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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 – “Zatanna”

zatanna title cardEpisode Number:  54

Original Air Date:  February 2, 1993

Directed by:  Dan Riba, Dick Sebast

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Zatanna, Zatara (flashback)

 

For episode 54 we have a rare dual-directed episode by Dan Riba and Dick Sebast, so rare that it’s the only one. Sebast had left the show before the episode’s completion so Riba took over. What state the episode was in, I have no idea, but Riba previously had only directed one episode (“See No Evil”) and had primarily contributed as a character designer and storyboard artist on the show. From here on out though he’ll be a regular director. This episode is also the debut of Zatanna, the magician super heroine who seems to be somewhat of a fan favorite. Paul Dini wrote this one and he’ll later get to write for Zatanna in the comics, incorporating some of the details of this episode involving Bruce Wayne and Zatanna’s history making this yet another episode to influence how a character was portrayed in the source material.

Zatanna hello

Zatanna know what the boys come for.

The episode opens with Bruce Wayne and Alfred in the audience for a magic show. The presenter is Zatanna (Julie Brown), which we learn is someone Bruce once knew many years ago bringing us another flashback. Some 10 or 12 years ago, Bruce sought out training from a magician and escape artist named Zatara (Vincent Sciavelli) as he prepared to become a vigilante. Like the flashbacks from “Night of the Ninja,” they’re presented in a sepia tone so even if we didn’t recognize that Bruce looked younger we would still know it’s a flashback due to the coloring. Zatara had a daughter named Zatanna, and she and Bruce had a some-what flirtatious relationship. Zatanna seems fascinated by young Bruce, who is known to them under the alias John (Bruce, why would you go with John? It’s too close to John Doe) and is unusual in that he wants training as an escape artist, yet shows no interest in performing. Zatanna is puzzled and curious by this John, while Zatara seems to pay it no mind sensing something in the boy that compels him to teach him all that he knows. When Zatanna is caught spying on John’s lesson, the straightjacket escape trick which we’ve actually seen Batman put to good use in the past, her father sends her away.

Zatara_and_Bruce

Bruce once sought training from the great magician, Zatara, father to Zatanna.

Zatanna confronts John after his lesson and implores him to continue on tour with she and her father. John insists he cannot, and will be leaving for Japan in the morning (presumably to begin his training as a samurai). Zatanna tries to weaken him with an amorous hug. John does appear slightly flustered, but he appears to enjoy the affection. When Zatanna releases her grip on him he finds he’s been handcuffed to the wall. As Zatanna walks off, she playfully mocks him that any decent escape artists would wiggle out of those cuffs before she could finish her sentence. When she turns around to presumably taunt him further, she finds John has vanished leaving the cuffs dangling from the wall.

young bruce and zanna

Bruce and a young “Zanna.”

Back in the present, Zatanna is preparing for her grand finale. As part of her final trick, she brings a noted magician sourpuss Montague Kane (Michael York) to the stage. He has apparently made it his business to point out how magicians pull off their tricks. Joining him is Irving Fauncewater (Zale Kessler), the manager of the Gotham Mint. Zatanna intends to make $10 million disappear from the Gotham Mint’s cache and the money is piled high on stage. She walks through her presentation, and wouldn’t you know, she succeeds! Everyone is delighted, except Fauncewater who seems a little concerned. When Zatanna finds she can’t make the cash reappear his concern turns to outrage. Kane accuses her of stealing the money, and Zatanna soon finds herself in cuffs she either can’t escape, or chooses not to.

Zatanna_BTAS_episode

Bruce doesn’t get to do stuff like this too often.

Bruce knows Zatanna is no thief, and he immediately jumps into costume to investigate. Feeling the police will only focus on Zatanna, Batman decides he needs to free her from custody in order to investigate who really stole the money. He busts Zatanna out of the paddy wagon and she joins him in the Batmobile, somewhat reluctantly for he has now made her a fugitive. Batman explains he can help her, and she inquires if they’ve met before. Batman, somewhat surprisingly, seems a tad flustered and offers a lame excuse about having a familiar face (even though he’s wearing a mask).

Z_25_-_Zatanna_and_Kane

There’s no way this guy on the right isn’t a villain.

Batman and Zatanna return to the scene of the crime in order to figure out how the real crook managed to make the money vanish. Batman, because of his seemingly infinite knowledge, reveals Zatanna’s secret. The trick relied on a hologram to take the place of the actual money. Someone got to the trick before her show, probably the night before, and stole the money replacing it with yet another hologram to make it seem like the money was still there. Zatanna is impressed, and the two suspect Kane of being the one behind it, because who else? The guy both looks and sounds like a bad dude.

The heroes head off to Kane’s mansion to investigate further. Along the way Batman attempts to pry at Zatanna to learn more about her love life, and about her father. Much to his enjoyment, I presume, he finds out Zatanna has no one in her life from a romantic standpoint. She claims to have no time for relationships now that she has taken over for her father, who passed away. Batman offers his condolences while revealing he saw Zatara perform as a child, which once again causes Zatanna to question if they’ve met before.

Z_34_-_Batman_and_Zee

He’s smiling on the inside.

When Batman and Zatanna arrive at Kane’s home, they find a trap waiting for them. They wind up in a cliché, the old spiked-wall closing in on them after falling through a trap door. Batman some-what crudely disarms the trap by jabbing at the wall’s gears with one of the spikes. They then use the spikes to climb out of the room. Batman takes note of a picture of a seaplane and assumes, correctly, that Kane is using such to flee Gotham. Batman and Zatanna are able to get to the plane and confront Kane, who like any good villain in this town, has some goons to throw at Batman. They’re no match for him, but Zatanna is apparently not accustomed to crime fighting and finds herself in the clutches of Kane himself. Using her as leverage, Kane gets Batman to surrender. He makes a gross comment towards Zatanna suggesting there are things she could do for him in order to spare her life, which results in him getting a stiletto jammed in his foot.

chained up

I’d say things aren’t going well for our heroes, but they’re escape artists, surely these chains can’t bind them forever.

Kane, now angered, has his men chain Zatanna to Batman. Kane’s plan, with the plane airborne, is to toss the two out of the cargo door to a messy end. Batman, referring to Zatanna as “Zanna,” tells her to reach into his glove. The little nickname was something John used to use with her and it alarms Zatanna to hear it from the lips of Batman. She does as she’s told and removes a lock pick. She’s able to free the two from their chains, but unfortunately not before Kane’s men tossed them from the plane. Batman was able to hook his foot in some sort of cargo net in the plane which was fastened to the plane itself. The goons start firing while Kane tries to cut the net as the two dangle in midair. Batman uses the chain that once bound them to lasso Kane and pull him out of the plane forcing him to order his men to stop shooting. Kane is able to climb the net and reach the plane before Batman and Zatanna, allowing him to shut the door.

zatanna punch

After being mostly ineffective during the fighting, it’s kind of nice to see Zatanna get the last blow.

With the door shut, Batman and Zatanna are forced to scale the plane’s hull. Kane heads for the cockpit to try and jerk the plane around and dispatch the two. He also orders his men to go after them, apparently not at all concerned for their well-being. Once again, the nameless goons are no match for Batman, who dumps them off the plane (they’re over water and fairly low, so Batman isn’t a murderer). As the two scream, Kane thinks they’re the cries of Batman and Zatanna and prematurely celebrates only for Zatanna to appear behind him to deliver a swift right fist.

With that all out of the way and the plane docked safely, the Gotham police are able to arrest the real crooks. Apparently, they’re not at all concerned with Zatanna’s fugitive status as she’s free to have a little chat with her new/old buddy Batman. Batman apologizes for never writing to Zatanna as he had promised to do as John, but she doesn’t seem to mind and acknowledges that he’s been a busy man. They trade words of encouragement, with Zatanna assuring him her father would be so proud to see how he’s made use of his teachings. Batman offers her a ride and gestures to the Batmobile, only to turn and find Zatanna has vanished in a puff of smoke (how does it feel, Batman?) leaving behind a signed poster for “John” imploring him to write this time.

Zatanna_Good_Bye

Parting is such sweet sorrow, ain’t it, Batman?

“Zatanna” is another episode that reveals a small piece of Batman’s past. It’s nice to now have an explanation for how Batman could wrangle out of some pretty dangerous traps in the previous episodes, and for fans of the comics they got to see someone make the leap from print to television. This version of Zatanna doesn’t appear to possess any remarkable talents beyond being a good illusionist. It’s also possible she kept her true powers a secret too, but I would think if that were the case the audience would have been treated to something behind Batman’s back. The added wrinkle to both character’s back story is a nice addition. It’s a little surprising she doesn’t make another appearance in the show as a featured character, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s disappointing.

Fans of Zatanna may have been disappointed to see her costume was altered slightly to not include her traditional fishnet stockings. That’s due to the medium as fishnet would be harder to animate than Spider-Man’s costume. This is another episode handled by Dong Yang Animation and it looks pretty good. Dong Yang handled more episodes of the show than any other company and their work is always consistent. The designs of Kane and his goons are a little on the dull side, since this isn’t a villain with a gimmick, but the plane sequence is pretty thrilling. And if you were worried Zatanna wouldn’t look good without her fishnets, don’t worry, she’s got plenty of sex appeal and it’s easy to see why Batman seems to have taken a liking to her.

Overall, “Zatanna” is a tight little story that works just fine as a stand-alone episode and as a fun cameo piece for the character Zatanna. It’s the first superhero team-up episode for the series (Gray Ghost feels like the first, but that character did not exist outside of this show), though if that’s something you like don’t get too excited. Batman will largely resist those temptations, though we get more when the show returns as The New Batman Adventures as DC was more interested in building an animated universe come then. Not being a huge a consumer of DC print material, the cross overs never added anything for me, but the good thing about this one is I didn’t need to know anything about Zatanna to enjoy the episode. And for a show that tries to tell self-contained stories in 23 minutes, that’s the right approach.


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

man who killed batmanEpisode Number:  51

Original Air Date:  February 1, 1993

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Sid The Squid

 

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

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

MWKB_22_-_Scared_Sidney

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

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

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

joker throne

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

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

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

harley crying

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

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

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

joker tribute

A fitting tribute.

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

dejected joker

A solemn Joker.

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

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

MWKB_67_-_Sid_and_Thorne

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

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

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

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A big shot at last!

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Almost Got ‘Im”

200px-AlmostgotimEpisode Number:  46

Original Air Date:  November 10, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s quite silly how excited I get when we’re coming up on a favorite episode of mine from this series. Nothing is stopping me from watching episodes like “Almost Got ‘Im” basically whenever I want, but for some reason this feature makes me feel like I’m being given permission to go watch these all over again. “Almost Got ‘Im” is a Paul Dini episode, and his tend to be pretty good. It’s a great concept for an episode that may or may not have been influenced by a series of comics in 1977 entitled “Where Were You on the Night Batman Was Killed?” Basically, we have a group of villains all hanging out and sharing a personal story about a time when they almost killed Batman and rid Gotham of him once and for all. We’re treated to numerous flashbacks recalling these moments (though this isn’t a clip show, these stories are all new) before everything comes together in the end to further a story in the present. Even though it’s an episode light on Batman, since we’re almost always looking at him from a villain’s perspective, I loved this one even as a kid and I still do today.

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When the girl walks in…

The episode opens over a game of poker. All we see are the hands of some recognizable villains from the show as they shoot the breeze and make plays. The players are Joker (Mark Hamill), Two-Face (Richard Moll), Penguin (Paul Williams), and Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid). The camera lingers on their hands, from the point of view of the person those hands belong to, and there’s some nice little touches adhering to the personalities of each guy. Joker, for instance, is shown pulling cards out of his sleeve while Two-Face discards two low number cards, but elects to hang onto a deuce (I love this). They’re ribbing each other for the most part, in particular Joker is pretty much all over Two-Face with several puns on his name. They appear to be in some kind of bar, but everything around them is covered in shadows. Soon Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) comes strolling in and takes a seat at the table and that’s when the conversation turns to Batman.

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Joker mocker Ivy for her exploding pumpkins, and yet voice actor Mark Hamill would go on to voice the Hobgoblin who, wouldn’t you know, wields exploding pumpkins.

Poison Ivy is the first to tell her little tale about the time she almost got Batman. Of all of the tales, hers is probably the least interesting as it’s basically just her gassing Batman with a jack-o-lantern. It’s most interesting contribution is a self-driving Batmobile segment and I’ve been a sucker for those ever since Batman ’89. Two-Face is up next, and his tale is a partial adaptation of a story from the comics in which Batman and Robin were tied to a giant penny. It’s a rather fun segment, but since we’ve got a bunch to get through, none are long so we’re mostly going for visual flair. Perhaps best of all, the giant penny in this flashback is going to remain a fixture in the Batcave in later shots as Batman was allowed to keep it for some reason.

Killer Croc is up next and his story is brief and makes me laugh every time. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll say nothing further on the subject. Penguin goes after him after all the villains seem to agree to ignore Croc from here on out. Penguin’s story takes place in an aviary and involves attack hummingbirds. It’s preposterous, but what isn’t where this show is concerned? Penguin actually escapes at the conclusion of this tale, indicating he hasn’t faced any consequences.

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Not a good predicament for our hero.

Saving the best for last is Joker. He actually insisted on going last and he does have a good reason for that. His story is typical Joker – he’s taken the Gotham airwaves hostage and setup Batman in a game show. The game in this case is to make the audience laugh which will cause Batman to be electrocuted. Did I mention Batman was strapped into an electric chair? The story of how he ended up in such a predicament is probably a good one, but apparently not deemed worth retelling by The Joker. Joker first tries to get the audience to laugh via threats, but it doesn’t produce great laughter. His next idea then is to simply fill the studio with laughing gas while Harley (Arleen Sorkin) reads the phone book. It proves effective, but before Batman can be fried to a crisp Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) barges in and saves him. Unfortunately for her though, while chasing Joker she’s attacked from behind by Harley and incapacitated. We then jump back to the card game where Joker reveals this all happened last night. He may not have got Batman, but he still has Catwoman and she’s currently about to be made into cat food and served to the cats of Gotham – ha ha ha!

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This is actually a good time to be committing petty crimes in Gotham since both Batman and the entire Gotham PD are apparently in this one bar.

It’s at this point one of our villains is revealed to be none other than Batman in disguise. He infiltrated this little game to presumably to find out what Joker had done with Catwoman. And he didn’t come alone as all of the patrons in the bar turn out to be undercover cops. With the villains all taken care of, Batman is free to go after Catwoman. Lucky for her, Harley has been waiting for Mr. J’s arrival before turning on the conveyor belt that will carry Catwoman into a vicious looking grinder. When Batman shows up instead, she does the old ploy of turning on the machine and taking off forcing Batman to choose between saving Catwoman or apprehending her. Batman, it turns out, can do both and it’s actually kind of funny. With that out of the way, Batman and Catwoman share a moment on the rooftop of the factory. When Catwoman tries to go in for a kiss, she’s distracted momentarily by the goings-on at ground level giving Batman an opening to take off on her. As he swings away Catwoman looks on with a wry smile and gives us the line of the show, “Almost got ‘im.”

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This seems like a real messy way to make cat food.

This episode is just fun. There’s tons of little details, mostly in the beginning of the episode, that add personality to our rogues gallery. I also really like that there’s an acknowledgement of Two-Face and Ivy’s previous relationship and their shared lines are some-what tense. It’s just a great framing device for an episode to have a bunch of interesting characters just hanging out and shooting the breeze. There are also loads of fantastic one-liners or little dialogue bits in this one.

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Not really sure why you’re running from this one, Batman. Maybe those trunks he wears doesn’t hide much?

Where the episode does come up short is mostly nitpicking. Once more we have Catwoman just in a weird spot. What is she? A villain or is she now a vigilante? I think clearly she was used in place of Robin to setup that little bit on the rooftop at the end, but it does feel off. She also should have been able to escape from Harley since she was just tied up and placed on a conveyor belt. Nothing that I can see was stopping her from just rolling off. I also wish the episode played with the concept of the unreliable narrator more. All of these stories are being told from the point of view of the villains and some embellishment on their part would have been fun. Especially since the format of the episode forces those flashbacks to be quite brief. And lastly, this is another episode where a character is probably way too good at being disguised, but that’s nothing new.

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This episode is popular enough to have spawned its own card game.

My issues with the episode are rather minor. This is one of my favorites, though I’ve never given it much thought beyond that. Is it in my personal top 25? Top 10? Top 3?! I’m not sure, but I’m at least leaning towards Top 10 and I’d have to do some more work to determine if I’d go further than that. Maybe that’s a feature for when this is all said and done, but we have a long way to go before we’re out of episodes.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 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 – “Mad As A Hatter”

MadasahatterEpisode Number:  27

Original Air Date:  October 12, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  The Mad Hatter

 

Our fourth Paul Dini episode contains yet another lesser foe from Batman’s rogues gallery for him to enrich. After elevating Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze (his other episode was a Joker one) Dini is going to try to bring the same touch to The Mad Hatter. As you can probably guess from the villain’s name, he’s a take on the same character from the famous Lewis Carroll novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which seems like a pretty silly source of inspiration for a villain (and rather lazy, since he even goes by the same name). He sounds like a villain more appropriate for the 1960’s series, and lo and behold he was a part of that, though not a well remembered part. He appeared in a handful of episodes and was played by David Wayne. In that series, he was less a man with a fondness for Lewis Carroll and instead just a guy obsessed with hats, and in particular, Batman’s cowl. He wore his signature top hat which would sprout two eyes and hypnotize people. Really, he might have a bone to pick with Mario’s Cappy. It’s kind of amusing though that he was featured in that series, because his voice actor for this show is a veteran of that program as well:  Roddy McDowall. I don’t know if they ever entertained the notice of hiring Wayne (he may have been retired since his last credits date back to the late 80s, he’d die in 1995 at the age of 81), but McDowall previously played The Book Worm in the 1960’s Batman television show.

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Get a load of this goon.

For Batman:  The Animated Series a more serious take on The Mad Hatter was needed. Just how does one make him a villain with the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland affinity without making him too silly? Well, for one they make him a scientist researching mind control. Jervis Tetch works for Wayne Corporations as a researcher and has discovered a way to control the minds of laboratory rats, which is depicted at the start of the episode by showing Tetch command the rats to have an adorable little tea party. He has a secretary named Alice (Kimmy Robertson), because of course he does, and he’s pretty smitten with her. The problem is, she has a boyfriend. Also of problem is Tetch’s boss, Marcia Cates (Loretta Swift), who is constantly on his case. She brings Wayne by to get an update on the research Tetch is working on. Wayne refers to his research as being aimed at unlocking the potential of the human mind, leading the viewer to conclude that mind control isn’t exactly what Tetch is being paid to research. He also plays coy and doesn’t reveal the device to Cates or Wayne. While Cates seems like she’d prefer to terminate him, Wayne is far more sympathetic and assures Tetch that he’s a valued employee. When Alice steps out for lunch later and returns in tears after a fight with her boyfriend, Billy (David Haskell), Tetch sees an opening for himself. After monologuing the pros and cons of just simply controlling her, this sudden break-up gives him the confidence tot ry and win her over and use his device and circuit cards to aid him. Outfitting a top hat with his mind control device and dressing lavishly as The Mad Hatter, he treats Alice to a night out. Utilizing the hat and little playing cards outfitted with his tech, he’s able to control the minds of those they encounter and come across as a big shot. Unfortunately for Jervis, after dropping Alice off at her home Billy is there waiting and the two reconcile.

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In spite of his outlandish attire, Tetch is able to make an impression on Alice.

When Jervis shows up for work the next day, still in costume and with a bundle of roses, he hears the “good news.” Not only did Alice and Billy make-up, but he also proposed and Alice is over the moon and totally oblivious to how this will make Jervis feel. Not that she’s responsible for his feelings, she even fails to notice the roses and that Jervis is squeezing them so tightly his hand bleeds on account of the thorns and a single drop lands on the photo of Alice and Billy on her desk. Jervis retreats to the lab where he is now determined to win her love. Emboldened by how well his mind control device had worked the night before, he now feels he can use it to win her over, and as a last resort, he could always just control her as well. He starts by taking control of Billy so he can break up with Alice once more. And when Alice returns home from work to find dozens of flowers in her apartment, Jervis is there to console her. By now she’s a little freaked out, forcing Jervis to utilize his last resort.

Unfortunately for Jervis, Bruce Wayne was in the office earlier that day and noticed Alice’s crying. During their date, Jervis had utilized his mind control cards when the two were mugged to command the would-be muggers to jump in the river. Batman was there to thwart the apparent suicide and also uncover the cards Tetch uses to control the minds of others. Since he’s familiar with his work as a scientist, and the likeness of the cards to the Carroll character depicted in Tetch’s office, he goes to pay Tetch a visit and is intrigued further by the unusual behavior of Alice’s boyfriend. He decided to pay Alice a visit at her home later as Batman, and is there to confront The Mad Hatter who makes off with Alice.

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Probably not the scariest group Batman has had to deal with, but maybe the creepiest.

As an actual foe, The Mad Hatter presents little opposition for Batman, but he’s able to utilize his “powers” to quickly gather a following. This is challenging for Batman since he’s confronted with adversaries, who are apparently made stronger by the mind control, who aren’t actually trying to harm him since they’re being controlled. It’s a moral dilemma, but Batman doesn’t seem to mind too much as he beats the Walrus and the Carpenter unconscious. Of course, The Mad Hatter ends up holed up in a Storybook Land amusement park in the Wonderland section. He orders his mind controlled henchman, which include Billy and Cates, to kill Batman, but all Batman has to do is free one. Since the other henchman are only focused on Batman, freeing Billy means Billy can just walk up and remove the cards from the other possessed individuals which seems like a pretty big hole in The Mad Hatter’s plan. Alice is still under The Mad Hatter’s control, and she’s now in full Alice in Wonderland attire, which is kind of gross because it implies Jervis made her change and who knows what kind of liberties he took. Once Tetch is isolated against only Batman it’s not much of a contest putting at least a temporary end to his plans. He does spout the classic villain line, “You made me do this,” at Batman, which feels kind of forced. I know most of the villains place blame on Batman for their crimes, but Batman really entered this arc kind of late.

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He’s certainly got the “mad” part down.

I will give Dini credit, I don’t hate The Mad Hatter. While he’s kind of a gross sort of character, interested in mind controlling a woman to love him, he’s at least believable and not too over the top with his gimmick. It’s always going to be inherently silly, but he definitely could have been a lot worse. Even still, he’s kind of hard to take seriously because his motivations are rather small making it seem kind of odd that he’d bother to return again as a villain (and he will). This is a tight, simple story and there is at least some degree of sympathy to be found in Jervis Tetch. Most people can understand what it means to lack confidence in dealing with a potential mate, though Tetch goes from sweet to creepy almost too fast basically quashing any sympathy the viewer could have built up. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that I find this episode good without being sold on The Mad Hatter, which is different from how I felt about Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. Though in looking ahead, The Mad Hatter will inexplicably be the main villain of one of my favorite episodes, so perhaps this episode has zero baring on the long-term relevance of The Mad Hatter.