Batman: The Animated Series, “Make ‘Em Laugh”

17Jun12

We’ve come to the final Joker episode of the series, and it is…decent. Not his worst episode, but not his best either, not by a long shot. There are good moments in here, and some very interesting ideas. But unfortunately, much of the plot relies on both Batman and Robin being very stupid and failing at their chosen professions.

The opening is striking, at least, as a high end restaurant is held up by the self-proclaimed “Condiment King.” It’s a bit odd, as the music implies he’s supposed to be a serious threat, even though Batman shows up and lays him out with one punch to the gut. Then he tries to convince him to give up and go home, showing that while Batman is hardly going easy on criminals, he’s not looking forward to some kind of deep-seated rivalry with a new super villain. Then again, maybe he’s just trying to avert years of sauce-related crimes so he doesn’t have to explain them to the rest of the Justice League. Whatever the reason, the King ends up taking a fall off the balcony, where it’s revealed that he is not some random mustard factory worker gone mad, but a well-known TV comedian.

The same scene where we get these details is the one that prove Batman and Robin aren’t on their game this episode. Robin “happens” to mention the comedian was a judge for an annual comedy competition, which he and Alfred were planning to see. If you immediately thought “The Joker!” when comedy was mentioned, you’re sharper than our protagonists, since they haven’t come to that conclusion yet. Though to be fair, so far the Joker hasn’t resorted to warping people’s minds and making them dress up in strange costumes…except for Harley Quinn….well, I’m sure that was the only time, right?

After another comedian goes on a very visible and stupid crime spree (as the Pack Rat, who loves to collect junk), the Dynamic Duo suspects….Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter! But they did find a microchip on the man’s neck, so it’s not just a random conclusion. Meanwhile, we get to see the Joker kidnap the obvious Roseanne analog. Whether this is the episode playing fair with us, or pointing out how off-base Batman is, that’s your decision. The most interesting question is brought up here, though, as they discover the Mad Hatter has fallen victim to his own mind control technology. It’s an interesting twist, and probably far more reasonable than the Mad Hatter just agreeing to help the Joker mind control comedians into being bad super villains. However, if the Mad Hatter had such microchips, why did he have them long enough for the Joker to use them on him? This isn’t a plot hole, but it does leave me curious.

After Robin tells Batman everything they’ve discovered so far as though his partner had lost his short term memory-concussions are no joke, Batman-Alfred clues them in to how the comedy competition might just be involved in this impenetrable mystery. It’s nice that Alfred is shown to be fairly capable in this episode, but strange that he has to all but yell at Batman about how the Joker is behind it. At least they realize in time for them to crash the competition before the Joker can dose everyone with laughing gas.

Most of the episode is pretty lackluster up to this point, but I’ll admit that the climax manages to salvage things. Not that the Joker lives up to his usual threatening status here, but then, these crimes aren’t part of some criminal master scheme. They’re all about his vanity. The fact that he didn’t have a trophy for the King of Comedy was all he cared about, and after trying to “earn” it (by breaking the rules, forgetting to register, and then telling very old jokes) last year, this year he’s just going to destroy everyone involved and steal the thing. Batman himself makes the comment about how low this is, that he’d ruin three innocent people for his own mistakes. It’s both a pathetic move on his part, and a sick joke at how little he cares about the consequences. So the fact that he ends up with his pants down and the trophy stuck on his head means that for once, he’s the butt of the joke in an effective way. It’s funny for his menace to be deliberately undercut with ridicule for once….though considering the body count the Joker can rack up, maybe laughing at him isn’t the best decision.

The animation is strictly middle of the road here. There are some odd artifacts, like background characters moving strangely, but there are no glaring mistakes that ruin the episode. It might not be as sharp as “Lockup” just was, but it’s a credible effort, like much of the shorter second season has been. And there is at least a nice visual consistency in the backgrounds, such as the deflated balloon in the last above shot in the episode, or the spilled ketchup on the balcony outside in the opening.

Would I have liked to see the final Joker episode be some tour de force of madness and terror? Sure, that would have been nice. But I’ll take an episode that’s funny and appropriate for him as well. “Make ‘Em Laugh” isn’t a classic by any standards, but despite Batman and Robin being exceptionally dumb, it’s fun enough to be worth a watch.

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