With 34 episodes already aired to that point, Batman: The Animated Series was flying high with its unique blend of comic book mayhem, Art Deco design, and storylines that didn’t talk down to its audience. It was doing very well in the ratings for Fox and it was already garnering a lot of critical acclaim. Pretty much everybody was talking about Batman, so it seemed only fitting that the episode that aired two months into its run would feature people sitting around talking about him. These were villains, of course, and the episode in question is the immortal “Almost Got ‘Im.”
Written by Paul Dini and directed by Eric Radomski, “Almost Got ‘Im” was a portmanteau episode featuring the Dark Knight’s greatest foes spending an evening together playing the one-up game in terms of who came the closest to actually pulling off the unthinkable: killing Batman. It’s such a brilliant concept that villains would hang out together based on their inherent hatred of Batman and argue over who may or may not have nearly succeeded in the thing they’re always trying to do. They become so obsessed with being victorious over Batman, they forget the fact that have no other reason to associate with each other. The episode brings together seven of the hero’s most popular adversaries and lets each of them shine in telling us who’s the best.
We begin with Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, and Killer Croc sitting down to play poker in a dive bar in the bad part of Gotham. Before they begin, Poison Ivy arrives and demands to be dealt in. As they play, they start talking about Batman (which I assume inevitably happens every time they get together; what else could they possibly have to say to each other?) and each claim they were the one who came closest-but-no-cigar-est to killing him. Joker decrees that they each have a good story, so why not all tell them? He says ladies first, but in lieu of any, Ivy can go. He’s very funny.
Ivy tells us about a time last Halloween where she placed poisonous gas inside thousands of pumpkins, which caused people to get sick when the Jack-o-Lanterns were lit. Batman goes to the Gotham pumpkin patch to investigate and finds Ivy, who drops a match inside one of the orange gourds and they all explode. Batman is beginning to suffocate from the gas while Ivy is fine. He’s somehow able to remotely call the Batmobile which runs down the vegetable-obsessed villain in the nick of time. He gets a gas mask from inside and captures Ivy. Almost got ‘im.
Next it’s Two-Face’s turn to spin a yarn. He staged a heist of $2,000,000 in $2 bills from the mint and when Batman arrived to stop him, his goons were able to subdue the Caped Crusader. After flipping his coin, Two-Face ties Batman to a giant penny and rigs it to a huge catapult. He’s given Batman a 50/50 chance: if the coin lands face down, Batman will be dead; if it lands face up, it’ll just break every bone in his body. Unfortunately for the former District Attorney, Batman was able to lift Two-Face’s beloved jagged coin, and as the huge penny flies through the air, he frees himself from his bonds. He stops the criminals and the mint even let him keep the giant penny, which explains its appearance in the Batcave. Still, almost got ‘im.
Before anyone else can tell their story, Croc demands to go. His is very quick and ends with the circus freak throwing a very large rock at Batman. No one is amused.
Penguin elects to go next and talks about when he made it known he planned to steal valuable breeding condors from the zoo. When Batman arrived at the aviary, he found that Penguin had turned it into a nest for the most dangerous birds in the world. He sprays Batman with a nectar eaten by hummingbirds and releases hundreds of the tiny things, which all have poison-tipped beaks, to attack him. As if that weren’t enough, he also lets loose giant, man-sized cassowaries with razor sharp beaks. Batman is bitten several times but is able to batarang the sprinklers to subdue the small birds, and then stabs a cassowary with one (ouch!). Batman gives himself the antidote but not before Penguin escaped. He was very nearly got.
Finally we get the Joker’s story. He had taken over a late-night talk show and had Batman attached to an electric chair powered by laughter. He then doused the audience with his patented laughing gas which caused them to erupt in guffaws and Batman to get more and more cooked. Harley Quinn was making the poor captives cry by telling awful jokes when suddenly Catwoman arrives to rescue Batman. In the ensuing fight, the Joker doesn’t notice Batman escaping from the chair just before it explodes. Almost got ‘im also!
But, that’s not the end of the story. For retribution, the Joker and Harley kidnapped Catwoman, and as they played cards, Harley was at the cat food factory about to make hundreds of cans of Fancy Feast out of Batman’s anti-heroine flame. Unfortunately for the villains, Killer Croc was actually Batman in disguise the whole time! They are all arrested while Batman goes to save Catwoman. After he does so, as thanks for her saving him, she says they ought to put all this behind them and make a real go of it as a couple. Before he can answer, Catwoman hears a noise and Batman disappears. The episode ends with her saying the title.
This episode is just so fantastic, I had to describe the whole thing. The villains had become such a huge part of the series and the voice acting was across the board terrific from Mark Hamill’s Joker to Richard Moll’s Two-Face to Paul Williams’ Penguin. Everyone is excellent and Dini gives them all terrific dialogue to say, complete with lots of barbs and digs at one another. You get the sense that it’s a weird perverse club they all belong to, being enemies of Batman, and they seem to get along as well as homicidal maniacs who mutually respect each other can.
Having Joker’s story tie in to the eventual denouement to the episode was a stroke of genius, as it allows for one final action scene where both Harley Quinn and Catwoman can add their own “Almost got ‘im” story to the mix. Seriously, what a magnificent cadre of bad guyery on display here. Rarely has the show been this funny and yet still this menacing without going overboard either way. It’s just a wonderful bit of quick action storytelling, maybe my second favorite episode ever after “Heart of Ice.”
Next time, I’m going to do the hands-down most requested episode I’ve gotten from comments: “Clock King,” featuring the debut of the eponymous, time-keeping villain, bent on revenge and with an impeccable sense of rhythm. If you have an idea for an episode for me to cover, let me know in the comments below. I’ve got a list of the ones I plan to cover, but if yours, like “Clock King” wasn’t on the list, I’d like to know!