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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.

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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.

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.

jokerswild

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.

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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!

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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.


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.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Heart of Ice”

Heart_of_Ice_(Batman-_The_Animated_Series)Episode Number:  14

Original Air Date:  September 7, 1992

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Mr. Freeze

Production episode number 14 was actually the third episode of Batman: The Animated Series to air. It’s also the first written and directed by the two individuals who receive the most credit for the success of the show, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, respectively. And wouldn’t you know, it’s also probably the best episode of the show and maybe the best episode of television based on a comic book.

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“Heart of Ice” isn’t just the debut of Mr. Freeze for the show, but the start of a whole new life for the character.

Prior to this episode’s airing, its star villain Mr. Freeze was a bit of a joke. Dead in the comics, viewers most knew him from the campy 60’s TV series where he was just some old guy with an affinity for the cold. He was a nothing character and a throw-away villain for Batman to dispatch when a little variety was needed. After this episode, Mr. Freeze was suddenly a star villain in Batman’s rogues gallery and is now probably among his top adversaries in terms of notoriety. He was resurrected in the comics and his backstory was retconned to closely mirror the events of this episode. Freeze isn’t the only instance of the show influencing the comics, and it’s probably debatable which contribution from this show is most important:  Freeze or Harley Quinn. Regardless, this episode is my personal favorite from the show and one that stuck with me when I first saw it back in 1992. Prior to seeing this, I’m not sure if I had ever really empathized with a superhero villain on such a level and it really created a unique viewing experience for me as a child.

The episode opens in a foreboding fashion with a shot of a ballerina dancing in place. It’s a figurine encased in a snow globe and Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) is gazing at it longingly remarking how this is how he’ll always remember “you.” His character model is partially obscured by shadow and is illustrated like a background from the show clearly done on black paper. His mouth is the only thing that animates until his red, glowing eyes open. The eye bit makes no sense, since we’ll soon see that they’re goggles, but it does add a nice dramatic flourish which is something we will also see again.

Cut to a TV report from Summer Gleeson and the episode becomes a more conventional setup. Someone armed with an ice gun has been knocking off GothCorp locations and making off with some tech pieces. Batman, via his magic computer, is able to figure out what these pieces of equipment are being acquired for (a giant freeze canon) and knows what the next item targeted will be and where it’s manufactured. He’s able to arrive as Mr. Freeze and his henchmen hit the scene and Batman has his first encounter with his new adversary. Mr. Freeze, unlike some villains we’ve seen already, is debuting in the show and in the show’s universe as Batman has never encountered him before. We’re shown pretty early that he’s a vicious sort, not in his methods, but his mindset. He cares nothing for the men working for him or those his actions could harm. Batman is warned to stay out of his way, and he genuinely holds no ill will towards the caped crusader, but he also has no problem with killing him either. Freeze’s callousness is demonstrated in leaving behind one of his henchmen who he inadvertently froze. He shows no remorse and offers no apology that he froze the man with his handy ice gun and Batman is forced to help the guy out at the cost of letting Freeze escape.

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Victor Fries seen pleading with Ferris Boyle not to pull the plug on his wife.

Batman decides he needs to do a little sleuthing about Freeze and goes straight to the source:  GothCorp CEO Ferris Boyle (Mark Hamill). Boyle is at a loss as to why someone would be targeting his company, but does tell Batman (as Bruce Wayne) that a former research scientist would possibly hold a grudge due to the company pulling funding, but adds that he died in a lab accident. It’s a curious thing to bring up if the man is dead, but it’s enough of a lead for Bruce to return as Batman to scour the security tapes. He locates the one for the accident Boyle mentioned and witnesses a rather disturbing scene. Scientist Victor Fries (pronounced Freeze, naturally) was experimenting with cryogenics and freezing a live human to place them into a state of suspended animation. His test subject was his wife, Nora, as she was terminally ill with what we can only assume is likely some form of cancer, and he hopes to keep her in this state until a cure is found. Boyle storms in with some guards to tell Fries his funding is being withdrawn as it’s proving too costly. He has the apparatus housing Nora Fries shutdown, despite the protests of Victor as this will surely result in his wife’s demise. Boyle cares little for the predicament of Nora, and when Victor begs him to reconsider Boyle tosses him aside into a bunch of random chemicals. Victor can only look on helplessly as his wife is essentially murdered before his eyes, the contact with the chemicals apparently resulting in his current state. It’s a haunting video, though I can’t help but snicker a little at the dramatic cuts contained in supposed security footage, but it helps tell the story.

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Zzzzzap!

Batman is horrified, and even utters a “My God,” at the sight which was surprisingly allowed to make it to air as any mention of God like that is usually rejected by network censors for a kid’s show. Mr. Freeze conveniently shows up to offer a little commentary on Batman’s reaction to the security footage before firing his ice gun at the screen ending the scene. Batman is taken prisoner and suspended from the ceiling via ice shackles. From here he’s able to pry Mr. Freeze about the night Boyle ruined his life. The “accident” he suffered has forced him to reside in a sub-zero temperature as he cannot live in any other climate. The suit he wears keeps him alive, and we’ll learn later it also triples his strength making him a pretty good physical adversary as well for Batman. Batman offers his sympathy and tries to reason with Freeze, but Freeze doesn’t care. His heart is ice and he only desires revenge against the man who murdered his wife and no one will stand in his way.

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I’ve seen enough cartoons and movies to know that you probably shouldn’t just leave Batman like this.

This is where Freeze makes the mistake of behaving like a typical villain, for all of his bluster about not caring about the lives of those who get in his way, he makes the mistake of leaving Batman alive. He even spills the beans on his plan to crash a dinner where Boyle is being presented with a humanitarian award, and soon departs with his super weapon now complete. Batman is left to extricate himself from his confines and pursue Freeze. He’s able to arrive just in time as Freeze is in the process of encasing a begging, pleading, Boyle in ice. Batman even retrieves his utility belt, and it’s a good thing, because Alfred had equipped him with a thermos of chicken soup to fight off a cold he acquired during the episode which comes in handy when he uses it to smash the glass bubble around Freeze’s head. He hands the Gotham PD the security tape he took from GothCorp depicting what happened to Nora Fries. The episode ends on a sad scene of Mr. Freeze in his frozen prison cell gazing at his snow globe representation of his wife apologizing through tears that he could not avenge her.

“Heart of Ice” is a triumph due to its story-telling and its style. Mr. Freeze has a retro sci-fi look with a dash of Darth Vader thrown in. His voice is modulated and fuzzy since it’s being amplified by the suit, and the red goggles work to hide any emotion his eyes could convey. His brow is in a constant frown and his cold mannerisms are achieved naturally without being too overstated by the character (something the film version from Batman & Robin was unable to achieve). His ice gun is a fun piece of animation and it’s particularly neat to see him use it in a manner similar to how Marvel’s Ice Man uses his powers when he smashes a fire hydrant and creates an ice track to a high rise. The pacing of the episode is well done, though the limited running time is felt a bit when Batman is able to figure out Freeze is improbably building a giant ice canon right away. I guess an ice canon isn’t a completely foreign concept to Batman. There is also a goof that probably bothers Timm and Dini when they watch this when the colors on Batman’s logo are flipped, and I do kind of hate that Freeze just captures Batman and makes the classic villain error of revealing his hand to the hero and letting him live to do something about it.

The shortcomings for “Heart of Ice” are real and go beyond nitpicking, but they’re not enough to do any real harm to the episode or take away from the fantastic back story dreamed up by Dini for the character of Mr. Freeze. Giving him the motivation of wanting to avenge his lost wife, and in turn making Boyle the real villain of the episode, means the viewer is in some scenes rooting against Batman. We want to see Boyle get what’s coming to him and we don’t want Freeze punished further. At the same time, the episode does make the crimes of Mr. Freeze obvious so it doesn’t go too far in making him sympathetic. The tragic air of the episode’s conclusion is a somber touch to end on, and appropriate one given the mood of the episode. The only real drawback is it’s too good, making it hard for the show to come back to the character because how can it possibly top this?

Heart-of-Ice-BatmanThankfully, Mr. Freeze avoids the Two-Face treatment which saw that villain return more than once as basically a conventional Batman foil. The show never forgets the true motivation for Freeze and Nora is a part of the few times he does reappear. He never schemes with the Joker or serves as hired muscle for Poison Ivy. And best of all, Mr. Freeze is provided a legacy that still endures today making him one of Batman’s greatest foes, and he owes it all to this episode of a children’s cartoon.