There’s just no other way to say it: Batman: The Animated Series is one of the best cartoons of all time. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t agree. It’s been remarked on again and again, with TV Guide and IGN giving it huge accolades. It even won four Emmys over its lifespan, one of those for the most Outstanding Animated Program. What other cartoon can you name off the top of your head that has won an Emmy? Exactly.
We’ve seen countless writers highlight the best episodes of this show, but that’s too easy. Before giving way to Batman Beyond, The Animated Series spanned two show titles (in 1995, it was changed to The Adventures of Batman & Robin to reflect Fox’s request for the show to have more Robin so it appealed more to kids; it was followed up by The New Batman Adventures), more than 85 episodes, and two movies: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in 1993 and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero in 1998.
With that many episodes, it’s inevitable that a few had to be stinkers. Perhaps the writers just wanted to test out an idea that fell flat on its face or the introduction of fresh villains to the Batman canon just couldn’t compare to Bats’ beloved and entrenched rivals. While you’ll find that even today, sitting down to an episode of The Animated Series is a 22-minute masterpiece and not a trip down nostalgia lane, some episodes lack the same punch. If you ever revisit the series as a whole, you may want to skip these duds.
10. “Moon of the Wolf”
Original airdate: November 11, 1992
A lot of the Batman universe is grounded in realism. Although the very concept of Batman asks you to suspend your disbelief, he doesn’t have any superpowers. It’s only when you get to characters like the Joker, Poison Ivy, and Clayface that realism starts to go out the window. That said, with Batman’s colorful army of enemies, a werewolf is going to fail to stand out. Unfortunately, said wolf is the focus of “Moon of the Wolf.”
Former professional athlete Anthony Romulus takes some crazy steroids as devised by Professor Milo, but it turns out that while the serum makes him a super athlete that it also turns him into a wolf. It’s a very tired story. Of course Batman tangles with the unibrowed Romulus in his wolf form and eventually emerges victorious, though he doesn’t catch the creature, who gives up his life of glamour to embrace the werewolf lifestyle. Seriously, we already have Man-Bat. We don’t need more anthropomorphized creatures, but sadly Romulus wouldn’t be the last.
9. “Blind as a Bat”
Original airdate: February 22, 1993
Batman can do anything. At this point, he’s so good at his job that he could do it blindfolded, right? In “Blind as a Bat,” we find out. Sort of. For maybe the first time in cartoon history, a character suffers realistic damage after an explosion. Bruce Wayne attends an event scoping out Raven X1-11, the newest military helicopter in Gotham, when the Penguin nabs the copter for his own and blows up the demonstration. Bruce ends up blind, but it’s emphasized that it probably won’t be permanently.
Of course, he can’t possibly sit around and let Penguin take over Gotham, so his friend, Doctor Leslie Thompkins, makes a headpiece for Batman to wear that provides radar vision. It needs to be charged though, so once the Batwing goes down, so does Batman’s only power source. The episode largely centers around the nail-biter of a moment when Bats is left without his sight. As he faces Penguin in an empty steel mill, his headpiece’s battery dies completely, and Batman somehow avoids falling into a pit of lava and gets Penguin arrested without being able to see a thing. It’s a bit ridiculous even by cartoon standards.
8. “The Underdwellers”
Original airdate: October 21, 1992
The first volume of The Animated Series is a bit touch-and-go, but no matter how bad some of those episodes are, few feel as out of place as “The Underdwellers.” You can watch this episode dozens of times, but it just always seems weird and more like an afterthought. Batman faces a whole menagerie of really strange people and goes through a lot of odd stuff in the 85+ episodes of this show, but only in this episode is he watching leprechauns run through Gotham. Yes, you read that right.
Sewer King has taken in a bunch of orphans and unwanted kids who live underground and serve him (these are the above-mentioned leprechauns). The kids wear tattered clothes and are excessively skinny while the Sewer King dresses well and is very plump. Eventually, Batman finds out what’s really going on in the sewers, knocks the Sewer King off his perch, and rescues the children. If this episode was trying to show us that Batman cares for kids, something innate that most fans already know, it could have done a better job.
7. “Fire from Olympus”
Original airdate: May 24, 1993
It must be a challenge to write dozens and dozens of episodes of a cartoon and not tire out all the possible storylines with your main villains. That’s the only explanation of why episodes like “Fire from Olympus” exist. Simply put, this episode is boring. It mostly focuses on a crazy shipping leader named Maxie Zeus who really believes that he’s a Greek god. His delusions of grandeur become worse as the episode progresses to the point where he has no qualms about sacrificing his girlfriend. However, with no back story to Maxie, the writers give you zero reasons to care about him.
In a moment of poetic justice, Maxie goes out by a thunderbolt from his own death machine. There’s also tons of other Zeus clichés throughout. The only decent part is at the very end, when Batman intercepts Maxie, sends him to Arkham Asylum, and the villain interprets all of Batman’s locked up foes as other specific mythological deities. Still, this one is not worth watching to get to that moment.
6. “Torch Song”
Original airdate: June 13, 1998
The Animated Series always had zero issues dipping its toes in film noir territory, but this early episode of The New Batman Adventures just brashly dives right in. In “Torch Song,” a young singer named Cassidy is dealing with an angry former flame. Her ex, Garfield Lynns, turns out to later become Firefly. If you were disappointed with the way that Firefly was portrayed and then briefly extinguished in Gotham, you might want to skip this episode since it’s proof that Batman writers really can’t get this character right.
Throughout the episode, Firefly tries to set his ex-girlfriend alight at every turn, eventually kidnapping her when he fails at burning her alive. His big plan is to drench Gotham City in a gel via its sewer system and then let ‘er rip. He also has ideas to fight to get back with Cassidy in the process. Of course, none of it comes to fruition, and Firefly is quickly put away and forgotten about.
5. “Love Is a Croc”
Original airdate: July 11, 1998
How did The New Batman Adventures decide to follow up the meh “Torch Song”? With an even more abysmal episode starring none other than Killer Croc and Baby-Doll. If you aren’t a fan of Scarface or Baby-Doll in these cartoons, then do yourself a favor and pass on watching “Love Is a Croc,” since it’s also about living dolls. Mary Louise-Dahl, once a sitcom star, feels disrespected since everyone thinks she’s a has-been. She decides that she’s in love with Killer Croc. Now, the creators of The Animated Series never got Croc quite right, and he looks even worse now.
It also doesn’t help that Baby-Doll looks, acts, and sounds just like a little girl. Although the episode tries to be dramatic when Baby-Doll accuses Croc of cheating and threatens that they’ll both go down in flames together while Gotham burns, it all just feels really, really, really wrong. Somehow the show’s creators thought this pairing was iconic enough, because when a new line of action figures for the cartoon was released, Croc came with Baby-Doll.
4. “The Terrible Trio”
Original airdate: September 11, 1995
Batman himself said it best about the Terrible Trio featured in the eponymous episode: “Scoundrels like these are worse than the Joker. At least he’s got madness as an excuse.” Yep, even Batman thought the Terrible Trio was absolutely pointless, and he’d be right. Most fans of the show happen to detest this episode too, which centers around three rich young men named Gunther Hardwicke or “Shark,” Armand Lydecker or “Vulture,” and Warren Lawford or “Fox,” as they commit petty crimes around Gotham.
Why? Really for no other reason than because they can. They’re young, they’re rich, and they have everything that they could possibly want, yet they decide to ransack Gotham anyway. Maybe this episode is trying to teach us a lesson that Bruce Wayne could have turned out the same way, but c’mon, do we really need another example of Batman’s inherit goodness? No, no we don’t.
3. “Tyger, Tyger”
Original airdate: October 30, 1992
One of the earlier episodes of The Animated Series surprisingly didn’t tank the show entirely. We had already been introduced to Selina Kyle as Catwoman in “The Cat and the Claw” and “The Cat and the Claw Part 2,” and, for origin episodes that also established the volatile and fickle romance between Kyle and Bruce Wayne, they were very good episodes. We learned that Kyle cares more about saving animals than anything else, which is why it’s no surprise that she ends up at the Gotham Zoo at the beginning of “Tyger, Tyger.” The rest is very unsurprising, but not in a good way.
Essentially, Catwoman is kidnapped by a gorilla man (he’s both, but if you just gave him a quick look, you’d think he’s one of the odder character designs on the show) and injected with a serum that transforms her into a literal cat woman by a deranged doctor named Emile Dorian. The doc is also responsible for a man-cat named Tygrus, who of course is in love with Kyle and wants them to be together forever in cat-person captivity. Batman has none of it though. As you’d imagine, Kyle gets transformed back into a human, but the premise of this episode was just a little too weird.
Original airdate: September 18, 1998
You know what was really big in 1998? The idea of cloning and other genetic modification to animals. So the premise for “Critters” was developed, an episode which some people love but is altogether a throwaway. This late in the game, the writers of the show must have run out of ideas for people for Batman to face in Gotham, because now he, Batgirl, and Robin must contest with giant modified animals.
A man just named Farmer Brown (sketchy, eh?) has created said animals, but the Gotham legal system puts the kibosh on his experiment after—surprise, surprise—the animals act unpredictably and try to destroy the city. A whole year goes by without incident, and yet somehow the creatures are unleashed once again. This time, they have to be stopped for good. Paul Dini stands behind the episode, so at least there’s that.
1. “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement”
Original airdate: September 30, 1992
If you were a kid when The Animated Series first aired, then maybe you thought that “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” was a cool episode. This writer certainly did. It made you, just a kid, feel like you could be involved in the complicated superhero world of Gotham City. While the episode hit its target audience well, don’t go back and re-watch this as an adult. Even Bruce Timm has gone on the record to say that this is a crappy episode, and almost everyone else agrees with him.
The fact that it’s Penguin’s debut is almost completely overshadowed as Batman has to rely on the help of a few kids to get back into fighting shape and jail his nemesis. While Batman showing moments of weakness can really progress the plot sometimes, this isn’t one of those instances. Seeing him nursed back to health by children, who also try to take down the Penguin themselves, is insulting to the intelligence of the fans. Penguin has never been that physically threatening, and it was a mistake to try to make him so.