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.