Welcome to the thirty-first edition of Adventure(s) Time, where we examine a classic animated series and an issue of its tie-in comic that follows a similar theme. This week, following suggestions from readers Zachary King and Gravity Falls Poland, we're looking back on a Batman: The Animated Series episode that consistently ranks in viewers' Top 10 lists, and an issue of the comic book that has a similar starting place, but a very different execution.
Originally airing on October 19, 1992, "Perchance to Dream" is the twenty-sixth episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Featuring a story by Laren Bright & Michael Reaves, a teleplay by Joe R. Lansdale, and direction from Boyd Kirkland, the episode is a collection of some of the greatest talents to work in the earliest days of the series. Credit should also go to the sound design, which features a Shirley Walker score that's competitive with some of Danny Elfman's best work, and an incredible opening car chase sequence that does sound as noisy as anything in a big-budget action film...and with no score whatsoever to distract from the din of engines roaring, tires squealing, and sedans crashing into walls. As memorable as the music was on the series, the producers were also great about allowing moments to stand without any musical accompaniment.
Following this opening pursuit of jewel thieves, Batman is knocked unconscious by a large piece of machinery. When he awakens in Bruce Wayne's bed, he questions just how he got home. A befuddled Alfred gives Bruce details of his idle, fortunate life. Maybe Bruce thinks this is all an elaborate prank, until his parents enter the room.
With the impossible now seemingly real, Bruce finds himself visiting Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who gives him permission to actually enjoy this pampered existence, embracing her theory that he's conceived it as a fantasy as a way to punish himself for having such a privileged life so far. So, with a beautiful fiancée who is a socialite and not a jewel thief, two living, loving parents, a thriving company (and Lucius Fox around to do all of the real work), Bruce seems to have it made. So why is there someone dressed as Batman making appearances throughout the city? And why does it bother Bruce so much? Also, why does Bruce now see text as unreadable symbols?
Thinking this Batman has the answers, Bruce conspires for the two to meet atop a bell tower in the midst of a rainstorm. This Batman isn't quite the hero we've gotten to know in previous episodes, a testament to Kevin Conroy's incredible voice acting. This Batman is nastier, a more caustic representation of the avenger Bruce thought he was creating in that other life. It's obvious something is wrong, and as the two sides of Bruce Wayne physically duel, the truth is made known. The unmasked Batman is revealed as the Mad Hatter, who declares this entire reality a dream state (explaining why Bruce's brain can't read here, although some question if this is true), one that only makes sense to Bruce.
Faced with destroying his ideal existence or facing reality, Bruce doesn't debate for long. Against the Mad Hatter's pleas, Bruce decides the only way to end the dream reality is to take his own life, and in a scene carefully staged to appease the network censors, he leaps from the bell tower.
Batman awakens on a table in the Mad Hatter's hideout, attached to the villain's dream inducer helmet. A defeated Hatter tearfully explains that the scheme was designed to keep Batman out of his hair, but in an unexpected manner. He assumed that allowing Batman to live out his fantasy life would keep him in a perpetual dream, giving Hatter the freedom to pursue his own fantasies (presumably, creating an artificial happiness of his own with the love interest who's rejected him.)