DCAU #3: Christmas with the Joker

IN THIS ONE... The Joker breaks out of Arkham on Christmas.

CREDITS: Written by Eddie Gorodetsky (an SNL and sitcom writer, it is his only DCAU credit); directed by Kent Butterworth (also, his lone DCAU credit).

REVIEW: I think we have to address the Joker's voice long before we get to the Sounds Like portion of the article. Everyone raves about Mark Hammil as the Joker, in part because he's so immediately iconic and has one of the best laughs given the character, but also I think because it's such a surprise. This lunatic voice is Luke Skywalker's?! Considering that Hammil more or less resurrected his career with that Joker voice, it's quite an achievement, and just as iconic as Kevin Conroy's Batman. And like Batman, this Joker needs no introduction. We don't need to see his first entanglement with the Bat, or how he landed at Arkham. We don't even need to see him in his usual costume. The show boldly says, you know who these guys are, let's just have fun.

And let's face it, this is really just a collection of Christmas gags , most dangerous (blowing up a train), but some silly (throwing a pie in Batman's face). So the Joker makes his escape on a rocket Christmas tree, gags his hostages with candy canes, uses (rather fragile) giant Nutcracker robots, and hosts his own Christmas special on pirate TV (a trick taken from the Burton film, which this series references fairly often early in the season). And of all the gags, the Joker actually singing "Jingle bells, Batman smells" has to be the most priceless. And Batman using a baseball bat. Nice. The action is a bit limp, I must admit, and needed a directorial boost. There's something anticlimactic about watching the locomotive fall off the cliff, which is just wrong, and Batman and Robin (also making his first animated appearance) stand around looking stunned a lot. Only the Joker really has energy on screen, but if you can only spend time on one character, he's a good choice. Oh, and one piece of advice for Batman, if you're searching for the Joker, that disused toy factory with the giant creepy clown face on the front should probably be the first place you look.

To me, the Joker's Holiday shenanigans are nevertheless secondary to the early scenes of Batman Scrooging things up while Robin tries to show him the value of that Yuletide feeling, and how people are at their best during the Holidays, a bright contrast to the Bat's foul mood. Bruce Wayne's never seen "It's a Wonderful Life" because he could never get past the title; a lovely touch. And though this is the perpetually gloomy Gotham, where kids skate on black ice, Robin is right, and there's some humor in Batman misunderstanding situations and discovering they were all very innocent and even uplifting acts of kindness. If it weren't for the Joker's rampage...

IN THE COMICS: The Joker first appeared way back in Batman #1 (April, 1940), and his look here is heavily influenced by Bob Kane's original. The red-headed woman taken hostage by the Joker is Summer Gleeson, a journalist who is a stand-in for Vicki Vale, but who has never appeared in the comics (but was referenced by name in the No Man's Land storyline). As the episode was always meant to air closer to Christmas, her proper introduction is in Nothing to Fear, which comes next. While Robin is a young adult Dick Grayson, his costume is really Tim Drake's, who was Robin in the comics at this time.

SOUNDS LIKE: Loren Lester plays Robin, and Mari Devon plays Summer; both are working voice actors. Mark Hamill is, of course, best known for starring in the Guyver film series.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Nice atmosphere and the debut of an iconic Joker, I just wish the action stuff was a little tighter.

17 comments:

LiamKav said...

I dunno why, but this episode always felt a bit "off" to me. Maybe it's because I saw it relatively late. Conroy hasn't quite got the voice he'll settle down to later, coming across as more whispery that glowery. And the animation is a bit rubbery at times. (Lots of early episodes have that issue).

There's also Summer Gleason having a fairly big role, something that will get much reduced as time goes on.

But yeah, Hamill is great, and I'm not sure there's much more that can be said about him. However, I don't think that Lester gets enough credit. I think he captures Dick Grayson perfectly. He's witty, charming, can smack-talk when necessary, and with just enough of a college boy snarky edge... you feel like if there's someone who can lift Bruce's perpetually mood, it'd be him.

Before BTAS my only real exposure to Batman had been the Burton movie and the 66 TV show. I remember seeing Robin's costume and thinking how much better it looked than the TV version (being of an age where I was starting to view Batman 66 as "silly nonsense". Thank god that wore off). I didn't realise for years that he's basically just wearing Tim Drake's costume. I always loved how his hair went from 60s to 90s college boy when he changed between Dick and Robin.

LiamKav said...

(Also, I'm pretty sure that "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" predates this episode by a fair way...)

snell said...

"...if you're searching for the Joker, that disused toy factory with the giant creepy clown face on the front should probably be the first place you look."

The problem is, there are 10 or 15 of those in Gotham...

Siskoid said...

Liam: Made me look! Yes, apparently it goes back to at least the mid-60s, so there you go (tweaked the article).

Snell: Fair point. #WorstPlaceonEarth

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I've been watching through in production order (I think that Nothing to Fear is a better introduction for Robin anyhow), and this episode has a large part to do with it. I even considered skipping the first season in my big walkthrough of the entire DCAU. To a small degree, I didn't want to watch On Leather wings one more time. To a LARGE degree, I didn't want to watch Christmas With the Joker one. More. Time.

It's just okay- not one of the Joker's best, save for the pie gag- but seeing it pretty much every time you go back to rewatch the series, or pop in the first disc, it wears out it's mediocre welcome VERY quickly.

Siskoid said...

Robin's not in Nothing to Fear, you must be thinking of a different one.

I kept going back and forth with the rating for this episode, but went with the higher because it was historically important as the first Hamill Joker, and I really do love the opening sequence with Robin trying to show Batman Christmas is a hallowed time. I'd watch the first 5 minutes, then stop and move on to... well... Pretty Poison.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

You're right- 'Fear of Victory.' My bad.

"I'd watch the first 5 minutes, then stop and move on to... well... Pretty Poison."
Good call. :-)

Green Luthor said...

Especially odd about casting Hamill as the Joker was that he was actually the replacement for Tim Curry. Curry seemed a natural choice (especially after playing Pennywise in Stephen King's It), but reportedly his Joker was "too scary" for a childrens' show; unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be copies of the episodes he recorded out there anywhere, but it sounds like Curry's Joker was more intense and less manic than Hamill's. (Though that might make Hamill's Joker actually more frightening; you never know if he's going to react with a laugh or a murder...)

Anyhoo... it's an interesting "what if" scenario to consider, if nothing else...

LiamKav said...

"The problem is, there are 10 or 15 of those in Gotham..."

As has surely been mentioned before, Wayne Enterprises should just go out and buy the abandoned amusement park, the cat-only pet store, the $2 shop where everything's sold in pairs, and the umbrella factory. He'd be saving himself a lot of trouble.

I actually really like Batman's final line here, where he acknowledges that, sometimes, it can be a wonderful life. We've just had Frank Milllar and were about to get at least 15 solid years of Grim and Gritty Batman. This line, said whilst his faithful butler and young ward are with him and he can let his guard down, does remind everyone that, for all its downsides, being Batman is really fucking cool.

(Why is Summer Gleeson in with Gordon and Bullock as representing law anyway? And why isn't she just Vicki Vale?)

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"As has surely been mentioned before, Wayne Enterprises should just go out and buy the abandoned amusement park, the cat-only pet store, the $2 shop where everything's sold in pairs, and the umbrella factory. He'd be saving himself a lot of trouble."

It kind of seems like the rise of a Joker in Gotham was inevitable. Heck, I'd love it if some day they created an origin for him as a kid from the streets who was psychologically traumatized by the preponderance of creepy abandoned clown-themed factories until the pressure drove him to become the Joker.

Batman's patrol route really shouldn't be through the rooftops and alleys; he should just give all the abandoned buildings in Gotham a once-over, then call it a night. He'd probably catch most super-villains in the middle of setting up shop. (Perhaps crime is so high in Gotham because no one can get a job; the economy is so terrible, there seem to be more closed & abandoned factories than there are functional businesses.)


"(Why is Summer Gleeson in with Gordon and Bullock as representing law anyway? And why isn't she just Vicki Vale?)"

Or, as some have suggested, if only they'd just premiered Rene Montoya a trifle sooner...

Siskoid said...

Yes, surely, Gotham used to be the Nation's main provider of toys and circuses, but as other things took over those markets (video games, television), the companies went out of business and Gotham became a cesspool where the haves have it all and the have nots have nothing, leading to a rise in crime, mental health problems, and corruption.

Green Luthor said...

Also the leading provider of giant novelty typewriters. Alas, Gotham really suffered when everyone switched to giant novelty computers running Microsoft Word instead.

Siskoid said...

Took a big hit from the North-West.

Simon Dyer said...

Couldn't agree more about Lester. I always thought either he or Dan Gilvizan would have made a better choice for the voice of Spider-Man in the Fox Kids show that would come out a few years later. Hammil got the chance to play a slightly less crazy version of the Joker as the mercenary Hobgoblin but the character was easily one of the most fun in the entire show. Efrem Zimbalist played Doc Ock with a wonderfully pompous evil German accent but the character didn't get much to do outside of a great introduction episode.

Toby'c said...

"Perhaps crime is so high in Gotham because no one can get a job; the economy is so terrible, there seem to be more closed & abandoned factories than there are functional businesses"
Makes me wonder if they have an abandoned warehouse district like Angel Grove.

Alain Degrace said...

The Joker at a very busy December to get everything ready !

And I also thought the line 'Snipers !' was pretty funny, considering the fact the thugs are using machine guns and couldn't hit the side of a barn.

Siskoid said...

Worst snipers ever, or at least until American Sniper came out.

 

Blog Archive

Category

5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zine