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The best moments from Batman: The Animated Series

It's easy these days to forget that comic book fans were once starved for good screen adaptations — long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took over cinema as we know it, comics were seen as too niche to pump many resources into. One realm that saw some solid adaptations, however, were cartoon series. Several strong cartoons were based on famous heroes, like Spider-Man and the X-Men. One cartoon series towers above them all, though: Batman: The Animated Series.

Even now, with cinematic universes raking in hundreds of millions of dollars and spilling over onto television networks, Batman: The Animated Series is still widely regarded as one of the best cartoons and one of the best superhero adaptations ever made. It was thoughtful, captured the spirit of the comics, and provided plenty of mature plotlines without veering into "adult" animation.

Today, we're taking a look at some of the greatest moments in the history of Batman: The Animated Series. Keep in mind, it's tough to narrow it down — the show has so many great episodes and performances that there are plenty we had to cut.

The Intro!

As a kid, nothing got you pumped quite like the best cartoon theme songs. Batman: The Animated Series had one of the best, both the song and the accompanying animation. Our guess is a lot of you who grew up on this show won't need it, but feel free to give it a listen as you read on.

The lights shine through the Warner Bros. logo as the haunting melody picks up in the background. The noir-style animation indicating you're in for some seriously gothic imagery. The explosions of color as the music follows suit. The closeup on Batman's face, and the thugs' reaction of fear. Finally, the climactic lightning flash behind Batman himself, standing sentinel over Gotham City as the music calms.

This kickass intro is all you need to know you're in for something special. It's a masterclass in storytelling without words — it gives you what you need to know about Batman: The Animated Series without spoiling any episode moments or showcasing any voice acting. He doesn't kill. The police are useless. He's always ready and watching. And the best part? You got to see this moment in every episode. "Skip Intro?" No, don't think we will.

The Snow Globe (Heart of Ice)

Batman: The Animated Series came out with guns blazing in its first couple episodes, but "Heart of Ice" still stands as one of the must-see episodes of the show. It's hard to believe, but this was only the third episode of Batman TAS, and it really helped the show break through to a bigger audience when it won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program.

The whole episode is terrific, from the cold, calculating approach of Mr. Freeze, to Batman's catching a cold (eventually using it to help him to victory), to the surprisingly tragic storyline involving Freeze's origins and his terminally ill wife. Although Batman brings the true villain, Ferris Boyle (voiced by Mark Hamill), to justice with the amazing one-liner "Good night, humanitarian," he's also forced to lock away Freeze in Arkham Asylum for his crimes.

Batman's identity revealed (The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne)

Hugo Strange has always held an interesting spot in Batman's villain roster. He only got into a single episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but it was a particularly fun one, during which Strange got to do what he does best: blackmail the Dark Knight by discovering his secret identity.

Some of the most memorable episodes of Batman: The Animated Series involved multiple villains getting together and playing off one another. In "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne," Strange uses a machine to read Bruce Wayne's mind, then tries to auction off the secret in a bidding war between Joker, Two-Face and Penguin. At the last moment, before the tape is played, Batman switches it with another tape he made, creating a narrative in which Strange simply lies to the villains to steal their money.

After Strange is apprehended, he still raves to Batman that he will expose his secret — but he's completely shocked when Bruce Wayne approaches and shakes Batman's hand. After Strange is taken away, Dick Grayson takes off his Bruce Wayne mask, ensuring that Batman's secret is safe now that Strange believes he was wrong.

Bruce Wayne battles Batman (Perchance to Dream)

Batman: The Animated Series made great use of even the strangest of Batman's villains, and "Perchance to Dream" helped make Jervis Tetch (a.k.a. the Mad Hatter) into one of the most sinister. It also does a remarkable job of showcasing Batman's selfless nature, as he will throw away a world that is perfect for himself in order to continue his fight against evil.

In the episode, Bruce Wayne lives in a world that caters to his every whim — he parents are alive, he is married to Selina Kyle, and someone else curbs the crime of Gotham City as Batman. However, he knows that the world is a trick even though it seems perfect. It culminates in him engaging in a fistfight with Batman atop a clocktower, finally discovering that Tetch was willing to create a perfect world for Bruce if it meant keeping him out of the real one. So what does Wayne do? Go back to living in the dream?

Of course not — he throws himself from the tower, destroying the fake world and waking up in the real one. "Perchance to Dream" plays out like an episode of The Twilight Zone, and the climactic battle between Bruce and Batman is symbolic of Bruce's struggle with identity that he suffers with every day.

Batman is disguised as Killer Croc (Almost Got 'Im)

"Almost Got 'Im" has an amazing setup. It features a game of poker between five of Batman's biggest foes: Two-Face, Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc. They trade stories about the closest they ever came to killing Batman as they play, most of them absolutely ludicrous. For example, Two-Face strapped him to a giant penny and launched him into the air. Killer Croc reveals that he once threw a big rock at him (no one is impressed). And Joker reveals that, as they speak, Catwoman is about to die due to one of his schemes, which will be the best way to "get" Batman.

In one of the best shots on Batman: The Animated Series, Killer Croc stands up and a swinging light reveals that it is actually Batman in disguise. It doesn't actually make much logical sense, but damn if it isn't a stylish scene. The Gotham PD shows up to arrest the villains, Batman saves Catwoman from Joker's death trap, and we're left with one of the best Batman: The Animated Series episodes ever.

The showdown with Mary Dahl (Baby Doll)

Nearly every one of Batman's villains has some tragedy that pushed them over the edge, but not all of them came to be major players in the Bat's rogues' gallery. Mary Dahl might not have the name recognition of someone like Joker or Poison Ivy, but her episode of Batman: The Animated Series had an extremely powerful finale.

Mary Dahl is an actress with a rare disease that makes her look like a toddler, despite the fact that she's over 30 years old. After the show she was on is cancelled, she kidnaps the cast and threatens to murder them. Batman and Robin save the day, before Batman chases Dahl into a house of mirrors.

This is where it gets even better — Dahl keeps seeing distorted versions of herself in the mirrors surrounding her, repeatedly shooting them as her grip on reality keeps slipping. She eventually sees a version of what she would look like as an "adult" before breaking down into tears and allowing Batman to peacefully apprehend her. Of course, as she is captured, she utters the catchphrase from her old TV show: "I didn't mean to."

Chilling and effective — well played, Batman.

Poison Ivy's very special garden (House and Garden)

Batman: The Animated Series often included little touches of horror, and few episodes nailed it quite like "House and Garden." With a plant monster on the loose and a terrible poison afflicting Gotham, Poison Ivy seems like a prime suspect. However, she seems to have gone through rehabilitation successfully — she's living with her husband and has two stepsons named Chris and Kelly, and seems to be content to be on the straight and narrow.

It culminates with Batman explaining to Robin why Ivy isn't a suspect, before Robin explains that Ivy's husband, a professor at his college, has two daughters with an ex; he doesn't have any sons. They rush to Ivy's home and discover that she has a secret lab where she is growing "children" inside pods — a reveal every bit as horrifying as it sounds.

Batman destroys Ivy's plants with herbicide before discovering that the real Ivy has already escaped; her plant duplicate tells Batman that she was happy having a family for the first time in her life, and we see the real Ivy crying over photos of her "family." It's heartbreaking and creepy as all hell.

The Batmen unite (Beware the Gray Ghost)

Oh man, this episode. Batman: The Animated Series had some serious voice talent locked in for their regular actors, but bringing in Adam West (who played Batman/Bruce Wayne in the campy Batman show from the 1960s) to play Batman's hero was a genius move. In "Beware the Gray Ghost," West plays a washed-up actor who used to play a superhero named "The Gray Ghost," who Batman recruits to help with a series of crimes that mimic a classic episode.

Like many would, West's character, Simon Trent, wants nothing to do with Batman at first. He's struggling to make ends meet, and keeps rejecting Batman's attempts to rope him in. Eventually, he sees that Batman needs his help, dons his costume from "The Gray Ghost," and helps Batman track down the villain of the week.

There's enough great writing in the episode to make anyone buy into the idea that Batman has teamed up with this universe's inspiration for him, but recognizing that Adam West was the "original" Batman truly makes "Beware the Gray Ghost" special. When Bruce Wayne ends the episode by telling West's character that Gray Ghost is still his hero, you can't help but get a little teary-eyed.

The death touch fight (Day of the Samurai)

Batman: The Animated Series could really swing for the fences with their obscure/non-mainstream villains, and few episodes tickle the nostalgia sweet spot like "Day of the Samurai." In it, Bruce Wayne runs back into a foe we'd seen once before on Batman: The Animated Series — specifically, the deadly ninja Kyodai Ken.

Bruce discovers that the man he trained with has learned his secret identity, and he's also learned a martial art so deadly that it can kill a man with a single touch. The episode comes to a head when Alfred is kidnapped by the ninja and Batman hurries to set him free. Of course, he has to battle with Kyodai to do so.

By the way, they fight on an erupting volcano.

The episode culminates with Kyodai utilizing the touch of death strike on Batman, who we learn discovered the secret move and wore padding to protect himself from it. He defeats Kyodai and escapes with Alfred just before the volcano would have killed them. It remains one of the best action scenes ever made for Batman: The Animated Series, and we imagine the pitch of "Batman fights a ninja on a volcano" would sell anyone on this show.

Batman's funeral (The Man Who Killed Batman)

"Without Batman, crime has no punchline." So laments Joker in the classic episode "The Man Who Killed Batman," after he learns that Batman has been killed by a random, no-name criminal called Sid the Squid. Obviously, he isn't really dead; Batman fakes it so he can observe his foes as they let their guard down. The episode gives a great look into what might happen to Gotham City if any of the Dark Knight's enemies ever succeeded in taking him down.

The highlight of "The Man Who Killed Batman" has to be the funeral Joker holds for his supposedly slain rival. He places Batman's cowl, complete with a "Kick Me" sign, into a casket. He then throws Sid inside, as Sid bested him in taking down Batman, before dropping the casket into a vat of acid. Harley Quinn plays "Amazing Grace" on a kazoo as Joker tearfully describes his shattered dream of killing Batman.

It's glorious — and then Joker perks up and offers to order Chinese.

By the end, of course, everything has returned to normal. But, for a moment there, we got to see how Batman: The Animated Series' version of Joker would act with Batman out of the picture.

Harley and Ivy join forces (Harley and Ivy)

Harley Quinn has proven to be a wildly popular character in the DC universe, and she was created specifically for Batman: The Animated Series. She had several fun moments that could have been included, but few stood out as even close to her teaming with Poison Ivy in the episode "Harley and Ivy." The pairing went on to be the focus of many other Batman stories; in several of DC's universes, the duo became romantically involved, and they even got married at one point.

"Harley and Ivy" sowed the seeds for the relationship, though a '90s children's cartoon would not have hinted at any idea of romance between the two. What it did do, however, was showcase what a powerful force Harley had become, as her crime spree with Ivy eclipses Joker. In fact, the success of Harley and Ivy is what draws the Joker's ire.

It also shows the extent of the abuse that Harley suffers (and tolerates) from "puddin." Though it would be many years before Harley and Ivy become romantically entangled, Ivy insisting she's worth more than the Joker offers her was the start of the character coming into her own.

Batman vs. Ra's Al Ghul (The Demon's Quest)

If you need just one action scene to watch from Batman: The Animated Series, it should be the duel between Batman and Ra's Al Ghul at the conclusion of "The Demon's Quest." Batman: The Animated Series did a great job with Ra's, and it's tough to find a Batman story that doesn't feature the centuries-old madman as a key component to the Batman mythos.

There are many great scenes in this two-part story, including Ra's nearly throwing his daughter into a Lazarus Pit after being resurrected and Batman revealing how he knew that Ra's was a foe. Nothing can top the shirtless Batman having a sword fight with Ra's as fire swirls around them, however. The scene ends with Ra's overextending and Batman trying to catch him before falling to his death, but Ra's will not allow it and refuses Batman's aid. He falls to his supposed death, before crawling out at the very end of the episode.

The scene showcases the excellent animation of Batman TAS, and gives us one of the few foes who seems like they actually have a chance in a physical matchup with the Dark Knight.