My Top 15 Favorite Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series
Batman: The Animated Series ran for three years, exploring the origins and psychology of its hero, his allies, and the villains he battled. Every one of the 85 episodes in the series has moments of greatness, but a few stand out from the rest. Below are 15 of my favorite episodes from the series in no particular order. Please note, there are spoilers ahead.
1. "Pretty Poison"
Premise: Bruce’s friend, Harvey Dent, the new District Attorney, has begun dating a botanist named Pamela Isley, who is actually Poison Ivy in disguise. She poisons him with her deadly kiss as punishment for breaking ground for a new building on a land preserve. Batman must find her and retrieve the antidote that will save his ailing friend before it is too late.
Why It’s Great: It introduces Harvey Dent and Poison Ivy to the show, two great characters whose paths will cross again once Dent becomes a super villain, but it's nice to see him as a genuine do-gooder good guy turned victim. Ivy has a legitimate reason for her actions; she just has an evil way of retaliating. She is sneaky and dangerous, possessing a supernatural ability to manipulate plants to do her bidding. Superpowers are rare in Batman's rogue's gallery, but hers are more of the work of exaggerated science, and she fits in nicely with her cunning ways and strong motives. There’s also a memorable and intense fight between Batman and Ivy’s deadly Venus flytrap.
2. "Heart of Ice"
Premise: Victor Freeze seeks revenge on his ex-employer who pulled the plug on his research to cure his gravely ill wife and pushed him into a vat of chemicals, freezing his skin. Now, he lives in a a subzero suit and claims to have been stripped of all human emotions. Battling a touch of cold himself, Batman must stop Freeze from trying to harm his ex-boss and anyone else who gets in his way.
Why It’s Great: This episode famously creates Freeze’s backstory, a tragic tale about the loss of both his wife as well as his empathy for the human race. Freeze declares himself emotionless as the result of his accident, but it’s apparent that this is not the case as he designs a snow globe in the likeness of his wife and sheds a tear for her from his snowy cell in Arkham after he is apprehended by Batman. It's one of the saddest and most humanizing moments ever created in an animated story.
3. "Mad as a Hatter"
Premise: This episode reveals the origin of Jervis Tetch, a lowly, impish man who has nothing going for him but the development of a mind control device which he begins to use on his overbearing boss, thugs on the street, and eventually his crush, Alice. Batman must chase him through an “Alice in Wonderland” themed maze in an amusement park to save those under The Mad Hatter's control.
Why It’s Great: Jervis is an underdog, a very relatable character to the mild-mannered, sensitive viewers watching the show. He is pushed around and overlooked, despite his talents. His unrequited love for Alice is especially compelling to watch, making part of you wish that Batman would just leave him alone so that he can have a chance to tell her how he feels. At the same time, anyone who needs to inflict mind control on their love interest needs to be stopped.
4. "Perchance to Dream"
Premise: One day, Bruce Wayne wakes up in his house to find that his parents are still alive, he’s engaged to Selina Kyle, and he’s not Batman after all. It seems like the perfect existence until he starts to realize that this may all be an illusion.
Why It’s Great: This story explores the "what if" scenarios of Bruce’s life. It also addresses the importance of reality versus happiness. Best of all, there’s a twist as to which villain orchestrated this entire scenario, and he is unmasked as the caped crusader of this alternate reality as Bruce chooses painful reality over a blissful lie.
5. "Cat Scratch Fever"
Premise: Trying to clean up her act, Selina Kyle is released from prison on probation, but she runs into trouble after discovering a gang of thugs experimenting on strays, including her runaway cat, Isis. Crime boss Roland Daggett turns out to be behind it all, carrying out his plan to infect the animals with a deadly virus in order to sell the cure at extravagant prices. In an attempt to rescue Isis and expose the criminals, Catwoman is scratched and infected herself. Batman must come to the rescue and get her the antidote in time.
Why It’s Great: This episode shows Catwoman in a different light, proving that not all villains are evil all the time. Many of Batman's villains are actually regular people who overly support a certain cause, idea, or skill and resist those who stand in their way, often turning to illegal and sometimes violent measures to carry out their plans. Selina Kyle is perhaps the least villainous in the rogue's gallery, and this episode clearly shows this. I especially enjoy the fight between Batman and the infected dog on the ice while Catwoman looks on from her hideout, unmasked and sick with the toxin-induced fever. I also like the ending when Batman delivers Isis back to Selina’s apartment in a lowered basket before swinging away towards the closing credits.
6. "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?"
Premise: The Riddler's origin story is told in this episode. Edward Nygma is a video game creator who is fired from his job and seeks revenge by kidnapping his ex-employer, Daniel Mockridge and hiding him in a dangerous maze based on the video game that he created for the company. He leads Batman and Robin through a life-sized version of the game as they search for Mockridge who is in danger of being slain by the Minotaur villain the center of the maze.
Why It’s Great: The riddles are simple but clever, and this episode highlights Batman’s intellect and ability to outwit his foes. Robin is also an asset in this episode, having played this game before. The maze itself is full of traps and tricks that you follow along with Batman in order to best The Riddler and save the day.
7. "What Is Reality?"
Premise: The Riddler returns, kidnapping Commissioner Gordon and leading Batman through a virtual reality game connected to Gordon's mind. Robin guides Batman through the game from a headset at police headquarters. There is not a moment to lose as Commissioner Gordon's mind is in danger of breaking through the stress and realistic nature of the game at any moment.
Why It’s Great: The first Riddler episode had you begging for another, and this one delivers. Batman doesn’t have to solve just simple riddles this time. Instead, he has to think like The Riddler, figuring out silly puns and clues throughout the virtual reality world in order to make it to Gordon in time. Putting Gordon at risk also puts more at stake, rather than a corrupt boss, and the mind-bending images and black and red palate of the virtual reality world make it unique to this already stylish series.
8. "I Am The Night"
Premise: On the anniversary of his parents’ death, Batman returns to Crime Alley to honor his parents and contemplate his life’s work. In the meantime, Commissioner Gordon is shot by the Jazzman. This, along with thoughts of the past instills guilt that consumes Batman, causing him to retreat into solitude until he is called on to stop the Jazzman from finishing off the commissioner once and for all.
Why It’s Great: It explores Batman’s back story without getting too gruesome, showing a different, vulnerable side of the hero and motivations for what he does. Batman questions his own methods, wondering how effective he has been in protecting Gotham and the people he cares about. The events that play out reveals how important Gordon is to Batman and how much Gordon admires him in return. This, along with a side plot involving a runaway orphan, helps to reaffirm his life’s work.
9. "Harley and Ivy"
Premise: When she’s snubbed by The Joker, Harley Quinn goes out on her own to prove her worth as a criminal and, by chance, meets up with Ivy during a jewel heist. Batman must stop the new duo from their escapades while also saving them from the vengeful Joker who wants his Harley back.
Why It’s Great: This is an unlikely but enjoyable team up between two female villains who are polar opposites. Ivy is the strong, plant-loving solo criminal while Quinn is a needy, Joker-obsessed firecracker. When they team up, they are nearly successful in taking out Batman. Quinn’s obsessing over The Joker (especially when she turns her veggie dinner into the likeness of his clown face), and Ivy’s condemning of her behavior sends a good message about abuse and empowerment to all of the little girls (and boys) who watch this episode.
10. "Shadow of the Bat" Parts 1 and 2
Premise: This is a two part episode that introduces Batgirl who takes up her mantle when she can’t persuade Batman to appear at a rally for her falsely accused father who has been placed under arrest by the Commissioner's new ally and Barbara's potential love interest, Gil Mason. She ends up joining Batman and Robin in her makeshift costume to take down the criminals behind this plot and free her innocent father. Their success earns her a place as one of Batman's allies.
Why It’s Great: Finally, Batgirl appears in the series and fits into the world like a glove. She’s a spunky college student, gymnast, and computer expert with a stuffed bear named Woobie. She’s a great asset to the team, mixing things up in the third season. I remember this episode being heavily advertised on Fox Kids as a major event in the world of after-school cartoons, and it definitely delivers.
11. "The Demon's Quest" Parts 1 and 2
Premise: When Robin is kidnapped, Batman teams up with a mysterious man whose daughter has also been taken. The two go on an international journey to find the kidnapped pair only to discover that the journey was just as test to prove Batman’s worthiness. The mysterious man is Ra’s Al Ghul, and his daughter, Talia, is in love with her “beloved” Batman who Ra’s tries to persuade to take over for him as the leader of his eco-terrorist group.
Why It’s Great: It’s got the Lazarus Pit, an adventure away from Gotham, and Batman’s detective skills hard at work. He has Ra’s figured out immediately, and the two fight to the death in front of the pit. Batman wins the fight when Ra's refuses to take his hand at the edge of the pit and falls into the bubbling liquid. Ra's is assumed dead only to reveal his steaming hand and maniacal laughter just before the credits roll.
Premise: Batman enlists Harley Quinn to help him track down The Joker who is planning on leveling Gotham City with a stolen, giant bomb.
Why It’s Great: It’s fun when good guys and bad guys team up. Harley’s ditsy and perky nature take center stage, much to Batman’s annoyance. At the same time, Harley really shows that she knows her stuff, leading Batman through the Joker's numerous hideouts, taming their ferocious hyena guard dogs, and eventually saving the day.
13. "Harley's Holiday"
Premise: Harley finds herself released from Arkham Asylum as a recovered patient, but a misunderstanding on her first day out send her back on the wrong side of the law.
Why It’s Great: This episode shows that society must be patient with rehabilitated criminals in Gotham, and criminals need to be less sensitive to the world that they have been thrown back into. Batman and Harley also have a moment at the end of the episode that is both heart wrenching and funny.
14. "Read My Lips"
Premise: Scarface makes his animated debut as the wooden puppet exhibiting the evil personality of his otherwise mild-mannered Ventriloquist. He uses his influence to start a gang and wreak havoc in Gotham City.
Why It’s Great: Psychological disorders fascinate me, and multiple personality disorder is one of the most fascinating and tragic mental illnesses around. To feature it on a kid’s show is a really bold move and helps the audience to better understand the disease in a very stylized way. One of the creepiest moments in the series is when the Ventriloquist is recovering in Arkham only to be seen crafting a new head for Scarface in secret.
15. "Be A Clown"
Premise: When The Joker crashes the mayor’s son’s birthday party as "Jekko the Clown," the lonely boy, Jordan, follows him back to his hideout in an amusement park where he assists in and then resists torturing Batman. Batman escapes and pursues The Joker through the amusement park before reuniting Jordan with his worried father.
Why It’s Great: The Joker is at his best in this episode, working solo and doing what he does best, eggs on Batman with bad jokes and mayhem. The best part of the episode is their fight on the roller coaster, battling g-forces and each other.
What are your favorite episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, and why? Leave your answers in the comments below!