As we bring our animated themed Batman Month to a close, it’s time to look at the episodes that shined a spotlight on the titular hero himself. So, for our final list, these are the best Batman focused episodes!
A special note, since I know people will bring it up: Yes, I’m aware that the film Mask of the Phantasm is a great look into this Batman’s head, and since it was a film based on this show, it could count. But this is about episodes of the series. And without further ado…
13. Legends of the Dark Knight
Late one night, a trio of kids are walking the streets of Gotham on the trail of an arsonist, with the hopes of catching Batman in the act of apprehending the criminal. As they continue on the way, the kids start trading theories and stories about what they think Batman is like. As a result, we get a 50’s style encounter with the Joker based on the stories by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang (complete with giant props), and one really well-done adaption of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. In the end, the kids get to see the real Batman face the arsonist, who turns out to be Firefly, but even afterwards, they still argue over what he’s like. This was a great tribute episode to Batman’s legacy over the years, and it even has a veiled “take that” directed at Joel Schumacher for his interpretation of Batman. How could you go wrong with that?
12. The Underdwellers
A lot of fans will be confused why I put this early episode on the list. In it, Batman spots small people in green hooded capes stealing from people on the street. These are the Underdwellers, a community of runaway and/or abandoned children being kept underground by the sinister Sewer King. The Sewer King is cruel and abusive, forcing the children to work and steal for him as he starves them. If they speak, he shoves them in a room with bright light (painful to their eyes from living underground), and he has his pet crocodiles as additional incentive. Granted, the episode gets a bit awkward in the middle when Batman brings one of the kids back home for Alfred to look after, but when the kid leads him to the Sewer King’s lair… Let’s just say Batman does not like people who abuse children. In fact, that’s why it’s on this list. In the end, when Batman captures the Sewer King, he tells him just how tempted he is to break his vow to not kill. Not even Joker got that line in the series, but the Sewer King did.
11. The Forgotten
When both homeless people and volunteers are disappearing from the area around a shelter that Bruce Wayne volunteers at, he decides to dye his hair white and investigate in disguise as a transient. When the kidnappers manage to get the drop on him, he wakes up in a canyon where an overweight man is using the homeless as slave labor for his gold mine. Making matters worse: the blow to his head has given Bruce amnesia. There’s a real interesting feel to this episode, it reminds me of the movie Cool Hand Luke. Plus, we get to see Bruce without his resources, memories, completely on his own. I always enjoy when a story places the hero in an unusual situation. Plus, this has one of the best “I’ve regained my memories” sequences ever.
10. Blind as a Bat
Wayne Enterprises has built a brand new helicopter, complete with a sonar based visual system for seeing in less than stellar conditions. Penguin attacks and manages to steal the vehicle, causing an explosion that renders Bruce Wayne temporarily blind. Unwillingly to wait for his vision to return, Batman adapts the sonar tech to his cowl to give him bat-like vision, leading to a dog fight over Gotham between Penguin’s new toy and the Batwing. But when both vehicles go down and the cowl’s vision fails, Batman must take on Penguin completely blind. Again, I enjoy seeing Batman put in strange new conditions, and it’s cool to see him with the glowing red eyes that the sonar vision gives him.
9. His Silicon Soul
First, a little backstory: before this episode, there was a two-parter called Heart of Steel. In it, Gordon and several others were being replaced with robot doubles created by an evil computer called Hardac. Batman managed to stop them, destroying Hardac, but the audience was shown that Hardac had managed to figure out Bruce Wayne was Batman, and that it made one last, unseen robot double before it was destroyed. In this episode, we find that the double was of Batman himself. This copy has the original’s memories, and even his personality, but hidden inside him is the Hardac program as well. Initially, the copy thinks he’s the real Batman whose mind has been transplanted into a machine, but when the Hardac program takes over, he attempts to resurrect the evil AI inside the Batcomputer. The real Batman and his double have an epic fight, even resulting in a half-Batman half-Terminator face for the copy. But when the copy thinks he’s killed Batman, the morality inside him wakes up and he destroys the computer and himself to save the city. As Batman puts it, maybe his copy had a soul in spite of its artificial origins. I just like this episode for having a Batman vs. Batman fight, and showing that having the mind of Batman is a powerful influence towards good.
8. Appointment in Crime Alley
Evil businessman Roland Dagget wants to demolish Park Row, the area of Gotham more commonly known as Crime Alley. When the city refuses to give him what he wants, Dagget resorts to planning to blow the whole area and make it look like an accident. Unfortunately, he chose to do this on the night that Batman always visits the area every year. This episode introduced Dr. Leslie Thompkins, the woman who was there for him when his parents died, but the main reason that this is on this list is that as the night wears on, we see what Batman does normally when he doesn’t have some special case happening. This includes stopping home invasions, dealing with a hostage situation, and saving a runaway trolly. While there is a plot going on with saving the innocent people who happen to live in the slum that Crime Alley has become from Dagget’s scheme, it’s also a great “night in the life of Batman” episode.
7. Dreams in Darkness
Batman is in Arkham Asylum, suffering from hallucinations and waking nightmares. He tries desperately to explain to the staff that his condition was caused by Scarecrow, who’s plotting a major fear gas attack on Gotham from within the asylum. As the Dark Knight escapes his cell, he’ll have to contend with his own suffering sanity as he tries to stop Scarecrow. People may have noticed that I didn’t include Scarecrow on my villains’ list. It’s mainly because while he’s been involved in some good episodes, he’s never the focus. Instead, like this one, the focus is often on whoever he hits with his fear toxins. And watching the nightmare Batman faces as he goes after Scarecrow is a great look at the fears brewing in the Dark Knight’s subconsciousness.
6. Night of the Ninja/Day of the Samurai
This is kind of cheating, as these two episodes were separated by most of a season. However, I always see them as two parts of a unique story for Batman, thanks in no small part to their villain. In Night of the Ninja, Wayne Enterprises is suffering attacks and robberies by the aforementioned ninja. When Batman and Robin confront the black-suited figure, his tunic rips, and Batman recognizes the tattoo underneath. The ninja is Kyodai Ken, a fellow student of the same master in Japan who Bruce trained under. Kyodai always hated Bruce for being a rich man’s son, but his hatred grew vengeful when Bruce caught him attempting to steal their master’s ancestral sword. Disgraced and driven out, Kyodai swore revenge. What’s worse is that Kyodai Ken is the only person that Bruce Wayne has never beaten in a fight, and even as Batman he’s not sure if he can beat him. When the ninja kidnaps Bruce Wayne and reporter Summer Gleeson for his final revenge, our hero can’t fight at full strength without jeopardizing his secret in front of the reporter. Robin manages to arrive and drop a tarp on Summer, allowing Bruce to fight at full-strength and finally defeat his old rival. This ends up setting the stage for the next encounter in Day of the Samurai. In this one, Kyodai returns to Japan and kidnaps the new star pupil of their sensei, threatening to kill her if he doesn’t get the location of the secret technique that can kill a man with one blow. Bruce returns to Japan, knowing that Kyodai has figured out that he’s Batman from their last encounter. As Bruce tries to stop Kyodai, he’s confronted by the question: is Batman just as dark and unscrupulous as a ninja, or is he a dark samurai? The final battle, on the slopes of an active volcano, is epic. I love these two episodes and this villain because each time the ninja appeared, Batman had to question something about his value. Those are interesting moments for a good hero.
5. Perchance to Dream
Bruce Wayne wakes up one morning to discover that the Batcave isn’t there, Alfred has no clue what he’s talking about when he asks about it, and then most shockingly, his parents are alive. Initially Bruce thinks he’s going mad, but as he spends time, he learns that his parents never died, he’s the playboy billionaire head of their company, he’s engaged to Selina Kyle (who has never been Catwoman), and most surprisingly, there is a Batman running around Gotham keeping it safe. A visit to Leslie Thompkins suggests that Bruce had a deeply layered, vivid dream about being Batman because he felt that he’s accomplished nothing in his life. Bruce decides to accept this, and live the life he’s always wanted with his family and loved ones. But as more things happen that make him question this reality, he runs off on his own to wake from this strange dream, leading to a battle between Bruce Wayne and Batman at the top of a cathedral. I’m not going to ruin the surprise of what’s happening or who’s behind it, but seeing Batman trapped in his heart’s desire makes for a great episode.
4. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
Batman’s looking for Wormwood the Interrogator, a man who lures people into death traps and spares them if they give him what he wants, who has stolen bearer bonds from a government agent. To this end, the Dark Knight threatens the Baron, a European noble/criminal. The Baron then hires Wormwood to get Batman’s cape and cowl in retribution. Wormwood is intrigued by the challenge of breaking Batman, and why his client wants the cape and cowl. The Baron wants to know why he stole the bonds. Neither man answers, and what follows is Batman being led into death trap after death trap. I’m not going to spoil the end, but this was the episode where I realize that Batman was not just a cool superhero, but crazy awesome too.
3. Beware the Grey Ghost
A mad bomber is somehow blowing up buildings in Gotham, despite security sweeps assuring there are no bombs prior to the explosion. Batman realizes that the situation reminds him of an episode of the Grey Ghost, a superhero tv series he watched with his father as a child. As such, Batman tracks down Simon Trent, the actor who played the hero and got typecast as a result. Trent’s a broken man, at the end of his rope with no work. After his encounter with Batman, Trent suits up in his old costume and helps him out, even getting to see the Batcave, which to his surprise is just the Grey Ghost’s lair. We even get a moment where Batman shows that he still has his Grey Ghost collection from his childhood, and that the character was an influence on Batman as a hero, showing that some good came from Trent’s portrayal after all. Again, I’m not spoiling this episode’s ending, but it’s great. I love this episode so much. We get to see Batman team up with the man who influenced him so much as a hero. Also, the Grey Ghost is voiced by Adam West, the first iconic Batman, making this a great passing of the torch.
2. Nothing to Fear
This was the first Scarecrow episode, and featured him attacking Gotham University in retaliation for being fired for his sick fear experiments. At the same time, Bruce Wayne is feeling down when one of the university professors tells him that his father would be ashamed of how Bruce has ruined the family name with his idiotic playboy antics. When Batman faces the Scarecrow for the first time, he gets a dark full of fear toxin, causing him to see his father who tells him that he’s a disgrace to the family. As the Dark Knight tries to stop the Scarecrow, he has to face this fear. I know it seems weird to put this so high on the list, but it’s because of one scene in particular, the most quoted scene in Batman history. As Batman dangles from Scarecrow’s blimp for dear life, the hallucination father appears again, now more demonic as it rages against Bruce being a disgrace, leading Batman to yell “You are not my father! I am not a disgrace! I am vengeance! I am the night! I! Am! BATMAN!” And yes, it’s every bit as epic as you can imagine.
1. I Am the Night
On the anniversary of his parents’ death, Batman is feeling burnt out, like it doesn’t matter how hard he fights because the war never ends. When Commissioner Gordon is shot by the criminal known as the Jazzman, due to Batman being late to the sting, Bruce decides to quit being a hero, because it doesn’t mean anything anymore. But when the Jazzman escapes jail with plans to finish Gordon off in the hospital, the Batman must head out one more time. I love these kinds of stories, where the hero has to rediscover the will to keep fighting, and this is an epic one. It has the angst, turmoil and triumph that Batman is associated with and that’s why it’s the greatest Batman episode in the series ever!
As we conclude Batman Month this year, I know some of your favorites may not have appeared on these lists. I understand, but I was working with themed lists. I assure you, your favorites are just as valid as mine. After all, this was one of the best cartoons ever. All the episodes were well done. So maybe this Halloween, instead of the scary movie, why not marathon the Dark Knight’s animated adventures instead?