Sunday, January 8, 2012

Batman TAS: S01E02 "Christmas with the Joker"

Here we go, episode two, "Christmas With the Joker," written by Eddie Gorodetsky. I remember this as being the absolute worst episode of anything Bruce Timm ever produced. I don't even know why this episode was made. Who does a holiday episode before the characters and setting have had some time to establish themselves?* For that matter, who introduces characters as important as Robin or the fucking JOKER in a holiday episode?

The episode starts off fantastically with this title card. What the fuck is that supposed to be? It's like some kind of malformed cow fetus with joker's face and eyes superimposed over it.

The episode opens on Arkham Asylum, where the inmates are singing Jingle Bells. The Joker starts singing the classic Batman version, "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg. The batmobile lost a wheel and the Joker got away!" I wonder if this is where that song came from, because I remember hearing it as a kid, but since this episode originally aired when I was five or six years old, it's completely possible that my peers just pulled it from this show.

I find it hilarious that The Joker is allowed into the general population, and even more hilarious that he's allowed to hold an obviously sharp tree ornament. I realize the show is pretty G rated, but The Joker is still a psychopath with dozens or hundreds of murders on his hands. He's a threat to the other inmates.

And by the way, what the fuck is that tree topper? I realize that an angel might be seen as overly religious, but why not a star instead of that bizarre circle and blade thing? That seems to be overtly weapon-like for the guards to allow into an asylum for the criminally insane.

So anyway, Joker jumps onto the tree, it turns into a rocket, and he flies away to freedom. And that basically sets the tone for this episode. Part of The Joker's character is that he's amazingly resourceful, but this episode simply takes it too far. It reaches Adam West levels of ridiculousness. And, all due respect to Mr. West and his fans, I fucking hate the 1960s batman.

Cut to the Batcave. Batman and robin are on their way to the Batmobile. Which further decreases this episode's value in my eyes. Robin is a terrible character, and weighs down any episode he's in. So anyway, Robin wants to stay home and enjoy Christmas eve rather than going out on patrol. Batman, rather sensibly, reminds him that the fucking JOKER just broke out of Arkham. What kind of crime fighter would he be if he simply ignored a genocidal supervillain on the loose?

God damn it, Robin. Think things through.

Anyway, Robin makes Batman a deal: They'll go on patrol for a few hours, and if they don't find anything, they'll come home, and watch It's A Wonderful Life, which prompts Batman to utter my favorite line in the entire episode.

"I've never seen that. Could never get past the title."

There are two ways in which batman can be fucking hysterical. The first is when he's put in a silly situation, because he's the ultimate straight-man. that's why the Joker is such a great villain for him. The second is when he goes out of his way to remind everyone how hard his life has been. He does it numerous times throughout his appearances in the Timmverse, and I'll be pointing out every one.

So Batman and Robin go out on patrol. Robin is being a whiny bitch, and repeatedly asks Batman if he's ready to admit nothing bad ever happens on Christmas. Batman's only response is to throw his grapple batterang and swing away. Because Batman is an asshole, and I love him for that.

I know that, eventually, batman switches to only using his mechanically launching grapple. I wonder when that happens, since at this point he seems to be switching back and forth between them still.

Eventually the two end up back at Wayne Manor, where Dick (Robin) goes to turn on Bruce Wayne's huge-ass TV, so the two can watch It's a Wonderful Life, which Bruce is none too enthused about. Fortunately for him, the Joker has taken over every television station somehow, and is broadcasting a shitty Christmas variety program, made slightly more interesting by the presence of three hostages: Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and a woman who I believe is Vicki Vale, but I'm not sure, because this is her first appearance in the series and her name is never mentioned.

The three are being "gagged" with candy canes stuck in their mouths. Not gags shaped like candy canes, mind you. Normal, run-of-the-mill candy canes, which are somehow impossible for them to spit out. You might imagine that they are somehow affixed to the hostages, yet Joker repeatedly pops them in and out of his victim's mouths with no trouble. Yet another example of the campiness of this episode.

One thing I will give this episode is the cardboard audience Joker has set up. Not only is it amusing in the classic Joker style, but it doesn't seem completely preposterous that he was able to set it up. Unlike escaping from a maximum security asylum and having control of every TV station mere hours later.

We cut to Batman and Robin in the batmobile, as they follow the "power surges" to Joker's hideout, all whilst watching Joker's program on a television screen mounted on the dashboard. What, are you stupid, are you retarded or something, that's god damned dangerous, Batman!

Turns out it's fortunate they were watching, though, because Joker has some of his thugs blow up trestle, with a train speeding towards it! Batman and Robin must spend a few minutes of screen time chasing down the train, and saving the people on board from death. The whole scene feels like padding, to me. I get that Joker likes to put people in danger just to watch Batman struggle to save them, but normally it serves some purpose within the story. Here it simply delays Batman from falling into the trap Joker has set for him.

Finally, Batman and Robin arrive at the Observatory atop Mount Gotham (because everything is named Gotham. I'll bet there's also a Gotham River), where they've deduced the Joker is staying, based on the "power surges." They find a giant Christmas present waiting for them, and Batman puts his arm out to stop Robin from approaching.

"Careful Robin," he says "I'm sure there's more to this than meets the eye."

While watching it, I couldn't help but add "Old chum!" to the line. It's as though they made the dark and gritty pilot episode, then thought "Now lets base an episode off Adam West's Batman, and see if we like that better!"

The present turns out to be a giant Joker-In-The-Box, which announces that Bat-Brain has wandered into a trap. The most ridiculous, stupid-ass trap I've ever seen in my entire fucking life:

The observatory lens is now a cannon with an automated batman-tracking system. There is no way to respond to something that stupid with anything but a blank stare. Who thought this was a good idea?

Robin runs off to try and deactivate the nonsensical cannon, while Batman draws its fire. After accidentally causing the cannon to rain destruction on Gotham city (doubtless killing at least a few hapless civilians) Batman says into a radio "Robin! Operation CAUSE, and EFFECT!" which apparently means "Do the god damned thing I already told you to do, you useless twat!" because Robin's response is to throw some kind of device at the observatory cannon's gears, causing it to shut down.

Back in the Bat mobile, the duo turn on the hazardous dashboard television to see if there's a clue about where to look next. The Joker obliges them by showing off a Betty Blooper doll. Batman just happens to know that those dolls were discontinued 14 years ago, and exactly where they were manufactured, because Batman knows everything. Which I'm fine with.

So the two head off to the factory, which is now completely devoid of any sets or broadcasting equipment. Joker skulks around in the shadows, spinning dials and pulling levers, activating some giant toy robots. Because this episode is done with any pretense that it's not going for Adam West levels of campiness.

And if that's not bad enough, once the robots are down, the duo are attacked by toy planes with Joker faces painted on the pilots.

And if THAT'S not bad enough, Batman grabs a baseball bat to fight them with.

And if THAT'S not bad enough, there's this:

Once the goofy fight scene against the aggressive toys is over, Robin makes a painfully obvious "BAT man" pun. This entire episode would have been worth it if Batman's only response was to punch Robin in the head here, but no such luck.

Two of Joker's goons run out onto a catwalk, and begin firing their machine guns indiscriminately down into the warehouse. Batman shouts "Snipers!" and runs for cover, which makes me think he may not be aware of what that word means.

For some reason, the gunners give up the high ground and climb down into the warehouse, just as Batman climbs up to another section of catwalk. Batman then disposes of them with a bear which first magically floats, then grows thirty times larger as it falls on top of the pair of gunmen:

The episode wraps up with Joker holding his hostages over a giant vat of bubbling red fluid. Is that supposed to be molten lava or something? Maybe molten plastic, since it's a toy factory? Why does Gotham have so many large open vats?

Joker gives Batman a Christmas present, which turns out to be a pie in the face. I honestly don't see why Batman would open a gift from The Joker in the first place, but it's honestly pretty funny. Like I said above, Batman's the ultimate straight man. Even lame physical comedy like a pie in the face works pretty well on him.

So Joker cuts the rope, Batman leaps up and grabs all three hostages at once, then manages to grab joker, who gets away, slips on a roller skate, and almost falls into the vat, but is grabbed by Batman just in time. The episode ends with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson finally watching It's A Wonderful Life, and Joker singing Christmas Carols in a padded room. I can't tell you how glad I am that we were able to get this episode out of the way so early.

It's worthy to note that years later, in justice league, they revisit the concept of The Joker taking over a television station. It's a really great episode, and one of the few times that a Batman villain gets a chance to take on the overwhelmingly super powered Justice League. I kinda feel as though that episode is an apology for this one. Or at least a throwback reference to an episode I can only imagine they're ashamed of.

*I am aware that the pilot episode of
The Simpsons is a Christmas episode. They pull it off somewhat, but it honestly isn't a great episode.

Wow, what a horrible way to introduce the Joker and what a horrible episode. This episode is the kind that it’s funny because it is so damn stupid. First off, WHY THE FUCK IS THERE A ROCKET?! What idiot at Arkham Asylum thought it would be a good idea to let Joker out into the common room of the prison and then thought it would be a good idea to let him put the pointy metal star on top of the tree. Any rational person would think, “Surely! This will end with the Joker stabbing someone!” Nope! Rather the tree is a rocket and joker jumps aboard and flies to freedom. How the fuck did nobody notice that and who set it up? I’m convinced that there are actually no guards at Arkham and prisoners are on the honor system but goddamn, Joker just loves elaborate escapes.

Batman: “I’ve never seen a ‘Wonderful Life,’ I can never get passed the title”


Where does joker get all this shit?! Apparently for Joker it is possible to...

  • Set up a rocket secretly and fly away on it.
  • Find a broadcasting studio and gain full control over all the TV channels.
  • Coordinate with bad guys to blow up a bridge and provide them with the explosives.
  • Kidnap three people, one being Commissioner Gordon.
  • Turn an observatory lens into a cannon with automatic tracking and infinite ammo.
  • Make a bunch of robots of himself less than a day. I think there is a real reason to be scared of the Joker!

I dunno what to say about this episode. It’s bad even for a Christmas episode.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this was more entertaining than the episode itself.

    Regarding the Batman Jingle Bells verse, I'm not sure just where it came from and when, but it definitely pre-dates the Timmverse. I was taught it by my uncle (Batman being the only DC character he followed, he was a True Believer) when I was little. My guess would be that it dates, at the very least, to the old Adam West series.