#65

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Paul Dini

Beautiful socialite and all-around awful person Veronica Vreeland throws an “I went to South America for vacation and you didn’t” welcome home party for herself. At the event, Veronica gives out handcrafted Mayan figurines that “take away your worries while you sleep” but the recipients end up losing their fortunes as well! It’s up to Batman to find out what’s up with The Worry Men and in the process he runs into a mysterious group of half-naked tribesmen parading around Gotham’s rooftops as well. Sure, it sounds kind of lame and border-line offensive, but I’m just trying to hide who the villain really is. I like the quirky premise, its many twists and turns, and the fact that Levar Burton guest stars as a new friend of Bruce Wayne’s that DOESN’T become a villain like all the rest.

 

#64

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Maxie Zeus is a shipping tycoon who earned his vast wealth through bribery, extortion, and racketeering. The law is closing in on him. His assistant knows it, his low level employees know it, and Maxie… he doesn’t know it. He’s snapped and now believes himself to be the king of the gods of Mount Olympus! He’s even gone so far as to build a little Parthenon atop his skyscraper. Worse yet, he stole an electron discharge canon from the military so he can cast his own lightning bolts.

Fire from Olympus scratches the surface of being a tragic origin story, but rather than give us pathos it supplies a python (yup, Batman fights a snake– a big one). Maxie’s assistant is heartbroken to see her boss and former lover lose his mind, and there’s a sincere moment in which Maxie’s grandiose way of speaking falters and actor Steve Susskind changes his delivery completely. The veil falls away and we see that Maxie needs help. Desperately. But then the show turns its focus back to elaborate deathtraps on “Mount Olympus” as Maxie tries to defeat “Hades” the usurper. It’s an entertaining chapter, but there are hints that it could have been much more.

 

#63

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Len Wein

Story by Mike Underwood & Len Wein

Penguin steals a prototype death-copter because it has a bird-themed name, and then terrorizes the city with it until the mayor agrees to pay a hefty ransom. Once again, Penguin doesn’t have any real motivation for his crimes other than targeting a particular MacGuffin because it is bird-related. In this case it’s the super-deadly Wayne Tech chopper called The Raven, a monstrosity that Bruce seems uneasy about funding in the first place. Quite frankly, the episode would have benefited a great deal from exploring Bruce’s ignorance of what his company is manufacturing instead of diving into a tried-and-true temporary blindness plot (most recently seen in this year’s Action Comics and Doctor Who series 10) resulting from an explosion during Penguin’s heist.

This episode is a childhood favorite of mine for sure. I see the flaws in it, but I can’t shake loving it. Batman has the training to navigate any terrain and engage in combat without his sense of sight (we even see this in action in the episode Off Balance), so if you can’t ignore this fact and enjoy the thrilling finale for what it is, you’ll probably not care for this episode. Personally, I love the red-eyed headset Batman wears to help him see, and the tension created when the visor cuts in and out as he battles one of Cobblepot’s henchmen. And the absence of a musical score– such a minute change– really heightened the sense of danger when a momentarily vulnerable Batman is confronted by a knife-wielding Penguin.

Spoiler
It’s also worth noting that Penguin blows up the Batwing in this episode. Penguin really does an outstanding job ****ing up Batman’s vehicles over the course of this series.

 

#62

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Carl Swenson

Joker celebrates April Fool’s Day with a garbage scow soaked in Joker gas/Smile-X/Joker venom (whatever you prefer to call it) and smooth sailing along the Gotham coast. The toxic stink wafts over all of Gotham and even manages to drift its way into Wayne Manor (just go with it). Everyone who catches a whiff goes bonkers and soon the streets become The Clown Prince of Crime’s playground. Can The Caped Crusader save the city as well as the sanity of his trusty butler before it’s too late?

While Fire from Olympus flirted with being something much deeper than typical kid’s fare, The Last Laugh is a BTAS episode that fully embraces the children’s cartoon side of things and still somehow sticks the landing as an incredibly pleasurable viewing experience. It’s not all that cinematic, it doesn’t pack an emotional wallop, and it doesn’t explore the Batman mythos in new and exciting ways. This is the episode where Batman fights a giant robot called Captain Clown while Joker loots a city poisoned by laughing gas. And it rocks. So suspend your disbelief and let Hamill’s one-liners wash over you as The Dark Knight smashes a robot’s face in with a metal pole.

 

#61

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Story by David Wise

This is the “Bruce Wayne couldn’t possibly be Batman!” episode of the series and it’s loosely adapted from Detective Comics #471/472. An investigation into a blackmail attempt on a Gotham City judge leads our hero to a resort where therapist Hugo Strange operates a machine that visualizes and records a patient’s thoughts and memories. Uncharacteristically, Bruce puts himself at unnecessary risk and Hugo gets a tape proving the true identity of Batman. The next step is getting the right buyers to attend an auction and, I gotta say, the episode is worth watching for Joker’s voicemail message alone. I loved this episode as a kid and even though I can see the cracks as an adult (AKOM’s animation gets real choppy near the end and the “let’s pool our money” portion of the auction makes zero sense) it’s still wildly entertaining and a big part of that is Hamill’s performance as The Joker. I wish we had more episodes where the A-list villains played off each other.

#60

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Story by Tom Ruegger

Written by Garin Wolf

More than simply the series’ anti-drug episode, this slow-paced character study focusing on gangsters is just the sort of story that sets Batman: The Animated Series apart from not only the other children’s programs, but all of the other Batman animated shows to follow. We didn’t get anything like this in The New Batman Adventures, either! Sure, it’s basically the 1938 film Angels with Dirty Faces with Batman thrown in, but it’s a good watch. Especially when you’re older. I think I was pretty unimpressed as a kiddo, but now I appreciate the episode’s cinematic presentation and mature themes a lot more. By the way, Angels with Dirty Faces is the movie that Home Alone and Home Alone 2 parodied. Now get outta here, ya stinkin’ animal! (How weird is it that Home Alone came up twice in this list?)

 

#59

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Paul Dini & Randy Rogel

This highly enjoyable break from the dark and serious tone of the series sees Joker getting revenge on a group of comics that once turned him away from a comedy competition (he was in disguise and didn’t even plan on killing anybody!). Rather than spray them with laughing gas or bury them alive, Joker goes for the most overly elaborate scheme possible to get the comedians out of his way ahead of this year’s contest: he steals Mad Hatter’s technology and uses it to brainwash his rivals into believing they’re the most absurd supervillains imaginable. That’s right, it’s The Condiment King episode.

While this ridiculous caper is mostly played for laughs, it subtly sows the seeds for major developments in DC Animated lore. You’ll just have to wait until Batman Beyond to find out how.

 

#58

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Len Wein

Off Balance is our first glimpse at the Society of Shadows (League of Assassins in the comics, League of Shadows in the Nolan trilogy) and I get a kick out of it whenever BTAS sets up a major character way ahead of time. Didn’t you love it when BTAS introduced us to Dent several episodes before his tragic accident, and those times Babs made a cameo prior to becoming Batgirl! Ra’s was really, really special, though. Ra’s wasn’t mainstream at the time so to hype him up with such a beautifully animated prologue as this and then totally rock our world with Demon’s Quest? Come on. You’ll even get Batman Begins vibes from the plot about Count Vertigo stealing tech from a Wayne Enterprises shipment! It has globe-trotting, a little over-the-top villainous monologuing, the first appearance of femme fatale Talia, and deathtraps. I’m a sucker for a good deathtrap. Avatar tried to recapture the magic of this episode, but just couldn’t do it.

 

#57

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Marty Isenberg & Robert N. Skir

Story by Paul Dini

It seems as if the new head of security at Arkham is doing an incredible job. After all, the place is no longer a revolving door! But when Batman sees Jonathan Crane, of all people, horrified by the idea of getting admitted back into Lyle Bolton’s custody, Batman grows suspicious. An investigation is opened into what exactly Bolton is doing to the prisoners and it’s quickly revealed that Bolton is unhinged and has to go. Six months later, Bolton returns as the psychotic vigilante (and title of this episode) Lock-Up and no one is safe. Oh, and to set himself apart from all the other no-good Batman imitators from the comics, Lock-Up’s added gimmick is that he has his very own prison–and it makes for one hell of a final set piece.

Harley isn’t the only quality original villain BTAS produced. Juxtaposing the utterly merciless Lock-Up against Batman gives the show a chance to highlight the Dark Knight’s compassionate side. It’s not just about beating these lunatics to a pulp and throwing them in a deep, dark hole. Batman doesn’t forget about these poor souls when the credits roll at the end of your favorite episode! Batman honestly wants his defeated enemies to get the help they so desperately need. Sure, he’s always VERY suspicious of them when they finally do get released back into society (Riddler’s Reform, Birds of a Feather, Home and Garden, Double Talk) but Batman needs to believe in redemption. Otherwise, what’s the point of the no-kill rule? Without empathy he’d become a monster like Bolton.

#56

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Beth Bornstein

Bruce receives an invitation to a spa resort promising the secret to eternal youth. He’s Batman, he doesn’t take a vacation, but this is a splendid opportunity to treat Alfred and his lady friend Maggie to a weekend getaway so he passes the luxury trip on to them. Unfortunately, the whole establishment is a trap set by Poison Ivy to murder Gotham’s wealthiest in a most unique way. The episode has a freaky Twilight Zone vibe that I love, and I also appreciate how Bornstein takes the opportunity to flesh out Alfred’s private life. It’s just a pity that Maggie goes the way of Earl Cooper and is never heard from again. She was good for Alfred. It’s also a well-directed and beautifully animated episode that ends with a jaw-dropping action sequence.

Not enough credit is given to just how creepy Poison Ivy is in Batman: The Animated Series. Don’t dismiss her as simply being the sexy plant-villain. The human grove of Eternal Youth and her experiments in House and Garden cement  Ms. Isley as my pick for most-disturbing BTAS baddie.

 

#55

Directed by Ken Butterworth

Written by Eddie Gorodetsky

Joker escapes from Arkham, abducts a few high-profile individuals, and then hijacks the airwaves to broadcast his own twisted Christmas special that will climax in the murder of every last captive unless Batman can stop him. With a plot like that, Christmas with the Joker was an instant holiday classic for every Batman fan. From a technical standpoint it doesn’t have the most fluid animation and Shirley Walker’s score is noticeably absent, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to watch this cartoon every December. By the way, I assume the title card is supposed to be a painting of Joker as Santa carrying a sack full of toys, but it’s so DARK that he looks more like Gollum hunched over in the shadows of the Misty Mountains.

 

#54 Be a Clown

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Ted Pedersen & Steve Hayes

Joker is as proficient at torturing the individual as he is the masses–and typically when he’s terrorizing the masses it’s really about making Batman miserable. In Be a Clown, Joker sets his sights on Mayor Hill after the politician dared compare Batman to the Clown Prince of Crime on live TV. And, by closing the broadcast with a brag about how his mansion is one of the safest places in Gotham, Mayor Hill might as well have painted a giant bullseye on his rooftop. Unfortunately, it’s Hill’s son Jordan who falls prey to the Joker’s corrupting power.

This episode about fatherhood and trust may have an unsettling vibe to it given the fact that it’s about a child abduction and Joker actually forces the boy to watch Batman drown to death, but it’s also quite funny and serves as a remarkable showcase of Mark Hamill’s voice talent. Not only does he perfectly balance humor with horror, but for much of the episode he has to perform as Joker’s impression of Jekko, a lisping clown magician who gives Jordan the attention he so wanted from his father.

While Nothing to Fear features Batman’s greatest line, Be a Clown includes what is arguably The Dark Knight’s worst, “Alright, Joker, get ready for a little bat-magic!” but Kevin Conroy still manages to sell it because he’s Kevin Conroy.

 

#53

Directed by Kevin Altieri 

Written by Sean Catherine Derek & Laren Bright

Story by Mitch Brian

Did you feel a twinge? A knee-jerk reaction to seeing P.O.V. all the way back at #53? I did and I put it there. I can’t stress enough how everything from like #65 on down is all good stuff. A lot of damn fine episodes are gonna get hurt in this process…

In P.O.V., a sting involving a drug lord and two-million in cash goes horribly wrong and Lieutenant Hackle (first and only appearance) wants answers or else every officer who was on the scene loses their badge. Just a reminder: this was indeed a kid’s show that aired after school every weekday. How awesome is that? A rookie cop, Detective Bullock, and Renee Montoya were on-site and now each must give their own Rashomon-like explanation of what exactly happened that night. Unlike Rashomon, however, each telling isn’t of the same event but different moments from that fateful evening. Also unlike Rashomon, events are not totally depicted as fact. This is most evident when we see how Bullock’s half-cocked actions don’t match up with his boisterous narration.

This is a smart, street-level chapter that gives us a better understanding of the GCPD and the supporting characters that work there, Montoya especially.

The countdown continues on page 3