Batman: The Animated Series, “Be A Clown”


We return to the Joker in this episode, marking his third episode, while some characters haven’t gotten one. Then again, this does come after Pirate Fagin and Fat Cannibal, so it’s hard to complain about getting the Joker, instead of someone new. Of course, the focus is supposed to be on Mayor Hamilton Hill and his son, but we’ll see how well that works here.

The episode opens with the mayor trying to give a speech about how much he’s going to improve Gotham, which is first drowned out by approaching police sirens, and then by the police chase actually crashing into the construction area. Hill narrowly escapes being crushed by falling debris, which makes one wonder what happened to his predecessor in office-was Hill even elected, or did he have to step up when the last mayor got killed? Then Batman shows up, and in a perfect example of things not doing as much damage as they should in a kids show, hits the criminals with several steel I-beams, gently lifting them up and into a dumpster. And rather than having crushed ribs, punctured lungs, and other internal organ damage, they’re just dazed.

After Batman runs off, Summer Gleeson decides to pounce on Hill for his comments, even as the man is trying to climb out of the wreckage that almost killed him. I know the episode is trying to make him look like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about-and as a kid, it worked! I thought he looked stupid. Looking back, the fact that he didn’t respond to her question with “What the hell is wrong with you?” marks him as a much classier person than I thought. But in keeping with the intentions of the episode, Hill claims that Gotham is fine, except for a few exceptions, lumping Batman in with the Joker. The Joker just happens to be watching, of course. Surely that won’t come back to bite Hill.

The “Hamilton Hill = Dick” train keeps rolling on, as we see him making his decrepit butler climb ladders and hang a banner for his son’s birthday party. When he finds his son playing with a magic set, Hill berates him for enjoying himself, insists that his son’s party will be fun because he invited “some” children, and then berates his son for not smiling at strangers he doesn’t know. The fact that we never see Jordan’s mother probably isn’t a coincidence, and I’m a little surprised Hill wasn’t randomly kicking puppies out of his way when he walked.

Then a clown enters, calling himself Jecko. And if you can’t guess it’s actually the Joker, then I’m not sure what to tell you. To be fair, the episode doesn’t immediately tip its hand about his identity, but it’s not much of a disguise. I also wonder why anyone-and I mean anyone-in Gotham would trust clowns anymore, but considering the “Hamilton Hill=Dick” train is still rolling, I can see him hiring a clown and then wondering why everyone is staring in horror at him when the clown shows up. This theory is undercut by the fact that everyone laughs with delight at Jecko’s tricks, but I still enjoy the idea.

While Jecko is entertaining the kids, Bruce Wayne appears at the party. This is only important because when the Joker sets up his explosive device and tries to get away, Bruce Wayne is the only person smart enough (or not brain-damaged enough, your pick) to notice the clown’s laugh is exactly the same as the Joker’s. And that the explosive “candle” just happens to have an exact likeness of the Joker at the base. Wayne knocks the cake and the candle into the pool to save all of the morons that have gathered around it, and he’s also the only one who notices that Jordan is missing. Turns out that he listened to the Joker’s advice about how to become a magician and snuck into “Jecko’s” van, a fact that the Joker is not happy about. But before Jordan is brutally murdered, the Joker recovers his composure and decides he might as well use this to his advantage.

Having ridden the “Hamilton Hill=Dick” train as long as possible, the episode now slams on the brakes and boards the “Remorseful Parent” train back in the other direction. While Hill is bemoaning his terrible parenting skills, Wayne sees a clue to where the Joker might be (namely a poster of Alan Moore and his magnificent beard with a top hat on), and we get to see Jordan starting to realize that this strange clown he followed, who lives in an abandoned amusement park, might be unstable in some way. Just a tad. Especially when the Joker’s security system picks up Batman’s entrance, and he decides to use Jordan to lure Batman in and gas him.

In one of the few good uses of a commercial break in any TV show, we return to Batman waking up to being hung upside down, in a straight jacket, in a glass tank that’s slowly filling with water. It may be an old cliche, but it’s done well here; Jordan protests that this isn’t very entertaining or safe, while the Joker gleefully watches Batman drowning in front of him. Thanks to Jordan’s attempt at an intervention, Batman is able to break free, but not until after Jordan is forced to flee while the Joker slowly gives chase. Just as he catches Jordan, all of the rides start to come on as the Batman powers them up, because….he felt like it? It’s really just to set up the climactic battle on the operating roller coaster, but said battle is probably the best in the series so far, so that can be excused. The Joker tries to kill Batman with exploding baby dolls before he’s finally knocked off the roller coaster, into water that wasn’t seen before it was needed to justify why the Joker doesn’t die. Batman manages to save Jordan and drop him off at his home, where Hill is grateful for his return, clearly resisting his initial urge to berate Jordan for making him miss his chance to press a state senator for some government pork.

If the Joker ever saved a Batman episode, this is the one. Hill is rendered ridiculously unlikeable, his son is a cipher, and the plot is a cliched “parent realizes they need to treat their child better,” something that pops up all too often in kid shows. And there are a few too many Batman quips (and bad ones at that) for him to be that appealing. Even the animation is sub-par; it never reaches the ridiculous levels it has in past episodes, but it’s off throughout. But the Joker saves it all, thanks to some great gag writing for him and Hamill’s magnificent performance. Certainly that’s not new-we got to see him do some great work in the first two Joker episodes already. But the way he can make the Joker move instantly from murderous rage, to delighted laughter, and understated menace is put on great display here, as we finally see a situation where the Joker gets to do more than just taunt Batman. This is one that’s worth watching once, just to see Hamill’s work on the Joker, but without that, it could have been the low point of the whole series.


No Responses Yet to “Batman: The Animated Series, “Be A Clown””

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: