Sometimes I think the Joker’s perfectly happy to just stay locked up in Arkham Asylum. He gets three squares a day, a quiet place to rest his head, and the ability to annoy and torment all the other villains locked up there on a regular basis. It’s fun for him. However, a clown just has to let go once in a while, especially if he feels slighted or infringed upon. Then you’ll want to get out of his way. It’s this premise that’s behind our episode for this week, “Joker’s Wild,” a tale which sees the Joker fight for his honor, or his pride, or whatever it is he has. Ego. That’s it; his ego.
Written by Paul Dini and directed by Boyd Kirkland (which I will now start referring to as “The A-Team”), the episode packs in the laughs at the Clown Prince of Crime’s expense, but also stands as a word of warning to any white collar criminals who might want to draw the ire of said grinning madman for financial gain. Unlike the earlier episode “Joker’s Favor” in which the villain is the scariest and most sadistic he probably would ever be, in this one he’s more of an angry dog.
We begin in Arkham with the Joker and Poison Ivy fighting like children over whether to watch a show about gardening or a late night talk show (guess who wanted what). The guards make them watch the news just in time to see Summer Gleason reporting live from the grand unveiling of billionaire land developer Cameron Kaiser’s new $300 million casino. All of Gotham’s glitterati are in attendance, including Bruce Wayne with a pretty lady on his arm. When the curtain is dropped, though, everyone is shocked and appalled — The casino is named Joker’s Wild and features the visage of the Joker himself all over the place, including a giant rotating head that laughs. When asked by Gleason why he’d model his casino on the city’s most nefarious criminal, Kaiser coolly states that he can’t help it if jokers are part of a card deck and also slightly resemble an evil mastermind…
The Joker will have none of this. He wants to reclaim his face, name, and maybe a little payback, on the place, and so, using the cunning trick known as tip-toeing, escapes from Arkham and heads for the casino. Bruce Wayne seems sure the Joker will try something and decides to scope out the casino himself. All of the card dealers are dressed as the Joker (with a bit of Red Skelton thrown in for weird measure) and all the cocktail waitresses are dressed like Harley Quinn. No word from her whether she’s angry or not. Wayne sits down at a blackjack table that the Joker himself just happens to be pretending to deal at. After an exchange in which Wayne insults the “real” Joker, he leaves, knowing his suspicions were correct.
Batman returns to re-capture the Joker and what ensues is a chase through the casino, followed by a runaround in a Joker-shaped automobile on display. After eluding the Caped Crusader, the Joker begins the next phase of his plan, which is blowing up the casino with all the dynamite. However, little does he know that Cameron Kaiser is fully aware of this turn of events and is in fact planning on it. Batman confronts Kaiser, saying he knows that Kaiser’s essentially bankrupt from the building of the massive casino and made it Joker-themed to lure the Joker into destroying it so he could collect insurance money. Kaiser’s goons enter and Batman is electrocuted. Kaiser tells them to give the Dark Knight to the Joker while he escapes in his helicopter.
The Joker ties Batman to a giant roulette wheel (of death) and even though Batman tells him of Kaiser’s plan, he still is going to kill him. The Joker’s crazy, you understand. Joker knocks out the helicopter pilot and takes his place getting Kaiser up above the casino to shoot him in the head. However, Batman is able to escape and gets both the clown and the fraud behind bars. Back in Arkham, the Joker loses TV control to Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter, and Scarecrow, who all want to watch the report of the Joker’s latest capture.
As I said, this is a funnier episode than usual and it plays up the carnivalesque tone associated with both a glitzy casino and the Joker’s demented circus vibe. The music in this is even a little zanier than the dark stuff to which we’re normally accustomed. It sounds like an episode of Animaniacs during the Joker car fight, aiming more for a laugh than excitement. The animation, however, remains very straightforward, and doesn’t warp or distort in any way, save a brief return-from-commercial moment where Batman’s vision spins before he sees the Joker looming over him. This mixture of visual and auditory play right along the edge of the tone knife, which the Joker does so well.
Paul Dini is often lauded, rightfully so, as one of, if not the, very best writers to work on Batman: The Animated Series, and I think it’s also very fitting that he penned 9 episodes featuring the Joker — the character was only in 12 as a main villain. He clearly understood the character the best, and reveled in pushing the boundaries between the more frightening aspects of the disturbing man who laughs and the more comedic elements. Hell, he introduced Harley Quinn, who immediately gave the Joker more depth and interest. They have such a screwed up relationship, as you might imagine. Dini also has the Joker play off of other villains when Harley isn’t around. He’s a nuisance to everybody, good guy or bad guy alike.
Next time, we’ll be looking at “Off Balance,” an episode which introduces the League of Shadows, Talia al Ghul, and has Batman leave Gotham to face Count Vertigo.