Continuing Tom and Jimmy’s rewatch of the DCAU.
“The Last Laugh”
On April Fool’s Day, Joker is dumping his toxins from a garbage barge all over Gotham City, causing mass hysteria that could become permanent if not taken care of. Batman springs into action, but not before Alfred is infected.
jimmy: Another Joker episode already?
tomk: Yeah, and another in the next set of three.
At least you get Poison Ivy afterwards…and then the stupidity that is the Sewer King.
jimmy: At least our favorite Alfred finally showed up.
tomk: That he did. Which actually sort of leads to one of the episode’s biggest weaknesses. Did Batman really need Alfred to be infected with the laughing gas to spring into action? It seemed unnecessary on the one hand, but on the other gave the audience a character to care about other than various nameless bozos laughing it up in the streets.
jimmy: I was thinking the same thing. He hears the report on the news and does nothing. Goes down in the batcave and is working on his model train or something. And seriously, there is no align key in the Batcave? He had one…that he left upstairs?
tomk: And that gas somehow drifted off the river and made it all the way to the outskirts of town where Wayne Manor sits…on a hill from the looks of things.
jimmy: Yes, exactly. I found it was a relatively weak episode overall. 15 minutes of it is just Batman running after the Joker.
tomk: Decent cartoon comedy, a step up from the previous Joker episode…and why does Joker always strike on holidays?
And why did the Terminator agree to wear clown make-up for him?
jimmy: Haha, I thought of Terminator too. Maybe because it was “just” after Terminator 2. (The greatest movie ever btw.)
tomk: Well, its no Roshomon, which inspired a different episode of this show. Using the trash compactor to stop Captain Clown was a move right out of the original Terminator.
jimmy: Yes. As was bashing his head until his “true” face was revealed. Hmmm…James Cameron might have a long overdue lawsuit on his hands.
I liked “Christmas With The Joker” better, but this still had its moments. I loved that Batman is a guy that will fight until his last breath, but says “ow” when he cuts himself shaving. And Joker’s thug being so big he is busting out of his scuba suit was a great touch.
tomk: I liked it when Batman punched the Joker’s periscope after Joker scanned past him like an old Looney Tune.
And look, Joker almost fell into another boiling vat!
jimmy: All it was missing was Joker’s eye protruding out of the top of the periscope!
And yes, how many episodes are going to end like that? We get it. Move on.
tomk: The episode was a bit more cartoony, what with the constant laughing, and Bruce stepping into a shower and tossing a towel out like he was made of…wait for it…rubber. Alfred can’t tell a joke, though. I’ve drawn better baths than that.
The animation was very rubbery. Not sure if that exaggerated it for the tone of the episode or the animation was still in its infancy.
tomk: Probably a little of column A and a little of column B.
Also, the “hip hop” inspired soundtrack was exceptionally annoying.
tomk: OK, not a good episode this time.
Shall we move on?
jimmy: Sure. My only other note was that while I can see Joker as someone who would routinely talk to himself/no one at all, he seemed to very much be breaking the third wall in this episode.
tomk: He’s more of a cartoon character than anyone else on the show. It only makes sense.
jimmy: It wasn’t distracting or anything, but more of the “rules don’t apply to the Joker, as serious as we try to take ourselves” aspect of the show.
Exactly as the Joker would have it.
tomk: He’d be right at home with Daffy Duck.
Harvey Dent is poisoned shortly after getting engaged to a young woman named Pamela Isely. Batman has to race against the clock to find Poison Ivy, who holds the rare plant that holds the cure to the DA’s condition.
jimmy: Our first Paul Dini story?
tomk: I think it may be. He has a knack for the female characters, and by “knack” I mean “he may be getting a little aroused writing some of these cartoons”.
jimmy: Lol, he created Harley as well right?
tomk: Yeah, he did. And he loves Zatanna. I hear he married a woman magician.
jimmy: As with all things Ivy, this episode wasn’t short on sexuality. Well, really just the one scene I guess where she poisons Dent in the usual way and then shakes her money maker out the door.
tomk: Close up of her lips as she talks. She shakes her hair out with a little bounce at one point that’s fairly well-animated.
jimmy: And in a total “comic book” move, has a costume lying around and a “code name”.
tomk: Plus, an actual man-eating plant. Reminds me of a Simpsons episode where the family goes on a trip to Africa. At one point, a giant plant swallows them, but Homer just pushes aside a petal and they walk out unharmed. Bart is amazed, but Homer just shrugs and says, “Its a flower.”
jimmy: Haha. Bullock reminded me of Homer when he runs back and grabs a donut and swallows it whole.
tomk: Alan Moore in his Swamp Thing run had the characters go to Gotham. Bullock was almost always drawn with a large, messy sandwich in his hand.
jimmy: I guess I’ll get to that shortly in our geek spot reread.
tomk: That’s a few trades in. Biggest surprise for that arc is Swamp Thing never once encounters Poison Ivy.
jimmy: The very cartoony/comedic reuse of the animation of Gordon answering the phone is a good gag. (And cost saver I’m sure.)
tomk: They had deadlines to meet. And how many ways could Gordon expect to answer a phone, really?
I did love Bruce’s last line of the episode, where he tells the cured Harvey that he doesn’t think Harvey’s fiancee is right for him.
jimmy: But the absolute shock and the “What?!?!” And the running out of the office telling everybody what the call was about. I guess I found it funnier than you did.
tomk: I’ll be honest; I don’t remember that bit. I watched it a few days ago, so my memory won’t be as fresh as yours.
jimmy: I think it was the first episode that really played up Bats being a detective.
tomk: I think you may be right. Up to this point, the Batcomputer was doing all the hard work.
jimmy: And I assume all greenhouses have an elaborate boobytrap in the middle of them.
tomk: I feel bad for the guys in the fertilizer delivery truck. Here’s a question: why didn’t Ivy just breed more of that rare plant if she managed to save one?
jimmy: Good question. Maybe she did and the Venus ate them all.
tomk: See, that’s why invasive species are an environmental no-no.
jimmy: Or maybe because she is just a psycho. She is all “oh, I love you mister plant, I’m sorry I had to cut your pedals”…snaps…”until I need them again!”
tomk: And screaming that Batman killed her babies. Joker didn’t even get that upset over the “death” of Captain Clown.
All incarnations of Ivy are like that though.
tomk: And now she’s sort of a good guy. Why do Batman’s female foes eventually become heroes?
jimmy: Once you go Bat you never go back.
tomk: That’s the best answer I’ve ever seen.
Batman finds the mysterious Sewer King has gathered a bunch of children in the sewers of Gotham City and is forcing them to work and steal silently.
jimmy: Well, the animation steps it up a notch, but the episode otherwise is just awful.
tomk: Yeah, this show gave us a few crossover characters, Harley being the most notable. Lock-Up appeared in the comics a couple times. But Sewer King’s only other appearance anywhere was as a corpse in the 52 mini-series where he was among the Gotham crime lords being threatened into submission. He just sucks as a villain or a character in general.
jimmy: The episode was so bad I had to take to the interwebs after and his appearance in 52 was one of the things I found. And I’m sure you can speak to it better than I can, but did Batman fall through a wormhole into Oliver Twist?
tomk: There was a strong Dickensian feel to the Sewer King, minus the alligators. Having presumed orphans and runaways steeling from people for his own benefit while screaming for silence and wearing, well, whatever that outfit was. That guy just sucked. Batman gave him a special threat at the end about being tempted to hurt him more. I am sure the intended reason was because of the treatment of those kids, but I prefer to think it was because Bats wanted to get this guy gone so he’d stop dragging down the rest of the show.
jimmy: Lol, excellent point. Have you read the novel Batman: The Ultimate Evil? Bats really does not take kindly to people messing with kids. The threat did seem a bit out of character though. At the very least it makes you question, “This is what comes close to pushing you over the edge?”
tomk: Well, the guy was mistreating kids, and given his backstory, Batman knows a thing or two about childhood trauma, but these early episodes tend to feature a lot of kids in peril, and this may not even be the worst one. We still have “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement” to get to.
jimmy: I’ve heard that before about the early episodes dealing with kids in peril, I was surprised it took this long to come up.
Should we talk at all about production order versus air date? While is was produced 6th it never aired until the 27th episode. I guess even they knew what a stinker they had on their hands.
tomk: I don’t blame them. How many alligators did Sewer King have at his disposal? At one point, he sends two after Batman. Batman knocks them out. Then he sends two more. Batman knocks out one and the other one…I dunno, wandered off to have a sandwich. Then cut back to Sewer King and he has…two more gators. So, he makes a run for it.
I’m not even sure what his endgame was. Reminds me of an episode of Transformers, where the Decepticons are brainwashing people at a disco and also building a skyscraper. The Autobots save the victims and destroy the skyscraper, but for the life of me, I have no idea why the Decepticons were building the skyscraper to begin with. It was just…evil.
Say, how did Sewer King get a roast chicken down there? Did he have child chefs on top of everything else?
jimmy: That was definitely one of the top “WTF?” Moments for me. Did the kids steal all the food and bring it to him? And it was steaming hot. How fast did they get it there? Does he have an industrial size microwave run on alligator power?
tomk: What were those kids farming anyway? Half of them seemed to be plowing stuff underground. Was it mushrooms or something?
jimmy: Probably the roasted potatoes he had with his chicken. Or jell-o moulds.
tomk: Something that didn’t need sunlight to grow, given the only thing any kid says the entire episode is “Daylight!” like the stuff hasn’t been seen in years.
And since when was Alfred bad with kids? Didn’t he have Bruce and Dick to deal with in the past?
jimmy: That was my other WTF? Moment. It made no sense and was just a set up for the 1/3 of the episode where Alfred tried to feed him and give him a bath.
tomk: Yes, because Alfred being incompetent at something is the height of comedy. Alfred can be a very funny character when he’s used as a sarcastic foil to whatever Batman is up to, but some kid getting the best of him is downright painful. “Oh, I thought I gave you a fork. I’ll just get another one.”
And Batman who hates guns and says so has guns in his house.
jimmy: To your point about “foils” the only highlight of this episode was Alfred trying to get Bruce to take a vacation. Go someplace warm golfing, after Bruce asks if Alfred questions his sanity.
Maybe Alfred needs the gun for the nights he’s home alone?
And I’m gonna predict this is the only episode where the Batmobile camouflages itself as a dumpster.
tomk: I was wondering where the dumpster sides went when they folded up. They seemed to just disappear. Inspector Gadget’s car had a more realistic transformation.
jimmy: He probably used the same technology that Optimus Prime uses for the trailer when he transforms.
tomk: Does it say much for this episode that you and I are both drawing references from other cartoons in a way that makes this episode look worse? We expect more from Batman. And while early episodes are where creators are still feeling their way to making the show their own, it can make for bad first episodes. This one has Batman dealing with kids riding subway cars at the start of the episode that has little if anything to do with the rest of the episode, but maybe was needed to keep the episode at 22 minutes since no one wants to spend that much time on the Sewer King, the suckiest suck who ever sucked.
jimmy: They can’t all be gems. But it definitely feels like an episode they did very early, maybe pressed for time, when things were very much getting farmed out every which way without a real single vision as a guiding force yet.
It’s easy to forget that when this show debuted it came on every day except Sunday. It wasn’t new 6 times a week, but those early weeks would be mostly new since they wouldn’t have much to rerun.
tomk: I do not disagree. And I think it says much about what the series eventually became that we hold it to such high standards that such a poor episode, one that might have been par for the course for many other kids’ action cartoons, causes us to have so many issues with things like dumb comedy and crappy bad guys.
jimmy: It was probably as good as anything else on that day. But not up to our standards, especially in hindsight with “greatness” colored glasses on.
tomk: I consider the fact this show came out in the mid 90s. I was in college at the time. That I became a fan says something about the maturity level of the show. I can rewatch Batman. If I rewatch many other shows I enjoyed as a kid, like Transformers, I am mostly struck by just how…bad they were. Bad animation, bad storytelling, bad everything. I mostly avoid a lot of those shows for just that reason.
So, I know basically to just skip the Sewer King. Or many other episodes where Batman is mostly dealing with kids.
jimmy: I know you hate nostalgia, but often times revisiting old cartoons and shows is not kind. I loved Dukes of Hazard as a kid. When I caught it in syndication as a grown up I couldn’t watch five minutes. It might have been the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Many old 80’s show, live action and animated, are unfortunately like that.
tomk: But sometimes you luck out and find something worth revisiting, something where the quality still holds up. I found The X-Files actually held up pretty well when they did early monster-of-the-week episodes. Other times, someone just says, “Hey, Thundercats was beloved but lame. Maybe I can make the concepts cool with a revision!”
jimmy: Hence everything old is new again.
tomk: Hence why I hate nostalgia.
jimmy: Before we move on, there was one very nice piece of animation at the beginning. When the female police officer almost runs over Batman, there is a close up on her eyes and the Bat symbol is in them and it gets larger as she gets closer to him.
tomk: That was nice. There was a flash of greatness there. Too bad it’s wasted with an otherwise dumb episode.
NEXT TIME: Jimmy and Tom cover “P.O.V.,” “The Forgotten,” and “Be A Clown”. Three guesses who the bad guy in that last one is, and the first two don’t count.