This week on Batman The Animated Series (TAS for short), we spend Christmas with the Joker. He starts in Arkham Asylum, but ends up rocketing to freedom via Christmas Tree. True story. This is also where we get the infamous “Jingle Bells Batman Smells” song. I’ve always wondered why that song was Batman-centric.
Cut to the Batcave where Robin tries and fails to convince Batman that people are actually good on Christmas Eve and there is no need to go on patrol. Let’s watch It’s a Wonderful Life instead! But Batman is a cynical dude so on patrol they go.
Turns out Robin is right. A man returns a present to a woman and the woman expresses her gratitude with a peck on the cheek. Otherwise, Gotham’s criminals are quiet because of the magic of Christmas. Robin, having been proven right, leads the way back to Wayne Manor where they eat Christmas dinner and sit down for a nice, classic movie . . .
. . . which turns into THE JOKER!
So off Batman and Robin go! En route, they isolate broadcast signals to determine a location, because the Batmobile is either a moving super computer or is constantly connected to the super computer in the Batcave Proper, the details of which are unclear. While driving, the Joker reveals three people he kidnapped who he nicknamed the Lawful Family because they’re the Commissioner Gordon (Daddy Lawful), a random woman somehow related to the police force (Mommy Lawful), and Lieutenant Detective of bumbling fame (Baby Lawful). As an added distraction, two Joker minions blow up a bridge before a train is scheduled to come in. Of course, Mommy Lawful’s mother is on that train. Of course.
But Batman and Robin are a wonderful team so the train is saved in a fabulous action sequence featuring teamwork and bravery. We knew this moment was coming. But what will do they do now? Joker is still on the loose and we don’t know where he is!
Or do we? Luckily, they were able to track the signal to Mt. Gotham where they are greeted by a mysterious present. Knowing the Joker, Batman decides to open it. It’s a giant Joker-in-a-Box complete with a very meta segue into a commercial break.
A couple notes at this point. Batman maintains something of a sense of humor despite being cynical about Christmas in general. Why hasn’t he seen It’s a Wonderful Life before? He couldn’t get past the title. Robin is a nice foil for him, which adds to their dynamic. And if the Joker can get this kind of setup up and going in less than twenty-four hours, then he’s squandering his supervillain potential on Batman and Gotham. If I had his connections and work ethic, I’d aim for world domination. But, you know, to each his own.
When we get back to the action, the observatory on top of Mt. Gotham has turned against the Dark Knight and Boy Wonder. Specifically, the telescope is now a giant laser firing randomly in an attempt to hit the Bat and Bird. While Batman distracts the laser, Robin enters the observatory only to meet with several Robot Jokers complete with machine gun hands. Robin can somehow dodge machine gun bullets and disposes of all but one Robot Joker–the first time this episode Robin shows better skill than Batman. He calls in to Batman who orders “Operation Cause and Effect” which I understand to mean “blow it all up.” The observatory telescope gets up close and personal with an explosion. Now that the Joker is yet to be found, what are our vigilante heroes to do?
Back at the actual television station where the Joker is filming, he presents a present to “Mrs. Lawful” where she fails to use her now freed arms to do any harm. Instead, she opens the present to a doll. Batman uses the make and model of the doll to calculate which factory in Gotham it would have been made in. The Joker is at the Laffco toy factory downtown! To the Batmobile, Boy Wonder!
Upon arrival at the Laffco factory, Batman and Robin are greeted by a few towering Nutcrackers. Batman takes down one while Robin dispenses with the other two–the second time this episode Robin has demonstrated better skill than Batman. Two gangsters appear with machine guns (what else). Batman distracts them by using a spare cape on a giant teddy bear and takes them out. There is no explanation on where the second cape came from. I guess Batman carries around spares?
Then there are flying airplane jokers. Batman picks up a baseball bat and Robin notes the pun. While Batman takes out one plane at a time, Robin takes out several at once using an oil drum–the third time Robin demonstrates better skill than Batman.
Finally, we get to the Joker, the boss man himself, and he only has one form this time. This is only episode two. Major bosses don’t get multiple forms until later on. The Lawful family is dangling over a giant drum of lava, or boiling plastic, either way they’re done for in a bit. Joker gives Batman a present, which Robin insists he doesn’t open, but Batman does anyway and gets a pie in the face.
If anyone wants to analyze the Joker’s psychology as presented in Batman TAS, this is a good episode to start with. Because that was an opportune moment to kill the Batman and the Joker didn’t so what does that tell you? Discuss in the comments.
Batman is the one saving the captees, which is odd because it should have been Robin. Batman chases the Joker but the Joker trips on a random roller skate, as is wont to happen in a toy factory. He falls towards the vat of boiling lava only to be saved by Batman. We can’t have anybody die in a children’s show, amirite?
All is well in Gotham again. Bruce and Dick finish It’s a Wonderful Life and Joker serenades himself with Christmas tunes in Arkham Asylum.
Final thoughts. There were some accidentally ridiculous moments throughout the episode, such as when Batman’s grappling hook doesn’t have an adequate hold on anything before he swings and yet he mysterious has total control of his fall. Batman apparently carries two capes on him in case he needs to disguise random objects as himself. And no one can hit a target with a machine gun, even a robot.
Robin may or may not be a better crime fighter than Batman, given that he can dodge eight machine guns to Batman’s two, took care of more aerial attackers and in a more efficient way, and destroyed two giant mechs to Batman’s one. And yet no one likes Robin. Is it because all his episodes are kitschy like this and therefore no one can take him seriously? Poor Robin.
Tune in next week for the introduction of the Scarecrow!