In honor of the newly announced batch of Batman: The Animated Series figures that DC is putting out I figured it would be nice for me to revisit the series. It’s no secret that this incarnation of Batman remains many fans definitive version of the character. It was such a timely and special series that if you’ve never watched it and didn’t know where to start I feel it is my duty to help you out. It established a mood and a look that no other series had at the time. They treated it as a show for everyone, not just kids. They got top notch talent all around. Everything from the voice actors to the animation. The music did not suffer either. Every episode was scored like a mini film. They even had old time cinematic title cards. Some of which will be showcased right here. The intro itself is one of the most beloved and memorable ones of all time.

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Without further ado, Here is my list of my 15 favorite episodes from Batman: The Animated Series.

15. P.O.V.

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This is an often overlooked episode but a good one nonetheless. It tells the story mostly from the different perspectives of three cops and how a bad bust really went down. Things get more complex when we find out that each mention that Batman was also there. It’s great to see how each Detective describes their interaction with Batman while always furthering the story. It’s focus on building characters outside of Batman ( even if it’s Gotham cops.) is a testament to the commitment of the series to daring and different.THis is a common theme in the whole series

14. Harlequinade

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Not quite as groundbreaking as other later episodes but at the same time it was. It gave us a very slight insight into the mind of Harley Quinn and her weird relationship with the Joker. This episode is more about the hilarious interaction between Harley & Batman. The premise is simple. Batman enlists the help of Harley Quinn to find the Joker before he detonates a bomb somewhere in Gotham. Sort of like Clarice looking for help from Hannibal Lector but with much more fun results. A great episode that keeps things funny without dumbing the humor down for kids.

13. Trial

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An episode similar to another one that will appear on this list in that it is a who’s who of Batman’s rogue”s galley. The story asks the question: Is Batman the cause of all these ” super” villains? A new district attorney hell bent on getting rid of Batman is kidnapped along with the Dark knight and brought to Arkham Asylum. She is asked to be Batman’s defense lawyer against pretty much every major villain Batman has tangled with. The trial provides us with many examples of what makes these characters tick and the judgement is pretty surprising in some ways. It’s a great premise that makes for some fantastic moments of clarity, humor and suspense.

12. Perchance To Dream

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I watched this one when I was super young and was shocked by what I was seeing. One day Bruce Wayne wakes up and finds that his parents are still alive, He’s married to Selena Kyle, ( Catwoman) and someone else is actually Batman. It’s an episode that ropes you into the story and the mystery behind it very quickly. It’s executed very well and allows us to see pretty much everything Bruce Wayne ever wanted. We actually see him happy for a moment. It gets juicer but why spoil it for you?

11. Sideshow

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Another overlooked episode. Killer Croc doesn’t have many stories but the few that he does have are usually gems. On this occasion , Croc manages to escape from a train taking him back to Arkham. With Batman hot on his tracks he is forced to keep running to the point of exhaustion. Croc gets sloppy and nearly dies before he meets a group of retired circus performers that are kind enough to save his life and take him in. The unique thing is that, like him they are freaks. Croc is exposed to something that he has never been exposed to in that they judge him for his character and not his frighting appearance. Apart from it’s fantastic action sequences we get a brainy insight on an often brawny character. The ending really seals the deal.

10. The Laughing Fish

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The only episode that does not start with an official title card. It doesn’t want to waste any time and we get a quick sense of the almost creepy feel behind it, The episode is heavily influenced from The Denny O’Neil & Neil Adams story that famously brings the Joker back to his dark roots & Steve Englehart’s & Marshall Rogers story also titled The Laughing Fish. You can tell that Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and company took special care in honoring that dark turn. The Joker poisons all of Gotham Harbors fish into looking like his ” unique” face and demands to be payed for any use of said fish. Due to the impossibility of his plan, Joker begins blackmailing everyone he feels is preventing his plan from going through by promising death unless they make it happen. Full of superb moments and my personal favorite laughing fit from the Joker of all time. The ominous ending is great as well.

9. On Leather Wings

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The first episode of Batman: The Animated Series ever. This one introduces us to the character Man-Bat. A tragic, almost Jekell & Hide character who becomes a literal Bat. The perfect nemesis to a man who tries to appear like one. A case of mistaken identity soon follows and Batman must defend himself and Gotham from this new foe.The storytelling here is ahead of it’s time for anything put on TV for kids and the animation is outstanding. One particular chase scene stands out for me. The voice acting is stellar and really showcases the attention to quality the show had. It’s also a notable episode in that it is the only one that ever showed Batman actually bleeding. I remember this seemed so cool to me as a kid at the time. A great start for a great show.

8. Beware The Gray Ghost

Beware-the-gray-ghostDefinitely a fan favorite episode. Through flashbacks It introduces us to The Gray Ghost. A TV show Bruce used to love watching as a kid. A real Pulp looking character in the vein of The Shadow or Doc Savage.  Fast forward several years later and we discover that Simon Trent, the actor who played the Gray Ghost is now a washed up  Typecast as that character he was never able to get much work much like original Batman star: Adam West. In a fortuitous twist of irony Bruce TImm and Co. manged to get Adam West to actually voice this new character. It was an excellent touch and he really did a great job with the role. It was also a great nod for fans to hear the old Batman with the new Batman of that time. The story made it that someone remembered an episode of the Gray Ghost and began using that as a way to plot heists. Batman then enlists the help of Simon Trent to see if he remembers any clues that might catch this copycat. In the end this episode had so much going for it. It was original and creative and the music was really fantastic. All of the music on this show was wonderful but this episode particularly had a memorable and fitting theme.

7. Joker’s Favor

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A quirky episode that shows us what happens when you piss off the Joker. We meet Charlie. A regular guy who is as boring and normal as it gets. Until he encounters the Joker in traffic and things become far from Normal or boring. Charlie gets cut off by the Joker and proceeds to voice his displeasure to him without realizing it was the Joker. Naturally Joker catches up to him and Charlie ends up pleading for his life begging him for mercy. Joker lets him go on the condition that Charlie grant him a favor on any occasion of his choosing. Charlie reluctantly agrees and lives for another uneasy day. Joker eventually looks to redeem that favor two years later. This is another example of having interesting characters explored in different ways allowing us to see how they tick. This is especially helpful for someone like the Joker who has so much mystery and little motivation for anything that he does. He tormented this guy for two years while hanging that favor over poor Charlie’s head, and the reason can only be because he’s the Joker. Another episode of first”s in the fact that it’s Harley Quinn’s first appearance ever. Her ever growing popularity shows what an accomplishment they had with this character. Very entertaining episode with some great writing from Paul Dini.

6. The Man Who Killed Batman

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I love this episode. I really do. The character in the title card above is Sid the Squid. A small time hood who is a relative nobody. Harmless really. One day Sid goes on a heist with a bunch of his buddies and runs into Batman. They have a standoff and Sid accidentally manages to ” kill” Batman. Everyone ends up thinking that Sid actually meant to kill Batman and gets hailed as a hero of the underworld… But only for a while. Sid’s fame turns into infamy when other guys figure that if they kill the guy who killed Batman they’ll be number one. One of those guys ends up being…You guessed it. The Joker. However his reaction is not that of jubilation but of rage instead. Joker becomes thoroughly annoyed and eventually saddened that Batman is no longer around, as he so aptly put ” Without Batman, crime has no punchline.” Things get even weirder when Joker decides to have a sort of eulogy for Batman. Once again the focus is on the characters and what Batman means not so much on Batman himself. Canadian Actor Matt Frewer plays Sid perfectly and Joker’s eulogy speech is not to be missed.

5. Almost Got ‘Im

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Another fantastic idea. Two Face, Joker, Poison Ivy, Penguin & Killer Croc are having a Poker night when they decide to share stories about the time they almost succeeded in getting rid of Batman. The premise is simple but the execution is perfect. The stories are creative and much like the ” Trial” episode it’s just cool and fun to see a number of Batman’s foes just shooting the breeze. Some of the best dialogue of the show came from this episode courtesy of Paul Dini, a name that pops up a lot when referencing great episodes. It’s a wonderful slice of life for all the characters in a half hour. It’s a master class on how to tell a good short story. It also has perhaps the funniest moment in the shows history thanks to Killer Croc and a rock.

4. Feat Of Clay

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A two part episode that I’m counting as one. We get our introduction to Matt Hagen AKA Clayface. it’s really an origin story that takes the best of all three versions of Clayface in the comics. It really makes us care about a really disgusting looking villain frankly. Matt Hagen was a movie star actor who had a terrible accident that left his face damaged, thus ruining his Hollywood good looks. To keep in the game, Matt had to resort to using an experimental cream that gave the appearance of having a normal face. He ends up getting screwed by his supplier and is given WAY too much of the stuff. The result is pretty much a walking pile of clay that can mold itself into anyone or anything it wants to. As Batman investigates what really happened, Matt soon discover his new gift is more of a curse and heads down the path of retribution. Ron Pearlman lends his voice to great effect as Matt Hagen/Clayface. He really emotes quite a bit even with the use of only with his voice. The animation is complex and fluid all at once.. One of the most emotional resonant episodes that stands the test of time.

3. Robin’s Reckoning

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Most people prefer when Batman is flying solo and to be honest, Robin doesn’t show up all that much in the series but this episode is certainly his highlight. By this point in the series Robin is already established and things are pretty much normal until we find out that someone named Billy Merran is in Gotham. Batman decides to drop Robin and follow the lead on his own. This Frustrates Robin but we find out through Batman’s flashbacks that Billy Merran is really the alias for Tony Zucco. The man who was responsible for the murder of Robin’s parents. Its another two parter that really takes its time to show us what Robins went through and the bond that eventually gets established between Batman and him. It shows how they carry the same scars and must really face it on their own The flashbacks are great in every way including us being able to see a younger Batman in action. Once again the voice acting remains powerful. Kevin Conroy ( The Voice of Batman) does a particularly good job showing us the subtle difference in tone between young Batman/Bruce Wayne to regualr Batman. An episode filled with many complex themes and emotions. Compassion, Revenge, Redemption and love. It’s all in there.

2. Heart Of Ice

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Paul Dini has been responsible for a large part of this list. Actually he wrote seven of the fifteen episodes on here including this installment. A masterpiece that is another a fan favorite. This one is a truly historic and groundbreaking episode for many reasons. Firstly, it’s the very first episode that I actually saw. Secondly it took a mediocre character and turned him into someone awesome in half an hour. That character was Mr Freeze. It gave him a totally rebooted origin. Another one of Batman’s many sympathetic villains. The origin proved to be so good that it became part of comic book and movie cannon. The story is that of a man named Victor Fries who is searching for a cure for his terminal wife, Nora. He preserves her chance of survival by keeping her in a kind of cryogenic state. Thanks to funding from Ferris Boyle, Victor is able to continue research and try and ultimately save his wife. Boyle eventually decides to shut down Victor’s project due to the immense cost, essentially dooming his wife and turning Victor Fries into Mr. Freeze. This episode set the bar of quality early on and paved the way for the rest of the series with it’s attention to character depth and character development. It took nothing for granted including the audience.

1. Two-Face

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Here it is.My personal favorite Batman: The Animated Series episode of all time. This one is really when the show was firing on all cylinders. The true king of pathos in a character. Two Face. It’s important to point out that Harvey Dent had already become an established character in Batman’s world. He was in a large chunk of episodes just being regular Harvey. He was Bruce Wayne’s best friend and Gotham’s City’s District Attorney so it was that much more powerful when we saw all the personal demons Harvey was wrestling with. The man had the mob after him and an election to deal with. Top that off with a multiple personality disorder and throw in some rage issues. A lot for anyone’s plate.  In an effort to save his election and his upcoming marriage to his new fiance, he goes into therapy. Once the Mob gets wind of this they use it to blackmail Harvey into backing off. The breaking point for Harvey comes when a horrible explosion permanently scars his face and his psyche. It’s a gut wrenching episode for everyone. They all lose something. The story of a man trying to step away from the darkness only to be swallowed whole is one that has to stay with people. It did for me. The story really benefits from the two part format and that allows it to take it’s time. The animation is some of the best the series has to offer. Everything from the lighting to the angles. The performances, the music, I could go on and on. A great inspiration for the comics and the films. Check out all these episodes if you’re curious but do yourself a favor and watch this one first if you’re skeptical.

 

Hot off the heels of the CW’s announcement for their fall line up a thought had occurred to me after watching the sizzle reel for “legends of tomorrow” narrated by the great Victor Garber. Will the center hold on the DC television universe? This coming September were going to have not one not two not three but four DC related television shows on the air. With more already in development and expected not long after.

Monday Fox’s Gotham prime time slot, which granted has not been determined to be connected to any other show but statements have been clearly made that the television division is separate from the film division. So this means Gotham, Arrow and The Flash are not connected to Man of Steel or the forthcoming Dawn Of Justice picture. Tuesday The Flash prime time slot. Wednesday The Arrow prime time slot. Thursday the highly anticipated Supergirl displacing The Big Bang Theory for it’s prime time slot.

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That’s four one hour shows all in a very similar vein when it comes down to story and target audience. Even DVR’d that’s quite a commitment to even the most die hard of comic book fans. Me personally I LOVE hot pepper sauce but if I use too much with my lunch then I tend to have none with my dinner. It’s as if when I gorge on this good thing that I love I need a break and to have something totally unrelated.

If only there was some other successful franchise that’s weaved in and out of television and movies with great success? Oh wait There’s Star Trek I forgot about it for a moment because it’s not on TV (CBS that was directed at you). A very successful highly popular scifi show that translated to movies then more television. Yes there was more then one show on at the time and they were on two different networks on different nights on different schedules but make no mistake they and the movies were all still very connected.

I’m not saying I feel cheated by DC in anyway but I feel as if I have or will see Amanda Waller 5 times before I need to replace my shoes. In recent memory She was depicted on Smallville she’s a semi recurring character on Arrow and is a totally different version is a major part of the forthcoming Suicide Squad movie. I’m just saying maybe pick one and stick with it model yourself after Star Trek a little. Please don’t get me wrong I don’t hate you DC I want you to entertain me. You have a direct conduit to your audience coming on four nights a week now and the best part is their inviting you in the hard work is done.

It’s not like anyone else is doing anything even remotely similar and is being widely successful entity telling one grand story like a “universe” if you will instead of pockets of cross talk selling variants of same the thing. #CoulsonLives.

The thought remains will DC be able to hold there core television audience with such a bombastic barrage of comic book related television shows stacked almost on top of each other? We’ll find out in September.

It’s been close to five years since the famed reboot of the DC universe took the world by storm promising new beginnings for all characters and a more diverse group of books for the modern age. DC was basically asking established fans to ignore much of the last seventy plus years of history while telling new readers “You don’t need to worry about all that. It never really happened. Jump in!”

Has the experiment worked for DC?

Yes and no. But I would lean more towards no. The initial excitement and curiosity made for a successful half a year. All you had to do was go into any comic shop looking for a new issue only to find none or be left with reprints. You certainly saw the diversity that DC was talking about with titles like I Vampire, Animal Man, Resurrection Man, Voodoo and many more.

But the excitement and bold moves soon turned to reality. As sales quickly dwindled many of those diverse books were on the chopping block. Mister Terrific, Hawk & Dove, and Static Shock barely made it to eight issues before being cancelled and it didn’t end there for a majority of the books.

Some characters certainly benefited from the reboot. Aquaman particularly saw his profile raised from Joke to badass. I’ve always loved the character but most of the general public did not share that love for him until the New 52 arrived. Wonder Woman is another character that rose to prominence again. The success of Animal Man is one that also surprised some.

When you begin to analyze the success of these books you wonder why did these books work but Mister Terrific, Static Shock and Hawk & Dove and others like them fail?

There are plenty of theories and no one has the clear cut answer, but here is my take on it.

Geoff Johns is one of the premier writers for DC so it’s a no brainer to me why Aquaman worked so well. It doesn’t hurt that he has a proven track record or reviving characters similar to Aquaman. The feat John’s accomplished with Green Lantern is something to behold. Throw in the brilliant art of Ivan Reis and it seems like a good bet to succeed.

Brian Azzarello was tasked with writing Wonder Woman with Cliff Chiang on art. Azzarello knocked it out of the park before with titles like 100 Bullets and the very successful JOKER and Luthor: Man Of Steel stories.

Jeff Lemire wasn’t exactly a household name when he came onboard with DC but he was well known in the indie circuit of comics. Travel Foreman provided excellent macabre art to go along with his equally dark and thrilling stories. Animal Man proved to be a success.

I won’t knock the creative teams on the other books (Except Rob Liefiled.) I won’t diminish their talent or abilities but I would argue that they don’t have the clout under their names like a Johns or an Azzarello. I was shocked to see Rob Liefield working with DC again. It’s no secret he does not have the best following these days. In fact he is one of the most divisive artists in the industry today. All you need to do is Google his name and the images that pop up will give you various examples of his “anatomically correct” art. Perhaps they wanted to give him a chance and hope that his past fame could help carry Hawk & Dove. Eight issues in and I think they received their answer. If this is the case, why would DC then allow him to helm Hawkman, Grifter, and Deathstroke? All three of which were cancelled by the way.

There are currently nineteen first wave titles left out of the original fifty-two launched in 2012. Most of which are the mainstays you would expect. To be honest a lot of the critical and finical acclaim belongs to an even smaller group (depending on what you hear and read.)

Then there’s Batman.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were the creative team for Batman at the start of the New 52 and continue to be to this day, and they are doing amazing work with the character. I would say some of the most interesting and original stories out of the Bat universe in some time. The rest of the Bat titles are, for the most part, well received. Yet month after month they sell extremely well. One could argue it’s the character that’s the selling point not so much the quality. I think to a large extent they would be right.

DC seems to agree because there is an astonishing eleven titles featuring Batman or having Batman prominently in it. I didn’t even count Red Hood & the Outlaws, Harley Quinn, Grayson, & Batgirl into the mix.

The other part of the World’s Finest duo is Superman. Supes’s popularity has shifted in the last ten years but he still holds down six ongoing titles with him prominently in them.

Surely the saving grace is Green Lantern? The character that Geoff Johns resurrected for DC. So much so that its success spawned four more ongoing series coming from the same universe as G.L. Sadly DC will be cancelling three out of the four other Lantern titles in March. Those being Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians & Red Lanterns. Sinestro’s ongoing series seems untouched for the moment.

With DC’s major event series “Convergence” on the way, it’s hard to say what the future will be. It seems DC is now saying that these different comic universes still exist and remain relevant and that the New 52 is only a part of a much bigger thing. It’s another experiment which maybear fresh or rotten fruit.

The biggest problem I see coming from DC’s camp is their reliance on the Dark Knight himself. We all love Batman. Hell, I LOVE BATMAN but he is falling into the same problem that Wolverine and Venom fell into during the nineties. Overexposure. You can’t rely so heavily on the character to the point that you ignore the rest. I know what you’ll say. “Batman sells and the others don’t”. Fair enough. I know I said that the character sells the book but consider the writers and artists working on Batman related books. Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Geoff Johns, Francis Manipul, Peter Tomasi, Gail Simone, J.H. Williams. The Bat books are enjoying a very fine roster of talent. Possibly the best DC has to offer if want to think of it that way. My question is, why not put the BEST talent on the lower or lowest tier character?

I think Grant Morrison working on Hawkman would be great. Francis Manipul could continue to reenergize the Flash, and Scott Snyder never should’ve left Swamp Thing. This is all wishful thinking, of course. The upper brass at DC certainly know more than I do but If they hope to stay relevant and compete with Marvel they have to embrace all that the DC catalogue has to offer and really go for it. If not, in ten years time you might as well call them Batman Comics not DC Comics.

Maybe things will be changing in the near future based on the solicitations coming from DC post “Convergence”. They are, once again trying to diversify their lineup with different flavors. I’m cautiously optimistic but skeptical at the same time because I’ve seen it before and I’m not fully convinced this will be any different. One can only hope.