From the dark deco rooftops and crime-ridden streets of Gotham, Batman: The Animated Series celebrates its 30th anniversary, first aired September 5, 1992! This iconic anime series enjoys a 9.0 rating on IMDb and ranks 22nd on its list of highest-rated TV shows. This fan favorite has earned its place by telling concise stories through likable heroes and villains ripe for tragedy, even creating new characters and origin stories that have become staples in the wider DC fandom.
Stepping out of a landscape of goofy Saturday morning cartoons and the much more campy Batman series of the 60s, this darker version was can only exist after the resounding success of Tim Burtonit is Batman (1989). During this time, the Batman comic was also becoming more mature, so the series took the opportunity to introduce its noir tone and take their so-called children’s cartoon seriously. The revolutionary series guided by Bruce Tim and Paul Dini would spearhead a whole new era of animation.
“The Laughing Fish” – 8.6
Exit the screen with Marc Hamil“The Laughing Fish” is just one of many fantastic Joker episodes in the series. Here, the Clown Prince of Crime is seen tormenting the audience with his laughing gas as Batman investigates an outbreak of smiling fish. There’s also a nod to the famous Batman vs Shark scene in batman: the movie (1966) as Batman battles the Joker’s Laughing Shark.
Alongside Joker is Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) which was created specifically for this series. While she was featured alongside Joker in her first episode, “Joker’s Favor” – 8.5, she would receive her official origin story in the continuation show, The New Adventures of Batman (1997), with theepisode “Mad Love”. It’s the highest-rated episode of the connected shows with an impressive 9.4, chronicling the start of Joker and Harley’s toxic relationship. These various series are currently all collected and streaming on HBO Max.
“The Clay Feat” Parts 1 and 2 – 8.4 & 8.6
The anime series features several 2-part storylines that often feature a villain’s origin story, such as “Feat of Clay”, featuring Clayface (Ron Perlman). The episode begins with a mysterious turn of events as Lucius Fox (Brock Peters) is threatened by none other than Bruce Wayne. What Fox doesn’t realize is that it’s actually the shapeshifter Clayface.
The 2-part episode features the struggles of actor Matt Hagan who was horribly disfigured in a car crash. Using a sleazy pharmaceutical compound that promises to make actors look their best, Hagan spins out of control and permanently transforms into the villainous Clayface and begins abusing his power to impersonate others.
‘Robin’s Reckoning’ Pt 1 & 2 – 8.5 & 8.7
“Robin’s Reckoning” looks back at the origin story of Robin, aka Dick Grayson. As Batman and Robin handle a routine night of crime-fighting, a familiar name piques Batman’s interest, and he quickly dismisses Robin from the investigation. Afraid of dragging Robin into too personal a confrontation, Batman goes for the goon while Robin reminisces about his past.
Featured in the documentary batman heart (2018), telling the story of Batman: TAS, the series faced numerous censorship stipulations, such as the use of weapons, violent or mature content, and endangerment of children. The latter being the main basis of the show using an older Robin to begin with. In flashbacks, the present Robin recalls his youth in the circus and the fateful loss of his parents in a trapeze accident.
“The Man Who Killed Batman” – 8.8
No it wasn’t the crazy Joker, Bane didn’t break the bat or was he puzzled by Riddler, in this episode Batman is apparently killed by a clumsy low level criminal, Sid the Squid (Matt Frewer). The episode follows Sid as he confesses to his superiors how he was just trying to make a name for himself and rise through the ranks, but didn’t want to kill Batman by forcing him down in an explosion.
The episode takes a comedic turn as news of the Caped Crusader’s death spreads. Other mobsters and low-lifes begin to celebrate or confront Sid for his exploits, before he eventually catches Joker’s eye. In a hilarious sequence, Joker shows his excitement, but then his remorse, as all his fun and games died with the Bat, even throwing him a funeral complete with a kazoo mourning song and an acid bath for Sid.
‘Follow your dreams’ – 8.9
“Perchance to Dream” is a fantastic episode that delves into the trauma that drives Bruce Wayne: the loss of his parents. With Kevin ConroyBatman’s signature low voice, in this episode he would focus primarily on Bruce. Waking up at Wayne Mansion, Bruce quickly realizes that there is no evidence of him as Batman.
Surprisingly, Bruce then discovers that his parents are alive and well. In a surreal exploration of the life Bruce could have had, the Bat keeps calling him and he quickly realizes he can’t condone injustice. Almost giving in to the dream, Bruce ends up confronting the world’s version of Batman, before waking up and unraveling the Mad Hatter’s plot.
“Beware the Gray Ghost” – 8.9
“Beware the Gray Ghost” begins with a young Bruce Wayne watching his favorite hero, the Gray Ghost, on television. In the present, Gotham is terrorized by the Mad Bomber, who Batman says is too reminiscent of his favorite childhood TV show. Connecting the Dots Batman tracks down this idol, failed actor Simon Trent who is reluctant to help Batman catch the suicide bomber.
They say never meet your idols unless they disappoint you, but Trent soon realizes he has the guts to be like the hero he played on TV. In a meta twist, the Gray Ghost who inspired this series’ Batman is played by none other than Adam Westthe famous actor who played Batman in the ’60s. Apparently, if they couldn’t convince West to play the role, the episode would have been scrapped.
“Heart of ice” – 9.0
“It would make me cry…if I had any more tears to shed.” From Mr. Freeze’s poetic icy breath, “Heart of Ice” features one of the greatest introductions from a villain. The huge outpouring of admiration for this episode and its treatment of its likeable villain and new backstory has been transformed into the canonical origin story of Doctor Victor Fries, aka Mr. Freeze within the DC fandom.
In order to save his beloved wife, Doctor Fries (Michael Ansara) feverishly began studying cryotherapy, but was devastatingly starved of funding, his lab was destroyed and exposed to paralyzing chemicals. Driven only to avenge his wife, Freeze constructed his own cryo-suit to keep his body in freezing temperatures, while subsequently losing his compassion for everything and anyone else.
‘Test’ – 9.1
“Trial” features Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist), who resents Batman’s vigilantism. Adamant that Batman has caused more harm than good, she is soon kidnapped along with Batman and brought to Arkham Asylum where the prisoners have taken over. Dorn is then brought into a noisy courtroom and forced to be Batman’s defendant.
“Trial” is a lot of fun by bringing together the most villains on a single screen over the course of the series. Joker acts as judge, Two-Face as prosecutor, and many other villains act as jury and witnesses. Several villains complain that their behavior was entirely Batman’s fault, but Dorn is able to gradually accept that Batman is not guilty. However, for more fun, Joker orders the punishment nonetheless.
‘Two sides’ Parts 1 and 2 – 9.1 and 9.0
While this 2-part arc depicts Harvey Dent’s fall into bipolar Two-Face madman (Richard Mol), the character was featured in many episodes before her critical turn for the worse. Displaying an honest desire to uphold the law, Dent is increasingly embarrassed by his darker and more explosive side. After being blackmailed by a crime boss, Dent finally cracks and his face becomes partially disfigured.
The anime series made a big impression on Two-Face’s character designs going forward. Previously, the character had much more drastic patterns in his clothing and the animators were looking to simplify Two-Face’s appearance as they were still using hand-drawn animation at the time. Along with so many other character redesigns, this series introduced the new Two-Face design that would become so synonymous with the iconic character.
‘I almost got ‘I’ – 9.2
With four tales of exploits against Batman, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Penguin and Joker harken back to when they I almost understood. Joining up for a game of cards, the various villains, including Killer Croc, begin to romp on the bat, each having their turn to tell their tale. At the end, Batman confronts the group in search of Catwoman, which is another nod to their romantic tension.
The episode is a prime example of the quality of so many villains in this series. Striking designs, terrific voice acting, and concise stories to develop their motivations, the show features compelling arcs that make these unique stories all the more satisfying. While Batman is surely interesting enough on his own, he needs his rogues gallery, and this series has delivered them on all fronts.
NEXT: The 10 Best ‘Batman: TAS’ Episodes To Watch After ‘The Batman’