#52

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Mark Saraceni

Story by Steve Perry & Mark Saraceni

Tell me that there’s a serum that changes a person into a giant bat-creature and I’m totally on board. But tell me that the world’s greatest detective can’t recognize that Man-Bat is wearing Francine Langstrom’s bright, pink slacks? I can only suspend my disbelief so far!

This loose adaptation of Detective Comics #429 features strong relationship drama between Francine Langstrom and her husband, plus some well-directed chase sequences from the snow-covered streets of Gotham to the dark skies above. Basically, if you can’t have a good time watching a Man-Bat tear its way through a commercial airliner then you’re dead inside.

 

#51

“What do you care about some leggy dame in nylons? Or have I answered my own question?”

Directed by Dan Riba & Dick Sebast

Written by Paul Dini

When the lovely magician Zatanna is framed for the theft of millions during her latest magic act, Batman steps in to break her out of jail and clear her name. Finding out why he’s taking the case so personal is what makes this adventure so much fun!

Zatanna is a surprising choice for the first DC Universe character (outside of the Bat-books) to make an appearance on the show, but writer Paul Dini does a damn fine job of incorporating her into Bruce’s story. I love the flashback to a young Zatanna fawning over the mysterious “John Smith,” who has come to learn escape artistry from her father, the great magician Zatara. Episodes like this and Night of the Ninja do an excellent job of teasing what Bruce’s epic journey to become The Dark Knight was like and that aspect alone makes it worth viewing. Zatanna is charming and has wonderful chemistry with Batman, and the story includes some fine detective work and even a few laughs. Despite the rather weak choice of villain, the episode is a must-watch.

 

#50

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Michael Reaves

Is Detective Bullock corrupt? Convicts are going missing and all signs point to Bullock being on the take from crime boss Rupert Thorne. The Bullock-centric episode gives us a long hard look at the gruff detective and cranks up the tension on his already hostile relationship with The Caped Crusader.

Any episode that gives attention to the good folks at the GCPD is all right in my book, and this just happens to be a solid detective story with sleek animation to boot. Sure, the title card already gives it away that Croc is responsible for all of the disappearances, but the fun of Vendetta is watching how Batman’s attempts to put Bullock away gradually evolve into a campaign to clear the cop’s name. The only downside of this otherwise whip-smart episode is how Batman’s “research” leads him exactly to where Killer Croc is hiding his captives. It’s not just the leap in logic that’s distracting (how did he know the exact locations?), it’s seeing Bruce run away from the Bat-Computer to go to Ocean World (why not just use the zoo or, ya know, stay at the Bat-Computer) to get educated about crocodiles. Watching your hero have his eureka moment as he listens to the same looped audio as a group of nearby 3rd graders on a field trip doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the World’s Greatest Detective claim.

 

#49

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Steve Perry

Story by Alan Burnett

Time Out of Joint was the first episode to slap on the brand-new title “The Adventures of Batman & Robin” and ditch the iconic BTAS opening for a montage of clips from the series because the higher-ups demanded more Dick Grayson. It’s also the second appearance of The Clock King, who was at first a threat because of his intelligence and obsession with flawless precision, but now he’s the stuff of pure science fiction.

After escaping the law in his debut episode, Temple Fugate got a job acting as butler to an inventor who just crafted a device that can toy with the acceleration of time. Naturally, Fugate steals the device and immediately resumes his campaign to murder Mayor Hill. It’s a far-fetched idea that scraps the villain’s distinctive skillset from his much-lauded first episode but it maintains his original motivation completely. This display of Clock King’s one-track mind makes him unique among recurring villains. After all, Mad Hatter didn’t go after Alice again in his second episode, in What is Reality? Riddler didn’t attempt to gut his boss a second time, Scarecrow gave up pestering his alma mater, etc. Fugate, on the other hand, hates leaving something unchecked on his schedule and so Time Out of Joint gives us the same “bad guy must kill the mayor” concept but shows it through an over-the-top sci-fi lens to make it feel fresh and exciting again. The time-altering storyline also gives the animators license to flex their muscles with some incredible visuals and edge-of-your-seat action sequences. It’s an immensely re-watchable episode.

 

#48

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Randy Rogel & Martin Pasko

Story by Mike W. Barr & Laren Bright

The pulpy title card sure makes the crime doctor look frightening, but Matthew Thorne is actually a good man trapped in a bad situation. He once pulled a bullet out of his brother, the nefarious Rupert Throne, and failed to report it. Matt lost his license and has been working as private practitioner to the Gotham underworld ever since. Now he finally has a chance to get his life back, but good people are getting hurt in the process.

This is the opposite of I’ve Got Batman in My Basement. It’s not silly, it doesn’t star a supervillain, and includes precious little action. Plus, whoever said a children’s show should have children in it was definitely locked out of the room when Paging the Crime Doctor went into production because this cast is made up almost exclusively of old folks.

You might think this sounds boring. And, for seven-year-old me back in 1992, I bet it was. It defies all reason that this was ever made into a kids cartoon in the first place, but, dammit, it’s an excellent episode! It’s clever, features terrific direction and animation, and the performances by Diana Muldaur (Leslie Thompkins), Joseph Campanella (Matthew Thorne), and Kevin Conroy really sell this surprisingly mature chapter. And did I mention it has one of the best endings of any episode in the entire run? A conclusion that cuts right to the core of Bruce Wayne’s character? Brace yourself.

 

#47

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Mitch Brian

A giant bat creature is terrorizing Gotham, and the obvious suspect is The Batman. Detective Bullock pressures District Attorney Harvey Dent and Mayor Hill to pursue the caped crusader and the result is a Batman: Year One-style showdown. It rocks for us viewers, but it’s a real headache for Gordon, who just heard that the real monster is on the other side of town and he’s too late to call off the SWAT attack on the one man who can stop it.

Everyone involved in the making of On Leather Wings is flexing their creative muscles. It’s an artistic tour de force that proves all the elements for the series we continue to celebrate twenty-five years later were in place from the get-go. Man-Bat may have been an odd choice of villain for the first episode produced (The Cat and Claw Pt. 1 was first to air) but it most definitely gave the team a chance to show off the series’ visual flair. And, honestly, what kid isn’t going to have a blast watching a scientist transform into a bat-monster that The Dark Knight then has to wrestle in mid-air hundreds of feet above the streets of Gotham? On Leather Wings is about as rewatchable as TV gets and I respect its place in Batman history, but this is as far as it gets on the list.

 

#46

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Paul Dini

The Laughing Fish already established how the Joker hates not being compensated for use of his image, so when a new casino opens with an all-Joker theme The Clown Prince of Crime busts out of Arkham to settle the score. However, Joker doesn’t realize that this time he’s being used as a pawn in someone else’s scheme. The idea of someone directing the Joker’s rage in just the right way so they can scam the insurance company is absolutely brilliant. And with Dini writing the episode you can be sure that Hamill gets plenty of scenery-chewing moments as The Joker. The interactions between Joker and his fellow Arkham inmates, and later as blackjack dealer to Bruce Wayne also make the episode highly entertaining.

Lastly, Joker’s Wild marks the debut of the Jokermobile. If you’d like to see it, the vehicle appears 13 minutes and 15 seconds into the episode. If you accidentally skip beyond 13 minutes and 58 seconds into the episode the car will have already blown up. And yes, a DC Collectibles toy complete with working headlights will go on sale next year.

 

#45

“Oh, grow up.”

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Michael Reaves & Brynne Stephens

A simple, but exquisitely animated story about Batgirl and Catwoman banding together to find whoever stole a priceless statue. Can Catwoman be trusted? Definitely not! And that’s what makes Batgirl Returns such a wild ride.

When Catwoman is written well, she makes for one heck of a fun episode. Pairing the capricious Selina with the kind-hearted and all-too-trusting Barbara Gordon makes for such a delightful new dynamic that you won’t fret at all over Batman being almost completely absent for this installment. Best of all, Batgirl Returns (the final episode before The New Batman Adventures revamp) finally gives us some much needed closure for Selina and the ever-elusive corporate Satan that is Roland Daggett.

 

#44

Directed by Dick Sebast

Written by Samuel Warren Joseph

Outstanding direction and animation make a simple story about Scarecrow rigging a few sporting events into quite the memorable adventure. Scarecrow gets a redesign here and it’s an improvement on what we saw in his debut, but still not even close to as terrifying as he becomes in The New Batman Adventures. *shivers*

It’s an episode full of spectacular moments including Batman flashing a little smirk after crashing through a lovely lady’s apartment window, football players transforming into monsters, Robin succumbing to a toxin-induced panic on the ledge of a Gotham skyscraper, Batman storming into a the dark halls of Arkham and confronting a corrupt orderly, and a climactic fight that foregoes a musical score for the ooohs and ahhhs of a crowded football stadium.

 

#43

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Steve Perry

This chapter dives deep into Bruce’s past, playing flashbacks of his training years in Japan while his former rival Kyodai Ken (an original villain voiced by Robert Ito) seeks revenge in the present. Kyodai Ken has a rather bland character design, but he’s a ninja. The uniform is function over fashion. But while it’s not the design that makes Kyodai memorable, it’s most certainly his backstory. They say there’s always a bigger fish, and the idea that Bruce encountered someone on his travels that consistently defeated him in hand-to-hand combat hit me like a thunderbolt as a child! Batman actually seems nervous about facing Kyodai and that makes the viewer nervous as well.

Dyong Yang doesn’t deliver the quality animation you’ve come to expect and it hinders a story that’s heavy on fast-paced kung-fu action sequences. Thankfully the gripping story and solid performances pick up the slack, Kevin Conroy especially. Conroy does an excellent job channeling a younger Bruce who must learn that everyone loses sometimes as well as a grizzled Batman who must set aside his pride and accept that he needn’t face Kyodai alone. Meanwhile, Loren Lester adds some much-needed levity as Robin with such great lines as “‘Thanks for saving my bacon, Robin.’ Hey, no problem, Batman!”

It’s a testament to how remarkable this series is when an episode like Night of the Ninja ends up all the way back here at number forty-three. I don’t rank these episodes lightly, I agonized over every one and perhaps none more so than Night of the Ninja, a childhood favorite.

 

#42

“He trashed my car, Alfred. Between a couple of guys that’s real personal.”

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Mitch Brian

Rather than being written off as a super-strong thug in a luchador mask, Mitch Brian gives us a Bane that’s almost (but not quite) as smart and dangerous as he was in Knightfall. The story pays homage to the now classic saga and hits a few of the high points including the face-off between Bane and Croc, and the now cliché “I will simply…break you!” moment. There are a few original and equally scary sequences in there as well including a scene where Batman discovers that Bane totally smashed up the Batmobile using only his bare hands. My personal favorite, however, has nothing to do with Bane’s physicality. It’s when he calls Candice, Rupert Throne’s assistant, knowing Batman will pick up the phone. When The Dark Knight answers, Bane says, “Were I a common sniper, you would have never reached the phone.”

Henry Silva’s velvety tone is a nice contrast to Bane’s hulking figure. It would have been easy to cast someone with a booming voice you’d expect from any mindless hulk and I appreciate that casting director Andrea Roman steered away from that. However, I wish that the design of the villain’s mask had been closer to the comics as the exposed nose and lips aren’t a very intimidating look. It’s also a pity that Bane didn’t have the initiative to come to Gotham on his own, but was simply hired by Thorne to complete a job. The fact that Bane obsessed over The Dark Knight while in prison, however, is alluded to in a throw-away line by Candice, who Batman might have left for dead at the end of the episode…

Bane is worth watching just to hear Conroy growl “Never” when Bane demands that the hero scream his name.

 

#41

Directed by Dick Sebast

Written by Marty Isenberg & Robert N. Skir

Riddler got away at the end of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? but life on the run is hard and so Edward Nygma is back to erase every record that he even existed. Arrogant as ever, Riddler can’t simply be satisfied with getting his name off the wanted list. Before he flees Gotham a second time he needs to prove he’s smarter than the Batman. What follows is an incredibly far-fetched plot centered on virtual reality, but it’s AKOM’s best animation in the series and the story features some deceptively simple riddles that turn out to be Nygma’s most ingenious.

It was 1992 and the excitement for the coming digital age spilled into a lot of pop culture around this time. The Lawnmower Man, a somewhat similar virtual reality tale, had hit theaters just eight months prior! This is far better than The Lawnmower Man (isn’t everything?), however, and I’d rather watch What is Reality over 1982’s TRON, another feature with a similar virtual reality concept, any day of the week. I think you’ll love the trippy visuals, especially in the final confrontation.

 

#40

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Marty Isenberg & Robert N. Skir

When a mortal wound exposes circuitry, the caped figure we thought was The Dark Knight is understandably horrified and refuses to accept that he is actually HARDAC’s Batman-duplicant programmed to pick up the world-dominating plot where the Heart of Steel two-parter left off.

I could go on and on about how His Silicon Soul is a compelling examination of identity, the dangers of artificial intelligence, and how Batman’s respect for free will prevents his war on crime from ever slipping into fascism, but at the end of the day it’s Batman vs. Terminator-Batman and if that’s not a kick-ass enough reason for you to watch this episode then I don’t know what is.

The countdown continues on page 4