CREDITS: Written by Joe R. Lansdale (a western horror writer, he turned to comics around this time and wrote a few mature readers Jonah Hex comics), Laren Bright and Michael Reaves; directed by Boyd Kirkland.
REVIEW: The protagonist trapped in a dream of his own making (whether they get "help" or not) can be a most instructive trope, and if they're going to animate it to this level of quality, all the better. What IS Bruce Wayne's dream life? His parents are alive (of course), he's marrying Selina Kyle (Cupid's arrow really did strike that time), and Batman does exist. But does he exist because Bruce still has a deep desire to see justice done, or is the Bat a manifestation of his subconscious, pushing him to realize this reality isn't real? You're almost sorry to see the Mad Hatter turn up as the villain - Batman could have been doing this to himself after an injury of some kind instead - but the combination of mind control and Wonderland ideas is quite correct. He's not in it much, but this could be the best Hatter episode going.
Hatter or not, the real conflict in the story is between Bruce Wayne and is dark alter ego. Bruce wraps all his problems in his other self. Batman is the manifestation of his trauma, and though he can't be blamed for that trauma, he is a persistent reminder of it. Bruce is literally of two minds about the dream reality, and "Batman" is the figure that keeps reminding him that it isn't real, that he must return to a world where this happiness is denied him.
Regardless of the plot, the animation is stupendous and elevates everything. The episode kicks off with an exciting car chase, and ends with a lightning storm around a vertiginous Gothic tower. All the way through, we get a lot of small but crucial details. Selina's playful glove throw. A fight under fire hydrant-created rain. A storm drain trembling under Batman's weight. Just so much INTERACTION between characters, props and atmosphere. It's the kind of thing that happens naturally in live action, but that impresses when someone takes the time to animate it. Beautiful stuff.
IN THE COMICS: The plot isn't unlike For the Man Who Has Everything, an Alan Moore story that did the same thing to Superman (and which will actually be adapted for a Justice League Unlimited episode later). Bruce Wayne DOES marry Selina Kyle on Earth-2; they become parents to the Huntress.
SOUNDS LIKE: Adrienne Barbeau (Selina) plays double duty as Martha Wayne, just as Kevin Conroy plays Thomas. The only new voice here is Brian Cummings as the reporter; he has done a lot of cartoon voices on shows like Duck Tales, The Snorks, and Denver, the Last Dinosaur.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Gorgeous animation and a strong personal story. The Hatter lucked out.