Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Recap/Review: Batman TBATB, "Emperor Joker!"

Well, NewtCave visitors, today’s my birthday! Yay! So I’m going to be giving myself a little birthday present, and I’ll be recapping and reviewing one of my favorite episodes of my favorite show! Remember “Legends of the Dark Mite!”?  Well, today, the Dark Mite returns as we look at the sequel episode, “Emperor Joker!”

Strap yourself in, this is gonna be a longer one.  This episode is packed.
The episode’s teaser is a real treat. It’s one of the “From the Secret Files of the Bat-Computer” teasers. These teasers were framed as being from earlier in Batman’s career, when he was still working with Robin. What the show’s writers would do is take one of those weird comic covers from the 60’s, and they’d write a two-minute story around it to try and justify the weirdness on the cover. Today’s installment, “The RAINBOW BATMAN.”

We cut to Batman going through a suiting-up montage… except he’s putting on a pink Batsuit. I’m trying really hard right now to not mention Joel Schumacher. Crap, I failed.

Robin: “But, Batman! Last night you wore the green costume, and tonight you’re wearing the red! Why?”
Batman: “I must, Robin. I must wear a different-colored Batman costume each night!”

Now that's some love for the source material.
Now, as an aside, if I remember correctly, in the original comic, Batman was wearing different colored costumes to draw attention away from Robin. Dick Grayson, see, had publicly broken his leg, and if people noticed Robin with a cast on, they might put two and two together. But this episode goes in a bit of a different direction with the idea.

We cut to the conveniently-labeled “Gold Depository,” where colorful spotlights are shooting out. Inside, the Firefly runs down a corridor. (Not the Modern Age Firefly, who’s a serial arsonist, but the original Firefly, who controls colored light with his belt.) He approaches the Main Vault, and uses the red light from his belt to laser open the vault. Inside, however, are Batman and Robin. Firefly aims his red laser at Batman, but it’s deflected by his “red” Batsuit, explaining why Batman had been wearing differently colored Batsuits.

Firefly retaliates, however, by shining all of his lights together to create a gigantic, rainbow colored monster, which Firefly dubs “the Rainbow Creature.” The monster begins shooting yellow energy from its mouth, and the Dynamic Duo splits up. The duo throw Batarangs at it, but the creature makes one Batarang explode with yellow light, and the other freeze with blue light. Robin realizes that each color has its own power, and the two spring into action. Robin gets hit by green light, which turns him two-dimensional (a reference to the time in the comics that these two fought the Rainbow Creature), and Batman activates another alteration to his costume. With the push of a button, multicolored stripes appear along his suit. He dashes at the creature, which fires at him with every color. The costume deflects each blast, and he jumps up and kicks the creature in the face. It explodes into a blast of color, and Batman quickly punches out Firefly. Robin turns back to normal, and the two shake hands in an homage to the animated intro to the Adam West show. I’ve gotta say, I love the teasers like this. They’re creative, and they don’t take themselves too seriously without just being stupid.

After the intro, we cut to a jewelry store which has a gigantic playing card on their sign. Okay, look, jewelry store. You’re in Gotham City. You might as well hang up a sign that says, “Joker, please rob us!” We then cut to the inside where the place is being robbed by… the Ten-Eyed Man. Okay, I’ll admit that I didn’t see that one coming. He removes the case to an expensive-looking necklace, when Batman threatens him from above with ten years in prison. Ten-Eyed Man, who has eyes on the tips of his fingers, looks over (i.e. he aims his hand at Batman) and throws the case at Batman. Batman counters with two Batarangs, which the villain catches and throws back. Dang, you’d think that would hurt his eyes. The two scuffle for a bit, then a familiar voice chimes in.

Bat-Mite: “The Ten-Eyed Man? Cool!”
Ten-Eyed Man: “Did you hear that?”
Batman: “Unfortunately.”

You know Batman, you really shouldn't complain. Have you seen the other all-powerful mischief-makers going around?

Yeah, I'd say you got off easy, Batman.

Anyway, Bat-Mite suddenly appears floating next to Batman, and warns Batman to be careful. He whips out his copy of DC’s Who’s Who (which was an actual comic that DC put out back in the day; it contained bios on assorted DC characters) and reads Ten-Eyed Man’s entry, warning Batman that Ten-Eyed Man, aka Philip Reardon, is ex-Special Forces. (I also find it amusing that Bat-Mite’s animated copy has not only the exact cover of the issue, but the exact interior of the issue. Bravo, TBATB. That’s showing your work!)

Batman reminds Bat-Mite that they agreed that he’d stay home in the 5th Dimension, as Ten-Eyed Man takes the opportunity to continue the fight. As hero and villain resume trading blows, Bat-Mite’s up on the ceiling continuing to read Ten-Eyed Man’s entry.

Bat-Mite: “He was wounded in battle, and took a job back home as a security guard. One night, thieves knocked him out and planted a bomb! Batman arrived to stop them, where he mistook him for one of the robbers and they fought! The bomb exploded, blinding Reardon, but a surgeon attached his optic nerves to his fingertips, and Reardon became… the Ten-Eyed Man! Weeeeeird….”

Weird, indeed. Now, some of you may be wondering why I’m not picking apart that implausible explanation. Well, two reasons.

1.    I have a soft spot for the Ten-Eyed Man. He’s just so... retro-super-villain.
2.    You can easily handwave the lack of science away. DC Comics have a lot of origins that don’t make sense, so DC has explained this with the “Metagene.” It has the potential for superpowers, but requires “activation” through an outside force, usually a lab accident, or something.

So, I’ll just be saying “Metagene” and move on.  ...though I am wondering why the surgeon’s first idea to cure a man’s blindness was to attach his optic nerves to his fingertips.

Anyway, the fight continued all through Bat-Mite’s spiel, but Bat-Mite floated down to look at the fight firsthand, while gushing about the character’s obscurity.

Bat-Mite: “True fans appreciate a nod to the more obscure villains from your rogue’s gallery. That’s one of the great things about your show!”

Um, Bat-Mite, just say the word and I’ll let you do my job, here. All you have to do is ask. Ten-Eyed Man captures Batman in a net, and Batman gives the standard “This isn’t a show, it’s real life” dialogue that only appears in TV shows while cutting his way out. Bat-Mite brushes this off, and polybags his copy of Who’s Who before filing it away, in order to protect its contents from damage. He snaps, his fingers and a cactus appears in Batman’s hand. He throws it at the Ten-Eyed Man, who catches it. Having just been stabbed in each eye, Batman ties him up for the cops to find.

Bat-Mite congratulates Batman on the fight, but comments that it was “strictly C-List.” Batman argues that every criminal must be brought to justice, while Bat-Mite argues that a hero is only measured by his villains.

Bat-Mite: “The reason I’ve come back is I wanna see the ultimate face-off!”

Batman tells Bat-Mite to curb his obsessions, but Bat-Mite tells Batman that he’s obsessed with someone, too. He snaps his fingers, and the two teleport to a room filled with what appear to be wax models. Bat-Mite explains that they’re in his shrine to Batman’s rivalry with the Joker. As the camera pans around, I recognize several classic comic covers featuring the Joker (including the first issue of his titular series) hung on the wall, and Bat-Mite begins gushing over the Batman-Joker rivalry. He shows Batman his reconstructions of famous Joker stories, which are set up to look like the comic covers.

Bat-Mite: “Remember when the Joker made his own utility belt? The ‘Laughing Fish!’ They don’t get much better than that! The ‘Death in the Family’ Saga! In that, the fans got to choose what happened to Jason Todd! Guess how I voted….”

I guess Bat-Mite's an accessory to murder, then.
Okay, I’ll explain that one real quick. In that story, the Joker had kidnapped Jason Todd, the second Robin. Jason Todd wasn’t liked by Batman readers because he was kind of a brat. So Joker beat up Robin with a crowbar, then rigged the building he beat him up in to blow. Batman got there right after the explosion, and found Jason’s body. There were two phone numbers at the end of the issue. Call one number, you vote “Jason Lives.” Call the other, you vote “Jason Dies.” When all was said and done, the nation voted for Jason Todd to die. And apparently, so did Bat-Mite.

Bat-Mite shows Batman the space he’s showing for the next battle, and Batman tells him that there won’t be one, because he’s locked up in Arkham. Bat-Mite counters that the Joker always escapes. Batman tells Bat-Mite that his new cell’s inescapable. Bat-Mite snaps his fingers behind his back, and Batman suddenly gets a report on his communicator that the Joker just escaped.

We cut to Batman speeding along in the Batmobile, with Bat-Mite tagging along. Batman makes Bat-Mite promise to not use his 5th dimensional magic, and Bat-Mite agrees. We then cut to the inside of the place the Joker’s robbing, which his apparently the Gotham Museum of Comedy. Joker giggles like a kid in a candy store as he fawns over Charlie Chaplin’s cane, Ernie Kovacs’ cigar, the Stooges’ seltzer bottle, and more. 
…go ask your grandpa.

He’s about to steal everything, when Batman’s shadow looms overhead. Joker backs up… right into Batman. Dang, he’s good. Batman knocks him down with a single punch, when Joker’s goons show up. In one of the coolest visual motifs for a gang of thugs ever, in my opinion, each one is in black-and-white makeup, and they all resemble various early-20th century comedians: Oliver Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. …ask him about them, too.

Harley Quinn (Joker’s henchwoman/girlfriend) also shows up, but she’s dressed as a 1920’s flapper instead of her normal jester outfit. A lot of fans were irked at this, but I like it this way; I like the theme Joker has with his gang. As Batman fights the goons, Bat-Mite spots Harley and instantly falls in love. The fight continues, and Joker and Harley join the fray. Batman hits away Harley’s oversized mallet, but she uses the old “you wouldn’t hit a girl” shtick, and Batman lets his guard down. She takes this opportunity to knock him to the ground and calls him a sucker. Now you’ve done it, lady. Batman doesn’t hit girls… but he does hit criminals. He ties her up with bolas, and continues the rest of the fight. Joker gives as good as he receives, and Harley and Bat-Mite watch their respective fighters in admiration before introducing themselves to each other.

Batman gets knocked to the ground in an explosion, and Joker and his goons start beating him up. Bat-Mite begins to rush in and save him, but his little shoulder angel reminds his that he made a promise. His shoulder devil comes up and says that he could keep his promise if he gave Batman his powers to use. The angel agrees, and Bat-Mite lines up his shot with his finger, but aims a bit too high and shoots the Joker with his powers instead.

Joker begins to glow and starts laughing, before dancing around, exclaiming how he feels like a million bucks. Suddenly, a million bucks appear. Joker takes note of this development, and begins to experiment with his powers. He makes a giant boxing glove fist to take out Batman out in one hit, and Bat-Mite runs up and demands his powers back. Joker refuses to return them, but he does give Bat-Mite a Joker-Mite to play with. Said Joker-Mite has a very unsettling Jack Nicholson-ish face. Joker-Mite starts trying to mow down Bat-Mite with a pair of giant, chattering teeth attached to a chainsaw motor.

Creepy little hobgoblin.
As the two Mites fight, Batman begins to speechify at the Joker, who shoots him with lightning halfway through. Fully realizing his newfound power, Joker changes his outfit into one that’s gaudier, and more... regal?

I don't know why, but that crown just looks... inappropriate.
We cut to Batman waking up, tied to a pole. Joker looks down from above on a throne and says that this time, Batman won’t win. Harley wonders why Joker doesn’t just take his mask off and find out who he is, to which the joker responds, “Where’s the fun in that?” before launching into a catchy song (if you live in Australia, this part was cut out of your broadcast of the show). While he sings (quite well, too; Jeff Bennett’s got pipes, man), we see a montage of the Joker as he first remodels Gotham to his version of “perfection,” then escalates quickly up to destroying the universe. As Joker and Batman float in a white void, Joker summons Harley and his goons back, dancing backup on gigantic playing cards, then…. Wait, that dance looks familiar.  If I’m noticing the steps correctly....

It's just a jump to the left...
And then a step to the right. You put your hands on your hips....
They’re doing the Time Warp. Yes, everyone, the show that haters derided as “too childish” has just made a reference to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Anyway, Joker rebuilds the universe as a single room made entirely out of playing cards, and puts Batman in a death trap with the snap of his fingers. He finishes his song, announces the “Death of Batman,” and activates his Rube Goldberg trap. Batman escapes the iron maiden he was in a split second before it shut, but the iron maiden activates another part of the trap, and Batman gets crushed by a giant hammer instead.

Is... is Batman hanging from a noose?
As a harp-playing Batman angel rises to the heavens, it becomes clear that yeah, he’s really dead. This show just had the balls to have the Joker kill Batman for real. Joker says a few words, sheds a tear, and brings Batman back to life so he can kill him again. Joker-Mite asks what they should do with Bat-Mite, and at Harley’s insistence, Joker goes easy on him and puts him in Harley’s jester outfit from the comics, before killing Batman with a vat of acid. Then he kills Batman with fire. Then by a woodchipper, then a guillotine, then sharks, then spikes, then a train…. Seriously, this is graphic for a kids’ show.

Harley laments in the corner that Joker’s ignoring her, like he always does when Batman’s around, and Bat-Mite laments that all Batman thinks about is the Joker. They say in unison, “Maybe I’m better off without him” and look at each other. Meanwhile, Batman falls out of a smoking electric chair, and begs Joker to take away his sanity and end it. Joker loves this idea, and straps Batman to a table while taking a screwdriver to his head and opening it up. Harley makes the error up interrupting him.

Harley Quinn: “I was just thinking...”
Joker: “Your first mistake.”

She asks him if going in there’s a good idea, and he tells her that she talks too much, then takes away her voice. She can still talk, but every time she does, the camera cuts to a silent-film card with her lines on it. Joker leaves Joker-Mite in charge, and steps into Batman’s head. He walks through a tunnel for a bit, before finding a bat-shaped door that’s nailed shut. Joker breaks in, and finds another door behind it. He gets excited at the prospect of what must be behind so many barriers, and begins going through door after door.

Meanwhile, Joker-Mite plots with Joker’s goons to kill Batman while Joker’s inside his head, offing them both. Overhearing this, Bat-Mite tells Harley Quinn to talk again. She does, and Bat-Mite takes her dialogue card and takes out the Chaplin goon. Harley Quinn takes out two more with a card saying “MY HERO” and Bat-Mite scuffles with Joker-Mite as Harley fights the remaining goons. Bat-Mite defeats Joker-Mite with surprising ease, and the two go over to Batman. All they can do is wait.

Meanwhile, Joker breaks down the final door and arrives in Batman’s mind: row after row of filing cabinets.  Joker reaches in one, and throws the papers within everywhere, before Batman’s voice booms out that an organized mind is a disciplined mind. The papers return to their proper place, and Batman tells Joker that they’re on his turf now. He proceeds to show Joker a world without Batman. Crime is rampant, outlaws have taken over, but the Joker isn’t anything special. He’s just a normal, sane, average person. Joker can’t take even a second of it, and gives up all his power in exchange for leaving this nightmarish world. Joker emerges back in the room, and Harley Quinn rushes over to him, as Bat-Mite undoes everything the Joker did. Harley and Bat-Mite go their separate ways, and Batman cheers up Bat-Mite by reminding him that he has his own arch-nemesis now.

Bat-Mite gleefully drags a horrified Joker-Mite away to the 5th dimension, and gives us the Porky Pig “That’s all Folks!” ending.

Final Thoughts/Review
I love this episode. Great animation, great voice acting, par for the course.
What really elevates this episodes are the references to classic DC, classic comedy, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show of all things.

It somewhat fails as an adaptation of the comic storyline of the same name (where Superman was involved because Joker got his powers from Mr. Mxyzptlk), but it works on its own merits while keeping the same basic premise of and omnipotent Joker.

It’s funny, it’s not afraid to have Batman being killed several times in very graphic ways, and everything about gets an A+.
It’s like the episode was made just for me, which is why I’m reviewing it on my birthday.
Well, that's all folks! See you next time!

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