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Original Airdate: February 5, 2005
Writer: Adam Beechen
Director: Seung Eun Kim
So. Our first story to reuse a villain. And it’s the Joker.
I’m probably not shocking many of you when I say: get used to it. The Batman has something of a reputation for horrifically overusing Laughing Boy, and usually in badly derivative plots to boot. I mean, I doubt That Other Show trotted him out with that much more restraint, but even I must admit that the malevolent mirth of Mark Hamill can make one forgive a lot of things.
Either way, I do not look forward to the day we hit this show’s fifth or sixth Joker story and I’ve run out of things to say about the character or even points of comparison. But at this stage in the game, I’ve still got plenty to blather on about.
The Joker methodically hunting down individual people – often people who he claims have wronged him – is a plot that literally dates back to his first appearance. It’s the kind of setup that, in theory, combines the best elements of the comic-book supervillain and the big-screen slasher into one pants-wetting package. This is a character who’s known for being a seamless master of disguise and for knowing about five hundred ways to kill a man with nothing but a pie. When you’ve got someone like that on your tail, who can you trust? Not your friends, not your family, not even the money in your wallet.
And when it works, it works wonders.
Of course, not every story can have the groundbreaking genius of an O’Neil-Adams jaunt, and alas, today’s episode is not one of the chosen few. But you know what it does have?
Yep. The return of our favorite flatfoots.
Okay, I missed ’em the last three episodes. And anyways, we’re headed for a couple big changes with these two just a few episodes on, so just bear with it a little longer.
Since the Joker obviously can’t shoot, stab, strangle, bomb, electrocute, incinerate, dissolve, crowbar, run over, feed to a shark,
or use a nurse outfit to torment any of his victims on a kids’ show, Beechen had to get a little… out-there with what he could do. Thus, while the cold open where Joker stalks a late-working judge is kind of creepy, the results… really aren’t.
Yep – that’s Joker’s big gimmick this time around. He’s got a backpack gun thing that can turn people into giant playing cards.
This is slightly less lame than it looks at first glance – it’s implied what the thing actually does is trap people in giant slabs of concrete, fully conscious – but there’s no time devoted to exploring the horror of that. The focus is on Batman hunting Joker, and the actual victims are less than an afterthought. Personally, I think it’d be much scarier if we’re never really shown what happens to his victims – just show them getting dragged offscreen, screaming in terror as the Joker laughs.
Still, I suppose The Batman oughta get credit for not just sending Joker on a(nother) poisoning spree. Lame or not, you’re definitely not going to see him turning people into giant cards on any other-
I’m not sure what’s more depressing: that this episode’s cribbing off Superfriends or that it’s not even good at cribbing off Superfriends, which at least explained where Joker got his new toys and bequeathed him the peerless tones of Frank Welker, he who in his off-hours sings as a choir.
No, not with. As.
That said, I do kinda like the tack Kevin Michael Richardson takes in the first half of this episode, chucking dialogue aside and just yukking it up 24/7. Maybe it’s because I have no faith in any of his lines being the slightest bit funny, but a Joker who “talks” solely in laughs is a neat angle.
(We’ll later find there’s a specific reason for this, but let’s enjoy it while we can.)
Also, there’s a pretty bitchin’ Jokermobile rounding out the package.
No, it doesn’t have the classic Joker-face hood/battering ram, but it makes a perfect Joker-y kind of sense for him to ride in a thing that’s essentially a go-kart and a monster truck mashed together. So of course, Mattel saw fit to never make a toy out of the damn thing even when they had about seventeen different Batman variants clogging the shelves.
One thrilling chase later, the Joker makes off with the “carded” judge (Bennett’s words, not mine) and leaves Batman to lick his wounds. Come next morning, Bruce and Alfred go over all the usual exposition for a Joker plot, plus one slightly unusual bit: Arkham hasn’t reported any recent breakouts. Joker’s been in custody all night.
And as we all know, the Joker is absolutely helpless whenever behind bars.
Batman concludes that the Joker is going after fifty-two people with that card gun, with himself as a prime target. Again, this is an angle with a lot of potential – even if Joker gets all the cops, jury members, and court staff involved in his first arrest, that’d probably leave at least a dozen more cards to fill. So where does he go from there? Arkham staff? Reporters? People he’s seen on the street once? People whose names he picked out of a phone book?
The whole setup leaves itself ripe to both horror and comedy angles, but again, Beechen’s script doesn’t do much with it. Batman’s investigation takes center stage, and his idea of investigating is going to the Joker’s last hideout and hoping the man’s dumb enough to come back there.
It’s not a total loss, though. Not with this chap looming in the background and stealing sleep.
And because we’ve still got a fight-scene quota to fill, Joker shows up anyways with a brand-new toy: a jackhammer pogo stick that’s also an ion cannon.
Wait, did I say the Joker? I meant a Joker. After the expected Bat-Beatdown, Batman realizes that “Joker” is actually a disguised Arkham orderly that the real deal intimidated into this whole charade.
I hate sounding like a broken record, but this is once again an angle that could’ve been awesome and is let down by the script. There are several incarnations of the Joker that are believably scary enough to intimidate an ordinary, law-abiding citizen into doing his dirty work (up to and including assaulting and kidnapping a judge), but this show’s Joker needs some serious work before he can join their ranks.
Let’s look at a similar situation from That Other Show, shall we? There, the Joker slowly and meticulously stalked Charlie Collins through the streets for several minutes, during which the music, the direction, and Charlie’s own reactions built up an aura of pure terror around the man. And up until the last act, the episode never stops reminding us just how far the Joker can reach – even a cross-country move and a name change can’t stop him from finding the entire Collins family. He never even pulls a gun on any of them, but he doesn’t have to for the narrative to trick us into accepting Charlie’s… employment under him.
In contrast, this show’s Joker has given us a handful of “Boo!” scares and some par-for-the-course supervillainy, and his intimidated flunky only spits out a single line about how “[Joker said] he’d do me in” before he tries to shoot Batman and, of course, gets carded for his troubles.
And because the plot says so, Batman goes over to Arkham instead of freeing the guy (who, I might remind you, was supposedly an innocent victim in all this). Hope you don’t have to go to the bathroom or anything, dude.
Meanwhile… I guess…? (It’s suddenly midday even though the scenes before and after are in the middle of the night) Bennett and Yin are saved from having to do any actual police work when Joker “invites” them to come to a local abandoned theater. By complete coincidence (honest!), that’s exactly where Joker’s head doctor has been invited to, for a totally legit celebratory banquet.
(By the way, this scene confirms that Penguin goes to Arkham, which I usually hate, but I can kinda buy it for this Penguin.)
While Alfred distracts the guy with a crank call, Bruce swipes the keys and goes over to Joker’s cell, and finds the man himself working on a one-man Beavis and Butthead impression. Alright – after the disappointment that was “The Bat in the Belfry”, Beechen’s first Batman-Joker interaction… is better, but not by much. None of Joker’s dialogue makes much sense, which wouldn’t be so bad if any of it was actually funny instead of just KMR summarizing the plot with as much screaming as possible.
Honestly, the more it goes on, the more he starts sounding like a Sicilian with death on the line. Only, you know, played completely seriously.
Apparently the entire point of the last ten minutes was to trick Batman into coming to Arkham, which does sound like something the Joker would do in the most convoluted way possible, but the pacing’s just so. Damn. Dull. It’s not funny, it’s not scary, and it’s a goddamn waste of Kevin Michael Richardson. All this “I know you, Batman-sempai~” stuff doesn’t really feel natural either, since it’s only their second meeting.
In any case, Joker KO’s Batman and locks him inside the cell, while he goes off to keep an appointment at the theater. And since Joker’s dinner hour is about now, the guard (the same guy Joker poisoned in “The Bat in the Belfry”, sounding even more stoned this time around) strolls right up to the cell and sees Batman inside.
Blah blah blah, wasted potential, plug for a much better Batman story with this same premise (mainly because Bruce spends more than five seconds trapped in there and the script bothers to put the screws on him), rinse and repeat.
The guard runs off to call Yin and Bennett, and I don’t know if it’s stupidly contrived or refreshingly realistic that Batman can’t get the cell door open even though Joker left him with the full utility belt. This leaves him with only one option, grab the extra Joker disguise that Joker’s “understudy” brought to the cell (Why? Fuck if I know), and disguise himself as his greatest enemy!
Of course, this entire plan hinges on three grown adults thinking that Rino Romano sounds anything like Kevin Michael Richardson and that none of those adults would go inside the cell for a closer look. In other words, it works like a charm.
What makes this even worse is that right afterward, we see that Batman could’ve hidden in the ceiling all along. Another minute and a half wasted.
Down at the theater, Joker unveils his new toy and his new look:
For better or worse, this is the Joker design the show sticks with for the rest of its run. Frankly, I liked the straitjacket look better, but that’s probably because it helped me treat this show’s Joker as his own character instead of another half-assed attempt to imitate something from That Other Show.
The Joker’s audience: Bennett, Yin, Dr. Bagley, Mayor Grange, and… a bunch of other one-off civilians who don’t speak or even move. I thought they were dummies or something at first, but given the Joker’s dialogue, it seems that he just went off and kidnapped them while someone was too busy playing dress-up in Arkham. His master plan isn’t a whole lot more impressive: he’s just going to “deck” all of them and then throw them into the river, presumably to drown.
Personally, I don’t know why his “hostages” don’t just rush him and beat his pasty white ass down. There’s one of him and about fifty of them, and that card-gun of his can only fire one shot at a time. Beechen even goes out of his way to show they’re only restrained by their shoes!
About the last thing I find in this episode that’s genuinely clever is how Batman literally brings the curtain down on Joker to stop him from hurting anyone else. After that, it’s just another standard fight scene (though the Joker relies a lot more on gadgets than kung-fu this time) with a depressingly predictable “ironic” ending:
There’s virtually nothing to recommend about this episode: the “mystery” is deathly dull, the Joker’s new plot is a heap of wasted potential, the one-liners are more grating than ever before (I know there are some people who like the Joker to be shit at actually being funny, but even then his “jokes” in this episode are just an unrelenting pile of suck), the cops take incompetence to a whole new level, and the script can’t even bring itself to care what time of day it is. Now this Adam Beechen, I can see butchering Cassandra Cain beyond all recognition.
I wouldn’t really blame people who chose this moment to give up on the show (or at least its Joker), but trust me when I say third time will be the charm for ol’ Mistah J. Good thing too, since we’re only one episode away from his next appearance.
Next: The Penguin flies again, a new Dark Knight rises in Gotham, and we confront the deadliest Bat-foe yet: reality TV.