Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's forty-seventh installment, a look at classic animated series and their tie-in comic books. This week, we're going back to a legendary episode of Batman: The Animated Series, followed by its comic book sequel. A sequel actually set decades in the future. This was a connection so obscure I thought no one would suggest it. Reader Gravity Falls Poland, however, did bring it up a few weeks ago.
Originally airing on May 23, 1998, "Over the Edge" is regarded as perhaps the greatest episode of the New Adventures era. Some viewers cite it as their favorite episode, period. It's certainly audacious enough to stay in anyone's memory. The visuals from director Yuichiro Yano and acclaimed Japanese studio TMS remain stunning today, and Paul Dini's brooding script is a classic, featuring a hook the producers flipped over.
What would happen if Gordon discovered Batman's true identity? And what would cause the Commissioner to order a violent raid of Wayne Manor? There's really only one answer, and it involves a secret Barbara has been keeping from her father for years.
The beats of the story play out like a horrific final episode of the series. The GCPD invading Wayne Manor. The treasures of the Batcave destroyed under the boot of the invaders. Batman, amidst gunfire, rolling his giant penny trophy into the GCPD. Nightwing dropping in to aid Batman and Robin's escape. The trio hiding out in a shady spot, Batman revealing the story behind the episode's shock opening. (Batgirl murdered by the Scarecrow while working a routine case.) From there, Nightwing loses his solo battle with the police, days before Barbara's funeral. Gordon is informed his badge is in jeopardy. A desperate deal is made with Bane. Batman, also driven "over the edge," fruitlessly attempts lethal measures against his opponent. Bane finishes the job, then selects Gordon as his next target. A tragic end plays out for both Gordon and Batman.
Then... Batgirl wakes up. It was all an illusion created by Scarecrow's fear gas. It would've been so easy for fans to dismiss this episode as a cop-out, but this complaint is rarely made. This is likely because Dini's script is sharp enough to provide more than shock value. The episode isn't really about Batgirl's death or Batman's exposure -- it's about Barbara's anxieties and the guilt she harbors, keeping a secret from her father. Rather than serving as a cop-out, the twist is used to make a statement about Batgirl's conflicting motivations. She loves her father, but feels his world would come apart if her secret life were exposed.
The closing sequence of Barbara cooking Jim dinner, attempting to find the courage to tell him the truth, is the perfect conclusion for such a loud episode. The implication is that he already knows, and even though he can't officially condone her vigilante work, he reassures Barbara that he loves her. It's the ideal Jim/Barbara moment, and a great contrast to the emotionality of the previous scenes. The Gordon willing to sacrifice his career to pursue the person he blames for Barbara's death, even willing to use her funeral as a means of entrapping Batman, is the same man quietly embracing his daughter and relieving her worries.
The "imaginary story" has a long tradition in superhero stories. Most were gimmicks, designed to shock kids into parting ways with their dimes. They weren't without merit, they did the job of keeping children entertained, but few had much to offer beyond the shock value. "Over the Edge" has everything you want in an imaginary story. Bold revelations. Daring deaths. Longtime friends turning on one another. A potential end to the entire mythos. Very likely, it could've coasted on the central gimmick. Luckily for the viewer, the creators were too smart to do this.
"Over the Edge" was apparently inspired by The Simpsons episode "22 Short Films About Springfield," which featured vignettes starring various characters throughout the town. While this wouldn't seem to be an obvious source of inspiration, it does make sense in retrospect. In addition to the high drama surrounding Gordon and Batman, the plot goes out of its way to look in on Gotham, exploring how the city's responding to the revelation. It adds not only humanity but humor to the episode, as Harley Quinn and a few other villains appear on television, demanding demented rich kid Bruce Wayne financially compensate them for pain and suffering.
Not wallowing in grimness, but allowing moments of humor and a conclusion that reaffirms the humanity of the heroes -- this is why "Over the Edge" remains one of the series' best episodes. There's a fantastic hook, beautifully fluid animation, and a creative justification for every choice made. How on earth could anyone hope to follow this up?
Writer Hilary Barta and artist Min Ku attempted in the November 2000 issue of the Batman Beyond tie-in comic.