The 10 Best Animated TV Episodes of All-Time! Author: Chris Clow (Follow @CHRISCLOW)
When Jett asked me to pick the top 10 episodes ever for the animated incarnations of Batman, how could I refuse? Even though as a kid I always had the Burton ’89 film on VHS, the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series was always there for me every afternoon when I got home from school. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for those animated adventures in particular (recently calling it the best DC Comics-based TV show for an article on GeekNation).
The greatness of Batman in animation doesn’t stop there, though. We’ve been treated to other shows like Batman Beyond, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and others. Those have LOTS of TV episodes to sort through, but in my humble opinion (with some asked-for input from Jett), here are the ten best animated Batman episodes.
10. Batman Beyond Episode #44 - “Out of the Past”
Although the writing and storytelling in Batman Beyond was truly top-notch, one thing I always felt when watching it was longing. Longing to see the original Batman have one more chance, longing to see what it would be like to have him fight alongside his successor, and longing to see that capability from a man that deserved any reward thrown his way.
“Out of the Past” gave me that.
One of the coolest episodes of the series, the elderly Bruce Wayne is frustrated with his diminishing abilities when an old flame, Talia al Ghul, promises him his youth and strength once again. In a somewhat surprising turn, Bruce accepts, and helps Terry uncover a plot from the thought-to-be-gone Ra’s al Ghul. Bruce and Terry fought together for the first time, with the young Batman marveling at the inherent ability and deftness of his mentor. When the original Shirley Walker Batman theme began playing in “Beyondified” electronica, I got chills, and still do today. Add to that a shocking plot twist and great character moments, and this episode is easily a favorite.
9. The New Batman Adventures Episode #12 - “Over the Edge”
While The New Batman Adventures isn’t as well regarded as Batman: The Animated Series, similar creative teams and voice casts means that some memorable moments were created. One of them was this, perhaps the single most shocking episode of any animated Batman series I’ve ever seen.
“Over the Edge” dealt with the death of Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon going through her daughter’s journals, and learning the secret of Batman’s identity. Blaming his former friend for the death of his daughter, Gordon raids Wayne Manor and puts Batman, Robin, and Nightwing on the run from the most intense police pursuit they’ve ever had. By the end of the episode you breathe a big sigh of relief, but while watching it for the first time, it goes to some dark places. Surprisingly dark for a show aimed at kids, even if on the older end of the spectrum. The strength of the writing, though, is hard to dispute, and it still makes for one of the most engaging animated Batman outings ever produced.
8. Batman: The Brave and the Bold Episode #19 - “Legends of the Dark Mite!”
From poking fun at “bat-nipples” to taking us on a 20-minute romp through most of the character’s storied history, The Brave and the Bold’s “Dark Mite” episode, written by the legendary Paul Dini, delivers on a LOT of levels as a very satisfying Batman story.
Bat-Mite is a very tricky character to make people get, but when one of the most efficient writers comes along to flesh him out within the span of a single TV episode, it’s easy to get the impression that they definitely hired the right man. But beyond that, this episode is a ton of fun that just bleeds reverence for Batman, and his history. For any Batman fan who loves The Dark Knight and his world, that makes this episode an absolute joy to watch.
7. Batman: The Animated Series Episode #67 - “A Bullet for Bullock”
You know how you might be going through a tough time, but then you hear of someone else’s situation and kind of feel better about yourself? It’s that idea that about sums up my feelings on Harvey Bullock when watching this episode. Taking place around the holidays, Bullock is asked by his partner Renee Montoya what he’ll be doing for New Year’s. “Same thing I did for Christmas,” he said. “My laundry.”
The reason I hold this episode in such high regard is because even as a cartoon, it manages to follow many of the conventions and executions of film noir. Batman is pushed to a more supporting role in this story, which instead opts to delve a bit deeper into the life of one of the only cops on the force who despises Batman. In this instance, though, Bullock can’t afford to trust anyone else.
After a whirlwind adventure to try and find out who has it in for ol’ Harvey, the conclusion of the episode is funny, but surprisingly poignant. Even if he’s a sloppy mess to most everyone that would pay attention, the way Bullock lives his life largely suits him and even makes him happy, and I like having that sentiment by the time the credits roll.
6. Batman: The Animated Series Episodes #32-33 - “Robin’s Reckoning”
While I know many solo-Batman fans can’t abide the presence of the Boy Wonder, I’ve always felt that the story of Dick Grayson was a very valid inclusion into the Batman mythos because of the simplicity of Dick’s parallel experience with the tragedy that created his mentor. Sure, Robin was first included in the comics for kids, but he’s grown to be an important extension of the Batman legend, as well as one of the most interesting characters (and concepts) in comics.
“Robin’s Reckoning” was my first exposure to the origin story for Dick Grayson, and as a kid, this probably provided me with the first meaningful, high-level emotional connection I ever had with a fictional character. For the first time, I got who Robin was, and the story was just as tragic as that of his new guardian and my hero. Now, they both had someone to confide in, and it’s that part that makes it very hard for me to stop a smile playing across my face. This episode got to the core of both the tragedy of Robin, but also the inherent hope he found in himself, and that he gave to the Dark Knight. That’s probably Dick Grayson’s greatest contribution to what was the solitary life of Bruce Wayne.
5. Justice League Unlimited Episode #26 - “Epilogue”
The only episode on this list derived from the Justice League series, not because those episodes aren’t good, but because this one manages to tell a singular, powerful story that goes deeper than Batman’s mask, and down to his heart. Briefly, the production team thought that “Epilogue” was to be the final outing ever for the DC Animated Universe, which means that it even had visual ties back to the first episode of B:TAS, “On Leather Wings.”
In many ways, though, this is both a finale to Batman Beyond, as well as one of the most definitive character statements on Bruce Wayne I’ve ever seen. You see, back when this episode aired in 2005, I kind of thought that Superman had an exclusive right to hope in the DC Universe. Episode writers Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie changed those perceptions entirely when out of the mouth of an elderly Amanda Waller came these words: “…I've never met anyone who cared as deeply for his fellow man as Bruce Wayne.” You know what? Amanda Waller met Superman. I love the Man of Steel to death, but this version of Batman continually inspires me in a way that Superman doesn’t, because the light of the man’s good heart that few people see is wrapped in a thick shroud of darkness, but everyone he touches can feel that light and be affected by it in some way (even if he makes you think it came from somewhere else).
The wrenching demise of Ace, coupled with Terry’s realization about his true parentage and the depth at which Batman Beyond really goes, all make for a powerhouse of an animated Batman show, and if you’ve never seen it, on behalf of the whole BOF crew, I heartily encourage you to.
4. Batman: The Animated Series Episode #49 - “I Am the Night”
And this, dear readers, is an episode that I am unashamed to say makes me well up with tears every time I watch it. Beginning with a darkly contemplative Batman in the cave debating his true efficacy in such a problematic city, Batman pays respect to his parents in Crime Alley on the anniversary of their death. He runs late to a sting he and Commissioner Gordon had been planning, and when the Commissioner is shot in the line of duty, Batman decides that it’s time to hang it up for good.
The episode goes to the core of what The Dark Knight is all about: Perseverance in the face of adversity. Rooted in his defining tragedy and finding refuge in the people he cares most about, it’s his eventual sense of duty that brings him back around, and in one of the single most powerful moments in any Batman story (in my opinion), Batman and the Commissioner renew their commitment to each other and their city. I well up just thinking about it, and because an episode continuously affects me on such a personal level every time I watch it, it demands a spot on this list.
3. The New Batman Adventures Episode #19 - “Legends of the Dark Knight”
If ever there was a way to see the two extremes of how Batman has been characterized over his history, it would be this gem of an episode found near the end of the run of The New Batman Adventures. Coincidentally written by both Bruce Timm and Bob Goodman (screenwriter of the adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns), “Legends” acts as both a “grapevine” story and a campfire tale, with a few kids recounting their visions of who Batman is, and what he’s like.
The influence of Gardner Fox and Dick Sprang shows up in the first half of the episode, bringing the 1950s-60s conception of Batman to life: cringe-worthy one-liners, chummy dialogue between the Dynamic Duo, and cartoony bouncing between the keys of giant pianos in a museum. A smiling Batman and a rather goofy Joker (played gleefully by Michael McKean) just elevate the fun of seeing this, especially for me as a kid who grew up more with the dark vigilante than the “bright knight” made famous by Adam West and comics creators like Fox and Sprang. Almost just as soon as we see this, we move to the whole other end of the spectrum, with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns come to life for the first time, tanks, “mud holes,” and all. It provides a stark contrast between the two visions, all celebrating the same character.
“Legends” is a 22-minute paean to everything that’s made Batman such a versatile and timeless character across his entire existence. That makes it one of the best animated experiences you can have as a hardcore Batman fan.
2. Batman: The Brave and the Bold Episode #37 - “Chill of the Night!”
Batman’s origin story is probably one of the most well-known in fictional history. Needless to say, when some fans get confronted with it over and over again, that cold night in Crime Alley can become bothersome in less-than-capable hands. It can be monotonous, trite, and cheesy when not handled correctly.
Thankfully, Paul Dini is always up to the task where the Dark Knight is concerned. When I first saw “Chill of the Night!,” I was really taken aback by its level of darkness. The Brave and the Bold is supposed to be a show about a lighter Batman, but when dealing with the night that took Bruce’s family from him, it’s hard to stay light. This episode tells the story of confronting the man that changed everything in Batman’s life. When the moment comes, what does he do? Exact vengeance, or dispense justice?
This question comes in the form of two of DC’s best supernatural characters: The Phantom Stranger and The Spectre. The two beings make a wager over Batman’s soul to see which way he will lean when the time comes to react, and maintains the necessary darkness given the subject matter as well as a sense of grandeur that goes the extra mile. It’s a wonderful episode, with a terrific character statement about the character we all love.
The greatness of the episode is reflected in three members of the guest-starring voice cast: Mark Hamill as The Spectre, Kevin Conroy asTthe Phantom Stranger, and Adam West himself as Thomas Wayne. Knowing those voices and their contributions to Batman’s history, in addition to the fantastic writing on display, definitely helps to make for one of the absolute best that the animated Batman has to offer.
1. Batman: The Animated Series Episode #14 - “Heart of Ice”
Perhaps one of the best Batman stories in any medium, “Heart of Ice” was also vitally important to the reinvention and reclassification of Mr. Freeze as a top-tier villain in the Batman mythos. For many, this was the episode that symbolized that Batman: The Animated Series was more than just a kiddie cartoon: it was a dramatic representation of Batman’s world which, in the best cases, puts character first over practically every other element.
Being a relatively early episode in the series, “Heart of Ice” made a fast and powerful statement to both fans and critics alike that this series would aim a little higher. With a fresh take on a classic character in the Batman Rogues’ Gallery, Mr. Freeze would be indelibly changed by the story presented here, with DC adopting this version of the character’s history and implementing it into his comic book counterpart.
Batman goes through a very interesting and tumultuous ordeal in this one because of his understanding of Freeze’s desire for vengeance. As a little one watching this episode for the first time, I remember not feeling the typical desires to see Freeze get a blue-gloved fist across his face: I actually felt for him, and at the time that made me very uncomfortable. You can’t feel sorry for a BAD GUY! That just seemed…wrong!
It wasn’t, though. This episode really dives into the strength of what generally sets Batman’s villains apart, and giving Freeze that underlying pathos that stuck in multiple mediums for so many years, really gets to the heart (no pun intended) of what make so many of Batman’s villains so timeless and understandable. Michael Ansara (perhaps best known to genre fans as Kang from the original Star Trek episode “Day of the Dove”) is the key to that understanding of Freeze: using his tenor voice before the accident at GothCorp and then applying the cold, detached monotone of Mr. Freeze for the villain. I think that Ansara is often too easily overlooked as one of the best voice actors to play on the entire run of Batman: The Animated Series, by giving us an “in” to the character that nobody before or since has quite given us.
“Heart of Ice” was, and still is a statement about the levels animation can take people creatively, as well as a serious proclamation that there’s something fundamentally different about this guy Batman and the world he inhabits. I hold “Heart of Ice” in the number one spot, but the beauty of Batman stories lay in their diversity: this may not be your number one, but yours is just as valid as mine or anyone else’s.