Batman: The Animated Series is an animated television series that premiered in 1992 and ran for three seasons. The series was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and is widely considered to be one of the best adaptations of the Batman character to date. The show was created by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, and featured the voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Mark Hamill as The Joker, and many other notable voice actors.
The series is known for its dark and moody atmosphere, as well as its mature storytelling that dealt with serious themes such as corruption, violence, and mental illness. The show’s distinctive art style, which combined the aesthetics of film noir with a modernist approach, was also highly praised and influenced many subsequent adaptations of the Batman character.
The series received critical acclaim and numerous awards during its run, and has since become a cult classic among fans of the Batman franchise.
Batman: The Animated Series is a beloved show, still revered by superhero fans worldwide for it’s striking visual style (drawn exclusively on black paper) which brilliantly blended a vivid art deco/noir design palette with the visual sensibility of Tim Burton‘s Batman movies, Kevin Conroy‘s and Mark Hamill‘s definitive duet as Batman and The Joker, and the general standard of excellence that the show maintained during its original 85-episode run, among other things.
Batman as a character has always been defined by the unimpeachable roster of villains who constitute his Rogue’s Gallery. With 85 total episodes of Batman: TAS, Bats has no shortage of quality baddies to tussle with. But the following ten are the absolute best that the show had to offer. Honorable mentions to H.A.R.D.A.C., Ventriloquist, The Mad Hatter, and the multitude of other mischief-makers who crossed paths with The Dark Knight in this classic show.
Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, was voiced by Burgess Meredith, who previously portrayed the live-action version of the diminutive crime boss in Batman (1966). Penguin is the single-most dastardly crook in all of Gotham’s underworld. He always executes all of his criminal enterprises with a deep sense of righteous retribution for all the injustices that the cruel world has subjected him to
In “Birds of a Feather”, the lonely Penguin is strung along by a young bachelorette who shatters his already breaking heart when he sniffs out her phony air of romance. One does feel for Cobblepot, that is until he hogties the woman to a chandelier and threatens to cut the rope. Classic Oz behavior. Penguin is an all-time Batman villain whose appeal are equal parts absurd, tragic, and theatrical.
9 Poison Ivy
Making her debut in “Pretty Poison” – She commands a teeming army of carnivorous plants, but could always seal your fate with a poison-laced smooch, no matter how deep you bury her underground, she’ll always grow back — it’s the one and only Poison Ivy.
Pamela Isley is a research chemist for a cosmetics firm, a Professor of Endangered & Extinct Plants at Gotham University, and a criminal mastermind in her downtime. Her knowledge and command over all manner of virulent plant life is her claim to fame. She may openly admit to loving plants more than human beings, but with the way folks behave in Gotham, it’s tough to blame her.
8 The Riddler
Edward Nygma aka The Riddler is truly the picture of modern-day villainy. A genius computer software designer, who loses everything, and decides to exact his revenge on the world by harnessing his technological expertise in order to prove his intellectual supremacy.
After Batman deciphers his complex series of riddles in “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”, thus saving the man who robbed him of his fortune, Nygma becomes singularly committed to besting Batman in a battle of wits. Batman: TAS retains the classically campy tone of The Riddler while sharpening the character with a real sense of menacing narcissism.
7 Ra’s al Ghul
The ancient commander of the Society of Shadows, he is who is called Ra’s al Ghul (meaning “The Demon’s Head”) simply must have a spot reserved in the Batman villain hall of fame. He is the only major villain to ever confirm Batman’s true identity, and therefore, one of the most dangerous.
Ra’s has survived for hundreds of years by periodically bathing himself in the rejuvenating liquids of the Lazarus pit. Over the centuries he has seen empires rise and fall, accumulated infinite wealth and resources, and grown uninterested in the petty criminality that concerns most Batman villains. At one point, Ra’s kidnaps Dick Grayson, immediately shows up to the Batcave unannounced, addresses Bruce by name, and casually refers to him as “Detective”. Now that’s confidence.
A villain whose earliest appearances date back to the Golden Age of Comics, Scarecrow aka Professor Jonathan Crane is a staple of DC Comics. Crane’s patented fear-inducing chemicals trigger an extreme reaction of terror in the amygdala of his victims.
Scarecrow is a formidable opponent because his approach to crime is, quite literally, more cerebral. If properly dosed, Scarecrow can leave Batman cradled on the floor of an Arkham Asylum jail cell, lost in a darkly hallucinogenic nightmare of his mind’s own making. The phantasmagoric sequences which demonstrate the effects of crane’s chemicals are some of the series’ most memorable visual flourishes.
The story of Clayface aka Matt Hagen, a once famous leading man who begins abusing a transformational skin chemical called Renuyu, after his cinematic career becomes jeopardized by a disfiguring car accident, comprises one of the best two-part episodes in Batman: TAS history. The muck-mouthed man-of-a-thousand-faces was voiced with reckless abandon by the great Ron Perlman. Clayface stands as one of the most dynamic and unpredictable threats to both Batman and Bruce Wayne alike.
Clayface’s chameleonic abilities allow him to execute some devilishly manipulative plot twists and misdirects, nearly always resulting in some uniquely fun moments of voice performance — e.g. Kevin Conroy’s subtly nefarious Batman voice which he performs through Clayface’s layer of disguise. He is among the most visually interesting villains in all of Batman: TAS who wields one of the most devastating power sets as well.
4 Mister Freeze
Before Arnold Schwarzenegger was dropping cringe-inducing snow puns like icicles from a thawing roof in Batman and Robin, Batman’s most frigid foe, Mister Freeze, made his series debut in one the most emotionally effective episodes of Batman: TAS. “Heart of Ice” Depicts the tragic death of the late Nora Fries and the icy embittered heart that her widowed husband Victor is left with.
Victor Fries may have the most morally justifiable backstory of any Batman’s antagonist. The former scientist was conducting experiments using unauthorized equipment in a desperate mission to cure his terminally ill wife. When the CEO of Gothcorp forcibly shuts Fries’ down, killing his wife and exposing him to an extreme overdose of coolant in the process, the ruthless tyrant known as Mister Freeze is born. The final image of Freeze sitting alone in his prison cell, clutching the snow globe that contains the likeness of his Nora, is sincerely moving.
3 Two-Face/Harvey Dent
Once Bruce Wayne’s closest friend and confidant, District Attorney Harvey Dent was widely considered to be the most honest and upstanding politician in all of Gotham City. But as crime boss Rupert Thorne puts it in “Two-Face: Part 1” “The brighter the picture, the darker the negative”.
Driven to the brink of insanity after Thorne threatens to expose his dark secret, Harvey finally embraces his long-dormant shadow-self — the odious criminal mind know as “Big Bad Harv” or “Two-Face”. Harvey’s dramatic fall from grace, depicted masterfully in “Two-Face” part 1 and 2, is genuinely sad. Two-Face, more than any other villain, continually forces Batman into a personal moral dilemma.
2 Harley Quinn
Arkham Asylum criminal psychologist Harleen Quinzel made her debut as Harley Quinn in “Jokers Favor”, and Gotham City has never been the same since. One of the few wholly original creations from Batman: TAS, and the most iconic of the bunch by far, Harley was created by a pair of DC legends, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.
Since then the character has gone on to anchor a slew of major DC projects including the stupendous Harley Quinn show and Margot Robbie’s standout portrayal of Harley in the DCU. But to this day, episodes like “Mad Love” and “Harley & Ivy” still stand as the classic, foundational bedrock of this beloved character. She’s the Joker’s partner in madness, and her mallet packs a punch puddin’.
1 The Joker
Who else but the clown prince of crime could ever hope to occupy the top spot on this list? Mark Hamill’s turn as The Joker is nothing less than the stuff of supervillain legend. It is still the finest and purest rendering of Batman’s greatest foe ever captured on screen. The Joker is the absolute perfect balance between hilarious, terrifying, charming, and unknowable.
Every giggle and cackle in Hamill’s vast repertoire of distinctly deranged Joker laughs showcases a distinct color in the rainbow of his madness. Episodes like “Joker’s Favor”, “The Laughing Fish”, and “Joker’s Wild” are all universally considered to be pinnacles for the character.
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