Beware the Gray Ghost” had going for it was nostalgia. Nostalgia was seeping out of every crevice. The Gray Ghost in this episode is Bruce Wayne’s childhood hero. Choosing Adam West to voice act as the titular character was perfect. It harks back to when George Lucas and Steven Spieldberg casted Sean Connery as Indiana Jones’ father. George Lucas always stated that the father of a character like Indiana Jones would be James Bond. The Gray Ghost is a pulpy 1940’s inspired vigilante crime fighter not unlike Will Eisner’s the Spirit.  Batman teams up with the actor who plays the Gray Ghost to solve a mad bomber reenacting a crime from an episode.

What I really enjoy about “Perchance to Dream” is that it resembles the Elseworld stories DC used to put out. Now that is another good list to write, “The most intriguing Elseworld books written”. If you aren’t familiar, Elseworld stories were books DC published that didn’t fall in the regular continuity of the DC universe. Typically, one shots or graphic novels that depicted a character or characters in different atmospheres, personas or any other shape or form. For instance, the Elseworld story “Speeding Bullets” retold Superman’s origin if he were to land in Gotham and be adopted by the Wayne family. I can’t really mention too much of this episode without spoiling it so here goes nothing. Bruce wakes to a world where his parents did not die, he is not Batman and he has many questions needing answers.

Without this next episode, we would not have the song Jingle Bells Batman smells, enough said.  Batman and Robin have to find Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Summer Gleason tied up in the Joker’s hidden TV station. The dynamic duo have to run the gauntlet of intricate Christmas themed traps. It is a race to midnight in this episode aptly named “Christmas with the Joker”.

Serving as the show’s origin story of the Riddler, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich” is a suspenseful revenge story. From my experiences reading comics, the Riddler is and underutilized B-list villain. There was a time he was a hero for hire. It wasn’t until DC’s New 52 and Rebirth that the Riddler became a sinister foe again. Batman: The Animated Series showed us the Riddler can give the caped crusader a truly thought-provoking adversary. Batman and Robin must solve riddles and work their way through a deadly maze to find out what the Riddler is planning.

These Gotham City sirens won our hearts, and to some a little more… Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn always seem to make trouble. “Harley and Ivy” highlights there beginnings together when they meet on a museum heist gone awry. Harley brings the comic relief while Ivy is the straight man, well woman. Harley and Ivy team up to take Gotham by storm for all women. This episode dives into Harley and the Joker’s relationship, dysfunctional or not. We get a glimpse at an intimate phone call between the 2 that isn’t what it seems. The Joker’s jealousy gets the better of him.  

What “Trial” submits to us is the notion that Batman creates his enemies. That he does more harm than good. That really intrigued me when I first watched it. Also, the Joker in a British white wig and black judge robe outfit is priceless. The prisoners take over Arkham and turn it into a courtroom. Batman Is captured in the newly converted Arkham Asylum. The criminals put Batman on trial for helping shape them.

The episode “A Bullet for Bullock” unites Batman and Harvey Bullock, what an unlikely team-up. Someone is gunning for Bullock so Harvey, not knowing where to turn seeks the help of Batman. Vinny Stark a man Harvey put away some ten years prior is the prime suspect. This buddy cop mystery story allows Harvey to see Batman differently than he did before.

In “The Man Who Killed Batman”, timid Mafioso the Squid wants to be taken seriously but because of his demeanor and stature isn’t seen as an asset by his peers. After unintentionally killing Batman, Sid the Squid becomes a legend and someone who is admired by his counterparts. Because of Batman’s murder, Gotham’s criminal underbelly challenges Sid at every turn. Even the Joker has a funeral for the Dark Knight because crime no longer has a punchline. The Squid must live with the consequences of power and adoration. Can he handle it?

“Joker’s Favor” is a silly episode. It starts off with Charles Collins driving in traffic complaining about how his life didn’t go the way he wanted. While in traffic police cars and the Batmobile force him off the road. After complaining another car comes up and cuts him off. This sets off our character’s road rage. Unfortunately, Charles races to curse out the driver until he discovers that it is the Joker. The Joker allows Charles to live on the condition that in the future he will owe a favor. Very al la the Godfather. I just don’t understand why the Joker was obeying traffic laws and how did all of the police and Batman get in front of him? He wasn’t very incognito, world’s greatest detective my ass. He has his face paint on and everything. That is a loose end that is best overlooked.

Batman: The Animated Series may be 25 years old but time hasn’t stolen any of the traits that keep it entertaining and compelling. Watching these episodes will give you a sense of range the show had. It was able to appropriately satisfy a plethora of ages. After watching these particular episodes go ahead and watch the gems of the series like the few I mentioned earlier in this article.