As we continue our look at the best episodes of the classic cartoon featuring our favorite Dark Knight, we come to one list I’m sure most have looked forward to. I’m talking of course about the villains, the main attraction as we watch Batman face the worst that Gotham has to offer.
Now, this is going to be a very different list. For starters, everyone has their favorite villains, so I’m going to divide this list up by the best villain focused episodes per villain. So, let’s so what shows up at the top. Also, since I refuse to use an episode that I’ve already used in another list, if you want Poison Ivy’s best solo escapade, I’d see my best monsters episode list for her best solo episode.
Best Villain Ensemble Episodes: This is for the episodes where more than one villain featured.
Harley and Ivy: One of the most beloved same-sex couplings in the Batman universe has always been between the Joker’s henchwoman and the queen of killer plants, and this was the episode that started it all. When Harley gets tired of Joker mistreating her, she attempts to break out on her own. On her first solo heist, she runs into Poison Ivy. When the two manage to work well together, Harley moves in with Ivy and they become the new top bad girls of crime, even getting the best of Batman. Sadly, Harley can’t keep away from the Joker, leading to more problems. This one is great, not just for the comedy and action, but the quiet friendship scenes between Harley and Ivy, which would become one of the strongest friendships for both ladies.
Trial: Janet Van Dorne, Gotham’s new District Attorney, would love nothing more than to prosecute Batman, seeing as she thinks he’s the cause of all the extreme criminals in the city. When both she and Batman are captured by the inmates of Arkham Asylum, she has to play defense attorney for the Dark Knight as the criminals put him on trial for creating them. With Joker as judge, the Ventriloquist as bailiff, Two-Face as prosecutor, and most of the major villains as both jury and witnesses, it’s the kangaroo court from Hell for Batman. This one is such a fun episode, especially since we get to see all our favorite villains together in one episode, and the trial’s result is just perfect, along with the climatic action sequence.
Almost Got ‘Im: This is one of the best episodes of the series. In it, we find Joker, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Penguin and Killer Croc hanging out in a dive bar, playing poker. As they play, they start comparing stories over how close they almost came to killing Batman. This one is great not just for the action, or the twist ending about one of the stories, but just because it’s so much fun watching all the bad guys just hang out and shoot the breeze.
Best One-Shot Episode: There were quite a few new villains made for the show, and while some of them only featured in one episode, this particular one stood.
See No Evil: When a small-time crook gets his hands on a material that renders him invisible, he uses it to stage several major thefts, and is plotting to abduct his daughter that he is court-restrained from seeing. There’s a real creepy and sinister bit to this episode as Batman rushes to save the girl, and let’s be honest, it’s Batman versus an invisible man. You have to see that at least once.
Best Exclusive Villain Episode: Moving up from the one-shots, we know get the episode best villain who never made it off this series.
Baby-Doll: When the cast of an old popular family sitcom start disappearing, Batman and Robin investigate, only to discover the star of the show, the titular Baby-Doll, is behind it all. Baby-Doll suffers from a condition that prevents her from aging, leaving her an adult trapped in a child’s body. Typecast, alone, and mentally fragile, the actress has regressed into her popular character and turned to kidnapping to recreate the TV family that made her feel happy. This is just great because the series managed to create such a deranged and ultimately tragic villain, and the final scene of the episode is just heart-wrenching.
Best Ventriloquist Episodes: I never thought much of Arnold Wesker and Scarface in the comics. To me, they always seemed like a weird gimmicky kind of bad guy. Leave it to the Animated Series to make them interesting.
Read My Lips: In their debut episode, Scarface and his handler/minion do a lot to introduce the idea of the character… or is it characters? Particularly, showcasing that the gang understand that Scarface is the boss even if he’s just a puppet. It’s also worth it because Scarface, as a puppet, didn’t have to worry about the censors so the creators took sadistic joy in depicting his destruction in incredibly gruesome ways. Mix in a really good homage to Hitchcock, and you can see why the Ventriloquist stuck around on the show.
Double Talk: In this episode from the final season, aka the New Batman Adventures season, Arnold Wesker has been cured of his alternate personality. But when his old gang wants the boss back, they’re determined to get him back, even if they have to drive Arnold crazy to do so. The final result is the last battle between Scarface and Arnold, as Batman and his team try to help him out.
Best Mad Hatter Episode: Sadly, the Hatter only featured in a few episodes, and one of the good ones, I have plans for a list later on. So here’s the best one that focuses on him.
Mad as a Hatter: Jervis Tetch has developed the technology to control the minds of other creatures. Sadly, the only thing he wants is the love of his secretary Alice, even though she already has a boyfriend and Tetch is painfully aware of how unattractive he is. When Alice suffers a breakup, Tetch decides to use his mind control tech to give her a night on the town. It’s actually kind of sweet, as he uses his new toys to deal with muggers, get into fancy restaurants. But with Batman closing in after the aforementioned muggers nearly kill themselves by following Jervis’s suggestion of jumping in the river, and Alice reconciles with her boyfriend and gets engaged, the newly emerging Mad Hatter is determined to have what he wants, even if he knows it can never be real. This is great if only because it shows how slippery a slope power can be, and how a villain can be born from the saddest of circumstances.
Best Catwoman Episode: I’m going to annoy a lot of people. Catwoman had very little good episodes about her. Her debut episode was really weak, her characterization as an animal activist who stole from those who harmed animals got old very quick, and a lot of times she just appears as more of a guest character in good episodes that didn’t really focus on her. So yeah, while she’s been a guest in several good episodes, she’s only had one good one that focused exclusively on her.
Catwalk: Selina Kyle hasn’t been Catwoman for a while. Granted, she has put on the outfit to help Batman a few times, but she hasn’t really been her typical thief self. When Scarface and the Ventriloquist offer her a job to get back at a wealthy socialite whose great-grandfather hunted several animals to extinction, she finds herself set up to take the fall for a different crime. As Batman works to find and help the woman he has strong feelings for, we finally see the animated Catwoman take on the stronger traits of her comic counterpart. This time, she’s more vicious, more determined, and definitely more in a moral grey area than before. This is the episode Catwoman fans were waiting for.
Best Killer Croc Episodes: I know what you’re going to say: How could Killer Croc, usually depicted as dumb muscle, have any good episodes? Well, much like his comic counterpart, Croc may not be smart, but when written right, he can come across as a dangerous and sinister villain, as these episodes show.
Vendetta: Someone has kidnapped a criminal who turned states’ evidence. As Batman investigates, the evidence seems to point to Detective Harvey Bullock. When another criminal is abducted from jail, it seems like Bullock’s shady past was going to be exposed, and Bullock is placed under investigation. While initially convinced Bullock is covering his tracks to hide corruption, Batman then discovers that the men were kidnapped by Killer Croc. Both criminals testified against Croc, and Bullock was the one who put him away. As Batman takes on his most physically dangerous foe yet, we see that while Croc is a simple person, he can be ruthlessly smart when he wants to be. For the debut episode of the character, it’s still a really strong one.
Sideshow: When Killer Croc breaks out during his transport to another person, Batman pursues him into the woods. There, Croc is found and taken in by a group of retired circus sideshow performers, who accept Croc despite his appearance. As Croc wrestles with the choice of either living a simple life of acceptance or robbing his new friends and running, Batman shows up. What follows is Croc quickly returning to type, and one of his saddest lines when one of the circus folk ask why he did it when they were kind to him, and he responds that he was just being himself, like they said he could be.
Best Mr. Freeze Episode: Let’s see… Mr Freeze only appeared twice in the original run of the animated series, once more in a straight-to-video movie set in the same series, once in the final season, and one final time in the sequel series Batman Beyond. So, picking a good episode was simple.
Heart of Ice: We all knew this episode would appear on the list, didn’t we? After all, it won the show its first Emmy. This was the massively successful rewrite of Freeze’s origins. This introduced the tragic element to his backstory, including his frozen wife Nora, and his cold outlook on life. This episode was so good, the comics rewrote Freeze so that this was his origin. This was adapted as DLC for Batman: Arkham Origins, and even Joel Schumacher knew not to mess with the origin story when he did his cinematic failure known as Batman and Robin. This episode is mandatory, watch it now if you haven’t seen it.
Best Riddler Episodes: If you asked me which Batman villain I’d love to use if I was writing the comics, I’d never say the Riddler. After all, how can you consistently come up with riddles that only a genius like Batman could solve? So, when the Riddler appeared as a sadistic genius whose riddling could actually work in the context of the episode, you knew the creators had a good thing going. Still, we need to talk about the best episodes.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?: When Edward Nygma is fired after creating a popular game, Riddle of the Minotaur, he decides to get back at his former boss. When Batman and Robin intervene and Batman deduces his identity, the Riddler uses his hostage as bait for the Dynamic Duo, placing him in a theme park version of the game. With riddles and traps around every corner, Batman and Robin must race to save the poor sap.
Riddler’s Reform: The Riddler returns to Gotham, but much to Batman and Robin’s surprise, he seems to have gone straight, acting as both designer and spokesman for a new line of Riddler-based puzzle games and toys. When Batman’s suspicions are proven true, that the Riddler is still committing crimes and hiding the clues in his commercials, it becomes a battle of wits, and we see just how obsessed Riddler is becoming with outthinking the Dark Knight.
Best Ra’s al-Ghul episode: The Demon’s Head himself, Ra’s al-Ghul is one of Batman’s greatest enemies, appearing in several strong episodes. However, we’re talking about his best, and for his best, well…
The Demon’s Quest: This 2-part episode was written by Denny O’Neil, the comic writer who created Ra’s al-Ghul, and adapted from the same storyline where Ra’s was introduced in the comics. When Robin is kidnapped, Batman is ready to hunt down who did it, only to find that the enigmatic immortal Ra’s al-Ghul has infiltrated the Batcave, having learned Batman’s identity from Talia, his daughter who Bruce encountered in a previous adventure. Talia has been taken too, and Batman embarks on a globetrotting adventure, learning more about the immortal eco-terrorist in the process. By the end of the two-parter, both the viewers and Batman have learned the basics of Ra’s that would be part of his episodes for years to come. Also, Batman and Ra’s have their climatic showdown as a shirtless sword-fight… Errol Flynn would be proud.
Best Two-Face Episodes: Harvey Dent appeared rather early in the animated series, stating that if Bullock did arrest Batman during the debut episode of the series, he’d prosecute him. When Poison Ivy made her debut and attempted to kill him, it was revealed that Dent was Bruce Wayne’s best friend. Fans of the character from the comics knew that Dent was doomed to become a villain, but still, he become one of the series’ best ones.
Two-Face: In this 2-parter (you knew it had to be two parts, right?), Harvey Dent is running for reelection, and determined to bring down crime boss Rupert Thorne. But the stress of the campaign, along with various setbacks in taking down Thorne’s empire, are causing Harvey to unravel, and his alternate personality known as Big Bad Harv is starting to manifest. As Harvey tries to repress his negative half, Thorne gets a hold of his psychiatric report and attempts to blackmail him. When Big Bad Harv emerges to attack Thorne, and Batman shows up to save his friend, all hell breaks loose and Harvey is scarred in an explosion. After he sees what he’s become, Harvey snaps, and part 1 ends with him disappearing. Part 2 focuses on six months later as Dent, now known as Two-Face and deciding his actions with a two-headed coin, begins a crime war against Thorne, determined to bring him down once and for all. Batman, determined to try and save his friend, finds himself in pursuit of a dangerous foe. This is one of the series’s best episodes, and the creators of the show have stated that with this episode they managed to find the rhythm they were aiming for.
Second Chance: Two-Face is about receive plastic surgery, which the doctors hope that it will help quell his evil persona. As Harvey slips into sleep, with Batman and Robin on hand, someone breaks into the operating room and kidnaps the ex-District Attorney. What follows is a hunt through Gotham’s underworld to determine who would want to eliminate Two-Face. In the end, Batman realizes that there’s only person who gains from stopping the operation. And I’m going to let you discover that on your own.
Best Penguin Episode: Penguin was an oddity on this show. During the original run, his design was based on Danny DeVito’s depiction of him in Batman Returns, which helped with his characterization as a creepy little criminal who thought of himself as high class. When he returned in the last season, they redesigned him to look more like the classic Penguin of the comics, and made him a nightclub owner, fronting as a legitimate businessman while still operating as a criminal. Ironically, much like Catwoman, he only ever had one really good episode that was focused on him.
Birds of a Feather: After another stint in jail, Penguin has decided to go legit. Sadly, he finds no homecoming waiting for him upon his release, except for Batman threatening him to not return to a life of crime. When wealthy socialite Veronica Vreeland decides to befriend the freakish little man with delusions of sophistication simply so that he can be an attraction at one of her parties, Penguin thinks she’s interested romantically, and proceeds to embarrass her everywhere. When he surprisingly defends her from would-be muggers, she starts to think there’s more to him than she first thought. When Penguin finds out her true reason for befriending him, he snaps and kidnaps her. It’s a great episode to see how close one of the villains on this show could come to achieve a normal, happy life, only to lose it in the end.
Best Harley Quinn Episodes: You knew she had to be on this list, right? Harley was the breakout original character of the animated series, transcending from the small screen to the comics and becoming a major character in the Batman universe. So, of course we have to look at her best episodes that helped her become so beloved.
Harlequinade: When the Joker steals an atomic bomb capable of destroying Gotham City, Batman has little choice but to bring in the one person who knows how the Clown Prince of Crime thinks: his henchwoman/girlfriend/doormat Harley Quinn. And the episode from that point just becomes comedy gold as we see Harley in the Batmobile, leading our hero to several criminal hangouts, and in the end even getting a weird hilarious/romantic moment with the Joker. It’s one of the best crash courses on Harley’s personality you could get.
Harley’s Holiday: Harley has been released from Arkham, having been declared sane… or at least sane enough that she’s not a threat anymore. I mean, she still walks her pet hyenas down the street and doesn’t seem to understand why people are scared. Anyway, when she buys a dress but forgets to let them remove the security tag, she freaks out and thinks she’s going to be arrested again when security shows up to simply remove the tag. She quickly suits back up as Harley and ends up making her getaway in Bruce Wayne’s car, accidentally kidnapping Veronica Vreeland (remember her from the Penguin episode above?). What follows is one of the most insane chases since Blues Brothers, as Harley ends up running all over Gotham with Veronica in tow, being chased by the cops, Veronica’s general father (leading to the moment when Harley says “No, that’s not your father… that’s your father IN A TANK!”), a crook she’s angered, and of course, Batman and Robin. In the end, Harley is returned to Arkham, but Batman lets her keep the dress, since he knows how a bad day can ruin every thing.
Mad Love: Originally a graphic novel tie-in to the animated series (and thus less prone to censorship than the cartoon), it took a while for this story to get adapted for animation, only appearing in the final season. When another plan fails, leading to Joker treating her like dirt, Harley flashes back to how she met the Joker, how he let her in on his secret pains and pleasures, and how she fell in love and became his sidekick. When she decides to get rid of Batman once and for all so she and Joker can be happy, the Dark Knight lets her in on the fact that everything Joker told her about his past was a lie, and when she tries to show Joker that she managed to capture Batman, Joker beats her within an inch of her life before he has his showdown with Batman. While I agree this is a good Joker episode, it’s a great Harley episode as it explore her twisted, abusive relationship with the Joker.
Got any favorites you didn’t see on the list? Let us know in the comments section. And if you’re wondering why there aren’t any Joker episodes on the list… Check this space soon, for the best Joker episodes ever!