Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Batman Animated Series 20th Anniversary - Top 10 Favorite Episodes

After the success of director Tim Burton's Batman films (Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)) on September 5, 1992, Fox Kids aired one of the best and most beloved animated series in the last twenty years: Batman: The Animated Series! From 1992 to 1995, Batman was the most popular animated series on Saturday morning sparking a renewed interest in Batman, especially for kids. By its third season in 1994, the show changed its name to The Adventures of Batman & Robin, (although originally, the show never featured a title until then which was very unusual for an animated series) as Robin (Loren Lester) was featured more prominently in the show, along with Batgirl (Melissa Gilbert). The show's remarkable creative team which included writer/producer Paul Dini and artist/producer Bruce Timm helped to create the unique, dark/deco, style of the show. Some of the best and well-known voice actors like Kevin Conroy (Batman), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Alfred), Bob Hastings (Commissioner Gordon), Adrienne Barbeau (Catwoman), Richard Moll (Harvey Dent/Two Face), Paul Williams (The Penguin), Ron Perlman (Clayface) and of course Mark Hamill (The Joker), also added to the shows quality and immense success.
When the series ended after three seasons, The WB Network aired a continuation with The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999) featuring a slightly different animation style including a younger Robin (Tim Drake) with Dick Grayson as Nightwing. The show's success also led to a spin-off: Batman Beyond (1999-2001), a futuristic Batman animated series and the creation of Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000) later the highly popular Justice League (2001-2004) and Justice League: Unlimited (2004-2006) animated series on Cartoon Network. To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Batman - The Animated Series, CHERNOBOG'S BLOG PROUDLY PRESENTS: My Top 10 Favorite Episodes! (Note: These Top 10 episodes focus only on the original run of the Batman Animated Series with some commentary)...Enjoy!

#10 "Trial" (Aired: 5/16/1994) - Many of Batman's deadliest villains including Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and The Mad Hatter kidnap Batman and put him on trial at Arkham Asylum for creating them with The Joker as the judge! With Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist), a shrewd attorney representing him, she proves that they in fact created themselves without Batman's help! I was always excited when the show involved the infamous Arkham Asylum, where all of Batman's villains resided at one time or another. It was always a popular location in the comics and was even later featured as part of the highly popular video game Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009).

#9 Perchance to Dream" (Aired: 10/19/1992) - Bruce Wayne wakes up to discover his parents are still alive, he's engaged to Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) and someone else is impersonating Batman! Soon he discovers he is trapped in a dream world created by The Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall). This was a very different episode giving us a look into what Bruce Wayne's life would be like if his parents had never been murdered and he had never become Batman. You really feel for Bruce when he finally accepts his new life and just want him to be happy but feel just as frustrated when he does realize that it's all a dream.

#8 "Dreams In Darkness" (Aired: 5/3/1993) -  Batman is exposed to The Scarecrow's (Henry Polic II) fear toxin, driven insane, Batman is locked up in Arkham Asylum, where he is haunted by terrifying visions of his parents' murder. This was a considerably frightening episode full of disturbing imagery, especially seeing Batman at his weakest point tied in a straight-jacket! The Scarecrow was another one of my favorite villains, and was usually the most frightening. This wasn't so however in his first appearance in the episode "Nothing To Fear" (Aired: 9/15/92) where the Scarecrow's mask was very simple. In "Dreams In Darkness" we are introduced to Scarecrow's new mask which is much more shocking, featuring a distorted burlap face with jagged teeth and straw hair.

#7 "Night of the Ninja"/"Day of the Samurai" (Aired:10/26/92 & 2/23/93) - These two episodes go together perfectly as they both feature the ninja Kyodai Ken (Robert Ito), who was once Bruce Wayne's rival while he trained in the martial arts in Japan under Yoru Sensei (Chao Li Chi). In "Night of the Ninja" Ken tries to destroy the Wayne fortune and ultimately kidnaps him and reporter Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). Wayne cannot reveal his martial arts talent while Summer watches without a little help from Robin. In "Day of the Samurai" Ken kidnaps a student of Yoru Sensei and challenges Batman to a duel on the slopes of an active volcano. However Ken believes he has an edge as he has learned an ancient, forbidden martial arts technique that can kill with a touch! I have long had a fascination with Japan and the Samurai ever since I saw the Sean Connery/James Bond movie You Only Live Twice (1967) with my Dad. Since then I have been a fan of the Japanese samurai and Jidaigeki/Samurai films, especially those of Akira Kurosawa (i.e. Seven Samurai and Yojimbo). Batman has always had both a certain ninja appeal to his character (as in the movie Batman Begins (2005), he trains in a ninja style with the League of Shadows under Ra's Al Ghul.) But in "Day of the Samurai" Kyodai Ken says to Batman "You would've made a good ninja." Batman replies: "I would prefer to be a Samurai!" Also, the addition of using real Japanese dialogue added to the episode's atmosphere.

#6 "Tyger, Tyger" (Aired: 10/30/1992) - Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) is kidnapped by Dr. Emile Dorian (Joseph Maher), a mad scientist experimenting with cats, who transforms her into a real Cat-woman! When Batman tracks her to the doctor's island to rescue her, he has to battle the doctor's favorite creation: Tygrus (Jim Cummings), a huge humanoid-cat creature! This episode always fascinated me. Batman had several episodes dealing with animal transformation particularly with the character of Man-Bat ("On Leather Wings" and "Terror In the Sky" or Woman-Bat) and even werewolves ("Moon of the Wolf"). This episode had a very strong Island of Dr. Moreau vibe which I loved and seeing Catwoman in her feline form thrilled me! The reference to and the excerpt from the poem "The Tyger" by William Blake also added a special touch of class to the episode.

#5 "The Demon's Quest" (Aired: 11/3/1992) - Written by Dennis O' Neil and based on his story "Daughter of the Demon" (Detective Comics #232, June 1971). When Robin and is kidnapped, Ra's Al Ghul (David Warner) reveals himself to Batman/Bruce Wayne and embarks on a world-wide quest to rescue him and his daughter Talia (Helen Slater). Batman was unaware that Ra's Al Ghul was the one responsible for the kidnapping and wished to test Batman to see if he was worthy of becoming his heir. Batman denies and later foils Ra's megalomaniacal plot to destroy the world using the power of the Lazarus Pits which has granted him longer life. Ra's Al Ghul quickly became my favorite Batman villain and I sought out older stories including "Tales of the Demon" by Dennis O'Neil, who also became my favorite Batman writer. This episode has such an epic feel, right out of the comics it is almost like the original story somewhat condensed. The climactic sword duel between Batman and Ra's Al Ghul is a particularly exciting moment!

#4 "Almost Got 'Im" (Aired: 11/10/1992) - The Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc gather to play Poker and reminisce about the times they "almost got" Batman. This is a delightful, although very far-fetched episode. It allows for an interesting look at the villains in an almost normal but comical setting. The only one who doesn't get a vignette is Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) whose very short story always makes me laugh:
Killer Croc: "He [Batman] was getting closer... Closer...!"
Poison Ivy: "And?"
Killer Croc: "I threw a rock at him!"
[Awkward Silence as they all stare at him.]
Killer Croc: "It was a big rock..."

Harley Quinn
#3 "I Am The Night" (Aired: 11/9/1992) - During a botched stakeout, Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) is shot by Jimmy "The Jazzman" Peake (Brian George). Meanwhile Batman helps a young drifter named Wizard (Seth Green) turn his life around. This was a very emotionally powerful episode. We see Batman at his ultimate low having failed Commissioner Gordon and basically throwing a fit, even smashing his own equipment with outbursts of rage! As he contemplates whether or not being Batman is actually helping the police he comes the closest to actually quiting. Gordon recovers and Batman has a renewed outlook on his purpose.

#2 "The Laughing Fish" (Aired: 1/10/1993) - Based on "The Laughing Fish" and "Sign of the Joker", (Detective Comics #475-476, Feb./Mar. 1978), The Joker chemically enhances all the fish in Gotham, luring Batman into a death-trap with a Great White Shark! This episode features Harley Quinn (a.k.a. Dr. Harleen Quinzel, Arleen Sorkin) who was created specifically for the show and was first introduced in the episode "Joker's Favor" (9/11/92)  as Joker's hench-wench, who quickly became a fan favorite and soon appeared in the regular Batman comic books, achieving her own title.

#1 "Beware the Gray Ghost" (Aired: 11/4/1992) - During a series of bombings, Batman/Bruce Wayne is reminded of a TV show from his childhood: "The Gray Ghost". When he tracks down the star, Simon Trent (Adam West), now a has-been actor, Batman teams up with his child-hood TV hero to bring a the mad bomber to justice! This has always been my favorite episode, most obviously for the reason that Adam West, the Batman of the '60's made an appearance (who I instantly recognized).  The fact that it always spoke to my love of nostalgia, I have always related to it. I can always see myself when it shows a flashback of a young Bruce Wayne watching "The Gray Ghost" on the floor in front of the TV, clutching his Gray Ghost action figure and wearing a Gray Ghost hat and cape.

PERSONAL NOTE: The Batman animated series came at a perfect time in my life when I was growing up. I was already a big Batman fan, having seen reruns of the older 1970's Batman and Super Friends and '80s Super Powers cartoons and of course, I enjoyed the "Batman" (1966) TV show starring Adam West. I distinctly remember seeing the 1989 Batman movie on or around my 10th birthday and from then on I was a Bat-fan for life! I began collecting the Batman comic books and when the new animated series aired, I was extremely excited. I felt that the '90s animated series was MY Batman, and I have enjoyed it for many years. I even own all 4 of the DVD volumes and still watch them to this day. See you next time fellow Bat-Fans, "same bat-Time, same Bat-Channel"!

NOTE: Be sure to check out the wonderful book Batman: Animated by Paul Dini and Chip Kidd!
LINKS: Watch full episodes of Batman: The Animated Series on The, Batman: The Animated Series is currently airing late-night on The Hub cable channel.