Before cinematic universes were a mere pipedream, DC and Warner Brothers had their own shared continuity with their cartoons. The DC Animated Universe gave us some of our first on-screen introductions to some legendary characters. And it even heralded the arrival of iconic characters like Harley Quinn, who has become a pop culture phenomenon in her own right. But as well as legendary characters, the shows also gave us some fantastic adaptations of classic storylines from all across DC Comics. Unfortunately, some of these stories weren’t particularly child friendly, and although they were rewritten to accommodate the audience, the essence of the action still remains.
There are some incredibly uncomfortable moments that still make us uneasy as part of a children’s animated show. Whether it’s the horrific origins of a well-known villain or just a small plot detail that gets creepier once you think about it in detail. These shows were as much for adults as well as children, it was a chance to see some great comic story arcs on-screen, but some moments just felt off given the context. From Batman: The Animated Series all the way up to Static Shock, here are the 15 most uncomfortable episodes of DCAU cartoons!
15 THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES - "GROWING PAINS"
Long before Clayface became something of a superhero in DC Rebirth, he was a very creepy villain in The New Batman Adventures. One episode in particular saw Robin protect a young girl who was being pursued by an unknown man, who was supposedly her father. It turns out that ‘Annie’ was a scout for Clayface, so that she could explore a nearby area whilst the villain was recovering from dissolving in the ocean.
But she forgot about this eventually and got lost. The only thing left for her to do was to be reabsorbed back into Clayface. The villain and the little girl are reunited when she pushes Robin away before Clayface could kill him. It’s an interesting moment of self-sacrifice, but it’s also super creepy that Robin fell in love with a portion of Clayface. Ew.
14 TEEN TITANS - "AFTERSHOCK PART 2"
Considering that Teen Titans was primarily a show for children, it occasionally dealt with some extremely heavy themes. One of those became evident during the finale of the second season, as Terra embraces her powers whilst fighting Slade Wilson, aka. Deathstroke. He has control over the city, and she has to correct her betrayal of the team.
In a cruel twist of fate, she manages to gain full control of her earth-shaking abilities whilst Slade nearly kills her. She causes an earthquake that throws Deathstroke into the volcano but also turns her into stone. She does this on purpose to bring the circle of violence and betrayal that she brought to the team to an end. It’s not exactly a happy ending, but it signifies a huge level of character development.
13 BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES - "MAD LOVE"
Harley Quinn has become as iconic as The Joker himself, and that’s mainly down to Batman: The Animated Series, without it we wouldn’t have had Doctor Harleen Quinzel at all. And one of the key things that it set up for years of deconstruction, is the relationship between the two of them. It’s an abusive one for sure, and a prime example of that is the ‘Mad Love’ episode.
Harley does everything she can to please The Joker, including kidnapping Batman and using one of Mr J’s blueprints in a scheme. But apparently she (like everyone else), doesn’t “get the joke’. And he hurls her out of a window, falling into a pile of rubbish. Fortunately, this doesn’t kill her. But it’s strange to see an abusive relationship played out so clearly on a children’s television show. At least it highlights what is and isn’t healthy.
12 BATMAN BEYOND - "TERRY'S FRIEND DATES A ROBOT"
Blade Runner might have looked at human/android relationships, but Batman Beyond showed us what would happen if a high schooler got his hands on a robotic girlfriend. The second season introduced us to Howard Groote, a lonely outcast who can’t seem to get a girlfriend.
Instead, he buys an android and programs her to be his girlfriend. This android quickly becomes extremely possessive of her boyfriend, and becomes violent. There’s something not quite right about ‘buying’ a girlfriend, add the extra fact of being a robot and it just has a seedy undertone. Luckily, ‘Cynthia’ doesn’t stick around for long, as her circuits overload during a fight and she explodes. Oops. Maybe just stick to normal dating next time Howard, a real girlfriend won’t attempt to kill all of your friends.
11 THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES - "YOU SCRATCH MY BACK"
Usually, Catwoman is seen as a love interest for Batman, not Nightwing. And most recently in the comics, the Bat and the Cat are engaged to be married. But back in the fifth episode of The New Batman Adventures, Catwoman had her eyes on a younger vigilante rather than Bruce Wayne.
Although it was all part of a plot engineered by the Bat-Family, Selina began her attempts to seduce Nightwing. He went along with her affections so he could get close to her and trick the villain into revealing what she’d done with some priceless stolen jewelry. But adding the manipulation of a ‘sensual’ situation into an animated show with a large demographic of children seems very odd. It makes for a good story with some interesting character development, but what message is it sending to the kids?
10 STATIC SHOCK - "SONS OF THE FATHER"
Static Shock may be a superhero, but it doesn’t mean he’s not affected by one of the most unfortunate and narrow minded problems in the world: racism. The show did an interesting job of highlighting the issue, as Richie’s Dad has a clear objection to Virgil being in his home. He even refers to the young hero as a “bad influence, all of his kind are”.
Richie’s Dad takes it one step further and says “there’s one of them in my home”. It’s a genuinely shocking moment, and it truly hurts Virgil. Ultimately, it shows how deep rooted racism can affect people without showing the violent side of it, helping kids to understand the problem without being too on the nose. But it doesn’t make the dialogue any less uncomfortable.
9 BATMAN BEYOND - "SNEAK PEEK"
Batman Beyond really pushed the boundaries of what could be done with the Batman mythos. It used the future as the mcguffin of the show, spinning out into tech-enhanced villains like Ian Peek. Clearly the last name is intentional, because Ian Peek spies on Gotham to ensure his gossip show on television has the juiciest stories.
He does this using a device that allows him to become intangible. His body has no matter whatsoever, meaning he can phase through buildings, bedrooms and all sorts of places to find out gossip. It’s quite disturbing when you really begin to think about it. It’s all done out of greed, but he takes this newfound power to the limits and becomes permanently incorporeal, sinking through the ground. If only he’d not been so nosy.
8 THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES - "OVER THE EDGE"
The New Batman Adventures really managed to push the bar of what was acceptable in an animated children’s show and this entry is downright chilling. The episode begins with the Bat-Family battling Scarecrow. But he grabs Batgirl and throws her from the building. She falls to the floor, crash landing on Jim Gordon’s patrol car. Ouch. He unmasks her, and realizes that his daughter has died. But he wasn’t aware of her role as Batgirl.
After this, the police launch a huge manhunt for Batman, blaming him for Barbara’s death. The entire episode has the audience convinced that she’s died, until the ending reveals that Batgirl had actually been dosed with Scarecrow’s fear toxin, and witnessed what she was most scared of; not telling her father about her vigilantism. It’s a twisted episode, forcing Barbara to watch her own heartbreaking death.
7 STATIC SHOCK - "RICHIE"
Because Static Shock was specifically a children’s show, they tried to include some lessons for kids to absorb through watching them. One of those was the dangers of gun violence and bullying. Jimmy was a young kid in Virgil and Richie’s school who was constantly bullied by Nick Connor. One incident shook Jimmy so badly, he took a week off school.
He came back with his father’s gun in his bag and confronts the bullies to put a stop to the torment they had put him through. Luckily, Virgil and Richie talked him down. But as they did, Nick’s two goons charged at Jimmy causing the young kid to accidentally pull the trigger and shoot Richie in the leg. There wasn’t any blood, but to see an act of explosive violence with a specific consequence on a show like this was shocking.
6 BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES - "TYGER, TYGER"
Doctor Emile Dorian was a scientist hellbent on creating the perfect predator, and artificially brought Tygrus into the world -- he’s essentially, a giant cat. With heightened senses and agility, he wasn’t far off being a perfect creation. Except for being incredibly lonely, he needed a mate. So when Catwoman was kidnapped, brought to the island and turned into a literal Cat-Woman, he was quite happy…
But that’s extremely messed up. Selina Kyle was kidnapped and experimented on all so that she could be Tygrus’ ‘mate’. It’s very gross and comes across like something from a bad '50s B-Movie. Luckily, the transformation didn’t last for long, as she persuaded Tygrus to give her the antidote and she left with Batman. Sorry Tygrus, you just can’t force people to love you.
5 SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES - "WARRIOR QUEEN"
It seems that picking unwilling individuals as a ‘mate’ was a running theme in the DCAU. As Superman was picked for Maxima, the ruler of Almera. She came to Earth and fought with the Man of Steel to see if he was worthy enough of being her husband, and within moments of their fight Maxima was completely convinced.
She kidnapped Superman and brought him back to Almera. Luckily, a coup had been staged in her absence. She needed Superman’s help in restoring her throne. He managed to teach her that she couldn’t just force someone to become a husband, it was an emotional connection. It’s just a little bit uneasy that she steals him away from Earth with the sole purpose of marrying him. If it had been the other way around, it would have been overtly creepy.
4 BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES - "FEAT OF CLAY"
Matt Hagen was originally a prolific actor who had a successful career. That is until he was involved in a car accident with his face cut to pieces. Roland Daggett offered him ‘Renuyu’, an addictive face cream that would give him his original looks back. But he was hooked on the cream, and broke into Daggett’s laboratory for more. Two of the goons hired by Daggett caught Hagen and taught him a lesson…
They drowned him in the cream. It’s gross and very disturbing. This is what led to the transformation into Clayface as we know him, but it’s unfortunate because none of this was originally Hagen’s fault. Sure he broke in to Daggett Labs, but only because he’d got into a state of desperation after the car crash. It’s actually quite a sad origin story for the villain.
3 JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED - "EPILOGUE"
This one brings in some genetic wizardry, but yes -- Terry McGinnis is actually the biological son of Bruce Wayne. Not in the traditional sense, but Waller actually acquired some of Bruce’s DNA because according to her, he left it “all over town”. Before quickly rectifying that she meant from being wounded as a vigilante, not from being a billionaire playboy.
When Terry’s Dad was called in for a flu shot, it was actually a series of nanobots that re-wrote his genetic code to that of Bruce Wayne’s. Meaning that when Terry was conceived, he was the son of Bruce Wayne. This was all done to ensure the Batman legacy would continue past an ageing Bruce, and that Gotham would still have a faithful protector. There’s just something very uneasy about Amanda Waller hijacking a young couple’s DNA for her own deeds.
2 BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES - "TWO-FACE"
Look, we all know that Two-Face has a pretty painful origin. But the DCAU tweaked it slightly so that it wasn’t as terrifying for children watching the show. However, it still managed to be uncomfortable. The ‘Big Bad Harv’ side of Dent’s personality came out when being pursued by gangsters, and he picked up one of their machine guns firing back. A bullet hit a wire and caused an explosion, giving Harvey Dent the iconic look.
But that wasn’t the uncomfortable part, it’s when he’s in hospital and slowly realizes what’s happened to his face that’s really unsettling. The haunting realization that he’s been forever changed by something he’s done but also was technically done to him. It’s a great way of cementing his path of villainy that we later get to see.
1 JUSTICE LEAGUE - "THE ENEMY BELOW"
Before Justice League gave us the gruff and gritty Aquaman in the form of Jason Momoa, there was an incredibly badass version of Arthur Curry that existed in the animated Justice League show. With flowing blonde hair, this Aquaman goes shirtless in his fight against Ocean Master (Orm on the show). But the villain has a dastardly plot to get rid of Arthur and his lineage. Ocean Master throws Arthur and his son into a volcano that’s about to erupt.
As the pressure intensifies, Arthur realizes there’s no way of undoing his restraints and saving his son. He resorts to a horrific way of setting himself free, by using his sharp buckle to cut his own hand off. Ouch. They do give him the slick hook hand from the comics, but it was a huge step for an animated show like Justice League to be so unrelenting.