The Batman Review: The Laughing Bat (S2E12)

(DISCLAIMER: The author of this blog owns none of the properties depicted below. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise.)

Original Airdate: June 4, 2005
Writer: Michael Jelenic
Director:
 Seung Eun Kim
Special Guest Villain Reviewer: Napoleon “OverMaster” de Cheese

So, just to reiterate…

Batman laughing: terrifying as balls.

Batman laughing

And he means hairy balls. Big, bulbous, hairy balls.

This is something that’s easy to recognize on both a superficial level – especially with today’s Batman growing more humorless by the year – and on more thematic levels. After all, almost from the moment of his debut, Batman was all about control – the man who could shake off Scarecrow’s hallucinogens, Poison Ivy’s seduction, and more to impose his own brand of order on a chaotic world. Even Adam West’s take would rarely give more than a single condescending chuckle as the villain got hauled off to jail.

But to laugh, a lot of people would contend, is the ultimate surrender of control. Fear and lust can be excused as instincts necessary for survival, but laughter is nothing more than distancing yourself from life and all its trials and tribulations. How callous. How pathetic.*

How utterly perfect for Batman’s archenemy.

But don’t take it from me. We’ve got a real Batman authority with us today:

Hello, I’m OverMaster, also known as Napoleon De Cheese, fellow uber-geek and fanfiction scribe. You’re probably well-acquainted with my award-winning megacrossover Unequally Rational and Emotional.

Joker cricket

… or perhaps Thirty-One Clown Princesses in Amber?

Joker cricket

Tales Calculated to Drive You Batty, then?

Joker cricket

… anyways, I choose my Internet names on whims of a moment and it shows. Saying I am the glass half empty type would be too generous to me. In short, I’m hardly a barrel of laughs (aren’t you glad yet you’re going to spend large chunks of this review with me?) and yet my second or third (depending on the day) most favorite character ever is the Joker. Go figure.

I’d like to start my participation in this review by begging you not to leave because of me. Just be strong, grind your teeth and bear through it, like most people involved in my life. You might even emerge a better person, although that hasn’t happened to anyone else involved in my life yet. But it might yet happen. Might.

Also, the following review is probably best read if you try and hear my bits through it in an Eeyore voice while you picture Rubber Lotus’ being said aloud in a… Tigger, voice, I guess? After all, the most wonderful thing about Rubber Lotuses is he’s the only one!

The cold open is another decent contender for the series’ best, at least on paper. A standard scene of Batman swooping down on some hapless, panicked crook, but with the distinct undercurrent that something’s wrong.

Like, oh, I dunno… the “crook” being nothing more than a jaywalker. And Batman gassing him.

Blind Justice

But once again, the execution falls short due to (say it with me now!) a lack of subtlety. Maybe it’s just me, but the sight of chemicals instantly tips things into “okay, it’s the Joker again” territory, especially since Scarecrow’s been exiled from this continuity and Ivy is still in the works. All the other clues are perfectly fine: the little sprinkles of Joker’s leitmotif and the shots of his pointy white chin are quick enough to miss, and the guy’s scream of “I was only jaywalking!” is jarring enough to push things into “What the hell…?” territory without giving everything away.

I actually like the opener a lot even now, other than the jaywalker’s voice sounding slightly… off (and if he’s a jaywalker, wouldn’t it make more sense to set the chase at Robinson Park? I doubt, ahem, Batman’s slow enough as to let the chase get all the way from the park to some alleys like that. Then again, he’s the Jok– sorry, I mean the Batdick, so he could have just let it drag on to torment the guy even more).

Actually, that reminds me… has Robinson Park ever shown up outside the comics? Given it’s a Frank Miller invention, you’d think the TV/movie people would be falling over themselves to reference it.

Either way, the opener’s payoff really wowed me as a kid, and it’s held up pretty well.

BatJoker
“I’m the Batman.”

Yup. Seems Joker wants to pay Bruce back for that switcheroo in “Topsy Turvy”. With interest.

I’m mostly used to the Spanish language version shown in my country, but still – kudos to Kevin Michael Richardson for nailing the effect of the Joker affecting a gruff and cold Batman voice. It’s the kind of thing you doubt Mark Hamill himself could have achieved, but it fits Richardson’s vocal register better.

Another quick, minor observation- is the tied captured guy found in an alley under the lights of the incoming law enforcement supposed to be some sort of reverse play on the opening of Batman: The Animated Series? This is something I hadn’t thought about until I rewatched the episode for this review, and if I’m right, I think it’s pretty clever from the writer.

Don’t you mean-

No, Lotus, I’m not calling it That Other Show. I know I owe you over delaying this review so much, but I’m still not doing it.

Bah!

(Oh, and by the way, since it’s at this point we cut to the opening theme– that theme was so kickass it’s a real shame it didn’t have a fully animated sequence of its own and instead steals a bunch of animation from the first few episodes. Damn it, guys, way to be cheap. And one from the later seasons doesn’t even compare. Even the Adventures of Batman and Robin theme by Shirley Walker sort of holds its own against Danny Elfman’s classic BTAS theme. These ones have a much more uneven relationship.)

You know, given how much the modern crop of writers love emphasizing that Bruce is just one bad day/murder/parking ticket away from turning into the Joker, it’s rather disappointing that so few of them have come close to exploring the opposite side of the coin (before this episode, I think only the Silver Age touched this territory, with the somewhat iconic utility belt story and this admittedly delightful cover by Carmine Infantino). So, whatever his other sins, Jelenic has my eternal respect for this.

And it’s not just another mindless romp with a vaguely neat gimmick, like Jelenic’s last Joker script was. Hunting down jaywalkers, litterbugs, and the like and shooting them up with Joker Venom sounds like exactly the kind of thing a “crimefighting” Joker would do: taking something us “normals” cherish to its most pointlessly literal extreme and still inflicting tons of misery whenever he can.

Sound familiar?

I seem to remember Marvel’s Carnage did something similar with the crime fighting very recently… I am actually sort of fond of Carnage; sure, he’s an over the top, hollow relic of the nineties, but while the character will never be as engaging as a well written Joker, not even at the top of his game, I think he’s more like an overpowered psychopathic adult child rather than one of those really bad nineties villains who took themselves too seriously despite having utterly ridiculous concepts.

Bane innocent

No, Bane, you’re made of better stuff than that. But geez, Stryfe, no wonder you were Cable’s nemesis. Only you could hope to be more of a stupid-arse mess of a character concept than him.

Anyway, yeah, I like Carnage despite his being a bargain bin Joker with a symbiote. Moving on…

Part of me also feels that this is what the Joker genuinely believes Batman is like – or at least, what he believes Batman should be like. Let’s face it: Joker is exactly the kind of guy who would equate any kind of order with Fascism. What’s more, you could argue that comics!Batman really was starting to go down that path around this episode’s airdate. Taken that way, this is the first (and maybe only?) Joker episode on The Batman to actually succeed at satire, and not just within this specific continuity.**

I don’t know, the Harley Quinn debut episode of The Batman actually handled satire well enough, I’d say. But then again, Paul Dini wrote that one, and as we all know, Paul Dini can do no wron-

FUCKING HELL, LOTUS. I ALMOST MANAGED TO REPRESS THAT.

(And if you’re only familiar with DC animation and not the comics, don’t even bother to ask what Countdown is. All you need to know is it’s horrible, nauseating and makes me think fondly of Rob Liefeld comics. At least those are good for laughs.)

Even taken just as a superhero story, the script’s hardly any less impressive. The scene in Mayor Grange’s office alone has more wit than every previous Joker episode put together, from Bat-Joker’s entry…

BatJoker 2
“Joker?”
“WHERE?!”

… to his constant attempts to not laugh…

BatJoker 3
This is probably the only time any Joker has ever said “sorry”.

… to the brutal punchline with the Mayor’s wife:

Mrs. Grange
“Eleven items at a ten-item grocery checkout. She had it coming.”

Even though she’s alive, it’s rather reminiscent of Sal Valestra’s fate in Mask of the Phantasm.

Much like “The Laughing Fish”, Joker tries to make the whole shtick look like a convoluted extortion scheme (“Crimefighting ain’t charity work!”), but let’s face it: any money the city ponies up would be a small bonus to him at best. The only real complaint I have is that the Mayor doesn’t really make for a proper G. Carl Francis; Adam West tries his hardest for some genuine emotion, but ends up overacting and creating a routine that has two comics without any foils.

Yeah. His ‘one million dollars!’ delivery brings to mind Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies, for Pete’s sake!

(By the way – my heartiest kudos to whoever designed Bat-Joker’s costume, which looks exactly like something an escaped maniac could cobble up (Halloween was just last episode) with mocking little touches like the literal utility belt and the sole-less boots. Some have even likened it to designs used on the actual Batman by certain artists, especially Tim Sale.)

(One also has to wonder about the perfect close-up of the Joker’s Bat-costume the TV crews got. I like to imagine he was delighted to pose for the cameras trying to strike the most badass demented poses he could. Then he probably gassed the crew and sent the footage to the TV station himself. I also kind of like how the newscaster speaks so dully on the whole subject, as if by now he’s just gotten so used to that kind of crazy crap happening in Gotham. It sort of reminds me of the way reporters tended to act in Adam West’s show, when they weren’t hamming it up themselves with hilarious Narm.)

While the Mayor is left behind with his bill, our Cracked Crusader swings off to punish a pair of little girls for playing hopscotch aaaand there’s no way I can type that without ending up on a watchlist, is there?

It’s rather chilling since even TAS Joker was mostly written away from situations where children were directly and specifically threatened– leaving things like ‘trying to nuke Gotham’ aside. Of course, it helps the Robin we had for most of TAS’ run was college-aged and Tim Drake didn’t get a proper meeting with the Joker until the Batman Beyond movie, where… well, yeah.

Fortunately, the real Batman shows up before Chris Hansen can ask anyone to take a seat, and the fight is on… and over in about a minute, so they can work out their frustrations more constructively.

Batman Squared
That sound you hear is Fredric Wertham’s grave. Spin, motherfucker, spin.

In hindsight, it’s also a bit stupid for Batman to pull the cuffs out *before* knocking the Joker out, which is what most Batmen would try to do. Eh, I guess he’s still a newbie– at his like fourth year of crime fighting… whatever.

Having proven through his mad fighting skillz and/or first-act invincibility that he’s the superior Batman (not to be confused with Doctor Octopus, the superior Spider-Man), Bat-Joker decides that there’s nowhere left for Bruce to go but become the new Joker. And to prepare his old foe for the role, he whips out his snake and gives Bruce a nice big taste of Joker Juice.

BatJoker 4
“When you’re doing Batman, always carry the best.”

Okay, all kidding aside, I don’t think Richardson’s Joker has ever sounded more compelling or psychotically dangerous than he does here. His lowered, slower delivery probably has a lot to do with that, and it’s a crying shame that he pretty much only uses it for the Bat-Joker routine.

At this point, hearing them talking in their Bat-voices at the same time, OverMaster realizes with horror Richardson might actually make a better Batman than Rino Romano.

Anyways, the Joker’s new-and-improved poison has one nasty side effect: making Bruce laugh and crack terrible jokes at unpredictable intervals.

You ask me, Batman laughing might always be creepy as big hairy balls, but Bruce Wayne giggling– at least this Bruce Wayne giggling– just makes him sound like a pansy. Sorry, Mr. Romano.

I know, I know – the more jaded of you are probably rolling your eyes and going “so what’s the side effect?”, and I’ll admit it would’ve been absolute gold with That Other Show’s grimmer, grouchier Batman. But in itself, it’s still a kickass concept, and lifted straight from one of the comics’ most underrated Joker stories to boot.

batman260-11

Why is Batman fantasizing about the floating head of some grandmother’s ghost? I don’t get it.

I don’t think I’ve discussed him a whole lot on this blog, but Denny O’Neil is (usually) rightfully hailed as a true legend among the hundreds of Batman writers who’ve come and gone, with a style best described as half-Adam West and half-Frank Miller and one hell of an imagination to go with it. As his Joker stories go, the darker and gorier “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” usually gets all the press, but this one (Batman #260’s “This One’ll Kill You, Batman!”) is in a lot of ways more of a Joker story. Any villain, really, could go on a bloody revenge spree against his former goons and challenge Batman to save them. But how many could do something as monstrous as making Bruce laugh at a funeral for one of their victims?

batman260-13

Maybe it’s just a coincidence and Jelenic never read this comic in his life, but the part where Bruce tries to visit Mayor and Mrs. Grange in the hospital is still a pretty eerie parallel…

Bedside Manners

Obviously, the TV-Y7 timeslot shields Mrs. Grange from the fridge a most untimely death, but in a way that just makes it worse. What’s to say she can’t hear Bruce laughing, too?

If she retains some degree of awareness, she might be able to put two and two together and suspect Bruce’s suffering through the exact same things that happened to her when she was poisoned. It might be good ongoing subplot fodder, but that never really was this series’ thang.

Nonetheless, this whole scene is probably the episode’s highlight, and I don’t say that lightly. We get to see Bruce at his most dashing and noble (he offers to pay the Joker’s “crimefighting” fee up-front if the city can’t afford it), only for the Joker’s poison to undercut that a second later. The sheer, unironic hurt in Adam West’s voice more than makes up for the office scene earlier, and all the while, you can’t help but feel sorry at the sight of Bruce desperately trying to keep his shit together.

Now that I think about it, the Mayor has a surprising amount of nuance – sure, he’s not happy at the sight of Bruce cracking up, but he doesn’t throw Bruce out on his ear, either. And when Bruce obviously can’t control himself, the Hizzoner starts sounding worried. Maybe I’m the only guy in the Universe who cares about crap like this, but it’s a very neat affirmation of his seeing Bruce as a surrogate son.

Really, the Joker going on a spree to make people everywhere grin themselves to insanity, coupled with Bruce obviously acting unhinged after giving a very bad explanation about his injuries, *should* have made the Mayor sort of suspicious. But I assume he’s too worried about his wife to put his mind into it, so I’ll let it slide, benevolent nitpicker as I am.

You’re an example to us all, Sempai.

We move on to the Batcave, where Bruce’s perma-grin twists the usual exposition-fest into something much grimmer than usual. To cap it all off, we also get the only time in Bat-history when Alfred’s delightful English wit is a liability.

“Joker said he wanted an archenemy. He didn’t say a pulse was required.”

So he’s going to fight Deadman from now on? Neat.

BatJoker
“Hey, I got Dredd’s Guide to Crimefighting cheap. Might as well go all the way.”

In an astounding show of IQ and/or plot contrivance, Bruce has already whipped up 95% of the antidote to Joker’s little present; all he needs now is a sample of the poison itself. Lest that sound too easy, we’re hurried into the third act with this comforting thought: Bruce has exactly an hour left to live.

Then Alfred has to open his big stupid mouth and drop a Things-Can’t-Get-Any-Worse bomb.

Things Get Worse
“Anyone order a third-act complication? Waugh waugh waugh!”

So maybe Penguin’s Fabergé egg heist is a little superfluous, but it does make for a convenient and believable way for Batman to find Joker without having to waste any time detective-ing. More importantly, it lets us see Bat-Joker go out and fight actual crime, complete with suit-up sequence!

 batman joker the batman GIF

The Joker’s Bat-suit doesn’t have nipples, so does that make him a better human being than Joel Schumacher?

(And come to think about it, this episode has a lot of shots where Joker has his legs spread and we get a view of his black underwear-clad crotch. EEEEEEEWWWWWW!)

Penguin is weirdly skittish when “Batman” chases him down at the museum (though that might just be because the Kabuki Twins aren’t with him tonight), but once he sees who’s actually under the mask, goes straight into what’s probably Tom Kenny’s best work on this show:

The Thing Is
“I’m the Batman.”
“Yeah, y’see, the thing is… YOU’RE NOT!”

If you’re familiar with Tom Kenny’s work at all, you probably associate his voice with either obnoxious twits or well-meaning dimwits. But for once, he has to be the straight-man while everyone else has seemingly gone insane(r). And Kenny pulls it off with aplomb, while never letting us forget that the Penguin is still a tacky thug at heart.

That said, I can totally imagine this line from Paul Williams’ mouth:

“You don’t see me barging in on your “gas all of Gotham schemes”, do you?! It is called professional courtesy!

Actually, Oswald, since you would FREAKING DIE if one of those schemes ever do work, you might want to start reconsidering that particular stance on the otherwise always delightful courtesy. Just a thought.

Bat-Joker retaliates with the worst insult known to supervillainy: calling Penguin the city’s second-biggest criminal.

And that’s only because this show doesn’t have a Two-Face. Otherwise you can bet they’d have milked that point for a quick gag.

That they would. But never mind that, it’s time for a warm welcome to our old friend…

The scene where Joker and Penguin are kung-fu fighting each other actually WORKS, despite it usually being eye-rolling when both of them do that solo against Batman himself. Go figure!

Yeah, surprise, surprise – the climax is amazing, especially when the dying Batman finally shows up and it turns into a three-way with Penguin’s eggs and Joker’s snake constantly changing hands. Oh, and Penguin gets spit-roasted at one point.

Spitroast
Think I’m kidding?

But after a quick dose of Joker Juice and quicker chainwork, Ozzy’s out of the picture, leaving Batman with only seconds left and Joker, being Joker, mockingly dangling his snake inches away.

Tick Tock

What a dick. We can say ‘dick’ without immediately adding ‘Grayson’ in this blog, can’t we?

But, Batman being Batman, he gets that snake and milks it for all it’s worth before Joker even realizes what’s happened.

Antidote

Okay, at which point in this review did Kevin Smith replace Lotus?

And the episode ends with the requisite ass-kicking, followed by something of an homage to The Killing Joke. Not only is it the subtlest one this show’s offered thus far, but it’s got a joke that I can actually believe a complete sober Batman would make.

Man Walks Into a Bar
“A man walks into a bar and says… ow.”

Doesn’t that old trope kind of bug you too? You know, the one where the poison that takes a long time to act to its fullest is immediately countered when the cure is administered at the last second? I mean, human biology doesn’t work like that. If the toxin is slow-acting, the cure derived from it should be as well. That cure isn’t even past Batman’s THROAT when he’s already fine again. Oh well. 

And of course, where previous fights in this episode between Batman and Joker (even the one BEFORE Batman was poisoned), were drawn-out and even, this one, with a Batman that still should be recovering, is easily dominated by him. Okay. But again, this is just nitpicking in an otherwise very enjoyable episode.

You said it. I’m actually feeling a little deflated, because if I remember right, this is the best Joker story The Batman has to offer. Much like my GPA this semester, it’s all downhill from here.

Overall, the Joker works best when he’s following a plan that is deranged and truly insane, but makes sense within the Joker’s own mindset and follows a perfect course to achieve an absurdist outcome. This is one of those such schemes, and as such it is truly enjoyable despite a few narrative logistic issues. One of the few flaws with TAS Joker is often you didn’t get the sense he was truly insane, he was just a guy who liked to be a jerk with a grandiose sense of theatrics (then again, Paul Dini is of the opinion that Joker’s not truly insane, which, for all the wonders he still does with the character, I don’t truly agree with, and in fact actually goes against quite a few of the situations Dini himself puts Joker through). I do think he works best when he IS really crazy, but in a way that doesn’t match any real world mental illness. Because these are comics, people. You know, fantasy!

So The Batman‘s Joker does have a particular edge over TAS’, at least in that sense– even if TAS Joker usually had better stories overall. But now THIS guy did seem actually bonkers most of the time, while still retaining enough sharpness of mind. Now, it was sadly often marred by the writers being unable or unwilling to come up with smarter twists and developments, but this episode? This is a winner, and able to stand alongside most of the best of TAS Joker.

Damn. I knew you liked this episode, but I didn’t think you’d give it that high an honor. Myself, I’d probably put it pretty high up on my Top 10 The Batman Episodes, but it probably wouldn’t even dent my Top 10 Joker Stories list. Sorry, kid, but them’s the breaks.

My deepest thanks to RubberLotus for letting me pitch in with this review, and for his patience. Regrettably, problems with my health and family made me take a very long while completing my parts of this review. Sorry, everyone!

Also, a special nod to Ruben Leon, who’s been the Latin American voice of The Joker since God shat out the first caveman, and the Joker voice I always hear in my head while writing for the character. He’s voiced the villain through The Animated Series, The Batman, The Brave and the Bold, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Superman The Animated Series, the LEGO Batman movie (although not the videogames), The Dark Knight Returns, Under the Red Hood, and Attack on Arkham, *and* somehow always fits every different incarnation of the character. Though for this particular episode, I actually prefer Richardson’s Bat-Joker voice to his.

See you around.

Next: Season Two marches toward its grand finale, featuring the end of not one, but two beloved cast members! Stay tuned.

* A related but separate hypothesis for Batman’s humorlessness can be found here.

** Batman: The Brave and the Bold would also use this to brilliant effect in its Joker spotlight episode. Seriously, watch it now if you haven’t already.

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4 thoughts on “The Batman Review: The Laughing Bat (S2E12)

  1. Thanks for the review, Lotus. Hope your studies are going well.

    As a philosophical thought experiment: Let us presume, for the moment, that the Joker is not insane (that is to say, that he does not have a mental illness and is just a crap human being). Let us then drive him insane (by reducing his SAN to zero or whatever). Will he now act like a good guy, or a hero? Would he have an actual sense of humor? And finally, would the Batman try to cure his insanity, in order to have his evil-but-sane nemesis back?

    Oh, and nice to meet you, OverMaster. I don’t know why you were talking yourself down earlier, I found your interjections to be most droll 🙂

    Like

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