DCAU #380: Return of the Joker

IN THIS ONE... The Joker is resurrected and we find out how he died after destroying the Bat family.

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini, Glen Murakami and Bruce Timm; directed by Curt Geda.

REVIEW: With a bigger budget and more room to breathe, the Batman Beyond movie looks terrific, has longer action sequences and provides more than a new chapter to the Beyond story, but an epilogue to the New Adventures as well. And of course, the Joker's return. Going into it, I didn't really believe we'd be getting the real Joker. At least one first season episode strongly suggested he was dead and buried, and he would be ancient by now anyway, but Mark Hamill WAS in the credits, so... What we got was a pretty neat mix of mystery and sf, a shocking reveal, and yet the same old Joker we loved from the older series. The Joker DID die all those years ago, but uploaded his consciousness and DNA into a microchip he implanted into someone so he could manifest at a later date. The red herring is Jordan Pryce, Bruce's business rival who looks and sounds the part, and though he's a bad dude too, he becomes the Joker's victim eventually. The actual solution is rather more shocking: Tim Drake is a were-Joker.

So okay, we get this very dark flashback to how the Joker died, what you might call the last "contemporary Batman" story, past the events of Justice League, certainly. In this "final story", the Joker kidnaps Robin and turns him into Joker Junior, his own demented sidekick, and this broken, brainwashed Tim spills the beans about who Batman is. In the end, daddy Joker asks too much of his "son" and the Boy Wonder shoots an arrow through HIS heart rather than the Bat's. A traumatized Tim would be rehabilitated and grow up to become an ordinary, shlubby engineer with a wife and a couple kids, but Bruce would never be the same. That was the end of the Bat Family and his recruiting young partners in his fight on crime. Until Terry, that is. Over the course of that climactic adventure, Harley Quinn would also seem to meet her end, but the twin acrobats in the Jokerz featured in the film turn out - rather delightfully - to be her granddaughters. Granny Harley is a fun surprise at the end. (I like these new Jokerz; there's a hyena splice and one who models himself on the Scarecrow. Clever variations.) So old wounds reopened, all around. Sure, it seemed wrong to this viewer for Tim to be treated thus, but if we're talking about the "Last Batman Story", all bets are off, and it IS an effective shocker.

Seeing the Joker killed so definitively (even if it didn't take) is part of the shock. But the movie can be edgier than the television show, and the Joker's isn't the first onscreen death we get. Just a precursor to some crazy destructive sequences where a giant space laser destroys large parts of Neo Gotham with unavoidable loss of life. The new Joker also hurts Ace and sends Bruce to the hospital after breaching the Batcave... it's all sorts of bad. And though Joker's at the wheel, it's all being done by an insider, and a light-hearted one at that. The Joker's mind, but Robin's hands. This thing is INTENSE. There are so many things I could mention. The wild fight in the show's trademark nightclub. Harley's atmospheric lullaby. The Joker's family movies in flickering black and white. Batgirl vs. Harley w/bazooka. The laser coming for Terry's family. And then there's the way Terry defeats the Joker by fighting fire with fire. By making wisecracks. By laughing. By doing to the Joker what the Joker used to do to Batman. And the Joker cracks, lets his guard down, and allows Terry to zap his dirty DNA chip to hell. The film uses the new Batman's characteristics as a way of defeating the one foe the old Batman really never could. That's momentous.

IN THE COMICS: In the flashback, Batman throws a good though a pub's plate glass window, an obvious riff on Frank Miller's Daredevil. The idea of a former Robin emerging as a new Joker would later be used BY Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, though that Robin is Dick Grayson. At one point, the Joker declares "Look out Gotham! The Joker's back in town!", words that appear as a caption on the famous cover of Batman #251 (September, 1973), illustrated by Neal Adams.

SOUNDS LIKE: Mark Hamill reprises his role as the Joker, but also plays Jordan Pryce, the same kind of fake-out perpetrated by Mask of the Phantasm. The adult Tim Drake was played by Dean Stockwell, Al from Quantum Leap. Melissa Joan Hart (AKA Sabrina the Teenage Witch) does the voice of "Dee Dee", Harley's granddaughters. Other Jokerz include Michael "Flash/Lex" Rosenbaum as Ghoul and Henry Rollins of Black Flag as Bonk. Casting director Andrea Romano lends her voice to Joker Junior.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Whether you agree with what the film does to Tim Drake, it can't be denied that this is an important story for the Batman Family, with gorgeous sequences and a truly terrifying villain. Great stuff.


Unknown said...

The "edited" version of the Joker's demise we got over here in the UK was even more grim. While he doesn't choke on his last words with the BANG flag through his chest, Tim tosses the gun aside and shoves him into what turns out to be the electro-shock room Joker tortured him in in those movies. Joker slips in some spilled toxin and loose cables and accidentally yanks an electric chair lever! You don't actually see him being fried to death but you do get Hamill's screams and the light flashing on a horrified Batman's face.

They cut a good deal of what UK censors deemed to violent from the club and fight scenes but they got permission to add in THAT.

Unknown said...

Oops, that was meant to be "arguably even more grim"!

Siskoid said...

Holy crap, Batman!

Green Luthor said...

Also, the adult Tim Drake was voiced by Dean Stockwell of "Quantum Leap" fame.

Siskoid said...

Missing sentence! Sorry about that! Fixed.

Anonymous said...

They showed the "edited" version on Cartoon Network here in the US, and to me it was more grim but for a different version.

Un-edited version: The Joker displays a tray of surgical instruments, Tim gets electrocuted, Batman responds in horror to what's on the screen.

Edited version: The Joker displays a tray of surgical instruments, Batman responds in horror to what's on the screen, the viewer gets to infer what is happening with those surgical instruments.

Also I was a little happier with a Tim Drake who dropped the gun -- that's one little bit of "Bruce" training that the Joker couldn't break.

One more thing, I always felt it was unconvincing that Joker's personality could be stored in a chip, and that same chip could physically transform him into the Joker. This is fixed to my satisfaction in a throwaway line in the JLU episode "Epilogue", when we learn that there was nanotechnology involved (this would be nanotech from an alien world that LexCorp or Cadmus or someone got their hands on). Alien tech = anything is possible.

De said...

This film destroyed any sympathy I had for Harley Quinn. To be complicit in mutilating a child goes beyond the pale and she ceased being a fun addition to the cast. Her abetting this truly heinous crime proved that there was no humanity left.

LiamKav said...


That was part of the reason why she was "killed", I believe. The Bruce Timm felt that she had gone too far and needed to be punished. And then Dini wrote in the part at the end where she survived. Or the other way around...

It should be noted that this movie was probably the peak of the DCAU (and maybe US cartoons in general) being "edgy" for a good decade or so. The backlash caused by this coming out at the same time at the Columbine Massacre led first to the "edited" version that largely replaced the original for years, but also caused more severe restrictions on kids cartoons going forwards (although 9/11 one year later is also probably a fairly big factor in that.)


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