When I think back on my favorite show of all time, Batman: The Animated Series, there are certain moments, characters, lines, and episodes that spring to mind. As I’ve previously covered, “Heart of Ice” is, in my opinion, the greatest episode of this consistently amazing series. But it barely beats out “Almost Got ‘Im,” an episode that plays with its sense of storytelling, indulges in how fun villains can be, and ultimately proves the great of the Dark Knight himself.
Right from the beginning, “Almost Got ‘Im” revolves around five of Batman’s greatest villains playing a game of poker at a seedy, smoke-filled club, taking jabs at each other and recounting the closest they ever came to defeating Batman. It’s this immediate departure from the typical B:TAS episode structure that made me take notice as a kid watching it for the first time, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
Most episodes revolve around the Dark Knight working to stop a villain, with most scenes told from his perspective, like a film noir. This time, Batman is largely seen through the perspective of the criminals he hunts. In every instance, Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is the hero we know and love, but we get to see more of the effect he has on his rogues gallery.
Close Calls for The Dark Knight
Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Killer Croc, The Penguin, and The Joker each take turns detailing the time they almost defeated Batman. In each instance, we flashback to the tale in question. Poison Ivy almost gassed and unmasked the hero. Two-Face nearly smashed him under a giant penny (the same one now on display in the Batcave). The Penguin almost killed the Caped Crusader with dangerous birds in an aviary.
Only two stories break from the formula. Killer Croc recounts his short and simple tale without flashback. Not that there’s much to speak of (“I threw a rock at him!”). It’s easily the episode’s funniest moment. Joker’s tale is done through television broadcast, showing a hijacked game show rigged by the Clown Prince of Crime with the sole purpose of killing Batman. But with a surprise rescue by Catwoman, the Dark Knight manages to escape his doom. Being that all television broadcasts in the world of B:TAS are in black and white, this entire tale is told without color as well!
It’s a bold break for a cartoon show, especially since this story is easily the longest of them all. But it’s done so well, you hardly even notice after a minute. B:TAS is the type of storytelling that feels like it belongs in the days of black and white television, so the style is very appropriate anyway.
Each of these tales only last a few scant minutes, but do an amazing job at portraying a well-rounded vision of the villain at hand, giving the Dark Knight a strong presence in his few minutes on screen, and creating a sense of suspense in each small tale. The snappy dialogue and sharp character interactions in between the stories really glue the show together.
Some of the show’s most memorable parts come during these transitions, which don’t really even feel like framing devices. Croc’s idiocy, Two-Face’s loathing of Poison Ivy (a callback to a very early episode in the series), and Joker’s consistent cheating at poker all create a stronger sense of cohesion and character development. Even the cards and little actions being taken at the table reflect the little idiosyncrasies of the villains.
Of course, it’s all just a setup for the big twist you’ll never see coming. Spoilers!
Turning the (Poker) Tables on the Bad Guys
Turns out dear old Croc was never there to begin. It’s been Batman in disguise the entire time! Playing the real villains for fools, the Dark Knight and an embedded team of Gotham City Police surround the villains. Hauling them in, Batman discovers the information he’s been after the whole time: the location of Catwoman, who was kidnapped by Joker’s right hand girl Harley Quinn at the end of his story about the Dark Knight. Batman rushes off to save her, leading to one more last minute rescue and a fitting resolution to the episode, as he and Catwoman have one more flirty interaction before he sails off into the night.
B:TAS. Each of them act very true to character, and the way they bounce off one another feels right. Every voice actor turns in a spectacular job, as usual. The best episodes of B:TAS could work just as well as a radio play. The voices, the sound effects, and the music are all so fantastic and consistently work well in tandem.
But the visuals are just as great. Each vignette narrated by the villains is appropriately moody for the series. But they all feel unique as well, inhabiting different parts of this very much alive world. And every scene at the poker game feels great. Shots are kept tight on the villains, almost claustrophobic, and we never see outside of the table. Even the surrounding shady characters are kept in silhouette, which is perfect for both the mood and takes new light with the twist that comes later.
All in all, “Almost Got ‘Im” is a perfect encapsulation of B:TAS and the world of Batman as a whole – moody, lived-in mysteries that form around the spine of iconic characters.