The Matt Signal – Episode 41: Joker’s Wild

Plot summary: Infuriated by the unveiling of a new casino using his likeness without consent, Joker breaks out of Arkham in search of revenge (and financial compensation.)

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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 Wild’

Original Air Date: November 19th, 1992

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (10)

Written: Paul Dini (5)

Akom Production Co. were fired after their work on this episode due to their shoddy animation, most notably a sign that was supposed to say ‘Win the original Jokermobile’ instead reading ‘Wan the cirin gnal Jokernocile’. This has since been cleaned up for home release, but a screenshot of the original is below.

Joker continues to make references to The Three Stooges and Looney Tunes. Meanwhile his threat to “rip his lungs out” is an homage to Batman (1989). As is the dossier referring to him as Jack Napier.

Cameron Kaiser is modelled after a blend of Donald Trump and Warren Beatty’s portrayal of Bugsy Siegel.

Recap

It’s recreation time in Arkham Asylum, and while Poison Ivy is trying to enjoy a nice gardening show on the TV, Joker has other ideas, changing over to David Letterman. Jervis Tetch is playing chess with Scarecrow in the background, too. Fun!

Irritated, a guard puts on the news instead. Summer Gleason (remember her?) reports on the opening of billionaire Cameron Kaiser’s $300m casino, Jokers Wild, modelled after the Clown Prince himself.

The choice of décor angers Joker, Summer and Bruce Wayne (one of the many guests at the event.) Kaiser downplays any similarity to Gotham’s most famous Murder Clown, but the J-Man won’t have any of it, smashing the TV in a rage.

Feigning sickness, Joker is escorted to the doctor’s office, but naturally makes a run for it before Doctor Bartholomew (remember him?) arrives. Guards give chase, but he’s able to elude them with a little help from a janitor’s cart, a rock and a string of handkerchiefs. It’s just that easy, apparently.

Bruce checks straight into the new casino and shares his suspicions about Kaiser’s intentions. Alfred not only brought his Batman gear from Wayne Manor, he also sent Bruce’s date packing! Yeesh.

Breaking into Kaiser’s penthouse, Bats discovers the casino was instead built as ‘The Camelot’ at tremendous expense. There is also a huge dossier of research on Joker. Security arrive, but one smoke bomb is all that’s needed to make a break for it.

Joker waltzes onto the casino floor and is naturally mistaken for one of the many employees dressed like him (or Harley). Taking it in stride, he immediately begins posing as a blackjack dealer, bankrupting the guests. Hell yeah, eat the rich.

Kaiser observes via CCTV, content to let Joker continue cleaning everybody out. Bruce Wayne fares much better by throwing Joker off with insults about the aesthetic (as well as some cards up his sleeve).

Changing back into his costume, Bats gives chase to Joker who hops into the ‘Original Jokermobile’ and crashes it outside. Heading back in to cause more mayhem, Joker wheels a cart of explosives to a restricted area. Kaiser sees this as well and calmly orders his personal helicopter be prepared for take-off.

Batman prevents him from leaving, deducing that Kaiser intentionally rebranded the casino in order to manipulate Joker into destroying it so that he 1) doesn’t have to pay his outstanding bills on it and 2) can collect on the insurance. Real talk, do you think that’s what Trump was doing with his Presidency. Hey! By the time you read this that nightmare will either be over or here to stay! How fun.

Electrocuting Batman via rich-supervillain-hidden-desk-button, Kaiser has security toss him to Joker, who knocks him out for the second time in as many minutes with a wooden plank. Concussion city, baby!

Joker ties Batman to a giant roulette wheel near the explosives from earlier. The Caped Crusader reveals Kaiser’s caper, convincing Joker to disarm the bomb and head off to take revenge.

Unfortunately Joker opts to turn the wheel to high speed and toss a grenade onto it anyway, because why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to finally murder your nemesis?. Batman’s concussed brain somehow avoids making him vomit himself to death long enough to access his utility belt and knock the grenade into the control mechanism, freeing him.

Kaiser boards his chopper, oblivious to the fact Joker has traded places with the pilot until they’re already in the air. Joker states his intention to murder Kaiser and seize the casino for himself, but Batman of course intervenes.

One little airborne chase later, the mortal enemies end up fist-fighting in the cockpit, resulting in them crashing into the lobby. Batman knocks Joker into a slot machine which of course pays out, burying the villain in a pile of quarters.

Back in Arkham, Joker resumes annoying his fellow inmates by channel-hopping, unable to escape from news coverage of his capture.

Best Performance

Mark Hamill continues to Mark Hamill. There’s really not much I can say about his work as Joker anymore. It’s sublime. This episode sees him intentionally trolling the other Arkham residents, doing his best Looney Toons impressions, as well as angrily mumble and grumble when Bruce openly insults him at the blackjack table. All fun additions to his standard whimsical terrorist persona.

L.A. Law‘s own Harry Hamlin does his best Bugsy Siegel, potentially to avoid a full-on lawsuit from The Donald, and it’s unlikeable in a good way.

Ranking

Paul Dini has firmly established himself as the go-to Joker writer, following up on the great ‘Joker’s Favor’ and tremendous ‘The Laughing Fish’ with an episode that seems like it should sit somewhere between the two but ultimately falls short.

It’s an extremely strong premise, with a Donald Trump stand-in manipulating Gotham’s most famous criminal into helping him out of debt and allowing him to pocket some insurance money in the process. Joker’s pettiness and fragile ego have been firmly established throughout the show, which has also flirted with the idea of white collar crime being just as bad as a sadistic murder clown. Dini writes Joker well, and the visual of a Joker-themed casino is a treat that leads to some Batman espionage, Joker as a blackjack dealer and a fun aerial tour of the building.

Unfortunately, things don’t quite coalesce in as satisfying a manner as Dini’s previous two spotlight episodes on the character. The shoddy animation doesn’t help, but a lot of it boils down to the pacing of the final act. Do we need a Jokermobile action sequence if Joker is just going to stroll straight back inside? Does Batman really need to get knocked out twice in a minute? Do we need both a giant roulette wheel death trap and a helicopter chase? The episode ends up wrapping up rather prematurely because of this, especially when compared to two of the best endings in the whole show in Dini’s previous two Joker spotlights.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Heart of Ice
  3. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  4. Perchance to Dream
  5. Two-Face Part I
  6. Joker’s Favor
  7. Feat of Clay Part II
  8. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  9. Beware the Gray Ghost
  10. Mad as a Hatter
  11. Heart of Steel Part II
  12. Vendetta
  13. Appointment In Crime Alley
  14. Two-Face Part II
  15. Heart of Steel Part I
  16. On Leather Wings
  17. Pretty Poison
  18. Feat of Clay Part I
  19. It’s Never Too Late
  20. See No Evil
  21. The Clock King
  22. Joker’s Wild
  23. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  24. Eternal Youth
  25. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  26. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  27. P.O.V.
  28. Christmas with the Joker
  29. Fear of Victory
  30. Be a Clown
  31. Night of the Ninja
  32. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  33. Nothing to Fear
  34. Prophecy of Doom
  35. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  36. Dreams In Darkness
  37. The Last Laugh
  38. Cat Scratch Fever
  39. The Under-Dwellers
  40. The Forgotten
  41. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

The Joker (Mark Hamill) (seventh appearance)

As is often the case, Joker ends up being the best part of the episode. Much like ‘Joker’s Favor’ had him turn a minor sleight into a multi-year grudge; this one sees him break out of Arkham purely so he can trash a casino for using his likeness without permission (or compensation). Also, the idea that he is able to get out whenever the mood takes him is classic Batman mythos.

Hamill is a huge fan of Looney Toons, so clearly revelled in his opportunity to do little cartoon voices and make Joker more of a troll, and while this doesn’t play quite as well 30 years on, it’s still a lot of fun. The best scene is Joker getting mistaken for an employee and cheating a bunch of rich folk out of their money as a blackjack dealer though.

Cameron Kaiser (Harry Hamlin) (first appearance)

Given who he’s patterned after, Kaiser has a strong case for the top of the list. Unfortunately I must be objective and instead say he’s a well-written, if largely forgettable one-and-done villain.

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Mad Hatter
  6. Poison Ivy
  7. Catwoman
  8. The Riddler
  9. Clock King
  10. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  11. Killer Croc
  12. Rupert Thorne
  13. Lloyd Ventrix
  14. Josiah Wormwood
  15. Scarecrow
  16. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  17. Tony Zucco
  18. Harley Quinn
  19. Hugo Strange
  20. Red Claw
  21. Arnold Stromwell
  22. Mad Bomber
  23. Man-Bat
  24. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  25. Cameron Kaiser
  26. Kyodai Ken
  27. Penguin
  28. Professor Milo
  29. Sewer King
  30. Boss Biggis

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 on Monday with If Beale Street Could Talk.

Kevin & Jerome’s Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul podcast, Reel Bad, drops new episodes the first Tuesday of each month… that means next week!

Speaking of Jerome (twice), he continues to bring 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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