by Jarrod Jones. It’s a beautiful, and frightful, alchemy of Max Fleischer and Neal Adams, and arguably the finest superhero cartoon to ever air on television. What’s so fascinating about Batman: The Animated Series is that after thirty years it is still widely considered to be the gold standard for Batman adaptations, in any time, in any medium. Because it is.

Achingly tense, emotionally gripping, black as pitch, it depicted the DC’s Dark Knight Detective in his natural habitat, grimly hunting criminals in a vast, seemingly bottomless abyss of sin and evil called Gotham City. But it was not without a wicked sense of humor. Listed below are the five episodes that cut the deepest, the five greatest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.

On Leather Wings. (Air Date: September 5, 1992) One of the best episodes the series ever produced is also the first to ever air. Directed by series regular Kevin Altieri and written by Mitch Brian, “On Leather Wings” is a brilliantly executed opening salvo. The animation and storyboarding is fluid and gorgeous—and it unravels the story in such a way that the viewer has no choice but to submit to its beautiful imagery and the intrigue it offers. A beast roams the skies. What is it and what does it want? And who is this dark detective that pursues it?

This first episode pragmatically introduces many of the series’ supporting characters; nothing is shoehorned in, nobody is taken for granted. (The two-second cameo of Harvey Dent is an enticing tease of things to come.) A slick, savvy marriage of Frank Miller’s Year One and the work of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, “On Leather Wings” introduces an established Dark Knight operating in a city that is still very wary of him. No Robin, no Bat-Signal, no nonsense, this is easily the most primal Batman: TAS episode ever produced. Essential viewing. (Also: René Auberjonois as Dr. March!)

BEST LINE(s): Alfred: “I would say, Sir, that we have ourselves an incongruity.” Batman: “Incongruity, Alfred? He’s lying. And I’m gonna find out why.”

BEST MOMENT: Dr. Kirk Langstrom’s transformation into Man-Bat. The episode waits seventeen minutes to reveal the monster that has eluded both Batman and the GCPD, which illustrates the patience and diligence Batman: TAS once had in abundance. The sequence isn’t played for cheap Saturday morning thrills, either; Langstrom’s metamorphosis into the ferocious bat-creature is as frightening and unnerving as the show was likely allowed to depict by the standards of 1992 television censors. It’s still spooky, thirty years later.

EPISODE’S MVP: Indisputably, Kevin Conroy. His brimstone-scorched elocution is beyond iconic by now, but hearing the Batman speak for the very first time in 1992 rocked every single person who heard it to the core. Conroy’s mindful separation between Bruce Wayne’s lilting tenor and Batman guttural baritone allowed the character to shine in a manner that made previous incarnations seem pale in comparison. This was Batman, through and through.

Two-Face, Part I. (Air Date: September 25, 1992) Poor Harvey Dent. The doomed district attorney of Gotham City faces a reckoning in “Two-Face, Part I”. Sure, the end game is spoiled in the title, but the destination is nowhere near as fascinating as Harvey Dent’s 22-minute descent into his own personal hell. Once again beautifully directed by Kevin Altieri and written by Randy Rogel (based on a story written by Batman: TAS producer Alan Burnett) “Two-Face, Part I” is an eerie glimpse into the fractured persona of a broken man.

What makes this episode so great? It spends the majority of its running time establishing how far gone Dent was before he became Batman’s fractured arch-nemesis; it refuses to gloss over the messier aspects of Harvey’s id for the sake of wider audiences. The impact “Two-Face, Part I” had on Harvey Dent reverberated through future works featuring the villain, including Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween, which begat Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

BEST LINE(s): Gordon: “What in the name of heaven did you think you were doing?” Dent: “I… don’t know. I guess he just pressed the right button.” Gordon: “That’s one heck of a button.

Rupert Thorne: “All men have something to hide. The brighter the picture, the darker the negative.”

BEST MOMENT: Appropriately enough, it’s a two-way tie.

The reveal. Once Harvey sees the ruin that Rupert Thorne has wrought upon him, actor Richard Moll lets loose such an unbelievable scream. As Dent stumbles out into the hospital hallway in time to stun his fiance, Grace, it’s understood beyond any doubt that nothing will ever be the same again. That kind of irrevocable, tragic change rarely finds its way into any form of popular media, say nothing of purportedly shallow children’s entertainment.

Harvey Dent’s psychoanalysis. It’s a quiet, frightening sequence that reveals Harvey’s repressed (and quite hateful) alternate personality… it’s a surreal, frightening moment. Altieri’s direction is stellar in the delicate handling of Dent’s transition from beleaguered district attorney into Big Bad Harv, and as for Richard Moll’s vocal performance, well…

EPISODE’S MVP: … It’s downright terrifying. Richard Moll’s Harvey Dent is the voice I hear whenever I read Two-Face’s dialogue in any comic book.

Heart of Ice. (Air Date: September 7, 1992) The tragedy of Victor and Nora Fries is told for the first time here, and the same way ever since. As writer Paul Dini’s first Bat-assignment, “Heart Of Ice” became one of the series’ most popular and critically-lauded episodes, snagging an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing In An Animated Program. It’s easily one of the most melancholy installments in Batman: TAS, which says quite a bit, but it’s also an incredibly fun Batman adventure. (Also: Sneaky Mark Hamill cameo role!)

BEST LINE(s): Batman: (after dispatching a few henchmen) “FREEZE!” Mr. Freeze: “That’s MR. Freeze to you.”

Mr. Freeze: “To never again walk on a summer’s day with a hot wind in your face and a warm hand to hold. Oh, yes. I’d kill for that.

BEST MOMENT: Freeze kicking over a fire hydrant, and using his gun to propel himself up hundreds of feet through a ladder of glittering ice. Magnificent display of animation. (The chicken soup moment was a solid, and funny, payoff to the episode, too.)

EPISODE’S MVP: The late Michael Ansara brought emotional gravitas to a mostly dismissed and forgotten Bat-enemy, a seemingly thankless task handled with care and dignity.

Harley’s Holiday. (Air Date: October 15, 1994) One of the greatest gifts Batman: The Animated Series ever bestowed upon our existence was the character of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn. Once a promising young psychologist, Quinzel was warped by the Joker into becoming his subservient gangster’s moll, doomed to suffer countless mood swings and the various other indignities for which the Clown Prince of Crime was infamous, never once finding peace from her ill-advised pursuit of a Happily Ever After.

Co-created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Harley was an instant hit. A minor-league henchman with a major-league fanbase who demanded solo outings for the manic marvel, and for her third appearance—finally detached from her ruby-lipped beau—writer Dini (teamed with Kevin Altieri) offered the quirky jester her one shot at a normal life.

What begins as a slight misunderstanding (involving a little pink dress) quickly escalates into a monumental comedy of errors as Harley—petrified at the thought of once again being tossed away in Arkham Asylum—kidnaps society shill Veronica Vreeland in a desperate bid for freedom. The duo survive the combined threats of a jilted Detective Bullock, long-suffering gangster Boxy Bennett, Veronica’s possessive father (who is also an army General), and the Dynamic Duo—somehow forging an unlikely friendship along the way. “Harley’s Holiday” was a splendid excursion away from the overt darkness and brooding of Batman: TAS, an indelible example of the series’ rare, but no less rich, forays into comedy.

BEST LINE(s): Harley: “Hey, remember me? That big charity bash a few years back? The one the Joker robbed? I was the clown girl holding the gun on ya!

Veronica: “What are you doing? That’s my father!” Harley: “No. That’s your father… IN A TANK!

BEST MOMENT: The day is ended and Harley is returned to the asylum. But Batman has a surprise waiting for her.

Harley: “There’s one thing I gotta know. Why’d you stay with me all day, risking your butt for someone who’s never given you anything but trouble?” Batman: “I know what it’s like to try to rebuild a life.” (reveals Harley’s pink dress) “I had a bad day too, once.” *sniff*

EPISODE’S MVP: No contest. Dini based Harley Quinn on his friend, Arleen Sorkin, and “Harley’s Holiday” displays the crackling energy that came from the union of Dini’s writing and Sorkin’s vocal powers beautifully.

Over The Edge. (Air Date: May 23, 1998) The worst-case scenario. Everything about “Over The Edge” emanates with dread. From the very first moment of the episode, everything’s gone to seed: The GCPD, led by a furious Jim Gordon, has infiltrated the Batcave, hot on the heels of Batman and Robin and shooting to kill. After a narrow escape—courtesy of an assist from Nightwing—Batman recounts to Robin the events that led to the unthinkable.

Written by Paul Dini, “Over The Edge” is as dire as anything that ever came from the DC Animated Universe up to that point (though the powers that be would often try to best it in future series and films such as the ludicrously grimdark Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker). Barbara Gordon—Batgirl—is dead, Gordon knows all of Bruce Wayne’s secrets, and he will do anything to exact revenge on the vigilante he’s abetted all these years.

As bleak as its story is, the episode is a beauty to behold. Directed by Yuichiro Yano, Bruce Timm’s sleek, minimalistic overhaul of the series never looked better, setting the bar so high as to be nigh impossible to overcome. (And wouldn’t be until at least the second season of Justice League Unlimited.) Is it a dream? An imaginary tale? “Over The Edge” plays its secrets close to the vest until its very last moments when suddenly Batman: TAS kicks over the table. It still thrilling television, thirty years on.

BEST LINE(s): Bruce: “You know how I lost my parents. The only way I could hold on to my sanity was to take matters into my own hands. Gordon: “That makes us even.”

Officer Montoya: “FREEZE! Richard Grayson, you have the right to remain silent.” Nightwing: “Waived.” (starts beating down cops)

Gordon: “Sweetheart, you’re capable of making your own decisions. You don’t need me to approve or even acknowledge them. And in this case, I can’t. All you need to know is I love you. All of you.” (kisses Barbara) “And that is all I have to say on the subject.” (winks)

BEST MOMENT: The GCPD’s assault on Wayne Manor and the Batcave—told in two fragmented sequences—is the first time these eyes ever witnessed such a thing and I was off. The. COUCH. The swarming silhouettes of SWAT swimming past the portrait of Thomas and Martha Wayne, that was an image that captured Bruce Wayne’s failure as Batman better than anything else this episode could conjure.

Batman vs. Bane. Though this was presented once before in Season Two, Bane and Batman never got the showdown they deserved in TAS until this episode. (The original episode that introduced Bane was commissioned by the studio—based on the success of DC Comics’ popular Knightfall storyline—and was met by producers with sneers and was titled, appropriately enough, “Bane”.) It’s as violent and scary a bout as anything you’ll find this side of The Dark Knight Rises.

EPISODE’S MVP: The late, great Bob Hastings lent a hard-boiled dignity to Jim Gordon over the years, and “Over The Edge”, with all its bleak imagery, finally gave Hastings star treatment. Its dizzying tragedy doesn’t work without Hastings, the secret MVP of Batman: The Animated Series.

Agree? Disagree? What are your favorite episodes of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’? Let us know in the comments below.