Pros weigh in…
Batman: The Animated Series — the brainchild of Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Paul Dini and a team of animation visionaries — celebrates its 25th anniversary Tuesday, Sept. 5, but we’ve got a whole week of retrospectives planned for you here at 13th Dimension. For the complete list of stories, including interviews with creators and animators, click here.
In this installment of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES WEEK, some of comics’ top creators select their favorite BTAS episodes:
RON MARZ, writer, Green Lantern, Witchblade
Picking one episode of BTAS is a pretty tall order. The series was a revelation to me, and obviously heralded a renaissance of superhero animation. Whenever there’s periodic hand-wringing about how to make Batman work — whether in comics or film — I always think, “Well, the handbook for how to do Batman right is called Batman: The Animated Series. The same goes for Superman: The Animated Series. Both of them are perfect interpretations of the two most important fictional icons of the 20th century.
Picking one episode leads me to Beware the Gray Ghost. I don’t necessarily think it’s the best episode, but it’s at the top of my list because of all the buttons it pushes. It’s a clever acknowledgement of Batman’s debt to the pulp characters who came before him. You could argue that Batman owes far more to those pulp inspirations than to the newfangled superhero genre that Superman ushered in.
The Gray Ghost himself is an obvious pastiche of the Shadow, he of the swirling black cloak, descending upon the guilty to deliver vengeance. The masterstroke, of course, was casting Adam West as the voice of the Gray Ghost. The quintessential Batman giving voice to an inspiration of Batman? Too delicious to resist.
MARK WAID, writer, Captain America, The Avengers
You’re talking to maybe the one man alive who’s read literally every Batman story ever published, and from the moment I first saw it, I have insisted that Heart of Ice easily falls into the category of Top Ten. The poignancy of that episode, the raw emotion than had never before been seen on an animated TV show, was (is) jaw-dropping. If you could only watch one episode, Heart of Ice would be the one.
JEFFREY VEREGGE, cover artist
I was 18 when Batman: The Animated Series debuted, and I was hooked from Episode 1. How much did I like this cartoon you ask? When my wife was in labor with our first child, Morgan, I was watching an episode when it was time to deliver.
Now this may sound bad but I remember thinking there were only 10 minutes left of the show and I was hoping we could finish it before we had to transfer rooms. My wife still likes to bring that rather sore subject up from time to time. Ah, the days of my misguided youth. But I digress.
So many wonderful episodes and fantastic arcs. I have a many favorites: Beware the Gray Ghost, Perchance to a Dream… but my absolute favorite episode is Almost Got ‘Im. To see Batman’s rogues all sitting around a poker table sharing tales of near victory against their greatest adversary, only to find out he was sitting at the table with them all along. Throw in the fact that it was all to gather information to rescue the lovely and alluring Catwoman makes it every comic fan’s dream. He gets to save the day, rescue the girl and embarrass enemies. Seeing Catwoman flirt with Bats at the end of the episode was the icing on a very tasty cake.
Thank you both Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for making my days better with your show.
PAUL LEVITZ, writer and former head of DC Comics
Legends of the Dark Knight, based on one of my all-time favorite Batman tales, Frank Robbins and Dick Giordano’s The Batman Nobody Knows, and with added treats of salutes to talents from Dick Sprang to Frank Miller.
MICK GRAY, inker, DC Comics
It was a dark and stormy night…. that’s how The Laughing Fish begins. Perfection, in my opinion. But then again all episodes of this series were perfect! I was OBSESSED with this series. Every day I would rush home after work to sit down in front of my TV. I would watch it live and record it, carefully editing out the commercials as the VCR did its job. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it! At that time the show was not available to own, so of course I NEEDED to make my bootleg recordings! I put a crazy amount of time into this… CRAZY…
But yeah, back to The Laughing Fish! Crazy is the word! The basic premise of this episode was that the Joker had one of his usual insane ideas, to copyright a fish that would have a Joker “smile” and color scheme! What’s so crazy about that? As he says, “Colonel Whats-His-Name has chicken, and they don’t even have mustaches!” The Joker voiced, incredibly, by Mark Hamill is now pretty much thought of as THE voice of the Joker. There is none better!
As much as I loved this episode, it’s just SO hard to pick this as my favorite. I loved everything about the show! The toys (I think I owned all the original figures), comics, anything I could get my hands on…even eating LOTS of Happy Meals (also mentioned in this episode) to get those way cool toys!
My wife and I were also regulars at the Warner Brothers Gallery Store in our local mall at the time. So when we saw the BTAS limited-edition framed print of the storyboard art of this episode, with offset full-color Batman and Joker hanging out over the top of it…WE NEEDED TO OWN THIS! We bought it, and it hung on our wall in the living room for years. My newborn daughter would stare at it for hours.
Important trivia about this episode…it’s the first time, in the DC Comics animated universe, where the Joker is apparently killed, but later returns alive and unharmed. And only the second appearance EVER of Harley Quinn (voiced by the amazing Arleen Sorkin!)
This episode is based on three Batman comics blended together: The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge! from Batman #251 by Denny O’Neil with art by Neal Adams, followed by The Laughing Fish and Sign of the Joker! from Detective Comics #475 and #476, both by writer Steve Englehart with art by Marshall Rogers.
I have to give a big shout-out to Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for changing the face of animation with the work they did on the series. The style of this body of work changed the way I looked at Batman. I grew up with the Batman comics of the ’60s and ’70s, but when BTAS came along, it stood up to ANYTHING that had been done before, or after, in the Batman history!
FRANCO, artist and writer, Aw Yeah Comics
I’m a big fan of the series! I remember I couldn’t wait for it to debut on TV! I was looking forward to it for months and then when it did debut, I was blown away! It was this strange blend of new animation and old-style look (influenced by those old Fleischer Superman cartoons) and I loved it! I have watched every episode and then all the series that followed.
Picking a favorite is hard to do! If I were asked to pick a favorite Superman: The Animated Series episode, it would easily be the World’s Finest episode(s) that crossed over with Batman. I’ve always liked the dynamic of Bat and Supes! I suppose that technically doesn’t count as a BTAS episode soooo… if I had to pick just one it would have to be Almost Got ‘Im. The series had great story-telling throughout in episodic cartoon form but this is one of the best!
You start with great character designs and overall look of the series and then this story is masterfully told! Great mood, great writing, it was everything coming together that told the story — and then that ending! If you were to sit down and watch this episode and knew nothing about the characters this would tell you everything you need to know about each of them! Great stuff!
Damn… now I need to watch a bunch of episodes…
FRED VAN LENTE, writer, War Mother, Comic Book History of Comics
A bunch of worthy and beloved episodes to choose from, but I think I’m going to go with one of the foundational episodes of the series, Two-Face (Part 2). The second half of a two-parter, the first 22 minutes of which were all set-up, it really is full of all the stuff that makes not just BTAS great, but superhero stories in general.
Here you have a really sympathetic, tragic supervillain story, grounded in character. I really love what Timm, Dini and company did with the character of Harvey Dent and for once it’s a story that emotionally engages Bruce Wayne as opposed to having him just sleuth stuff out or punch the mentally ill in the face.
That said, the final action sequence in the abandoned casino at the end is one of the series’ best — my favorite bit being when he ropes a thug into a darkened hallway then emerges from it by himself, like some kind of Violence Dracula. And I love the end gag with the coins. Plus, the voice acting is uniformly excellent, particularly Richard “the Bailiff from Night Court” Moll as Dent.
JIM ZUB, writer, Uncanny Avengers, Wayward
There are so many phenomenal episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. The show’s style trailblazed a generation of superhero animation, mixing a pulp-noir look with decades of incredible comic stories, stripping them down to their essence and delivering seminal versions of the Dark Knight’s rogue’s gallery, while adding a few new ones into the mix.
On an emotional level, I love Harley and Ivy because it gives Harley Quinn a chance to shine out from under the Joker’s all-encompassing shadow. It’s joyous and entertaining, adding depth to the Gotham City Sirens while it carries out a classic adventure-heist.
From a storytelling point of view, nothing beats Heart of Ice. The reinvented Mr. Freeze is an instant classic and his story is compelling and pathos-laden from start to finish.
That’s what made BTAS so special — the writers and artists knew exactly when to adapt the source material from the comics as-is and when they could strengthen it with a fresh approach, coaxing more personality and emotion out of characters most people would have written off as hokey. It elevates the material, never talking down to its source material or the audience. That’s why so many of those episodes hold up so well 25 years later.
BRENT SCHOONOVER, artist, Batman ’66, Doc Savage
The Joker’s Favor. Poor poor Charlie Collins. It’s pretty incredible that the first appearance of the Joker is this episode. And Harley Quinn for that matter. Some of my favorite comic-book stories are tales where we are reminded of what these characters are at their core. And sometimes we need to be reminded of that in a way that isn’t just Batman punching some thugs or the Joker being super-outlandish and causing chaos.
No, this is a story of just how sinister this guy will go. A quick traffic altercation with him and Charlie Collins uproots his entire life out of Gotham. Changes his name and hopes the Joker never thinks of him ever again. But the Joker never forgets. Most people think he’s at his most dangerous squirting acid out of a flower. Or using chemicals to put a permanent grin on your face. But to me, waiting years to ruin the life of a guy who yells at him on the freeway is creepier than all of that. Pretty heavy stuff for a kids show.
ART BALTAZAR, writer and artist, Aw Yeah Comics
I love the Almost Got ‘Im episode! Anytime you can assemble Batman’s villains talking around a table, it’s a good time. Especially if Croc is included. I dig him. Aw yeah!
STEVE ORLANDO, writer, Batman/The Shadow
My favorite episode is Beware the Gray Ghost. I have a mad love for the pulp heroes that inspired Batman, chiefly the Shadow, but people like the Spider, Wesley Dodds, and anyone who dons a fedora and leaps out into the night for justice. To see Batman work with someone who inspired him, who was his hero when he was young, is a unique and special moment.
The Gray Ghost makes Batman feel like we do when we see Batman, and that is special. It’s humanizing, it makes Batman more like us and betters our connection with him to know that even he can look up to people. And to see him, showing compassion for Gray Ghost, including him, and then re-inspiring him, is beautiful.
MORE: For the complete BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES WEEK Index of features, click here.