DCAU #25: Mad as a Hatter

IN THIS ONE... The Mad Hatter is created when Jervis Tetch suffers from a broken heart.

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.

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!

- An uncharacteristic mess from Dini. Some visuals stand up, but the story really doesn't.


LiamKav said...

Of course, a modern day version of this would have Jervis complaining about being "friendzoned" and wearing a fedora instead of a top hat.

"Let me tell you, Alice, about why we are actually living in a matriarchy."

Siskoid said...

Shades of that even here.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"but she has a boyfriend, and he's a much older man, and a anachronistic Victorian gentleman to boot."
I had to read that sentence a few times before I realized you'd gone back to describing Tetch and not the boyfriend.

I do find Tetch a... not exactly a sympathetic villain like Freeze, but a pitiable one. I feel sorry for him, not because he's wronged, or SHOULD be with Alice, but because he's so emotionally underdeveloped that he can't deal with the unreciprocated feelings. It's like watching a puppy get its shots- this is all well and good and what *should* be happening, but the poor thing just can't understand WHY it's being hurt. That's Jervis Tetch in this episode, for me.

Also, only been through the first season of Batman '66, but for my money, Bookworm was the best non-regular they had; a really memorable performance, and it's only because he was up against the likes of Gorshin (who will forever and always be the best) and Meredith that McDowall wasn't the top villain, period. (See what I did there?)

LiamKav said...

Small odd thing I noticed upon rewatching... Jervis starts off this episode with white teeth, but when he becomes a super villain they turn yellow. Remember kids, being evil gives you tartar.

Siskoid said...

That's what happened to little-known rogue, Steak.

LiamKav said...


Hang on, that image at the top is from "Perchance to Dream"! It's the "you ruined my life!" want. Is Akom's animation so bad that you're refusing to even use images from their episodes now?

Siskoid said...

For lack of time, I haven't been pulling the screenshots myself, but have been relying on Google searches, and those can be finicky! Ah well.

LiamKav said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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