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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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Batman: The Animated Series – “Harley and Ivy”

Harley_and_Ivy-Title_CardEpisode Number:  56

Original Air Date:  January 18, 1993

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

Episode 56 brings us to the end of the second volume of Batman:  The Animated Series. As I’ve mentioned probably too many times though, this is still production season one and we won’t be done with that for several more weeks. This is a pretty monumental episode for the series though, as it’s the first pairing of Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) and Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing). Since Harley was such a break-out star for the show that made the move to print, I suppose anything that added to her character in this series is equally as important. The Ivy/Harley friendship became very popular, and though it was mostly shelved for the rest of the series, it was returned in The New Batman Adventures. It too has made the move to the comics and I’m sure the hardcore fans of the characters are hoping to see it one day captured on the big screen. Not to be lost in the Harley/Ivy pairing is the fact that this episode also further delves into the relationship between Harley and her beloved Mr. J. Up until now, she’s mostly been portrayed as his number 1, but this episode further explores her obsession with Joker and hints that there is a bit more to their working relationship than just boss and henchwoman.

The episode opens like many do with Batman in hot pursuit of this week’s villain. In this case, he’s chasing Joker (Mark Hamill) and Harley in the Batmobile with Harley driving and Joker relaxing in the backseat. Harley is pretty stressed as she tries to escape from Batman while Joker’s feet are propped up and he remarks on how beautiful an evening it is. He, as he often does, snaps between glee and irritation ordering Harley around including making ill-advised suggestions on where to turn. When Harley tries to point out that it might not be a good idea he just gets angry. When his decision turns out bad, he blames Harley. Such is the life of a goon. Joker calls for his gun and Harley hands it to him. Unfortunately, she gave him the gag gun which just fires “Bang!” flags. The opening allows Batman to grapple onto the rear of Joker’s vehicle, but they were prepared for such and Harley is able to eject the rear of the car and escape.

harleyivy3

Joker is eager to put the blame on anyone but himself, and poor Harley is his lamb.

Joker and Harley return to their hideout where Joker rants and raves about their encounter with Batman to the other henchmen. He puts the blame for tonight’s failure square on Harley, and when she sticks up for herself he just lays into her worse. He asks if she thinks she’s a better crook than him and it’s enough to actually anger Harley. When she suggests that maybe she is, Joker literally tosses her out of the hideout. Harley shows some defiance and determination, but also some sadness as she leaves her life with Mr. J behind.

Harley sets her sights on the precious Harlequin Diamond which is on display at the Gotham Museum. We get to see just how adept at sneaking and stealing Harley is as she makes her way towards her target, only for the alarms to be set off by another criminal. Poison Ivy is also there and she’s swiping some plant specimens. Irritated by Ivy’s presence, Harley abandons all notions of stealth and just grabs the diamond. She then helps Ivy escape from the police, and the pair use Ivy’s getaway car.

getaway

And the pairing begins!

The two flee to Ivy’s hideout, a little house smack-dab in the middle of a toxic waste dump. Ivy is immune to the chemicals in the air and she’s devised a serum that can pass that onto others, the only problem is it has to be administered via injection which does not sit well with Harley. She goes through with it though, and the two have a long conversation about Harley’s relationship with Joker. Ivy, not surprisingly, is well aware of how poorly Joker mistreats her, but nothing she can say makes Harley see the light. Still, the two are eager to form a partnership to take on Gotham as a two-woman crime team.

Harley and Ivy first target a men’s only club before hitting other spots in Gotham. Their crime spree gains media attention and the two are dubbed The Queens of Crime. This is enough to get the attention of two other noted individuals. First up is Batman, who naturally has an interest in putting a stop to any crime spree that occurs in his city. And then there’s Joker. He’s not exactly bursting with pride to his former protegé having success without him, and with Poison Ivy, no less. He wants to be on the front page, and he vows to put an end to Harley’s fun.

harley misses

Harley missing her Mr. J.

Despite his intentions, there’s little Joker can actually do to slow Harley and Ivy in any meaningful way. He doesn’t know what the two are planning or where they’re hiding out. At least, he wouldn’t if Harley wasn’t homesick for her beloved clown. She secretly phones him from Ivy’s home and he keeps her on the line long enough to trace the call. Unknown to the women, Batman is on to them. He was able to analyze the soil left behind by Ivy’s car and traced it back to the waste dump. Upon arrival he’s attacked by Ivy’s plant guardians and the two women taunt him and chain him to a table. Ivy tries to target Batman’s masculinity by asking if he ever thought he’d be taken down by two women, but Batman won’t bite remarking a sick mind knows no gender.

harley calls joker

Not Harley’s finest moment, but abusive relationships aren’t easy to escape.

Ivy and Harley dump Batman into some toxic water without his gas mask on. Satisfied, they turn their attention back to the house where a certain clown awaits them. Joker, dressed rather dapper, is acting kind of friendly, but also has his goons scooping up Harley and Ivy’s loot. He’s almost immediately confrontational with Ivy, putting Harley in the middle. He tries to gas Ivy with his boutonniere, but it has no effect on her due to her other toxic immunities. Ivy puts him on his rear, and makes off with an obviously conflicted Harley.

joker vs ivy

It’s never easy when the old partner confronts the new.

Joker orders his men after them, but they soon run into Batman. Did you think that little stunt with the table would end Batman? Of course not. He wriggled out of it and now he’s ready to knock some skulls. Joker, upon seeing his mortal enemy, whips out a tommy gun and opens fire. Batman points out that doing so is a bad idea since all of the gas in the area makes the place a powder keg, and sure enough, the whole place goes up in flames. Batman is able to take out the Joker following the commotion, while Harley and Ivy flee in their car. As Ivy announces that no man can take them prisoner, the car is taken out by a shot to the tires. The one responsible is one of Gotham’s finest, officer Renee Montoya, essentially proving Ivy right. Next stop for our villains is Arkham Asylum. Harley and Ivy are gardening while Joker is confined to his own cell in a straitjacket screaming about how he’s going to swear off women when he gets out. Despite that, Harley remains hopeful that she and her “puddin'” can salvage their relationship while Ivy reacts with disgust while tossing soil in her face.

In terms of episodes that are just plain fun, it’s hard to top “Harley and Ivy.” A lot of the episode is a Thelma & Louise style joy-ride shared by the two villains. Poison Ivy is depicted as the self-reliant, man-hater type while Harley is just along for the ride. Her good nature, for a criminal, and cheery demeanor inject a lot of personality into the episode. I love the little quirks given to Harley such as her affinity for nicknames be it Mr. J or her preferred name for Ivy, Red. Batman is often reduced to a side character in villain-packed episodes, and he definitely is here. The trio of starring villains leaves little room for our protagonist, but the episode doesn’t suffer. It’s also interesting how the episode essentially gets us to root for Ivy and Harley, though more so Harley. Most viewers probably find themselves conflicted. Joker is clearly an abusive boss who does not appreciate the talents of Harley. Meanwhile, Ivy has her own agenda. I think she is more interested in Harley’s well-being than Joker is, but both are clearly using her for their own benefit. As a result, whom does the viewer root for? It’s a fun conflict and something to ponder.

apprehended

In the end, they’re foiled by a woman.

This is another Dong Yang animated episode, and it looks and animates rather well though there are more errors than usual. There are a few continuity errors and one scene where the characters’ faces actually disappear. There are plenty of fun scenes though and I like the bits of home life shown between Harley and Ivy. It’s cute, like something you’d see in a film set in college or something. Harley, missing Joker, also manipulates the food on her plate to resemble his face.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Harley and Ivy pairing has been a pretty big success for both characters. They’re paired up often in the comics with many fans seemingly wanting to see the two as more than just a partnership, and DC even gave them what they want. The writers on the show would recognize how popular Harley had become and she gets multiple episodes centered around her in season two, though the pairing of these two isn’t really utilized again until The New Batman Adventures. Similarly, Harley’s relationship with Joker remains strained for the rest of the series. Aside from the episode “Trial,” where all three villains are involved in a plot with basically every reoccurring villain, they remain at odds with each other. A lot of Harley’s madness and her good side are explored in season 2 as their eventual make-up is put on hold. For a show that isn’t too concerned with continuity, it’s nice to see this fracture in their relationship isn’t something that’s just glossed over and reset for their next appearance.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Man Who Killed Batman”

man who killed batmanEpisode Number:  51

Original Air Date:  February 1, 1993

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Sid The Squid

 

It’s always rare to see any form of the word “death” appear in children’s programming. Kill, die, murder, are all words characters will often dance around. Director Bruce Timm and writer for this episode Paul Dini are obviously well aware of that, which is probably why the word “killed” in this episode’s title card appears in bold. Batman is a show that has to appease the executives at Fox, but it’s also a show that will push the envelope in some areas. Normally we equate that notion with violence, though Batman isn’t any more violent than most action cartoons. It usually tried to push things just by taking a more serious, sometimes melodrama, approach to its story-telling. The series has used the word “god” in phrases like “My God,” which is something hardly any cartoons got away with. As such, it’s not surprising the show would try an episode like this one. An episode that hinges on the premise that the show’s hero and main character has been killed. It’s an episode of Batman without much Batman, but it works and it’s one of the more rewarding episodes in the show’s run.

The episode opens with a shadowy, but unimposing, figure running through a rainy night in Gotham. He’s clad in an oversized trench coat and hat, a fairly typical looking gangster aside from the fact that he’s clearly on the short side. He arrives at his destination in a panic and asks to see Rupert Thorne (John Vernon). He’s led into Throne’s private chambers where the rotund crime boss is pouring himself a hot beverage (no booze in a kid’s show) and gestures to his guest to have a seat. We now see the man in full light, and he’s even less impressive than before. Sidney Debris (Matt Frewer) is a short, balding, man with glasses who’s clearly intimidated by being in Thorne’s presence, but he’s also really unnerved and likely needs to be where he’s at. Thorne reveals through talking with Sidney that Sidney is the man who killed Batman and he’s very interested in hearing how it all went down. Sidney settles in to relay his story.

MWKB_22_-_Scared_Sidney

Sidney is not exactly what you would expect from the man who killed Batman.

Sidney is a would-be criminal. A little man who wants to be something big. He’s been trying to break into the big time, but has had his struggles. He hears word on the street about a big drug run about to go down and is able to get in on the action. We see in the flashback that the other criminals on the run don’t see much use in having Sidney around, but the boss Eddie G. (Robert Picardo) says he’ll make for good “bat bait.” Sidney is given a nickname, Sid The Squid, and made the lookout where he childishly fantasizes about being a tough guy, until the Batman shows up that is. Batman, recognizing a squealer when he sees one, sets right into interrogating Sidney. A humorous exchange occurs where a bumbling and clumsy Sidney causes injury to Batman before falling off the building. Batman tries to save him, but Sidney squirms and panics. It’s a great exchange because Kevin Conroy does an excellent job of showing how irritated Batman is to be dealing with such a loser like Sidney. In the struggle, Sidney pulls on Batman’s cape causing him to tumble over. A brick had dislodged earlier and fallen onto a propane tank at ground level causing a leak. When Batman goes over, the tank goes “ka-boom!”

The other gangsters saw the commotion from the ground where it looked like Sid was going toe to toe with the Batman. When the tank explodes they come running over to see what happened. A distraught Sidney climbs down from the rooftop holding the Batman’s cape and cowl. He keeps apologizing to no one in particular while the other crooks look on in disbelief. It’s Eddie who is the first to point out that Sid The Squid took out Batman, though he hardly can believe it himself even though he was there to see it.

joker throne

You just know that Joker needs to get in on this, and he brought a new chair!

They head to a nearby bar to celebrate the ultimate demise of the biggest thorn in their collective side. Sidney has what he wants; recognition, respect, and even a little fear. He’s feeling pretty good about himself, but when other patrons hear that the man who took down Batman is in their midst some try to challenge Sid to prove that they’re tougher than the guy who killed Batman. Sidney, being a meek individual, is happy to cede the role of Gotham’s toughest to the much bigger men there that night, but he’s apparently inspired a few loyalists who come to his aid and a fight breaks out. There’s a great shot during the fight of a bored bartender eating peanuts while looking on indicating this is a fairly routine occurrence in this establishment. Eventually the cops arrive to break things up and everyone is taken downtown and put in a holding cell.

While sitting there waiting out the night, Officer Montoya (Ingrid Oliu) is approached by Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) with some bad news. It would seem the underworld is alive with rumors of Batman’s demise, and a pretty dejected looking Bullock informs Montoya that Batman is dead. He also relays that Gordon is taking the news hard, and asks Montoya to go see him. When she’s gone he reverts into his more traditional tough guy persona as he starts demanding answers of the rabble he’s got locked up. Before anyone has a chance to even consider speaking up about Sid The Squid being there with them, a Ms. Harleen Quinzel walks in demanding the release of Mr. Debris. Clad in a red suit with blond hair, Bullock asks her if he’s seen her somewhere before. She indicates she served him a subpoena before, a small subpoena. Did we just get a dick joke in Batman?

harley crying

Joker isn’t the only one upset about Batman’s apparent demise.

Ms. Quinzel and Sid leave the jail and hop into a limo where the lawyer’s “real” persona is revealed – Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). It would seem the exploits of Sid The Squid have aroused the curiosity of The Joker who would very much like to meet the man who killed Batman. She takes him to a theater that is currently serving as The Joker’s hideout and the two come face to face. The Joker vacillates from being delighted at meeting the man who took down Batman and from seeming rather angry with Sid. Since no one has found Batman’s body, Joker decides they need to run a little test to see if he really is dead. Joker decides to pull a heist, and when one henchman (Maurice LaMarche) questions him he turns his hyenas loose on the fool. Offscreen, the dogs lay into him while Harley mentions she’ll get the mop. It’s an exchange that’s both amusing and horrifying, while the henchman, Murph, does pop his head onto the screen briefly to give it a slightly more slapstick tone.

Joker and his gang head to a jewelry store. Almost right away we see the goon Joker had mauled earlier is in fact still alive, though not without a few blemishes. Joker sets Harley loose on the goods which only succeeds in drawing the attention of Gotham’s finest. Despondent over the lack of Batman, Joker seems to be entering into a violent form of depression. He strikes Harley when she questions him after he told her to return the jewelry and monologues his existence without Batman. Crime has lost its punchline.

joker tribute

A fitting tribute.

Joker decides they need to have a funeral for Batman, and what better place than the Ace Chemical Plant? This Joker is, after all, canonically related to The Joker from Batman 1989 so this is his recognized birthplace as The Joker. They place a pine box on a conveyor belt with Batman’s cape and cowl inside. At the end of the belt is a vat of acid which will consume the coffin. Joker decides to say a few words, and in eulogizing Batman he makes his utter contempt for Sidney crystal clear. He hates him for killing Batman, recognizing he’s just some schmuck who got lucky. He orders his men to stuff Sidney in the coffin with Batman’s belongings and seals it shut. As the coffin is carried along on the conveyor belt, Harley plays “Amazing Grace” on a kazoo while Sidney begs, and pleads for forgiveness and mercy from inside the coffin. Joker sheds a few tears, but as the coffin vanishes into the acid and Harley finishes her song, he snaps out of it, “Well, that was fun! Who’s for Chinese?”

dejected joker

A solemn Joker.

Inside the coffin, the acid is eating through and Sidney is in a real panic. There’s literally nothing he can do though. He pounds on the lid, but even if he broke through the acid would just come rushing in though that might be the better way to go than to have it slowly seep in. As he loses hope a funny thing happens. The coffin comes to a rest and the lid is practically blown off. He’s outside the plant at the edge of a river. Sidney deduces the coffin must have been sucked into a drain that lead out here before the acid could destroy the coffin. It’s from there that Sidney decided he needed to get out of Gotham and only Thorne could help him do that.

We’re back in the present, and Thorne has had a rather drastic change in demeanor. Previously he seemed to be humoring Sidney, genuinely interested in his story. Now he thinks Sidney is trying to pull a fast one on him and take over his drug operation. Theorizing that no one could possibly be as stupid or as lucky as Sid claims to be, he convinces himself that Sidney is here for him and pulls a gun on old Sid. Before he can shoot, gunfire is heard from outside the office. The tell-tale sounds of villains getting beat up by a familiar foe waft into the room before the door is kicked down. Batman is alive, and he takes rare delight is knocking Thorne around. The camera is careful to never let us see Batman actually punch Thorne, but each shot implies it and then we get to see the aftermath – a punch drunk Thorne.

MWKB_67_-_Sid_and_Thorne

It seems no one is ever happy with Sid for long, despite his reputation.

With Thorne unconscious, Sidney is finally able to apologize to Batman for what happened and also thank him for getting him out of this mess. Not only did Batman take out Thorne for him, but he’s also the one who sprung him from Joker’s death trap earlier. Turns out, being the man who killed Batman just isn’t for Sid, and he’s happy to go back to his old life. Of course, Batman can’t let him do that. He was an accessory to a drug ring and he owes a debt to society as a result, but Batman seems to think Sidney won’t mind where he’s going. The episode ends with Sidney being led through prison by a guard. Other prisoners cheer him on from their cells for to them he is the man who almost killed Batman. Finally, Sidney is allowed to feel like a big shot.

“The Man Who Killed Batman” is a playfully dark episode of Batman:  The Animated Series. It starts off as a tale about a guy named Sid The Squid, but it becomes a tale about the relationship of Batman and The Joker and how The Joker views his relationship with the caped crusader. Those areas are the episode’s true strengths as Paul Dini is a great Joker writer. Some of Joker’s best lines come from this episode and I love how psychotic and ruthless he’s allowed to be. He’s very violent towards his lackeys, in particular Murph and Harley. There’s a sequence where he grabs Harley by the front of her uniform and she makes a choking sound. It makes me wonder if originally he was supposed to grab her neck but they had to tone it down a bit. Either way, he comes across like a dangerous lunatic which is how The Joker should be written. His eulogy for Batman is delightfully insane and I also appreciate how he snaps back into place when the deed is seemingly done implying that, had Batman truly been dead, Joker likely would have just found someone new to terrorize.

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A big shot at last!

The framing device of having Sidney relay the events of the night also adds a little mystery and intrigue to the episode. I doubt very much anyone watching this truly thought Batman was dead, but telling the tale in this way does inject a touch of suspense into the whole thing. This is the only episode that will feature Sid The Squid. While it might have been interesting to see what became of him, he basically served his purpose.

Sunrise worked on the production of this episode. Sunrise is an incredibly popular producer of anime in Japan, and this episode is their last contribution to Batman. Their episodes have been visually striking, and this one is no exception. The only negative I can give them is some of the actual animation comes off rather stiff. In particular, Joker has some odd movements and they had some trouble with his mouth flaps which is understandable since his grinning yellow teeth are always exposed. Because of their notoriety, they likely weren’t cheap which is probably why they didn’t have more contributions to the series and not because of a lack of quality.

“The Man Who Killed Batman” is a great episode for the series as we head into the home stretch for the first season. It has more laughs than the typical episode, but also balances them out with a sinister version of The Joker. Through Sid The Squid, we get a nice glimpse of the relationship of Batman and The Joker and we even get a little more insight into Joker’s relationship with Harley Quinn. Up until now, she’s strictly been a sidekick and hasn’t been portrayed as a romantic partner, but we’re getting there. We even got to see Bullock get a little teary over Batman adding a nice layer to their relationship as well. And considering who wrote and directed this one, I suppose none of this should be a surprise. Whenevr Dini and Timm team-up on an episode, the results are usually something special.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Laughing Fish”

The_Laughing_Fish-Title_CardEpisode Number:  34

Original Air Date:  January 10, 1993

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

“The Laughing Fish” is our second episode of Batman:  The Animated Series to be directed by Bruce Timm and written by Paul Dini* (asterisk on the written by credit which I’ll get to). You may remember the first as being pretty damn good: “Heart of Ice.” Interestingly, both that episode and this one are the only two so far to not feature a true title card as each opts for a focused shot on a subject that’s simply part of the first scene (in this case, a swinging sign on a pier for a company that could share a name with the episode title). This episode, unlike “Heart of Ice,” is not an original story by Timm and Dini and instead is an amalgamation of three different stories from the comics. Those stories being “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge (1973)” by Denny O’Neil and “The Laughing Fish” and “Sign of the Joker! (1978)” both by Steve Englehart. If you hadn’t guessed from the title of the episode, then surely you know by now based on those titles from the comics that we’re dealing with The Joker this week as he seeks to utilize his Joker toxin in a fairly unique manner in order to win money and score laughs.

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I don’t care what Batman says, there’s no way I’m eating one of those.

This episode is quite stylized from the get-go and will remain so. It features some brief narration by our hero, Batman, which I believe is a first for the series. The fish being harvested in the waters of Gotham are all sporting a tell-tale Joker grin. Batman suspects the worst, but when he dissects a fish he finds there’s no danger to humans when consumed, which just makes him more curious. This is a good thing because the ghastly visage of these fish apparently isn’t stopping the local fisherman from harvesting and selling the things as we soon see Joker himself pay a visit to a local paper-pusher at a patent office about licensing rights. That poor sap, G. Carl Francis (George Dzundza), finds himself in the crosshairs of The Joker when he can’t help him file a trademark on the fish. It would seem The Joker thought he’d be able to earn money on every fish sold since they bare his likeness, but he’s frustrated to find out that isn’t the case. His lovely associate, Harley (Arleen Sorkin), sprays poor Francis with some icky perfume while remarking that she has a strong dislike of fish which the perfume should eliminate. Joker informs Francis he has until midnight to reconsider his patent claim. Joker then goes to his old standby – television, to essentially broadcast his threat against Francis so his old chum Batman can be aware of his plans.

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Poor Harley is going to have a rough time with all of the fish in this one.

When Joker leaves the office angry, Francis does the right thing and enlists the aid of the Gotham Police Department for protection. They setup a watch for Joker that Batman soon crashes, much to the ire of Detective Bullock. They all patiently wait around for The Joker to make his presence felt, but noting comes. When Francis starts rubbing at his hands and makes the offhand remark that he never got to wash off the stuff Harley sprayed him with, Batman basically freaks out and starts demanding medical attention for Francis. He’s too late though as a speeding truck launches a swordfish through the window that stabs into the wall. It releases a gas and Francis begins to laugh uncontrollably, his face turns an ashen color and his mouth stretches into a hideous smile. Batman injects him with his anti-Joker compound and Francis begins to settle down. Batman deduces that whatever Harley sprayed on him mixed with the toxin in the swordfish to infect him. Joker soon appears on television to taunt Batman and also name his next victim:  copyright office bureaucrat Thomas Jackson.

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These transformation scenes felt genuinely disturbing to me as a kid, which is perhaps why this episode actually debuted in prime time as opposed to during normal children’s hours.

Having failed to stop Joker once, the police and Batman give it another shot with Jackson. They set up a security ring around him as well with Gordon and Bullock arguing over their approach. Apparently they’re doing this one Batman’s way and Bullock is less than thrilled. When Jackson’s cat comes waltzing into the room everyone soon notices it’s carrying a Joker fish in its mouth. The cat lunges at Batman and is able to bite him breaking the skin. Batman soon breaks out into laughter as his face becomes round and unrecognizable. Jackson jumps in to administer the anti-toxin, and it’s revealed that Jackson and Batman had actually switched places to try and fool Joker, unfortunately they couldn’t fool the cat.

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Here kitty…on second thought, maybe not.

Batman makes the obvious observation that the fish the cat dragged in is a tropical fish not native to Gotham’s waters. This means Joker must be at the local aquarium. Batman, however, is the second person to figure this out as Bullock has already fled Jackson’s residence to head there himself (“I didn’t need no Batcomputer to tell me that weird-looking minnow came from the aquarium,”) and confront The Joker. It doesn’t go well for him and he soon finds himself strung up by a crane like a worm at the end of a fishing line for Joker’s pet shark. Joker is having a good time until he realizes that if Bullock was smart enough to figure out his location then surely Batman will too. He decides to use Bullock as Bat-bait instead and, what do you know, it works.

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This sequence is pretty stupid.

Batman comes charging in and Joker’s two goons are no match for him. Joker has his ace though in Bullock and Batman is forced to hand himself over to secure Bullock’s freedom. Joker is happy to make the switch and Batman is tossed into the shark tank. As Bullock looks on, Joker decides he should go for a swim too and shoves him in (Batman couldn’t have possibly expected Joke to not do something like this) and then covers the tank depriving the two of precious oxygen. No matter, as Batman demonstrates his shark battling abilities. It’s a bit ridiculous, though I suppose it’s less ridiculous than the time Batman successfully fought off several crocodiles. He’s able to break the tank and free himself and Bullock as Joker takes off.

B4rpth8Batman and Joker square-off outside the aquarium on a large dock. It’s the most physical we’ve seen these two get as Joker gets ahold of a large wrench and gives Batman a good strike with it (in a bit of censorship, the screen flashes as Joker connects reminding me of the old Pow! Bam! effects from the 60s Batman show). Joker, not to be confused as Batman’s equal in fisticuffs, is soon subdued and cornered. His last resort is to simply leap off the tall structure revealing a get-away float around his waist. He laughs and taunts Batman from the waters below, until his shark-buddy shows up and drags him under. The episode closes teasing Joker’s demise as a tearful Harley says her goodbyes. Batman, apparently aware that this is only episode 34 of an 85 episode run, tells Commissioner Gordon he doubts The Joker is truly gone. Truer words were never spoken.

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The Batman fake-out definitely fooled me as a kid, as well as frightened.

“The Laughing Fish” is a very stylized episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It’s sound production and setup are very film noir and evocative of old crime dramas, with obviously a super hero twist. It’s an amusing plot with Joker just out for money and Batman gets a chance to demonstrate just how well he understands his foil. It’s a fun episode to re-watch as well especially for the scene in Jackson’s home. They don’t cheat, like they often do, the reveal of Batman and Jackson switching places by having Batman speak in Jackson’s voice and vice versa. Rather you never see either man speak until after the reveal. Joker is also at his best as he’s pretty cruel throughout the episode. He obviously can’t actually murder anyone, but it feels clear his intention is to do just that. It’s also interesting to see his relationship with Harley evolving. Here it’s very business-like with her referring to him mostly as “boss,” but it’s obvious she’s higher on the pecking order than the other goons since Joker bothers to remember her name. It’s also fun to see her broken up over Joker’s apparent demise, making it obvious she has an unhealthy devotion to the man.

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Joker and Harley get to demonstrate a taste of their chemistry in this one. Here Joker makes her his mermaid.

Where the episode does sort of cheat the viewer is in its resolution. Joker obviously is not dead and will return for many more episodes. The episode doesn’t offer a plausible explanation for how Joker survived a shark attack, and it won’t bother trying to explain it the next time he shows his face in this show. He’ll just reappear and this won’t be the last time he cheats death in such a way.

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Farewell, sweet clown prince. For now, anyway.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Joker’s Favor”

Jokers_Favor-Title_CardEpisode Number:  22

Original Air Date:  September 11, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Harley Quinn

At last, we’ve come to the television debut of The Joker. Despite already appearing in several episodes, it was production episode number 22 that ended up being the first Joker episode to air on television, and as a debut episode, it’s both odd and strangely appropriate. The episode, seemingly more so than the other Joker episodes, requires having knowledge of who The Joker is going into it. As has been established with a few villains, The Joker existed before the events of the show and he’s so well known that even the citizens of Gotham know who he is, as we shall see with poor Charlie Collins. This episode is also the first Joker episode where Paul Dini is credited as having written, though as a creator on the show it stands to reason he had input on most of the episodes. And of course, this episode is most notable for being the debut of Harley Quinn in any medium. She would arguably end up being the biggest break-out star on the show. Interestingly, if you have the DVD release for this first volume of episodes the episode is titled “The Joker’s Favor,” though everywhere I’ve seen it listed it’s just referred to as “Joker’s Favor.”

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Bad idea, Chuck.

The episode opens with its protagonist. No, it isn’t Batman or even Joker, but an ordinary chum by the name of Charlie Collins (Ed Begley Jr.). Charlie is just an average guy having a bad day. Not much has gone right and his wife is making meatloaf for dinner – he hates meatloaf. He’s driving home from work when we meet him, and he’s soon cut-off by another motorist. This is enough to push Charlie over the edge and he starts laying on his horn and scolding the individual who wronged him on the road. Much to Charlie’s horror, the other motorist he just sassed turns out to be none other than The Joker. One turn of the head and a hideous grin is enough to scare the Hell out of Charlie. He knows who he just yelled at and immediately shrinks like a frightened turtle. Unfortunately, The Joker slides in right behind him and begins to follow him. Charlie tries to lose him and hastily exits the freeway. He pulls off the road and takes to his feet running through the nearby woods as fast as his short legs will carry him.

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This is not a situation you want to find yourself in.

Charlie collapses, exhausted, at the base of a tree, but he looks up only to find himself gazing up at The Joker. Joker, decked out in his gray hat and trench coat that he’ll sport in Mask of the Phantasm, isn’t too happy with old Chuck. He gives Charlie a chance to resume his tough guy talk, and as expected, Charlie is too frightened to do much but offer an apology. Joker, being the caring type, decides he’s not going to kill Charlie and instead tells him he expects a favor in return, some day. Charlie is frightened out of his mind, but all in all pretty relieved to not be dead as The Joker departs.

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There she is, that character we all love.

Two years later, the Gotham P.D. is getting ready to celebrate Commissioner Gordon with a special dinner and Joker wants sees it as a perfect opportunity for mischief. He decides now, along with his henchman Harley (Arleen Sorkin) seated beside him, to look up Charlie and call-in his favor. Turns out, Charlie did the wise thing and entered into a witness relocation program following his brush with The Joker. He’s now Don Wallace and lives in Ohio, but apparently Joker has been keeping a close eye on him because he’s able to call him up. Charlie tries to tell him he has the wrong number, but he soon realizes who is on the other end. Joker orders him to the airport to hop on the next flight to Gotham where Harley will pick him up from the airport.

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I have to admit, that cop outfit really works for her.

In Gotham, Charlie is forced to confront the Joker once more, and much to his surprise, he’s only asked to open a door. Feeling he’s capable of doing that, he goes along with the plan. Realizing something is up though, he leaves a bat-signal like calling card for Batman as he’s put into position inside the banquet for Gordon. He does as he’s told, opening the door when instructed and in strolls Harley dressed as a cop with an over-sized cake in tow. The men in the room think something sexy is bound to happen, but instead they’re all hit with some nerve gas that renders them all unable to move, frozen in place like statues. Harley, of course, wears a mask to prevent the gas from affecting her and she affixes one to Charlie as well. Joker rises from the cake to taunt the police as Harley attaches a bomb to Gordon, his plan almost complete.

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That could be a gag bomb, but I wouldn’t want to wait around to find out.

Charlie, realizing he can’t be an accessory to this, tries to do something about it but finds his hand has been glued to the door handle. Joker informs him he’s done with him and leaves him to die with the others. Good thing he left that little signal for Batman, because the caped crusader soon arrives on the scene. Charlie tells him what’s going on, and Batman is able to remove the bomb just in time with the added benefit that it landed on Joker’s escape van when he tossed it out the window.

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Got to hand it to him, Joker really takes it well when things don’t go according to plan.

A fight ensues between Batman and Joker’s goons. Joker is able to use yet another bomb to distract Batman and slips into an alley only to find Charlie waiting for him. He tries to brush past Charlie, but all of a sudden he finds the portly fellow full of courage. Charlie slugs Joker in the stomach and knocks him into some trash cans. He then produces another Joker bomb, only he seems intent on blowing them all up. Batman arrives and tries to talk Charlie out of it, but Charlie makes the correct observation in noting it’s pointless because The Joker will just escape from wherever he’s locked-up to torment him again. Joker, now no longer having any fun, tosses all of the information he has on Charlie at his feet, but Charlie refuses to abandon this course of action. Joker tries to hide behind Batman, but Charlie tosses him the bomb only for it to detonate and reveal itself to be a gag bomb. Charlie has a good laugh, and Batman even joins in, at Joker’s expense. Batman basically tells Charlie to get out of here, and he’s happy to do so. As we wanders away, he even mentions he hopes his wife is making meatloaf for dinner.

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In the end, Charlie gets the last laugh.

“Joker’s Favor” succeeded as a Joker episode for two very important reasons. One, it establishes The Joker as being a villain to fear. It’s easy to lose sight of that on a kid’s show given all of the silly Joker stuff that exists in most of the episodes featuring him, but he is a murderer and someone to be feared. His stalking of Charlie is creepy and Charlie’s fear is easy to understand. And then second, it also showcases Joker’s silly side, the side of him that basically always gets in the way and prevents him for doing real lasting damage on the show. He carries gag bombs, rarely takes Batman seriously, and even dismisses Charlie. He also only uses Charlie in his scheme because he just wants to terrify the guy. He probably could have utilized someone else for his plant at the banquet, someone who wouldn’t have betrayed him and called Batman, but as we’ll see time and time again The Joker just can’t get out of his own way. It often seems like he prefers it that way.

Harley Quinn makes a nice debut for herself, though it’s also not indicative of the character she’ll become. Her harlequin inspired attire and attitude is fetching (much of that can be credited to Arleen Sorkin who really brings life and charm to the character through her performance) and she makes an instant impact since so often the henchman in the show are lacking a personality. Still, I’m not sure if people expected to see more of her or if they thought she would just be a one and done sort of character. Of course, she wasn’t, but considering a series of Joker episodes followed this one without Harley it seemed to suggest she wouldn’t play a large role going forward. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and Harley ended up being one of the few villains who often has another layer revealed about her in each subsequent episode she appears in, rather than just being an unchanging villain of the week.

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If you liked Harley in this episode, then I have some good news for you because we’ll be seeing a lot more of her.

As for Charlie, he was one and done and that’s the way it should have been. Joker probably should have sought revenge, and if you’re the dark type maybe you just assume Joker did end up killing him and we never found out. If Joker could find him once even with a name change and move out of town then he could probably do it again. This episode also doesn’t feature much Batman, but at this stage that’s fine as we’re pretty comfortable with Batman at this point. He can sort of come and go as he pleases, as long as what’s in his place is worthwhile and here it certainly is. This may be my favorite Joker episode, though more good ones are to come.