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Batman: The Animated Series not only changed the landscape for Saturday morning cartoons and superhero television shows in general, but it also added many new elements to the Batman mythos that live on – even making their way into comic books and feature films to this day. (And we're not just talkin' Harley Quinn, puddin'.)
With the specter of the 1960s Batman show still in the consciousness of mainstream audiences decades later, Batman: The Animated Series showed that superhero shows - even animated ones - could be just as serious as any other television program.
This month, DC picked up the style and themes of Batman: The Animated Series in an official continuation, the digital-first comic series Batman: The Adventures Continue.
But before you go forward, it's always good to look back at what came before – so we’re counting down the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures.
10. “Harlequinade” – Season 2, Episode 72 of 12
Harley Quinn proves to be much more than Joker’s sidekick as she teams up with the Caped Crusader himself. Even if Harley teeters on the line between hero and villain today, this wasn’t always the case.
“Harlequinade” was one of the first stories that showcased Harley's potential as an anti-hero, even if her heroics were only connected to less time in jail.
It’s a humorous episode that puts Harley Quinn and Batman’s very different personalities on full display with Harley as the comic relief and Batman as the straight man.
9. “Almost Got Im?” – Season 2, Episode 183 of 12
Who is Batman from the villain’s point of view? That’s the question at the heart of “Almost Got ‘Im”.
The biggest Bat villains - including Poison Ivy, Two Face, Penguin and the Joker - share a poker table together, and tell their best stories about Batman and their close calls with taking him down once and for all (hence the title). The episode concludes with a twist ending - revealing Batman was there all along disguised as Killer Croc to bust up the card game.
Now that’s what we call a poker face.
The moral of the story is that even if the villains believe that they are close to destroying Batman, the hero will always be one step ahead of them. Batman’s world famous preparation in action.
8. “Heart of Ice” – Season 1, Episode 34 of 12
There’s an old aphorism that a hero can only be as interesting as their villain – and the Emmy award-winning episode “Heart of Ice” takes this message to, well, heart, putting a spotlight on the tragic backstory behind one of Batman’s greatest enemies – Mr. Freeze.
Doctor Victor Fries is far from a mustache-twirling villain, and this episode tells the devastating tale of the loss of Fries’ wife that led him down the path of villainy – a narrative that made it into comic book lore in the years since.
As one of the first episodes of the show, “Heart of Ice” set the bar for the sophisticated style of storytelling that Batman The Animated Series is remembered for over 25 years later.
7. “Robin’s Reckoning” – Season 1, Episode 31 and 325 of 12
“Robin’s Reckoning” is a two-part story that delves into Robin’s tragic origin as the youngest member of the circus family the Flying Graysons.
Most of you know the basics of the story - Dick Grayson witnesses his parents’ murder concealed as a circus accident, and Bruce Wayne – who also witnesses the Graysons’ death in the audience of the circus – takes Dick under his wing, all too familiar with the orphan’s plight.
As Bruce and Dick develop their relationship, the truth comes out – not just about Dick’s parents’ deaths, but about Bruce’s secret identity as Batman.
But what makes this episode stand out from other origin stories are the flashes between the present and past as Batman and Robin uncover the mystery behind the Flying Graysons’ murder. This mark the start of their crimefighting partnership – but also sets the stage for the rocky relationship that later leads to Dick leaving his partnership with Batman and becoming Nightwing.
6. “Shadow of the Bat” – Season 3, Episode 1 and 26 of 12
Speaking of origin stories and two part episodes - “Shadow of the Bat” introduces Barbara Gordon to the Batman: The Animated Series mythos. For many fans, “Shadow of the Bat” was their first introduction to Barbara Gordon in the modern era, and much like the rest of the series, the episode showcases the true depth and sophistication of Batgirl’s character.
Following her father Commissioner Gordon’s arrest, Barbara Gordon takes the law into her own hands and becomes Batgirl to clear his name. The episode puts Barbara’s best qualities on full display - her curiosity, her tenacity, and her drive to protect the people she loves. Even though Batman warns Barbara of the dangers of their line of work, she’s still driven to fight the good fight.
5. “Girls Night Out” – The New Batman Adventures Season 4, Episode 207 of 12
A twist on the classic “World’s Finest” pairing of Superman and Batman, the “Girls Night Out” crossover episode features Supergirl and Batgirl teaming up to clash with big bads Livewire, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn.
With Batman and Superman occupied when Livewire strikes, it’s up to Supergirl and Batgirl to take the supervillain down - but unluckily for the dynamic duo, Livewire finds her own team with the likes of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.
The episode has a lot of fun action sequences within the Gotham Mall and Zoo, but the highlights are the character beats where Supergirl and Batgirl get to learn more about each other and genuinely become friends – reflecting their mentors’ relationship through a new lens.
4. “Zatanna” – Season 2, Episode 268 of 12
Zatanna isn’t your average stage magician – and this isn’t your average episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
Intercut with flashbacks, “Zatanna” shows Bruce’s first meeting with the eponymous magician during his pre-Batman days when he took on the false identity of ‘John Smith’ to learn the art of escapism from Zatanna’s father, Zatarra, while Batman tries to clear Zatanna of murder in the present.
“Zatanna” introduces magic to the grounded world of Gotham, bringing a whole new dynamic to the show. The flashbacks to Bruce and Zatanna’s past lives help deepen their relationship, and create an infectious dynamic between the two, but also showcase the bittersweet nature of Bruce’s career as Batman.
3. “Old Wounds” - The New Batman Adventures Season 4, Episode 179 of 12
“I quit” – what led Dick Grayson to say these two words to Batman and ultimately become his own hero as Nightwing?
In “Old Wounds”, the scars that led to Dick and Bruce’s split open up, and what pours forth is a heart wrenching, dramatic exploration of the complex dynamic that was previously established in “Robin’s Reckoning”.
The New Batman Adventures introduced a few shake-ups to the Bat family - Tim Drake as Batman’s new Robin, Barbara Gordon graduating to a full-time member of the team, and Dick Grayson’s relationship with Batman becoming even more strained. This episode delves into a bit of the backstory into how the Bat Family’s relationships evolved – and fully establishes Dick Grayson as his own hero.
2. “Mad Love” – The New Batman Adventures Season 4, Episode 2110 of 12
How did Dr. Harleen Quinzel become Harley Quinn?
The Paul Dini-written “Mad Love” reveals Harley Quinn’s secret origin as an Arkham Asylum doctor driven insane by her infatuation with the Joker.
Adapted faithfully from Dini's own Eisner-winning The Batman Adventures: Mad Love one-shot comic book, the story delves deeper into the life of Harleen Quinzel and the characterization and history that has made her one of DC’s biggest fan favorite characters more than two decades later.
1. “Over the Edge” – The New Batman Adventures Season 4, Episode 1211 of 12
“Over the Edge” takes us straight into the action as the Bat Family chases down Scarecrow on the rooftops of Gotham City, but things don’t go according to plan when the villain throws Batgirl off a skyscraper – her body hitting her father’s police car on the way down.
Commissioner Gordon unmasks Batgirl and discovers his daughter is the crimefighting heroine, who has apparently just died in his arms. He blames Batman for the death of his daughter, disappointed that he kept her superhero life a secret from him.
Even if the events were later revealed to be only a fear-induced dream developed by Scarecrow’s gas and Barbara’s own anxieties about her secrets, this is one of the show’s most intense and emotionally-charged episodes – securing the number one spot on our list for its exploration of the nature of superheroics and the relationship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon.
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