?There has never been a better superhero cartoon show than Batman: The Animated Series. The show was so far ahead of its peers on TV at the time (and really, since) that to say that there were bad episodes seems almost sacrilege.
But let’s face it, people: There are some sub-par installments in the show’s 109-episode run (especially if you include The New Batman Adventures, which I do). We may not agree on which ones are the worst — for instance, many people don’t like the monster-movie-like “Critters” episode, which I think is a barrel of fun — but we can all probably agree that the good significantly outweighs the bad. Still, it’s worth remembering that the show was not always perfect — and here are 10 episodes that prove it.
(P.S. — Please note the above image comes from “The Last Laugh,” which is not one of the episodes listed here. However, it was too fantastic not to use. Carry on.)
10) On Leather Wings
The first-ever episode of B:TAS is by no means terrible. It’s got a lot of weight to bear, in establishing a look and feel for the series (and boy, does it establish. The first shot of the Batmobile has to be 15 seconds long. I mean, admittedly, it is a car worth lingering over). The animation’s often beautiful, we get a good sense of the key recurring characters — Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock, especially — and the maturity of the show’s content is there right from the get-go (there’s even blood!).
But it’s got some pilot-episode problems. Alfred doesn’t sound right (the voice actor here, Clive Revill, was quickly replaced by the familiar Efrem Zembalist Jr.), Kevin Conroy’s all-too-noticeable voice comes out of a cop before it comes out of Bruce Wayne, and the mystery gets wrapped up a little too quickly. Most troublingly, Batman, the first time we ever see him, gets it wrong. He pegs the too-obvious Dr. March as Man-Bat, when anyone with a basic familiarity of the villain knows it’s the cheery Dr. Kirk Langstrom. This after Batman spends half the episode trying to analyze hairs and sounds that ultimately don’t matter. The bad guys just happen to be the scientists he visits at the zoo.
Also: Man-Bat is kind of a terrible villain.
9) Torch Song
With Batman: The Animated Series‘ not-all-that-specific time setting — art-deco style mixed with computers and other gadgets — the creators could mostly slide by without having to make Gotham’s culture seem too contemporary or hip. That changed a bit when the show transitioned into being The New Batman Adventures, and that was never clearer that in this episode, which focused on a pop star named Cassidy, whose Blondie-mixed-with-Rocky-Horror singing early on in the episode was hip exactly never.
On top of that, this episode introduces Firefly, who here is not much more than a scorned celebrity boyfriend out for revenge. Not exactly a high-stakes villain, though he was used to better effect in the “Legends of the Dark Knight” episode. Plus, this episode has Bruce Wayne dating, like, a 19-year-old, which is not so cool.
8) The Mechanic
Of all of Batman’s villains, the one who probably got the worst shake on B:TAS was the Penguin. Having debuted on the heels of Batman Returns, the animated Oswald Cobblepot was a weird mishmash of the upper-cruster from the comics and the sewer dweller from the movie. Trying to make the Penguin both things ended up making him nothing at all, a character with no real discernible reason for doing anything. The series managed to do a couple decent Penguin episodes in spite of this (and fixed the character to a large degree in The New Batman Adventures), but “The Mechanic” was certainly not one of them.
Why does the Penguin want a remote control for the Batmobile? You’d think it’d be to kill Batman, but the Penguin skirts every opportunity to ram it into the wall and end it. If anything, he seems to just want to get a laugh out of it, which makes him more Joker-ly than Penguin-y. The mechanic of the title himself, Earl Cooper, is an interesting character with a decent backstory, but he’s also the answer to a question that is somewhere near the end of the Batman fan’s question list, “How does the Batmobile get fixed?” Add some sub-standard animation to the mix — a car chase at the beginning makes the Batmobile look like a bumper car — and you have a not-very-good episode.
7) Prophecy of Doom
Speaking of less-than-high-stakes bad guys, this episode’s villain, a created-for-the-series scam artist named Nostromo, never resembles anything close to a threat. Batman’s got him figured out the second he sees him — he’s telling rich people bad stuff will happen to them, then causing those things to happen so they’ll give him money — and Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend of the week, the daughter of one of Nostromo’s patrons, does too.
For some reason, Bruce plays along with the guy’s plan for a while instead of shutting him down immediately, and as a result his girlfriend and her dad almost get killed in a planetarium. This only seems to happen because the show’s got to be half an hour.
6) Tyger Tyger
So then there was that episode where Catwoman turned into an actual, humanoid cat. (She gets better.)
5) The Terrible Trio
Batman versus three entitled, trust-fund douchebags. On its face, it sounds like some serious wish fulfillment, but it turns out to be eminently forgettable. The three rich dicks Batman takes on in this episode never pose anything but the most basic of dangers to Batman and Robin, and the reason for their string of robberies is just plain boredom.
All that would just make this a below average episode of Batman. What makes it one of the worst is a scene a few minutes in, where Bruce Wayne shoots skeet at a country club with the three title characters. Of all the activities to have Batman do recreationally, why in the world would you have him using a gun?
4) The Under-Dwellers
The concept itself of this one is just crazy: Dozens of child urchins live under the streets of Gotham, mining the caves, making clothes, only coming out the streets to steal, all at the behest of a weirdo with half a pair of sunglasses, The Sewer King (a character who wasn’t based on any comics villain, but almost certainly Fagin from Oliver Twist). Apparently this man has been keeping kids underground for quite some time now. How had no one noticed before? Missing children are a thing people often pay attention to.
The Sewer King isn’t done any favors by over-the-top performance by voice actor Michael Pataki. He’s clearly a man who loves attention (and gators). Why does he do anything he does? We haven’t the slightest. The concept’s near-unworkable, the scenes where Alfred tries to help a mute under-dweller child are sitcom-style silly and the ending is funny when it ought to be touching.
3) Moon of the Wolf
This is an episode about a unibrowed track star named Anthony Romulus (that’s right, Anthony Romulus) who gets turned into a werewolf when he takes an undetectable steroid that includes wolf estrogen as a component. It’s ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the animation, which makes him out to be the slowest wolf in the history of animals.
The episode drags in the middle, as Professor Milo relates Romulus’ backstory to Romulus himself, as if he didn’t already know it. And then Batman defeats the werewolf in a string of coincidences: He finds a hairpin on the ground of a construction site to unchain himself from some restraints, there just happens to be a ladder propped up in exactly the place he needs it and eventually, the werewolf gets struck by lightning. Then, at the end, a werewolf’s still on the loose in Gotham. No joke.
2) Cat Scratch Fever
This episode’s first mistake is trying to shoehorn a political message into a show about a man who wears pointy bat-ears on his head and a lady whose cat cowl covers a big mane of blond hair. It’s nice to say animal testing is bad, but it’s really more Catwoman’s issue than Batman’s.
The plot here is ludicrous. Roland Daggett and Professor Milo are infecting stray animals with a virus so Daggett can sell the cure. Seems like kind of an overcomplicated way to make money. Catwoman gets bitten by her own cat (who they’ve taken and infected), and gets sick. There’s an extended scene of an addled lady chasing around her cat, just in case you don’t get enough of that at your aunt’s house. Eventually, the plan is thwarted when Batman pulls some goons into icy cold water. In fact, Batman does everything here. He bails Catwoman out of jail, he figures out the plot, he saves Catwoman when she gets sick. He even returns her cat. For an episode centering on Catwoman, she does very little.
1) I’ve Got Batman in My Basement
You might say this is the worst episode of B:TAS because Batman spends most of its running time incapacitated, but greats like “Almost Got ‘Im” and “The Man Who Killed Batman” prove that Bats himself can be on the periphery of well-written episodes. You might say it’s the focus on kids, but “Legends of the Dark Knight” proved showing how kids view Batman can make for a great episode.
So what makes this one so bad? It’s not even the Penguin, despite his awful characterization here. It’s the fact that, most of the time, B:TAS never seemed like a kids’ show. That’s not to say it was ever really inappropriate for kids. Rather, it was a show kids and adults could both enjoy immensely. But for this one episode, with its kids-somehow-drive-the-Batmobile and Home Alone-style traps segments, it was a kids’ show. One that even kids thought was pretty lazy. Batman having a lengthy screwdriver duel with the Penguin doesn’t exactly help either.