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Batman: The Animated Series Wrap-Up

btas redOne-hundred and nine episodes plus three features leading to one-hundred and twelve blog entries have been devoted to the subject of Batman: The Animated Series. It started as a celebration of the show turning 25 and then as a curiosity piece. Since its premiere in 1992, the show had become much celebrated and praised all over. It’s exceptionally rare in this age of social media to see anything basically universally loved, but that was the case for BTAS. I had a lot of good memories of the show myself. I watched it as a kid and when the show received a DVD release I bought it up. And I watched them all. Batman became a show I had experienced and enjoyed both as a kid and as an adult, but some ten years or so removed from when I last watched it in total I still wasn’t sure just how good the show was.

And so I watched it again. And after each episode I made a little blog entry afterwards. Well, at first they were fairly little as I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Did I want to do an episode review or did I want to do a recap? I started leaning more towards the review side while also inserting a brief summary. Perhaps being influenced by all of the recap style podcasts I listen to, the entries drifted more towards that style. And they grew. Oh, did they grow. This little weekly entry soon routinely ran for thousands of words. I’m not saying that makes them any better or worse, but it certainly transformed my little project from something I could regurgitate via my keyboard rather quickly to something much more demanding.

Even though my vision for this feature grew beyond my initial plans, that doesn’t mean I regret anything about it. Far from it, actually, as I really enjoyed my time with this show once again. I may have even enjoyed it more than ever as I found it much easier to find things I liked about episodes I previously wasn’t very high on. Some of those episodes are still rather poor, but I can at least see what the writers were thinking and for the most part the animation is always quite good. It’s a very entertaining program, and while it’s still primarily a children’s cartoon, there’s enough depth there to captivate an older audience.

2face revealed

The character of Batman drew people in, and villains like Two-Face and Mr. Freeze kept them coming back.

In re-watching the show I found there were certainly things that consistently worked and things that did not. When the show centered on a sympathetic villain it was usually at its best. Batman can be pretty ruthless in his application of justice, but the guy does have a heart. He often makes the right decision, though he’s also not perfect. Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and Clayface ended up being my favorite villains. And when Harley Quinn was thrust into a sympathetic role she soared. Even Arnold Stromwell was interesting when we saw his softer side. That doesn’t mean everyone needs that to work though. Rupert Thorne was consistently nasty and thus interesting, same for Roland Daggett. The Joker was also often very entertaining and the show never made an attempt at deviating from what he is, which is something filmmakers today could learn from.

There were still a few duds when it came to the villains. Surprisingly, Catwoman was rarely compelling as the show didn’t seem to know what to do with her. For whatever reason, there was a desire to portray her as something other than a villain. Rather than make her an antihero, she more or less just became a victim. There was a bit of a course correction in season two, but only when the show returned as The New Batman Adventures did it feel like the show actually knew what it wanted to do with one of Batman’s most popular foils. Two-Face also tended to flounder after his strong debut. He was able to rebound a bit, but it was a shame to see so much of what his debut built up was seemingly cast aside. The Penguin, another famous Batman villain, was also rarely up to the task when called upon with many of his leading roles serving as the show’s worst. He was usually most entertaining when paired up with other villains to play off of them. The show seemed to acknowledge this by putting him in more of a supporting role later on when he became a club owner.

Mostly, when I consider the legacy of this show I mostly recall what it did for the lesser villains. Going into 1992, the only Batman villains I was really aware of were the ones featured in the Adam West show. The Riddler, Penguin, Joker, and Catwoman were the most famous, but I also recalled Mr. Freeze and, for some reason, King Tutt. This show is how I was introduced to other, lesser, villains such as Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Clay-Face, and others. And for the most part I loved these “new” villains most of all. Sure, there were some duds for me like The Clock King or the one-off werewolf character and Lock-Up, but mostly the new guys were pretty interesting. And you can’t talk about this show without talking about what it did for Mr. Freeze. Previously more gimmick than character, Freeze became one of the most popular Batman villains seemingly overnight thanks to his portrayal in “Heart of Ice.” No, he never had another story as good as that one, but because that episode was so good it made any future appearance appointment television just to see if another Freeze story could match that one.

batncat

Oddly enough, the show seemed to struggle with Catwoman not knowing if it wanted to portray her as something of an antihero or as her more traditional cat burglar persona.

Since this show is primarily a half-hour cartoon intended for kids, it runs into some issues. The format it strived for is a limitation. That inaugural 65 episode first season included several two-part stories, but following that every other story was confined to a single episode. This limitation is only a limitation if the writers allow it to be one, but sometimes it felt like certain episodes were short-changed. It also leads to numerous instances of Batman just turning to his wonder computer to solve a problem. That was definitely my biggest pet peeve with the show this time around as it quickly became a trope of the show. Batman turning to his computer felt like The Simpsons using the living room television to either start or advance a plot. An episode can still be good when that element is present, but it certainly feels cheap.

I also can’t offer a proper conclusion on the show without talking about the move from Fox to the WB and the creation of The New Batman Adventures. The switch did lead to some good things. For one, it advanced characters like Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon and let us see some actual development. Some conflict between Batman and Robin was teased during the Fox years and it was rewarding to see that go somewhere. I think the show could have mined that conflict for more material, but it was mostly handled well. Barbara, on the other hand, was a bit glossed over. Sure, she was now an accepted ally as Batgirl, but we learned very little about her character. Did she have a new outlook on crime fighting? What was her end game? We also never even got to see what came between she and Dick, which was unfortunate.

Aside from that, the move to WB also allowed for less censorship. This didn’t have a huge impact on much unless you’re really turned on by seeing a thin line of blood streaking from a character’s mouth, but it did really open up The Joker. He went from being mostly just a lunatic to being a violent lunatic. He has a few moments to be truly mean during his time on WB giving the character a similar feel to how he was portrayed in Mask of the Phantasm. This did lead to some criticisms I had with the direction of Harley Quinn, but I think I did a good job of highlighting those issues in my posts on the episodes she appears in.

newbatjoker

No matter how many times I see the new-look Joker I just can’t fall in love with it.

What obviously stands out the most though in the change in networks was the new design. While some characters looked unchanged and a few looked better than before, I mostly disliked the new style choice. Less detail and odd choices are mostly to blame, but even the animation came across a bit too cartoony for this show. The whole tone of the show was also thrown off and I think that had to do with the ensemble cast and the simplified portrayal of each of the leads. The writers basically assigned one archetype to each character and mostly stuck with it. This left no room for nuance and it had the most drastic impact on our main lead, Batman himself. In the first two seasons we got to see different sides to the character, but in The New Batman Adventures he’s basically just grim and curt. He’s so boring, and sadly none of the other leads outside of Nightwing really offer much. Robin is mostly just a vehicle for bad puns and Batgirl offers even less.

As a result, I can comfortably say that The New Batman Adventures era is inferior to what came before it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still quality to be found there. Much to my surprise, a few episodes actually rank quite highly and the worst of the show is still found in those first two seasons. A lot of that third season is just okay or average with few true stinkers. Though that is a post for another day.

harley scream

The show is exciting and fun and gave us some truly memorable characters. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to Batman, if not the best.

Ultimately, I set out to decide for myself if I felt Batman: The Animated Series was overrated or properly rated. It never occurred to me that it could be underrated, and it certainly is not. While the show didn’t deliver a slam dunk each episode, it also totaled 109 episodes and what show has ever hit a home run every episode for such a long time? Even much celebrated shows like Breaking Bad have a lesser episode here and there, and that particular show produced far fewer than 109 episodes (though to be fair, in terms of total minutes it’s probably much closer). And no, I’m not trying to compare this show to Breaking Bad, but making the point that it doesn’t have to “wow” the audience every time out to be a great show. Calling it the greatest television show based on a comic book feels right. It’s certainly the greatest cartoon, and I also came away feeling that it’s totally defensible for this to be someone’s favorite depiction of Batman in any medium. It’s a great show with a lot to offer. It’s primarily an action vehicle, and the wonderful animation allows it to be a pretty great show based on its action alone. What puts it over the top are the stories, the captivating villains, and it’s wonderful sense of style. The music of Shirley Walker, the performances of actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, it’s a production that oozes quality. So yes, Batman: The Animated Series is properly rated and if I am certain of anything it’s that I will watch this series in its entirety again. And again…


The New Batman Adventures – “Beware the Creeper”

beware the creeperEpisode Number:  23 (108)

Original Air Date:  November 7, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  The Creeper

As we rapidly approach the end of The New Batman Adventures I find myself having some expectations of how the final episodes will go. I, of course, have watched all of these before, but I’m certainly thinking about them differently as I engage with them this time around. Last week’s episode, “Chemistry,” gathered a bunch of old faces from the first two seasons of Batman: The Animated Series for one giant cameo. That’s the sort of thing I would expect a show to do near its end. Next week’s finale is going to reexamine a villain who is very much associated with the program. That also seems like a thing to do. What does not is introducing a new face to the mix, but that’s exactly what this week’s episode, “Beware the Creeper,” is aiming to do.

There is a bit of a long game at play here. It’s not an obvious one though, but if you’ve been paying attention during the show’s run you may have noticed that Jack Ryder has essentially replaced Summer Gleason as Gotham’s go-to news anchor person. He’s appeared in multiple episodes, though he’s never played much of a role in any. He’s just been there. A long game designed around him doesn’t feel like it was in play, but today’s episode some-what rewards viewers for noticing him as he’s going to assume this new persona of The Creeper. And tied into it all is Joker, making his final appearance on the show.

The episode opens at a familiar location:  Ace Chemical Plant. This is where I remind you that the lore of this television show has largely been adapted from Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. At least as it relates to Joker, anyway. Unlike in the comics where Joker’s origin is non-committal, in this series he was indeed born at this chemical plant. He was a mob hitman, as outlined in the film Mask of the Phantasm, who went by the name of Jack Napier. He encountered Batman one fateful night at this plant, and the resulting fight caused him to fall into a vat of chemicals and become disfigured leading to his current persona as The Joker.

joker gang

Joker and his gang are here to supervise the television special and make sure it’s accurate.

Jack Ryder (Jeff Bennett) is hosting a special on the Joker titled “The Madness Behind the Laughter” from this location. It feels like one of those docu-series programs or an episode of Dateline, with the peculiar distinction that it’s being broadcast live. As Ryder walks across the scaffolding above the chemicals, he takes the viewer through Joker’s creation complete with dramatization. Interestingly, we find out this all happened a mere seven years ago, though Batman is depicted in his 1940s costume in the re-telling. Bruce Wayne is watching rather intently from home and Tim gives him some grief for being interested in hearing about how Joker was created.

reenactment

The reenactment of when Joker met Batman.

As Ryder goes about his business, high above in the rafters lurks Joker himself. The camera catches him in frame, and Wayne notices him right away as he and Tim race out of there. Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is with Joker (Mark Hamill) and asks him if he thinks Batman saw him. Joker responds in the affirmative (and quotes Tweety Bird in the process) as Batman is his biggest fan – there’s no way he’d miss this! Also with Joker today are his henchmen Mo, Lar, and Cur (Billy West) whom we haven’t seen since the first episode. It’s nice to see they’ve been doing well.

joker and ryder

Joker and Ryder just having some laughs.

Joker was going to wait for Batman, but he’s a bit bored. To make sure he’s noticed, he bombs Ryder and his crew with gas-filled rubber chickens. The crew starts laughing as Ryder barks at them that they’re on live TV. When Joker hops down he starts shouting for the viewers that this isn’t part of the show, but soon the gas gets him as well and he begins laughing uncontrollably. Joker then gives him a shove and he flips over the railing and into the same vat of chemicals that created Joker.

The Batmobile comes barreling in and Batman and Robin emerge. Harley and the boys hop down to take them on as she blows a whistle signaling the beginning of the fight. As Batman and Robin tangle with the big men, Ryder tries to climb out of the chemicals. He’s looking no worse for ware, but still laughing and Joker promptly kicks him back in. He again emerges and this time Joker shoves a cigar in his mouth. It’s a gag cigar that soon explodes. The image shifts to reveal a sign that says No Smoking and warns of explosive chemicals. Director Dan Riba apparently didn’t trust viewers to see the sign so the camera even zooms in on it to make sure.

ryder emerges

I think Ryder is going to be okay…

As the place starts to go up in flames, Batman is finally able to confront The Joker. Unfortunately, Joker has opened a valve on the chemical tub which is ejecting all of the chemicals into the ocean, including Ryder. Joker points this fact out to Batman and he’s forced to go after Ryder as opposed to Joker, completely forgetting he has a partner in Robin who could have probably tended to the reporter. When the two head to where the chemicals are being ejected, they see Ryder’s shirt which is on fire floating in the chemicals, but no Ryder. Assuming he’s dead, the two climb back into the Batmobile to presumably try and catch the Joker or alert the police of what transpired. As the Batmobile races away, a manhole cover opens and Ryder emerges. He’s still got a serious case of the giggles and a crazed grin to go along with it. His hair is green like Joker’s and his skin slightly yellowed. He basically mugs for the camera before running off.

Ryder then bounces around the streets of Gotham laughing to himself. It’s apparent these chemicals have really heightened his agility and strength as he effortlessly leaps from street level to the top of a street light. He tries to slow down and encourages himself to think logically about the situation. The sound of a coocoo clock going off is played and Ryder grimaces as if he has a headache. He jumps to a nearby ledge as he sees a woman inside. She is frightened and runs off and Ryder gets even more cartoonish by quoting Mindy from Animaniacs (“Okay-I-love-you-Buh-Bye!”) and bounds into a clothing store named Ditko’s, an obvious nod to Steve Ditko who created the character of The Creeper. Inside there he scares all of the patrons away, but a clearly bored store associate (E.G. Daily) just hangs around and even gives him fashion tips. She suggests green and hands him a little pair of green and black undies that he puts on along with some fashionable red gloves and boots. To complete the ensemble a large red boa is draped over his shoulders.

harley pie

She puts so much effort into her relationship with Joker and what does she get in return?

Batman and Robin are driving around in the Batmobile when they receive a call from Alfred. It would seem Ryder actually paid for his new threads with his own credit card, and Alfred is relaying the tip. Meanwhile, Joker is heading back to his hideout in a bit of a rage as word on the street is someone is stealing his act. When he enters the hideout he finds a surprise waiting for him. Harley emerges from a giant cream pie. She’s covered head to toe in whipped cream, but the presence of her headdress seems to suggest she’s not nude underneath it all, but I suppose she could be. Joker is rather stunned and Harley kicks an oversized cherry his way. It would seem she wants to celebrate the anniversary of Joker’s creation and beckons her puddin’ to come play with her. She playfully informs him that he’ll enjoy her “pie” and probably want seconds. It’s yet another risqué joke the show somehow managed to get past standards and practices.

As was the case in “Mad Love,” Joker is in no mood for play. Once again, Harley is shown being thrown out on her ass and comes crashing down between her beloved hyenas who start licking the cream off of her. Joker tastes some of the filling stuck to his coat and recoils with dissatisfaction remarking she’s a good kid but a not so good cook. He also orders her to find the plagiarist stealing his act.

stacked deck

He’s not here to play pool.

We return now to another location we haven’t seen in awhile, the Stacked Deck club on Gotham’s waterfront. Mo, Lar, and Cur are inside playing pool when Ryder comes busting in. They refer to him as a creep, which Ryder likes and uses to create a new name from himself:  The Creeper! He then tangles with the trio, and Billy West voices Lar with his Stimpy voice which is both weird and funny. A mopey Harley then walks by and is nearly hit with a flying pool table. Above, the shadows of Batman and Robin are seen arriving as well.

Inside the club, Creeper mostly has things under control. He’s been made much stronger than a normal person, but he still has the same “appetites” as normal men. When Harley enters he’s immediately taken by the pale-skinned woman. The camera lingers on her sexualizing her in a very obvious manner, much as it did when she was covered in pie. He starts hitting on her, and Harley soon realizes he’s the one Mr. J is after. As the two stand and talk, Batman tries walking up behind Creeper who casually uppercuts him without taking his eyes off of Harley. Batman crashes into a pool table and soon Mo opens fire on he and Robin as Harley and Creeper take things outside.

creeper and harley

The Creeper has found himself a new target and Harley is not having any of it.

Creeper keeps advancing on Harley like, well, a creep while she shows no interest. She soon realizes she can use this attraction to her advantage though and beckons Creeper to come forward. As he does, she releases the restraints on some cargo dangling precariously over Creeper’s head which drops on him. Satisfied, she flips away as Batman and Robin race over. Batman tells Robin to help him check on Creeper and Robin suggests they get a mop. They tare down the walls of the battered crate and find a huge statue was inside. The head then breaks off and inside is Creeper. He jumps out and when Batman asks who he is he informs him that he is “…Yellow-skinned Wacky Man! But I prefer The Creeper!”

Creeper is not at all interested in chatting with the Dynamic Duo. He seems to desire revenge on Joker and Harley’s affection, possibly in that order, and he bounds away. Batman and Robin follow and they come across him sniffing around an alley like a dog. It’s at this point it dawns on the two that this guys is Jack Ryder, and Batman reasons that the combination of Joker’s laughing gas with the chemicals in the plant are what caused this odd mutation.

joker meets creeper

Joker coming face to face with his latest creation.

Creeper apparently locks on Harley’s scent and runs off causing Batman and Robin to lose him. Harley went running back to Joker’s hideout and she busts in on him while he’s refilling his boutonniere which nearly causes an explosion. She frantically tells Joker someone is after her, when Creeper busts in. He approaches and quickly lives up to his name by grabbing Harley and licking her face. She tells Joker he’s the guy stealing his act and swears she didn’t lead him on. He believes her, remarking he knows she’s a one man loon. He then asks Creeper if he’d like to head on a one-way trip to Metropolis and waves a vial threateningly.

Batman and Robin are perched on a clocktower searching for Creeper. An explosion lets them know where he is and the two race to find Joker’s hideout. The explosion did little to discourage Creeper and Joker and Harley flee via a large parade float. Creeper races after them and hops into Joker’s convertible forcing Batman to grab onto the bumper. Robin hits it with a grapple gun and ends up on a dolly being pulled behind it.

creeper crash

He just can’t stop from acting like a creep at all times.

Joker leads the Creeper on a chase through the streets of Gotham and onto the freeway. Creeper is close behind the uncharacteristically fast parade float with Batman hanging onto the bumper and Robin being pulled behind. The parade float has a giant castle on it with a massive glove above which Joker knocks off. It crashes into Creeper’s car and smashes into pieces. Creeper starts fiddling with the various devices in the car and inadvertently fires off a bunch of rockets which nearly roast Batman and Robin and likely kill some unfortunate motorists offscreen. He then finds the rocket ejector seat which launches him onto the parade float.

Creeper crashes into Joker which knocks the both of them into Harley, who is trying to drive. This sends them careening off the overpass and into a waste disposal plant also conveniently owned by Ace. As they fly through the air, Creeper continues being a creep by gleefully chewing on one of Harley’s tassels from her costume. The car Creeper was once driving goes flying off the overpass as well and Batman is able to grab Robin and keep the two of them relatively safe. High above them, the other three have come to rest atop a giant heap of garbage. Creeper has Joker in a reverse chin-lock and eventually tosses him down to Batman. Joker, bleeding and on his knees, pleads with Batman to save him from the lunatic and Batman responds by slapping some bat-cuffs on him.

creeper assault

I do not like where this is going at all!

On the garbage heap, Creeper is continuing to live up to his name as he moves in on Harley. He shoves her down and basically looks like he’s about to commit a rather serious crime. Batman then shows up and prevents the rape by injecting Creeper with a sedative. He remarks he’s getting sleepy and then collapses on Harley his head coming to rest right in between her breasts.

Batman, Robin, and Ryder are then shown at Ryder’s apartment. He’s mostly removed his costume, save for those fashionable green undies, and is a tad distraught that his career is over. Batman informs him no one knows he was The Creeper, and informs him a patch he’s placed on his shoulder should keep him as Jack Ryder. He tells him he’ll supply him with more as he and Robin take their leave. Ryder watches them go from his balcony and seems to act derisively towards the patch, referring to it as “a little piece of cotton.” He then peels it off and walks back into his apartment. The camera stays on the balcony as he vanishes with his laughter soon filling the night air.

ryder bandage

Ryder is not a fan of the patch.

It was surprising to see a new face like The Creeper introduced so late in the game. Apparently, there had been a desire to include him going all the way back to the Fox days but it just never came to pass. Paul Dini has also mentioned they thought another season would be ordered so introducing him at this stage probably wasn’t frowned upon since he was clearly being setup to return in a future episode. Eventually, he would be added to the Justice League, but obviously there was no second appearance for the character in a dedicated Batman show. This episode also marks the final appearance of Robin in the show. Mathew Valencia would not return to voice the character in Mystery of the Batwoman, but he did return for the Batman Beyond film Return of the Joker.

For Joker and Harley, this is a rather inauspicious conclusion to their time on the show. A lot of their screen time is a bit derivative of “Mad Love,” in particular Harley trying to woo Joker and failing. It was a bit cute in “Mad Love” to see Harley try and be sexy for her Mr. J, but here it feels more indulgent than anything. It feels like the writers are just horny for Harley at this point, and that’s further driven home when Creeper is given an unhealthy attraction to the woman. It apparently wasn’t enough for Harley to be constantly abused by Joker, now we need to have her be sexually assaulted by another lunatic. Creeper’s licking and groping of Harley is gross and again it feels like we’re supposed to laugh at her constant abuse. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I didn’t find it funny and instead I was left feeling sorry for Harley once again.

creeper uppercut

There may be some comedic potential in a Batman/Creeper pairing, but this being his only appearance in the show means it was never meant to be, I suppose.

Aside from the fact that Creeper is a downright creep, it was a bit interesting to see Joker targeted by another maniac. His constant giggling and chattiness reminds me of Freakazoid, though less charming. His look is rather goofy, but I suppose it befits the character and was true to his comic book counterpart. I would have preferred to see him remain focused on getting back at Joker than turning into some horn-ball for Harley. I think a better avenue for the episode would have been Creeper trying to use Harley to get at Joker, only to come to find Joker doesn’t actually value Harley thus ruining his plan. That would put Harley in the victim role again, but at least it would force her to again confront that Joker doesn’t care about her and she needs to remove him from her life, which would be a good place to leave the character as it would at least give her some hope.

“Beware the Creeper” is an entertaining episode, though one that perhaps reveals a bit too much about the men working on the show. It’s hard to watch this and not feel slightly dirty with how Harley is portrayed since the camera practically humps her in several scenes. It was fun seeing Joker’s origin reenacted once again, and the show made it a point to reveal that his old alias of Jack Napier was just that, an alias, which is a bit of a departure from Batman. I like an ambiguous origin for Joker and seeing the show maintain some of that ambiguity was nice. Had the show continued, I don’t know that I would have needed to see Creeper again. It would have been interesting to see if he returned with a Joker plot, or if he would have come back in another capacity. He has some sense of justice to him, so it’s possible he would have just returned as a vigilante that Batman encountered and probably would rather not work beside. An odd couple paring for the two has some comedic potential, but it was apparently never meant to be.


The New Batman Adventures – “Mad Love”

mad love titleEpisode Number:  21 (106)

Original Air Date:  January 16, 1999

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Paul Dini, Bruce Timm

First Appearance:  None

During the development of The New Batman Adventures, Paul Dini always assumed there would be another season. There could have been some thought that Batman had peaked by then given the bomb that was Batman & Robin, but it’s hard to imagine someone thinking Batman wasn’t still a bankable character. To the surprise of probably not just Dini, Warner Brothers decided to go in a different direction with Batman leading to the creation of Batman Beyond. It seems like an unceremonious end for what started as Batman: The Animated Series, but when it came time to select a series finale the network did at least do the show right.

mad love comic

Like “Holiday Knights,” this story originated in the pages of Batman Adventures, the comic tie-in to BTAS.

“Mad Love” was the episode chosen to usher Batman out of the spotlight and into semi-retirement. Of course, Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne would return in Batman Beyond and then eventually move onto Justice League, but he still deserved a good send-off of his own. “Mad Love” is a story that originated in a comic by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm that was done back in 1993. It centered on series break-out star Harley Quinn as it revealed her origin and explored her complicated relationship with the villainous Joker essentially filling in the gaps left unexplained by BTAS and taking advantage of Harley’s popularity. Somewhat surprisingly, it was not adapted for the second season of BTAS and maybe that’s because Dini and Timm felt the censors at Fox wouldn’t allow them to do the story justice. When the series was resurrected on Kids’ WB it made the adaptation realistic and was a pretty easy way to fill an episode order.

“Mad Love” the comic was also hugely successful. It won an Eisner Award for best single issue and Timm was nominated for an additional award for his artwork on the book. Even though the book takes place in the Animated Universe of Batman, it’s essentially been adopted as part of Batman canon for the regular line of comics and was even sourced for the Arkham series of Batman video games. At this point, it’s surprising the story hasn’t been adapted for film. This episode may only be 22 minutes or so, but it actually would not be all that difficult to pad it out into a feature length. Normally for classic stories DC commissions animated features, but the company probably feels that’s not necessary since this episode exists and it’s done really well.

joker dentist

Finally, a legitimate reason to avoid going to the dentist.

The episode opens with Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) grumbling about a dentist appointment. As he heads into the office the dentist’s back is facing him and he’s directed to sit down. As Gordon yammers away it becomes quite clear to the viewer that this is not Gordon’s regular dentist, but the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker (Mark Hamill)! And he’s not alone, as dental assistant Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is here as well to administer the laughing gas. Joker is ready to get started with a power drill as Gordon is restrained, but Gordon’s knight in dark and grim armor arrives in the form of Batman. He crashes through the window and tosses some chattering teeth on the ground. He reprimands Joker for getting sloppy and predictable, but Harley chimes in that the teeth were her idea as she blasts Batman with some gas. She makes a pun about it being a gas, which enrages Joker as he’s the one who’s supposed to deliver the jokes. Off his game, Joker then decides to run, but he leaves behind a parting gift – a grenade. As he tosses it, the script has some fun with Hamill by having Joker deliver the line “May the floss be with you!” Batman knocks the grenade away and sets to freeing Gordon who gets to deliver his own pun about always hating this appointment.

harley revs

Possibly the most “adult” reference from this show.

At the Funnibones Warehouse, an obviously unnerved Joker is working on some new blueprints for his next crime. He’s very intent on coming up with something much to the chagrin of Harely who comes strutting in wearing some lingerie as she tries desperately to get her man’s attention. In one of the more risqué gags, she even climbs onto the table Joker is working on to beckon him to “Rev up his Harley,” as she pantomimes riding a motorcycle. Joker swats her off the table and goes into a rant about how Batman is right and he is getting stale. He wants to correct this by doing the unthinkable – killing Batman! He expresses frustration at coming up with a way to do it and Harley suggests he just shoot him. This irritates Joker further who explains that the death of Batman needs to be something big as it will be his magnum opus. He then notices some old plans for a piranha tank trap he had planned for Batman. He wanted the fish to gobble him up while sporting Joker smiles, but he could never get his toxin to work properly on the miserable little fish.

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Joker inflicts much violence on Harley in this one. Some of it has a slapstick quality to it, but a lot of it is also painfully honest.

Joker then slumps in his chair assuming a defeated posture. Harley sees this as an opening to resume her romantic advances. The camera cuts to the alley outside and Harley comes flying into the picture. Apparently, there’s no room for love tonight. She then starts to walk away defeated with her babies, the hyenas Bud an Lou, in tow. As she does so she monologues about where her life went wrong. She blames Batman for messing things up between she and Mr. J and as she slumps against a brick wall she begins to let us in on how this all got started.

harley meets joker

Harley’s first encounter with The Joker.

Harleen Quinzel was a new hire at Arkham Asylum. On her first day she entered her office to find a single rose and a note from a “J” beckoning her to come see him some time. She confronts Joker in his cell and demands to know how this note made it into her office. He replies that he put it there, and when she suggests the guards would like to know this he responds that if she were going to tell them she would have done it already. He explains his interest in her is largely stemming from her name, Harley Quinzel, which sounds like harlequin when you drop the suffix. She remarks she’s heard it before, but as she walks away Joker calls out to her that he’s looking for someone to spill his secrets to which puts a smile on her face.

harleen and joker

This episode provides a good look at just how manipulative Joker can be.

It took three months, but eventually Harley was given the clearance to host Joker for some therapy sessions. As he lay on a sofa, Harley listened to his tales. He describes to her an abusive father and tells a story about his dad taking him to the circus to see the clowns. When he describes how he tried to recreate a gag from the show using his father’s pants as a prop, he’s able to make Harley laugh hard enough to produce tears setting her up for the real punchline which is that his dad broke his nose following the stunt. Harley narrates how Joker gained her trust and her sympathy and as she does we see flashbacks of Joker’s creation at the chemical plant and some battles with Batman (all new animation) as she puts the blame for his psychotic nature on his upbringing and the continued involvement of Batman. She admits her love for Joker and we see the tables have turned and it’s now Joker listening to her confessions. When Joker eventually escapes, he is brought back to Arkham in a sorry state by Batman and Harley is there to weep at his side. This was the final straw as we see her leave Arkham and head to a joke shop. She grabs a costume and even her prop gun she’s now known for and returns to Arkham. After clocking the security guard with a brick-stuffed rubber chicken, she blows open Joker’s cell and the two escape laughing all the way.

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The black and white television returns as Harley makes a plea for Batman’s help.

Harley is shown once again in the alley. With resolve in her voice, she once again pins blame for all of her life’s misfortunes since then on Batman. The scene cuts to the Bat Signal high in the sky over Gotham. Inside the police station, Gordon, Bullock, and Batman are viewing a tape from Harley in which she claims Joker has gone too far and is planning something horrific. She claims she needs their help, and to add gravitas to her words she removes her mask as she does so.

harley syringe

This is easily the most menacing Harley has ever looked in this show.

Harley is then shown, no mask and in a trench coat, at a dock. Batman spots her from a rooftop and as Harley paces with some blueprints for Joker’s crime Batman appears behind her. She hands over the plans and Batman looks at them eagerly. He says he wants Gordon to see them, but before they can discuss it further Joker shows up on a boat. He shouts about Harley being a stool pigeon and opens fire. Batman pulls Harley to the ground and hits Joker with a Batarang that takes his head off revealing it was a dummy. As Batman looks on with some confusion he winces in pain. As he falls Harley is standing behind him with a syringe.

harley traps batman

Batman is in a bit of a pinch, but he’s always so resourceful.

We’re then taken to a place called Aquacade which sounds like an aquarium crossed with an arcade which would be a rather interesting concept. The inside of the place makes it look more like a traditional aquarium, though there are bar stools. Batman is bound by chains and suspended over a tank of water swarming with piranhas. Harley is there in full costume adding more water. She explains she’s going to win Joker over by killing Batman using one of his plans that she tweaked a bit. She explains that with Batman hanging upside down, the piranhas will appear to be smiling from his perspective as they devour him. Before she lowers Batman further into the tank, she expresses some remorse as she explains she did kind of enjoy their encounters. She needs to do this for her beloved puddin’ though and when she suggests this will set everything right Batman does something a bit unexpected:  he laughs.

harley tears

Harley is full-blown crazy during these events as she’ll stop at nothing to win Joker’s affection.

Harley spins around clearly unnerved by Batman’s laughter. Batman goes on to explain that Joker couldn’t possibly love her because he only loves himself. When she tells him he’s wrong she justifies her convictions by citing how Joker opened up to her at Arkham. Batman, appearing amused, then starts citing all of the stories Joker has told others looking to gain their trust over the years. They align with what he told her, only with slight variations like his dad taking him to an ice show instead of the circus. Harley, clearly upset, decides to just ignore Batman’s words and sets out to finish the job, but Batman points out to her that the piranhas won’t leave much of him behind and that without a body Joker will never believe her. This causes worry to flash across Harley’s face.

harley's fall

Harley’s night ends in tragedy, though amazingly she survives this fall.

Joker is then shown pacing around his hideout clearly still trying to dream up the perfect way to kill Batman when the phone rings. It’s Harley, and when Joker finds out she’s got Batman trapped he races out of there in his purple convertible. Harley then approaches Batman smugly to tell him Joker is on his way. He apparently drove exceptionally fast because he then bursts through the doors. He immediately heads for Harley who is expecting praise, but instead gets a backhand. It’s delivered offscreen so we just here the “smack!” and then see Harley come flying into frame. She sets to calming him down by explaining how she changed the trap so the piranhas appear to be smiling which only irritates Joker further. It’s not a joke if you have to explain it, and as she backs away from him she ends up in front of a window. Joker, in a scene reminiscent of Catwoman’s creation in Batman Returns, shoves her through the window. We see her fall from his perspective and it happens in slow-motion. Harley crashes to the ground amidst boxes and trash. As she lays there broken with blood trickling from her mouth she pathetically blames herself for making Joker mad.

Harley didnt get the joke

“It’s my fault. I didn’t get the joke.”

Joker looks down on her and declares he never liked her pet name, puddin’, that she used for him. He then turns his attention towards Batman and essentially apologizes for the whole thing. He says he thinks they should just forget about all of this before heading for the door. He then stops and reconsiders his plan and returns to Batman. He pulls out a gun and is seemingly prepared to do what Harley suggested earlier and just shoot the guy, but Batman kicks him causing him to shoot the tank instead freeing the piranhas. As Joker fends off the fish, Batman hops around in the chains and grabs his utility belt with his teeth. While Joker makes a run for it, Batman picks the lock on his chains to free himself before giving chase.

joker smokestack

At least he got what was coming to him.

Joker reaches the roof of the aquarium and decides to make a jump. He crosses the huge gap which takes him over some train tracks and grabs onto a railing on another building. The railing breaks, and Joker cries out as he falls. Batman reaches the edge and looks over and finds a laughing Joker (“Made ya look!”) riding on top of a passing train. Joker enjoys himself for a moment and then turns to see Batman has jumped on the train as well. Batman then informs Joker that Harley came closer to killing him than he ever did. If it weren’t for Joker’s massive ego, she probably would have got the job done. He ends his explanation by dropping a “puddin'” on Joker and this infuriates him into attacking Batman. Joker gets in some shots, but he’s really no match in a one-on-one fight with the Dark Knight. Batman nails him with an uppercut, and Joker flies off of the train and plummets into a smoke stack.

damaged harley

The consequences of Joker’s violence towards Harley is shown.

A news program on an Arkham television is utilized to inform us that Joker’s whereabouts are unknown following his confrontation with Batman. The camera pans and we see a brief flash of inmates (one of which I swear is intended to look like Conrad Veidt from The Man Who Laughs, often cited as a real world inspiration for The Joker) and Harley in the background getting wheeled down the hall. She’s covered in bandages and her arm is in a sling. She then narrates for us how she finally sees Joker for what he is vowing that from now on things are going to change. As she’s placed in bed in her cell she lists off a bunch of negative adjectives that describe Joker. She then looks to her left to see a single rose on her nightstand with a note that says “Feel better soon. – J” and a smile crosses her face as she finishes her list of labels out loud describing Joker, the last word being “Angel.”

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The final shot of the episode. She may be smiling, but it’s painfully sad.

Lets just get it out of the way and declare this one of the best episodes in the series. “Mad Love” encapsulates everything I love about Batman, Joker and Harley all in one episode. Batman is resourceful, and perhaps even a bit naïve in trusting Harley, but she and him have had a close moment in the past so his decision isn’t completely without merit. Joker is psychotic and truly evil. He’s entertaining, and even funny, but also unlikable and terrifying which is how the character should be. He’s not someone deserving of sympathy, and he doesn’t get it from the viewer. He does get it from Harley, who is truly a tragic figure. She’s grown over the course of this series, and in some respects her character here doesn’t reflect that. I chalk that up to this story being an old one relative to when this episode was adapted. Some of the plot points were reused for “Harley & Ivy,” mostly Harley trying to figure out where things went wrong, but it’s done well here so I don’t mind. Her sequence in the alley is what is utilized as reference for basically any video on the character, and her hopeless devotion to her beloved Mr. J is truly sad. Seeing her lying there in the rubble blaming herself for the violence inflicted upon her by her partner is almost too real as many abuse victims can attest. This might be the rare episode that’s actually too troubling for some people to watch. The ending, with her smiling and apparently forgiving Joker, is the only place I find it easy to criticize. It almost feels like it’s supposed to be funny, when really it’s tragic. I think the episode was fine to end this way, but the score could have been better utilized to make it absolutely clear that this is a sad ending for Harley.

Production wise, this is also a high point for the series. Maybe not visually, as there are a few gaffes here and there, but the voice acting across the board is stellar. Kevin Conroy, Arleen Sorkin, and Mark Hamill all turn in possibly their best work on the series. Maybe not so much for Conroy, but that’s only because he didn’t have as much to work with here as he has in the past. Even so, his delivery of Batman’s lines are biting. He’s remorseless in exploiting Harley and Joker’s mental state giving him a touch of viciousness we’re not used to. Part of me wishes he was worked into the end so we could see a showing of sympathy on his part towards Harley. His laugh is also well done. It sounds genuine and it’s even a touch unsettling, which is good because it helps us react to it in the same way Harley did. Sorkin has always been wonderful as Harley, but here she is able to inject both comedy and tragedy into her performance. It’s painful to see her expecting praise from Joker like a dog expecting a pat from its owner only to have pain inflicted upon her instead. And Hamill, what more can be said about his Joker? I may not like what this show did to Joker visually, but the loosening of the censors has been a boon for the character. It’s allowed Hamill to approach Joker in a more menacing manner giving the villain the chill he needs. He’s no longer just a punchline, but a dangerous psychopath.

mad love two-pack

In case you were wondering, you can indeed get an action figure two-pack based on this episode. And better yet, it features the season one version of Joker.

I am slightly disappointed that this episode isn’t the last we’ll see of Joker and Harley. It really is a great way for the show to end, but we’re going by production order which means the pair have one more appearance to make. This episode is the final appearance of Commissioner Gordon though in this series. He’ll return for the film based on this series, but he won’t be seen in any of the final episodes. The same is true for Detective Bullock, who was seen, but not heard in this episode. It feels weird to say goodbye to these characters after so long, but there’s more of that coming with only three episodes remaining so I guess I should get used to it.

“Mad Love” is on the short list for best episode in the series, and by series I mean Batman as a whole as this is considered season three for Batman: The Animated Series. If you just want a great Joker and Harley story then this is it. No other tale about the two has really come close and given the critical failure of Suicide Squad it surprises me that DC and Warner have yet to turn to this as a remedy. That’s a movie I’d be excited to see, but by no means is such a thing needed to legitimize this story or anything. Whether it’s experienced as a comic or television show, “Mad Love” is excellent as is. I’m partial to this episode as being the definitive take because the voice acting performances are so well done, but both are stories that should not be ignored.

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Old Wounds”

old woundsEpisode Number:  17 (102)

Original Air Date:  October 3, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  None

Have you wondered what caused the rift between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne? Of course you have, but The New Batman Adventures has decided to make you wait a while to find out. Well past the half way point of the series is “Old Wounds,” a mostly flashback episode detailing the fallout between Batman and the original Boy Wonder. It’s even going to touch on how Batgirl was truly brought into the fold as well, which really makes this one feel like it’s been a long time coming. Maybe it would have made sense to run this one earlier, but I suppose it’s not that big of a deal. Either way, these are questions that needed answers and at least we’ll finally have them.

The episode begins with some hoodlums making trouble in Gotham, which is what hoodlums do. Robin drops in to put a stop to them and have a little fun at their expense as well. Surprisingly, he appears to be all alone and without the aid of Batman which seems like an unwise thing to do, but Batman isn’t exactly known for his parenting skills. Robin looks like he’s going to make my fretting all for naught as he seems capable of taking care of these guys, but one drops a barrel over his head and suddenly things start to look a bit grim for the little guy. Luckily for him, someone is indeed looking out for him, only it’s not Batman, but Nightwing.

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At least someone is looking out for the kid tonight.

With Nightwing’s help, the two take out the goons. When the dust settles it’s time for Nightwing to give Robin a bit of the old tough love routine, which causes Robin to draw a comparison between Batman and Nightwing. Nightwing resents the comparison causing Robin to just finally ask what went down between the two so long ago. Nightwing tells him simply that “things change” and then tells Robin he should be asking Batman. Robin tells him he did, and he told him the exact same thing Nightwing just did.

That was apparently all Nightwing needed to hear to open up. He and Robin head to the docks, and while Nightwing skips stones he starts to tell Robin about what happened between he and Batman.

It all started when Dick graduated from college. He received the highest honors in his class, but who do you think missed his graduation ceremony? Oddly, it was held at night rather than during the afternoon and Batman had somewhere to be. Barbara was there with Alfred, and she remarks to the trusty butler that Dick will be crushed if Bruce misses this. Alfred suggests that maybe Bruce had car trouble and the scene is spliced with images of Batman foiling a robbery. In a humorous exchange, Batman is riding on the crook’s hood and he orders him to stop warning someone is going to get hurt. The crook agrees, and pulls out a gun and attempts to shoot Batman in the face. Of course he misses and he is indeed the one who gets hurt, but I enjoyed the man’s misplaced confidence.

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Did they slip wine past the censors? Maybe we’re supposed to assume it’s just juice.

After the ceremony, an apparently not-crushed Dick is having dinner with Barbara at a nice looking restaurant. They’re sipping wine or champagne as Barbara asks what’s next for Dick. He tells her he’s done living off of Bruce’s dime and informs her he has a trust compliments of the circus. It seems he received an insurance settlement following the death of his parents, which actually doesn’t make much sense since they were murdered though maybe it was never ruled a homicide. A beeping noise reminds us that this was made in the 90s as Dick pulls out a pager. He excuses himself to return the call and naturally it’s from Batman. It seems he’s going to need some help tonight. When Dick tells him that now is not a good time, Batman replies curtly that he doesn’t make schedules. Dick surrenders and returns to Barbara and comes up with a rather terrible excuse that he has to leave to help clean out the fridge back at his dorm. He bails leaving Barbara standing there in disbelief.

Robin, in his old green and red threads, drops in on Batman who has a warehouse staked out. Batman immediately informs him he’s late, a fairly typical Batman observation. Thankfully, Dick was pulled away from his night of celebration for a good reason as it’s revealed the villain of the hour is the clown prince of crime himself – the Joker (Mark Hamill)! Joker has himself a trio of henchmen this time, the returning twin lugs named Rocco (Townsend Coleman) and Henshaw (Neil Ross) and a new guy named Connor (Ian Buchanan).

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Joker introducing himself to the new guy.

Joker and his gang make their way inside, and soon Batman and Robin drop in on them through a skylight. Joker is able to match my mood as he ponders why the two would want to smash through a skylight in place of something less messy (“Either you’ve never heard of a door or you just like pulling glass out of your shorts.”). Joker has some sort of rocket ready to go that he blasts at the two and actually connects. Joker even remarks it was easier than expected dealing with the two as he and the others make their exit. Robin is the first to emerge from the rubble and he goes to help Batman who barks at him to go after them instead.

Robin does as he’s told and sees Joker make his escape in a getaway van with some sort of equipment. He’s also left Connor behind though and Robin follows him through the various alleys of Gotham right to what he probably hoped was a hideout. Instead, Connor actually leads him to his apartment, and he runs inside and orders his family to run via the fire escape. His wife, Geena (Pamela Hayden), is clearly alarmed, but his young son is too consumed with playing space ranger or something to take his dad seriously.

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Robin is a bit too good at the “Good Cop” role.

Robin enters and confronts Connor, but is alarmed to see his surroundings. The little boy takes aim at Robin with a toy gun and Robin seems like he’s unsure of what to do. Batman then comes smashing through a window and slams Connor up against a wall. He demands to know what the Joker is up to and where he’s hiding, while Connor seems almost paralyzed with fear. Robin looks at the woman and child cowering in terror and somewhat quietly urges Batman not to do this in front of them. Batman tells him he’ll stop as soon as Connor gives up the Joker. This angers Robin, who informs Batman he’ll have no part in this and takes off leaving Batman stunned.

dick and barabra

Barbara is very understanding for someone who was just rudely awakened.

Later that night, at 3:14 AM to be exact, Barbara is woken up by knocking on her door. She gets out of bed and tosses a robe on and opens the door of her modest studio apartment to find Dick. He rambles about being sick of “him” as he paces around the room. Barbara tries to get him to calm down and talk to her, but he sounds more like a mad man. He decides this was a bad idea and apologizes for coming over. He tells her he’ll call her tomorrow and then leaves as quickly as he arrived.

The next day, Barbara pays Bruce a visit at home to tell him about Dick’s visit. She wants to know what’s happened between the two of them, but Bruce is his usual stoic self. He declares that she really cares about him, and then beckons her to follow. He takes her over to the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave, and opens it. As he descends the stairs down, Barbara seems understandably wary. A billionaire playboy just opened up his weird, creepy, sex dungeon to an attractive young woman and told her to enter – I’d think about running if I were her!

barbara bat cave

This is probably scarier than it looks.

Barbara follows though and steps into the Batcave. She’s wide-eyed as she looks around and then Alfred walks in. He’s alarmed to see Barbara, and then does what any loyal servant would do – confesses that he is indeed the Batman. Before Barbara can laugh, Bruce informs him that it’s all right. He then informs Batgirl that he’s aware of her secret as well, and Alfred informs them they should turn on the news. When they do they find Joker up to his old tricks. He’s broadcast his ransom to Gotham and by doing so has unveiled what he was up to the night before. It would seem he’s stolen some radar jamming equipment that will make it impossible for aircraft to operate over Gotham. This could cause unsuspecting aircraft to suddenly crash and that’s obviously not a good thing. To make sure this doesn’t happen, Joker is demanding 40 million dollars. Bruce tells Alfred to contact Dick, and he’s told he’s already tried, but can’t get ahold of him. Barbara volunteers to help, and the two leave in the Batmobile.

After those two leave, Dick predictably shows up. He comes into the Batcave wondering where Barbara is as he noticed her car parked outside. Alfred tells him that she left with Master Bruce and they had some “errands” to take care of. Dick’s eyes take note of the missing Batmobile, which tells him all he needs to know.

joker hat

Joker, always dressed for the occasion.

Batman and Batgirl, in her normal attire and not throwback grays, arrive on the scene where Joker is sending out his radar jamming signal. They’ll need to head to the top of a rather large building, and to help him out Batman has brought along that nifty jetpack we’ve seen him use from time to time. He swoops in and takes Joker and his men by surprise, but they surprisingly have little trouble shooting him out of the sky. Batgirl then arrives and it’s apparent this is her first confrontation with Joker, who seems a bit taken by the new sidekick. Not that it means he’ll not try to kill her, as he and his men go to work.

Robin arrives via motorcycle and looks up to see the silhouette of Batgirl battling Joker’s henchmen. It’s obvious he’s surprised so apparently he’s not as perceptive as Batman and was in the dark about his girlfriend’s alter ego. Joker whacks a piece of equipment into Batgirl, causing her to fall off the roof. As she plummets towards her demise, Robin stares up in horror. He then shows off a new trick as the housing for the handles on his bike blast off like some mini jetpack or ejector seat. He closes the gap between he and Batgirl and is able to catch her and stop their descent with a trusty grapple gun blast. As the two land safely, Robin apparently wants to talk, but Batgirl informs him now is not the time and that “he” needs their help.

On the roof, Batman is getting reacquainted with Bud and Lou, the hyenas. He regains his footing as Batgirl and Robin arrive and the three take out Joker’s henchmen forcing Joker to declare he’ll have to do this himself. He grabs a machinegun and opens fire on the three. As an airplane approaches, things get a bit dire. Batgirl decides to go for it and flips her way towards the device sending the radar signal. Joker, in his attempt to shoot her, hits the radar dish and immediately regrets it. As sparks shoot out, Batman dives over and grabs Batgirl and the device explodes allowing the aircraft to pass by safely. Batman and Batgirl were able to avoid the explosion by hanging on the side of the building, while Joker wasn’t quite so fortunate. He makes a crack about Houston having a problem before passing out, leaving the three heroes to settle up.

robins right

Robin packs quite the right hook.

Robin immediately accuses Batgirl of keeping secrets from him, which is amazingly dense even for him. He’s hurt that she would tell Bruce, but she corrects him by saying he figured out her identity. Batman then adds it wasn’t his place to tell him. Robin is still angry with Batman though as he questions why he’d put her in danger. Batgirl tells him that he didn’t and she volunteered, but Robin tells her she’s wrong. He’s a manipulator, she only thinks she volunteered. Fed up with the whole situation, Robin informs Batman he’s had enough – he quits. Batman reaches out to try and stop him from storming off, but Robin turns around and decks him. Batman falls to the ground as Batgirl looks on with shock. Robin then removes his cape and mask and leaves it at Batman’s feet and storms off.

mask off

The dramatic discarding of the mask.

That’s where the flashback ends. Nightwing informs the new Robin that he never wore the costume again after that night. Robin still seems to think it’s silly the two never reconciled, but he’s obviously used to dealing with the both of them at this point. Nightwing then notices a wallet on the ground. The goons from earlier must have stolen it and he opens it up and is surprised to see who it belongs to.

nightwing wallet

Maybe his trust fund isn’t doing so well if he’s got to pick pockets.

The scene then shifts to a building owned by Wayne. A security guard is returning to his office when Nightwing and Robin drop in on him with his wallet. He’s alarmed for a moment, then is relieved to see it isn’t Batman. He then tells the two he had a run-in with Batman once before, which caused him to change his ways. It’s now obvious that this man is Connor from the flashback. After his encounter with Batman in front of his wife and kid, he decided to go straight. Bruce Wayne gave him a job and now knows him by name. He’s quite pleased to relay that Bruce asks about his son from time to time and Nightwing responds by adding that Bruce Wayne is a good man.

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Connor is here to conveniently tell Nightwing what he needs to hear about his old friend.

Nightwing and Robin take their leave. Robin is a bit surprised, but also a bit proud to point out to Nightwing that Bruce has a heart after all. Nightwing is quietly pleased. The Bat-Signal then flashes across the sky, and Robin remarks it’s time to go to work. He fires off a grappling hook, then turns to Nightwing and asks if he’s coming. Nightwing smiles in return and suggests it’s about time. The two then swing off into the blood-red sky towards the Bat-Signal as the Nightwing theme thunders in the background.

There you have it. Questions answered, for the most part, about what happened in between the first two seasons and this revamped third one. We still don’t know what ultimately drove Barbara and Dick apart. It could be that there is nothing more to tell of their story, as maybe when Robin left the two that night he left the both of them assuming Batgirl had made her choice to work with Batman. I believe we’ll learn a bit more in a future episode though, as things got a little heated between Batgirl and Batman eventually, which makes sense since they both share a gimmick. We also don’t know how long Dick went in between roles as Robin and Nightwing. It can be assumed he used his circus money to finance his loft and crime-fighting gig, though if he has a day job that’s still unclear.

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Nightwing – forever in Batman’s shadow.

As for the story itself, it’s mostly satisfying. It’s easy to assume that years of working with Batman would cause tension. He seems like a tough boss, and the two have had their differences before. Batman is more obsessive than Robin, and his actions in front of Connor’s family are somewhat understandable, though I can’t help but feel this isn’t how the Batman of the first two seasons would act. He would be far more sensitive to the presence of a child, which makes me feel like there’s still something missing. This version of Batman is harder than that one, and it feels like something should have happened to explain that which we have not seen, and never will. This Batman only exists as part of a revision of the character against his peers. He needs to act this way to better distinguish him from Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing. It’s why this show has a different feel from the Batman: The Animated Series and it’s why I still tend to think of it as a different beast all together, despite how it’s marketed. The use of Connor is suitable for showing how Batman can leave a lasting, positive, mark on someone. Though it’s a bit muddled as his presence in the end feels like a justification for Batman’s erratic behavior from the flashback. This show has a tendency to “both sides” Batman and in the process it sometimes fails to really make a statement of any kind.

jokers new toy

Joker in a rare supporting role in this one, though he still finds time to hijack Gotham’s airwaves once more.

The presence of Joker in this one initially surprised me. He’s not needed to add weight to the action, and it’s unusual to see him featured in an episode where he’s not the focal point. In viewing this one though I think that’s the point. Joker needs no introduction nor does he need any moments to himself to explain his character to the audience. Rather, he can just be in the background making jokes and acting wicked and do just fine. He’s genuinely amusing for much of this one, and I suppose it’s a nice little treat to see Batgirl’s first encounter with him.

The episode leaves us in a more hopeful place where it concerns Batman and Nightwing, though I’m not sure we needed to be. It’s why I think it may have made more sense to air this one much earlier. We’ve already seen Batman and Nightwing working together. They’re not exactly old chums when they do, but they’re more than capable. They were even able to put together an elaborate trap for Catwoman and worked rather closely in busting the Mad Hatter. Dick even dropped in on them at Bruce’s home at the conclusion of the second episode, so it’s not like he was above a casual visit. This episode seems to want us to think there’s more conflict than has been presented. It works fine as a stand-alone episode in that respect, but when looked at in broader context it’s a bit less rewarding. I’m still glad they decided to tackle the subject, and despite my criticism I’d still say this is one of the better episodes of the season so far.

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This marks the last costumed appearance of Dick Grayson. We learned a little more about him, but sadly we’ll never learn the origin of his fabulous mullet.

The ending is hopeful, indicating that Batman and Nightwing are on the verge of a reconciliation that will perhaps lead to a better working relationship. At least, that’s the implication, but in actuality this is the final appearance of Nightwing in the series. It’s surprising, considering we still have several episodes left, but I guess the staff just felt like there were no further stories to tell with the character. Maybe they envisioned a spin-off for him now that he’s made his peace with Batman, but that obviously wouldn’t happen. We don’t yet have to say goodbye to Loren Lester and Dick Grayson, who has one future appearance left, but it does feel like the end of an era considering how long Robin has been a part of the show. He’s never been a favorite of mine, in any medium, but at least this show did some good with the character.


The New Batman Adventures – “Joker’s Millions”

Jokers-MillionsEpisode Number:  7 (92)

Original Air Date:  February 21, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  None

After starring in a segment of the series premiere, “Holiday Knights,” The Joker (Mark Hamill) returns to helm his own stand-alone episode. And for the first time, our little feature on this show is running up against continuity from the other DC Animated Universe show at the time – Superman. In the three part episode “World’s Finest,” Joker arrives in Metropolis to accept a contract from Lex Luther that would have paid him one billion dollars if he could kill Superman. He fails, and old Bats is partly responsible as this was the first crossover event for the two super heroes.

Joker had gone to Metropolis because he was having money problems back home. Considering he failed at taking out Superman, his woes have continued. Here we find a broke Joker taking unnecessary risks in order to acquire more cash to finance his unique lifestyle. These risks naturally put him at odds with Batman and the other vigilantes of Gotham. “Joker’s Millions” is based on a comic of the same name from 1952 and also shares some similarities with the 1985 film Brewster’s Millions. It’s largely a comedy piece, as Joker episodes tend to stray in that direction, only this time more so than usual.

The episode opens with Joker and Harley (Arleen Sorkin) robbing what appears to be an electronic’s convention or museum. Joker is seen running around decked out in a new purple trench coat and hat blasting away as civilians run around screaming. Joker is running from Batman and Batgirl and he doesn’t appear to be having his usual good time, especially when Batman lands a punch on his jaw. He runs out of ammo and soon comes across Harley who’s racing around as well. She informs him they’re all out of bullets forcing Joker into a game of fisticuffs with Batman, which he loses. He’s able to fool Batman and Batgirl momentarily after taking a hit to the eye. He lets out a scream and lets a fake eye hit the ground which soon explodes providing the duo enough of a cover to escape.

harley and joker flee


Harley is a bit irritated with Joker’s money problems.

Outside, Harley and Joker are shown speeding away in a rather mundane looking getaway car. As the two flee, they soon realize they forgot the cash they just attempted to steal and soon run out of gas. When Joker admonishes Harley for not filling the tank like he told her to, she responds that they’re broke and asks what she was supposed to do – fill the tank and then shoot the guy?! Joker responds with an emphatic “Yes!” as Harley bemoans their situation. Batman and the cops soon arrive and Joker is forced to eject. Unfortunately for Harley, he could only afford one ejector seat and she’s left behind to get arrested.

joker's inheritance


Joker gets the good news.

Joker is then shown arriving at the Chelsea Arms apartment building. It’s looking a lot worse from when we first saw it in “Double Talk.” Joker walks in and gets his mail while the super complains about his rent being late. He heads inside a rather dilapidated looking apartment and is greeted by his pet hyenas, Bud and Lou. Joker settles down on the couch and reads the letter the super gave him which informs him that a crime boss he never cared for, King Barlow, has passed on. Joker is amused to know this, but then grows excited when he finds out Barlowe has left him his entire fortune valued at 250 million dollars!

We then see a brief montage of sorts where Joker is shown using his new found wealth to hire some fancy lawyers to clear his name framed as a news piece. One is clearly a parody of Johnnie Cochran who offers up the line “If a man’s filled with glee, that man must go free!” A psychiatrist is also interviewed who claims he’s tested Joker rigorously and found he’s no longer a danger to society. When the interviewer points out the accusation that Joker is just bribing doctors and lawyers to say what he wants, the man insists such a notion is preposterous. As he does, the camera pans out to reveal the doctor is driving a fancy new car. This gag feels like something we would have seen on Animaniacs. The segment ends at the Batcave with Batgirl wondering if Joker will now go straight since he’s got plenty of money. Batman can only growl in response as he snaps some expensive looking object in half.

Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon are shown standing in line waiting to get into a swanky new club:  The Iceberg Lounge. The club is owned by none other than The Penguin (Paul Williams), making his first appearance with his new redesign. Penguin had previously been modeled after the version of the character seen in Batman Returns, but for The New Batman Adventures he’s been restored to his classic look which is that of a short, rotund, man with a long nose. He emerges from the club to say they’ve reached capacity forcing Barbara to use her status as the commissioner’s daughter to gain entry with Dick. Penguin, apparently wanting to keep the cops off of his back, acquiesces though not happily.

joker and new penguin


A more dignified Penguin on display.

Inside we see Joker seated at a table ordering food and drink. The club is massive and has an ice theme going on with a gigantic pool in its center inhabited by seals. Penguin shows up to Joker’s table to toast the old rogue to his good fortune and adding that living well is the best means of revenge when it comes to getting back at Batman. Dick and Barbara watch from their table almost in awe of what they’re witnessing. The party is soon crashed by some gun-wielding dudes. One of them had been shown previously as part of the news report on Joker’s inheritance. He was the bodyguard for Barlowe and was perplexed why the crime boss left Joker everything, considering he hated Joker, and left his beloved bodyguard with nothing. He’s come to take what he feels is rightfully is.

As Joker is held up, Batgirl and Nightwing make the save proving they are incredibly quick at changing into costume. A Nightwing shuriken strikes the former bodyguard in the back and sticks in there while another gets booted into the seal pool. These seals are apparently quite violent as they attack the man immediately. Joker applauds the two heroes and even tries to pay them a tip for looking after him. They crumple up the offering in their fists and drop it on the floor causing Joker to howl with laughter.

joker limo


Joker living the good life.

We then go into another montage of Joker enjoying his wealth. He’s bought a new mansion and is having it painted purple, enjoying some time on the golf course at the expense of Bruce Wayne, and is shown riding around in a limo tossing money out the back to a crowd of people chasing after him. Harley watches all of this on a television set in Arkham and is enjoying it thoroughly. When Ivy (Diane Pershing) questions why she’s so happy to see her old beau enjoying his wealth she responds because she’s certain he’ll come bust her out any day now. Ivy then shows her a full-page ad in the newspaper she’s reading which was placed by the Joker. It seems he’s looking for a new henchwoman, and Harley reacts to this in the only way she could be expected to.

Joker is then shown auditioning for his opening. Several individuals in Harley costumes are lined up as Joker dresses them down:  too fat, too old, too short, etc. One is clearly modeled after Paul Dini and Joker doesn’t even really dignify the poor sap with a response. He soon settles on a new Harley, who looks like the old one only taller and a bit more curvaceous. This new Harley (Maggie Wheeler) is a bit slow and mistakenly refers to Joker as Mr. G. She’s happy to have the job though and Joker is happy to have something to look at. Meanwhile, the real Harley is trying to escape Arkham via the laundry chute, but she just ends up trapped in a washing machine which is turned on.

paul dini quinn


Sadly, he didn’t get the job.

Joker is about to find out he has a new problem though. A man from the IRS shows up to inform Joker he owes them quite a bit of cash as part of an inheritance tax. The sum is around 140 million, and Joker is surprisingly panicky about having the IRS on his case. He even tells one of his henchmen he’d much rather have to deal with Batman than old Uncle Sam. As he and his crew start filling bags with stacks of bills to pay off the debt, Fake Harley notices something strange about the money. Joker takes a closer look and notices the face of one Ben Franklin is missing from his hundreds, replaced by the ugly smirk of King Barlowe. He soon finds a video tape buried under the cash and is forced to put it on.

The tape is a recording of Barlowe (Allan Rich) himself from his hospital bed informing Joker that he’s been had. He only left Joker 10 million bucks, and he guesses that by the time Joker found this tape he had already blown through it. The other cash and assorted valuables are all fake, and he has a good laugh at Joker’s expense for he knows the clown is much too prideful to admit he’s been made the butt of a joke. Joker is understandably irate at the revelation, and quickly starts trying to think of a way to make back some money. When henchman Ernie (Sam McMurray) suggests he repeat his laughing fish scheme, he yells at him for such a thing would alert Batman that he’s returned to crime. He needs to acquire cash using a method he’s never been good at:  subtlety.

fke joker


Not Joker.

Bruce Wayne is shown at Penguin’s club. Penguin greets him briefly, and Wayne soon spies Joker alone at his table. He approaches to have a chat and Joker suggests he doesn’t recognize him. Wayne reminds him he recently threw him off a building (referencing the events of “World’s Finest” again) and Joker seems flustered. The voice may be right, but this is clearly not Joker as his conventional eyes give it away. He mops at the sweat on his forehead revealing a normal flesh-color below the white makeup and retreats to the restroom. Inside, we see it’s actually Ernie posing as Joker and as he frets about trying to keep up this charade Batman shows up to confront him in a bathroom stall. He begins his interrogation, while Penguin listens from outside. He’s prepared to put a stop to this poor treatment of his patron by Batman, but a growl from Batman and a flushing toilet convinces him otherwise.

batman john


Well, at least if the sight of Batman caused Ernie to mess himself he was in the right place.

We’re then shown a bunch of odd looking armored cars as they drive onto a ferry. They’re gray and rather blocky and frequently their doors disappear in what is easily the shoddiest piece of animation I’ve come across in this series. The occupants of the vehicles step out and are confronted by some shadowy individuals with guns. These guns are packed with gas that knocks them out and Joker emerges from the shadows sporting a ship captain’s hat. Fake Harley is steering the vessel, as Joker soon turns his attention to the money inside.

joker captured again


Joker’s fun appears to be done.

The ship rocks causing Joker to bark out at Harley, but things are about to get worse as Batman, Batgirl, and Nightwing show up. The fight is surprisingly brief, and Joker finds his feet bound by a rope from Batgirl as he teeters on the edge of the ship. She thinks he’s trying to save some money that blew away over the side of the ship, but Joker corrects her by informing her he just wants to go with it. Batman pulls him back onto the ship and in a parting shot flips him a quarter and tells him to go call his fancy lawyers.

On shore, the cops take it from here. Joker is loaded into a police wagon in shackles and he seems to be in an all right mood. He remarks it will be good to see the old gang again as a female cop looks on from inside the back of the wagon with him. She soon leans into the light and reveals to Mr. J she ain’t no cop, but rather Harley Quinn. Joker is a bit concerned by this development and tries to play it cool, but as the wagon drives away we can hear the sounds of Harley wailing on Joker with a nightstick to bring this one to a conclusion.

harleys revenge


In an episode that’s basically all about comedy, it’s Harley who gets the last laugh.

“Joker’s Millions” is a very comedic episode of Batman. There’s the show’s trademark violence on display as Batman lands some solid blows on Joker early on, but most of the scenes are practically slapstick in nature. It is a bit amusing to see Joker out of cash and then to see him go on a spending spree. It’s also interesting to see him use money to essentially buy his freedom and go straight, even though it doesn’t necessarily fit the character. I suppose we can hand wave this one though as being short term. Had Joker really inherited all of that money he likely would have eventually returned to crime as just living a wealthy life would likely grow stale for old Mr. J. Likewise, the scenes of Harley from Arkham are all played for laughs, with the washing machine gag being especially cartoonish in nature.

Because so much of the episode is spent with Joker, there’s actually very little for the heroes to do. Wayne just happens to be in the right place at the right time to find the fake Joker, so there’s little detective work on display. As was the case with “Riddler’s Reform,” Batman just doesn’t buy Joker being reformed and essentially is harassing him by keeping tabs on him. It was fun to see the new Penguin on display though. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t recast him considering the drastic change to his appearance, but that would also be no reason to get rid of a fine voice actor like Paul Williams.

Ultimately, this episode is fine. While I look forward to something a bit more menacing from Joker given the new standards of the show, an occasional comedy episode is okay. And if you’re going to have a comedy episode, why not feature The Joker? It’s a bit hard to believe that Joker could ever be out of money, or that being out of cash would be a problem for him, though it’s also even more unlikely he could rent an apartment anywhere. I’ll ignore that though, just like the episode basically is asking me to ignore the fact that Harley and Joker have once again patched things up offscreen. Their relationship is combative here, and I think that’s what can be expected going forward. The nice thing is that Harley now gives as good as she gets so things don’t seem so one-sided anymore.

We’re actually not going to hear a lot from Joker during this run of the series. He’ll be mentioned in a few episodes, and his likeness shows up in the anthology episode “Legends of the Dark Knight.” His next outing is actually a flashback in the episode “Old Wounds” and his real next episode isn’t until episode 21, the classic “Mad Love.” Too much Joker is obviously not a good thing, but I have a feeling I’m going to wish there was a bit more of him.

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  Robin (Tim Drake), Mo, Lar, Cur

After pausing for a week to discuss the 1998 film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero we have now finally arrived at The New Batman Adventures era of the show. This is essentially the start of a sequel series, but it’s been retconned over the years (or just simplified) as Season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series. The Blu Ray set released in 2018 simply refers to it as such and the intro for each episode is the Season One intro from the Fox Kids era. The show largely exists thanks to two new developments since the previous series ended in 1995:  the WB network, and Superman.

Warner Bros. and Fox had a nice relationship in the 1990s where WB created several shows that Fox aired as part of its Fox Kids lineup on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning. At some point, the executives at WB decided it would just make more sense for them to start their own network. On January 11, 1995 The WB was launched and alongside it came Kids’ WB. That block of programming would be occupied by cartoons primarily, most of which included characters WB owned. Gradually, as the license agreements with Fox expired the shows WB had created for that network migrated to its network.

TNBA trio

The New Batman Adventures placed greater emphasis on Batman’s supporting cast.

The network’s flagship action cartoon was Superman, or Superman: The Animated Series. It was decided that it would make a lot of sense for Superman to simply be partnered with Batman to form an hour programming block of DC’s hottest heroes. It would make sense for the two to cross paths, and so WB commissioned a new Batman series envisioned as a sequel to BTAS. Like the second season of that show, this one would focus on Batman and a supporting cast of heroes. Dick Grayson would return, but not as Robin but rather Nightwing. In his place was a new, much younger, Robin and Batgirl would be there as well. The show would need to be updated to match the style of Superman and to also make the show cheaper to produce. “Dark Deco” was now out, in its place was a modern Gotham with cell phones and (gasp!) color TV. Oddly, Gotham would also feature a red sky apparently to heighten the darkness of the show vs the much brighter Superman. There is a reduction of shadows as well making everything lighter in appearance. Perhaps something that disappoints only me is the dropping of title cards. I loved the title cards on BTAS and I was so bummed to see they weren’t continued here. It also makes each one of these posts a little less interesting to look at.

TNBA redesigns

A look at the various villains from the show, some old some new.

This new style meant character redesigns. Batman would ditch the blue of his prior costume opting for a strictly black and gray ensemble. His belt was also muted in tone and more utilitarian in appearance. Robin’s costume dropped the green and Batgirl ditched the gray as well. On the villain’s side things were a bit more extreme. We’ll mostly get to them as they show up. To highlight a few; Scarecrow received an entirely new look while Joker featured an aggressive redesign that removed the sclera of his eyes and the red of his lips. Some of these redesigns are quite interesting on their own, while some are just plain inferior to the previous look. The characters had to be simplified to reflect the shrinking budget, but some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.

Most of the creative staff was returned for the new series. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm served as executive producers alongside Alan Burnett. Dini and Timm would both contribute to multiple episodes as writer while Dan Riba returned to direct multiple episodes as well. Also returning was the majority of the voice cast from the prior series, with the only notable change being Tara Strong (then known as Tara Charendoff) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. A lot of new blood was also brought in, many of which would hang around the DC Animated Universe which was about to expand to include The Justice League and Teen Titans. This is basically the beginning of an expansive television universe by WB and DC which is basically the television equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m primarily only interested in Batman when it comes to DC, so don’t expect me to do this for the other shows. Hopefully no one is disappointed.

TNBA logo

New show, new logo.

The New Batman Adventures was released on DVD as Volume 4 of Batman: The Animated Series and is included in both the DVD and Blu Ray box set of the series as Season 3. For this feature, I considered simply sticking with the BTAS title, but decided this show was different enough to change it up. I’ll include both the episode number as it relates to this series as well as how it relates to the entire series. We’re also sticking with production order as opposed to air date order. The show was ordered as one season, but aired as two seasons of 13 and 11 episodes respectively concluding in January of 1999. At some point I’ll summarize my thoughts on the whole of Batman: The Animated Series, but since we’re getting started with The New Batman Adventures I’ll say upfront that I find this series to be inferior to its predecessor. It’s less unique looking and not as well written. The new villains introduced aren’t as memorable and we also lose a little bit of Batman by switching to an ensemble format. He’s made to be more grim, apparently to heighten how different he is from his younger companions, and as such loses some of his humanity in the process. He’s overall just less interesting as a character, and the focus on the others doesn’t really make up for that. It feels like a diservice to the excellent Kevin Conroy, who simply has less to work with in regards to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Anyways, let’s finally start talking about this first episode, shall we? First airing just over 2 years after the conclusion of BTAS, “Holiday Knights” is a pretty bizarre way to kick-off this series. For one, it’s a Christmas/New Years episode that’s presented in anthology format with three separate mini stories starring different heroes and villains. It’s based on the Batman Adventures Holiday Special released in 1995 written by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Oddly, WB chose to air this as the premier as well in September rather than stashing it away until closer to Christmas like Fox did with “Christmas with the Joker,” the second episode from BTAS. Also complicating things, the new Robin (Mathew Valencia) debuts here even though the second episode is the one that details how he met Batman and came to assume this persona. Clayface is also the featured villain of the middle tale, but his actual return from the events of “Mudslide” is recounted in a later episode as well. This episode almost feels non-canon as a result, and it’s just overall a weird and confusing way to bring the series back.

new ivy

Ivy has apparently spent the past few years avoiding the sun.

The episode begins on December 22 and quickly reintroduces us to a pair of villains:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). Harley largely looks the same as she did in the previous series, while Ivy has received a fairly dramatic makeover. Her hair is more stylized and her skin bone white. She displays what is basically the new female body-shape on the show:  short, pointed, with an oversized head. It’s a more “toon” presentation and is less realistic compared with BTAS. I personally don’t care for it, but it is what it is.

Harley is bored and not at all excited to be stuck in a slummy motel for the holidays. She bemoans their lack of a Christmas tree, which naturally sets Ivy off as she views them as a form of genocide against trees. Ivy insists she has a plan that will brighten up their holiday and urges her friend to trust in her. We’re then taken to a gathering of the wealthy at the Vreeland estate where we get our first look at the new Bruce Wayne. He dresses all in black now with a white shirt under his suit and red “power” tie. His hair is black as well and slicked back to give him a real douchey look befitting a billionaire playboy. He’s socializing with Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) who has returned to her red-haired look after a brief dabble with being a blonde and seems amused when a gaggle of women swarm Bruce. While Bruce is being pushed around by the ladies, one of them plants a kiss right on his lips. It’s Ivy, and as we learned way back in “Pretty Poison” getting a kiss from her is not something anyone should desire.

bruce ivy harley

Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

Bruce leaves the party and as he heads for his car he’s invited into a limo by a pair of women. Bruce finds himself unable to control his own body as he’s subjected to Ivy and Harley’s whims. They then use Bruce and his fabulous wealth to go on a shopping spree. A montage plays which feels fitting for a holiday special and is set to a saxophone rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The women seem to enjoy themselves while Bruce is helpless. As they force him to carry all of their purchases he begins to make some headway in fighting off the effects of the poison. The girls realize too late that he needs another dose, and as they approach to do so Bruce is able to back away falling into an open elevator shaft. The girls are indifferent to Bruce’s plight as they still have his credit cards and continue on with their evening. Meanwhile, the gloved hand of Batman reaches up from the depths of the elevator shaft.

harley ivy shopping

The Ivy and Harley montage is probably the best part of the whole episode.

Harley and Ivy make their escape in their stolen limo being driven by another brainwashed lackey, but soon enough the cloaked outline of Batman flashes behind them. Harley warns Ivy about who’s on their tail and Ivy makes some evasive maneuvers to avoid The Dark Knight which leads them to a toy store – how fitting. Batman enters and encounters all manners of toy-related traps:  wooden soldiers, giant boxing gloves, and Harley’s trusty mallet. The ladies lure Batman through their fun house leading up a tower of toys before they hastily attempt a retreat. As the duo turn to rub salt in his wounds, Batman fires his redesigned grappling hook (it makes a less satisfying hissing sound when fired and features an end that’s just a bladed Batman logo) to hook the base of a massive Christmas tree. He topples it landing right on the thieves putting a damper on their holiday, but returning to the Christmas tree gag with Harley who’s strangely comforted by its presence.

santa bullock

Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

Our second story takes place on Christmas Eve. Barbara is shopping at Mayfield’s Department Store for a gift for her father. As she’s paying for her gift, a crying child gets her attention and the clerk remarks it’s been like that all day. Not far from the checkout station is a department store Santa being played by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). Apparently, Bullock isn’t the best Santa and tends to leave the kids who sit on his lap in tears. Serving alongside him as his elf is Officer Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and the two are apparently on a stake-out which is why Bullock isn’t exactly into this whole Santa schtick. Bullock does at least find the Christmas spirit momentarily when a little girl sits on his lap asking to have her dad back for Christmas. Apparently, her dad is a crook Bullock just helped get put away. Not really knowing what else to do, he gives her some money. That should cheer her up.

Barbara is amused by Bullock’s turn as Kris Kringle and makes her way for the exit. Along the way she notices a child who appears to be shoplifting. The daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner can’t stand idly by as someone commits a crime, so she reaches out to grab him only she comes away with a handful of mud instead. Montoya then receives word to be on the lookout for a rabble of child thieves which fellow detectives are chasing through the store. They corner the kids, who then all merge into one being right before their very eyes.

batgirl crowd control

Batgirl showing off her new attire.

It’s Clayface (Ron Perlman), and he’s not the type of bandit to go quietly. He immediately begins trashing the place forcing Barbara to duck out and re-emerge as Batgirl. She takes the fight right to Clayface knocking him through an oversized window and onto a skating rink outside causing him to smash through the ice. Santa and his elf arrive to provide backup, though their guns do little to bother Clayface. Batgirl hollers at them to stop wasting their ammo and to aim for the Santa. Bullock at first confuses her command to mean him, but above Clayface is a giant, lighted, Santa as well as strings of Christmas lights. Bullock and Montoya take aim and blast the Santa down to land on top of Clayface. The frayed wires land in the water around Clayface electrocuting him and putting a stop to his rampage. Montoya then leaves Bullock to handle the clean-up.

new joker

I don’t like this new Joker at all, but at least we still have Mark Hamill doing his voice.

Our final tale takes place on December 31 and involves The Joker (Mark Hamill). He’s sent out one of his famous broadcasts to the people of Gotham revealing his New Year’s resolution to not kill anyone in the new year. This means he needs to make up for it all tonight and send the current year out with a bang! A taping of this broadcast is being viewed by Batman and Robin in Commissioner Gordon’s office. It would seem Gordon stopped heading to the gym following the events of BTAS as he’s a lot smaller and older looking now than he was before. Gordon (Bob Hastings) informs Batman that they have a lead on Joker as a GothCorp scientist was murdered earlier in the day. The scientist specialized in sonics and had been working on a new weapon that could kill with sound. Batman deduces that Joker’s likely target will be The New Year’s Countdown in Gotham Square and it’s likely he’ll have this new weapon in hand.

jokers favors

Joker’s party favors.

Joker is shown at Gotham Square with some of his finest: Mo, Lar, and Cur (all voiced by Ron Perlman and obvious reference to The Three Stooges). They’re rigging the sonic bomb to a massive bell. Apparently at midnight, the bell goes up to ring in the new year and when that happens the bomb will go off. And to make things harder on Batman, Joker has some “party favors” to distribute.

Batman and Robin head for the party and realize finding Joker will be a bit harder than expected. Joker has distributed his Joker masks to all of the party-goers making it hard to find the real Joker. Batman peers through some binoculars and spots a clown in a purple suit at a piano in the middle of the gathering onstage. He’s wearing ear muffs and so are the rather large men flanking him. Figuring that’s his man, Batman and Robin head for the stage and Batman dings Joker’s head with a Batarang knocking off his ear muffs. They then turn their attention to Joker’s goons, but find they’re pretty hard to deal with. Joker ends up grabbing the upper hand by smashing a bucket full of ice and champagne over the back of Batman’s skull.

joker champagne

This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

Joker grabs the bottle of champagne to celebrate and apparently die with everyone else. As Joker gloats over Batman, The Dark Knight is able to snatch the bottle of champagne and spray it all over the controls to the bell shortening out the killing device. As he does so, Joker tries to stop him and shoots at him and actually hits Batman in the right arm. As Batman lays on the ground, Joker laughs like only he can. As he does so the bell begins to fall, and it just so happens to land right on Joker who offers a well-timed “Ouch,” from beneath it to close out the scene.

bat gordon toast

We’re introduced to an annual tradition for Gordon and The Dark Knight.

With Joker’s plot foiled once again, Commissioner Gordon is shown entering a diner around 2 AM. The owner (Corey Burton) ushers everyone out and tells them he’s closing up as Gordon takes a seat at a booth. The man brings him a mug of coffee as well as a second mug and wonders aloud if Gordon’s buddy is coming. Gordon assures him he is, and Batman soon enters through a rear door. He sits down and the two indicate this is a yearly tradition of theirs. They speak only a few words before Gordon turns to request something from the kitchen to go. When he turns back he finds an empty booth and a couple of bucks left on the table to cover the tab. Remarking he’ll one day beat him to the check, Gordon collects himself and heads out into the night while Batman is seen swinging off into the red sky himself.

As I said, this is an odd way to begin the series. Three fragmented stories which lean heavily into comic relief that contain characters who will require a true introduction (or reintroduction) further down the road. It at least gets a lot of characters on-screen though giving us a peek at this new look. In general, I’m not much of a fan for how this series looks. It uses mostly straight lines in its characters and the women and children have huge heads. I mostly hate the new Joker as his face just lacks personality and is so bland and wooden to look at. The removal of his lips also just makes his mouth flaps look odder as he’s all teeth gnashing together. He looked so great in BTAS so it’s just really disappointing to see him reduced to this. This practically elderly looking Commissioner Gordon is also not a favorite of mine and Bullock looks like he’s gained about 50 pounds.

clayface hk

Clayface doesn’t come across looking so hot. Meanwhile, less censorship apparently extends to Montoya’s attire as well.

Not surprisingly, Clayface isn’t as well animated as he was before. He still contorts his body into weapons and other beings, but not a lot of resources are spent on the transitioning animation. He’s also far more stable looking than he was in “Mudslide” and has almost a rocky appearance compared with his old one. It should also be pointed out he was previosuly immune to elecrocution so either that was a goof by Dini or they intentionally took that immunity away from him. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is just a less interesting looking show. They wanted it to be in-line with Metropolis from Superman and it wouldn’t make sense to have Gotham look like it was trapped in the 1940s and Metropolis like something from the 90s.

harley and the tree

It’s nice to have a little Christas in June, right? Interestingly, the comic this episode is based on portrayed Harley as Jewish.

There is one advantage this show has over its predecessor and that appears to be with the level of violence on display. It’s blatantly discussed that Joker murdered someone and he has an apparent lust for carnage and mayhem that was more tip-toed around on Fox. Batman is also free to punch people while villains, and the police, are still able to wield realistic looking weapons. Warner must have desired a way to differentiate its network from Fox and upping the violence was apparently one such way.

As an episode, this is a pretty benign, disposable, piece of entertainment. And there is entertainment value for it largely as a comedic vehicle. I wish it had chosen to end on Batman and Gordon sipping coffee together rather than turn to the tired gag of Batman vanishing whenever someone turns their back on him. I think that would have been the way the old series would have ended this one with a somber, but also sweet, ending. I guess this is just one more way for this show to announce it’s here and it’s not the same one we’re used to. Since I am a bit of a Christmas cartoon junkie, I should add that as a Christmas episode this is also just all right. It doesn’t linger much on the holiday, but it also doesn’t beat anyone over the head with Christmas clichés. It’s probably a touch better than “Christmas with the Joker” actually though less memorable. I don’t think either makes a strong case to be included with annual Christmas viewings, but you could certainly do worse.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Make ‘Em Laugh”

make em laugh cardEpisode Number:  83

Original Air Date:  November 5, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  The Condiment King

Episode 83 brings us the final Joker episode of Batman: The Animated Series in its original run. Not surprisingly, The Joker has done the most heavy-lifting of all the villains in this 85 episode series. As Batman’s most famous rogue, that was to be expected. What really wasn’t a given was just how consistently good Joker could be. Going into it, I would have expected Joker to be a silly villain used for comic relief as he was in the 1960s series when he was played by Cesar Romero. And there’s certainly aspects of Romero in this Joker, but the writers for this show were able to also incorporate that sinister side of Joker we’d come to see in the character throughout the 1980s. Sure, he’s never as malicious as he is in The Killing Joke or Death in the Family, but there’s an unsettling aspect to the character that comes out now and again making this version of The Joker possibly the best version.

And a lot of the credit should go to voice actor Mark Hamill. Back in the early 90s when this show was in its run, finding out the actor most famous for playing Luke Skywalker did the voice for Joker (as well as Spider-Man’s Hobgoblin) was like a revelation. Pre-internet, it was hardly common knowledge and I only knew about it via the Fox Kids newsletter. I was blown away, and sometimes I still am when I pause to consider the voice behind the role. Hamill’s Joker, despite somewhat famously being put-down by critic Gene Siskel in what was possibly the famed critic’s worst take, is what I will hear in my head now and forever whenever I read a line from the character. He’s so good at that manic, high-pitched, voice which he can pivot from to a lower, more threatening tone, on a dime. And that laugh brings it all together. Hamill’s Joker has been rightly celebrated for years now, but it’s important to remember that not enough good things can really be said of it. Mark Hamill is simply the best Joker we’ve ever had and quite likely will ever have.

the condiment king strikes

Introducing The Condiment King!

For The Joker’s final starring role in this series, the episode takes an interesting turn. This one is actually a mystery. Like most mysteries in this show, the solution is easy to solve, but at least this episode tries. So many episodes will show a shadowy figure in the darkness, and if that silhouette doesn’t make it obvious, the reveal comes almost immediately after. For a character that is often referred to as a detective, Batman has little detective work to do in this show aside from looking up information in his super computer. This episode actually has a deliberate twist, and while it really didn’t fool me even as a kid, it certainly gave me pause.

“Make ‘Em Laugh” opens in a swanky restaurant. A lot of what appear to be fairly well-off folks are about to have their dinner disturbed by The Condiment King (Stuart Pankin). If you’re picturing a man in a spandex suit with twin guns that fire ketchup and mustard then good for you because that is precisely how this character looks. He adds to the persona by speaking in puns which cite other popular condiments (“How I’ve relished this meeting!”). This guy is a show invention, but he’ll actually make the jump to the comics, hence why he gets tagged in the First Appearance section in the heading.

condiment king defeated

That looks like it hurt. A lot.

Batman will soon show up to deal with this guy, who despite not possessing weapons that can actually harm people has been relatively successful at extracting cash and jewelry from the patrons. Batman takes one look at his foe and despite The Condiment King’s eagerness for a fight, Batman does not seem willing to oblige. He even does something he almost never does:  he gives the guy a chance to go home and we’ll forget this all happened. The Condiment King never backs down though! Unfortunately for him, he sucks at this. As the two end up on a balcony, The Condiment King loses his balance and falls off landing back-first atop a police cruiser that just arrived. Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmer) is the responding officer and she unmasks the villain and discovers he’s popular comedian Buddy Standler.

the pack rat

You think we’re done with goofy villains, well here’s The Pack Rat!

At home, Batman and Robin have the television going and Standler’s agent is being interviewed by Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). He expresses shock at what happened and doesn’t understand why his client chose to throw his career away like that. Evidently he’s not a great agent since most would at least attempt to explain the actions of their client or just offer a “no comment” instead. Robin is equally confused and remarks he and Alfred were supposed to see Standler judge a comedy competition soon.

batman introduces himself

Pack Rat, prepare to meet Batman.

The next day, Alfred is shopping at a department store called Mayfield’s. A small man in a trench coat approaches a woman and grabs her purse. He dumps the contents on the floor and apparently is only interested in the purse itself. He removes his coat and hat to reveal his own villainous attire of The Pack Rat (Grant Shaud)! He’s out to steal Gotham’s junk (though maybe the all male writing staff is unaware how expensive and valuable purses are) and he’d seem harmless if not for the fact that he’s armed with a submachine gun.

pack rat packin heat

Well that didn’t go the way they wanted it to.

Alfred knows who to call, and Batman and Robin are soon on the scene. The Pack Rat is easily subdued with a rope which pins his arms at his sides. This seems effective for a moment, but he soon falls on his back which leaves the gun pointing straight ahead at the ankles of The Dynamic Duo. He starts spraying gunfire wildly forcing Batman and Robin to take cover. He eventually frees himself from his bounds and starts emptying his gun, which for some reason appears to be ejecting shotgun shells, but who cares? Batman is able to knock him into a display dislodging the gun. For the second consecutive entry, we get a Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference out of me as Pack Rat emerges from the collection of junk armed with a golf club. He swings wildly at Batman missing him and inadvertently hits an electrical box. The resulting shock knocks him unconscious allowing Robin to realize that their enemy is another comedian, this time Harry Loomis. Batman also finds a tiny microchip that had been stuck to the man’s neck via an adhesive and he knows who specializes in such devices.

mad hatter gone mad

The Mad Hatter seems to be doing well.

Batman and Robin head for Arkham to have a chat with one of its famous inmates:  The Mad Hatter. They arrive at the villain’s cell and enter to find The Mad Hatter laying on his side, his back to them. They roll him over and find his face is in a frozen smile. He doesn’t respond to any of their words and Batman soon uncovers a mind control device has been planted on him as well. Someone is using his tech to go after comedians, and more detective work will be needed from our heroes.

While Batman was dealing with Pack Rat, a scene unfolded featuring another comedian:  Lisa Lorraine (Andrea Martin). Her name may sound similar to that of comedian Lisa Lampanelli, but this character is clearly stylized to resemble (and talk like) Roseanne Barr. She was sitting on her couch enjoying some snacks and television when a knock at the door forced her from this cozy spot. She irritably answers the door to find a pizza boy, but she didn’t order any pizza. No matter, she’ll take it, but when the delivery man opens the box noxious gas surrounds her face. The scene makes little effort in disguising the assailant:  The Joker.

smilin shecky

Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot has little to smile about.

With their lead failing them, Batman and Robin return to the Batcave to find out from Alfred that Lorraine has been kidnapped. She and the other two comedians turned rogues were to be the judges of a comedy competition that night. They do it every year, and Robin just happened to tape last year’s edition. Alfred, knowing that time is a factor, already has the video cued up for the pair and found something interesting. Just before the judges announced last year’s winner, an unknown comic burst onto the stage in an attempt to win them over. He refers to himself as Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot, but his voice gives him away. He was thrown off stage and while being hauled away did the usual villain routine of shouting about how he was being wronged and vows revenge. If the voice didn’t give it away, Batman isolates the man’s face, removes his hat and adds some makeup to reveal this man was none other than The Joker.

joker revealed

Hey, guess what? It was The Joker this whole time!

With the reveal officially out-of-the-way, we’re taken to Joker who’s getting ready to take the stage at this year’s Laugh-Off event. He once again dons the persona of Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot and declares himself the winner. He then reveals his real face and goes into his routine while also releasing a bunch of laughing gas to make sure he has a friendly audience. Batman and Robin get the drop on him and bat the gas canister away. Joker then teases the debut of his new female sidekick:  Mighty Mom! It’s Lisa Lorraine in a super hero costume armed with a mop and other household items. She’s under Joker’s control and gives the boys a little fight, but is eventually subdued.

Batman leaves Robin to deal with Mighty Mom while he goes after Joker who leads him to the roof of the club. Batman seems rather angry with Joker for what he did to those comedians and doesn’t understand the criminal’s desire for some trophy. Joker explains it’s not the trophy he wanted, but the title of Funniest Man in Gotham. Joker flees to a giant clown balloon and Batman goes after him. They do their little dance, and Joker produces a knife. When it seems like he might actually get Batman, Robin swings in with the save. The balloon is punctured in the process, and Joker is knocked from it with the trophy stuck on his head. Batman is able to use his grapple gun to catch Joker and they let the deflating balloon slowly bring them to ground level.

joker makes em laugh

Joker does indeed make them laugh in the end.

During the slow descent, Joker’s pants fall off and as he is gently deposited in the street the balloon lands on top of him. He emerges with his pants around his ankles and the trophy still stuck on his head. The many onlookers all react with laughter as the police move in and cuff him. To add more insult to the situation, Joker isn’t even allowed to pull up his pants as he is lead to the police transport and trips. Once inside, he grabs the trophy and puts it back on his head in a bid to hide his shame, or silence the laughter. And that’s the last we’ll see of Joker until The New Batman Adventures.

joker bows out

So Joker doesn’t go out with a bang, but this one is all right.

As a Joker episode, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is definitely more of the comic variety and probably no one’s favorite. The slow reveal of who is behind the real criminal activity is appreciated, and the payoff is mostly satisfactory. Joker being humiliated isn’t new, but the spectacle of this particular ending is a bit more than we’re used to. Many of these season two episodes seemed to try and inject more comedic relief into the series. Either via one of Robin’s numerous jokes, or in this example some really silly villains in The Condiment King and Pack Rat. Sometimes the show has gone a little too far in really changing the tone of the show, but for the most part it’s fine and the comedy bits certainly work better with Joker episodes.

Interestingly, I found myself missing the presence of Harley Quinn here. She’s become so synonymous with The Joker that her absence is almost always felt. I’m not saying the two should be a packaged deal, but I feel like the episode could have used her. At the same time, I’m also glad it did not without at least providing a plausible explanation as to why the two would be working together again.

In terms of last appearances, this episode contains the last appearance of TV news reporter Summer Gleeson. She’ll have two non-speaking cameos in the following series, but her role as convenient TV host and sometimes plot device is over, as far as the main series is concerned. She will pop-up in a voiced role one more time for the feature Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This is also the last contribution, again aside from that feature to come, for director Boyd Kirkland. He’s directed 21 of the show’s 85 episodes plus the feature Mask of the Phantasm. He would go on to direct episodes of other popular series such as X-Men: Evolution and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Sadly, Kirkland passed away in 2011 due to complications from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis while waiting for a lung transplant. He was 60 years old.


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