There is something ultimately special about Batman: whether it’s Gotham, with its dark, stormy nature and perpetual gloominess; the villains that permeate the story-lines with cleverness, insanity, and brutality; or even the escapism of machismo “wealth, power, and looks” that superficially describe the unmasked Bruce Wayne contrasting the dark often violent nightly excursions of the Caped Crusader. Batman hits on all the notes that not only make it one of the finest comic series, but that also translate so wonderfully to film and television. Do a little digging, if you look at the trends that superheroes have outside of comics–TV shows, movies, video-games, etc.–every new iteration of Batman marks the standard of quality for the next generation of content.
Batman: The Animated Series, to this day, could very well be the greatest superhero animated series, and if it is bested, I would say that the only contenders would be the later Batman spin-offs, possibly Spider-Man or Justice League, but that’s for another discussion. While the whole series is phenomenal, one episode stands out in particular, and that is “Almost Got ‘im.”
Five of Batman’s greatest foes gather one night in your typical seedy underground bar for a bit of cards. Egos come to the front and they spend the rest of the night arguing about how only they can lay bragging rights to who came closest to taking down the Bat. From the start, the stories progress as a one-upper of elaborate trickery and dire circumstance, starting with the humble exploding pumpkin patch of Poison Ivy’s, to the episode’s final story–of course–put on by the Joker, where he nearly electrocuted the Dark Knight to death. Batman is narrowly saved by Catwoman, though she gets captured by Harley Quinn. Then, Batman, who has been disguised as Killer Croc the entire night, learns of the location of Catwoman through Joker’s story and springs a trap in the bar; aided by the GCPD, Ivy, Two-Face, Joker, and the Penguin are all arrested.
“Almost Got ‘im” was written by series regular and long-time animation scribe Paul Dini who takes a whip-smart approach to the characters we are so mechanically predisposed to despise. Taking a cue from the classic “if you can have dinner with five famous people,” it’s a who’s who of the mentally deranged and angry. Instead of viewing these characters in a one-dimensional sense where they are causing chaos and need to be stopped, the episode allows us to view them being “normal” albeit vain and boastful. And inherently psychotic. I love when a show decides to do one of these episodes–the hyper-narrow focus where we can sit and stew with a character as opposed to watching them blow up a bank or spark a plot for mass hysteria. A modern comparison can be the divisive “Fly” episode from Breaking Bad.
Shifting perspective away from Batman was not a revelation through the entire canon; however, with the ability for television to provide the emotional voice and individual charm of the characters, the concept comes out further ahead as being the most effective use of the story-telling tool. It should also be said: the more Mark Hamill, the better.
The biggest problem with the episode, really, is that it’s only a half-hour (or twenty-two minutes, depending). Each segment is marginally longer then the last–Killer Croc only gets a line to “brag” about throwing a rock at Batman–and while they serve purpose, it feels rushed. Batman is the world’s greatest detective and these are some of the most dangerous individuals you can find, but it takes only a moment for him to slink out of whatever elaborate trap they had set for him. Sure, you could extrapolate whole (good to excellent) episodes from the segments, but since it is cramped into one episode it feels exactly that: cramped. That being stated, any longer and the trope may have felt stretched and worn out of its freshness.
Sure, comic books are so saturated that near every side character and every villain has a few printings or series to their own names. The scoundrels of Gotham, however, to this reviewer, are some of the most interesting: they’re not almighty in power, they are not necessarily blindly malevolent with world domination on the menu, and they all sprout from one nucleus: Gotham City. Comics aside, some of the finest characters in literature call Gotham their home.
As stated, Batman: The Animated Series is one of the greatest television shows and this episode displays how the writing is such a cut above most cartoon series, even to this day. The animation itself is brooding and fluid, and the art design is brilliant. And then there’s the characters, all magnificently voiced with many of them still performing the roles in the most recent works like the Arkham video-game series.
Which leads to the obvious question, what group of five in the entire Comic Book Universe do you think would make the most interesting dinner party conversation? Let’s hear your answers on Twitter or in the comment section!