Batman: The Animated Series – “The Last Laugh”

The_Last_Laugh-Title_CardEpisode Number:  4

Original Air Date:  September 22, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Carl Swenson

First Appearance (s):  Batboat, Joker Gas

Despite the finality of the title, “The Last Laugh” is not the last appearance of The Joker, Batman’s greatest foil. While The Joker’s first production appearance in “Christmas With The Joker” featured a pretty slap-stick version of the character, The Joker depicted in “The Last Laugh” is a bit more dangerous and more in-line with his future appearances. Even though “The Last Laugh” marks The Joker’s second appearance in the series, it still isn’t the first appearance the character would make on television as we haven’t come to his broadcast debut yet. This is also the second holiday themed episode of the show, in this case April Fool’s Day, though thankfully The Joker would refrain from only appearing on holidays.

April Fool’s Day has arrived in Gotham, and with it a barge full of garbage is sailing down a canal in the city sending a foul order through-out that also happens to make all who inhale burst into uncontrollable laughter. This is obviously the work of The Joker, and our hero makes the same connection just as quickly as the viewer when the news reports break. Strangely, Batman doesn’t actually set out to put a stop to this until the gas creeps into Wayne Manor, turning Alfred (now voiced by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) into a destructive force as he happily smashes various objects around the mansion.

The Last Laugh 1

Joker, breaking the fourth wall, declares “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping,” which is a line I can’t decide if it’s just not funny, or intentionally not funny.

Meanwhile, Joker and his goons are galavanting around Gotham happily looting stores and emptying the pockets of those who are paralyzed with laughter. Unlike other depictions of Joker’s famous Laughing Gas, this version appears to only induce laughter without the fatal component; appropriate for a kid’s show. Batman eventually tracks down the barge with the debuting Batboat, which also appears to function as a submarine (surprisingly, it does not resemble the Bat Ski-Boat from Batman Returns) when needed. Batman is forced into conflict with Joker’s henchman, where one turns out to be not a henchman at all, but an android that is able to surprise and overpower Batman. Captain Clown, as The Joker affectionately refers to his robotic minion, stuffs Batman in a trashcan with a lockable lid and tosses it into the bay, but not before Joker stabs a few air-holes in it. Batman, naturally, avoids death by drowning and tracks the Joker down to a waste management facility where he dispatches with the goons, and eventually corrals The Joker himself.

lastlaugh2

The Joker always brings out Batman’s playful side.

Despite the title, this episode is some-what short on laughs as writer Carl Swenson seems to view The Joker as the type of comedian who just makes bad jokes that only he finds funny. While it may not be all that humorous, the visual style is exceptional. There’s some wonky animation early in the episode with Bruce and a shower scene (not as sexy as it sounds), but after that the rest is gorgeous. The initial fight scene between Batman and The Joker’s men features Batman ably darting around and throwing punches. Captain Clown, being a robot, allows for Batman to really tee-off on him in a manner the censors likely wouldn’t allow had the character been human. He even gets to smash him repeatedly in the head with a steel pipe, the clown’s frozen expression is probably rather creepy for those who hate clowns. Batman’s eyes are also allowed to emote in their most expressive manner yet as they’re constantly changing shapes to show fear, worry, and even dizziness. Joker is allowed to get serious and even a little scary when he reacts to Batman “killing” Captain Clown. There’s also a fun playful moment at the end between Joker and Batman, and Bruce even gets to make a joke to close the episode out at Alfred’s expense. The only other criticisms I can levy at the episode from a technical perspective is one shoddy-looking Batman chest emblem at the 9:40 mark and the abundance of eye black on The Joker, which at times makes it look like he’s wearing a bandit mask. The animators also, at times, appeared to have trouble with Joker’s mouth movements. Either that, or they re-recorded some lines after the fact. I’ll have to be on the look-out for this in future episodes featuring The Joker.

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I’m not sure he’d still be smiling if he could help it.

Not to be outdone, the audio section of the episode is particularly lively this time around. Normally, the show can be a bit understated, relying on the Batman theme for its big moments. Joker has his jubilant theme which the series will return to time and again, and this episode has its own unique opening theme that’s really good. It has a nice build and I wish the show had returned to it more in other episodes, but then maybe it wouldn’t be as special.

This is a very good episode for the series, even if it probably isn’t among the very best. It’s harmed some-what by the mostly directionless Joker who has no real motivation here other than to rob Gotham. The show kind of does that sometimes with him as his primary goal appears to just be to stir up trouble and draw Batman out. Maybe I’d feel satisfied if we saw Joker just casually toss all of the stolen goods into the pile of garbage and not really care about it. Instead we don’t really see it at all. Even so, The Joker is easy to write as he’s Batman’s polar opposite so as long as the two get to share some screen time the results are typically entertaining.

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