Ah, it’s that time of year again, when it’s time to warm eggnog and sit by the fire and watch the snow fall (depending on where you live) and get ready for the annual visit of the guy in the red suit. Yes, the Flash. Also Santa Claus. If you’re like my family, December 24th is when you watch all the great half-hour Christmas cartoons from eons past, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Christmas with the Joker… what’s that? You don’t watch that episode of Batman: The Animated Series every year with your family? Well why not!? It’s got everything you could want in a holiday episode: threat of death, explosions, machine guns, silly puns, and a maniacal laugh every ten seconds. It’s what every Christmas should be!
Produced second out of 85 episodes, “Christmas with the Joker” is in some ways a much more primitive episode than what would come later. It was written by a guy named Eddie Gorodetsky, who wrote no other episodes but has written a billion scripts for shows like Two and a Half Men, Dharma & Greg, and Saturday Night Live (for one season). For the most part, it’s a good script and gives our heroes plenty to do while they try to find the eponymous baddie, upon whom the entire episode hinges.
The Joker is the most iconic of Batman’s villains and they needed him to be great if the show was going to last. Initially, the voice of the Joker was Tim Curry, who recorded several episodes. Curry has voiced many, many villains and can certainly chuckle evilly with the best of them, but he just wasn’t hitting the right note. So Mark Hamill, who’d come in to voice a one-off character from the first Mr. Freeze episode, tried his hand and the rest is history. So much of the Joker’s power comes from that voice coming out of that horrifying visage. It’s both humorous and scary, which is precisely what the Joker should be, always walking that line. The laugh here isn’t quite what it would become, high-pitched cackle-wise, but the basic Joker is certainly on display.
Anyway, the episode. Joker is in a prison yard singing “Jingle Bells” with other nobody inmates (and he sings the “Batman Smells” version, to my eternal chagrin) when he climbs the Christmas tree to put up the star and it promptly takes off because it was a rocket the whole time. Later, Batman and Robin go out on patrol duty, which Robin thinks is silly given that it’s Christmas and everybody’s in a good mood. All he wants to do is finish up early and watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Batman says, “You know, I’ve never seen that. I could never get past the title.” BA-DUM-CHING! Patrolling is ultimately fruitless, though, and they return home for TV-watching. Robin says Batman will like the movie because it’s all about how one man can affect a whole town.
But, uh oh! The Joker’s got control of the television station and begins his own live Christmas special on which he wants to play a game with Batman, and introduce the world to his new family, the Lawfuls: Daddy Lawful (Commissioner Gordon), Mommy Lawful (Summer Gleason), and Baby Lawful (Harvey Bullock). Batman only has until midnight to claim the family or they’ll get dead, but they Dynamic Duo have no idea where Joker is, and the Clown Prince of Crime has some other games to play, including blowing up a bridge just as a huge commuter train is going to pass, replacing the observatory’s telescope with a cannon, and sicking Joker-themed lethal toys on our two good guys. All the while, Joker is having fun broadcasting and bringing in other characters like his hand as a puppet, or his upside down chin as another one.
Eventually, Bats and Birdy find the Joker and get through his thugs until the final test. Joker wants to give Batman a present or he’ll drop all three of the Lawfuls in a vat of boiling something or other, plastic probably. Though Robin is suspicious, Batman opens the box…and is promptly hit in the face with a pie. Joker laughs and drops the people anyway, but Batman (MIRACULOUSLY and breaking all the laws of physics) catches them and then pounces on the Joker. The episode ends with the good guys finally seeing the end of It’s a Wonderful Life and the Joker laughing to himself in a straight jacket in solitary confinement, singing all the while.
Well, okay, maybe “Christmas with the Joker” isn’t the best example of Batman: The Animated Series, but it’s certainly worth a look this holiday season, and a whole lot more fun than watching one of those Lifetime Original Movies.
Enjoy your Christmas, folks! Come back on Friday, Boxing Day, for the final Batman: Reanimated review.