Tag Archives: the joker

The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 1

batman and selinaWe have arrived at the ultimate end game of our feature on Batman: The Animated Series. After doing a blog entry on all 109 episodes, plus each film, it is time to determine just what is the best of the best. This is always an exercise in futility as people are going to disagree on what is ostensibly a subjective exercise. Still, it feels like a worthwhile way to put a bow on the coverage here as it was the biggest undertaking this blog has done.

To arrive at these rankings I basically added a subjective score to each episode. At first, I started with a 5 point scale, but found that lacked nuance. Inevitably I ended up with a lot of 3 and 3.5 grades without a tidy way to arrange those episodes. I then switched to a 10 point scale and found that much easier to work with. I’m not going to include these ratings with the episode as I don’t think they’re really worth much. It was just a way to make arranging 109 data points in a more manageable fashion. And ultimately, what separates an episode with a rating of 8 with one awarded a rating of 8.5? I don’t really know, it just felt right. Mostly it was me going over the episodes and comparing them. Maybe I did score two episodes the same, but in isolating them I felt one deserved to be ranked higher than the other and thus the 8.5 rating was born. In that, I felt like an old professor I had in college who explains how he approached grading on a curve. If he awarded one student an A and another an A-, but felt they both demonstrated the same knowledge of the material in an equal fashion, he bumped the A- recipient to an A. And there are quite a few episodes of this show that I felt were pretty much equal to one another in terms of quality and enjoyment.

Mostly, this ranking was about separating the episodes I liked from the ones I loved. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some bad ones, but none managed to receive a rating of 0 from me. It also ended up being a bit of a Bell curve in the end as I had three episodes with a perfect score and three with a score of 1 or less. I didn’t do that on purpose, but it amused me to see it play out that way.

Anyway, if you disagree with my list then that is totally fine. I would not expect anyone’s list to match mine. I did not consult any other publications to see what they felt was the best and worst episodes of the show and it has honestly been a long time since I did view such a list. And since there are so many episodes, it didn’t make sense to cram this all into one post as I want to provide a sentence or two to justify my ranking for each one as opposed to just presenting a list. I’m also just doing the episodes and not the films as it hardly seems fair to weigh a feature-length subject against a 23 minute television episode. And if you’re curious, I’d rank the moves in order of release anyways with Mask of the Phantasm being the clear cut best of the three. Let’s get this show on the road though with my pick for worst episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

trio clever names

There’s a trio to fear.

109. –The Terrible Trio

So this episode basically sucks. I hate to be so negative right out of the gate, but I’m not going to say that often so I feel fine with it for now. Basically, three rich kids decide life is boring and turn to crime to get their kicks. It’s not very compelling, nor is the animation particularly enjoyable. Not every episode needs a marque villain, but it needs something better than these clowns. Let’s move on.

108. – Prophecy of Doom

A con artist dupes Gotham’s wealthy into handing over their money as part of a doomsday cult. It’s pretty incredible, and why should Batman care if a bunch of rich people get taken for a ride? A fool and his money are soon parted.

107 – The Underdwellers

This one felt like the show pandering to children. It almost feels like it started with the notion of Batman admonishing a child for handling a firearm and then the episode was created around it, and rather haphazardly. This is the one where Batman has to go into the sewer to beat up a jerk who dresses like a pirate and has pet crocodiles. It is one of the most “anime” looking episodes which at least makes it visually interesting at times.

106 – The Forgotten

If you had asked me to name my least favorite episode of Batman when I was a kid, I probably would have named this one. As an adult, it’s merely the fourth worst episode. Batman spends much of the episode with amnesia trapped in a slave labor camp being run by a morbidly obese man who seems to always have food in his mouth. It’s just not a compelling story and the payoff of Batman getting this guy doesn’t make up for it. Plus, I really dislike the music in this one which is a criticism I can really only say about this particular episode.

Cape_and_Cowl_Twist105 – The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy

Batman is lead through a series of traps by some joker named Josiah Wormwood who wants his cape and cowl to give to some other jerk. It ends up being a long con by Batman himself to basically entrap the guy which makes it feel rather pointless in the end.

104 – The Worry Men

Another one of Gotham’s wealthy is victimized once again, this time it’s Veronica Vreeland who brings back little dolls from a vacation she recently returned from. They end up being mind control devices created by the Mad Hatter, so this is the first appearance of what I would consider a noteworthy villain on this list. Once again, it’s just not a very compelling plot, but at least it does an okay job of holding back on the reveal of the plan’s mastermind, something even the good mystery-based episodes fail to do.

103 – Moon of the Wolf

Steroids are bad, kids, which seems to be the message in this one. Anthony Romulus seeks an edge and winds up a werewolf courtesy of Dr. Milo, one of the worst of the reappearing villains. There’s also some animation gaffes and some odd visual choices which further hurt this one.

102 – Fire From Olympus

Another one I detested far more as a kid than I do now. At least I can find humor in this one which depicts Maxie Zeus as a guy basically out of his mind. He thinks he’s the actual Zeus from Greek mythology with Batman serving as Hades. It’s almost too ludicrous though for an episode of Batman. Some laughs can be had, but little else.

TT_41_-_Cat-Woman

A new look for Catwoman.

101 – Tyger, Tyger

Batman does The Island of Dr. Moreau, only here it’s Catwoman who serves as a victim. This one may be a favorite of those who identify as Furries considering Catwoman is essentially nude throughout it and covered in fur, but for the rest of us it’s just merely a dud.

100 – Lock-Up

This episode has a solid premise, but the execution is just so-so. Lock-Up is a more extreme vigilante who views himself as judge, jury, and executioner which obviously doesn’t mesh with Batman’s world view. It does a good job of laying the groundwork before falling apart in the second act. It also contains one of Batman’s sillier “transformation” techniques when he uses a briefcase full of smoke to hide so he can change into his Batman costume.

99 – The Lion and the Unicorn

This is basically an Alfred solo episode, and no disrespect to the world’s most famous butler, but he’s a bit out of his element. It also marks the return of lesser villain Red Claw, someone no one needed to hear from again. The story takes our characters over to London though which at least makes for some new backgrounds.

 

klarion in control

98 – The Demon Within

Our first appearance of The New Batman Adventures. In short, if you’re a fan of Etrigan the Demon then you’re mad at me right now. If you’re like me and you care not for the character, then you’re probably in agreement that this is one of the lesser episodes in the series. Batman doesn’t do supernatural real well, and there’s a lot of that going on here. It’s just not an episode I was ever able to get into.

97 – Eternal Youth

The episode where we are introduced to Alfred’s friend, or girlfriend, Maggie. She will not be heard from again and I suppose that was for the best. They get lured to a resort being operated by Poison Ivy and wind up turned into trees. Yet another episode where a villain preys on the stupidity of Gotham’s wealthy. At least Batman has a personal stake this time and the rich aren’t just being extorted out of their money, but also their lives, unless you consider existing as a tree living.

96 – The Cat and the Claw – Part II

The follow-up to the show’s premiere was…okay? Batman and Catwoman team-up to stop Red Claw from basically nuking Gotham. A Batman/Catwoman team-up could have been appointment television, but it happened way too fast killing the novelty. Plus Red Claw just wasn’t up to the task of being the big baddie who gets the pair to cooperate anyway.

95 – Joker’s Wild

Our first appearance of the Joker! His episodes are usually pretty good, but this was a rare dud. Joker gets lured into attacking a casino baring his likeness in what amounts to an insurance scheme. It’s a bit amusing to see Joker get played, but this sort of thing would be executed far better in a later episode. It’s also a real low point in terms of animation as this episode basically lead to Akom Production Co. getting fired from the show after producing several other season one episodes.

94 – Chemistry

Poison Ivy’s lone solo outing in The New Batman Adventures comes in at 94. She basically just repeats her cloning trick from “House & Garden” only this time she creates a spouse not for herself, but for (you guessed it) Gotham’s wealthy singles. Bruce is part of the scheme and he ends up getting married to a plant lady. There are some interesting choices in this one, but mostly the plot just isn’t believable which ruins the whole mystery of it all.

bruce mantis

93 – Critters

A much derided episode that Paul Dini is at least willing to stand up for. He can like whatever he wants to like, but I’m just going to have to disagree here. I never wanted to see Batman battle giant bugs or anything similar. The humor the episode aims for also just doesn’t really land.

92 – Sideshow

Killer Croc’s redemption story might have turned into a worthwhile episode if it was ever believable. Instead, we know he’s just a bad guy and it’s only a matter of time until Batman finds him among the circus folk he falls in with. There’s a solid fight scene though, and I like the logic of Croc being declared completely sane and thus deserving of jail as opposed to being placed in Arkham. It’s too bad that didn’t stick though.

91 – I’ve Got Batman in my Basement

A surprisingly divisive episode. Bruce Timm seems to despise it, and with some good reason. This one really talks down to its audience, and it also makes The Penguin look completely incompetent. There’s some fun bits in it though that make it hard to hate. I actually know some folks who think this is one of the best of the series! I disagree, but I can at least see what they might find appealing about it. Basically, if you like it when the show doesn’t take itself seriously, or ever wanted to save Batman as a kid, then you probably rank this one higher than I do.

90 – Girl’s Night Out

I want to like this one, but the character of Livewire just doesn’t do anything for me. She’s annoying and a bit overpowered for the likes of Batman, not that he’s in this one really. This is the one that features the Batgirl/Supergirl team-up and unfortunately that just isn’t nearly as interesting as the villainous ladies. Poison Ivy and Harley are along for the ride and their chemistry keeps this thing from floundering. They’re so much more interesting than the heroines that I wish the episode focused entirely on their perspective and eventual clash with Livewire rather than presenting something a bit too conventional in the end.

CSF_46_-_Batmobile-2

Let it snow!

89 – Cat Scratch Fever

Dr. Milo’s other outing. I think I have this one too high because it’s not among my favorites, by any means. It once again puts Catwoman in the role of the victim as Dr. Milo and his annoying goons target Gotham’s strays. I do give this one bonus points for all of the snow though as it is a great deal of fun to look at. I still think I could have ranked this one closer to 100 though.

88 – The Cat and the Claw – Part I

The premiere episode of the show put Batman and Catwoman at odds. It’s a solid episode, reminding me that once we got past #95 or so the episodes actually became fine, just nothing to write home about. As a stand-alone episode, there’s just not a ton to work with though, and it’s too bad the setup created by this episode had such woeful payoff. The episode is at its best when we get to see Catwoman and Batman play off each other and Adrienne Barbeau really nails the role of Catwoman.

87 – P.O.V.

This was an experimental episode in which three cops are forced to recount the events of the evening to Investigative Affairs and we’re left to figure out whose account is the most accurate. It’s written pretty well, but the nature of the beast means it’s also repetitive and I don’t think it quite manages to remain compelling for the entire duration. I like that the show tried something like this though and other episodes would attempt similar things and really knock it out of the park.

joker0286 – Christmas with the Joker

Maybe my most disappointing episode. I love Christmas so I want to love this, but it’s just okay. Joker at least gets to sing the popular alternate version of “Jingle Bells” and be genuinely amusing, it’s just the action spots that are a bit weak. Plus there are some awful puns and Robin really adds nothing in his series debut. Even though it’s not great, I still think it’s worth watching around the holidays.

85 – Day of the Samurai

The rematch few wanted, but most were fine with. Batman takes on the Ninja only this time it’s in Japan and we get a silly Touch of Death plot device added to raise the stakes. There’s a fun Bat-death fake-out and a fight around an erupting volcano which is pretty cool.

84 – Animal Act

The Mad Hatter returns only this time he’s decided to control the minds of animals rather humans to some degree of success. Nightwing gets to return to the circus which is cool, and Tim literally shovels poop. It’s also one of the better mystery plots the show did, which is worth something.

batman catwoman smokestack

83 – Cult of the Cat

Catwoman gets herself caught up in some cat worshiping cult that you just know is bad news. This puts her at odds with her masculine counterpart which just feels incredibly corny. I was definitely sick of victim Catwoman by the time this one came around which probably prevented me from enjoying it more. It’s basically just another average episode.

82 – Torch Song

A celebrity has herself a violent stalker in the form of Firefly. It’s a different setup from what we’re accustomed to, but a more worthwhile one than rich person gets extorted. I wish Firefly was just a better adversary though. It feels like Batman got scaled-down to be on more equal footing with him, but that’s a criticism I could level at a great many villains on this show.

81 – Deep Freeze

The much anticipated return of Mr. Freeze saw him team-up with the Walt Disney wannabe, Grant Walker. This one marked an extremely contrived way to bring back one of the show’s breakout stars. It nailed the motivation for Freeze, but the rest was a bit lacking. The film SubZero ended up being really similar and a much more suitable way to bring back Mr. Freeze making this episode feel nonessential as a result.

the condiment king strikes80 – Make ‘Em Laugh

Joker’s finale from the original run of the show had him seeking revenge on some comedians who dared to suggest he wasn’t funny once upon a time. It’s silly, but Joker is insane so I can’t say the plot doesn’t make sense. This has some of the funniest moments from the show in it such as the debut of The Condiment King. I think if the final act was more satisfying this could have been a classic, instead it’s just merely good.

This is where I’m going to cut-off Part I of this feature. This will be the longest entry in this series in terms of episodes covered with the rest spanning 20 episodes each until we spotlight them all. It seems only right to make this the Friday feature going forward as that’s what Batman was for the better part of two years on this blog. Check back next week for episodes 79 through 60. Same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.

 


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.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Harley’s Holiday”

harleys holiday title cardEpisode Number:  81

Original Air Date:  October 15, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  General Vreeland

We’re down to the last five episodes of Batman, which means basically every episode contains a final appearance from someone in the show (and surprisingly, we still have a first appearance or two). For today’s episode, the last appearance falls to the show’s biggest star it created:  Harley Quinn. It’s actually her last in-costume appearance, as she’ll have a small role in the following episode. This is the second episode in this short second season to feature Harley as a main player. We last saw her in “Harlequinade” when Batman needed her help to stop The Joker. The episode concluded with Harley wanting to kill her beloved Mr. J, before abruptly making up giving the episode a “happy” ending of sorts. This episode leaves out Joker entirely and focuses all of its attention on Harley.

Through seeing just how abusive and awful Joker is towards her, Harley has become a sympathetic figure. It’s made easier by the fact that she’s a pretty jovial person and quite charismatic. She’s the comic relief in almost every episode she’s featured and I think viewers genuinely want to like Harley Quinn even though she’s technically a bad guy. Paul Dini likely recognized this and he too probably liked the character a lot and probably had to wrestle with the idea of just making her a good guy. This episode deals with that prospect to some degree. In what has become a running theme in the show’s second season, this is another reform episode for a villain. This time it’s Harley’s shot at redemption, but it will stop short of actually turning the character, but leaves that door open a crack. It’s basically her misadventures in Gotham flying solo and is yet another peek into the character’s soul.

harley skate

In this episode, Harley finds herself as a free woman.

The episode opens with Batman and Robin dropping off their latest catch at Arkham Asylum. Making his second appearance of the season is The Scarecrow (Henry Polic II), a real star in season one reduced to cameos in season two. He’s ranting and raving about being feared and demanding respect as the duo drop him off. While I feel like the character deserves better, I do admit this is a pretty humorous scene. Nearby, Harley (Arleen Sorkin) is receiving her clean bill of health from Dr. Joan Leland (Suzanne Stone) and she happily shares that news with Batman. To her surprise, Batman offers his hand as a sign of congrats, but does issue her a warning that he’ll catch her again if she doesn’t keep her nose clean. Harley asserts that she’s going on the straight and narrow and seems sincere. She takes his warning as a challenge and vows to show the world a new and better Harleen Quinzel.

She gets to it the next day in true Harley fashion. Sporting some short-shorts and roller skates, her precious hyenas pull her down the sidewalks of Gotham via a leash as she happily blows bubbles while fellow pedestrians duck for cover. Harley is confused by the terrified reactions of her fellow citizens but is otherwise unfazed by it. An advertisement for a clothing sale catches her attention causing Harley to duck into a department store, hyenas and all.

harley sane

Harley happily showing off her clean bill of health.

In that very same store, Bruce Wayne is doing some shopping as well along with socialite and fellow wealthy person Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner). Wayne doesn’t seem to be enjoying this little game of dress-up at Vreeland’s expense, while she remains blissfully ignorant of his enjoyment, or lack thereof. Harley soon approaches and stumbles into the arms of Wayne. She pauses to admire Wayne’s chin and even covers the rest of his face with her hand indicating she’s about to stumble upon something important, but just remarks that she recognizes him to be Bruce Wayne, the boy billionaire! Bruce has little time to be relieved as Harley’s hyenas, likely recognizing his scent, start barking rather viciously at him. Harley acts confused by their reaction, and then turns her attention to the lack of wedding band on Bruce’s finger and begins flirting with him. Vreeland takes exception, and Harley backs off thinking she’s a jealous girlfriend. She then asks Vreeland if she remembers her from a past job (“I was the clown holding a gun on you!”) before displaying her sanity diploma. The two take their leave, while Harley goes to pay for her dress.

harleys back

Well, that didn’t take long.

Harley heads to a checkout register, while the department store manager seems really anxious to be rid of her and her troublesome pets. Harley, happy with herself for actually paying for something, then goes to leave the store. Unfortunately, the clerk forgot to remove the security tag on her dress, and when the store alarm goes off at the door she panics. A security guard approaches in a some-what agitated manner to explain the problem, but Harley gets extremely defensive. She freaks out, swats him with a mannequin arm and makes a dash for the changing rooms all the while bemoaning her predicament, her tenuous hold on sanity apparently about to break. Outside, Bruce is helping Veronica into his car when he notices the commotion as the hyenas knock some mannequins through a store window. He runs inside to see what’s going on and is pointed towards the dressing rooms. When he gets there, he reassuringly calls to Harley that it’s just a misunderstanding and she should come out. She does, only now she’s in her Harley Quinn attire. She assaults Bruce with the same mannequin arm and runs for the exit, hyenas in tow, and commandeers Bruce’s car with Veronica inside.

Harley flees the scene as Veronica is dumped into the backseat with the hyenas. As she peels out, Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) nearly collides with her and instead crashes into the store. Enraged, he pulls out his siren in preparation for a pursuit, while Bruce Wayne is left flummoxed on the sidewalk.

sorry veronica

Veronica does not enjoy riding with Harley’s babies.

At Gotham Police Headquarters, Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) is receiving an undressing in his office by General Vreeland (Frank Cover), Veronica’s father. He’s irate that his daughter has been kidnapped and is convinced the police aren’t doing enough. Gordon tries reasoning with him as he reiterates what the audience knows which is that Harley fled in a moment of panic over a mistake. He fears an aggressive pursuit could just put Veronica in further danger. General Vreeland is not receptive to the argument, and in his rage he knocks over a cup of coffee on Gordon’s desk. He then gets quiet and apologizes and asks Gordon if he could have a moment to collect himself. Gordon happily obliges and leaves the general alone in his office, but Vreeland uses the time to pick up the phone and place a call to the army.

boxys back

I bet fans are happy we get to check in with Boxy one more time.

Batman and Robin are on the scene and they conclude that Harley needs to head to a friendly place, possibly to skip town. They pick her up on a tracking device, and as they close in on Harley so does Bullock. His car is fine now, but it soon won’t be as he crashes into a hydrant. Harley challenges Batman to a race, while he tries to get her to stop. She’s able to shake him eventually.

As is often the case, Batman’s hypothesis is correct and Harley heads for the current hideout of Boxy Bennett (Dick Miller). Bennet is still angry with Harley after their encounter in “Harlequinade” and isn’t thrilled to see her show up at his doorstep this time. She explains the situation, and also uses the fact that Bennett is sweet on her to her advantage. Bennett agrees to help her out, but he wants Vreeland in exchange since she’s a pretty valuable hostage. Harley is unwilling to do that declaring she intends to let the woman go, but Bennett won’t budge in his demands. Batman and Robin show up when things start to look dark, and a fight breaks out. Harley eventually gets to assault Boxy with a fish(his hideout is at a wharf), but eventually he corners she and Vreeland at gunpoint. Harley is forced to summon her babies to her aid, and they take out Boxy and occupy him long enough for Harley to grab Vreeland and flee. Batman and Robin are forced to give chase in the Batmobile, while Bennett ends up in a box truck (pun intended?) to do the same.

harleys sorry

Veronica and Harley have a little heart to heart while escaping.

It’s at this point the episode takes on a sillier tone. We already saw Bullock crash once, and he rejoins the chase and this time his car is looking rather damaged. He’ll end up crashing once more, and his car will gradually deteriorate in what feels like an obvious homage to Smokey and the Bandit. Meanwhile, as Harley and Veronica flee the two have a heart to heart. Veronica is somewhat touched to find out Harley meant what she said back there, and in a showing of good faith, tells Harley she won’t press any charges if she can get her home in one piece. Harley is positively elated to hear that and just when she thinks her luck is changing, she runs into General Vreeland.

general vreeland

This guy is pretty nuts.

General Vreeland confronts the two on Gotham’s most famous bridge from the confines of a tank. Even though his daughter is in the vehicle, it doesn’t stop him from firing upon it. Harley is forced to swerve and turn around, but soon finds herself with assailants from all directions:  General Vreeland, Bullock, and Bennett. She somehow makes it through a four-way intersection only to come face to face with the Batmobile in an alley, forcing her to turn around. Her other pursuers come barrelling after her and end up crashing in a humorous manner. General Vreeland even runs over Harvey’s car, but not before the ladies bail. Skating through all of that without so much as a scratch is the Batmobile.

Batman and Robin hop out to survey the damage of the big crash. As they look around, Harley calls to them from above and drops Vreeland into Robin’s arms unexpectedly. General Vreeland runs over to greet his daughter. Boxy tries to flee, but Robin lassos him before he can get away. As he shouts out that he’s got nothing on him, a soaking wet Bullock grabs him by the collar and assures him he can find something.

harley grenade

Harley refusing to go quietly.

Batman chases after Harley onto the Gotham rooftops. As he pursues her he tries to urge her to give it up as he knows what happened to cause all of this. Harley, seemingly beyond help at this point, just rants about her terrible day. She’s convinced the world is against her and is rather down. She attacks Batman wildly, who doesn’t seem like he really wants to fight back. Harley winds up on a billboard and whips out a Joker bomb and tosses it at Batman. A comedy of errors resulting from the explosion leaves Harley dangling precipitously from another billboard. She makes a crack about going out on a joke before plummeting to her would-be demise when the structure breaks. Batman is able to make the save and use his trusty gadgets to get them both to ground level safely, but not before Harley makes a mess on his cape.

harleys dress returned

She may be back in Arkham, but at least she got her dress.

Batman and Robin then bring Harley back to Arkham, where she apparently still belongs. Harley is dismayed, but Dr. Leland is there to greet her and assures her that her stay won’t be as long this time. Vreeland isn’t pressing charges, which perks her up. Harley then turns to Batman and asks why he keeps looking out for her, even though she’s obviously a real pain in the neck for him. He responds by telling her he can sympathize with her desire for a normal life adding that he once had a bad day too. He then presents Harley with the dress she bought earlier, the one that started all of this, and she happily takes it and places a kiss of gratitude on his lips. She pauses to regard what she did, while a big smile spreads across her face. Harley tosses the dress then goes back in for a much longer, and more sensual, kiss that seems to surprise Batman quite a bit. Robin looks on with amusement, while Poison Ivy looks on from her cell like she feels betrayed. Harley then instructs Batman to call her, who then tries to play it cool with a “Don’t press your luck,” and fails miserably. The heroes depart, while Harley heads for a cell. Noticing the amused look of Poison Ivy, she sticks her chin up and responds with a “What are you looking at?”

harley kiss

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

“Harley’s Holiday” is a fun, at times even slapstick, story with a solid heart at its core. Even though it’s Harley’s first foray without Joker, his presence is somewhat felt in the whole notion of one bad day really messing things up as it feels like a callback to the classic Joker story The Killing Joke. For viewers, there is a frustrating component to this type of story as a character we’re rooting for keeps making destructive decisions based mostly on misunderstanding. And in the end, Harley is returned to the walls of Arkham with the rest of Gotham’s criminally insane, but there’s at least a hint at a silver lining. Plus her final exchange with Batman is a great way for the character to bow out of the series. It’s funny, and I like that Robin and Ivy’s reactions were included. It would have also been interesting to see Joker’s reaction, but I do actually prefer that he was kept out of this one all together so that Harley didn’t have her spotlight usurped for even a second. Though it is a bit odd to see Ivy in Arkham. Last time we saw her, she successfully evaded capture at the end of “House & Garden.” Apparently, she was captured offscreen once again.

The visuals of this episode are really quite fluid. It’s another Dong Yang episode and it’s one of their best. There are lots of new character models and scenery to make use of. The chase scenes are ludicrous with Bullock’s deteriorating vehicle and animated with a ton of charm. The final confrontation between Harley and Batman is also made interesting with the numerous neon billboards filling the background. Most of which are animated, so it wasn’t a simple task of just painting a new background. The glow of it at all certainly makes me think of the Joel Schumacher Batman films that would follow.

The comedy and also sweet undertone of the episode makes up for the frustrations it places on the viewer. It’s a bit of a shame that Harley’s reform did not, and will not, stick as she’s back to a life of crime in The New Batman Adventures. Which, I suppose, is for the better as it would be a shame to not have Harley Quinn opposite Batman from here on out. At the same time, it’s nice to be able to feel something for a character that began life as just a plucky henchwoman many episodes ago. Harley Quinn is quite possibly the greatest success of Batman: The Animated Series and it’s impossible to separate her from the show’s impactful legacy.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Harlequinade”

Harlequinade_Title_CardEpisode Number:  72

Original Air Date:  May 23, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Boxy Bennett

“Harley & Ivy” introduced some unhappiness to crime’s most celebrated couple. The Joker, angered with Harley, tosses her out forcing her to make it on her own where she finds a kindred spirit in Poison Ivy. That was back in episode 56, and Harley and Joker have made just one appearance each since and that was the ensemble episode “Trial” which seemed to reset their relationship while still drawing on their dysfunction for comedy. “Harlequinade” feels like the true follow-up to “Harley & Ivy” as a result. This is an episode that’s going to further establish that Harley and Joker do not share a relationship that anyone should aspire to emulate. It’s an abusive, toxic, relationship that will likely eventually end with one, or both, dead. And therein lies the strange dichotomy of this relationship as it’s largely presented for laughs, but writer Paul Dini isn’t afraid to peel back some of that surface-level humor to show what’s underneath.

In order for this episode to work, it’s going to ask of us to suspend our notion of disbelief. It begins with a mob auction, and what’s on the docket? An atomic bomb! The episode makes no mention of how the Gotham underbelly acquired such a destructive weapon, which really might be more interesting than the episode itself. Obviously, if a crime boss ever got ahold of something such as an atom bomb more than just the Gotham PD would be on-hand.

btas abomb

On the block today, one A-Bomb!

Those attending this auction aren’t particularly of interest. On one hand, it’s admirable that Dong Yang Animation didn’t re-use a bunch of season one characters, but it might have also made sense to see a Rupert Thorne in attendance. The bidding opens at a million, and it escalates from there, until someone interjects with a “zero!” That someone is The Joker (Mark Hamill), and when he walks on stage in his usual attire plus a fashionable top-hat (The Mad Hatter would be furious) all of the guns in the place soon find him. Before anyone can open fire, Joker removes his hat to reveal a lit bomb. Not a realistic one, mind you, but a cartoonish, spherical, black bomb. Everyone hightails it out of there, but Joker grabs the auctioneer (played by Neil Ross) and sticks him with the bomb. Predictably, it’s a gag-bomb, but it also houses a sinister purpose as Joker Gas soon pours out of it. The auction dealer bursts into hysterical laughter while his eyes look like they’re about to pop from their sockets. And now Joker is in possession of an atomic bomb. The setup may be silly, but I can’t lie, it’s an interesting situation.

sinister gag bomb

Did real bombs ever resemble this?

Commissioner Gordon is shown on the phone with Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner) who is stressing this needs to be hidden from the public. Why a mayor gets to make that call is not explained, but Gotham feels like it’s its own island. A quick cut to Hill on the phone reveals that the hand holding the receiver to his ear possesses a violet jacket and white glove, so someone is obviously being coerced into making this statement to Gordon. Batman is there to eavesdrop and makes the pronouncement that in order to catch The Joker they need to be able to think like him, and there’s only one person capable of doing that.

batmans proposal

Batman’s got a proposition for old Pig Tails.

Which brings us to Harley (Arleen Sorkin), who seems perfectly content by herself in her room at Arkham when Batman busts in on her. She’s not particularly thrilled by his presence, but Batman brings her up to speed and offers her a way out:  help him find The Joker and she can walk out of Arkham a free woman. Harley accepts and there’s some good visual humor as she enthusiastically waves Batman’s arm around while proclaiming herself his greatest female adversary. Batman, for his part, is able to convey a feeling a dread as he now has to put up with her for what could be a long night.

harley bat teamup

She may be a psycopath, but she sure is adorable.

They jump into the Batmobile, and after Harley nearly causes a crash (and Batman gets really angry with her, bravo Kevin Conroy on this piece of voice-acting), he tells her they should first head to Joker’s last known hideout. It’s some kind of dilapidated fun house, but it was obviously in use recently. Harley disappears a moment to “slip into something more comfortable” while Batman takes note of Joker’s vast surveillance network that includes City Hall, Gordon’s office, and Hill’s office. He also gets reacquainted with Harley’s babies, two massive hyenas that pounce on him and rip his costume a bit. Harley emerges form the back, now in her harlequin costume, and calls off her dogs who are delighted to see their mommy. This leads to an interesting conversation between Harley and Batman who questions why she’s so infatuated with Joker. She reveals another layer to her origin by explaining that she got sick of listening to other’s problems while she was a psychiatrist at Arkham and that Joker was the first one to listen to her’s. And he made it all seem fun. When Batman asks about the people Joker hurts, she crosses her arms and stubbornly responds with, “It’s just a joke.” Batman then offers up what can only be foreshadowing when he says she’ll think differently when it’s she who is on the receiving end.

harley and her babies

Harley reunited with her precious babies:  Bud and Lou.

Batman and Harley then head off to another old hideout and Batman radios ahead to Robin (Loren Lester) to meet them there. As Batman fires off a grappling hook to enter, Harley tries to impress him with one of her own, but only succeeds in hurting herself. They enter, and much to their surprise, find a thriving night club full of mobsters. They turn and notice Batman’s presence and start pulling out their guns. As Batman surveys the room, he’s struck from behind and knocked out cold by, who else, Harley Quinn.

harleys performance

Silly and seductive.

She ties him up and tosses him on a roulette table announcing her presence with extreme authority. The host of this party is Boxy Bennett (Dick Miller), who has taken over this location from The Joker. Harley and Bennett apparently know each other as they reminisce and Harley soon jumps onto the stage and launches into a rendition of “Say that We’re Sweethearts Again.” It’s a humorous little number full of slapstick humor. It soon becomes obvious this performance is a distraction, and one that apparently is working as the men all hoot and holler and Bennett himself displays a disturbingly aggressive expression upon his face. As Harley sings, Robin sneaks in through a window and is able to cut the ropes on Batman’s wrists. After that, it’s a just matter of beating up the bad guys. As the dynamic duo take them all on, Harley encourages them in a rather cute manner referring to them as “B and R.” She also gets in on the action herself, swinging from a chandelier that she drops onto Bennett.

the dynamic trio

Maybe they should just replace Batgirl with Harley.

As the trio escape into an alley, Harley cheerfully encourages Batgirl to eat her heart out while Robin asks Batman just what was she before she went nuts. They arrive at the Batmobile, and Robin came via motorcycle, and he gives Batman an update. No one has been able to locate the Joker, but Hill still refuses to evacuate Gotham. At that point Harley starts laughing. When Batman inquires why she responds with how better to tie-up the police than to tie-up the mayor himself?

We then cut to a bound Mayor Hill. He’s at his home and Joker soon struts into the picture wearing an old-fashioned striped swimsuit complete with sunglasses and his duck floaty from “The Laughing Fish.” The atomic bomb is the backdrop to Joker gleefully jumping into Hill’s swimming pool as ominous music thunders in the background and Joker laughs menacingly.

Outside Hill’s residence, Harley is happily congratulating herself for figuring out the scheme until Batman cuffs her once more and seals her in the Batmobile. She easily gets out of the cuffs and starts playing with some of the many buttons as Batman and Robin sneak in.

harley n joker reunited

Joker surprised, but hardly disappointed.

Done with his swim, Joker is happy to taunt Hill as he prepares to make his escape. Viewing Gotham’s annihilation as the ultimate punchline, he radios for his boys to bring in the plane and shoves a bound Hill into the pool. Batman bursts in and wacks Joker with a batarang before attending to Hill. Joker then attacks with his only weapon, a patio umbrella (first Mad Hatter, now Penguin!), which proves rather ineffective. It seems like the fight will end rather quickly, until Batman gets shot with a strange weapon. What basically look like steel “U” shaped stakes hit him in each wrist before going into a nearby tree, pinning him against it. The camera pans to Harley, who is armed with some kind of rifle she found in the Batmobile. She fires it again at Robin, who was busy untying Hill, and a bolo comes out and ensnares him before she jumps into Joker’s arms.

harleys worried

What about the babies, Mr. J? WHAT ABOUT THE BABIES?!

Joker is about as surprised as he’s ever been to see Harley. It takes him a few moments to compose himself before eventually congratulating her and asking her how she got there. When Batman cries out to remind her they had a deal, she lets him know the deal’s off and that no one could turn her against her beloved Mr. J. An old-school looking Joker Plane then arrives and Joker activates a ten-minute countdown on the bomb. As the two head for the plane, Robin calls out to Harley that it’s a good thing they came because that countdown didn’t leave Joker enough time to swing by Arkham to get her before blowing the whole city up. Joker tries telling him to shut up, but this gets Harley’s mind racing. She starts bemoaning all of their friends who will soon be killed and she lists them off in amusing fashion:  Ivy, Two-Face, Hat Guy, Lizard Man, and Puppet-head. It’s Batman’s reminder that her precious pets will also be killed that puts her over the edge. Joker tries shoving her onto the plane, but she kicks him in the face and races over to Batman declaring for the first time that maybe Mr. J isn’t the right guy for her after all.

jokers attire

Getting a real Snoopy vibe, here.

Undaunted, Joker climbs aboard the plane and emerges in the gunner position complete with flying attire. Batman is able to escape from his bounds just before some Joker bombs strike. Joker is discouraged to see his attack failed and he orders his men to circle back. They, understandably, protest given the presence of the atomic bomb about to explode and Joker responds by swinging the gun turret in their direction. Batman and Robin are able to cancel the bomb’s countdown, but Joker soon swoops in with machine guns blasting. He declares the bomb is going off no matter what, but they fly too close to the ground allowing for Harley to make a move. With one final bad ass line, “Laugh this one off, puddin!” she fires her jester-head device and lands a direct hit on Joker’s noggin. He lurches back, obviously concussed, with his hands still squeezing the triggers causing the turret to spin around wildly.

harley rattattat

Of course.

The plane crashes into Hill’s house, but Joker demonstrates once again his hidden super power of avoiding death as he merely stumbles out the backdoor, unharmed. He collapses on the ground as his chute deploys. He eventually looks up to find Harley standing over him with a gun aimed right at him. He stands up to confront her and declares she doesn’t have the guts while Batman calls to her to stop. She’s determined though, and yanks the trigger only for a “Rat Tat Tat” series of flags to emerge. Joker appears shocked, while Harley seems just as surprised and even a little disappointed. He soon smiles and declares “Baby, you’re the greatest!” She too smiles and jumps into his arms once again as the camera pans up to close out the episode with an iris shot in the shape of a heart. Before it fades to black, Joker’s two henchmen can be seen crawling from the wreckage of the plane as well, in case you were concerned.

baby youre the greatest

I guess they’re made for each other, for better or worse. Mostly just worse.

“Harlequinade” both explores the dysfunction of Joker and Harley’s relationship while also serving as a bit of a reset. We find out what it was that lead Harley into Joker’s life and get a little peek into both of their minds. For Harley, Joker is an obsession, a controlling force in her life not unlike addiction. Even when she proves to herself that she’s ready to move on, she still comes crawling (or jumping) back. For Joker, she’s merely another plaything. When she’s there to help with a punchline she’s useful, but when the joke doesn’t call for her he’s fine to move on. And moving on for Joker essentially means he no longer places any sort of value on her life. For Batman and Robin, the events of this episode probably help them to understand Harley a bit more and I presume even pity her. She demonstrated an ability to be heroic, but also further punctuated that her Joker obsession is far from over. It just further stresses that this relationship won’t have a happy ending.

Arleen Sorkin is delightful as Harley, as usual, but this time gets to show off some singing skills as well. It’s a fun sequence and it’s interesting to see the usually goofy Harley Quinn take advantage of her obvious sex appeal (that costume leaves little to the imagination). The whole sequence came about when Paul Dini heard Sorkin singing this same song and thought it would be perfect for Harley and Joker. This is also one of the better episodes from Dong Yang in terms of visuals. Batman looks especially intimidating, and it obviously helps when Kevin Conroy is playing up his angry side when he’s yelling at Harley. The only shortcoming is a goof with the piano player who appears to lack legs. The commentary also points out an issue with Robin’s green attire. They didn’t have access to a good dark green, so a lighter shade of blue is used for the shadows and I think it’s made more obvious by the HD transfers. It’s amusing that given the show’s budget, which was quite large for a cartoon, they couldn’t afford a dark green. It also seems obvious that the network wanted the characters to shy away from the atomic bomb and it’s really only inferred rather than stated explicitly.

Harley is truly the star though here. It’s not surprising to find out via the commentary that Paul Dini had developed a Harley and Ivy spin-off, but it obviously never made it into production. She plays well off of serious characters, and Batman is perhaps the most serious of them all (despite the fact the he wears a Halloween costume all of the time). She has a tremendous amount of character in all facets:  her mannerisms, the script, the acting performance. It’s actually a shame that spin-off never came about. The episode could be uncomfortable for some though, as when viewed through the lens of Harley as Joker’s victim, the story is less comical and more sad. That angle really isn’t played up and the ending feels like it’s intended to be almost cute while also being funny. Maybe it’s asking too much for what is a kid’s show to really wade into such dark waters, but I’m comforted by the fact that we have more episodes to come and more time to see if Harley can break away from the psychotic Joker.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

“Trial” could be described as one of our first big payoff episodes for the series as it draws heavily on the events of season one. After spending considerable time developing Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to play around with them like a kid diving into a toy box for this episode as many of Batman’s foes are brought back for an ensemble episode. It also refers back to “Shadow of the Bat” and Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist, replacing Lynette Mettey, and also the daugher of Alfred voice actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who was first introduced there as a hard-nosed and rigid authority figure. Here her personality is essentially doubled-down on as we find out she has a strong dislike for Batman and Gordon’s reliance on the vigilante in combating the crime infecting Gotham. Her dislike of Batman is a bit more practical than that of Detective Bullock’s as Batman’s clearly breaking the law, or at least bending it, with his vigilante antics and it makes her job considerably more difficult. And since she is at odds with Batman, it only makes sense to lean into that conflict as the backbone for this episode.

janet trial

Goth DA Janet Van Dorn assumes the spotlight for her second appearance. She also has been slightly redesigned to appear more youthful.

“Trial” opens in a court setting. Pamela Isely (Diane Pershing), better known as Poison Ivy, is facing incarceration beyond just treatment at Arkham Asylum and Van Dorn is arguing for life in prison. Ivy is able to avoid jail-time due to her capture being at the hands of Batman, who naturally isn’t present to even testify against her. The judge sends her back to Arkham, not an outcome Ivy probably wanted but it’s still better than prison. When the media approaches Van Dorn following the verdict, she uses the camera time to blast Batman calling him a disgrace and placing the blame for the presence of criminally insane rogues in the city on him. She’s also not afraid to let Commissioner Gordon know how she feels, but as always, he’s willing to stand-up for Batman viewing him as their best weapon in the fight against crime. Batman even drops in on their little meeting, presenting a gang leader as a present (who is wearing a skull shirt that seems to resemble a certain Marvel character’s logo). When Van Dorn challenges him to take off the mask and put on a uniform, Batman says nothing and departs. She takes a batarang from the perp as a parting gift, I guess?

At Arkham, a somewhat somber looking Poison Ivy is returned to her room. Her pal Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) tries to cheer her up, but she has little success. She mentions something big is about to go down though that will likely lift her spirits. We then see some zombie-like orderlies and doctors milling about and The Mad Hatter bursts into the picture to reveal he’s used his mind control cards to subdue them as chaos breaks out.

captured batman

Van Dorn and Batman find themselves tied together by the real foes of Gotham.

A fatigued Van Dorn is shown arriving at a restaurant for dinner. Her date this evening is none other than Bruce Wayne. If Bruce is romantically interested in Van Dorn or just looking to get inside the head of someone who could either be friend or foe to Batman is not shown. Given his dedication to his Batman persona, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was the latter. A waiter (clearly voiced by Mark Hamill, which is an unintentional piece of foreshadowing) comes to the table to tell Van Dorn she has a phone call. She never returns, and soon Batman is summoned by Gordon to find out the DA has been kidnapped. A ransom note was left behind containing a riddle. Batman deciphers it and heads for the court-house where he’s jumped by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Janet Van Dorn finds herself locked-up in Arkham. As she demands to speak with someone, she’s greeted by the former district attorney, Two-Face (Richard Moll). They’re having a little trial and need Van Dorn to act as a defense attorney with Two-Face the acting DA. Her client? None other than Batman. And to make things more interesting, Van Dorn’s fate is to be tied to that of her client. As Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) dumps Batman in the cell with her, she complains about their situation and suggests Batman is where he belongs. Batman has no interest in debating his existence with Van Dorn.

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

The two are lead into the court room, where a bunch of raving inmates jeer the presence of Batman and Gotham’s DA. Harley Quinn is there to taunt Batman revealing she stole his belt. The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) with a newly reconstructed Scarface (also Dzundza) are acting as the bailiff and the jury is rather stacked against Batman as it contains:  Poison Ivy, Harley, Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall), Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and The Riddler (Scarecrow and Riddler are not voiced in this episode). The judge? Well, it has to be The Joker (Mark Hamill) who is looking resplendent in a black robe and wig.

After Dent makes a rather brief and to the point opening statement, the trial gets underway. The Mad Hatter is the first witness who blames Batman for creating him. Van Dorn is able to expose his sick side rather easily, recalling the events of his debut and his obsessive pursuit of a woman who spurned his advances. Harley is the next, and Van Dorn is quick to point out she’s improperly influencing the judge who is laying his head in her lap (they apparently made up). Van Dorn gets no where with that complaint, but during her questioning of Quinn she actually reveals her origin for the first time as a doctor at Arkham perverted by The Joker. She also reveals that Joker ratted her out during his last capture, which enrages Harley and forces Croc to carry her out kicking and screaming.

harleys tampering

Harely and Joker are shown to have a still combustible relationship, but Harley just can’t seem to dump the clown.

Poison Ivy is next up, and her past with trying to murder Harvey Dent is once again brought up. Van Dorn accuses Ivy of having more love for plants than humans, and when Ivy denies that, Van Dorn begins taunting her by plucking the petals off a flower. This sets her off, and Ivy attacks Van Dorn and the two have to be separated. Van Dorn then composes herself for her closing remarks, claiming she now sees that it wasn’t Batman who created these villains, but the villains are the ones who created Batman. Her argument is apparently persuasive, and the jury actually finds Batman innocent. Joker is quick to point out that this is a court composed of the violent and depraved, and as such, they’ll still sentence Batman to the same fate that would have befallen him had he been guilty. Quoting Porky Pig’s “That’s all folks,” Joker strikes the bench with a rubber chicken and the two are dragged away.

van dorn and judge joker

The straight-laced Van Dorn is forced to contend with the crazies of Arkham, something she proves she’s capable of.

The rogues drag Batman to an execution chamber where the electric chair awaits him. Joker enters dressed as a preacher now as Batman is taken out of his strait jacket and placed in the chair. It’s at this point Van Dorn remembers the batarang in her jacket from earlier, and she takes out the only light in the room with it. This gives Batman the only opening he needs as he slips out of his confines and returns to the shadows where he is oh so comfortable being.

The tables have now turned, and Batman lets them know they’re now locked-up in there with him (perhaps a nod to Watchmen?) as he starts picking them off. When he grabs Croc, Joker reaches for Scarface’s miniature, but functional, tommy gun and opens fire. When Scarface warns Joker that he’ll hit Croc, he responds with “What’s your point?”

batman electric chair

This seems like a bad situation for Batman to find himself in, but as usual, he’ll make the best of it.

Batman grabs Van Dorn and the two attempt to escape, but are met by a scythe-wielding Scarecrow on the stairs. Batman is able to parry his strikes, which result in Scarface losing his head, and dispatches of the villains closing in on them. They escape to the rooftop where The Joker awaits. Joker ropes Batman and tugs him off the building with the rope affixed to an abutment that allows Joker to swing from the other end. He tries to take Batman out with a giant mallet, but as always, Batman is able to escape and take him out in the process. By now, the police (who have been tracking Batman’s location this whole time) arrive to clean up the mess. In a brief sequence to close things out, Van Dorn admits to Batman she sees a need for him in Gotham, but adds she’ll still work to create a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. He responds with a smile and a simple “Me too.”

“Trial” is a fun examination of how Batman and his adversaries are connected. Van Dorn’s argument that the cartoonish villains of their world are created by Batman is a common one, while the episode makes the case that it’s the other way around. The reality is that the two are forever intertwined. A criminal act created Batman, but Batman has certainly had a hand in creating some of the villains he combats (Van Dorn even references Joker’s creation which follows that of Batman ’89). It’s a fun little debate, and getting a bunch of villains together in one place is also equally fun and basically the impetus for Batman:  The Movie. I like seeing how the villains also play off each other, though Croc is back to being a dim-witted piece of comic relief who just wants to throw a rock at Batman. Having Harley’s origins touched upon is a nice little nugget and something that will be explored down the road. I could certainly nitpick how easy it was for Mad Hatter to gain access to his special cards or how Van Dorn is a great shot on her first try wielding a batarang, but this episode is pretty packed as-is (supposedly, this plot was considered as the first movie, but was scrapped in favor of Mask of the Phantasm) and had it spent any additional time on such details it would likely not have worked out as well. The script is also delightful, making this perhaps the most quotable episode of the series. The only gaffe, plot-wise, is the presence of Killer Croc in Arkham when it was established in “Sideshow” he’s not insane, just a bad guy.

preacher joker

Preacher Joker is one of the fun little touches in this episode.

Dong Yang Animation does a nice job with this episode having to animate so many unique characters at once. They even went through the trouble of portraying the villains in jumpsuits initially, rather than taking the easy way out and just having them in costume from the start. Bruce Wayne also gets a new look as he’s ditched his old brown suit for a sharp-looking gray one that seems to be his new default look. The drab backgrounds of Arkham are juxtaposed against the colorful costumes everyone sports and it creates a nice look. I also really enjoyed Joker’s various attires and the toy collector in me wouldn’t mind an action figure of Judge Joker and Preacher Joker. Van Dorn also received a subtle make-over from her prior appearance. She wears a blue suit now and appears a bit more youthful than before. There are a couple little production gaffes, like a character’s mouth moving when it shouldn’t and Riddler just disappearing, but nothing glaring enough to take away from the overall presentation.

“Trial” is a good second season episode that really takes advantage of the lore and backstories established in season one, and even elsewhere. It’s the type of episode I like to see in a show’s second season, and for a show like Batman that typically focuses on stand-alone stories, I always get a little rush of excitement when past events are mentioned.


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