“Batman: The Animated Series” may be one of the most technically accomplished, innovative and well written animated series of all time, able to appeal to both adults and children alike. The show would occasionally handle this balance masterfully with classics such as “Heart of Ice,” “The Man Who Killed Batman,” “Trial” and “POV” but other times, they didn’t quite hit the mark. That, however, is when we really get into the head of the dark knight, exposing children to the mind-set of an aging billionaire who dresses up in leather to punch out psychopaths. For whatever reason, whether it be the aforementioned psychological content, sexual themes, long spanning Bat-style or plain old uber-violence, these are the episodes that should have gotten a second look before plopping the kids in front of the TV and might just have been more entertaining and well-rounded for their parents.
1. “Dreams in Darkness”
Clearly inspired by Grant Morrison’s “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth,” this episode finds Batman being checked into Arkham and having to confront the futility of his quest for justice as well as his own psychosis. Although there’s the copout of having Scarecrow being behind his enemy’s incarceration, the dream sequence in which Batman watches an amorphous blob morph into his enemies in disgusting ways is a standout sequence in the entire series.
2. “Mad Love”
“Mad Love” is a bit of an adult episode for an entirely different reason. While it does succinctly explain the origin of Harley Quinn and her obsession with the Joker, it is most remembered for a sequence in which Harley petitions the clown for sex, asking him if he’d like to “rev up his Harley” and then making the above shown motorcycle motion. There’s a difference between the innuendos that the show trafficked in early in the run and this one that makes the character’s relationship a bit too explicit.
3. “Two Face Part 1”
In what might be my favorite episode of the animated series and in my opinion, one of the most important moments in DC’s TV future, “Two Face Part 1” shows Dini’s genius by fundamentally changing Harvey Dent to make him an even more tragically flawed character. Here, Dent has been fighting a losing battle with schizophrenia, trying to hold back an angry and violent alter-ego. Dini is able to balance the idea that Dent may have always been damned to become a villain with the fact that he’s another character, much like Batman and the Joker, who just had a single terrible day.
Batman’s goal is to stop crime and his sole tools have always been fear and brute force. “Sideshow” is the first episode of the series to posit the idea that a villain could voluntarily leave crime behind. After a train escape, Killer Croc is on the run and he teams up with a rogue group of sideshow freaks. The entire episode focuses on his turmoil over whether he’ll be able to find a new life in a community that accepts him or if he craves anarchy.
5. “Harley’s Holiday”
Dini always adored writing Harley Quinn and it was rarely done as well as it was here. When Harley tries to go straight after being discharged from Arkham, she struggles to change the way she reacts to people, leaving beside her psychotic violence and cruel treatment of other people. The episode concludes with an incredible action sequence that sees all of Gotham turning against Harley but that’s nothing to the way Batman associates with and feels sorry for a girl who he sees much of himself in.
6. “Perchance to Dream”
One of the theories that fans love to debate is whether Batman is the alter ego of Bruce Wayne or the other way around. “Perchance to Dream” doesn’t try to answer the question definitively but it does show the way that Bruce Wayne needs to be Batman. The dark knight is Bruce’s purpose and as the episode advances, audiences see the lengths he’ll go to wear the cowl once again.
7. “Second Chance”
The relationship between Harvey and Bruce is one of the friendships that define the early episodes of the show and makes Harvey’s fate even more tragic. “Second Chance” takes another look at their relationship with Batman having to challenge the dichotomy between Two Face and Harvey and it leads to one of the most tense and heart-rending finales of the series.
8. “House and Garden”
Its a shame that the animated series was so rarely able to really take advantage of everything that makes Poison Ivy such an effective character. Rather than use her femme fatale charms, here, she’s claiming to go legit, be a mother and totally give up all the killing and robbing. Instead, Ivy reveals how twisted her vision of the domestic life and the actual psychosis of the men and women who terrorize Gotham.
I’m always amazed when presumably children’s shows do episodes about the ennui of fame and the hollowness of public admiration. “Babydoll” pulls it off admirably, focusing less on the ways in which Babydoll’s life is empty and more on the tragedy of finding out how figuratively small you are. “Babydoll” ends up being one of the best combinations of literal and symbolic storytelling that the show could pull off. Rather than have a character who became a villain because of a tragedy, here, we’re exposed to a villain who is and will always be a tragedy.
10. “Deep Freeze”
“Heart of Ice” is the better and more memorable episode but “Deep Freeze” is a considerably more adult tale, with viewers not only having to deal with Mr. Freeze’s lost loves but also the loneliness he faces as an immortal that will never be able to feel. Freeze’s work with a blatant Walt Disney parody who wishes to be made immortal is cruelly ironic and the final image of him sinking into the sea, gazing at the frozen Nora is haunting.
11. “Legends of the Dark Knight”
One of the pleasures of being a long time reader of any comic series is seeing the ways that a book or a character changes in big and small ways. “Legends of the Dark Knight” shows a pair of vastly different versions of Batman, one based off of the art of 1940’s penciller Dick Sprang, with the other being a direct homage to “The Dark Knight Returns.” Its a fun episode and by the end, there’s an approachable look at the way that all the visions of Batman make for a character that people enjoy for a variety of reasons.