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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Dec. 23 – A Very Woody Christmas

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A Very Woody Christmas/It’s A Chilly Christmas After All/Yule Get Yours all from The New Woody Woodpecker Show first aired December 25, 1999.

If you were a major motion picture studio in the 1940s and you didn’t have a mascot cartoon character then you really weren’t a major motion picture studio. The big ones were at Disney and Warner while Tom and Jerry reigned at MGM. Universal was one of the later entrants, but they struck gold with their own creation of Woody Woodpecker. Woody was the creation of Walter Lantz, and like seemingly every major cartoon character from the era who didn’t originate at Disney, he was originally voiced by the great Mel Blanc. Woody debuted in the cartoon Knock Knock in 1940 and would go on to become a star. And like most cartoon stars of those days, he would make the move to television in the 1950s where his cartoons would be packaged together and shown in a half hour format. These shows were on television in some form or another well into the 1980s and even into the 90s in some places when they eventually faded out for one reason or another.

knock knock woody

Woody’s original and seldom seen first look.

In the late 90s, Woody received a makeover and a new show. The New Woody Woodpecker Show would air from 1999 to 2002 and it typically followed a format similar to the old show of three shorts shown together. Usually you got a new Woody cartoon, a Chilly Willy, and then another Woody cartoon. Woody was now voiced by Billy West and most of his friends and foes returned like Buzz Buzzard (Mark Hamill) and Wally Walrus (West). It tries to capture the spirit of the old cartoons, while also toning down some of the violence. In the first season it produced a Christmas episode among it’s 26 season order and it actually premiered on December 25, 1999. Was this the last new Christmas special to air before the new millennium? I’m not sure, but it must be rather close.

classic woody

This is the look most probably associate with the character and his friends.

Like most episodes of the show, this one contains three cartoon shorts and all three are Christmas themed. The first is A Very Woody Christmas which naturally stars Woody Woodpecker himself. It opens with Woody walking down the street talking to himself about what people are getting him for Christmas and what he got them in return. He realizes he forgot to get gifts for Knothead and Splinter, his nieces, or nephews, or something. He dashes into a store just before it closes and snags a couple of robots while passing the owner a few bucks. He then notices a dilapidated looking stand offering free gift-wrapping (too good to be true, Woody).

new woody show

And Woody’s redesign for this show, though his feet should be orange.

The stand is being run by Buzz Buzzard and his lackey Tweaky (Hamill). Their scheme is to take the gifts and replace them with rocks as they wrap and then return them to the patron. Woody picks up on this, but Buzz just launches him into a nearby Christmas tree. Decorated as an angel as a result, Woody swings down from the tree in Tarzan style and kicks Buzz into a snowman decoration, causing Tweaky to confuse him for an abominable snowman. The two then jump in their getaway sleigh, leaving Woody behind.

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Tweaky has a pretty crappy tree.

The pair arrive at their warehouse hide-away. Tweaky is worried that Santa won’t come to visit them because they aren’t asleep yet (even though it’s still daylight) while Buzz informs him that they just stole a bunch of gifts so Santa isn’t coming. He takes off to get a celebratory pizza. Outside, Woody was watching from a window and Tweaky’s Christmas spirit gives him an idea. He puts on a Santa costume and enters much to Tweaky’s delight. Woody convinces Tweaky to go to bed, but while he does he lists off all of the stuff he wants for Christmas. If you were feeling bad for Tweaky, since he’s bullied by Buzz, then you don’t have to anymore as all of the stuff he wants from Santa are crime-aiding devices. He knows what’s doing.

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I pretty much assumed Woody would dress-up as Santa at some point in one of these shorts.

As Woody tries to reclaim the goods, Tweaky keeps interrupting him causing Woody to have to put him to bed, only for him to re-emerge and get put to bed in a more comically restrictive fashion. It’s exhausting, and Woody seems like he may lose his tempur and blow his cover, but he’s able to convince Tweaky to pull the sleigh of stolen goods for him. As they’re ready to leave, Buzz returns and is incensed to see what his cohort is up to. Unlike Tweaky, he knows that this isn’t Santa and he tells Tweaky he’ll get him whatever he wants for Christmas if he’ll just stop, but Tweaky isn’t satisfied. Unless the gift is from Santa, he doesn’t want it. He takes off acting as Woody’s lone reindeer while Buzz is eventually run over by the sleigh. As Tweaky pulls the sleigh through town, Woody laughs and tosses out the stolen goods to their rightful owners.

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Penguins apparently are not happy in the cold.

The second cartoon is It’s a Chilly Christmas After All and it stars the mute penguin Chilly Willy. Chilly Willy is a classic cartoon star and he still is here. His segment opens with him freezing in his igloo at the South Pole. He’s watching a weather report remarking how cold it is which also goes into a little detail on Santa’s upcoming voyage that night. The weatherman (Billy West) points out all of the warm climates Santa visits which apparently gives Chilly an idea. He races out of his igloo to the literal South Pole which is poking out of a hole in the ice. He slides down the pole and into the hole and re-emerges at the North Pole! There he finds Santa’s workshop, and inside is old foe Smedley (West doing a pretty good Daws Butler impression) the hound dog. Smedley has apparently taken up a job as Santa’s elf and he’s trying to make sure everything is in tip-top shape for tonight. If all goes well, he hopes to be brought along as Santa’s exclusive Christmas delivery helper.

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Better check it twice, Smedley.

As Smedley narrates his existence for our viewing benefit, Chilly slips in and dashes for Santa’s sack of toys. Smedley intercepts him and lightly admonishes him for trying to sneak a peek in Santa’s sack before tossing him outside. Chilly will then make further attempts to get into that sack, only for Smedley to catch him. Chilly in turn uses some violence to escape, at one point dropping a bowling ball on Smedley’s toe. Santa himself then enters and he seems pretty joyful and oblivious to what is going on here. He has Smedley go inspect the toy assembly line in preparation for departure and Smedley obliges. You would think this would present an easy opportunity for Chilly to just jump back into Santa’s sack, but comedy demands that he jump into the toy assembly line. He doesn’t escape Smedley’s notice though and is promptly tossed away.

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It is cartoon law that all toy planes are pilotable provided there is a character small enough to fit in it.

Chilly is forced to sneak back in where he finds Smedley putting the finishing touches on a model airplane. Chilly hops in and takes off forcing Smedley to ground the airplane. Apparently having enough, Smedley then breaks-out a home chemistry set to whip up some kind of adhesive to catch the penguin. As he does his thing, Chilly sneaks in behind dressed in a lab coat and blastshield and mixes up something dangerous looking. As Smedley continues adding ingredients to his concoction, he grabs the beaker containing Chilly’s mixture, informs us it’s nitroglycerine, and casually explodes. Santa sees Smedley all covered in soot and remarks that he looks in need of a rest and tells him to take the night off. Before Smedley can explain he doesn’t want that, Santa takes off (with only two reindeer – preposterous!) with Chilly along for the ride. Smedley tries to hang onto the sleigh, but that just results in him taking a nasty spill. As the sleigh flies away, he shouts for Santa to make sure that Chilly Willy gets nothing but coal!

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Poor Smedley just wanted to be a good elf.

Back at Chilly Willy’s igloo, the little penguin is standing outside bouncing a lump of coal off his flipper while Santa flies away. Don’t feel bad for old Chilly though, he heads back inside and tosses the coal into his fireplace. Santa left him with a mountain of the stuff which is apparently just what he wanted for Christmas.

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That’s a lot of coal.

Our final segment is another Woody Woodpecker cartoon titled Yule Get Yours. It opens with Woody at a toy store waiting in a line to see Santa. He’s impatient and the line is long, so he burrows under the carpet to emerge on Santa’s platform to get the big guy’s ear. This Santa is a lot rounder than the one we just saw in the previous cartoon, and he has an elf attendant voiced by Rob Paulsen. After Santa confirms that Woody is the bird who lives in a tree and laughs obnoxiously (my word, not his), the elf steps in to let him know he’s been very selfish this year. In fact, he’s been so bad he’s not only getting coal but also having his previous Christmas gifts repossessed.

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Woody is a bit of a dick in this one, which I actually prefer.

Dejected, Woody slumps his way down the street until he notices a video camera in a storefront. He decides if he video tapes himself doing good deeds tonight, it will be enough for Santa to put him on the good list. We then jump to Woody outside his neighbor Wally’s house where he removes a panel from Wally’s fence. He then turns the camera on to show him repairing the fence, but he ends up knocking the whole thing over by accident. Moving along, he heads to his other neighbor’s house, a Ms. Mimi, and tries to get himself on tape clearing her walkway of snow. As he uses a snowblower to tidy up, a delivery man shows up with a package. Seeing another opportunity for a good deed, Woody films himself signing for it. The package turns out to be a giant, decorated, Christmas tree and as  Woody carries it to the house he accidentally turns on the snowblower. It goes haywire and chases Woody around the yard. Eventually, he turns to smash it with the tree, but the snowblower just grinds the tree up.

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I don’t recommend using your own snowblower as a substitute wood chipper.

Failing once again to do a good deed, Woody decides to decorate Wally’s house with more lights. In order to do so he steals lights from the other houses in the neighborhood. When he turns on the lights, the circuitry gets overloaded and Wally’s house catches fire. Woody then grabs a hose from Ms. Mimi’s yard and races to her roof to water Wally’s house and put out the fire. Once the fire is out, he loses track of the hose which covers Ms. Mimi’s house in water. It freezes, then crumbles, and Woody is left under a pile of ice. The elf from earlier then walks in to point out the obvious – Woody is just trying to look good without actually being good, and in doing so he’s done a lot of harm. As Woody tries to plead his case, the elf tells him Santa will be by in five minutes and he can take it up with him.

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I hope Wally isn’t home.

Woody realizes he has to act fast if he wants to save his own Christmas. He scoops up the wood from Wally’s ruined fence and hastily reconstructs both houses out of it. They look like shit, and Santa soon arrives (still with two measly reindeer). He tries to land on one of the houses, but the wood breaks under the weight of the reindeer causing Santa to tumble out of the sky. Woody races to catch him and succeeds, but of course gets flattened by the bulbous man in the process. Nonetheless, Santa thanks him and is impressed with Woody’s selfless act. He goes on a bit about how wonderful an act it was or something before remarking he was wrong about Woody. As he flies away, he puts a finger to his nose. Suddenly, the houses are rebuilt and Woody’s house is flush with presents causing Woody to proclaim that Santa is “da man.” As Santa flies past the moon, he calls out a merry Christmas and laughs in a manner similar to Woody, who waves and returns the laughter. The end.

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This elf seems to delight in Woody’s failure.

I have some conflicting emotions about this one. First of all, I think it’s great Universal tried to bring Woody and the gang back in a new show. Woody mostly looks pretty good, and West is fine in the role. His voice may be pitched a touch too high, but the character is supposed to be annoying. The look of the show is pleasing enough. There are lots of bright, solid, colors on simple backgrounds. The animation is largely fine, save for maybe the reindeer which looked kind of shitty. My main issues are more with the creative direction. The first cartoon just wasn’t very funny and none of the gags were memorable. The second Woody cartoon was a bit more interesting, and I prefer a more rascally Woody, but the resolution was pretty stupid. Santa even says Woody’s heart was in the right place – no, it wasn’t, you dope! I probably liked the Chilly Willy segment the best. It didn’t contain any physical comedy bits that haven’t been done before, but the general look was better and the format lended itself well to the gag-centered pace.

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You were bad and you should feel bad, Woody!

Before this I had never watched this show for more than a minute. I don’t feel like I missed out, but it does make me want to revisit some classic Woody shorts as I haven’t seen those in decades. I’ve never really heard anybody talk about this show, and I can kind of see why. I don’t want to judge it on one episode, but it didn’t leave me with a great impression.

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Needs more deer.

The New Woody Woodpecker Show hasn’t received a home video release outside of the first 13 episodes. It was on Netflix for a time, but now is not. If you want to watch this one though, there’s an official Woody Woodpecker Show channel on YouTube and it streams a lot of content for free, including this one. There are a bunch of ads inserted into it, but you get what you (don’t) pay for.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

big shot sid

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 – “Joker’s Wild”

Jokers_Wild-Title_CardEpisode Number:  41

Original Air Date:  November 19, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Episode 41 of Batman:  The Animated Series is written by show runner Paul Dini and it plays like a love letter to old Warner cartoons. It’s timely that we’ve arrived at this episode right now as we just recently we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a film that could also be described as a love letter to classic cartoons. And if you’re going to do a send-up to the old Looney Tunes then who better to man that ship than The Joker (Mark Hamill) himself?

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Joker and Poison Ivy sharing a moment.

The episode begins at Arkham Asylum where the happily incarcerated Joker is fighting over the television in the common area with Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing). They bicker like children and it’s rather amusing to see The Joker reduce Ivy to that of a whiney child, but apparently he has that effect on people. He’s delighted to be causing her such consternation to the point that he doesn’t mind when the guard forces them to watch the news since they couldn’t agree on a show before (Joker wanted to watch Letterman, Ivy a gardening program). The news is covering the opening of a new casino by Cameron Kaiser (Harry Hamlin) and even Bruce Wayne is in attendance. When the casino is unveiled to contain a Joker motif, complete with a laughing depiction of The Joker’s unmistakable visage atop the building, the audience reacts in disgust – including Wayne. The Joker is immediately ticked off to see his likeness infringed upon and Ivy delights in seeing this change in mood from him. It’s all the motivation he needs though to break out of Arkham once again (revealing how pathetically easy it is to do so in the process) and set his sights on Kaiser and his shiny new casino – Joker’s Wild.

Jokertasname2

Another instance of the show maintaining continuity with the Burton Batman film.

Joker arrives in his top hat and overcoat and is kind of impressed with what he sees. The place looks like a tribute to him complete with ushers dressed as The Joker and waitresses clad in Harley Quinn attire (who is not present in this episode marking a rather lengthy absence for her). Joker is immediately mistaken for a worker and is instructed by another attendant to go work the blackjack table where he immediately starts winning hand after hand. He may be there to wreck the place, but it’s pretty clear he’s going to have a little fun before he does.

Jokers_Wild_Revealed

The head spins and laughs, because it wasn’t garish enough.

Bruce Wayne, after seeing the unveiling, decided to book a room knowing that there was no way The Joker would stand for this. It basically highlights how quickly The Joker broke out and got himself situated that Wayne is still there. Alfred brought him his gear, and Wayne points out how he thinks something is off with the place by pealing back some wallpaper to reveal an older design. He thinks this switch to a Joker theme was a last minute addition, and plans to do some sleuthing.

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Hard to imagine even The Joker himself designing a casino so lovingly dedicated to him.

Batman does some nosing around in Kaiser’s office and, because Kaiser is apparently stupid, finds all he needs to find. The casino is already deeply in debt, and apparently Kaiser has no faith in it generating enough money to pay down that debt in a timely fashion. Rather than file for bankruptcy, he made the (probably costly) change in theming to attract The Joker in hopes that he would sabotage the whole thing and Kaiser could collect on insurance. I do wonder how well that plan would have worked if the plan went off without a hitch. In a world where villains like The Joker are sort of commonplace I wonder if an insurance company would even payout for such an action? Batman attracts the attention of security, but it’s nothing he can’t handle, as he makes a hasty retreat.

Joker's_Wild

That is some room.

Joker has also attracted the attention of security (the guard is voiced by Ernie Hudson which seems like a really small role for him. I thought maybe he had a bigger part in another episode and just recorded some filler but I don’t see any other credits for him under this show) who alerts Kaiser of what’s going on. The Joker is seen clearly cheating on the security footage, but Kaiser doesn’t seem bothered and tells the guard to ignore him. Meanwhile, the patrons at Joker’s table have fled in disgust, but Bruce Wayne arrives to take their place. They make small talk, in which Bruce remarks on the distasteful decor which irritates Joker, before getting down to business. Joker hits a 20, but Bruce hits on 21 and pockets his cash and moves along. He saw what he needed, and in an exchange with Alfred, we see Bruce knows how to cheat at cards with the best of them.

041-JW

Even Wayne looks kind of off model here.

Having seen all he needs to see, Wayne hops into his Batman attire and goes to apprehend The Joker, only to find that he’s switched tables. When the real Joker sees Batman harassing a harmless worker, he decides to flee. He commandeers a Joker mobile, a dragster sort of car with Joker stylings, that was on display as a prize (I assume, because it looks like the sign to win it was lost in translation, literally, when animated overseas) and takes off. Batman jumps in, but Joker crashes the car into a pier causing Batman to plummet into the nearby bay while Joker is able to safely eject.

Joker-9

I love how Joker needs to have his likeness on his own gun. No wonder why he’s so irritated at another man stealing that very likeness.

We next see Joker wheeling a bunch of explosives under the guise of a food service cart into a closed section of the casino. It looks like it’s supposed to be a play area someday as there’s a giant roulette wheel and some other things scattered about. Kaiser notices this on camera and immediately calls for his private helicopter to be prepared for a swift exit. Batman confronts him as he’s filling a suitcase full of money and reveals to him he knows what’s going on. Kaiser, unfazed, activates some sort of electrical floor trap beneath Batman which incapacitates him. He orders his two lackeys to bring Batman down to the Joker for disposal.

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Battle on the helicopter!

Batman stumbles out of an elevator only to be clobbered with a 2×4 by The Joker, knocking him unconscious. He wakes up to find he’s been bound to the enormous roulette wheel with its giant caricature of The Joker leering down at him. Joker taunts him, and while doing so the animation gets real wonky and he appears off-model numerous times. Batman reveals Kaiser’s plans to Joker, who seems pretty bummed that he’ll have to abort his plans to demolish the casino. That doesn’t get Batman off the hook though as Joker activates the roulette and leaves him with a live grenade bouncing around on the wheel. Joker makes the same mistake he always makes in leaving Batman to his own demise, which means he obviously is going to get out of this one. Using his trusty grapple gun, Batman makes a shot that’s even amazing by his standards as he not only hits the bounding grenade (while spinning at an extremely high rate of speed) with his grapple gun, but also causes the grenade to go into the giant Joker structure demolishing it in the process causing it fall on him and free him from his bindings. That is some crazy shot.

Jokers_Wild_Out_voted

Joker back in Arkham with very weird looking representations of Ivy, The Mas Hatter, and Scarecrow.

Joker is able to beat Kaiser to the helipad as he’s trying to flee the casino and takes over piloting duties of his helicopter (eerily similar to his actions in his last appearance, “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”). When Kaiser realizes it’s The Joker and not his pilot, he gets pretty angry that The Joker isn’t down there demolishing his casino. Joker reveals he’s decided to take over the casino instead, after he knocks off Kaiser, though he does compliment him on the attempted scheme. Batman arrives too late to get on the helicopter, but he somehow manages to get high enough to soar after it in his hang glider, much to the frustration of The Joker. The animators redeem themselves with a brief, but nice looking, chase sequence that ends with Batman and Joker tussling in the cockpit of the helicopter. They crash into the casino and not only do they manage to not kill anyone in the process, they all walk away from the crash despite not being restrained at all. Joker tries to get away, but Batman knocks him into a slot machine and change pours down over him. The still image looks rather poor and the bottom of the image almost looks like a half-finished animation cel that was supposed to be cut-off in the actual picture.

JW_44_-_Bugs_Bunny

Hey! I know that guy!

The episode concludes with Joker back in Arkham amongst cameos from Scarecrow and The Mad Hatter (looking really off model) while they all enjoy watching the coverage of Joker’s failure. He tries to change the channel to Looney Tunes, but they all shout at him in protest. The camera settles on Joker’s grumbling as “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” better known as the Looney Tunes theme, plays before changing back to the news coverage, and eventually Joker’s theme, which takes us out. It’s a fitting way to end this one as throughout the whole episode we’ve had little Looney Tunes nuggets tossed about. The Joker is humming that very song early in the episode, while he also makes numerous one-liners basically lifted directly from those old cartoons. He even calls someone a “maroon.” It’s really silly, and I actually wouldn’t blame someone for thinking it’s too silly and a bit out of character for the show. We do often get dueling Jokers in this show where he’s sometimes really calculating and murderous, while other times he’s looney and breaks the fourth wall (as seen in his debut “The Last Laugh”). This episode might push things a little too far in that direction, but as someone who unabashedly loves the Looney Tunes, it’s hard for me to be too bothered by it.

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Joker’s eyes are right triangles in this show. I never want to see that again.

Our villain of the week, Cameron Kaiser, will never be heard from again. He served his purpose, but the conflict of him vs Joker means this episode doesn’t rely a whole lot on Batman. That’s nothing new for the show, but he feels especially buried in this one. He has some really generic and corny lines as the episode feels like its rushing through his scenes. It’s not the worst we’ve seen him, but it sticks out in a Paul Dini episode which are usually the show’s best. It’s also weird because kids don’t really understand insurance, for the most part, so they might not quite understand the plot and yet so much of the humor and direction feels aimed at children. In particular, the bickering of the inmates in which the line “I know you are, but what am I?” is uttered more than once. The hang glider thing also really bothered me. I know I should be willing to overlook how unrealistic it is for Batman to get as high as a helicopter without an obvious launching point, but some things just can’t be ignored. Just have him grapple gun the stupid helicopter!

JW_26_-_Batman_and_Joker

The blackness around Joker’s eyes constantly pops in and out in this episode and it’s very distracting.

The animation for this one is all over the place. I made mention of it during the summary portion, but it warrants further mentioning. The Joker’s face is often tricky to animate as he’s always grinning, but the animators seemed to have more trouble than usual here as he sometimes has some off mouth flaps. The black around his eyes is really inconsistent too, and it’s particularly egregious when he’s confronting Batman. Batman is also really stiff and the action scenes don’t feel especially dynamic. He’s slow, and when he’s strapped to the spinning roulette wheel we don’t really get a sense of motion out of the scene. It feels very detached. The hang glider sequence is well done though, so maybe they blew the budget on that part. The backgrounds also look good, and since the setting is rather unique, there probably wasn’t too many opportunities for cost-savings. It was handled by Akom, who has been responsible for more bad than good episodes. I actually wasn’t aware of this while watching, but Akom was apparently fired because this episode came out so poorly. In addition to the issues I pointed out, there also just some silly gaffes in some shots, like items appearing and disappearing at random. Apparently Akom had a bad reputation amongst the staff often referring to it as “The Kiss of Death” when an episode was assigned to the studio.

“Joker’s Wild” is an okay piece of comedic filler for the series. It’s not the best Joker episode, but the images of the Joker casino help make it more memorable than it deserves. How much you enjoy the episode will partly hinge on if you enjoy the humor and the little nods to Looney Tunes shorts. At this time, Tiny Toon Adventures was a thing and the shows had some overlap in terms of talent so it isn’t surprising to see something like this make it to air. Previously we had seen some sight gags in past episodes, but this one really went for it and the results were…okay? We’ve got some less than stellar episodes upcoming though, so after about four weeks this one may seem positively divine by comparison.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”

The_Strange_Secret_of_Bruce_Wayne-Title_CardEpisode Number:  37

Original Air Date:  October 29, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  David Wise, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

First Appearance(s):  Hugo Strange

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is another episode of Batman:  The Animated Series that can trace its roots back to a story from Detective Comics, in this case issues #471 and #472 “The Dead Yet Live” and “I Am the Batman!” by Steve Englehart. It introduces Hugo Strange to the Bat-verse, a scientist with a penchant for extortion. Strange uses a machine that can read the minds of individuals. Under the guise of therapy, Strange seduces wealthy individuals into agreeing to his services and when he unearths something nefarious from their subconscious he’s able to blackmail them in exchange for keeping their secrets. If that sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen Batman Forever, where The Riddler used a similar scheme. We’re only 37 episodes deep, but we’ve already seen a few instances of where this animated series influenced a movie to come. Batman Forever borrowed some of the Two-Face bits from the episode of the same name, and Batman Begins basically adapted The Scarecrow’s scheme from “Dreams in Darkness.” It’s just another example of how far reaching this show was. This episode also marks the first time we’ll see a team-up of sorts out of Batman’s rogues gallery when Joker, The Penguin, and Two-Face show up in the episode’s second act.

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Hugo Strange is today’s villain, and while there were tentative plans to bring him back, this ends up being his only appearance in the series.

The episode opens with a woman (who looks a lot like the woman being victimized by Poison Ivy in “Eternal Youth”) being approached on a bridge by some routine looking gangsters. The woman is revealed to be a judge in Gotham by the name of Maria Vargas (Carmen Zapata) and the gangsters want her to pay up in order to protect some information they have on her. Batman, apparently was tipped off or just happens to be in the right place at the right time, is watching from above as the judge hands over a briefcase full of money only to be told the price just went up. When she pleads with them that she can’t possibly pay more the crooks prepare to leave and Batman enters the fray. Vargas tries to take off and gets herself in some danger on the bridge, accidentally knocking herself out. Batman is forced to abandon his pursuit of the crooks in order to save her.

After the commotion is over and the police are on the scene, Commissioner Gordon explains he knows Vargas and can’t imagine her having a secret she doesn’t want out. He reveals he just dined with her recently and that she had just returned from vacation. He gets a call on his gigantic cell phone about the license plate on the limo the gangsters were driving and finds out it’s registered to the same resort Vargas just vacationed at. Batman then takes off via the Batwing, being piloted by Robin, and he playfully asks Robin if he seems stressed while remarking it may be time for a vacation.

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Strange’s memory extracting machine is a bad place for someone with an alter-ego to find themselves in.

Bruce Wayne and Alfred immediately depart for Yucca Springs, a resort that just so happens to be owned by Roland Dagget (a piece of info that’s never elaborated on) and is home to Dr. Hugo Strange (Ray Buktenica). Wayne signs up for a therapy session and finds himself in the doctor’s machine. He’s told the machine will help ease his stress by forcing him to confront his past. It seems a little risky for Bruce to enter such a device, but he goes along with it. Strange pries at Wayne to reveal information on his past, specifically the death of his parents. Bruce’s thoughts are transmitted to a screen for Strange to monitor, and when he pries further bats appear along with a gloved fist and an unmistakable logo. Bruce hops out of the machine and remarks it doesn’t seem to be an effective stress reliever for him. Strange tells him the first session is often hard, but they’ll do better tomorrow. As Bruce leaves he removes a tape from his machine and refers to him as Batman. Dun dun duuuuun!

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Bruce Wayne’s secret revealed!

Strange immediately starts calling around, and we’re treated to a pretty dark, but hilarious, answering machine greeting from The Joker. Strange is going to auction off his perhaps priceless information and in addition to Joker he also calls The Penguin and Two-Face. For Joker, this is the first time we’re seeing him since his apparent death in “The Laughing Fish” and no explanation for his survival is presented. It’s also a rare Joker appearance that occurs without Harley Quinn. For Two-Face, this is the first time we’ve seen him in anything more than a cameo since his debut. Apparently Arkham was unable to rehabilitate him. As for The Penguin, this is only his second appearance in the show after kind of a comedic debut in “I Have Batman in my Basement,” one of the more divisive episodes the show output.

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Three fellas who would likely be interested in knowing who Batman is under the mask.

While Strange is busy peddling his tape, Wayne sneaks into his laboratory to get a closer look at the machine. He finds the tape on Judge Vargas (as well as many other, most of which are Easter Eggs) and sees what she’s been hiding in her past. When she was a little girl, she was playing with matches which lead to a fire at the Gotham Docks, apparently a pretty big story back in its day, as well as a destructive blaze. Bruce realizes his tape is missing and Alfred, sneaking around outside, radios him to let him know who Strange just welcomed to the resort. Bruce then begins erasing all of the tapes before finally destroying the machine. Strange and his muscle come in just as Bruce really gets going. He’s disappointed at the loss of his device, but he still has the tape of Bruce’s alter-ego so he’s in a pretty good mood. Bruce is tied up and tossed somewhere with Alfred. Alfred apologizes for failing him, but Bruce is taking things in stride claiming everything is going according to plan as he produces a lock pick and gets to work.

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Making deals with the likes of Joker and Two-Face carries certain risks.

Meanwhile, Strange is presenting his finding to the villains. Surprisingly, they go along with the bidding and decide to pool their money together so they all can see what’s on the tape know it supposedly contains the true identity of Batman. I’m a bit puzzled why someone like The Joker wouldn’t just kill Strange and take the tape, but I’ll go along with it. Strange is very happy for his payment of approximately 50 million dollars, and gets ready to play the tape for them. Unknown to him, Batman is lurking in the rafters and he switches out the input on the projector to a different tape player. What plays is a video of Strange speaking with his cohorts about his plan to produce a phony tape about Batman in order to extort a bunch of villains out of their not so hard-earned money. This naturally enrages the attendants and Strange is forced to flee.

Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin eventually capture Strange and take him to the airport. Alfred, in their limo, picks up Batman and the two give chase while Alfred remarks he’s contacted Master Dick. The villains drag Strange onto an airplane and take to the sky. They plan to chuck him out and Strange starts begging for his life. He tells them Batman is Bruce Wayne, but no one believes him. Batman, able to stow-away on the plane, cuts the fuel line and the whole thing begins going down. It crashes, and somehow everyone on the plane is able to walk away fine just as the Gotham Police show up. As Strange is being lead away, he taunts Batman. He knows he used the machine to create a false tape of him to fool Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face. As he goes on and on, Bruce Wayne shows up, much to the shock of Strange. Batman says the two worked together to bring him down under the guise that Wayne and Judge Vargas are close friends and he wanted to get back at him. Once Gordon and Strange are out of earshot, Wayne is revealed to be Dick in disguise and everyone is ready to head home.

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Bruce Wayne?! Batman?! How could this be?!?

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is a fun story – what would someone do with Batman’s secret identity? Strange’s actions are entirely logical for an extortionist, even if it’s a bit unrealistic to think he could get in touch with the likes of Joker and company so easily. The episode does jump through some hoops to preserve Batman’s secret in the end. I don’t like how the writers are afraid to show Batman as being fooled, and he instead needs to be one step ahead of Strange the whole time. The Bruce Wayne impersonation is also pretty unrealistic since Dick not only is able to look exactly like Wayne, but also sound like him as well. It’s the kind of thing a cartoon can get away with that live action would not. I guess they’re just taking advantage of the medium, but it does feel cheap. A lot happens in this episode so it moves really fast, which is fine. I suppose you could argue that the plot could have been dragged out across two episodes, but I’m fine with it as is. I did find it odd that Two-Face’s coin never came into play, he was ready to toss Strange out of the airplane, but I do like how he mentions that he knows Bruce Wayne and it’s why he can’t possibly believe that he would be Batman. Still, it’s kind of surprising that it was never revisited in a later episode with one of the three villains at least entertaining the notion. I feel like the plot of this episode is memorable, making this one of the most popular episodes of the show. I don’t know if it’s a top 10 episode, but it’s probably at least in the top 25. Just a good, some-what flawed, but entertaining episode.


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.