The Matt Signal – Episode 4: The Last Laugh

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Plot summary: Joker celebrates April Fool’s Day by unleashing a psychotropic laughing gas on the city so he and his robot buddy can steal at will. Batman struggles to tell a joke.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

Notes

Episode: ‘The Last Laugh’

Original Air Date: September 22nd, 1992

Directed: Kevin Altieri (2)

Written: Carl Swenson (1)

This is Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s first outing of Alfred, a role he would play for over a decade.

This is another episode where the art department ignored large parts of the script in an attempt to improve the action. Sean Catherine Derek doesn’t have a writing credit this time, but given her role was Story Editor, it seems likely this led to another of her arguments with Bruce Timm and co. I shudder to think how the action was BEFORE they punched it up.

April Fool's

Recap

A trash barge floats down Gotham river, giving off mysterious green fumes that don’t just stink, they drive those that get a whiff of them into hysteria, causing some severe traffic accidents. And on April Fool’s Day no less!

Speaking of April Fool’s, Alfred gets into the swing of it, offering to draw Bruce a bath, only to draw a picture of one. Bruce is not amused, probably because he just cut himself shaving (but without bleeding of course, because no blood allowed!) Hearing about the chaos on the radio, Bruce suspects The Joker.

Bath

Speaking of the Clown Prince of Crime, his men recover gold from a truck that crashed into the river and bring it aboard his secret submarine, hiding below the barge. This seems like an extremely unreliable method for robbing armoured trucks, but who can argue with the results?

Joker parks the barge in a harbour and leads his men ashore with shopping carts and masks, casually smashing windows and filling up with loot while civilians and police can do nothing but laugh themselves stupid.

Batman is tinkering away at… something in the Batcave, but when he calls Alfred for assistance he is met with – you guessed it – hysterical laughter. Donning a gas mask and rushing upstairs, Bruce finds Alfred smashing the house up, having fallen victim to the gas pouring in through the windows.

Alfred Gassed

Racing to the source of the gas aboard the Batboat, Batman easily defeats Joker’s henchmen… the human ones, that is, as Captain Clown, the robot who was pretending to drive the barge (for some reason), kicks his ass and locks him in a trash can. Joker stabs some air holes in the can and Cap tosses it overboard. I am shocked Joker’s stabby antics are cool with censors but Bruce isn’t allowed to cut himself shaving.

Joker is thrilled, quoting Casablanca to his stoic automaton, who understands the importance of playing it cool after winning a fight. Thug Life.gif.

Clown Beatdown

Batman escapes his watery grave by remote controlling the Batboat, blindly firing its lasers in a wildly dangerous but ultimately successfully ploy.

Following Joker’s barge to Ace Chemicals where it’s refuelling, Bats easily beats up the human duo AGAIN, this time removing their masks so they fall victim to the gas.

The rematch of the century goes a different way as Batman savagely bashes Captain Clown’s head in with a steel pipe. Literally. He smashes its face off and then chucks it in one of those things that crushes cars into cubes. And I thought Batman never killed.

Smashed Face

A wacky chase through Ace Chemicals ensues (or maybe just a nearby waste disposal facility as the sense of geography in this episode is pretty screwy. There’s even a Looney Toons-esque soundtrack, with Batman nearly falling into an incinerator but grapple hooking his way to safety. Joker tosses some steel playing cards, one of which Batman catches in mid-air.

Having apparently exhausted his options, Joker runs away, tripping on Bats’ wire and nearly falling to his death, having to beg Batman to pull him back up, which he does. Could have just pretended that wire broke and there was nothing you could do, Bruce…

Joker Hang

Alfred laments the property damage he caused to his billionaire boss’ house, who responds by threatening to dock his pay for two years. He calls it an April Fool’s joke, but I’m inclined to agree with Alfred’s assertion he doesn’t have a funny bone in his body.

Also, aren’t you supposed to stop doing April Fool’s pranks after midday? Then again, to be fair, it’s permanently night time in Gotham.

Bruce Joke

Best Performance

Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are both decent enough, but it’s neither of their best work. There actually aren’t all that many voices in this one, so I feel this nod has to go to Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in his debut as Alfred.

I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say he’s my mental image of Alfred, because I really like Michael Gough’s live action work, but he’s certainly right up there. It’s always fun when Alfred gives Bruce a bit of sass, and he got to mix the voice up a bit under the effects of the Joker gas.

Batman

Ranking

This is another one Bruce Timm doesn’t really love, feeling The Joker’s motivations are somewhat lacking. I don’t know how true that is, given the general mayhem, but it’s certainly not a good episode.

From the painfully unfunny jokes, to the repetitive nature of the action, to the slightly confusing series of events that occur at the end, to the off-kilter soundtrack, it’s just a big old mess. When the highlight of the episode is the hero mercilessly beating a robot to death, it’s not a great sign. Also two episodes in a row with a gas-themed plot isn’t ideal.

You know what? Forget Not Good, I think this episode is Actually Bad. I can’t decide whether I like that the current ranking is just the episode order or not. ‘Pretty Poison’ will have to work pretty hard to keep that trend going though.

  1. On Leather Wings
  2. Christmas with the Joker
  3. Nothing to Fear
  4. The Last Laugh

Joker Shopping Again

Villain Watch

The Joker (Mark Hamill) (second appearance)

While I generally prefer the intended order to the broadcast one, getting two Joker appearances in the first four episodes strikes me as a misstep, and this one doesn’t have a patch on ‘Christmas with the Joker’.

That’s not to say it’s bad, and unleashing laughing gas on the city and indiscriminately looting is certainly right up the character’s alley, but there’s just less range on display. He’s also defeated by tripping on some rope and has to beg Batman to pull him up. None of this is enough to lower Joker’s ranking, and even if it did, he’s obviously going to end up back on top in the end.

Shout out to Captain Clown, though. You handed Batman his biggest L and also took his most brutal beating. Rest in power, sweet prince.

  1. The Joker
  2. Scarecrow
  3. Man-Bat

Poster

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies continues tomorrow with The Social Network.

Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, uploads new episodes every Thursday.

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus is underway looking back at some trilogies and throwback movies.

Speaking of Jerome, he will be bringing you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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