#39

Directed Kevin Altieri

Written by Paul Dini

Story by Bruce Timm & Paul Dini

The follow-up to Heart of Ice is an over-the-top adventure that’s essentially a Moonraker/Bioshock plot with Batman characters. Victor Fries is sprung from prison by an evil Walt Disney-type who wants to recreate the conditions that cursed Victor with pseudo immortality so that he too may live forever in Oceania, a private utopia he’s constructed over the sea to harbor the world’s best and brightest people. After he wipes out the rest of humanity, of course. See? It’s big and bizarre but a lot of fun, much like the vibe from the episode Showdown. It doesn’t come close to the same level of emotional impact as Heart of Ice, but Deep Freeze amps up the action and has robots. Lots of them.

 

#38

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Paul Dini

The episode begins with a completely miserable Selina trying and failing to fit in with high-society types like Veronica Vreeland. She can’t stand it! She’s an adrenaline junky who needs the thrill of stealing things that aren’t hers and seducing a man she can’t have. Soon enough she gets a job offer from Scarface, who she laughs at initially because, well, it’s Scarface, but ultimately she slips into the catsuit for one more heist. It’s a beautifully scored and animated episode that finally gives us an answer to whether Catwoman can finally turn her back on crime and maybe even start a life with Bruce. Paul Dini writes the best Catwoman episodes and no episode dissects her character as well as Catwalk. Ventriloquist and Scarface are just an added bonus.

Just an FYI, every Scarface episode will end with a grizzly death for the doll swiftly followed by Arnold Wesker weeping like a baby. Why is that? While the folks at BTAS got away with A LOT, they still had censors breathing down their neck at all times. Scarface, however, being an inanimate object, does not fall under the same standards and practices as the usual henchman or supervillain. This allowed the animators the freedom to draw any gruesome end the writers could imagine. And so they did just that.

 

#37

Directed by Frank Paur

Written by Michael Reaves

Vendetta was a Bullock episode too, but he was largely overshadowed by the inclusion of Killer Croc. This time there’s no crocodile-man to distract us from the surly detective, and it’s a good thing because his life is at risk. Someone wants Bullock dead and as much as he hates it, he might need Batman’s help to find out who’s trying to kill him. It’s almost a perfect shot-for-shot/panel-for-panel adaptation of Detective Comics #651 by Chuck Dixon & Graham Nolan (much of the dialogue is even lifted from the book), and the jazzy score from Harvey R. Cohen does wonders to add to the episode’s noir atmosphere. If you want to relax to a BTAS episode with a good detective story, this is a fine one. And voice actors Robert Costanzo and Jeffrey Jones are outstanding in this.

Lastly, not to keep making the same “Can you believe this was a children’s show?!” joke, but this episode brings up crack cocaine quite. A. Bit.

 

#36

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Gerry Conway

Here’s what the program block on Fox Kids! was like on your average weekday afternoon: Tom & Jerry, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and then to cap it all off we have elderly doctor Leslie Thompkins and a plot centered on urban development and gentrification! Incredible.

In this adaptation of Denny O’Neill’s “There is No Hope in Crime Alley!” Roland Daggett (originally intended to be Batman Returns‘ Max Shrek) hires an arsonist to burn Park Row (AKA Crime Alley) to the ground to make way for a brand-new shopping center. As if Batman wasn’t already suspicious about Daggett’s intentions, the industrialist chooses to make his move on Crime Alley the very night our hero pays his annual visit to the site where his parents were murdered. The whole neighborhood is in chaos, Leslie Thompkins is missing, and there’s a bomber on the loose.

It’s a high stakes episode that introduces us to Bruce’s surrogate mother and forgoes flashy super villains for real world problems. It’s an episode that shows us just how much respect that the folks behind the scenes have for the material. Plus, I absolutely adore Leslie Thompkins. She’s a bright spot in a dark city, representing the good in Gotham that Batman is fighting so hard to save. Her frailty as an elderly woman is symbolic of just how weak Gotham’s redeeming qualities really are in the face of corruption and overwhelming evil, and I think that recent attempts to de-age her in comics and TV miss the point of the character entirely.

 

#35 Shadow of the Bat

Directed by Fran Paur

Written by Brynne Stephens

After introducing Barbara Gordon to the show nearly twenty episodes ago, Batgirl finally appears on screen! The GCPD-centric two-parter has Gordon framed for corruption and his daughter turning vigilante in order to clear his name. This is an excellent Barbara showcase, but Batman certainly behaves like a jerk at times and the animators struggle to give Babs consistent facial expressions when she’s out of the cowl. Nevertheless, it’s a captivating story with some surprisingly grown-up themes, an exceedingly likeable new lead, and no shortage of surprises. What I like most is that Batgirl isn’t instantly shown to be on par with The Dynamic Duo. She’s new at this and she’s struggling. It adds a heightened sense of danger and her perseverance against overwhelming odds makes us root for her all the more.

 

#34

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Tom Ruegger

Story by Paul Dini & Tom Ruegger

When Harvey Dent is poisoned, Bruce Wayne must hurry to find a cure or lose his best friend. It’s a deeply personal episode that devotes equal time to our hero investigating the case both inside and outside the cowl. The contrast between these personas is played up expertly (and hilariously) in the episode’s opening sequence that shows Harvey Dent explaining how he views Bruce’s playboy lifestyle to his date, the one and only Pamela Isley. Harvey’s oh-so-wrong insights are intercut with shots of Batman hunting down a prison escapee and the juxtaposition of Café Rose’s romantic background muzak against The Dark Knight’s booming orchestra really punctuates every comedic transition.

Not only does the episode get points for balancing civilian and superhero personas while also delivering some fine detective work, it also offers some damn fine world-building. We see more of Harvey and Bruce’s bond well before the DA ever becomes Two-Face–ensuring his origin episode is all the more rewarding for viewers, Stonegate prison is introduced as an alternative option to Arkham for the series’ crooks, there are a couple of scenes inside the GCPD so we actually see how they function (and the fact that they actually do try to do SOMETHING every once in a while), and Poison Ivy appears for the first time ever. Poison Ivy is just as sexy and smart and dangerous as she should be. Her first appearance was also Paul Dini’s debut and, damn, did he and Tom Ruegger do an excellent job of adapting this character for the show. In fact, Ivy joins Clayface and Mr. Freeze on the list of villains who I believe have seen their best portrayal not in the comics or films, but right here in BTAS.

 

#33

“Stella!!!!!”

Directed by Eric Radomski

Written by Steve Perry

Story by Alan Burnett

Clayface’s second and last appearance in Batman: The Animated Series sees things go from bad to worse for ex-Hollywood hunk Matt Hagen. With his cellular structure deteriorating, Clayface is gradually turning into a soupy mess that more closely resembles a particularly bad bowel movement rather than an A-list supervillain. He seeks the help of Dr. Stella Bates, who served as medical consultant on a few of Hagen’s old films, and she agrees to assist him out of her own delusional belief that rescuing her celebrity crush will result in a romantic happy ending just like she’s seen in the movies.

This was an excellent continuation of Hagen’s tragic story from Feat of Clay, and it’s made even more painful when you consider that if Hagen hadn’t refused Batman’s help at the beginning of the episode he would have likely been given the isotope he risks his life to steal from Wayne Industries. Co-creator Eric Radomski expertly directs what is another stunningly animated episode for Clayface featuring some powerful visuals. It’s hard to shake images like Clayface’s colliding with the pavement or the instance when he’s so exhausted that his disguise as a young woman melts away and frightens a train full of passengers. The sequence that sticks with me most, however, is one of my personal favorite moments from the entire series; a fight sequence that culminates with Clayface absorbing Batman into his body. The way Batman fights back from being suffocated is all kinds of bad ass.

 

#32

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Paul Dini

Mary Dahl suffers from a rare disease that keeps her looking like a child. She’s never been viewed as a real woman, nor has she ever been taken seriously as an actress. But she did know fame once, many years ago as Baby Doll, the star of a popular TV sitcom long-since canceled. Her failure to grow as an artist and literally as an adult woman has flung Dahl so deep into despair that she’s regressed totally into the persona of her old TV character. And rather than seek the limelight once again she just wants to die and take the rest of her old cast mates with her.  …so be sure to tune in this Tuesday afternoon on Fox Kids!

Not only is it a heartbreaking episode with a brilliant new villain, Baby Doll also does an impeccable job making Robin look useful. Dick isn’t just tagging along for the ride, it’s a partnership and he plays an integral role in tracking Mary Dahl. The episode also offers up a rare moment in which Batman comforts the villain, who is utterly broken by the story’s end.

She may look kind of like Elmira from Tiny Toons, and that doesn’t come off as a terribly challenging threat for The Dark Knight, but Dini brings an intense psychology to this tragic character and her twisted revenge plot against her former sitcom co-stars fits right in alongside the creepiest Batman rogues.

 

#31

*Winner of the Best Nut-Punch Award for Best Nut-Punch in an Episode*

Directed by Kevin Altieri

Written by Joe R. Lansdale (author of Bubba Ho-Tep)

Story by Kevin Altieri, Paul Dini, and Bruce Timm

Is Ra’s al Ghul really over five-hundred years old? Until now we’ve always had to take The Demon’s Head at his word, but Showdown gives us proof in the most bad ass way possible by delivering a nearly full-length flashback to the old west and a run-in with bounty hunter Jonah Hex!

The second you see the saloon doors on the title card you know you’re in for something very different and what follows doesn’t disappoint. Batman and Robin think Ra’s is in Gotham to try and sack the city, but all he’s done so far is abduct an old geezer from a retirement home and gift the Dynamic Duo with a personalized book-on-tape narrated by the raspy immortal himself. Robin pops in the cassette and our heroes listen to a story with a scarred cowboy, weaponized airship, sword fights, and lots and lots of explosions. By the time the tape is over, Batman and Robin agree that that was the most metal thing they’ve ever listened to while on patrol, but it isn’t until they confront Ra’s again that they really understand what the story had to do with a retirement home in Gotham. The payoff is as awesome as the adventure itself, and even manages to humanize the all-powerful Ra’s al Ghul.

A few fun facts about the episode’s voice cast: First, A Clockwork Orange‘s Malcolm McDowell, who voices the villainous Arcady Duvall, later goes on to play Metallo in Superman: The Animated Series. Second, the character simply referred to as “Barmaid” was the final role of actress Elizabeth Montgomery’s (Samantha from Bewitched) career. Third, Bill McKinney, who voices Hex, also played the “I bet you can squeal like a pig!” mountain man from Deliverance. And, since it wouldn’t be a real Batman franchise without him making a cameo, Senator Patrick Leahy plays the Territorial Governor.

 

#30

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Michael Reaves & Brynne Stephens

Story by Michael Reaves

This smart adaptation of Detective Comics #410 by Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams that swaps out a generic baddie for Waylon Jones AKA Killer Croc is gripping from start to finish. Killer Croc escapes during transport to a new prison and Batman has to chase him through the wilderness. Eventually an exhausted Croc is found by a traveling freak show comprised of the nicest people you’ll ever see in Batman: The Animated Series, and seeing Croc take advantage of their kindness is genuinely difficult to watch.

Sideshow is an incredibly cinematic episode with expert direction, a fantastic score, a whole lot of heart, and beautiful animation by Dong Yang complete with dynamic action sequences in a gorgeous new setting far from the streets of Gotham.

Spoilers for Almost Got ‘im coming up here, reader!

When most folks think of Killer Croc they recall his portrayal in Almost Got ‘im as a dumb brute, but it’s important to remember that’s not the real Killer Croc. That was Batman in disguise and the hilarious moment when he exclaimed “I threw a rock at him!” is Batman making fun of ol’ Waylon (Croc unfortunately becomes the rock-tossing caricature in his Trial cameo later in the series). Episodes like BaneSideshow, and Vendetta illustrate that the real Killer Croc is not stupid or even insane. He’s a smart, violent, selfish, and an utterly despicable human being. It’s just that his ugly visage just so happens to mirror his rotten soul. In recent years, Killer Croc has been presented as being a more sympathetic figure in the comics but this is the Croc I like. The one that’s vile and vindictive to the core, and Sideshow does a superb job of exploring Croc’s true nature.

 

#29

“I guess nothing good lasts forever.”

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Gerry Conway

Story by Paul Dini & Michael Reaves

Harvey is being prepped for a surgery that will allow him to set aside the coin and make decisions on his own again. As the former District Attorney gives in to the anesthesia he begins to reminisce about the good times he had with Bruce, who is footing the bill for this dangerous procedure. Before the scalpel can touch Dent’s scarred flesh a group of thugs bursts in and abduct Harvey. It’s personal for Batman and he tears through Gotham’s underworld looking for his friend. He’s so blinded by his desire to save Harvey that he even risks damaging his relationship with Robin in the process.

Not only is it a grave and incredibly gripping tale, it’s beautifully told with cinematic direction and sleek animation complete with some flawlessly choreographed action sequences. It’s fascinating to see Batman pushed to the edge like this, even letting his guard down so much in the climax that he nearly gives away his secret identity. Perhaps the only other Batman: The Animated Series episode to give us such a desperate Dark Knight is Perchance to Dream.

On a side note: it’s kind of odd how Conway wrote two episodes for Batman: The Animated Series but neither of them featured Killer Croc, a character he created.

 

#28

“It’s ‘Bat-something-or-other’ isn’t it? Who invited you?”

Directed by Eric Radomski

Written by David Wise

There comes a point when you start to wonder if Bruce and Lucius are the only nice businessmen in Gotham. This Riddler origin story sees Edward Nygma swindled out of the royalties for his best-selling video game “Riddle of the Minotaur” (his computer skills will play a bigger role in follow-up What is Reality?). Two years later he returns for revenge against his former boss, but it attracts the attention of The Dark Knight and Nygma slowly but surely builds up his hatred for Batman, who time and again proves himself up to the challenge of solving the mad man’s puzzles.

Co-creator Eric Radomski’s directorial debut is a childhood favorite that holds up incredibly well. I still remember every riddle and the final set piece of the labyrinth amusement park is one of the series’ best. As much as we celebrate Mark Hamill for embodying The Joker, John Glover deserves equal praise for perfectly capturing the arrogance and charm of The Riddler.

Spoiler
The episode also has one of the series’ most chilling final moments. Riddler is never caught and so his former boss becomes a shut-in who lives in fear of Nygma coming back again. The quivering millionaire is so paranoid that he installs several locks on his bedroom door and sleeps with a shotgun. You almost feel bad for him.

 

#27

Directed by Boyd Kirkland

Written by Joe R. Lansdale

Story by Alan Burnett & Michael Reaves

There’s a new gang in town and the GCPD can’t get a bead on who’s in charge so Commissioner Gordon enlists the aid of The Batman. The World’s Greatest Detective studies surveillance footage from a recent heist and enhances a single frame until he can identify an exposed tattoo on one of the goons. A quick scan with the Bat-Computer puts him on the trail, but where it leads is…weird.

If you’re watching the episode for the first time, don’t read further.

The reveal that the boss man is actually a wooden ventriloquist dummy is shot brilliantly with the camera planted firmly outside Scarface’s bedroom so all we hear is a conversation between a mob kingpin and his whimpering personal assistant. When it turns out that the two voices were coming from the same wimpy servant, the expression on Batman’s face mirrors that of the viewer. This should be stupid, and you’d expect it to be played for laughs, but the teleplay by Lansdale combined with Kirkland’s direction totally sells it as a hard-boiled mafia tale (the jazzy score and sleek animation from TMS elevates it to new heights as well). They don’t shy away from the psychology and when you stop laughing at Ventriloquist you see something that is at once sad and totally frightening.

Spoiler
The epilogue is especially scary with Ventriloquist Arnold Wesker violently stabbing a block of wood and carving a giant scar, conveying that Wesker is most definitely not well and Scarface will certainly return.

The countdown continues on page 5