The Joker In Animation: A Retrospective

Stu

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Hello everyone,

Long time no see. Given the long awaited release of Batman: A Death In The Family short, I thought now would be a good time to look back over the many previous animated appearances of The Joker. The images appear courtesy of The World’s Finest and updates will hopefully appear daily. Enjoy!

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“THE JOKER: You just couldn't let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren't you, huh? You won't kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won't kill you because you're just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

It may not seem poignant to begin a Joker animation retrospective with a quote from the live action The Dark Knight movie, but this line has always stuck with me from the moment I saw said film. With any incarnation of Batman, The Joker will almost certainly follow. There are a few exceptions, such as the 1940s live action serials in which none of Batman’s famed rouges appeared and the underrated Beware The Batman, in most cases, where Batman goes The Joker will follow.

Created in 1940 by Bob Kane, Jerry Richardson and Bill Finger for Batman #1, The Joker was originally intended as one time foe for our dear Dark Knight. His actual origins were disputed by all three alleged creators until the day all three passed, so this is a mystery left to one’s own interpretation. Robinson claimed he intended The Joker to be a lifelong adversely, which was not what Finger was writing for at the time. In those days The Batman killed (when necessary) so recurring villains were not a part of the plan. The real story behind the clown prince of crimes origins will be forever disputed. One thing that cannot be disputed is that The Joker became Batman’s chief villain and has since reappeared in everything Batman related including live action films, television series, toys, video games and the point of this piece, animation.



As this board does not cover anything pre 1992 and my own history of Batman animation from before then is incomplete, the majority of this will be focused post 92. As a youngster my own introduction to The Joker was from a VHS I had of the 1968 Batman animated show. The tape had five episodes with each one spotlighting a villain. The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler and Mr Freeze. I loved the tape as child to the point where I recently discovered the entire show was released on DVD and bought it without hesitation. (Why it’s release escaped me all these years I do not know, Mark Millar of all people alerted me of it's release and off to eBay I went!) This tape was released here in England to capitalise on the ongoing Batmania during the summer of 1989 when Tim Burton’s Batman movie was to be released. I was only 3 years old at the time but I remember Batman being everywhere at the time, TV, cereal, T shirts, toys. If you could put a Batman logo on a product, it would sell. Most of my early, early memories revolve around this film and the hype surrounding the same.

It would probably not be appropriate to go into full detail of the production of Batman 89 here, but it will correctly be remembered as a game changer for cinema. The way the picture was marketed, shot and cast will be always make it stand out among its peers, even now, some 30 years later. The screenplay is not the best, but it is arguable that the set design, score and overall look of the film still play a massive part in how Batman is visualised over 30 years later. It richly deserved its Oscar for Art Direction and I will argue until my dying day that Danny Elfman should’ve won the Oscar for the incredible score, a baffling omission from the Academy, who, after all this time later, still seem unwilling to give superhero movies their just due.

Some of my earliest memories are the Batmania of 1989 and the joy of receiving some of the action figures that were released at the time. The figures themselves were poorly made, frequently broke and looked nothing like Nicholson and Keaton, but three year old Stu thought they were the coolest thing ever. I later learned they were pretty much repaints of the Super Powers toyline, but the true highlight of the line were the awesome Batmobile, Joker van and Batwing vehicles. I still have mine, and despite my young Godson amassing an impressive collection of Batman toys, he won’t be getting my Batmobile. Sorry lad!



For anyone who was alive at the time of the films release who is reading this, I do not need to tell you about the box office success of Batman. It was a film like no other. In hindsight it was baffling that the film was allowed to be as dark as it was, when the majority of the audience thought of Batman as Adam West and it seemed to be an easy win to make a comedy for the kids. After a few years of development hell (this is Warner Bros. and a DC property after all) director Tim Burton was eventually hired following the box office success of Beetlejuce and while various big names were floated around as to who would portray The Joker, including Robin Williams, Jon Lithgow and William Dafoe, Burton admits there was no real choice he wanted other than Jack Nicholson. Nicholson was suggested from the projects origins 10 years earlier from the original treatment from Tom Mankiewicz, the writer of Superman: The Movie. The Joker being the villain of the piece was the obvious choice, to my knowledge, every single script featured The Joker, he was by far the most popular villain among Batman’s various rouges. The Penguin was also considered at one point, but he along with Robin, were removed to be utilised for potential sequels.

Nicholson, arguably revered as Hollywood’s finest actor at this point, managed to negotiate a massive payday for the picture, wisely based on the back end performance, and even a cut of The Joker merchandise. While many are quick to point to the payday as his reason for taking the job, the great man himself admits in the Batman DVD special features;

“To this day I took this job more seriously than probably anybody in the world, because I looked at it that way. My early experience told me from working for an audience full of children... the more you scare them, the more they like it. The worse you are, the better, that was my response to The Joker. After all, this is a hateful occurrence, this man, if you looked at it literally, every kid loves this guy, I believe, and I particularly loved it. Just the name “Joker”, it’s fantastic.”

Indeed, Nicholson has no intention of camping it up and thought the best way to portray his Joker was without limit, but with a tinge of terrifying theatrics and wit. Between this and Pennywise, it is no wonder many children of the late 80s/early 90s are uneasy around clowns. As far as I am concerned he was worth every single penny he was paid for the performance. One can tell that he was very fond of his time playing The Joker based on his interviews in the aforementioned DVD. As an aside, the DVD features for this movie (and the 3 sequels) are tremendous, among the finest special features ever made, if you can get passed irritating fanboy Micheal Ulsan overstating his contributions to final film. I actually upgraded from DVD to Blu Ray for the purpose of this feature and watched them all again. Fascinating stuff. I do long for the days of informative Blu Ray special features, not fluff pieces that are forgotten about as soon as they are watched.

Nicholson is by far the best part of the film and was for many, many years, and arguably still is, the best adaptation of a comic book villain on the big screen. How he did not even receive an Oscar notation says more about how out of touch the Oscars are more than any credible criticism of his portrayal. Nicholson’s casting also gave the film much needed credibility to the general audience and credit must be given for being willing to undergo the make up procedure and flamboyant wardrobe to look like the comic book character, especially when one considers that Nicholson is actually allergic to Spirit Gum, one of the compounds found in basic Hollywood make up. The simple truth is that if Nicholson would have said he wasn’t willing to have his skin painted white, we would not have had a comic accurate Joker on screen. This is the power he wielded. But, he took the role seriously and gave arguably a career best performance. Compare this to say, Marlon Brando for Superman: The Movie who collected an utter ridiculous salary and couldn’t even be bothered to learn his lines for the part. Nicholson gave this film his all at it shows.



Nicholson’s performance overcomes a fairly uneventful script, a weakly written lead in Bruce Wayne and a by the numbers romance (I, for one, did not miss Vicki Vale in the sequel.) The film delves into The Joker’s origin more than Batman’s and the film is better for it. Much of Joker’s backstory is taken from the comics but the movie does not utilise the books famed ‘multiple choice’ origin, instead we see that pre-Joker, he was a the right hand man of the biggest mobster in Gotham, Carl Grissim, before he is double crossed when attempting to destroy evidence linking the mob to Axis chemicals over his affair with Grissim’s woman. While the comics Joker origin is still something of a mystery, here we see an already unhinged Jack Neaper take a dip into a vat of chemicals, which bleached his skin, dyed his hair green and stretched his facial muscles into an ever present grin. There’s no Red Hood story here, not does there need to be. It is rumored that the script beefed up Joker’s role following Nicholson’s casting and the movie is far better for it. I am especially fond of how petty The Joker’s motivation against Batman is;

“Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in where a man DRESSED UP AS A BAT gets all of my press?! This town needs an enema!”

The Joker gets all the best lines and even watching the film over 30+ years later, he still holds up. Batman himself is a different story, but as far as it’s villain goes? Top class. There are certain things I don’t like, such as making the decision to have Joker kill Batman’s parents, having Vicki Vale be part of a love triangle between Wayne and Joker and the stupid scene in which Bruce shields himself with a tea tray from The Joker’s bullet. What would he have done if Napier aimed for his head? There is clearly logic amiss aplenty in the film, but that whole scene just feels oddly out of place, but it did give us the classic line of “Never rub another man’s rhubarb!

The Joker would meet his demise in the movie, which would look to utilise different villains from the comics across its franchise rather than repeat appearances from the villains. Nicholson publicly campaigned to portray the character again and was apparently set to do so via nightmare flashbacks from The Scacrecrow’s fear toxin in the cancelled Batman 5/Triumphant and was rumored to be the villain of a Batman/Superman film in the early 2000s and would’ve returned from a cloning experiment performed by Lex Luthor, but alas it was not to be. When the series was rebooted in 2005 with Batman Begins, all hopes of Nicholson again playing The Joker went out the window.

With Batman 89 the beginning of a long road of great fantastic highs and dismal, horrific lows of Batman on the big screen, the success of the movie ignited interest in Batman on the small screen and Batman was once again a game changer when Batman: The Animated Series aired in September 1992.
 

Stu

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Warner Bros. Animation underwent a renaissance in the early 1990s. With the quality of television animation picking up and Hollywood big shot Steven Spielberg using his considerable clout to actually have animation studios spend money on their product instead of making cheap and cheerful cartoons, Warner Bros. Animation executive Jean MacCurdy announced that Batman would be one of the properties they would be looking to develop as a new animated series to debut just after Summer 1992’s Batman Returns.

News of this peaked the interest of one Bruce Timm, a longtime animation director currently working on WB’s Tiny Toons properties. As he told Vulture;

“It was a fluke. I didn’t have any ambitions to become a director or a producer, and Batman just kind of landed in my lap. I had just gotten done working on the first season of Tiny Toon Adventures when the president of Warner Bros. Animation, Jean MacCurdy, assembled a big meeting. She mentioned some of the properties they were looking at, and one of the ones was Batman. The first Tim Burton movie had come out and it was a big hit. And the minute I heard that, it was like, Pow! That’s what I want to do. So I went back to my desk after the meeting, put all my Tiny Toon stuff to the side, and just started drawing Batman. Within a couple hours, I had this vision of Batman down on paper. It was a new take. Ever since I was a little kid, Batman was always one of my favorite things to draw, but I’d never quite managed to come up with a version of Batman that was completely pleasing to me. Every Batman I had drawn prior to that was always based on somebody else’s Batman. This was the first time I’d ever had a concrete, Bruce Timm–style Batman in my head. It was almost like he was just waiting there to be drawn. So the next time Jean had one of those meetings, I brought my drawings to her and I said, “I was thinking this might be a cool way to go with it.” And she said, “That’s … that’s perfect!”



Hoping to score a job as the lead character designer for the show, MacCurdy put Timm with Eric Randomski, a background designer/painter and commissioned a promo/pilot reel. Timm and Randomski decided to simplify the designs to work to the strength of animation, rather than attempt to add comic book level details to the models that made them much more cumbersome to animate. Taking their inspiration from the Flechiser Superman shorts of the 30s, they crafted a noir look for the reel and ultimately decided the backgrounds should be painted on black paper, rather than white, to extenuate the look of the show. By the time they completed the pilot reel, they were hired as producers despite later freely admitted that they had no idea how to put a full cartoon together.

The duo were later paired with animation veteran Alan Burnett, who sought to bring personality to the characters instead of making the stories about gimmicks or art pieces. Burnett was a replacement for Sean Catherine Dereks, who believed Batman should be a more socially conscious hero for the children in the audience, which clashes with what Timm and Randomski sought.

“In the first few months of pre production, Eric (Radomski, Timm’s co-producer) had serious differences with (Sean). We felt the scripts weren’t reaching the level of sophistication we were aiming for, and she felt that our directors and storyboard artists were taking too many liberties with the scripts – and why should she have to listen to a pair of arrogant, upstart, no-track-record artists anyway?… Certainly, egos were bruised and toes were stepped on.”

Burnett was more in line with what Timm sought and they wanted a dark, noir take on an action adventure show, which would focus on Batman fighting crime in Gotham City filled with wonderfully complex characters.

I spoke to Alan Burnett about this in my interview with him for World’s Finest.

“In the mid-eighties when I worked for Hanna-Barbera I wrote a Batman pilot for a Saturday morning series, which was deemed too adult for kids. My boss at that time was Jean MacCurdy, who later went on to head Warner Bros. Animation and became responsible for Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, and a bunch of hit shows. When Warner Bros. decided to do a Batman animated series, she came to me to be the writer-producer. It took her three lunches to convince me that I could do the Batman show I always wanted to do, so after being away from animation for awhile, I decided to come back.”

As an aside. Alan Burnett? Really cool dude to speak with between interviews. Speaking to him was one of my career highlights from my time as a webmaster/interviewer days back in my old Marvel Animation Age/World’s Finest days.

The episodes were not part of a serialised story, and each episode was treated as a mini movie. An initial order for 65 episodes was made, which was the magic number for syndication at the time. For the longest time it took a minor miracle for an animated show to get past 52 episodes, despite how popular a show might be but, Batman was given the full order, which would essentially keep new episodes following for three years, when Batman 3 would be released in theaters, in theory.

Part of the parcel for pre-production is of course casting, which means we finally get to The Joker. (If you had forgotten this was a Joker retrospective at this point, I forgive you.) High pitched, bumbling, cackling villains were the norm in animation at the time, and Batman sought to avoid that. Casting/Voice Director and all around living legend Andrea Romano sought to cast “voices with character” and looked to stage actors rather than traditional voice over actors.



Tim Curry was originally cast as The Joker and recorded four episodes, which I believe would be Christmas With The Joker, The Last Laugh Be A Clown and Joker’s Favour. Curry advises he lost the role because he suffered bronchitis, whereas the producers felt something was... off with his role as The Joker. Curry apparently wasn’t bad, but wasn’t what Timm and Burnett were looking for. For my research for this piece, I attempted to find audio of Curry’s Joker, but could not. I do distinctly remember Timm bringing a tape with Joker’s Favour to a retrospective panel of his career, but those were the days when smart phones were not present so no recording of said panel exists. A shame, it is something I would’ve liked to hear, for curiosity’s sake.

Enter Mark Hamill. The legend goes that Hamill’s agent contacted Romano and explained Hamill was very keen to play a part in the show. For those not in the know, Hamill is a long time, die hard comic book and Batman fan, dating back to the 60s show. It is rumored that Hamill himself played a hand in getting the Adam West Batman show on Blu Ray a few years ago by supplying Warner Bros. with copies of the episodes which they remastered and released.

Hamill was cast as Ferris Boyle in Heart of Ice and upon completing his recording, asked to play one of the villains in an upcoming episode, feeling he could make for a terrific Two-Face, robust Ra’s Al Guhl or delightful Dr Hugo Strange. He was surprised to be called in to audition for The Joker and apparently felt there was no way he would be cast, as no one would buy the actor who played Luke Skywalker as Batman’s arch nemesis. Upon hearing his interpretation of The Joker’s laugh, he was hired on the spot and redubbed the previously recorded Curry episodes so audiences were none the wiser to any behind the stage recasting. I was always curious about this, as Clive Revell’s original recording as Alfred remained intact on the opening three episodes, where he was later replaced by the late, great Efren Zimbalist. Jr. It was absolutely the right decision to recast. I’ve never heard Curry’s Joker but Mark Hamill is utterly perfect as The Joker. He is utterly flawless in the role. He was hilarious, terrifying and entertaining as hell in the role. When it comes to perfect voice casting, Hamill and Kevin Conroy are the pinnacle. I will never, ever, ever complain when Conroy and Hamill are cast as Batman and The Joker. I remember being actually disgusted when they were recast in Batman: Arkham Origins. Everytime Batman or Joker spoke I remember thinking it just felt wrong... Hamill and Conroy are difficult to replace. (More on that later.) They still remain my favourites despite many actors offering top notch performances since then. In short, this casting was truly God tier.

Design wise, The Joker appeared to be tricky for the animators to pull off, as his appearances varied depending on which animation studio was utilised. It doesn’t appear to be based upon a particular comic book artist but Timm’s own interpretation, as were most of the characters. There is very little Nicholson here, which is quite surprising given how popular he was. The Penguin and Catwoman were not offered the same luxury and visually, their designs were influenced by Danny Devito and Michelle Pfeiffer respectively. I didn’t see this as a bad thing personally, as I thought visually, Burton had a good grasp on the various Batman characters.



All of the traditional Joker trademarks are there, the purple suit, the green hair and white skin. One can immediately tell they are looking at The Joker based on the model. I especially liked the creepy triangle eyes... he just looked like someone who could make you laugh one second and kill you the next.

Speaking of killing... a no go in this show. The show was thankfully allowed to push boundaries far more than any cartoon before it, thanks to an understanding Broadcast Standards and Practises partner in Avery Coburn and a new network in Fox Kids who really wanted to produce quality and created a new demographic for advertisers of 9-14 years, rather than the traditional 2-11 year old toy commercials with shallow attempts at humour. Batman, and later X-Men were allowed to skewer to an older audience. The Joker never killed in the show, but it never really felt like the show was forced to hold back with him, compared to say, Spider-Man: The Animated Series where it was obvious that BS+P weren’t allowing anything remotely violent, which makes action scenes very, very difficult to do.

With pre-production out of the way, Batman: The Animated Series was set to air in September 5th 1992. The Joker was deliberately omitted from the opening episode in order to show that this was not just a knock off of the Burton movie or the 60s television show, but he does appear in the second episode.

The show does not begin with Batman’s origin, nor does it explain exactly how long he has been Batman. While the series would show Batman’s first interactions with Catwoman, The Riddler, The Mad Hatter and various other villains from the comic books, The Joker and The Penguin are already established villains by the time the episodes started airing. I assume this is because essentially, their origins were shown in the live action movies. Catwoman appears to be the exception here, but over the course of the series we do establish that The Joker was indeed dropped into a vat of chemicals and had ties to the mob before his drop in the drink.

The Joker would make his debut in the second episode (production wise, not airdate) in Christmas With The Joker. The episode is not the best by any circumstance, the germ of the idea coming from even ruining Christmas is not off limits for The Joker but the opening few episodes were very much hit and miss as the show found its footing (and story editor). It’s more of a fluff comedy episode than the show typically portrayed but this is understandable... I’m sure most people don’t need dark and dreary entertainment when celebrating Christmas.



The Joker himself is all over the place with his motives and character, some of the episodes are a straight comedy and others are dark, dramatic stuff. It fits perfectly as The Joker is clearly completely crazy and his mood chances with the wind. Whereas The Riddler has a narcissist demand to be proven to be the most intelligent one in the room/city, Two-Face is compelled by chance and Mr Freeze has no care beyond his wife, The Joker’s motivation is simply to entertain himself and nothing is more entertaining to him than his feud with Batman. It also helps that the character is actually humorous, whether it’s a dicey one liner or laughing at his misfortune.

Christmas With The Joker, The Last Laugh and Be A Clown are not great episodes, the show finally found its footing with The Joker for me in Joker’s Favour, which is my favourite Joker episode. The episode is much more of an episode about The Joker and Charlie Collins, an everyday nobody who cussed out The Joker in traffic and offers The Joker a favour in exchange for his life, than it is about Bruce Wayne or Batman. The Joker uses this opportunity to stalk and torment Charlie for two years before finally calling in on his favour asking Charlie;

JOKER: O-Kay, Chaz. When Harley knocks on the door three times you open it.
CHARLIE: And . . . ?
JOKER: That's it!
CHARLIE: Wait. . . That's the favor? You called me here just to open a door?
JOKER: Well, look at the size of the cake, man! She can't open the door and push it in all by herself! Think!!


This is one of my all time favourite Joker moments, and Mark Hamill sells it perfectly. This was also the first Joker episode written by Paul Dini, a writer who I believe gets Joker better than any other, even all these years later. The episode is very notable as it serves as the introduction to one Harley Quinn, who was intended as a one time character to add to The Joker’s gang. The inspiration for the character came from watching Dini’s friend/actress Arleen Sorkin appear as a harlequin on a daytime soap opera and giving The Joker someone to play off. Dini also considered that making Harley actually get more laughs than the ego-maniacal Joker would be a very good comedy foil, and he was certainly right there. The two have dynamite chemistry and Quinn has gone on to be one of DC’s big players. Dini sketched a design for Harley which from the sounds of things, Timm sniggered at before coming up with her famous red and black diamond design, which is still, without question, Harley’s best look. I’ll die on this hill. Harley’s costumes seem to be getting worse and worse, recent Harley Quinn cartoon design aside. (As an aside, if you’re not watching that Harley Quinn show, you bloody well should be.)



Joker would appear in 15 of the shows initial 85 episode run (a further 20 episode were ordered for the second season) including an adaptation of the famed “The Laughing Fish” comic from the 70s in which Batman sums up a The Joker perfectly;

“Normal criminals have logical motives. But The Joker’s insane schemes make sense to him alone.”

The episode also begins a very cool trait of The Joker seemingly dying at the end of an episode and returning a few weeks later good as new. This is never really addressed, but Batman fans are now used to this widely practiced trait. The show is also not strict with its continuity, The Joker will be in and out of Arkham throughout the show so there’s sense in keeping up with whether or not he’s institutionalised or not.

The Joker was frequently used as a background inmate in Arkham and occasionally in villain team up episodes, such as The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne in which he, The Penguin and Two-Face are invited to bid on the secret behind Batman’s secret identity. (Look for a brilliantly simple gag of Joker jumping out of an airplane that’s already landed, it gets me every single time.)

The true highlight of the villains team up in the show (if one can call it that) is Almost Got ‘Im, in which while on the run from the Bat at an establishment of ill repute, Penguin, Ivy, Two-Face and “Croc” share their tales of how they almost “got” Batman until Joker reveals there’s more than one way to 'get' someone and he’s kidnapped Catwoman, unbeknownst that Batman is in their presence, disguised as Croc. It was a perfect way to utilise the majority of the big rouges. The Riddler and Scarecrow are the big absentees but there was only so much time and The Riddler hasn’t actually debuted yet on air, Nygma sadly only has a small presence in the show, classed as a difficult but to crack.



The majority of the Joker segment is done in black and white (as all televisions sets were in Batman: The Animated Series). The final segment of Batman saving Catwoman and apprehending Harley is another brilliant sharp comedy moment as Batman simply shuts down the power on the conveyor belt that was seconds away from cutting kitty up.

While I am resisting the urge to simply review most Joker episodes, I feel I must add that Joker’s Wild has a brilliant set up in Arkham prior to his escape from and is a lot of fun and shows what an utterly massive ego Joker has. Probably the most poignant Joker episode is The Man Who Killed Batman when rumours that Batman has met his demise at the hands of a miserable little nobody, robbing Joker of his final victory over The Dark Knight. It was odd watching a clearly heartbroken Joker instruct Harley to put their loot back when he realised that Batman wasn’t coming to stop him, and a devastated Joker instead focuses his intentions to instead kill the man who killed Batman. This episode also brings us Mark Hamill’s favourite Joker line;

“Without Batman, crime has no punchline.”

The storyboards from The Joker’s eulogy are first rate too, despite his model looking off the entire episode. It was quite clear the different animation studios could not find consistency with The Joker in their episodes, which may explain the simplified model he would receive when the entire cast was designed. More on that later, however.

The Joker (and Batman) also take a back seat in the hilarious Harley and Ivy, which sees Harley attempt to strike out on her own following a job gone wrong before eventually teaming up with Poison Ivy. His ego crushed at the thought of Harley being a better criminal than him, he attempts to steal Harley and Ivy’s loot before all three are apprehended by Batman. His massive ego is on display here and the episode shows what fantastic chemistry Harley has with both Joker and Ivy. Harley is great in this show and there is defiantly something dynamite between Hamill and Arleen Sorkin, Harley Quinn’s original (and in my personal opinion, greatest) voice actor. If you’re a fan of this show, you’ll know... the casting in Batman: The Animated Series was essentially flawless from top to bottom. There is very good reason this show is revered as it is, it’s simply excellent from top to bottom. Despite the advances in technology and audiences become more sophisticated (or networks allowing them to be), there are few shows that stack up to the original Batman: The Animated Series.

This episode begins Harley and Joker’s dysfunctional relationship, which would later turn abusive. This trait continues in Trial, which was a premises originally designed for an animated Batman movie, which later became the outstanding Mask Of The Phantasm. A good old fashioned supervillain team up featuring the cast of Arkham Asylum sees Batman placed on trial by his rouges, with judge Joker proceeding as each of the villains testify against him.

One of the highlights of the episode sees Joker squirm as DA Van Dorn, as she reveals he ratted her out last time she escaped in hope of getting time off. It’s quite clear Joker doesn’t love anybody but himself but Quinn is clearly infatuated with the clown. One of the better Joker/Harley episodes is Harlequinnade, another hilarious Paul Dini masterclass, which sees The Joker steal a bomb and Batman, realising Joker will be at the top of his game, recruits Harley for help in finding and stopping him before he blows up Gotham.

The episode is more comedy than action, but it’s ending sequence sums up Harley and Joker perfectly and it’s perfectly looney tunes in its hilarity.



“Baby, you’re the greatest!”

The final Joker episode of the initial 85 Batman: The Animated Series/The Adventures of Batman and Robin is another comedy caper which again shows off how petty The Joker’s ego. This one doesn’t receive critical acclaim generally that I give it, but it introduces The Condiment King in what may be the shows funniest scene. That gut punch gets me every single time, even the accompanying puns get a laugh.

The episode sees The Joker irate that he has not been crowned the funniest person in Gotham and seeks vengeance on the three celebrity judges who denied him his glory. It’s clearly intended as a comedic episode and Hamill appears to having great fun with his lines... I realise it’s not for everyone, but it’s an episode I’ve always enjoyed.

85 episodes of the show seemed to fly by, and for the life of me I can’t see why Fox Kids did not order another batch of episodes. The ratings did well, the show received massive critical acclaim and you couldn’t move in a store without seeing Batman: The Animated Series merchandise. The first few wave of the toy lines were first rate as the sculpts managed to capture Timm’s designs perfectly before it became an endless repaint of Batman and Robin figures. The show appeared to have a much bigger budget than other animated shows of the era but the success of it was there for all to see.

Said success also lead to the previously mentioned Batman: Mask of The Phantasm.

Next: Harder to kill than a cockroach on steroids.
 

Stu

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The success of Batman: The Animated Series lead to Warner Home Video commissioning a Direct to video feature based upon the show. Producer Bruce Timm originally suggested a team up of the various rouges akin to Batman: The Movie (which later served as the basis for the episode Trial) before Producer Alan Burnett dismissed this idea as he wanted to tell a story about Bruce Wayne’s heart and really get into his head.

The film was in production at the same time as Batman: The Animated Series and was very much a rushed production, from inception to completion in eight months. Considering a 22 minute episode of Batman takes around three and this is over three times this amount, this one appeared to be cranked out at considerable speed.

With Burnett fully aware of this and still having 65 episodes of the television show to work on, his original pitch was divided up among his crew of Batman: The Animated Series story editors, Paul Dini, Michael Reeves and the late Marty Pasko. Each writer worked simultaneously to get the film ready for story boarding and thankfully, Warner Home Video pretty much left them to it.



The film was then storyboard and sent over to Japan and Korea to animate. While Timm and Eric Randomski were in Japan, Warner Home Video casually told them Mask of The Phantasm would receive a theatrical release rather than the direct to video they had planned.

Bruce Timm explained in his Modern Masters interview;

Modern Masters: Well, lets go into Mask of the Phantasm. Originally it was to be a direct-to-video production

Bruce Timm: For all intents and purpose, it was. It got theatrical release as afterthought.

MM: Before you knew it was going to show in theaters, it was being produced to fit the TV format. At what point did you actually find out it would have a theatrical release?

BRUCE: Well, they had been talking about it as a possibility, and they kept going back and forth on it. We ultimately said it probably wasn't going to happen. There weren't a lot of direct-to-videos that got theatrical release. The Aladdin movie was one of few that did, but that was Disney. We just thought, Ah, there's no way Warner Bros. is actually going to release this theatrically. They're just not into it to that degree. Eric Radomski and I were in Japan going over the storyboard with the animators in detail, explaining what we wanted with it, when we got the call from the States that they were definitely going to release it theatrically. It was just oh, man. Because the storyboard was done and were in that 4:3 TV format. It was really late in the production stage we were handing it out to the animators. Now what the hell are we going to do? So I sat there with a piece of paper and an exacto knife and made a little 1.85:1 template and laid it over the storyboard and said, Well, okay, its not going to be that difficult. We had to go shot by shot, laying that template over it. Is the shot going to work? Do we have to make it wider? Do we have to adjust the frame up or down? Most of the shots work without too much tweaking, but it was a nerve-wracking thing to have to do at the last minute.


The film was eventually released on Christmas Day 1993. I’ve no idea if this is a tradition in the States but here in the UK, releasing a movie on Christmas Day guarantees it will flop. I wouldn’t know about Phantasm on the big screen regardless, as it was indeed released direct to video over here in the UK, and I had some trouble even finding the video to buy. The first time I saw Mask of The Phantasm was on terrestrial TV, many years after its release. According to IMDB, the film wasn’t released on video here until July 1995, presumably to tie in with Batman Forever. I remember reading the comic book adaptation long before I ever saw the film, the UK audience clearly wasn’t a concern for Warner Home Video. It still bloody isn’t, but I will spare you another rant about their incompetence for me and my fellow Brits.



It’s still probably the best animated Batman movie for me, although there have been many, many contenders for its title, which we shall soon come to. Its critical acclaim seems to be far reaching for those who have actually seen it. I can honestly only recall ever reading one negative review from Wizard Magazine, who advised it didn’t have enough action or villains to be entertaining... I don’t know what film they were watching but Wizard is out of business now, so there you go.

The film sees Batman framed for murder as Bruce Wayne’s ex-fiancé Andrea Beaumont returns to Gotham after 10 years. As the Velestra mob is killed off one by one, Wayne realises the connection to Andrea’s Father. The majority of the story is told in flashbacks which start before Wayne becomes Batman as he begins having second thoughts about his life as a crime fighter due to his blossoming romance with Andrea.

Unfortunately for Wayne each flashback gets worse when the audience prays it gets better. There a few nods to his future life here as The World of The Future exhibit sees him find the inspiration for the Batmobile and he first discovers the cave that will become the Batcave as he proposes to Andrea.

Of note to this piece, we actually see that The Joker was a member of the Valestra mob and upon realising his old gang is being killed off one by one, Sal Valestra hires The Joker to find and kill whoever is taking them out.

Naturally, Joker kills Valestra and actually figures out its Andrea killing them all before Batman, The World’s Greatest Detective does. This is far more a Bruce Wayne story than a Batman/Joker battle but their best animated fight from this era comes at The World of The Future as the movie is not hindered by the same Broadcast, Standards and Practises of the television show. Bleeding, stabbing and knocking each other’s teeth out was considered to be violent in 1993.



The Joker once again escapes death. In the film, we can chalk this up to the aforementioned Joker dies but turns up later fitter than ever rule but there is a fantastic follow up to Phantasm in Batman and Robin Adventures Annual #1, which shows the events after the movie and Andrea decides to let Joker live. The annual is utterly fantastic and is well worth a purchase for those of you who are fans of the movie.

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm also features what I consider to be Kevin Conroy’s finest ever performance as Batman. There is more demanded of his range here, having to play a younger, happier Wayne and a clearly heartbroken Batman. While I believe the one thing the universe agrees on is that Kevin Conroy is simply sensational as Batman, I don’t think it gets said enough. He is that damn good and then some!

The movies legacy is one of its quality. While never promoted enough to be considered a game changer, it is and even at the time, was considered a far better Batman movie than either of the Burton films. It made its way onto DVD eventually, after which I had no hesitation in snapping it up. As soon as I bought a DVD player I searched “Batman” at the long treasured play.com, saw Mask of The Phantasm and bought it then and there. No searching the aisles for years this time!

Perhaps a final testament to the film is that when it was finally brought to Blu Ray, after years of demand for a Special Edition release, Warner Home Video were that impressed with the sales (you’ll notice a continuing trend there) that they decided to remaster Batman: The Animated Series in its entirety for release on Blu Ray. They would not have gone to such expense if this film did not far exceed expectation. I am not sure why not, as demand for a special edition DVD has been strong for years.

In summary? The best Batman movie ever? It’s certainly a strong, strong contender.

Next: “Something new has been added!”
 

Stu

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With Fox Kids not renewing The Adventures of Batman and Robin past episode 85 and eventually losing the rights to air the show, a new channel in Kids WB! realised a Batman cartoon would be a massive boost to their network. With many of the creative team having moved on from Batman and Robin to Superman: The Animated Series, the decision was made to order new episodes of Batman and pair them with Superman to create The New Batman/Superman Adventures. This would in turn boost Superman’s ratings significantly. As quality as the first season of Superman: The Animated Series was, it was not a ratings smash like the Batman, Spider-Man or X-Men cartoons of the era. This may be due to Kids WB! being a new network and not having the power of Fox Kids at the time, but the addition of Batman helped Superman tremendously, ratings wise.

Part of the order of the new episodes was to feature Batgirl, the theory behind it being that the show would air hot of the heels of the would be successful Batman and Robin theatrical film, which flopped and received a critical battering from audiences and critics and stained Batman’s good name. I can’t recall a franchise that at the time that was given such scathing reviews, people were genuinely angry at the quality of the film, which was worlds away from the Tim Burton film released just 8 years earlier. Clearly the massive boost in merchandise sales from Returns to Forever was the main topic of conversation at the studio, so it became a toy advert disguised as a film. The film was a significant drop in quality from Batman Forever, which is by no means a classic. I’m still baffled as to how something this bad was released, given how big their Batman franchise was at the time. Warner Bros would sadly not learn about releasing terrible, character damaging DC movies but that’s a topic for another time.

Kids WB! sought a Batman show in which he trained younger sidekicks, to lure in the younger demographic that bought action figures. This allowed the show to use a younger Robin and in turn allowed the original Robin to become Nightwing. I can’t say I’m a fan of the team dynamic personally, I prefer my Batman solo but do enjoy Batman and Robin, after that it’s too many characters for me. I do like this shows version of Nightwing but there wasn’t much to Batgirl here. She also lacked any real chemistry with the rest of the team members... I honestly thought she was a far more interesting character in the original show before she became Batgirl, but that’s just me. Three sidekicks instead of one meant screen time had to be shared and the dynamic between Batman and Nightwing seemed to shift from episode to episode. It is forgivable on the writers part, given that they could not trust WB to air the episodes in the correct order so develop would have been all over the place. As a viewer however, it could be seen as jarring.



With the new show came new designs. Producer Bruce Timm believed his new Superman show animated better than the original Batman show and thus decided to revamp the visuals from top to bottom to match Superman. This would freshen up the show up and allow for new merchandising opportunities, which Kenner, the toy company behind The New Batman/Superman Adventures sadly didn’t grasp much. It took them years to even release a show accurate Batgirl and for years locked new characters/figures behind overpriced 4 packs with repaint after repaint thrown in the box. They milked the Batman franchise for all it was worth, it had to be said. Clearly little effort went into any new sculpts, when repainted Batman after repainted Batman sold well for years after the shows cancellation. Hell, DC Direct are still making toys from the show 20+ years later! A trip to the store last night resulted in me seeing a Batman: The Animated Series figure on the shelf, which is astounding given that the show is nearly 30 years old. It's ugly as sin so I didn't buy it, but the point is they are still making merchandise from the show 28 years later!

Continuing with the redesigns, The Joker is not one of my favourites. I believe the attempt was made to simplify his model so it would not be as inconsistent as the original show and to give him something of a grinning skull. It didn’t work for me, the black eyes and lack of red grin somehow made The Joker look more comical than scary. The rest of the suit is fine, but I believe purple and orange would’ve popped more then purple and green. It doesn’t work for me, I thought the original design looked much better, even with its inconsistencies. Some of the pre-production drawings show the character with red lips which worked far better. This was one of the poorer attempts, but I say this as someone who thought the original Batman looked infinitely superior to the revamped show. Thankfully, Mark Hamill returned to voice the character so the casting was still God tier. He has yet to put a poor shift in when it comes to voicing The Joker.

The original idea for Batman’s debut on the new network was to debut this new Batman in a crossover with Superman, which would become The World’s Finest 3 part story. The plot see The Joker and Harley steal a Kryptonite statue and offer their services to Lex Luthor to kill Superman in exchange for $1 billion. When Batman discovers the cash strapped Joker ignored valuables when stealing the Jade Dragon, he deduces that Joker must have stolen it to attempt to kill Superman and as luck would have it, Bruce Wayne is travelling to Metropolis to talk business with Luthor.



The traditional team up is one of the best animated crossovers ever, as the story is given a full three episodes to breath and has an added wrinkle of a Lois Lane/Bruce Wayne romance, which was brilliantly done. TMS animated all three parts and it’s looks exceptional. Joker and Lex have great chemistry as do Batman and Superman and Bruce Wayne and Lois, so the episode fires on all cylinders.

Joker never feels outmatched by both Batman and Superman eventually teaming together and once again we get a Joker death scene that is seemingly impossible to survive, but there he turns up a month later ("It was last month." from Joker's Millions may be one of The New Batman Adventures top lines ever)

As said previously, Worlds Finest is probably the best animated superhero team up either DC or Marvel ever did. This was actually the first time I personally saw The New Batman Adventures Batman as the show never aired over here during the 90s. Even Superman still hasn’t aired past season one, but these episodes were released over here as The Batman/Superman Movie on VHS, featuring what can only be described as a God awful cover. It’s expertly done from top to bottom, the story, the animation, the villains. It’s a much, much better movie than the actual Batman Vs Superman movie that would be released later and laid the groundwork for what would become the larger DCAU.

At time of writing, Superman: The Animated Series is still not available on Blu Ray. Hopefully the sales of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond have convince Warner Archive to release the show on Blu Ray because I would love to see it in HD and the show deserves to be enjoyed in as high quality a format as possible. It seemed to take an age to get the show on DVD, with Warner again surprised at how strong the sales were when it was released in 2006 to tie in with the lousy Superman Returns movie. They had clearly underestimated the audience demand for these DC cartoons on DVD at the time, when the DVD market was soaring.

Back on topic, this ‘new’ version of The Joker of course did not die at the conclusion of World’s Finest and would go on to make many appearances in The New Batman Adventures criminally short run. I admit to much preferring Batman: The Animated Series and The Adventures of Batman and Robin over the new Gotham Knights show, but I did feel it was cut off far too early (more on that later). It seemed the show was barely getting started before it just stopped... not ended, stopped.

Kids WB! Would premier the show with Holiday Knights, an animated adaptation of The Batman Adventures Holiday Special comic book, which does a fine job in showing off numerous characters with their fancy new redesigned models. The show is split up into 3 segments with the last one taking place on New Years Eve and Joker looking to kill everyone in Gotham Square. It’s a lighthearted affair which works well for its Christmas setting... airing it in September is a weird one, especially since it shows a new Robin yet the next episode tells his origin. I would put this one down to an inattentive network error, which again shows why they wouldn’t run a serialised storyline, the airdates would butcher it beyond recognition.



The Joker’s first full fledged episode is Joker’s Millions, which follows on from World’s Finest in that Joker is strapped for cash until he inherits $250 million from King Barlow, his one time rival. After bribing his way to freedom, The Joker legit tries to go straight until he realises Barlow has duped him and only $10 million of his inheritance is real, but he won’t admit this lest he look a fool. The Joker’s vanity is out in full force here. This is a sheer comedy episode, but there’s enough laughs and good stuff here, especially some of the Harley scenes when she realises Joker won’t be buying her way out of Arkham, and her outrage when he replaces her with fake Harley. Mark Hamill also deserves yet another mention for how much fun he appears to be having with The Joker loving life now he is a free, wealthy man and his disdain when his wealth is taken from him. I’ll mention it until you’re sick of hearing it, Hamill is simply in a league of his own when it comes to voicing villains and The Joker is by fair his best role. Having little to no interest in Star Wars, he is best known to me as The Clown Prince of Crime rather than a intergalactic farmer with a shiny stick. A class act.

Joker’s next appearance is actually a flashback in Old Wounds, which explained why the original Batman and Robin split up. He’s nothing more than the background villain of the piece here as the real drama is between Wayne and Grayson, he essentially filled a hole without having to introduce a new villain. It would’ve been nice to see The Riddler, as he was someone who didn’t get much exposure here, but then you have to set up, explain and resolve a riddle when the plot required more brisk of a pace so it’s understandable why Joker was used.

While not part of canon, as it were, one of the better (best?) Joker appearances is in Legends of The Dark Knight in which three annoying kids tell each of what they believe Batman to be, which gave the creative team the excuse to pay tribute to Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Frank Miller.

The first segment features a really, really old school Batman and Robin battle The Joker in a typical 50s Batman story, complete with ludicrously large props, a quippy Batman and Robin and sensationally silly death traps from which the heroes must escape.

Joker is voiced by Michael McKean, who does a fantastic job portraying The Joker like you would expect to hear from an old 50s radio show. It must be said that during this period, Andrea Beaumont simply did not do miscasting. I can’t think of a single incident throughout her 14 year tenure in the DCAU where a voice felt out of place. Mrs Beaumont is revered in her role as casting director and is richly deserving of her many accolades. I sadly never managed to interview her personally through my days as a reporter for this site or Worlds Finest but her presence in the DVD/Blu Ray special features is always a joy to see.



The design is very much a Bill Finger Joker, which looks far better than his actual The New Batman Adventures model. I also like it manages to slid into the frame face first so frequently, which actually reminded me of the old school 68 Batman cartoon. A very similar model would also be used in Batman: The Brave and The Bold, which we will come to later. I loved the look of this segment, which was dark and bold and colourful at the same time. Coloured gel paintings for the win here!

To say The Joker appeared in a quarter of the episodes of this TNBA run, it doesn’t feel like he was over exposed but none of his episodes rank among the top tier sadly. While there are a few top class stories in the revamped series, including Over The Edge, Growing Pains, The Ultimate Thrill and Never Fear none of The Joker episodes are especially memorable, save for perhaps Mad Love, the Harley Quinn origin episode.

I am perhaps alone in saying this, but I always found the comic it was based upon to be superior to the show. I’m not sure if this is because the book is filled with gorgeous Bruce Timm art, or if the episode loses its impact because I already knew what was going to happen in the episode having read the book, I say this as someone who hates spoilers. It delves deeper into The Joker/Harley dynamic/abusive relationship and once again as Harley eventually twigs that she is never going to have her happy life with Joker while Batman is around, so she decides it’s time for Batman to die so she and Mr J can live happily ever after.

"BATMAN: She almost had me, you know. Arms and legs chained, dizzy from the blood rushing to my head. . . I had no way out other than convincing her to call you. I knew your massive ego would never allow anyone else the honor of killing me. Though I have to admit, she came a lot closer than you ever did. . . Puddin'."

The ironic twist is that The Joker is seemingly unwilling to accept that Harley is not only funnier than him, but also perhaps a better supervillian. Batman himself seems to enjoy mocking The Joker about this in the third act.
We also see flashbacks to Harley's time as Dr Quinzell with The Joker manipulating her in her time as an intern at Arkham. This would also be used in the terrible live action Suicide Squad movie, which I’m sure I’ll moan about later.

Another ironic twist is that while Batman chastises Harley for allowing The Joker to manipulate her, he is doing the exact same thing to save his own skin. The line is done with utter perfection by Conway, who Segway’s from an eerie laugh to soul crushing put down “You little fool.”



Naturally, the episodes ends with The Joker seemingly meeting his demise, only to turn up fine at the end of the episode, sending Harley a rose knowing full well she’ll come running back to him. The cycle of abuse continues...

And then that was it. The New Batman Adventures never got its send off, it simply stopped rather than ended. This was due to Jamie Kellner, head of the WB network deciding that Batman was shooting over their precious demographics range and needed to skewer younger. Kellner hung his hat on the WB's big show, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and decided that the network needed a teenage Batman. With Timm, Burnett and Dini initially shocked and angry at the decision to cancel their Batman show that they still felt had legs at an execs whim, Timm came up with the idea of a Batman of the future show off the top of his head and Kellner immediately green lighting the idea before any specifics had been hashed out. “Teenage Batman” was all Kellner needed to hear and it was off to the future we go.

Next: What can you tell me about clowns?
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
A few brief notes to add to your admirable study...

* One of the themes of Mask of the Phantasm is decay and degradation. It's very significant that the Joker lives in the decaying ruins of the World's Fair, which symbolizes the destruction of Bruce and Andrea's happiness, the decay of Gotham, and even the degradation of the Joker himself, who MOTP reveals was once a mob hitman before turning into an even bigger monster. Joker himself therefore becomes a symbol of the ravages of time.

* The Joker tended to become comic relief in The New Batman Adventures, especially in episodes like "Joker's Millions" and "Beware the Creeper," where he's almost completely upstaged by the title character and reduced to a frustrated goofball. This continues a belittling trend that began in the Adventures of Batman & Robin episode "Make 'Em Laugh." Paul Dini was unrivaled at writing Joker episodes that showcased the full spectrum of the Joker's character, but his purely comic episodes tended to diminish the character and deprive him of menace (Dini did not write "Creeper" but he co-produced it).

* I am one of the few people on earth who liked the Joker's TNBA design, but I do admit that it always looked better on model sheets than in motion. And it did lead to the Joker's final DCAU design, which fixed all the problems with the previous designs. I would even say that if the Return of the Joker design had retained the inverted eye colors it would have still worked.

* "The design is very much a Bill Finger Joker." I think you mean "a Dick Sprang" Joker, since the TV design is a dead wringer for Sprang's 40s/50s illustrations of the Joker. Bill Finger's original conception of the Joker was Conrad Veidt's appearance in The Man Who Laughs, but Sprang's version is much more stylized.
 

Neo Ultra Mike

Creeping Shadow of "15000"+ Posts
85 episodes of the show seemed to fly by, and for the life of me I can’t see why Fox Kids did not order another batch of episodes.

Probably because by that point they really couldn't. Remember that by 1995 The WB had officially formed and in the fall of that very year formed the Kids WB Network block. And as obviously Warner Brothers had ownership of all things WB and by nature DC related/affiliated they had by that point were in the process of either moving or rebranding all the things they officially owned AWAY from Fox Kids. Thus why Animaniacs started it's WB run in 1995 and ended its run on Fox Kids. And I think by that point the BTAS were starting up on launching Superman the Animated Series and really only started getting another Batman season off the ground after that which by that point retooled some to be The New Batman Adventures instead of just standard BTAS to reflect the style they were doing with STAS to start creating the DCAU as we know it. Thus yeah Fox Kids wasn't able to and thus likely why the show only had the two season run since they would of probably done more if able but again network change and all made that impossible.
 

Stu

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Relevator said:
* One of the themes of Mask of the Phantasm is decay and degradation. It's very significant that the Joker lives in the decaying ruins of the World's Fair, which symbolizes the destruction of Bruce and Andrea's happiness, the decay of Gotham, and even the degradation of the Joker himself, who MOTP reveals was once a mob hitman before turning into an even bigger monster. Joker himself therefore becomes a symbol of the ravages of time.

I had never noticed that, I must confess. Very clever theme to be added. I did notice that as the story progresses, Bruce, Joker, Andrea, even Reeves, things get worse for each character as the story goes on.

* "The design is very much a Bill Finger Joker." I think you mean "a Dick Sprang" Joker, since the TV design is a dead wringer for Sprang's 40s/50s illustrations of the Joker. Bill Finger's original conception of the Joker was Conrad Veidt's appearance in The Man Who Laughs, but Sprang's version is much more stylized.

Apologies, I did indeed mean Sprang. The original Joker from Batman #1 does bear a striking resemblance to Veidt's character in The Man Who Laughs. I've never seen the film, but the images alone look especially creepy.

Neo Ultra Mike said:
Probably because by that point they really couldn't.

In all honesty, I never even considered that Fox wanted to air more episodes, but couldn't, due to network politics. That makes more sense than simply not buying more episodes because 85 was enough.
 

Stu

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These retrospectives normally cover my own personal reactions/memories to news of upcoming shows and my initial thoughts. Sadly with ITV never airing The New Batman Adventures over here, I had little idea they even made the show beyond the Superman team up. Likewise I had no idea what a “Batman of the Future” was until I was alerted one day that my brother rushed into my room to tell me we were missing Batman. Upon wandering downstairs to the TV I saw a new Batman suit fighting what looked like bad ass stormtroopers and Bruce Wayne as a pensioner sitting in the Batcave. The internet wasn’t a thing in my house at this time and if you missed an episode of a show, tough! Wait for a rerun if they ever bothered showing one. Younger readers maybe baffled to know if we wanted to now what was going to air on TV, you better sit down and read the TV Guide that came with that Saturday morning newspaper, there was no fancy channel on TV to show you.

So after missing all of Rebirth, Part 1 and most of Part 2 of this new Batman show that I had no idea was even in production I waited I tuned in the following week. It will sound odd to people not familiar with how things were in 1998 (1999?) but alas, that’s how I discovered Batman Beyond. By randomly being told it was airing as it was on the TV.

The DCAU was nowhere near the hit in the UK it was in the States. The New Batman Adventures didn’t air until 2002, Superman never aired past episode 13, and I’m still not sure we ever got Batman Beyond season three. Baffling as it is to look back, I went from Batman: The Animated Series/The Adventures of Batman and Robin to Superman season one, Batman Beyond seasons 1 and 2 to Justice League/Justice League Unlimited to The New Batman Adventures to the rest of Superman to Batman Beyond season three. I saw a lot of The New Batman Adventures for the first time playing the lousy Batman: Gotham City Racer game for the original PlayStation.

I feel older than Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond writing this, but alas, the hand that was dealt me.

This is not the place to go over the ins and out of Batman Beyond (or Batman of The Future as it’s know here in the UK.)

The show is (definitely) set in the future, 40 years on from The New Batman Adventures. The creative team has no desire to simply do future versions of the traditional Batman rouges gallery or bring back the old villains, except were it made sense to. This kind of mindset was the opposite of Spider-Man Unlimited, a show that aired around the same time as Beyond, which has Counter Earth versions of Spidey’s rouges and sucked and sucked badly.



The Joker would have his presence felt in future Gotham throughout the shows 52 episode run. While he never actually appearing beyond a ‘Wanted’ poster and what some fans assume to be his corpse in Joyride (which we later learned was not the case), tribute was paid to the Clown Price of Crime in the form of the various Jokerz gangs, a bunch of street punks who terrorise Gotham for a laugh. The main gang appear throughout the shows run, one of whom is voiced by Bruce Timm himself. The rumour is the original cast member Rino Romaro, who would voice Spidey in Spider-Man Unlimited and later Batman himself in The Batman was replaced due to a poor performance, but this is simply rumor and innuendo at this stage.

Various Jokerz gangs would appear in the shows run. Their origins were never explained but they came across as more of a nuisance to the people of Gotham more than anything else, a constant remember of the class war that was hinted at throughout the show.

The designs of the characters were normally well very done. It must be said this is a much better looking show than The New Batman/Superman Adventures with more unique designs that animated better. The backgrounds also looked cool and lush, it has to be said the Gotham City of the future popped, especially in this first season. The cel painted animation looked great before digital colouring became the norm and everything literally looked pale. It would take them years to make the shows look great again with this new method of colouring.

I recently had the opportunity to binge the entire show again thanks to a very welcome complete series release on Blu Ray and the show still holds up tremendously for the most part, with the odd network mandated addition of Max to a lot of the stories in season two. Quite why the network insisted on adding a Mary Sue to a boys action adventure series is a mystery but it became beyond grating and actually shoved Dana, Terrys likeable on/off again girlfriend off to the side further.

While the producers had a self mandated rule not to bring back the old villains unless it made sense (Ra’s Al Guhl, Bane and Mr Freeze all made complete sense) when Warner Home Video came calling asking for a feature length video/DVD for Batman Beyond, the obvious choice was to pit Terry’s Batman against Bruce’s biggest enemy.

Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker was released in December 2000 and March 2001 here in the UK to immediate critical acclaim. The films origins started with Terry obviously facing off against The Joker but also fan demand to find what happened to Robin following the cancellation of The New Batman Adventures. Producers Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, Glem Murakami and Bruce Timm crafted the story and Dini wrote the screenplay and the ever awesome Curt Geda was moved from the television show to direct the feature.

When the film was released here in the UK I remember being throughly entertained. I had never seen this ‘new’ version of Robin and Batgirl before but was aware of Tim Drake from the comic books and was eager to see it. Typically I couldn’t find the video to buy but my brother managed to rent it from (the much missed) Blockbuster while he was at college and had the audacity to not wait until I finished school and watched it without me. I remember him handing me the tape (oh yes, VHS in these days) as if he was still in some form of shock.

The film is very much Terry’s movie as it should be, but it was thrilling to see The New Batman Adventures flashback and it is always and I would say that it is easily the best Batman Beyond story ever told. The animation is produced by TMS and is arguably the best looking piece from the DCAU ever. TMS are still the masters when it comes to TV animation and this is my favourite thing they ever did.




With the decision to bring The Joker back came the return of Mark Hamill and while its (intentionally) toned back, this is the most sinister The Joker has ever been. Hamill is still the best casting for a supervillain voice ever and he continued his unmatched record here. Believe it or not at the time I thought this would be his swan song the clown and was subsequently devastated but what a way to go out! I thankfully was proven to be very wrong in this respect and at time of writing still don’t know if we’ve heard the last of Hamill’s Joker.

The Joker model was redesigned to great effect after TNBA blunder. He has his traditional Joker costume for the flashback and his face is changed to make him look creepier with slightly jagged teeth and evil red pupils. It totally works, The Joker looks a lot more terrifying here. His future redesign is also more apt but far less Jokery than we are used to. A simple black and purple one piece essentially, with shorter hair and black finger nails, it’s very plain but intentionally so and Timm himself remakes in the commentary track that adding any of the traditional Joker gimmicks to it took away from it. Two winning designs in my eyes.

The plot is one I doubt anyone saw coming, with Joker getting tired of his feud with Batman and ultimately deciding its time he won by hitting Batman where it hurts, his family. Kidnapping Robin, he abused and tortured the poor lad before moulding him in own Joker image.



His attempts to have JJ kill Batman are thwarted when Tim resists and we are giving a clumsy death sequence for Joker but even with the edited electrocution death, this one hits hard.

The rest of the film takes place back in the future as Bruce, having seen Joker die with his own eyes investigates how he is still alive and young 40 years later along with knowing Bruce was Batman.

There are many uncomfortable scenes in the film aside from the flashback, with Joker breaking into the Batcave to kill Bruce and ensure he dies with a smile and the follow up with Bruce gasping for breath when Terry provides him with the antidote to his Joker venom. Full props to the ever excellent Kevin Conroy for his performance as old man Wayne here with his creepy laugh as he tries to fight the poison. Speaking of performances, kudos to Will Friedle, who never ever had an off day as Batman. He made Terry so likeable in his first voice over gig. A+ stuff here from Mr Friedle.

We learn that Joker, while he was torturing Robin has his DNA implanted on a microchip and implanted into Drake’s body and he has finally become strong enough to stay as Joker and his grand scheme is classic Joker, he intends to kills thousands by shooting a giant laser from the sky and draw a smiling face over Gotham to let everyone know this is Joker’s town.

Joker is eventually defeated by destroying the microchip on his neck and we get or happy ending with Bruce reuniting with Tim and Barbara and Bruce giving Terry his long awaited “attaboy” for honouring the legacy of Batman.

I loved it, I thought it was so well done. The mystery, the action, the drama, this is still one of the best Direct to DVDs they ever did. The pinnacle of a movie based on animated TV show.



Then I went online to read what others thought and discovered that what was released was a heavily edited version and the people were pissed at Warner Home Video for cutting up with the feature. Timm likened it time "cutting off his own babies fingers" (which is a horrible image you probably have in your head now too) but the higher ups had spoken. Tone it down or we’ll tone it down without you.

Then the unedited version leaked and was making the rounds at conventions, with fans getting ahold of the bootlegged version without Warner Bros. profiting from its sale. With fans demanding Batman on DVD Warner Home Video, a company forever behind the ball with their releases at the time released a string of Batman related DVDs. The first 5 episodes of TAS, Subzero, The Batman/Superman movie, I believe a Superfriends disc and the uncut version of Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker.

While I was irked that a mere 5 episode of Batman were making their way to disc instead of the much clamoured for box set, I was all over the uncut version of ROTJ and wasted no time in double dipping for that bad boy. I’m not sure if the endless barrage of abuse WHV received was the reason they release the uncut film 2 years later, or if the bootleg being released irritated them or if they simply thought it would be an opportune moment with the release of the live action Spider-Man shortly thereafter but it goes without saying, the uncut version is the superior version. It’s a much darker, more violent movie but it really hammers the point home with that flashback scene. While overly violent and bloody DTVs are the norm now, seeing Batman bleed and be stabbed was a shocker back in the day. While most of the cuts seem petty coddling looking back, with every other punch removed the real punch of the whole thing comes in The Joker death sequence which sees the silly electrocution replaced with Tim straight up shooting The Joker. Whereas kids clearly aren’t the main focus of the recent Direct to DVD features, they were WHV’s main market when this movie was released so to see something this violent was shocking to say the least. No punches were held here, this movie was intended to shock it's audience. Although it must be said, despite Jamie Kellnar's initial intention, this is not a kiddies show.



Sadly, the movie did not sell well enough to consider another direct to DVD feature, which is mind boggling considering the quality of it. I imagine the sheer controversy surrounding the film helped WHV decide they didn’t want another trip back to the future with a Batman Beyond release.

Finally, the show just stopped again. Warner’s magic 52 episode number was reached following season three of Batman Beyond and the batsignal was turned off for our dear Terry McGuiness. It would be years before we’d see anything for Batman Beyond again. It seems he was completely forgotten about for a few years until he eventually guest starred in Static Shock and Justice League Unlimited.

Terry recently had his own ongoing comic book cancelled and has made a few appearances here and there in different media, his traditional costume being an DLC for the outstanding Arkham City game and something not remotely close to it being featured in Arkham Knight. I am hopeful he will be one of the promised hidden characters in Gotham Knights with Will Friedle reprising his role, but it is far too early to tell if that will come to fruition. I remain hopeful of a further Direct to Blu Ray feature but nothing has been confined yet.

Thankfully The Joker would not have to wait as long for this next animated appearance and this time he brought his pals with him.

Next: And Injustice For All.
 

Stu

Marvel Animation Age Webmaster
Staff member
Administrator
Reporter
With Batman Beyond and the attempted to revamp it (Batman on Mars?!) cancelled Alan Burnett and Paul Dini sadly stopped producing DC animated projects for reasons I am still not sure for a while. Veteran DC Animation Producer Bruce Timm and newly promoted producer James Tucker pitched a much requested Justice League show to Kids Wb! Kids WB! at this point has been all but consumed with demographic grabbing do gooders, and a demo reel featuring a mixture of adult Justice League members mixed with various sidekicks was produced. This was pitched alongside a Pokemon inspired Batman show which sounded like a complete mess which Timm ultimately decided was so far removed from Batman it really shouldn’t have anything to do with the Dark Knight and WB to their credit agreed and dropped it on the spot.

Kids WB! passed on the Justice League Kids show deeming it too old for their demographic, but Timm later called the head of Cartoon Network, pitched him the show over the phone and got an immediate green light as the story goes. This was a coop at the time, as Cartoon Network only ran reruns of older shows at the time, so getting their own original show was a game changer.

Keen to continue their DC animated universe going, Batman and Superman would return and unite with The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter to form the team. The Flash and a version of Green Lantern had already been introduced in Superman: The Animated Series with audiences being introduced to Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman in the opening episode. A lot of fans cried foul about the lack of Aquaman but I thought it was a decent, diverse roster. At the time I didn’t know enough about the DC Universe to really feel anyone was missing and hadn’t seen most of Superman: The Animated Series to even really know who Aquaman was. From my limited knowledge these were DC’s heavy hitters, having freely confessed I had no idea who Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter were prior to seeing the roster image online. I freely admit at this point I didn’t know anything about Wonder Woman beyond the fact she was female. I couldn’t tell you about her rouges gallery, origin, powers, none of it. I was looking forward to leaning about these ‘new’ characters, the same way I did with my beloved X-Men characters from the awesome 90’s cartoon.



The models were redesigned from The New Batman/Superman Adventures days and not for the better in my opinion. Each character appears to be based on the same mould, so Superman is the same size as former Marine Green Lantern who is the same size as The Flash, the fastest man alive. The animation quality drops a notch too, and the digital colouring made for a very vanilla looking show. Even the backgrounds looked mediocre, which were a long highlight of every DCU show before this one.

Unfortunately the writing wasn’t very strong this season either. With the exception of the opening and closing episodes being 3 part stories, each story was 2 episodes long and suffered for it. It effected the snappy pacing and most episode featured a lot of padding. There was also little in terms of secret identities, there was no Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent to be seen either. It took the team a while to find their chemistry and the episodes tend to have spotlights on one character and have the rest of the team has background players.

I’ve spent an awfully long time writing and not mentioned The Joker thus far, haven’t I? He would appear in Injustice For All, which clearly takes place before “That Night” flashback from Return of The Joker. He uses the same present day model from ROTJ and once again Mark Hamill reprises his role and steals the show here. I imagine recasting Hamill never once crossed anyone’s mind for a single second.

The Injustice For All is easily one of the first seasons better stories, despite it suffering from a slight case of idiot plot and the Ultra Humanite twist not really working.​


There are bits I do like here, Solomon Grundy is used well and it was fun seeing more villains than we are normally afforded but Batman’s suddenly developing telepathy to communicate with J’ohnn who was off world is baffling. Joker is easily the highlight of the episode, despite him barely appearing in the first part. He still has brilliant chemistry with the ever awesome Clancy Brown’s Lex Luthor who finally makes his public heel turn and resorts to his dorky green and purple battle suit from the Superfriends era. It’s a fun episode, despite it not making much sense. At this point, I admit to just being happy to seeing Joker and Luthor back as the villains in the show hadn’t been much to write home about. Here in the UK we actually got the episode in order so the follow up to story, Fury, didn’t air first (Cartoon Network logic for you.)

Speaking of Fury, the Injustice Gang reunite without Joker, which spoiled the story a bit for me, but in hindsight using him here would have been a waste, especially as the show was struggling for great villains.

The Joker would return in Static Shock, to begin the shows many DCAU crossovers. I admit to having little time for the few episodes I’ve seen of the show, essentially because I found the lead character to be annoying. I am not among the general consensus of the show which gathered critical acclaim at the time, but the crossovers seemed to be considered weaker then most episodes.

Batman, Robin and The Joker appear in The Big Leagues, which sees Joker travel to Dakota to recruit Bang Babies for.... reasons. Static always seemed like a show that was trying too hard to be cool for me, but then again I was long past the shows key demographic by the time I saw it. I seemed to believe that they dragged Batman down to Static’s level rather than being Static up to Batman’s, a tell tale sign of a poor crossover.

The same ROTJ/JL Joker model is used and it’s always awesome to hear Conroy and Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and Joker but yeah.... don’t go out of your track this one down.

Alas, The Joker’s next DCAU appearance would be his swan song. Justice League improved exponentially in season two with better animation, much deeper writing and more a more interesting dynamic between the characters. While there was no drastic revamp yet, the difference between seasons one and two are like night and day. With Covid 19 essentially giving me good reason to update my DC DVD collection to Blu Ray, I admit I never bothered buying the first season of Justice League, but happily parted with my coin for season two and the even better Justice League Unlimited.


Wild Cards sees The Joker plant several bombs in Vegas for the Justice League to find and defuse. The episode has a unique twist in that the countdown sequence plays out in real time, which must have been an absolute nightmare to edit, but works perfectly. It has an added twist of an incredible stunt casting in bringing in the Teen Titans to voice the original Royal Flush Gang (Batman Beyond represent yo!)

One can tell Hamill is really enjoying himself as Joker provides running commentary on the Leagues attempts to defuse his many bombs with various put downs (the “Stupidman” line is a low key classic). Wild Cards also sees a welcome return of Harley Quinn and further demonstrates their abusive relationship as Joker’s plan is foiled when Harley leads Batman right to his location. There is even male on female violence which I’m pretty certain wouldn’t make its way onto network TV now.

Wild Cards is one of the few stories that really felt like it needed two parts to tell, there’s a lot going on here but the countdown sequence gives it a much quicker pace and the cliffhanger does a lot to set up the Green Lantern/Hawkgirl romance which has been budding since the Legends episode of season one.

Sadly for Joker fans, this would be his last appearance in the DCAU. Justice League ended shortly after this episode and Paul Levitz, the big cheese at DC Comics forbade Batman characters from appearing in the follow up Justice League Unlimited, as he felt they should be exclusive to The Batman, a new show not connected to the DCAU. It seemed a horrible time to exclude The Joker from appearing as season three featured the Justice League facing off against The Legion of Doom, although DC Comics ixnayed the name The Legion of Doom for respond I can only assume are petty.

Joker was confirmed to make a cameo in This Little Piggy by writer Paul Dini which would see he and Harley commit a robbery only to return their loot as Batman ignores them to focus his attention on turning Wonder Woman human agains following her unfortunate metamorphosis into a pig in one of the shows more fun episodes. Alas The Batman embargo curtained this.

Once again fans were left with the sad realisation that we’d heard Mark Hamill’s final performance as The Joker. This would turn out not to be the case, but we would have to see how a new Joker would fair on TV.

Next: Bring on The Batman.
 

Revelator

Loathsome spotted reptile
"Wild Cards" is an excellent episode, but I still have problems with the idea of Joker being driven "insane" by Ace. To be fair, from a realistic perspective the Joker is more sane than insane, since he knows what he's doing is wrong. But he is also so disturbed and consumed by evil that I doubt anything Ace did to him could work.

Unrelated observation on the DCAU, prompted by reading your posts: groundbreaking work is often done only a when a big corporation is willing to take risks when exploring a new field. BTAS got lucky because Fox was entering cartoon production and didn't have a preconceived formula or expectations. But just a few years later Fox tried to water down BTAS's darkness by asking for more supervillains and demanding Robin's presence in every episode.

Then Kids WB started up, and since Warner Brothers was just starting its own network it gave TNBA more freedom from censorhsip than at Fox (though this came with several stipulations regarding Batman's sidekicks). But once again as the corporation consolidated it became more restrictive--WB decided it wanted a teenage Batman, and pressure to produce Batman Beyond meant the end of TNBA. BBeyond managed to stave off the executives for one season by giving them a teenage Batman, but in the second season the executives meddled yet again, imposing Max and more teenage storylines.

Eventually the network ossified to the point of not wanting Batman at all. Fortunately Cartoon Network was entering cartoon production at this time and willing to take risks. It's not coincidental that Mike Lazzo, the executive who welcomed Justice League, was the same one who presided over the creation of Adult Swim. But once again, after the network found a formula it lost its nerve. Cartoon Network developed an allergy toward serious action cartoons and wanted comedic fantasy instead. Hence Teen Titans Go! and the short-lived Justice League Action.

The DCAU would not have happened if not for the right timing. It took advantage of three networks at times when they were receptive to innovative, risk-taking programs. And its shows all ended when those networks found their preferred formulas and rid themselves of shows that thought outside the box.
 

Spideyzilla

Wakanda Forever
Staff member
Moderator
Excellent stuff, Stu. I definitely missed these. Do you have any details on the Pokemon inspired Batman show? I've never heard of it but it sounds.... interesting.
 

GrantM

Well-Known Member
With Batman Beyond and the attempted to revamp it (Batman on Mars?!) cancelled Alan Burnett and Paul Dini sadly stopped producing DC animated projects for reasons I am still not sure for a while. Veteran DC Animation Producer Bruce Timm and newly promoted producer James Tucker pitched a much requested Justice League show to Kids Wb! Kids WB! at this point has been all but consumed with demographic grabbing do gooders, and a demo reel featuring a mixture of adult Justice League members mixed with various sidekicks was produced. This was pitched alongside a Pokemon inspired Batman show which sounded like a complete mess which Timm ultimately decided was so far removed from Batman it really shouldn’t have anything to do with the Dark Knight and WB to their credit agreed and dropped it on the spot.

Kids WB! passed on the Justice League Kids show deeming it too old for their demographic, but Timm later called the head of Cartoon Network, pitched him the show over the phone and got an immediate green light as the story goes. This was a coop at the time, as Cartoon Network only ran reruns of older shows at the time, so getting their own original show was a game changer.

Keen to continue their DC animated universe going, Batman and Superman would return and unite with The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter to form the team. The Flash and a version of Green Lantern had already been introduced in Superman: The Animated Series with audiences being introduced to Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman in the opening episode. A lot of fans cried foul about the lack of Aquaman but I thought it was a decent, diverse roster. At the time I didn’t know enough about the DC Universe to really feel anyone was missing and hadn’t seen most of Superman: The Animated Series to even really know who Aquaman was. From my limited knowledge these were DC’s heavy hitters, having freely confessed I had no idea who Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter were prior to seeing the roster image online. I freely admit at this point I didn’t know anything about Wonder Woman beyond the fact she was female. I couldn’t tell you about her rouges gallery, origin, powers, none of it. I was looking forward to leaning about these ‘new’ characters, the same way I did with my beloved X-Men characters from the awesome 90’s cartoon.



The models were redesigned from The New Batman/Superman Adventures days and not for the better in my opinion. Each character appears to be based on the same mould, so Superman is the same size as former Marine Green Lantern who is the same size as The Flash, the fastest man alive. The animation quality drops a notch too, and the digital colouring made for a very vanilla looking show. Even the backgrounds looked mediocre, which were a long highlight of every DCU show before this one.

Unfortunately the writing wasn’t very strong this season either. With the exception of the opening and closing episodes being 3 part stories, each story was 2 episodes long and suffered for it. It effected the snappy pacing and most episode featured a lot of padding. There was also little in terms of secret identities, there was no Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent to be seen either. It took the team a while to find their chemistry and the episodes tend to have spotlights on one character and have the rest of the team has background players.

I’ve spent an awfully long time writing and not mentioned The Joker thus far, haven’t I? He would appear in Injustice For All, which clearly takes place before “That Night” flashback from Return of The Joker. He uses the same present day model from ROTJ and once again Mark Hamill reprises his role and steals the show here. I imagine recasting Hamill never once crossed anyone’s mind for a single second.

The Injustice For All is easily one of the first seasons better stories, despite it suffering from a slight case of idiot plot and the Ultra Humanite twist not really working.​


There are bits I do like here, Solomon Grundy is used well and it was fun seeing more villains than we are normally afforded but Batman’s suddenly developing telepathy to communicate with J’ohnn who was off world is baffling. Joker is easily the highlight of the episode, despite him barely appearing in the first part. He still has brilliant chemistry with the ever awesome Clancy Brown’s Lex Luthor who finally makes his public heel turn and resorts to his dorky green and purple battle suit from the Superfriends era. It’s a fun episode, despite it not making much sense. At this point, I admit to just being happy to seeing Joker and Luthor back as the villains in the show hadn’t been much to write home about. Here in the UK we actually got the episode in order so the follow up to story, Fury, didn’t air first (Cartoon Network logic for you.)

Speaking of Fury, the Injustice Gang reunite without Joker, which spoiled the story a bit for me, but in hindsight using him here would have been a waste, especially as the show was struggling for great villains.

The Joker would return in Static Shock, to begin the shows many DCAU crossovers. I admit to having little time for the few episodes I’ve seen of the show, essentially because I found the lead character to be annoying. I am not among the general consensus of the show which gathered critical acclaim at the time, but the crossovers seemed to be considered weaker then most episodes.

Batman, Robin and The Joker appear in The Big Leagues, which sees Joker travel to Dakota to recruit Bang Babies for.... reasons. Static always seemed like a show that was trying too hard to be cool for me, but then again I was long past the shows key demographic by the time I saw it. I seemed to believe that they dragged Batman down to Static’s level rather than being Static up to Batman’s, a tell tale sign of a poor crossover.

The same ROTJ/JL Joker model is used and it’s always awesome to hear Conroy and Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and Joker but yeah.... don’t go out of your track this one down.

Alas, The Joker’s next DCAU appearance would be his swan song. Justice League improved exponentially in season two with better animation, much deeper writing and more a more interesting dynamic between the characters. While there was no drastic revamp yet, the difference between seasons one and two are like night and day. With Covid 19 essentially giving me good reason to update my DC DVD collection to Blu Ray, I admit I never bothered buying the first season of Justice League, but happily parted with my coin for season two and the even better Justice League Unlimited.


Wild Cards sees The Joker plant several bombs in Vegas for the Justice League to find and defuse. The episode has a unique twist in that the countdown sequence plays out in real time, which must have been an absolute nightmare to edit, but works perfectly. It has an added twist of an incredible stunt casting in bringing in the Teen Titans to voice the original Royal Flush Gang (Batman Beyond represent yo!)

One can tell Hamill is really enjoying himself as Joker provides running commentary on the Leagues attempts to defuse his many bombs with various put downs (the “Stupidman” line is a low key classic). Wild Cards also sees a welcome return of Harley Quinn and further demonstrates their abusive relationship as Joker’s plan is foiled when Harley leads Batman right to his location. There is even male on female violence which I’m pretty certain wouldn’t make its way onto network TV now.

Wild Cards is one of the few stories that really felt like it needed two parts to tell, there’s a lot going on here but the countdown sequence gives it a much quicker pace and the cliffhanger does a lot to set up the Green Lantern/Hawkgirl romance which has been budding since the Legends episode of season one.

Sadly for Joker fans, this would be his last appearance in the DCAU. Justice League ended shortly after this episode and Paul Levitz, the big cheese at DC Comics forbade Batman characters from appearing in the follow up Justice League Unlimited, as he felt they should be exclusive to The Batman, a new show not connected to the DCAU. It seemed a horrible time to exclude The Joker from appearing as season three featured the Justice League facing off against The Legion of Doom, although DC Comics ixnayed the name The Legion of Doom for respond I can only assume are petty.

Joker was confirmed to make a cameo in This Little Piggy by writer Paul Dini which would see he and Harley commit a robbery only to return their loot as Batman ignores them to focus his attention on turning Wonder Woman human agains following her unfortunate metamorphosis into a pig in one of the shows more fun episodes. Alas The Batman embargo curtained this.

Once again fans were left with the sad realisation that we’d heard Mark Hamill’s final performance as The Joker. This would turn out not to be the case, but we would have to see how a new Joker would fair on TV.

Next: Bring on The Batman.
Wait what, the main 5 Teen Titans (and later TTG) voice cast members show up in JL Unlimited!?!.........first I knew of that!
 

Yojimbo

Yes, have some.
Staff member
Moderator
Wait what, the main 5 Teen Titans (and later TTG) voice cast members show up in JL Unlimited!?!.........first I knew of that!
No, the main 5 Teen Titans do not appear in JLU. Though the DCAU version of Speedy did in "Patriot Act" and he was voiced by the same actor as in TT. There was talk of a crossover in Justice League but it never happened. The five main cast members voiced the Royal Flush Gang in Justice League season 2's "Wild Cards".
 

ShadowStar

Member
No, the main 5 Teen Titans do not appear in JLU. Though the DCAU version of Speedy did in "Patriot Act" and he was voiced by the same actor as in TT. There was talk of a crossover in Justice League but it never happened. The five main cast members voiced the Royal Flush Gang in Justice League season 2's "Wild Cards".
Just to elaborate further, Scott Menville (Robin) voiced King, Hynden Walch (Starfire) voiced Ace, Tara Strong (Raven) voiced Queen, Khary Payton (Cyborg) voiced Ten and Greg Cipes (Beast Boy) voiced Jack.

I love "Wild Cards" -- it's a nice last hurrah for DCAU Joker. Too bad we didn't get to see him in JLU, but I really enjoyed this Las Vegas caper.
 

Yojimbo

Yes, have some.
Staff member
Moderator
And it's nice we continue to have Hamill reprise Joker in other continuities like Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?, Robot Chicken, some LEGO projects, Justice league Action, the Arkham games, or the Killling Joker DTV. But instead of Hamill completely dominating the role, I think we've gotten some comparable or at least entertaining new interpretations by other actors in the past 16 years in addition to Hamill coming back to it off and on.

Now that I think about, the first time I saw the Joker in animation were those Scooby-Doo movies from the 70s. Larry Storch did that one I believe. Then it was Hamill in BTAS in 92.
 
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GrantM

Well-Known Member
And it's nice we continue to have Hamill reprise Joker in other continuities like Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?, Robot Chicken, some LEGO projects, Justice league Action, the Arkham games, or the Killling Joker DTV. But instead of Hamill completely dominating the role, I think we've gotten some comparable or at least entertaining new interpretations by other actors in the past 16 years in addition to Hamill coming back to it off and on.

Now that I think about, the first time I saw the Joker in animation were those Scooby-Doo movies from the 70s. Larry Storch did that one I believe. Then it was Hamill in BTAS in 92.
He's 69 now and while it's impressive he can still do thee Joker voice, honestly I don't know how much he has left in him. At the very least I've ben holding out for him showing up in Teen Titans Go (come on!, you know that would be freaking amazing!)
 

Pfeiffer-Pfan

Cool Rider
You can definitely hear the aging in Hamill's voice these days, but I thought that worked particularly well for the Arkham games and The Killing Joke (with a more sadistic streak shining through). Perhaps a little less so for Justice League Action and Scooby Doo and Guess Who?. Despite that, I'll take as much Hamill and Conroy as I can get in the next few years as I feel their job opportunities with these characters are now dwindling.
 

Stu

Marvel Animation Age Webmaster
Staff member
Administrator
Reporter
Relevator said:
Unrelated observation on the DCAU, prompted by reading your posts: groundbreaking work is often done only a when a big corporation is willing to take risks when exploring a new field. BTAS got lucky because Fox was entering cartoon production and didn't have a preconceived formula or expectations. But just a few years later Fox tried to water down BTAS's darkness by asking for more supervillains and demanding Robin's presence in every episode.

Then Kids WB started up, and since Warner Brothers was just starting its own network it gave TNBA more freedom from censorhsip than at Fox (though this came with several stipulations regarding Batman's sidekicks). But once again as the corporation consolidated it became more restrictive--WB decided it wanted a teenage Batman, and pressure to produce Batman Beyond meant the end of TNBA. BBeyond managed to stave off the executives for one season by giving them a teenage Batman, but in the second season the executives meddled yet again, imposing Max and more teenage storylines.

Eventually the network ossified to the point of not wanting Batman at all. Fortunately Cartoon Network was entering cartoon production at this time and willing to take risks. It's not coincidental that Mike Lazzo, the executive who welcomed Justice League, was the same one who presided over the creation of Adult Swim. But once again, after the network found a formula it lost its nerve. Cartoon Network developed an allergy toward serious action cartoons and wanted comedic fantasy instead. Hence Teen Titans Go! and the short-lived Justice League Action.

The DCAU would not have happened if not for the right timing. It took advantage of three networks at times when they were receptive to innovative, risk-taking programs. And its shows all ended when those networks found their preferred formulas and rid themselves of shows that thought outside the box.

How very true. Such initiative from the networks are sorely missed these days. Shows such as Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man would not have existed if Fox Kids did not allow them to push the traditional boundaries, especially Batman.

GrantM said:
Wait what, the main 5 Teen Titans (and later TTG) voice cast members show up in JL Unlimited!?!.........first I knew of that!

Apologies, as ShadowStar and Yojimbo advise, the Teen Titans voice actors play the various members of The Royal Flush Gang in Wild Cards.
 

Stu

Marvel Animation Age Webmaster
Staff member
Administrator
Reporter
With Warner Bros. seeing the amount of cold hard cash Marvel where making and the critical acclaim they received from (some of) their live action movies, Warner’s finally decided to do something with their vast library of DC Comic characters by rebooting their Batman and Superman franchises.

DCs live action films have been mismanaged for a comically long time now, with most of their efforts being pretty poor, if they ever get passed pre-production. Their next big movie seems to be based upon The Flash, which was originally announced in 2002, and hasn’t begun filming yet. It is clear that the studio cannot effectively plan all of the movies they intend to make, and seem to greatly enjoying green lighting a ludicrous amount of live action movies that they know full well will never get made. Nightwing, The Doom Patrol, Cyborg, Supermax, The Green Lantern Corps, Batgirl, Supergirl... I could go on and on, but you get the point. It's embarrassing.

Things finally started moving on the Batman front in 2003 when Indy filmmaker Christopher Nolan was among the many filmmakers to accept Warner’s invitation to pitch their Batman film. Seeking a psychologically thrilling yet grounded take on the caped crusader, the hype for Nolan’s Batman was relatively underwhelming before its release. The trailers suggested to me that Warner’s were still afraid of a live action superhero film following their richly deserved ridicule of Batman and Robin. It is still quite clear 15 years later that they have no idea what to do with their superhero films, despite it being the most popular genre of cinema at time of writing.

But I digress. Even with an impressive looking cast, I remember being cautious regarding my expectations for the film as I was fully expecting a half arsed Batman, something barely resembling the character I loved. I fully admit to being wrong, Batman Begins is still a masterpiece of cinema all these years later and it’s legacy is still understated. It was the original reboot, which showed that audiences would happily go see a remade version of a film/character regardless of how well the last movie performed. It’s inspiration is clear to see in many of the big franchises, including Bond, Spider-Man even the original Iron Man movie.

Warner Bros. Animation took a different direction with their animated Batman effort. Normally the new show comes the fall after the summer movie release, but WBA had their new Batman show ready for fall 2004 on Kids WB! However, executive producer Sam Register flat out told the audience at San Diego Comic Con that the show was aimed at the 4-11 market who buy toys, and that the characters would not be psychologically developed. Quite why he admitted that to the audience he was in front of showed that he really didn’t care about making a decent quality show that they would enjoy, he just wanted something to sell toys, is still a mystery. This is not a good opening statement from the executive producer.

I fully understand that children are the shows primary audience, but I don’t believe that they should be the only audience for the show. It takes talent to write for a children’s animation show and appeal to an older audience, but the rest of the DCAU shows and the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons of the 90’s pulled this off. If you wonder why cartoons have essentially digressed into doodle based crap of late, I imagine Sam Register is one of the big reasons why.

I was one of the few people looking forward to show before it premiered, as most of the posters on this forum were ready to hate it before it even aired. News of Rino Romano being cast as Batman was not welcomed by me, I thought he was a lousy Spider-Man and didn’t think he would be able to pull off a convincing Batman. I was right.

As far as the crew behind the show went, I had no idea knowledge of Duane Cappizi or Jeff Matsuda but I did like the brief images we saw of the designs. Not enough was shown but they looked interesting without being a simple Bruce Timm clone. The only one I didn’t like the look of was The Joker, who looked like a homeless Jamaican in a jumper that was too big for him. I wasn’t sure what they were attempting with him, but thought I would reserve judgment until I saw him in action. He was also given no shoes and is now a marital artist/acrobat, in what Matsuda explains was an attempt for him to match toe to toe with Batman rather than frequently relying on goons. I see his point. The Penguin would also flip and fly in the fight scenes, despite both of them actually receiving respective goons in Punch and Judy and... whatever those pink people with the claws for fingers were called who worked for Penguin.

The pitch of the show was to see The Batman in his early days in a villain of the week affair meeting his rouges gallery for the first time. A reasonable pitch as we were 12 years removed from Batman: The Animated Series at this point and an entire new generation of kids now had their Batman show to watch.

I was actually given early access to the show to review for Toon Zone News before the show premiered. The premiere, The Bat In The Belfry actually introduces The Joker also, so not only did I get to see a new cartoon featuring one of my favourite characters, I got to see my favourite villain too.

The episode was absolutely bloody terrible.

There’s no getting around it, visually the show was well staged, the animation is superlative and well put together, but the writing was pitiful, there was no scope to the story, the dialogue was cringe and there was little in terms of plot. It was demographic grabbing junk from beginning to end, with little to no creativity added. The episode was little more than a 22 minute toy advert, and it wasn’t a good one. I realise most cartoons are fodder for toy adverts, this was the most blatant I’ve ever seen. There was no substance to the show, this was a cartoon in which it was quite clear the network and toy executives ran roughshot, any attempt to give depth to the characters was sidetracked to promote something which would could be purchased from the toy shelf.

Joker would debut in the first episode. His design is... I still don’t know. He is given a ridiculously long sleeved jumper which I believe was intended to look like a straight jacket and has no shoes... it doesn’t look like a traditional Joker design and the massive teeth and bright red eyes don’t really. It’s not scary or funny, it’s just odd. His backstory is not developed, he just turns up as a random nuisance and there’s no dip in the vat of chemicals shown here. It also has to be said that there is absolutely no chemistry between Batman and Joker here, over the course of the 65 episode of the shoe, Joker is simply a villain who turns up far too frequently. Both he and Penguin felt massively overexposed through the course of the show, which again, I believe to be from executives who consider them to be Batman’s biggest villains, probably because they grew up on the 66 Batman television show.

Kevin Michael Richardson is cast as Joker here. The casting for most of the show was pretty lousy for the first three seasons until a much needed behind the scenes clear out occurred. I’ve normally got a lot of time for Richardson who I’ve never heard phone in a performance but I don’t think he fits Joker. It also doesn’t help that he has terrible dialogue to work with, and his jokes are simply never funny. This version of Joker is more irritating than scary or funny. It’s a waste.

New villains would be introduced as the weeks past, some better than others. Most of them were utterly forgettable. Joker would appear in three episodes this opening season, with The Rubberface of Comedy being the catalyst for a villain they actually took the time to establish.

Detectives Yin and Ellen were incredibly two dimensional before the final story of the season, and Joker’s putty eventually turning Bennett into Clayface. It was a cut above anything else the season had shown so far in that it made an attempt to make one genuinely care about the characters. These two episodes were written by Greg Weisman of Gargoyles fame. Take note of this, as Weisman inevitably serves as the shows best writer. I do not know if he pitched himself as the story editor before being hired as a freelancer, but if he did, WBA made a foolish mistake in not hiring him.

Season two did improve the show. One’s expectations were obviously lower but the frustrating thing was the show could be viewed on a case by case basis. One episode might be terrible, and the following perfectly watchable. Joker would appear in 5 of the 13 episodes in season two, which is still far too many but they were of better quality than the first season. He was also given a brief redesign, with his famous purple jacket and orange shirt. This is only a minor tweak, but is a massive improvement.

The Laughing Bat actually sees Joker impersonate Batman, but in an actual Joker style twist, beat and capture criminal for minor misdemeanours, such as having 11 items in a 10 item only lane. The highlight of the episode is the Tim Sale inspired design for Batjoker. Michael Jelenic scripts this one, and does a fine job. I truly believe this show suffered from a mediocre story editor over and what feels like constant network interference, as many of the writers produced great work on other shows.

Meltdown is a Clayface follow up from the first season and is a cut about the shows average. I never got into Bennett or Yin pre-transformation, I thought they were just dull. Chief Romas was incredibly, irritatingly two dimensional also, which along with an off putting Alfred meant the show had literally no interesting supporting characters (apart from the soft hearted Mayor, it’s simply too hard to dislike a character voiced by the late, great Adam West!)

The greatest episode of the season is Strange Minds, which actually attempts to develop both Batman and Joker’s characters with Batman actually travelling into Joker’s mind to retrieve the location of Yin. It also further develop Professor Hugo Strange, who was a far more interesting character than Joker.

It felt bloody weird typing that, but even with a few good episodes in tow, I felt like this version of Joker was simply overexposed and offered little to nothing new each time he appeared. Again, there is no chemistry here but this is not just a Joker problem, Penguin, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze... none of the villains are especially memorable and most are downright annoying. Strange, Ragdoll and The Riddler are the only ones I wanted to see more of. For a character with a rouges gallery as strong as Batman, it felt odd to see them come across as so bland an uninteresting.

Credit to the show however, season two was a definite improvement over season one. Sure it was a case by case basis, but it went from being a complete waste of 22 minutes of your time to sometimes being worth it, and sometimes it not.

Season three however... ouch. Some genius network executive decided that more girls needed to watch a boys action figure commercial and decided that season three was to introduce Batgirl, in hopes of her potentially landing her own spin off. Why a girl would be interested in watching what was essentially a boys toy advert, or the young boys who were the core target of the show would appreciate a girl crashing into their Batman show was a complete mystery.

The two part opener, Batgirl Begins (I see what they did there!) does a fine job introducing Batgirl... it’s a shame the rest of the season insists on shoving her down the viewers throat. Sadly for our boy Joker, all of his appearances here are not worth seeing, and nothing new is added. Same old stuff once again.

Thankfully, for season four, much needed changes were afoot behind the scenes. Michael Jelenic became the shows story editor and Andrea Romana took over voice directing duties (the change in this regard is dramatic, she managed to get so much more out of the existing cast, performance wise). With the planned Batgirl spin off now cancelled the character was still featured, but not shoved down the audiences throat at every available opportunity. She became far more likeable. This season also finally brought us Robin, who changed the dynamic of the show so much one must consider how much better the show would have been if it had been The Batman and Robin from the beginning. With Teen Titans airing at the time, Robin was not allowed to be in two separate shows at once (thank you once again, Paul Levitz.)

The show improved so much in this season, it was actually worth watching on a full time basis. It actually aired here in the UK before the States, sadly without the opening prologues (never underestimate Cartoon Network UK’s staggering incompetence) so in an utterly refreshing change of pace, I had absolutely no idea who was going to be appearing until I sat down and watched the show. Ah, the simple joys of spoiler free days!



The Joker would play a much smaller role in this season than any previous ones, but his finest appearance in the show comes with Two of A Kind, which finally introduces Harley Quinn. The characters co creator Paul Dini scripts this one and it offers a new take on Harley’s origin and is full of fun, Hyden Walch is an excellent Quinn and this version of Joker and Harley actually have great chemistry together. I also believe that this episode has Richardson’s finest performance as Joker and he gets his best line in the shows run;

“Pop psychology at its worst. That girls theories are unfounded, her professional manner is a joke, her training, if any, is shoddy at best! I love this show!”

This shows version of Harley is much better than this shows version of Joker, it must be said. The episode would’ve actually made for a fitting finale for Joker, but he did male a few more pointless appearances in the rest of the shows run, most of which simply weren’t very good beyond Rumours.

Season five sadly devolved into a toy advert, this time having team ups with various Justice League members. 8 out of 13 of the seasons episodes were team ups, which is far too many to do in such a short amount of time. The Superman team up was decent and Green Arrow was fine but a lot of work would need doing to make a team up show not feel stale after a short time. Thankfully wiser heads prevailed and a new Batman team up show was pitched rather than attempting to spin this off into something else but we shall come to that.

To try and end this post on a positive note, Joker also appears in the Direct to DVD feature The Batman Vs Dracula. While even at the time of its release in 2005 most people were sick of seeing these versions of Joker and Penguin, but this film is fondly remembered as the best The Batman ever was. It has a mood to it that fit perfectly with its Halloween release date, and sees Batman actually pitted against a worthy adversary in Dracula. The problems with the film are minimal and it attempts to skew slightly higher than the television show and it actually attempts to do something with Bruce Wayne beyond making bad jokes with Alfred by giving him a love interest in Vicki Vale. Vale was a welcome edition to help humanise and add something to Wayne, who sadly offered nothing throughout the shows 65 episode run.

Vampire Joker was a very cool visual here, and with his superior strength and apparent ability to stick to walls, it made for some terrific fight scenes, especially the one in the blood bank.

Overall, I have to say I think this show sadly did a poor job with Joker, and most of the villains for that matter. I realise I am not the creators intended audience, and even 16 years ago when the show debuted, I was long past their target demographic. It’s clear that it was intended as little more than an advert to sell action figures. As soon as those figures fled the shelves, the show seem to fade away. There is no fan demand for revamp or newer material and at time of writing, the show is available on DVD but hasn’t made the leap to Blu Ray. If such a set were to become available, I don’t think there’s enough quality within it to recommend a purchase, unless they do individual seasons, in which case I would happily buy seasons two and four.

As forgettable as this show was, Joker would later thrive in animation and more importantly, back on the big screen.

Next: Welcome to a world without rules.
 

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