Batman: The Animated Series, “Joker’s Wild”

28May11

Another fine Joker episode. The end.

Okay, maybe there’s a bit more to say here.

The most interesting thing about “Joker’s Wild,” to me, is that it starts the action for a very different reason than most episodes. Usually, we see the villains enacting their plans either as part of their tragic origins, or because they came up with a new scheme for revenge/attention/money. This time, however, we get to see a somewhat mythic character being played for a fool. That’s a rather dangerous thing to do with any of the rogues, as we saw with Hugo Strange. But if there’s anyone in Gotham City you don’t want to humiliate, it’s the Joker.

The episode starts with the Joker being led into a common area of Arkham Asylum, whistling the old Looney Tunes theme. When a guard makes them watch the news to calm them down, it’s the unveiling of a new casino somewhere in Gotham…and it turns out to be patterned on the Joker. This would seem to be a case of flattery by imitation, until the owner, Kaiser, insults the Joker on television. The Joker’s response shows that Arkham security seems to consist of a string with tin cans attached, and he goes off to destroy the casino for daring to use his face.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has taken a room at the casino to investigate, since he can’t believe Kaiser really did this without thinking that people in Gotham might react badly to a continually laughing, gigantic version of the Joker’s head. He’s right, of course, as it turns out Kaiser’s gone bankrupt in creating the casino, and he’s repatterned it after the Joker in a deliberate attempt to get the thing destroyed, and get some of his money back. Of course, any real insurance agency would probably deny the claims, considering Kaiser is taunting the biggest criminal in the city. That’s probably covered under foreseeable risks. One of Kaiser’s employees was also the security guard at Arkham, which would give that facility a bit of a break, if he sabotaged the security from inside. Except he just looked the other way while the rest of the Arkham employees wondered why the escape wasn’t covered in their training sessions.

The main thing I can say about this episode is that it’s a good romp. There is no great scheme overarching things; Kaiser is playing with fire, but intentionally so. In fact, the only reason he doesn’t get away scot free is that Batman tells the Joker about how Kaiser has been playing him. Nor does there seem to be a great plan in place by the Joker; he just wants to blow the place up to teach people a lesson. It’s only because of Batman that Joker learns the truth, and comes up with a plan that would actually be fascinating to see play out, even though it would bring Joker down to the level of a normal mob enforcer. But if there’s any character where a romp works perfectly, it’s our happy clown. I couldn’t see anyone else being this much fun to follow around for an episode. Could you see a Two Face themed casino where Two Face himself cheats at cards? I can’t, and it’s certainly better than trying to invent another one-off villain to take the Joker’s place in this story.

The one real failing of the episode is the animation. It’s not terrible, but it’s a bit shaky from the beginning, and it gets worse as the episode goes on. You start to see the Joker looking a little too rubbery in his motions, and the dark circles around his eyes (which make the fact that they’re a jaundiced yellow really pop out) start to disappear and reappear. There are even a few frames where it looks like no one inked the animation cel, or forgot to keep the paint inside the lines. And the off-model cameos in the end are…well, this is nitpicking, but they really bothered me.

In the end, “Joker’s Wild” is a fun but inconsequential episode, and that’s all it aspires to be. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, that’s the whole point of the series-to do good work without forcing you to learn previous continuity. It has its flaws (among them that it’s hard to think of what to say about it), but it’s a good time all around. If you haven’t seen it, give it a whirl; if it’s been a while, watch it again.

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