The Matt Signal – Episode 22: Joker’s Favor

Plot summary: When an unlucky accountant accidentally offends The Joker he finds himself embroiled in a scheme to kill Commissioner Gordon in order to make it up to him.

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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 Title: ‘Joker’s Favor’

Original Air Date: September 11th, 1992

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (7)

Written: Paul Dini (3)

This marks the franchise debut of Harley Quinn. Paul Dini went to college with Arleen Sorkin and wrote the part for her after seeing her in a clown costume. There’s a little Judy Holliday in there too.

Given the wildly different airdates of episodes compared to the intended production order, this was Joker’s first appearance on the show if you were watching on TV.

This is the only time Batman ever laughs in the series. It also happens once in New Batman Adventures. I’m pretty sure Bruce laughs from time to time, but even so.

Recap

A perfectly average middle-aged schmo named Charlie Collins is stuck in some horrendous traffic muttering to himself about his job and family. Sirens blare behind him and he gives way for a pair of GCPD squad cars and then a few seconds later the Batmobile.

But when a random car cuts him off, Charlie decides enough is enough and gives chase to tell the driver where to go. The only problem? The driver is The Joker!

Panicked, Charlie sharply exits the freeway and speeds down a series of alleys, abandons his car and makes a break for the woods on foot. But of course none of that works and Joker casually saunters up to Charlie and tells him off for being so rude.

Begging for his life, Charlie offers to do anything, and Joker agrees, taking his driver’s license and promising to be in touch to recall his favour.

Two years later Jim Gordon objects to an impending dinner in his honour, feeling it’s a waste of time and police resources. Batman insists he’s vital to the safety of the city and that he himself is only the night shift. Not a take you hear from Bats very often.

Gordon reluctantly agrees to go and that’s literally all Batman was there for as he pulls off one of his patented vanishing acts.

Elsewhere Joker is throwing darts at one of the invitations to Gordon’s dinner, telling an approving Harley Quinn that he broke out of prison as soon as he heard about the event. Planning to honour Gordon in his own special way, Joker finds Charlie’s license in a little black book…

Poor hapless Charlie is playing football with his son in what are very clearly NOT Gotham suburbs when the phone rings and Joker scolds him for changing his name and moving out of state. Mistah J tells him to catch a flight to Gotham to repay his debt, and a pair of his henchmen drive past Charlie’s house to hammer the veiled threat home.

Charlie does as he’s told but upon arriving at Gotham Airport has a change of heart and attempts to talk to the police… only for Harley to intercept him, dressed as a chauffeur.

Joker greets him like an old friend and promises he won’t have to hurt anyone and will get to go straight home after he’s repaid the favour. You can definitely trust the Murder Clown, Charlie!

The trio drive to the venue of Gordon’s dinner in a van marked… Crazy Clown Catering. At some point you deserve to be terrorised by a Murder Clown, ya know? Charlie is instructed to open a door and let Harley into the party when told. Simple.

Inside, Harvey Bullock is grossing people out with his lack of table manners and Gordon asks to go with Bruce Wayne when he says he’s ducking out early. Charlie heads inside as instructed but can’t even tell the many policemen anything as two of the waiters are Joker thugs. Plot hole avoided!

Slipping off to a side room, Charlie improvises a D.I.Y. bat signal using museum items and luckily Alfred spots it in the rear-view mirror while driving Bruce home.

In the middle of Gordon’s speech, a disguised Harley knocks on the door and Charlie lets her in, giant cake in tow. Harvey tries to hit on her and she tells him where to go. Desperate to leave, Charlie finds himself quite unable to as the door handle is coated in adhesive. Poor Chuck.

Harley unleashes some sort of paralytic gas, protecting herself and Charlie with masks. With everybody frozen in place, Joker bursts from the cake and affixes a bomb to Gordon’s lapel, taunting Charlie on the way out. I for one am shocked the Murder Clown would lie.

Luckily Batman smashes through the glass ceiling and thanks to Charlie’s warning, is able to dispose of the bomb. Dissolving the glue with a solvent, Batman takes down Joker’s thugs and handcuffs Harley.

After a brief fracas in a faux Aztec temple, Batman and Joker get separated and Charlie freakin’ Collins takes Joker down with a surprise gut punch!

Not content to stop there, Charlie produces a second bomb and holds the terrified villain hostage. A desperate Joker pleads for Batman to save him and the Caped Crusader does just that.

Joker turns over all the information he has on Charlie, who reveals the bomb was a fake anyway and then wanders off, pondering what’s for dinner.

So long sweet prince.

Best Performance

Quite obviously it’s Mark Hamill as it tends to be whenever Joker shows up. He’s once again showing off the manic highs and terrifying lows of the character. The degree to which he takes things over the top when warmly greeting Charlie is sinister in its own special way, and I really like his line reading about why Charlie has to help because “look at the size of that cake, man!”

A close second would be him raising his voice mid-sentence when he says the word “Batman” in an effort to attract his nemesis’ attention in order to be saved from Charlie. That ability to make Joker sound whacky, cunning, friendly, scary, stupid and pathetic, sometimes in the span of 60 seconds is unparalleled.

Ed Begley Jr. is back after his excellent turn as Germs to provide the very different voice of the down on his luck Charlie Collins. It’s good work, but he’s up against one of the all-time greats.

Finally, shout out to Arleen Sorkin. I know the iconic Harley Quinn voice is like nails on a chalkboard to some people, but that’s surely the point. And love it or hate it, this voice has persisted for almost 30 years, with every actress who has taken on the role since rarely straying too far from Sorkin’s.

Ranking

Almost all of the most memorable episodes of the show are centred around tragic origins for iconic villains, but I love the small-scale simplicity of this seemingly throwaway caper. Joker drawing out his tormenting of a man who accidentally cussed him out and wrapping him up in a plot to try and kill Jim Gordon may not sound like anything special, but it perfectly nails the tone of the series and may be the finest outing for its most memorable character.

It’s also a great episode on a technical level with little directing touches from Boyd Kirkland like the audience being able to see it’s Joker behind the wheel at the start in a wide shot, resisting the urge to emphasise it until the penny drops for Charlie.

It’s also another instance of Batman moving like a liquid shadow, gliding in front of Harley and terrifying her during the final set-piece. Most Batman properties try to communicate how scary the hero is to the majority of people, and despite this being a children’s cartoon, the way they play with shadow and sometimes revert him to white eyes against a supernatural silhouette really sells that idea effectively.

  1. Heart of Ice
  2. Two-Face Part I
  3. Joker’s Favor
  4. Feat of Clay Part II
  5. Beware the Gray Ghost
  6. Feat of Clay Part I
  7. On Leather Wings
  8. Pretty Poison
  9. Two-Face Part II
  10. It’s Never Too Late
  11. See No Evil
  12. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  13. P.O.V.
  14. Christmas with the Joker
  15. Be a Clown
  16. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  17. Nothing to Fear
  18. Prophecy of Doom
  19. The Last Laugh
  20. The Under-Dwellers
  21. The Forgotten
  22. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

The Joker (Mark Hamill) (fourth appearance)

The genius of this outing for the Joker is in how petty he is, turning a relatively harmless chance encounter into a multi-year scheme. He tosses two cents at Charlie and demands his opinion purely because he used the common idiom. He freely (and angrily) admits he has no clue what he wants Charlie to do for him, but he’s 1000% sure he wants to make good on his I.O.U.

He seemingly forgot all about it until two years later, but went to the trouble of tracking down Charlie’s new name and address and proceeds to flip between threatening him and treating him like a long lost pal. He upholds his promise that all Charlie has to do is let Harley in to the party… but then glues him to the door. He has Harley prevent him from getting frozen by the gas… but only so that he can mock him on the way out.

This character lives in the dead centre of a blurred line between meticulously laboured planning and pure erratic improvisation (I refuse to use the word chaos following the litany of The Dark Knight think-pieces). I think the best interpretations of Joker are the ones that refuse to come down on either side, and this episode exemplifies that idea.

Joker’s previous three outings have been of varying quality, and for that reason I put Mr. Freeze at number one following ‘Heart of Ice’, but I think adding this episode into his body of work is enough for him to reclaim the top spot.

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) (first appearance)

There’s really not much to Harley in her first outing, which makes sense given the original plan called for Joker to cross-dress and waltz into the party in disguise. Things will get much better from here, but for now the most generous I can be is to say she’s not worse than Penguin in the series’ worst episode.

  1. Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Poison Ivy
  6. Catwoman
  7. Rupert Thorne
  8. Lloyd Ventrix
  9. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  10. Scarecrow
  11. Red Claw
  12. Arnold Stromwell
  13. Mad Bomber
  14. Man-Bat
  15. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  16. Harley Quinn
  17. Penguin
  18. Sewer King
  19. Boss Biggis

Plugs

Published by

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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