Features and Columns · Lists · TV

The 10 Best Episodes of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

With its recent arrival on HBO Max, we rank the best episodes of the best Batman adaptation.
Batman The Animated Series Hbo Max
Warner Bros. Animation
By  · Published on January 9th, 2021

5. “Showdown”

Batman The Animated Series Showdown Jonah Hex

When the Society of Shadows kidnaps an old man from a retirement home, Batman and Robin jump into hot pursuit via the Batmobile. As they rocket through the streets of Gotham, Batman slaps a cassette tape found in the victim’s room into his stereo. From the speakers rolls the hypnotic voice of Ra’s Al Ghul, the Demon’s Head. The tyrant is one of Batman’s most diabolical combatants, and his desire to steal this feeble elder gives both hero and viewer pause.

Through the cassette, Ra’s sells an ancient tale, and “Showdown” travels a hundred years into the past, just as the Wild West begins to make way for a sprawling railroad system. The caped crusaders take a backseat this week, as bounty killer Jonah Hex mosies into action. The cowboy seeks to apprehend Arkady Duvall, a sniveling goon aiding Ra’s in the construction of an airship designed to obliterate the encroaching railroad.

When the dust settles, and the cassette reaches its climax, the gunslingers reveal their true biology. The story leaves Batman and Robin with a problem that challenges their sense of justice. “Showdown” stands apart from other episodes in the series, leaving Bruce Wayne to contemplate his role as avenger. He’s no lawman. He’s no bounty hunter. He’s an outlaw.

4. “Beware the Gray Ghost”

Batman The Animated Series Beware The Gray Ghost

A man doesn’t simply put on a bat costume and take to the rooftops. He requires inspiration to erupt into such lunacy. Young Bruce Wayne grew up watching the Gray Ghost crack heads within the glowing black-and-white glory of his father’s television set. Batman is the product of two-dimensional sitcom thinking, a child believing in the possibility of basic good vs. evil combat.

In modern-day Gotham, when a terrorist adopts the modus operandi of the Gray Ghost’s archnemesis, the Mad Bomber, Batman seeks out the actor who portrayed his television idol. Together, the two expose the dangers of a fandom taken to extremes and momentarily satisfy the loneliness festering inside each other. The cartoon is sweet, warm, and thoughtful.

Of course, this episode’s extra bit of wink is that the Gray Ghost is voiced by original boob-tube Batusi detective Adam West. In the post-Tim Burton era, when it was popular to bash West’s bright knight, “Beware the Gray Ghost” validated the actor’s term as the caped crusader. Not that you should need permission to enjoy a BIFF BAM POW with Egghead, King Tut, or Bookworm. Those dudes are a riot, and Batman ’66 should be HBO Max’s next franchise acquisition.

3. “Holiday Knights”

Batman The Animated Series Holiday Knights

When the animated series returned for its third and final season, the show was rebranded The New Batman Adventures. “Holiday Knights” is its premiere episode, and although it takes a little while to adjust to its slightly modified design (the noir is still present, but it’s a little sleeker and a little slicker), the show sizzles with crackling energy. The episode is an anthology, acting as a tour through this new Gotham.

We get a short ride with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy as they rip through Gotham’s shopping district. There’s a gnarly brawl between Batgirl and Clayface. The Joker attempts to ring in the new year with — what else? — an explosive device. “Holiday Knights” offers a little something for everybody, a remix fashioned to keep the party going.

2. “Almost Got ‘Im”

Batman The Animated Series Almost Got Im

“Almost Got ‘Im” imagines what’s said when Batman’s rogues gather around a poker table. The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, and Killer Croc regale each other with their Dark Knight close encounters. The episode dips in and out of their stories, highlighting Batman’s effectiveness as a huge pain in the underworld’s ass. Although can you really trust these narrators? They’re crooks, and mostly insane.

Batman: The Animated Series always knew how to have fun with its characters and concept. “Almost Got ‘Im” is the peak of Dini’s many mischievous adventures. The script zigs, zags, and dips; playfully ridiculing these baddies while also championing the qualities that make us adore them so darn much. Batman may have his name on the marquee, but these rogues are equally responsible for our devotion.

1. “Heart of Ice”

Batman The Animated Series Heart Of Ice

As “On Leather Wings” redefined the Man-Bat, and “Feat of Clay” redefined Clayface, “Heart of Ice” redefined Mr. Freeze. Going forward, no writer or artist would deliver their spin on the character without using this cartoon as their starting point. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm took a goofy dude who shot people with a cold gun and transformed him into a tragic sliver of a human being. Their Mr. Freeze is a heartbroken scientist who damned his soul in the pursuit to preserve his beloved. Watching the episode, it’s nearly impossible to align yourself against him.

Legend states that Timm initially wanted actor Michael Ansara to inhabit Freeze’s voice like a robot, but the actor refused. Ansara felt it imperative that the good doctor’s humanity, however broken, tremor through his words. The result is an aching performance, where every pang of hate and anger comes tinged with sorrow.

“Heart of Ice” established Batman: The Animated Series as a powerfully compassionate program. The cartoon happily supplied the punching and the kicking, but Timm and his team never sacrificed character or story for action. They loved these personalities too much, and they took the demand for them secured by Tim Burton’s blockbuster success and kicked the lid off the infinite possibilities provided by the comics. Oh, you like Batman? You like the Joker? Wait ’til you get a load of Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, Ra’s Al Ghul, The Clock King, etc.

Pages: 1 2

Related Topics: ,

Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)