The best episodes of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

Batman: The Animated Series
Image via DC Comics

In 1989, Tim Burton’s masterpiece Batman was causing Batmania around the world. Warner Bros. was seeing financial success from not only ticket sales but all kinds of merchandise. So when Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski pitched their take on the Caped Crusader, Batman: The Animated Series, it was just what they were after. The iconic series premiered in 1992, with the late Kevin Conroy starring as Bruce Wayne/Batman (the definitive voice of Batman), and it would run for a total of 85 episodes, finishing in 1995.

The series was known for its striking visuals – light colors added onto black paper for the design to give Gotham City its dark look. Batman: The Animated Series was best when they handled the characters with the gravitas they deserved, treating them earnestly but not being afraid to crack the occasional joke. So let’s take a look at the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and rank them based on their bat-tastic quality.

10. Season 1, episode 47 “Harley and Ivy”

Batman The Animated Series Harley and Ivy
Image via Warner Bros.

The first episode on our list, taking the tenth spot is “Harley and Ivy.” In case you didn’t know, Harley Quinn was created for Batman: The Animated Series. She was voiced by Arleen Sorkin while Poison Ivy was voiced by Diane Pershing. Both voice actresses do a great job but Sorkin’s whiny yet vulnerable portrayal of the character is what makes her iconic.

It’s easier to rate this episode higher today knowing that the characters are in a relationship in later material like in the animated Harley Quinn series. Even though Harley spends half the episode pining over the Joker, they manage to tell a fun story with Harley and Ivy akin to Thelma and Louise. If they didn’t have Harley swoon over the Joker so much this would probably have been farther down the list.

9. Season 1, episode 41 “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”

Batman The Animated Series Riddler
Image via Warner Bros.

“If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” serves as The Riddler’s origin story in Batman: The Animated Series, taking the ninth spot on our list. By now we have had so many Riddler origin stories that we probably won’t need one for a while, but this predated both Batman Forever and The Batman, and his origin was better here than in either of those.

This Riddler origin is interesting because Edward Nigma designs a game for a company, and they take his game and fire him, citing his work-for-hire contract, not unlike DC’s battles with comic book creators, who would work under contracts and not get royalties. The episode’s games and riddles are clever and there are plenty of them in the 20 minutes they take to tell the story, making this a great episode.

8. Season 1, episode 32 “Beware the Gray Ghost”

Batman The Animated Series Gray Ghost
Image via Warner Bros.

The episode “Beware the Gray Ghost,” which saw Adam West in the role of Bruce Wayne’s childhood hero, takes the eighth spot on this list. This episode works on two different levels in that Adam West and Kevin Conroy — two of the most distinct Batman portrayals — get to play off each other as West plays The Gray Ghost. But on top of that, The Gray Ghost is fictional, with West playing the actor who played The Gray Ghost, like how he played Batman. They could have just had Adam West come in and voice a character but instead, his character is written to parallel his portrayal of Batman, forgotten by time. But for the people who experienced it at the time, especially as children, he will be forever cherished.

7. Season 1, episode 60 & 61 “The Demon’s Quest: Part I” and “The Demon’s Quest: Part 2”

Batman The Animated Series Ra's al Ghul
Image via Warner Bros.

Our first two-part episode is “The Demon’s Quest”, taking the seventh spot. “The Demon’s Quest” features Ra’s al Ghul — one of Batman’s greatest villains — and the episode was written by the late Dennis O’Neil who created the character, as well as the late Len Wein. Ra’s al Ghul arrives at the Batcave after Robin has been kidnapped, requesting Batman’s help as Talia al Ghul, his daughter, had been abducted as well.

The episode is a fun Indiana Jones-style pulp action story, as Batman works with Ra’s to find Robin and then ultimately fights him when he confirms that the Demon’s Head was behind it all. Ra’s is perfectly voiced by David Warner, acting as the old mastermind. It turns out that Ra’s was trying to test Batman so that he might take over for him upon his death. And in a spectacular showdown between the pair, they sword fight shirtless, with Batman keeping the cowl on.

6. Season 2, episode 9 “Trial”

Batman The Animated Series Joker Wig
via Warner Bros.

A group of supervillains kidnaps Batman and the new District Attorney Van Dorn, to put him on trial and have her defend him even though she wants Batman to turn himself in. The villains argue that the only reason they are as evil as they are is that Batman made them that way. Ultimately he wins the trial and is found not guilty, but that does not stop him from being sent to the electric chair.

Fortunately, he manages to escape before they kill him and uses his dark surroundings to take out his enemies and leave Arkham Asylum, where they were being held. The premise is interesting, and the episode is well-executed with a number of villains. Also, we needed to put this episode on the list as it features the Joker in a peruke.

5. Season 2, episode 10 “Harlequinade”

Batman The Animated Series Harley Singing
Image via Warner Bros.

Another episode featuring Harley Quinn takes the fifth spot on this list. ‘Harlequinade’ sees Batman turn to an imprisoned Harley Quinn to try and find the Joker, who had stolen an atomic bomb. Harley Quinn gets under Batman’s skin in the episode, as Kevin Conroy brings the Dark Knight’s annoyance to new heights. This episode is a great example of what the series was capable of doing, making a great show for kids and adults alike. It even featured a musical number, performed by Harley herself.

The story is somewhat cookie-cutter with Harley turning on Batman and Robin to reunite with the Joker, voiced brilliantly by Mark Hamill. But ultimately she changes course after realizing that he would have left her, all of her friends, and her hyenas to die when the bomb went off. It is Harley finally standing up to the Joker that elevates the episode (even if they do end up together in the end), earning its spot on this list.

4. Season 1, episode 10 “Two-Face Part I” and “Two-Face Part II”

Batman The Animated Series Two-Face
Image via Warner Bros.

Both parts of “Two-Face” might contain the best retelling of Two-Face’s origin story, and so they take the fourth spot on our list. This aptly structured two-parter sees Harvey Dent as Bruce Wayne’s jealous friend who also happens to be the District Attorney, as his life devolves into tragedy after acid is thrown into his face. Something that Batman: The Animated Series does very well is add depth to its villains, and that goes doubly with Two-Face. Before he becomes a villain he teeters on the edge, concerned about his appearance. Batman — as he is with some of his other villains — is sympathetic to Harvey’s condition and attempts to help him, but the Two-Face persona had already taken over. Richard Moll’s portrayal of Two-Face is stellar throughout the series, and as he goes back and forth between Harvey and Two-Face in this episode, it truly is something else.

3. Season 1, episode 26 “Perchance to Dream”

Batman The Animated Series Bruce Wayne and Batman
Image via Warner Bros.

“Perchance to Dream” is one of the most iconic episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and earns the third spot on this list mainly because of the story and Kevin Conroy’s performance. The episode speaks to the heart of what makes Bruce Wayne Batman, the death of his parents. When Bruce wakes up after being injured in a chase, his life has been altered, he is marrying Selina Kyle, his parents are still alive and he is not Batman, someone else is. 

The entire episode is a character study with Bruce hunting down Batman, reconciling his own life with the life of his secret identity. It turns out that Bruce had been dreaming the entire time, and that he was put into the dream by the Mad Hatter. Bruce doesn’t get to interact with his parents much, and this episode forced him to confront his childhood trauma, in quite an interesting way. Most of the acting is done by Kevin Conroy in the episode, as he bounces between Bruce Wayne, Batman, and Thomas Wayne in what is a powerhouse of voice acting.

2. Season 1, episode 35 “Almost Got ‘im”

Batman The Animated Series Joker, Penguin
Image via Warner Bros.

One of the few episodes in the series which manages to get multiple great villains in one episode comes in second on our list, with “Almost Got ‘im.” This episode features Two-Face, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, The Joker, and Killer Croc, as they sit around playing cards and swap stories of the times they came closest to killing Batman. At this point in the series we are aware of all the villains, so seeing and hearing them all in one episode was special, especially combined with their entertaining stories.

The twist of the episode is genius as well when Batman reveals at the end of the episode that he was Killer Croc the entire time, showcasing how good Batman’s disguises are. His disguises do pop up in the animated series more than most other Batman properties and this is one example of how expertly they were used. He needed to get Joker to talk so that he could save Catwoman, and the reveal of Kevin Conroy’s voice coming from Killer Croc with the silhouette of Batman appearing when the light swings above the table is quite awesome.

1. Season 1, episode 14 “Heart of Ice”

Batman The Animated Series Mr. Freeze
Image via Warner Bros.

Hands down the best episode of the series is “Heart of Ice”. The episode took Mr. Freeze — who was somewhat of an oddball villain in Batman mythology — and turned him into a tragic villain. Dr. Victor Fries was trying to save his wife from dying from an incurable illness so he attempted to put her in cryo-freeze when he was interrupted and pushed into a coolant that altered his body chemistry so that he could only survive in a subzero environment.

While the same origin story would be poorly portrayed later by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman & Robin, the pinnacle of his story is in this episode. What makes this episode memorable is not just the story, but the performances as well. Voiced by Michael Ansara, Mr. Freeze sounds almost emotionless with a hint of grief, sadness, and anger still coming through. When Batman discovers what happened to him, empathizing with the character, Freeze utters “It would move me to tears if I still had tears left to shed.” Ansara’s delivery makes it as memorable as any of Batman’s famous lines from the show.

What do you think? Are there any other episodes you would have liked to have seen on this list? With 85 episodes to pick from, selecting only ten was quite a difficult task. It’s also the genius of Batman: The Animated Series in that not only are there so many great episodes but most of them are unique, with each one telling a distinct story in the Batman universe.