Over the sound of lightning as the moonlight graced the silhouette of caped crusader, perched on the top of a building that no mortal has escaped the allurement of, the background goosebumps-inducing trumpets blared on to reveal the Batman, chills ran down the spines of millennials as they felt hooked on to the rest of the episode. One can not deny that Batman might arguably be the best in the anthology of superheroes written in history. And by extension, while we squabble over faults in the movie depictions and cock a snook at how actors haven’t done justice to the character, Batman: The Animation Series stands as the ultimate encapsulation of the essence of Batman both in spirit and volume.
If you’ve caught yourself ruefully wondering where those days are gone when the clock would strike two in the afternoon and the Batman theme score would play in tandem with your racing heartbeats as the caped crusader took us down the vicarious rabbithole of adventure, there is good news for you. The greatest cartoon series ever made has been collated in its entirety and finally released in high definition. The show, intended to be something that kids would love yet grand and complex enough to captivate the adults, had just as much darkness as in the comics. And, that’s exactly how it has always meant to be.
Since this week marks the arrival of the show on blue-ray, we thought of enlisting our favourite episode picks from the series:
Story: Paul Dini
Director: Boyd Kirkland
Joker being Batman’s archenemy and possibly the most menacing villain with mayhem being his only raison d’etre, this episode tops our list as its full of gory tricks and sadism. As much tension as there is in the Joker cutting through the Witness Protection Program and the sinister threat that goes along with it, the best part of this entire episode is when Charlie finds out that all the Joker wants from him is to hold a door open for Harley. It plays right into the caprice that makes the Joker such a threatening villain, and acts as a false resolution that makes the next twist – that he’s leaving Charlie to be blown up along with Commissioner Gordon — hit even harder. It’s a murder set up as a joke with the punchline being the grittiest and that sums up his character perfectly.
Joker’s Favor offers adventure wrapped in comedy and suspense which conveys two critical ideas. First, that while Batman himself is the indefatigable crime-fighter, the people around him are not. They’re vulnerable, and the things that he deals with on a daily basis are dangerous. It changes the stakes – Batman doesn’t “lose” by coming to harm himself, he loses by by failing to stop others from coming to harm. That’s where the tension is in this episode.
Story: Paul Dini
Director: Kevin Altieri
To say that Harley Quinn was the breakout character of Batman: The Animated Series would be an understatement. She’s at the center of some of the show’s best episodes, from the slapstick, relatively uplifting comedy of Harley’s Holiday to the miserable tragedy of Mad Love. But of all the Harley-centric episodes, Harlequinade does it the best.
Just from that, you’ve got the buddy-cop comedy that comes from contrasting Harley’s zany demeanor with Batman’s grim, eye-rolling exasperation with her – Conroy’s wry frustrated sighs and furious orders to behave are the perfect foil for Arleee Sorkin’s delivery – but as the episode goes on, it gets deeper. It has those same notes as Harley’s Holiday, where you want her to win and get away from the Joker, but with that same note of heartbreak because you know she can’t that shows up again in Mad Love, but combined into something better.
The Demon’s Quest
Story: Dennis O’Neil
Director: Kevin Altieri
Between exotic locations, clever detective work thrilling action, danger, doomed romance and plot twists, this episode offers everything that it takes to carve out a place in our hearts. A villain that, more than any other opponent that Batman faces over the course of the series, is shown to be his equal on every level, from wealth to skill to sheer smarts. It’s an episode that shows what Batman is up against, and builds on the notion that is not only devoted to fighting against crime and evil, but fighting for justice and life. And when he kisses Talia at the end, then leaves her alone to return to Gotham City, we see how devoted he is to his mission, above his own interests and happiness.
We never need to be told that Batman is dedicated, or that Ra’s is ruthless, or that there’s a connection between Batman and Talia — we learn it all through the grand action of the story.
It’s everything that’s great about the entire series boiled down to one single adventure, and that’s what makes it perfect.
Almost Got ‘Im
Story: Paul Dini
Director: Eric Radomski
Almost Got’im is an expertly crafted on just about every level, right down to the way it was animated. Right from the opening sequence, in which the villains are introduced solely by close shots of their hands as they play poker, and it’s a testament to how detailed and intricate the designs were that you can identify them by such a small piece. And then there’s the big reveal at the end, where Batman’s shadow emerges from Killer Croc’s body as a light swings back and forth over him. There’s a similar reveal at the end of a previous episode, The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy, and it’s done well there, but this sequence – credited in the DVD commentary to animator Glen Murakami – impresses in terms of sheer style. It’s just this perfect example of the visual language of comics translating to animation in one gorgeously memorable scene.
Heart of Ice
Story: Paul Dini
Director: Bruce Timm
This award-winning episode was the first written by Paul Dini and directed by Bruce Timm, the driving force of the DC Animated Universe that would follow for the next decade or so. Though there were some stellar episodes before it, it was Heart of Ice that showed how deep The Animated Series could connect with viewers. If there’s one redeeming attribute of Batman: The Animated Series, it’s the vulnerability with a human touch that it gave to its characters. It’s not just that they were well-rounded, it’s that they felt like real people that viewers could relate to. Characters like Ra’s al-Ghul and Poison Ivy weren’t just plain bad guys, they were people with legitimate complaints taken to an extreme — much like Batman himself, but with a skewed morality while his was built on saving lives. And in Heart of Ice, took that concept and applied it to Mr. Freeze with an award-winning streak. The fact that he leaves one of his own henchmen to his fate after his legs are frozen solid is the perfect way to characterise Mr. Freeze as a ruthless, apathetic monster, and in a lesser show, that would’ve been where it stopped. But as Heart of Ice continues, it becomes clear that Freeze is anything but — he attempts to deny himself his emotions because he can’t take the pain of them. Even the way he phrases it himself is, if you’ll pardon the expression, chilling:
“You beg? In my nightmares, I see my Nora behind the glass, begging to me with frozen eyes.”
This isn’t a man who doesn’t feel. It’s a man who feels too much, and that’s the most humanising element of all.