Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The DC Animated Universe Weekly Review - Batman: The Animated Series

Batman: The Animated Series

Episode 2

Christmas with the Joker

How do you follow-up the visually stunning On Leather Wings?  You go strong on one of Batman’s biggest villains.  The Joker escapes Arkham Asylum during the holiday season.  Batman is obsessed with catching him and his sidekick Robin wants Batman to lighten up.  


Here we meet The Joker voiced by what would become his second most iconic career performance, Mark Hamill.  Hamill is the definitive Joker.  Even if it’s just his voice, it far exceeds Jack Nicholson’s “interpretation” of the character.  Nicholson’s joker was just a meaner version of Caesar Romero.  Nicholson added some psychopathic tendencies and weird noises but ultimately it is just jack Nicholson playing the joker and not actually Joker. 


When comparing other Joker performances post BtAS, Hamill is the go to source.  One is left to wonder how brilliant Heath Ledger’s Joker would have been without Hamill’s voice work.  Ledger’s is truly the best live-action incarnation.  A unique, sadistic character, who lives for anarchy.  Hamill’s Joker is the kid friendly crazy, has silly jokes, can be menacing, but since it’s a kid show, never really kills anyone.  At his worst, he puts a permanent catatonic grin on a person’s face.  That never ending smile is actually more cruel than just killing the person. Leave it the TV standard and practices to have rules that cause creative results which are far worse.


We also get introduced to Robin for the first time in this episode.  It’s a brilliant setup to the character.  Robin is away at college and therefore will not be in every episode.  The audience is basically told they will be treated to the occasional Robin appearance but this show is about Batman. 


What’s more interesting about this approach is the show is really more about Batman’s rogue gallery.  As the series goes on there is a little character development about Batman but it’s more about how the villains grow around him.  They either become more evil or fail at trying to do good.  The one villain that never evolves in the series is The Joker which makes him more sadistic.  He’s consistently evil and his goal is to make Batman’s life miserable.  


One of the few items which actually ages the show is its reference to It’s a Wonderful Life.  A film which was on every channel five+ times a day during the Christmas season in the 1980s and 1990s due to a copyright issue. It caused the film to become a Christmas classic in that tenure and resulted in being mentioned in many Christmas shows through the 1990s.   Since the copyright issue was cleared up, the film isn’t broadcasted as often during the holiday season and references make it appear dated.


This actually leads us to the bigger visual look of the show.  We didn’t discuss this in our intro article because there was just too much to cover but BtAS style is one of many unique choices which make it stand out.  The Film Noir/Art Deco visuals make the show ageless.  The characters aren’t trapped in the 1940s, it’s not a period piece. The show is supposed to take place in the 1990s.  The style in Gotham City is the 1940s with access to contemporary technology (not counting the advanced tech used in specific episodes for story purposes).  That’s a bold choice for a kids show.  Would kids understand or appreciate this style?  They did buy into it.  But we have to go back to Tim Burton for his hybrid gothic/noir take on Batman which allowed for this.  If Burton’s Batman failed we wouldn’t have these great undertones.


The creators were able to lean into the stylistic choices which worked in Burton’s Batman films and filter out the stuff that didn’t.  So Art Deco and Film Noir are great style choices.  Gothic style is not the right tone for children.  Burton’s influence is riddled throughout the entire early run of the series.  The creators were smart in what they chose to include and perhaps lucky that they were making a kids show which allowed them to cut the gothy items Burton uses in all his films.  


Meanwhile in the episode, The Joker hijacks the airwaves with some kidnapped key cast members from the show.  Batman and Robin show up and save the day. 


We swear the follow-up reviews will be more focused on the individual episodes instead of the entire series.  


Written by
Joseph Ammendolea
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®