Batman's Birthday: The Animated Series Turns 20
Five of the groundbreaking cartoon's best Bat-ventures
On September 5, 1992, FOX debuted Batman: The Animated Series and a new breed of cartoon was born. From the distinctive "Dark Deco" design to the bombastic orchestral score to the now-iconic voice work of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, seemingly every aspect of the show has lasted in the collective subconscious of kids and adults alike. And like in a therapy session with Hugo Strange a list of five of our favorite episodes bubbled up from ours.
On Leather Wings - It's not hard to single-out the first episode as an important and indelible one. The villain was the lesser-known Man-Bat, and though it's not mentioned, it's likely Bruce suffered from some wing envy. He'd have to! Our hero got to show his versatility and do some detective work before the likes of the Joker showed up. It's a terrific opening to the series and that it features such a gorgeously-designed monster is icing on the already awesome cake.
Beware the Gray Ghost - Even heroes have heroes. In what is a very lovely tribute to both the 1960s Batman show and the 1940s serials, here Batman must help his childhood idol, actor Simon Trent, who was famous for playing the heroic Gray Ghost. Wonderfully voiced by Adam West, star of the '60s show, the Gray Ghost allowed the writers (and Batman) to geek out and tell a great story in the process. No one is called "Old Chum," however, which is its only real shortcoming.
Perchance to Dream - Here, Batman gets incepted. This "What-If?" story sees Bruce waking up to find the Batcave gone and his parents alive and well. Not only that, but Batman exists and it isn't him. This is one of a handful of episodes that deal with the psyche of Batman/Bruce Wayne and shows just how deeply his damage goes. We know from the beginning it was all a dream (the title - DUH), but it never feels like a cop-out and the resolution completely works.
Heart of Ice - Writer Paul Dini won an Emmy for this episode; no big deal. Mr. Freeze (voiced by the brilliant Michael Ansara) only appeared in two episodes of this series (granted he did get his own well done straight-to-video animated movie and one episode in the 1997 revamp) yet those became some of the best remembered in the entirety of the show. So much so, that Mr. Freeze is one of the few Batman villains to return in Batman Beyond. His story is one of the saddest and most heartfelt of the series and he strikes an imposing figure onscreen. Absolute Zero ice-related puns, also; so chill out.
Almost Got 'Im - A portmanteau featuring a few short stories, this is another one written by Paul Dini, who we can all agree was pretty good. The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc all sit in a bar playing cards, discussing how they were the one who nearly offed the Dark Knight in the best way. It's genuinely funny and the guest cast members (Hamill, Richard Moll, Paul Williams, Adrienne Barbeau) all turn in fantastic performances. All the best villains in one place; you couldn't ask for a better 22 minutes.