In the 90's, there was a serious glut of superhero cartoons including influential fan-favorites like X-Men (now available on DVD after a decade and a half wait) that helped create a whole new generation of comic book fans. "Batman- the Animated Series" came in early on the heels of Tim Burton's massively successful Batman film and has aged better then every other cartoon of it's day. In fact, it still looks as good or better than every current American cartoon show. Animation and art aside, it had a better cast, better scores, and better overall presentation and tone then almost any other show on television at all, then or now. This show is what made me realize that there is so much more to the Caped Crusader then just movies and corny 60's television. This show made the character a legend in my young mind and launched an assault from DC comics that has seen them absolutely destroy Marvel Comics on the animation front for over 15 years.
The cast is amazing. Kevin Conroy puts every other Batman voice to shame (I'm looking at you, Bale) and Mark Hammil's Joker is still my overall favorite incarnation. Add a very sexy-voiced Adrienne Barbeau, Ron Perlman, Ed Asner, and a ton of other voice actors perfect in their roles and you have show with serious personality. Even Adam West himself gets an episode of his own. The material consisted of both all-new stories and adaptations of classic comic adventures from all the way back to the 40's to the 80's. One of the show's original characters, Harley Quinn, became so beloved that she was written into the comics and has since become a player in the DC Universe, and bit player Renee Montoya found her way into the comics as well. Even the lesser villain found new life in this series, which handled them with respect and reinvented them in new and interesting ways. Even The Condiment King makes an appearance. Other classic lesser-known DC heroes guested in special episodes including Zatanna and Jonah Hex, which started a trend that would carry over into Superman - The Animated Series and eventually lead to the spectacularly awesome Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, effectively creating the ultimate animated comic book universe. So yeah, "Batman- The Animated Series" is quite possibly the most influential cartoon of our era and it mandatory viewing for all fans of the character.
I'm going to break down each season by listing my favorite episodes. seasons 1-3 feature amazing art and animation, but when the series came back after a hiatus to run concurrent with the Superman series, the art took a nosedive as the character designs were "streamlined" or often changed entirely and never for the better. That said, you still can't argue with the flawless storytelling which remained through all four seasons. Here we go:
"On Leather Wings" opens the series in style. Man-Bat looks amazing and the flying sequence is masterpiece. Not bad from an old-school horror standpoint either.
"The Last Laugh" is probably my favorite episode of all. The score is unforgettable and this episode features some of the best moments in the entire series for me.
"The Cat and the Claw" was a two-parter and the first appearance of Catwoman. Adrienne Barbeau is absolutely flawless in the part and I think this is the best adaptation of the character by far.
"Feat of Clay" is another two-parter that introduces the shapeshifter Clayface's origin. There is some truly amazing animation here and a lot of homages to classic Hollywood.
"Heart of Ice" is a brilliant re-imagining of Mr. Freeze, previously a throwaway villain. The story told is fantastic and tragic.
"Joker's Favor" is one of the best episodes featuring the Clown Prince of Crime and the first appearance of his on-again-off-again girlfriend/henchwoman Harley Quinn.
"Heart of Steel" is a great work of science fiction that pays homage to classics like Blade Runner, The Terminator, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers over two episodes.
"Day of the Samurai" has Bruce Wayne travelling to Japan to assist his former sensei against a former classmate of his, now a vengeful ninja seeking a deadly forbidden martial art.
"Almost Got 'im" features some of Batman's greatest foes trading stories about times they almost killed The Dark Knight. Massively entertaining.
"Harley and Ivy" is the beginning of a long-running friendship between two of Batman's more popular female villains. It's an idea that served this series very well indeed.
"Shadow of the Bat" is the two-parter that gives us Batgirl. Her and Robin were used refreshingly sparsely until season four, and wound up being great characters in small doses. Here they are great together.
"The Demon's Quest" is a two-parter that has Ra's al Ghul and his daughter Talia-who shares a mutual affection with The Caped Crusader- traveling the world together with Batman before he realizes that al Ghul is a true villain who works on a much larger scale then any he has met before and gains a deadly foe.
In "Trial", a DA who hated Batman is forced to defend him from the criminals she thinks he created when the two are kidnapped and tried by the residents of Arkham Asylum. Joker is the judge, of course.
"Baby Doll" features a pint-sized sitcom star villain of the same name who should have been cartoonishly ridiculous.And for a while she is. But the episode actually wound up being touching in the end as the woman who can never grow up finally breaks character and spills her torment all over the Batman. Surprisingly powerful.
"Riddler's Reform" was one of very few episodes featuring the character in a large role. Rather than rehash his riddle-crimes, the episode chooses to examine the psychology of a genius mind capable of the perfect crime that has a self-destructive pathological impulse to give himself away. Great character study.
"You Scratch My Back' shows us that Dick Grayson is no longer Robin, but Nightwing and he teams up with Catwoman in this one.
"The Ultimate Thrill" has The Dark Knight taking on Roxie Rocket, a stuntwoman-turned thief who gets practically-sexual thrills from Batman chasing her. Great episode.
"Over The Edge" is a pitch black nightmare from Batgirl's mind as she struggles with the possible consequences of her double life. Possibly the darkest episode in a dark series.
"Old Wounds" finally reveals the cause of the break between Batman and the original Robin. Great story.
"Legends of the Dark Knight" was remade on the Batman Gotham Knight) anime DVD. It features a group of kids trading stories of diffeent adaptations of Batman. One is a straight-out-of-the-60's Superfriends cheesefest and another is literally ripped from the pages of Frank Miller's masterpiece Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. An awesome episode for real Batfans.
"Girls Night Out" is a crossover featuring Supergirl and Batgirl taking on one of Superman's more interesting villains, Livewire plus Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Good fun.
"Mad Love" is Harley's origin story and was originally a comic released by the team after season three and was a big hit with fans. When season four came out after several years, they got a chance to animate it and the result is not disappointing.
This killer boxed set includes an extra disc of bonus features including a half-hour look at Batman's different animated incarnations, a booklet fiiled with amazing artwork, an episode list, and a history of the seires. Not too shabby. If you can find this, you must own it!