Monday, July 21, 2014

Dark Knight Discussion: The 30 Best Batman Cartoons of All Time

It’s time to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Batman! While The Dark Knight has had countless amazing incarnations on television, film, and comic books, one of the greatest interpretations of Batman is found in his many cartoon series and films. These stories represent not only the full breadth of this amazing character, but the true power of his many stories.

It was Batman: The Animated Series that hooked me on the adventures of The Caped Crusader as a little kid and it’s still my favorite television series of all time. But along the way, Batman has been reincarnated in many forms, each with their own take on the character and unique strengths. Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman: The Brave and The Bold in particular have created some of the best Batman moments of all time, creating a more vibrant and versatile idea of The Dark Knight over the decades.

Here are the 30 greatest Batman cartoon episodes and films from across the decades, many of which I consider to be the greatest stories featuring the character in any medium. I chose these based on the quality of their story, but they also had to feature The Dark Knight himself in some prominent manner, which left out many great Justice League episodes that only lightly featured the character. In addition, I also listed the absolute best Batman-focused moment in each episode or movie!

30. Rebirth Parts 1 and 2 (Batman Beyond)


A glimpse into the future of the DC Animated Universe, we begin in 2019. An elderly Bruce Wayne suffers a heart attack in battle with common thugs, resorting to pulling out a gun to defend himself. Disgusted, he quits being Batman forever. Flash-forward to 2039 in Neo-Gotham, where tragedy and destiny intertwine to bring 17-year-old Terry McGinnis into the world of Bruce Wayne. Terry becomes Batman for a new generation and a brilliant legacy is established that will last in the hearts and minds of fans forever.

Best Batman Moment: After stealing Bruce’s advanced Batsuit, Terry pleads with his benefactor to let him continue as Bruce threatens to shut it down. They’ve both suffered the murder of their parents. Bruce relents, and Batman Beyond begins.

29. Dead Man’s Hand (Batman Beyond)


After being rejected by his girlfriend, Dana, Terry falls for a girl named Melanie just as a new Royal Flush Gang sweeps into Neo-Gotham. Turns out that a member of the criminal organization codenamed “Ten” and Melanie are one and the same. Like any great Batman, Terry is torn between his role as hero and his personal life, sacrificing one for the other in a classic case of doomed love.

Best Batman Moment: A heart-broken Terry is consoled over his loss by Bruce, who can related all too well. “Let me tell you about a woman named Selina Kyle …”

28. Harley and Ivy (B:TAS)


After being fired by The Joker, Harley partners up with Poison Ivy to go on a crime spree of their own. As Gotham’s Queens of Crime, they invoke the wrath of The Joker and the justice of Batman. Equal parts hilarious and thrilling, “Harley and Ivy” was the start of one of the best female duos in all of comics. These two ladies are dangerous and work oh so well together. The loony love-struck Harley and the cold calculating Ivy are nothing alike, but their friendship is fantastic. Throw in a raging Joker and the stalwart Batman and you have an episode for the ages.

Best Batman Moment: Faced with the terrible duo of Harley and Ivy as well as his archenemy The Joker inside an exploding house, Batman knocks out The Clown Prince of Crime, only to throw him in the Batmobile and rush him out of harm’s way.

27. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker


The Joker, long thought dead, returns to Neo-Gotham to destroy both Bruce and Terry. Along the way, devastating secrets are uncovered as a twisted mystery unfolds on screen. Death, cover-ups, and the torture of young Robin are all shocking aspects that show just how dark The DC Animated Universe could go. Along the way, Terry proves himself to be just as good as Bruce behind the cowl, somewhat making up for the terrible future all the Batman characters turned out to have.

Best Batman Moment: Turning the tables on The Joker, Terry reveals himself to be unlike Bruce, but every bit his equal. Taunting Joker about his relationship with Batman, Terry outwits and then beats his enemy at the last second before disaster strikes.

26. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies


Superman and Batman go on the run when The Man of Steel is framed for murder by Lex Luthor, who has become the President of the United States! Determined to bring down the megalomaniac, the World’s Finest battle through legions of supervillains and superheroes alike. This is one gigantic slugfest, with insane fights piling up on one another as our heroes face overwhelming odds that threaten the very existence of the Earth! Come for the ridiculous story, stay for the extremely ridiculous fights.

Best Batman Moment: Batman and Superman team up like a hive mind, using the best of both their talents to take out dozens of villains ranging from Mr. Freeze to Bane to Solomon Grundy to Mongol. Gas batarang! Kick to the face!

25. Battle of the Superheroes! (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)


Superman (who lives in a very Silver Age Metropolis) is infected with Red Kryptonite by Lex Luthor. Turned into a power-hungry despot, Superman will revert to normal with 24 hours. It’s up to Batman, teamed up with Krypto the Superdog and decked out in The Dark Knight Returns-like armor, to keep him from doing irreversible harm. In a battle filled with homages to cartoons, comics, and films, Batman goes one-on-one with Superman in the middle of Metroplis.

Best Batman Moment: Like a lighthearted version of The Dark Knight Returns, an armored Batman battles Superman with all his might despite still being outmatched. Lookout for an iconic slow-motion kick to Superman’s face that’s ripped from Frank Miller’s comic!


24. Old Wounds (B:TAS)


At the start of the new episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, Dick Grayson is Robin no more and has been replaced by the young Tim Drake. But what happened to push Batman’s sidekick to be the loner hero Nightwing? Here, we finally learn what happened to break up the Dynamic Duo. It’s a flashback-focused episode filled with heartbreak and devastating moments for characters viewers had come to love over the course of countless episodes.

Best Batman Moment: After violently confronting a petty crook in front of his family (the event that caused Robin to quit), Nightwing discovers that Bruce atoned for his sins by hiring the man at Wayne Enterprises and personally looking after the wellbeing of his family.

23. Robin’s Reckoning Part 1 and 2 (B:TAS)


Robin discovers the man who killed his parents and escaped capture by Batman years ago. Perfectly balanced between flashbacks and the present day adventure, this is the definitive Robin origin and a fantastic story for the duel leads of Batman and Robin, both in and out of costume. Also, the scene where a young Dick Grayson must say goodbye to his circus family, including Zitka the sweet elephant, is heart-wrenching.

Best Batman Moment: A young Batman confronts Tony Zucco at his family’s compound. Tackling guards and busting through the windshield of Zucco’s escaping car, the inexperienced Dark Knight tries his best, but fails to capture the murderer.

22. Legends of the Dark Mite! (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)


Batman encounters his “biggest fan” – the interdimensional imp called Bat-Mite (voiced by Paul Reubens). Dealing with his clingy fandom and reality-altering powers, Batman must figure out how to deal with Bat-Mite. Jam-packed with references to Batman tales of the past and classic Warner Bros. cartoons, this episode is a fan’s dream! It’s a comedic and chaotic episode that can appeal to even the casual viewer, but is extremely exciting for a diehard Batman fan.

Best Batman Moment: Batman turns Bat-Mite’s imaginative powers back on him, forcing him to confront his giant rogues gallery and teaching him the true meaning of his powers.

21. A Bullet for Bullock (B:TAS)


When slightly-crooked Gotham Police Detective Harvey Bullock is targeted for assassination, he turns to the one person who can help him, and the man who he hates most – Batman. It’s a moody, noir-soaked take on Batman that’s as close to a detective story from the ‘40s as a cartoon can get. Throw in an Emmy-nominated jazz score and fantastic, shadowy animation and this is a cartoon that shows the power of the medium. Plus, the episode his filled with great comedic moments, with Bullock in fine form and his contentious relationship with Batman on full display.

Click here for a full look at this amazing episode.

Best Batman Moment: Batman takes Bullock for a ride in the Batmobile. When the surly detective inquires about a button on the dash, Batman tells him it’s for the passenger ejector seat. Bullock shuts up.


20. Shriek (Batman Beyond)


Evil CEO Derek Powers hires a former sound engineer to become the supervillain Shriek in order to destroy Bruce Wayne. A terrifying villain, Shriek controls sound, implanting voices in Bruce’s head, expelling devastating blasts at Batman, and eliminating all sounds around him to get the drop on his opponent. It’s a fantastic episode filled with awesome fight moments and is a great origin for a villain, as Shriek loses his hearing in battle, driving him crazy and causing him to vow vengeance on The Dark Knight.

Best Batman Moment: Terry, still getting used to the mantle of The Bat, must use his wits to fight Shriek, who has trapped him in a world without sound. he wins, but it's one of his toughest battles ever.

19. Mayhem of the Music Meister! (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)


A new villain has hit Gotham – The Music Meister (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) – a man with the power to control the minds of others through his singing. The villain’s influence turns the entire episode into a spectacular musical! This encapsulates everything that is fun and unique about The Brave and The Bold. This is truly a Batman story that could not be found anywhere else. Combined with some great songs ranging from the thrilling to the romantic, this is one of the series’ highpoints.

Best Batman Moment: Confronted by The Music Meister, with the entire world under the sway of his hypnotic singing, Batman is forced to sing to combat his foe. Yes, Batman really sings to beat his enemy!

18. Beware the Gray Ghost (B:TAS)


A mysterious bomber targeting important buildings throughout Gotham sparks Bruce’s memory of his favorite childhood show – “The Gray Ghost” – which dealt with the exact same case. With no leads and a hazy memory, Batman turns to the one person who can give him the knowledge he needs, Simon Trent, the now penniless actor who played the character (voiced by Adam West). This is all about the power of childhood memories and dovetails perfectly with Adam West’s career in the early ‘90s, which turned into success one again because of cartoons like B:TAS.

Best Batman Moment: After teaming up with his childhood ideal to defeat The Mad Bomber, Bruce Wayne attends a signing by Trent, who has been rediscovered and saved from poverty. Thanking him for everything he’s done and telling him what an inspiration he was, Bruce tips him off to his secret identity and brings this emotional episode to a perfect close.

17. Riddler’s Reform (B:TAS)


Edward Nigma, aka The Riddler, is released from Arkham Asylum and back on the streets of Gotham. Despite seemingly going straight as the consultant for a toy company, Batman is convinced that his foe is still up to his criminal ways. The story does a fantastic job at keeping the audience guessing. Is Riddler actually reformed? Is Batman wrong for once? So many twists and turns keep this episode unfolding at an excellent pace, with an extremely satisfying ending.

Best Batman Moment: Trapped in a toy museum with all the windows and doors sealed shut, Batman is trapped with a giant ticking bomb in The Riddler’s master plan. With nowhere to run, the bomb explodes, engulfing the entire building. But a triumphant Riddler is confronted with a miraculously alive Batman, who refuses to reveal how he survived, driving the villain crazy. How did he do it? He jumped in the safe.

16. The Knights of Tomorrow! (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)


Years into the future, Bruce and Selina Kyle have settled down and started a family. Taking their son Damian Wayne to a museum dedicated to Batman, the two parents are killed by The Son of The Joker. The new Batman, Dick Grayson, takes on Damian as his ward and the two take on Joker and his son. And so it goes on through the ages, as Batman is reinvented and reborn forever. In a twist, it turns out the entire thing is a novel written by Alfred, who only wants happiness for Bruce and the Bat Family. Filled with homages to generations of Batman stories, “The Knights of Tomorrow” is a testament to the everlasting nature of The Dark Knight.

Best Batman Moment: Dick Grayson and Damian team up as the new Batman and Robin, taking down foes old and new in a fantastic homage to Grant Morrison’s run with the characters in Batman and Robin.

15. Mitefall! (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)


Tired of the lighthearted adventures of Batman, Bat-Mite decides to get The Brave and The Bold cancelled by using his reality-altering powers to make the show unwatchable. Since the show had actually been cancelled, the entire episode is a meta commentary on the event and the series’ perception in the media. This may be the most inventive way that a show can have its series finale, while still maintaining a boatload of heat-felt sentiment. Plus, the show has its most outrageous intro ever as Batman prevents an alternate reality Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of a steampunk John Wilkes Booth!

Best Batman Moment: Surrounded by both friend and enemy alike during a wrap party, Batman bids farewell to his fans as the Bat Cave is shut down. “Know that wherever evil lurks in all its myriad forms, I’ll be there with the hammers of justice! To fight for decency and protect the innocent. Goodnight.”

14. The Laughing Fish (B:TAS)


In his latest insane scheme, The Joker has decided to create a patent on all fish by poisoning the Gotham Harbor with his Joker Toxin. But when the patent office refuses to give Joker a claim to his “laughing fish,” the madman goes on a revenge spree against everyone he thinks is in his way. Teaming up with Gotham Police, Batman must uses his detective skills to outthink The Joker. It all culminates in a confrontation at the Gotham Aquarium. Come for the countless wonderful Joker moments, stay for the great white shark fight!

Best Batman Moment: To save Detective Bullock from a grisly fate, Batman jumps into a shark tank. Grabbing a chain, Batman actually wrestles and rides a great white shark!

13. Destroyer (Justice League Unlimited)


The newly reborn Darkseid has set his sights on Earth, with vengeance upon the Justice League his first mission. Heroes and villains across the world unite to fight back against the devilish hordes of Apokolips. Meanwhile, Superman, Batman, and Lex Luthor fight against the all-powerful Darkseid himself in the streets of Metropolis. This isn’t just the finale of Justice League Unlimited, but the entire DC Animated Universe! And what a way to go out. Every character gets a moment to shine as they unite against the biggest threat ever seen in any episode. Plus, Batman is consistently awesome.

Best Batman Moment: Darkseid fires his Omega Beams at Batman – eye lasers that will evaporate anyone they touch. Running for his life, The Dark Knight manages to escape the inescapable! That’s Batman.

12. Over the Edge (B:TAS)


In a tragic turn of events, Batgirl is killed by Scarecrow, leading to Commissioner Gordon discovering that the female vigilante is actually his daughter. Enraged, Gordon stops at nothing to destroy Batman, who he knows is Bruce Wayne! SPOILERS, it’s actually all a nightmare dreamt up by Batgirl after being dosed by fear toxin, but it’s an excellent look at how Batman may end if things went horribly wrong. By playing out this end game scenario, the series explores many extreme situations in ways that would never happen otherwise.

Best Batman Moment: Confronted by both a vengeful Gordon and the psychotic Bane, who has been hired to take out The Dark Knight, Batman valiantly fights to the end against the two men while still trying to help his former ally.

11. Two-Face Part 1 and 2 (B:TAS)


Bruce’s best friend, District Attorney Harvey Dent, is targeted by mob boss Rupert Thorne, who discovers that the lawyer has had dissociative identity disorder since early childhood. After an attack leaves Harvey with half his face horribly scarred, he becomes the unhinged villain Two-Face. This isn’t just a perfect origin for the villain, but is a fantastic trial for Batman, who must balance defeating the rampaging villain while still caring for his damaged friend.

Best Batman Moment: To keep Two-Face from murdering Thorne, Batman throws a box of silver coins in the air as Harvey flips his to decide. The Dark Knight’s decision has turned his friend into a broken man, but it’s saved a life.

10. Joker’s Millions (B:TAS)


When an old gangster dies, he leaves his millions in inheritance to The Joker, bewildering fellow criminals and even The Clown Prince of Crime himself. Not one to question his good luck, The Joker goes on a spending spree, gets himself declared legally sane, and walks away from his crimes scottfree, much to the anger of the Bat Family. But it turns out it was all a big trick. Most of the cash is fake and Joker is in major debt to the IRS, leading to his desperate return to crime. Hamill is in top form, Harley Quinn gets to shine throughout, and the comedy keeps coming, making this one of the funniest episodes of B:TAS ever.

Best Batman Moment: Bruce Wayne runs into the "reformed" Joker at Penguin's Iceberg Lounge. When Joker invites him to sit and have a drink, Bruce declines. Joker pushed him off a building last month.

9. Batman: Under the Red Hood


When a new vigilante hits Gotham, Batman is confronted with his worst loss ever – the death of Jason Todd, the last Robin. But who is the Red Hood? At feature length time, Under the Red Hood gets to create a fully formed narrative that is filled with action, loss, and even some shocking violence. While every character is voiced by someone who had never played a role in a DC cartoon before, everyone puts in amazing work. Jenson Ackles as the Red Hood, Bruce Greenwood as Batman, and John DiMaggio as The Joker make for a fantastic trio of stars. Dark and unrelenting, this is just as strong as any of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.

Best Batman Moment: Confronted by the Red Hood, who has proven himself to be Jason, Batman must fight his former protégé while being tormented by his past. He never even takes a scratch.

8. Legends of the Dark Knight (B:TAS)


Three Gotham kids wander the streets, wondering about the true nature of Batman and telling their own stories of The Caped Crusader. One tells a tale of Batman facing The Joker in a music museum in the style of Dick Sprang while another spins a story in the style of Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” When the children are confronted by Firefly, the real Batman swoops in to save the day. Altogether, it’s an homage to the versatility of Batman and a loving tribute to some of his greatest incarnations.

Best Batman Moment: Beating the mutant leader in a pool of mud, Batman finishes off his foe by snapping his leg, with a lightning strike covering up the sound of the crack. "This isn't a mudhole, it's an operating table. And I'm the surgeon."

7. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm


The animated feature film that sprung from Batman: The Animated Series, this is easily one of The Dark Knight’s greatest stories. With a balance between heart-wrenching doomed romance and a death-filled mystery, this is everything that a great Batman story can be. Unlike many of the live action movies, the Batman represented here has every aspect that has turned him into a timeless character. With fantastic performances by Mark Hamill as The Joker and Dana Delaney as Andrea, this is a story that’s just as focused on the characters as the fascinating mystery surrounding the identity of the new vigilante The Phantasm.

Is this the greatest Batman movie of all time? Read my article discussing the question.

Best Batman Moment: Heartbroken by Andrea and left with his promise to avenge the death of his parents, Batman finally dons Batman’s cape and cowl in a shadowy cave. As a shocked Alfred recoils, Bruce begins his one-man war on crime.

6. Deep Cover for Batman!/Game Over for Owlman! (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)


In this two-part saga, Batman travels to a parallel dimension where every hero is a villain and every villain a hero. Trapped by his evil counterpart, Owlman, Batman must team up with the Red Hood, who is actually a heroic Joker, and other heroic version of villains against the now-evil heroes. In the second installment, Batman returns to his world, only to find out that Owlman has usurped his identity. With no one to turn to, The Dark Knight teams up with his last resort, The Joker! All these turnabouts make the two halves of this story like twisted mirror images of one another, with the Red Hood and The Joker being absolutely enthralling in their respective episodes.

Best Batman Moment: Suffering through a car ride with The Joker in the Batmobile, Batman allows his temporary ally to accidentally knock himself out with gas-releasing button on the dashboard. Peace and quiet at last.

5. Mad Love (B:TAS)


The latest setback for Harley Quinn leads to her remembering the past and what turned her from ambitious therapist to the psychotic lover of The Joker. Giving new insight into the woman formerly known as Harleen Quinzel, “Mad Love” makes the already loved character into one for the ages. Paired with Hamill’s always brilliant Joker, the doomed lovers make for a fantastic narrative as psychosis is given a romantic spin and Batman is seen as a madman who ruins what Harley believes to be her destiny. It’s tragic, funny, and appalling all at the same time and shows the depth that these animated characters truly have.

Best Batman Moment: Tied upside down and ready to be fed to piranhas, Batman plays mind games with Harley, capping it off with a laugh. Needless to say, it freaks her out.

4. World’s Finest Parts 1,2, and 3 (Superman: The Animated Series)


When The Joker comes to Metropolis to team up with Lex Luthor, Batman and Superman are forced to team up to defeat their archenemies, but not before the two come to blows. This three-part episode shows the strength of the heroes’ dynamic, which results in some amazing moments. Plus, having Joker, Harley, Lex, and Mercy Graves all team up with plenty of bumps along the way, making this mini-movie even more enjoyable.

Best Batman Moment: After finding out Batman’s identity by using x-ray vision, the Man of Steel returns home as Clark Kent. Looking out into the distance, he sees Batman, spying on him with the help of a tracker and learning his secret identity. Turnabout is fair play, even for The Caped Crusader.

3. Almost Got ‘Im (B:TAS)


The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, and Killer Croc gather around a poker table in a seedy bar to compare the tales of when they almost got Batman. Recounting their stories one by one, the rogues banter and fight between flashbacks. Lastly, The Joker recounts his tale of a near-electrocution of The Dark Knight, only to reveal that he has Catwoman tied up and ready to be turned into cat food. A startling reveal and a reversal of everything originally thought lead to a race against time to save the antihero. This is easily one of the greatest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series ever and a perfect example of what made this an unforgettable series.

Click here to read an in-depth article about “Almost Got ‘Im.”

Best Batman Moment: The extremely dumb Killer Croc (“I threw a rock at him!”) is revealed to actually have been Batman in disguise the entire time! It’s a perfect subversion of the narrative and a reveal that elevates the episode as a whole.

2. Chill of the Night! (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)


In a rare dark episode of Batman: The Brave and The Bold, Batman is confronted with the knowledge of who murdered his parents in cold blood. As mystical superbeings The Phantom Stranger and The Spectre wager their bets on whether Batman will spare or kill the man, Joe Chill, The Dark Knight begins a rampage to take him down. Beginning with a quick, dialogue-sparse, extremely emotional encapsulation of Batman’s origins, this is an incredibly strong episode that sums up everything Batman can be.

Click here to read an in-depth article focused solely on this amazing episode!

Best Batman Moment: At last, Batman confronts Joe Chill after plowing through a horde of his classic enemies. Cornering the man in a warehouse, The Dark Knight unmasks, revealing himself to be Bruce Wayne and that he murdered his parents, incurring his devastating wrath.

1. Heart of Ice (B:TAS)


The villain Mr. Freeze hits Gotham, intent on exacting revenge on CEO Ferris Boyle. As Batman uncovers the tragic origins of the villain, the hero and the audience are drawn into a tale of love, loss, and whether redemption is possible for Freeze. This is a spectacularly-formed tale, taking 22 minutes to re-establish the once corny Mr. Freeze as a heartbreaking villain and creating a story that balances every aspect at play. The animation is a classic example of the “dark deco” that informed the look of B:TAS and every voice actor is at the top of his or her game. Kevin Conroy proves he’s irreplaceable as The Dark Knight while Michael Ansara keeps Mr. Freeze coldly dangerous with a faintly beating broken heart under his chilling exterior.

Click here for an in-depth article entirely dedicated to the greatest Batman cartoon of all time, “Heart of Ice.”

Best Batman Moment: Batman watches on as the now-captured Mr. Freeze eulogizes his wife Nora, the woman he could not save. Seeing the villain cry tears he thought were long gone, The Dark Knight disappears into the darkness.

Honorable Mentions: SubZero, On Leather Wings, Mad as a Hatter, Dreams in Darkness, Perchance to Dream, Time Out of Joint, Second Chance, Batgirl Returns, Justice League: Doom, Cold Comfort, Vendetta, Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure, Sidekicks Assemble, The Super-Batman of Planet X, The Doomsday Sanction, Divided We Fall, Harlequinade, Showdown, Trial, A Better World, Flash and Substance, The Once and Future Thing, Mystery in Space, Mudslide


Have your own personal favorites? List yours in the comment section below!