DCAU #20: Joker's Favor

IN THIS ONE... The Joker calls on a favor from a man he once terrorized. 1st appearance of Harley Quinn!

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Boyd Kirkland.

REVIEW: The first Joker episode actually aired, this episode has a much better story and, though she hasn't quite been fully realized yet, the first ever appearance of Harley Quinn. The Joker's never really had a sidekick before, but this gal pal not only continues the show's latterly trend to make the henchmen more interesting, it actually creates a costumed villain who can tackle the Bat Family in her own right. Just not yet. We don't know what makes her tick yet, or what she's capable of in a fight. She just makes a strong impression as a visual, and as a voice. Because I don't think Harley necessarily makes it big without Arleen Sorkin's raspy but loopy Brooklyn accent. It takes her from the generic to the specific and makes her much more memorable. Who is the clown girl who goes along with the Joker's mad schemes? We immediately want to know. And her jokes aren't half bad either. She's LIKE the Joker, but also very different. That blue collar accent is totally unlike his gentlemanly mannerisms (the suit, the diction, schooling an angry driver on his manners... he's of Bruce Wayne's world).

Harley's presence enlivens the episode, but that's not to say it's not a good story. It's in a fact a remarkably good one. One might say it could have worked with several of the Batman's foes - the use of twin henchmen even seems to imply it once featured Two-Face - but it's the Joker's very randomness that makes Joker's Favor so effective. The episode starts on Charlie Collins, a civilian POV character you think is just there for a joke about Gotham's traffic being terrible on account of the police/batmobile chases. Then he flips off the Joker himself and he becomes a much more important character. Imagine being told by the Joker that he'd call you up for a favor some day, that he knew where you and your family lived! Well Charlie lives with this knowledge for two years. He moves to Ohio. He changes his name. Even if it could all be a joke. You'd never know if the Joker meant it.

But he did, and kept tabs on Charlie, and eventually made good on his threat. The joke is that all he wants Charlie to do is to open the door for Harley as she strolls into a fancy dinner for Commission Gordon with a booby-trapped cake. That's all. More terror games. Still can't believe no one made a "frozen dinner" joke after that paralyzing gas went off. Anyway... Charlie proves more resourceful than we'd think and signals Batman in an interesting way. He and the Bat obviously collude to prey on the Joker's now oft-seen cowardice (always the first to beg, this one), and Charlie's family is released from the Joker's threat. It's a simple thing, but it's also nice to see Charlie "arc" from someone annoyed by every facet of life to someone who finds every moment precious. In a way, the Joker did HIM a favor.

Harley Quinn is without a doubt the most famous of the DCAU's original creations - starring in a movie this year no less - so it was only a matter of time before she joined the DCU proper, with her own special, written by her creator Paul Dini, in 1999. Since then, she's starred or co-starred in a number of monthly series. Also of note, this is the first time Batman pulls a disappearing act in Gordon's office, a staple of the comics.

SOUNDS LIKE: Arleen Sorkin plays Harley, her most famous role. She co-hosted American's Funniest People just before this, and was featured as the voice of many female callers on Frasier, for whom her husband not-that Christopher Lloyd wrote. Soap fans know her as Calliope Jones on Days of Our Lives. Ed Bagley Jr. (who just played Germs) puts in another appearance, this time as Charlie Collins.

REWATCHABILITY: High - This had a pretty great script even before Dini injected Harley Quinn in it.


Green Luthor said...

Not really relevant or anything, but when Sorkin was on Days of Our Lives, her romantic interest was played by John de Lancie. We had a team up of Harley and Q, years before they were Harley or Q. (Actually, a team up of those two would be... interesting...)

Siskoid said...

My stepmom watched that show, and he's the only thing I remember, because he was a made scientist who built a robot I later saw in commercials for Epcot!

LiamKav said...

To slightly steal analysis I've seen elsewhere...

What really works with this episode is how it gets around two of the main "problems" the show has to work with. The Joker can't actually kill anyone (yet), and we know that Batman is going to win in the end. Combined, it can make the character toothless.

Here, we see just how terrifying the Joker can be for us regular people who don't have batarangs on our belts. And it also shows the flexibility of this version of the Joker. He doesn't have to kill thousands to be terrifying. He can just stalk a single family for years for no other reason than it amuses him (and then, of course, still kill him at the end.)

And yeah, Harley's not fully "Dr Harleen Quinzel" yet. I think she mentions dropping out of beauty school in this episode. She'll get a lot more interesting (and tragic) as we move forward.

Siskoid said...

Right, anything she says pre-origin is suspect and likely a joke.

Unknown said...

Isn't this also the introduction of the more cheerful version of Shirley Walker's Joker's theme?

Andrew Gilbertson said...

When we first met, I was exclusively familiar with BTAS season 4 (TNBA, and all the series that followed), while my wife, though having seen some BTAS/Superman, was primarily familiar with Season One (owning only that DVD collection). This one was her favorite, and... I'm hard-pressed to disagree with that.


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