DCAU #188: Joker's Millions

IN THIS ONE... The Joker inherits a fortune from a mobster who hated him.

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Dan Riba.

REVIEW: Dini hasn't written a Batman story since New Adventures' opener, and even that was a remake of his comics work. It feels like an event, bringing in the Joker, giving the episode's opening credits an animated title card, and adding appearances by Harley Quinn, the Penguin and Poison Ivy (and rather gratuitously, Nightwing). Unfortunately, it's also a good example of the tonally awkward cartoonyness of this particular series.

There's cartoon logic everywhere. I understand the Joker is bribing everybody with his inherited millions, but it seems too easy for him to erase his entire criminal record. And even before then, his landlady or superintendent doesn't bat an eye despite being the Clown Prince of Crime. His plan to steal a fleet of armored trucks doesn't withstand scrutiny, at least by adult eyes, and the episode misses a trick by not making the money have Batman's face on it (putting the Bat one step ahead). Instead, there's a sequence where Batman allows legal tender to get shredded while the Joker cries about the money he's losing, when it's clear he never had that money at all. Harley's escape from Arkham, with her spinning in a washing machine is likewise silly and more for kids than most of the original series' output. Dini's sexist jokes with the fake Harley are what's meant to be the "adult" component, but these haven't aged well, if they were ever funny (or adult, for that matter).

The plot, cribbed from the comics, isn't bad however. A mobster gets the last laugh on the Joker in a clever way, and forces him back into crime (let's be fair, once he paid for his freedom, he may have been a chaotic influence, he wasn't committing crimes). I do wish this were a mobster who had some history with the Joker, or at least, with the series. If they'd let Rupert Thorne die, for example, I think that would have lent the story more relevance, and made the cool moment where the Joker shoots the TV more personal. Ah well.

IN THE COMICS: The episode is based on the story of the same title from Detective Comics #180 (1952). Obviously it didn't have Harley Quinn, but did include King Barlowe. The details of the plot are much different. The Penguin's look has return to a more classic configuration, one without Danny DeVito's flippers. The Iceberg Lounge first appeared in the comics, Detective Comics #683 (1995) specifically, and has been a mainstay of Penguin stories every since. The (would-be) male Harley is based on writer Paul Dini, who is quite fond of including his fetishes in his shows and comics (I'm not saying cross-dressing is one though).

SOUNDS LIKE: King Barlowe, the dead mobster, was played by veteran character actor Allan Rich (relevant name); he was a recurring judge on Hill Street Blues, among many many credits. Fake Harley is voiced by Maggie Wheeler, the annoying Janice on Friends.

- It's fine, but the cartoon nonsense and lack of personal relationship between the Joker and his dead antagonist sap its relevance.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

The OJ trial bit is pretty clever for adults, at least.

I *much* prefer this look for the Penguin!

LiamKav said...

Up to this point, the series has done a good job of balancing the various facets of the Joker. He can be funny. He can be murderous. He can be petty. He can have obvious wants and desires. He can be chaos. It was always my favourite take on the Joker (one that I imagine is similar to how he was treated in the 70s). There are several stories in BTAS that you couldn't do with the 21st century comics Joker, as that version has basically been turned into a God of Chaos, who'll do anything and everything without rhyme or reason. Compare Heath Ledger burning a massive pile of money because it doesn't mean anything to him with the BTAS Joker who may commit wacky crimes, but definitely wants to get some cash out of most of them.

In this episode, the balancing act falls apart. If the Joker really wanted money and was willing to come up with a plan just for that purpose (in other words, he honestly DIDN'T want to bait or challenge Batman) then I'm sure he could. If the episode played it as a compulsion that he had to constantly get the Bat's attention, then it might have worked (although possibly veering a little bit too much towards Riddler territory.) It doesn't though. The Joker goes out of his way to do a robbery without alerting Batman, and is just outsmarted. It makes the Joker out to be a fool, and a very non-threatening fool at that. And the Joker should always be threatening, even when he's being wacky clown Joker.

It's very tonally weird. TNBA is more grown-up in some ways (I like the scene where the Joker tells Harley she should have just shot the gas station attendent), but in others its more childish, and that really affects this episode. I wonder if that's part of the reason the Joker personality swing gets shoved back in the other direction for his appearances in the later shows.


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