CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Frank Paur.
REVIEW: Paul Dini introduces another villain to the DCAU, and as with Mister Freeze, there's a romantic component to his origins. But love denied isn't really the most comfortable of motivators for a super-criminal, is it? Jervis Tetch pines for a girl named Alice (a Disney Alice, blond, which always bugs me in Wonderland references), but she has a boyfriend, and Jervis is a much older man, and a anachronistic Victorian gentleman to boot. Or to hat, as the case may be, one who looks like the Mad Hatter from Carroll's famous book and is therefore more than a little obsessed with it. That's some pretty tortured "starcrossing" right there. Making such a character have a coherent origin story was a pretty daunting prospect, so we get what we get, but I keep coming back to the book and how Alice isn't the Hatter's object of affection or anything.
So it all becomes a game of how many Wonderland references we can fit in, and at that, the episode mostly succeeds. The tea party with the rats who look like little bellhops. The henchmen in mascot costumes, their sleepy eyes peeking out of characters' mouths, are properly disconcerting. The Walrus is particularly good, with its killer tusks, but Tetch and Alice's boss Dr. Cates as the Queen of Hearts is somewhat amusing. There's just no room to develop the rest of the poor wretches whose minds Tetch controls, and even Cates is a bit of a cardboard "man hater". The maze of cards (and Batman not playing by the rules). The Jabberwocky falling on Tetch and trapping him between his claws. There's certainly some neat stuff here, though it's not the best example of animation on this series. It's even got lipsync problems.
But there's also way too much in the script that's expedient and convenient. Bruce Wayne walked into Tetch's lab that week and saw his hat cards? The muggers who attack Tetch and Alice on their date have headbands just so he can slip one of those snugly in there. No one ever remarks on the giant hat cards either. There really are easier ways to "jump in the river" than climbing right to the top of a bridge. And why does everyone just stand there when something falls on them slowly? Batman gets chumped by a creaky domino in this while he gasps, frozen. I don't think so, guys! From a macro perspective, the Mad Hatter's madness doesn't really track. He's jealous and sad one minute, Arkham material the next. Similarly, Alice's relationship with her boyfriend is all over the place, and we're supposed to be happy for her when she falls into Billy's arms, when earlier, he'd "rescued" their relationship from its shambles with a marriage proposal? Mm, no. I actually feel terrible for Alice, though not too terrible, as she never amounts to much more than a damsel in distress constantly being pulled this way and that, physically AND emotionally.
IN THE COMICS: Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger way back in Batman #49 (1948), was pretty much like this, though without the love angle. The New52 version does have a childhood sweetheart called Alice for him to fixate on, but in previous stories, it was more about casting/mind controlling the various roles in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Barbara Gordon was one of his Alices, for example.
SOUNDS LIKE: The Mad Hatter is played by Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes), which isn't his first Batman villain. Anyone remember Bookworm from the '66 TV series? Alice's distinctive voice is Kimmy Robertson's; she was in Twin Peaks and The Tick, among other things. And their boss, Marcia Cates? That's MASH's Loretta Swit who I wish had gotten a bigger and better role!
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - An uncharacteristic mess from Dini. Some visuals stand up, but the story really doesn't.