DCAU #31: The Laughing Fish

IN THIS ONE... The Joker's scheme involves copyrighting fish that look like him.

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Bruce Timm.

REVIEW: When Dong Yang Animation Co. are involved, it's always a gorgeous looking episode, with attention to detail, atmospheric lighting, and fluid action. The studio elevates every episode it touches, and takes it up a notch, even a somewhat ropey story like this one. Like most Joker stories to date, there's an element of the random to his schemes that can be delightful, but also silly and forgettable. The Laughing Fish is something of a Frankenstein's Monster, but one that, I think, works fairly well. See In the Comics for more, but Dini has taken elements from different Joker stories that might well have been part of the same one to create a coherent whole. Only Harley's thread fits awkwardly and feels tacked on.

Because yes, this is the episode where we learn that Harley is in love with the Joker (although his ability to reciprocate is in question), but it only happens at the end of the episode when she thinks him dead, puts a big black kiss on a card and throws it in the water, and calls him her puddin'. It doesn't play like an epiphany; it's like it's always been their relationship. But it doesn't jibe with the rest of the episode where she treats him as a boss, and one that's asking a bit much. (Harley is forced to eat fish and wear a fish mascot costume, but it could be worse - one of the other goons dresses as a little girl, hope this pays well.) Dini redefines the relationship a little late in the game.

Otherwise, one wonders of the kids really got the copywriting scheme, though once the plot turns to taking revenge on those who won't let him patent his "Joker fish", things get more lively. (Sometimes too lively; Batman's disguises made me think we were in Mission: Impossible 2 for a while there.) Bullock gets a good role, figuring out where the Joker is hiding just ahead of Batman (didn't think he had it in him), though he of course gets chumped when he walks into the aquarium. Batman driving a shark into walls to break out of a water tank is the keystone of the climax and very effective. For once, a villain "dies" at the end of an episode, though of course, there's no body to confirm it. It's a classic comic book "escape". Presumably, his inflatable duck-tube saved him. ;-)

IN THE COMICS: While taking some of its cues from the 1989 Batman movie (the Smile-X that requires a combination of products and the pirated TV signal), the story is obviously adapted from Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers' "The Laughing Fish" from Detective Comics #475, 1978, but also contains elements from #476 (the cat, the Joker's "demise") and Denny O'Neil and Neil Adams' "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" in Batman #251, 1973, (the Joker's aquarium lair and the whole sequence with the shark).
SOUNDS LIKE: George Dzundza, who plays patent office wage slave G. Carl Francis, will get better DCAU gigs - the voices of both the Ventriloquist AND Perry White!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A fun episode pulling strong elements from the comics, but if the animation weren't so good, its flaws wouldn't get it higher than a Medium.


American Hawkman said...

Probably should be noted that the Smilex elements of Batman '89 were ALSO added by Steve Englehart, when he worked on early drafts. I unconditionally loved how they saved the bit with the clerk exclaiming "Oh my God" in the original comic and the Joker riffing on him even when they cut the light blasphemy. A good adaptation of what I think is the greatest Joker story ever.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

This one was crazy! Moody, atmospheric- so striking it felt like a mini-movie more than an episode. And when 'Batman' gets poisoned... those contortions make the scene pretty intense! This one was definitely memorable, and pretty top-notch... even if the shark stuff felt a little absurd to me. :-)

Dale Bagwell said...

Damn I loved this one! Still do. As a kid I wasn't aware that it was loosely adapted from the comics until much later, so that probably helped me enjoy it more than if I did. Just the scene where Batman fights the shark made it for me. I guess that's where the term "Jumping the Shark" had to have come from right?

And of course the classic ambiguous ending with the Joker having "died." You just know he didn't, but it was sold very well anyways and I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I didn't then, and I don't know feel Harley's relationship was "tacked on" like you do. Hell if you want to go there, the whole concept of Harley is tacked on, since there was never any previously established comic counterpart to Harley. But yes, Dini did flesh out there relationship much more in later episodes better.

I don't know about anyone else, but I definitely enjoy and appreciate you taking us with with you on this wonderful stroll through memory lane. Thank you.

Siskoid said...

Jumping the shark is specifically a negative, and is based on that time in Happy Days when the Fonz jumped over a shark with water skis, signaling the moment when the show had obviously run out of viable ideas.

I don't think Batman wrangling a shark falls under that category, though a part of me is a little disappointed he didn't at least reference bat-shark repellent.

LondonKdS said...

At the time I first watched this (years after it was broadcast) I was a patent and trade mark librarian, and it amuses me how much the Joker's scheme seems analogous to popular misconceptions about intellectual property. Here's what I wrote at the time.

Siskoid said...

I love it when experts in little-understood fields weigh in on stuff like this. Fun read!


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