The Joker In Animation: A Retrospective

Stu

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Note: This post also contains spoilers for all of the Batman: Arkham video games. If you've not played and intend to do so, please skip over this post as the spoilers are fairly large.

The announcements of more Direct to DVD features have come thick and fast since 2007. One that excited me more than most was news that the next Batman DVD would be based upon the incredible Arkham video games which at the time consisted of the awesome Arkham Asylum, the even better Arkham City and it’s not so special prequel Arkham Origins.

Before the release of Arkham Asylum, Batman video games were plagued by mediocrity, or where downright terrible. While there was good fun to be had on Batman, Batman Returns and The Adventures of Batman and Robin on the Mega Drive in my youth, anyone who has had to try and plan Batman Forever for the same console, or Batman and Robin or Batman: Gotham City Racer for the original PlayStation will know what true suffering Batman games can bring to fans. Seriously, that Batman Forever game is probably still the textbook example of how utterly horrific controls can ruin a game. The rest of the Batman games tended to be cheaply produced adventure for the kiddies, which made it all the more infuriating when trying to get through the Gasworks level on Batman: Vengeance, which to be fair was a solid effort which needed a bit more polish, but it was nowhere near as good as any of the Spider-Man games of the same era.

This was until Batman: Arkham Asylum was released. A fairly small studio based here in England, Rocksteady, acquired the license to develop a Batman game following the mediocre response to the Batman Begins and the none release of The Dark Knight video game, rumoured to have cost Warner Bros. a small fortune.

Hoping to utilise both the stealth and fighting aspects of Batman’s character, alongside his famed skills as a detective, the game was the first in what felt like decades that allowed one to feel like Batman. There was none of the infuriating nonsense of the Batman Begins and Batman Vengeance where one was easily overpowered by a single thug, when Batman entered a room, it was to kick someone ass, with style. The simply yet nuanced controls made fights actually fun and the Predator combat system offered the chance to routinely outsmart ones foes via a plethora of options, rather than 'this is the way' approach most stealth games offer.



The story sees Batman in his crime fighting prime returning a captured Joker to Arkham Asylum, only to realise he’s been duped and The Joker sought his return to Arkham, to follow through with his plan of using an army of Titan thugs to control Gotham and finally break Batman into a psychotic mess. The game has a wonderfully moody tone and comes gross as an elegant mix of the Nolan and Burton movies and the animated show of the 90s. It’s grounded enough to not feel fairytale like, but a 9ft tall Crocodile man does not feel out of place. It also is an unashamedly adult Batman, this was not a title aimed at a young audience. There is nothing particularly excessive in it's violence etc, but it's clear that this was not something that was intended for parents to buy for their children.

The game sold like gang busters when it was released and was one of the critical darlings of its day, Batman fans, ganers and reviewers praised its gameplay and the story and characterisation. Rocksteady sought Batman writer extraordinaire Paul Dini to pen the game, and with his hiring came the return of stalwarts DCAU actors Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and the overlooked Arleen Sorkin (still the undisputed greatest voice for Harley Quinn for me, I will die on this hill.)

While I normally do check out most DC/Marvel games, I admit the casting alone made me pick this up on day one. I throughly enjoyed Arkham Asylum, and was utterly thrilled when Rocksteady announced they would be returning to Arkham for a sequel, Batman: Arkham City.

Following an utterly awesome teaser trailer in which it was shown that Professor Hugo Strange would be the main antagonist of the game and that the game would take place outside Arkham Island, the trailer also showed that the game would feature a far larger cast of villains and supporting characters and even better for longtime Batman fans like me, a selection of new skins (70s grey and blue Batman for the win!) Arkham City proved to be even better than Asylum and wiped up various game of the year awards. 9 years later it is still up there on any Greatest of All Time lists. From it's clever imagination of the villains (Nolan North as a cockney Penguin works exceptionally well), to it's increadble boss fights (the Mr Freeze one is one of the all time greats) to it's genuinely shocking conclusion, Batman: Arkham City is a game for the ages.



With the success of Arkham City came numerous action figures and even a comic book series set in the Arkham verse, post Arkham City. Rocksteady eventually announced their final Batman game, Batman: Arkham Knight would released, but before this we got a WB Games Montreal prequel to Asylum in Batman Arkham Origins to be released later that same year. This news caught me by surprise, butWB Games announced they felt a 4 year wait was too long between Batman games, hence this ‘stopgap’ game.

I was very much interested in another Batman game, and thought the idea of the games main storyline featuring Batman’s first meeting with The Joker and The Black Mask putting a hit on Batman on Christmas Eve giving us a legion of would be assassins to fight against would be a winner.

My mood quickly soured when they announced that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill would be recast by Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker, respectively. The decision was made apparently, in an attempt to make the actors sound younger, despite the fact that the characters are grown ass men in all of the games and this is rumoured to take place only 5 years or so before Arkham Asylum. Pleased, I was certainly not. It seemed like recasting for the sake of recasting, which I do not approve of in most circumstances.

When the game was eventually released, I admit that Smith and Baker did not impress me in their roles. Smith’s attempts to sound gruff unfortunately came across as if he couldn’t be arsed to be there, and Baker does his hardest Hamill impression.... which again makes me wonder why they didn’t just bring Hamill back in the first place? There were rumours that Hamill had retired from the role following Joker’s death in Arkham City which seems somewhat comical now, but Bakers sounded like a soundalike, rather than his own performance. The games reception was quite quiet when it was released, the general consensus was that it was pretty good, but couldn’t hold a candle to the previous Arkham games. I agree with this. It isn’t helped by poor character designs and far too many bugs they never bothered fixing. Credit where credit is due however, the game features some excellent boss fights.



Which brings us Batman: Assault on Arkham. Set after Origins, but before Asylum, in truth this is far more of a Suicide Squad Movie than either a Batman or Joker piece but it fits in with the Arkham timeline well. There are no massive continuity screw ups, and it was quite clear that great care was taken with designing this piece to make sure it matched the Arkham Asylum found in the game. Fans of the games will immediately recognise key locations and backgrounds, and the models are beautifully recreated (I admit to marking out, to use a pro wrestling term when Bane and Scarecrow cameo’d in their Arkham outfits!) As a big fan of the Arkhamverse, I was very pleased with the attempts to make this feel like it fit in with that universe. This could’ve very easily been something they slapped the name Arkham on and did as they pleased but thankfully, this was not the case, care was taken and it is immediately noticeable. Phil Bourassa, the character designer, did a hell of a job making the designs look like the game, but still animate well enough to avoid an ugly looking movie.

There are a more than a few recasting choices here. I do not know if this is because of availability or the actors not wishing to reprise their roles or not but some of the main characters are recast for this film and frankly, the film is better for it. Chris Cox was an excellent Deadshot in City/Origins, but Neil McDonough inches it for me and helps carry the piece. I didn’t even realise it was him playing Floyd until the end credits, despite being more than familiar with his voice over the years (shout out to the awesome first season of The Incredible Hulk from the 1990s in which McDonough portrayed Bruce Banner).

Hayden Walch becomes the third actress to voice Harley Quinn in the Arkhamverse, reprising her role from The Batman cartoon. She is just sensational in the role and was thankfully used over Tara Strong, who goes far too over the top trying to make Harley sound like an irritating child. Strong’s Harley grates, and seems to get worse the more I hear it, sadly. Walch for the win here, she plays Harley's dangerous flirtation perfectly.



Thankfully, Andrea Beaumont saw sense and brought Kevin Conroy back as Batman for the film. While I do have an incredible fondness for others who have taken over the role, such as Bruce Greenwood, Diedrich Bader and Peter Weller, Conroy will always be Batman to me. I will never not be happy to hear Kevin Conroy play Batman. Simple as that.

Which brings us to The Joker. Whether or not Hamill did consider himself retired from the role at the time I do not know, but Troy Baker is back as Joker this time around. It is especially jarring to see his Arkham Asylum model speak with Baker’s voice. It just feels... off. This is the unfortunate sting of recasting, the new actor is always going to be subject to comparisons and well... Mark Hamill’s casting as The Joker is still God tier 28 years later. There’s nothing especially wrong with Baker’s performance, it’s just not Mark Hamill. I realise I’ve said this ad nauseam now, so will stop there. As an aside, I can’t tell you what a great surprise it was when I hears that famous “Miss me?” in Batman: Arkham Knight. It was a combination of shock, joyous excitement and terror all at the time time. I still remember that moment vividly, despite it happening over 5 years ago. Arkham Knight also has a great scare jump when Man Bat appears that gets me every single bloody time I play it!

Getting back to the film, it is thoroughly entertaining and juggles a large cast of characters well. Joker is the main antagonist here but given that the central characters are also villains, it adds a very cool twist. The plot sees Amanda Waller send her Suicide Squad into Arkham Asylum to retrieve a thumb drive from The Riddler’s cane. Following a cool Penguin cameo (Arkham Penguin is easily my favourite of every Penguin we’ve had, Nolan North for the win!) Batman apprehends Harley, who interrogated her over the presence of a dirty bomb in the city.

When the Squad makes it into the Asylum, pretty much all hell breaks lose as Joker, Riddler and Batman are thrown into the mix. While I doubt few fell for the Black Spider facade, it was an interesting twist to see Batman infiltrate the Squad to learn their intentions and even allow them to undergo the electric shock procedure to negate the bombs in their necks.



The Joker naturally escapes and has an amusing confrontation with Deadshot in which he realises crossing the assassin will result in an ass whooping he’d sooner avoid, until we get to the final of Batman Vs Deadshot Vs Joker in a helicopter. The fight scenes in the movie are very well done and the ending ties in perfectly to Arkham Asylum, even with Batman not finding Joker’s body (if you remember, Asylum begins with Batman capturing Joker and Harley already institutionalised.)

It even sees Batman admonish Waller that her careless plan allowed The Riddler to stay on the loose, who is course captured off screen in the first fame, when one finds each and every last riddle, to ones incredibly satisfaction. Not using the internet to cheat and find every last one of those damn trophies was an achievement, I will tell you. I distinctly remember finally smashing that one last pair of chattering teeth in the library to abundant joy!

The film received favourable reviews at the time of its released. It is much, much better than the live action Suicide Squad movie (which isn’t at all difficult, but still worth mentioning.) We would see further Suicide Squad DTVs but sadly, no further Arkham films were commissioned. I imagine it would have been difficult to decide where to go following Arkham Knights shocking ending, and it’s utterly stupid epilogue, which was supposed to be ambiguous, but simply left a rotten taste in most gamers mouths. (I note again - the main thing missing from Arkham Knight was writer Paul Dini.)

Having rewatched the film for this piece, I have to say I throughly enjoyed it. It had enough Batman in it to gather my interest, but developed most of the Squad enough to make me care about their outcome. Captain Boomerang in particular became a favourite, you can imagine how disappointed I was to see him butchered on the big screen. We will be seeing The Suicide Squad again in another live action movie shortly. written and directed by James Gunn and this one actually looks good! Until then? Assault on Arkham is well worth your time.

Next: DCEU.
 

GrantM

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"Hayden Walch becomes the third actress to voice Harley Quinn in the Arkhamverse, reprising her role from The Batman cartoon. She is just sensational in the role and was thankfully used over Tara Strong, who goes far too over the top trying to make Harley sound like an irritating child. Strong’s Harley grates, and seems to get worse the more I hear it, sadly. Walch for the win here, she plays Harley's dangerous flirtation perfectly."

Wow!, given how beloved Tara is I'm suprised to see a {well understandable given the nature of the VA scene, i mean why do you think the likes of Troy Baker, Nolan North and Laura Bailey get crapped on for being in every big AAA video game ever) overused complaint about her. But wow!, not a fan of her take on Harley it looks like...........guess you ain't a fan of DC Super Hero Girls then (or even the very fun Lego DC Super Villians)
 
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M.O.D.O.K.

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Yeah, Strong's Harley wore thin on me by the time Arkham Knight hit. I also think the franchise had a serious Joker overuse problem, to the point where promising main villains like Hugo Strange, Ra's al Ghul, and Scarecrow were all overshadowed by him.

He works well in this movie, though. Other than Deadshot himself, it didn't really clash against everything introduced in the games.
 

Stu

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GrantM said:
Wow!, given how beloved Tara is I'm suprised to see a {well understandable given the nature of the VA scene, i mean why do you think the likes of Troy Baker, Nolan North and Laura Bailey get crapped on for being in every big AAA video game ever) overused complaint about her. But wow!, not a fan of her take on Harley it looks like...........guess you ain't a fan of DC Super Hero Girls then (or even the very fun Lego DC Super Villians)

I’ve never seen the DC Super Hero Girls Show. I recently purchased Lego DC Super Villians for the PS4 and found myself muting it whenever Harley spoke, which is a shame, from what little I’ve played the rest of the cast seem tremendous.

As for the rest of the “over exposed” AAA actors? I think Nolan North has nailed every single thing I’ve heard him in. Deadpool, Penguin, Superman, Iron Man, Superboy, Cyclops - none of them sound the same and he offers fantastic performances each time, I don’t complain when North is cast.

Baker I find is pretty good in most roles, if not occasionally just... there, I suppose. I wasn’t overly impressed with his Joker or Bruce Banner, but that’s just me I suppose. Nothing personal against the dude.

M.O.D.O.K said:
Yeah, Strong's Harley wore thin on me by the time Arkham Knight hit. I also think the franchise had a serious Joker overuse problem, to the point where promising main villains like Hugo Strange, Ra's al Ghul, and Scarecrow were all overshadowed by him.

He works well in this movie, though. Other than Deadshot himself, it didn't really clash against everything introduced in the games.

I can see the over exposure angle. I think something would have been amiss had he not featured given the prequel nature of the piece. I am still surprised they got away with killing him in Arkham City! When I originally played it I thought there must be some twist coming that showed he was stil l alive once I had completed all of the side missions.
 
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Pfeiffer-Pfan

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Put me down as another one that finds Tara Strong's Harley Quinn tedious and grating. She over does it far too much (and frankly takes too much credit for the role these days... when she is simply one of many to follow the great Arleen Sorkin).

Hyden Walch nails it though and I consider her the true successor to Sorkin.
 

GrantM

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I’ve never seen the DC Super Hero Girls Show. I recently purchased Lego DC Super Villians for the PS4 Abs found myself muting it whenever Harley spoke, which is a shame, from what little I’ve played the rest of the cast seem tremendous.

As for the rest of the “over exposed” AAA actors? I think Nolan North has nailed every single thing I’ve heard him in. Deadpool, Penguin, Superman, Iron Man, Superboy, Cyclops - none of them sound the same and he offers fantastic performances each time, I don’t complain when North is cast.

Baker I find is pretty good in most roles, if not occasionally just... there, I suppose. I wasn’t overly impressed with his Joker or Bruce Banner, but that’s just me I suppose. Nothing personal against the dude.

You muted Tara!?!.........thats a shame. Also I've heard Nolan, Troy and Laura are big union supporters and go out of their way to cling to their lead role in AAA games positions but that comes from the dregs of the internet (4chan, Kiwi Farms, the latter of which hate Tara Strong with a passion)
 

Stu

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You muted Tara!?!.........thats a shame. Also I've heard Nolan, Troy and Laura are big union supporters and go out of their way to cling to their lead role in AAA games positions but that comes from the dregs of the internet (4chan, Kiwi Farms, the latter of which hate Tara Strong with a passion

I can't say this is something I've heard off... I imagine this is something possibly made up, it's more than likely the voice and casting directors have developed relationships with and use over and over again as they know they are going to get great performances.

And yes, Strong's Harley is that annoying that I mute her when playing Lego Supervillains. It's not something I normally do with games, but she annoyingly overdoes Harley for me. Sorry!
 

Stu

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Warning: This is a bit very off topic. Some might class this as a rant.

With the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Nolan finishing his beloved Batman trilogy, one suspected that DC would eventually start their own cinematic universe, which in theory would help them get their long dormant franchises that aren’t Batman and Superman off the ground, following the disappointing box office of Superman Returns in 2006. Superhero films were and still are big business, and Warner's access to the DC Comics library was their best bet at long term franchise investment following the conclusion of Harry Potter. Nolan's Batman proved people were just as willing to pay to see DC characters as they were Marvel and the shared universe had been an undeniable success. While I believe a lot of audience members probably wouldn't have been to excited for a standalone Ant-Man movie, including it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe means a large audience will go see it. Simple theory? Undeniably. But the work must be done to make your cinematic universe movies worth seeing, and if one bombs, it throws the while operation into jeopardy. High risk, but certainly not without potentially great rewards.

Man of Steel was the first chapter in what would become known as The DCEU (DC Extended Universe), which was released in June 2013. There’s a few winks to a larger Universe but it is largely self contained, there is nothing here which directly sets up any sequels. I personally had my reservations for the film, mainly because of the crew involved. I think David Gower has made a complete mess of most things he’s ever worked on, unless he has a Nolan or Del Toro overseeing him (he also comes across as a real jackass with an over inflated opinion of his abilities in interviews, but that’s by the by) and Zack Synder had already made a mess of the long anticipated Watchmen film and made the critically panned Sucker Punch. Plus, anyone who markers themselves as a Visionary Director as Synder does usually means they are a bit of a hack. (Micheal Bay springs to mind.)



I saw one of the trailers, I usually try and avoid them but when you’re sat in the theater waiting for Iron Man Three to start, it’s hard to ignore a gigantic screen directly in front of you, and I didn’t wishto be one of those jerks who runs out of the cinema holding his ears (... I mean, not again!) The trailer I saw seemed to suggest this wasn’t very Supermanish so my expectations were low, but Superman fan I am, I still rocked up opening day to The Man of Steel on the big screen. I have long suspected that Warners Bros. finds superhero movies to be something they are somewhat embarrassed by.... quite why this is, given how Batman is unquestionably the top franchise in the studio's history, but they've always seemed afraid of capes for me. Most of the time, it shows in their marketing.

Following it's release, reviews were very mixed for Man Of Steel but both sides were vocal in their support or hate. Some saw it as an epic re imagining of Superman’s origin, others saw it was a bastardisation of everything Superman is about. Unfortunately, I am very much in the latter, I think Man of Steel was pretty much a complete waste of time, with sadly few redeeming qualities. As far as a reimagining of Superman goes, it’s dreadfully dull. The action scenes are colourless and generic (which cannot be blamed on the choice of villain this time, General Zod is just as powerful as Kal El), there is nothing much to the story plot wise and all of the characters seem to be mean spirited jerks.

This is nothing like the Superman I enjoy. The character I like was raised by a kind farmer and his wife, whereas here Jonathan Kent actually ponders aloud if Clark should have let a school bus of children die to protect the secret of his powers. The whole point of Superman is that he is raised by kind people and is therefore, kind in return. The Kents viewed Clark as a gift from the stars as Martha is not able to have children herself. It may sound like little things, but these are the things I enjoy about the character.

Superman stands for hope and is supposed to represent the best of humanity, having previously lost his own people, essentially, as they could not agree to peace. This version of Superman snapped Zod’s neck in cold blood. I remember looking at my brother (who comes to all of these movies with me and has similar tastes) following the snap and shaking my head. Nolan attempted to talk Synder and Gower out of this, as even his admittedly limited knowledge of Superman knew this was dramatically out of character for Superman. Synder and Gower did not share Nolan's concerns and proceeded with their script. Synder has later defended this by arguing he is a comic book fan, and true fans of the comics know he didn't change Superman. I am sorry for fans of his, but he is simply wrong.

I enjoy the love triangle with Superman’s civilian identity Clark Kent and Lois Lane, as I have long believed Superman is a love story. They completely ignored Kent's civilian reporter identity until the final seconds of the movie as a cheap getaround. They also turn Lois into an annoying, self opinionated cow and cut the relationship off at its knees by having Lois know Clark is Superman. There is also no chemistry between Adams and Cavill. The leading man also sadly isn’t given enough to do in the role which is a great shame because, well... look at him! The man was born to be cast as Superman and the writers, producers and directors have failed him in every single film he’s been in. He’s also a terrific actor, as Mission: Impossible - Fallout attests (seriously, one of the better films of the last decade people.) Synder fans have had the cheek to call him out for not publicly supporting the Synder cut enough. I feel for the poor bloke.

While I could go on and on about how terrible and utterly joyless Man of Steel is, I am reminded this is an animation retrospective, and it’s also about The Joker, not Superman.

The Joker was originally supposed to appear in the follow up to this film, Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Quite why Synder wasn’t dismissed given the reaction to Man of Steel and the somewhat disappointing box office return, I do not know, but The Joker was thankfully spared from this utter drivel, presumably because it had too many characters anyway. I’ll spare you the rant about how terrible Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice actually is, because we don’t have the time to discuss its endless plot holes, baffling characterisation and supreme case of idiotic characters.

The Joker would instead make his DCEU universe in Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer. Jared Leto was cast and clearly reveled in the attention of being cast as The Clown Prince of Crime. By this point I had all but given up on the DCEU but the trailer for Suicide Squad actually looked fairly exciting, if not a bit too similar to Guardians Of The Galaxy which is pretty much what this movie tried and utterly failed to be. The images shown of The Joker beforehand seemed laughably bad, the tattoos showed to me that Ayer clearly didn’t "get" The Joker. The tats, the teeth... none of this came across as very Joker like. Leto also had the unenviable task of following Heath Ledger's rousing performance in The Dark Knight, which I wouldn't wish on anyone. Expectations where high for The Joker, even after the majority of the audience loudly complained about the quality of Batman Vs Superman.



I still went to go see the movie opening night, gullible fool that I am. Joker, despite being marketed heavily pre-release, features in the film for about 10 minute and is comically terrible. Not in an actual funny way, but Leto grunts Abs growls and generally acts like a weirdo with a badly put on voice and over animated exaggerations... 10 minutes seemed to be more than enough watching the film, which is an odd thing to write about my favourite supervillian. The Joker was just terrible here, unforgivably bad. The film received overwhelming negative reviews and was even accused of tricking it's audience as the film that was marketed seemed massive opposite to what was released. The plot is all over the place, most of the characters are too one note to be interesting and the lead villain is just rancid.

Ayer has released a directors cut which even I wasn’t stupid enough to watch, but has spent years bemoaning that his movie was butchered due to the backlash received from how utterly terrible Batman Vs Superman was. As far as this ones goes? With the exception of the delightful Margot Robbie, pitch perfect as Harley Quinn and Will Smith playing... Will Smith, this is a film pretty much all involved, Ayer, Leto, the producers and the studio, should be ashamed of themselves for.

I understand Joker is appearing in the Zack Synder cut of Justice League, following Synder’s cult failing to shut up about this cut since the terrible live action Justice League movie was released. Ayer appears to be trying to get a similar movement made to release a third (third!) cut of Suicide Squad, I won’t be watching it should this ever be released. He's had his chance and has sadly proven himself as a hack. I also have no interest in seeing Leto reprise his role as Joker... ever. I admit to being morbidly curious about the Synder cut, but wonder how his cult will react if it turns out to be just as terrible as last time? Who will they blame then? A studio who gave him $70 million to reshoot a film he said was already completed?

Next: And shadows still conceal our Light
 

Otaku-sempai

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Okay, I think the first David in your rant is David Goyer, not Gower. I'm not aware of any David Gower working in Hollywood.
 

Stu

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As some of you may know, I am a massive Spider-Man fan. One of my favourite incarnations of Spidey is The Spectacular Spider-Man Cartoon from the late 2000s. The main brain behind the writing for this show was one Greg Weisman, who was most famous for his Gargoyles show in the 90s. (I show I one day will finish binging!) I utterly adored Spectacular Spider-Man with every fiber of my being (seriously if you’ve never seen this show, go buy the Blu Ray right this very second) so when it was eventually cancelled due to Sony giving the animation rights for Spider-Man back to Disney in a negotiation tool to keeping his live action movie rights, my immediate thought was get the Spectacular crew working on another Marvel property immediately. Immediately may not be a strong enough word. Keep the crew together and get them on a new Marvel cartoon yesterday.

For whatever reason, this did not happen. Marvel TV was placed under the watch of Jeph Loeb and a new Spider-Man Cartoon, Ultimate Spider-Man was commissioned without Weisman and companies involvement. It was terrible. Many more Marvel cartoons have premiered since Loeb was placed in charge and they many more terrible cartoons have followed. It seemed unfathomable, given the sheer quality of The Spectacular Spider-Man that Weisman was not commissioned to start a Marvel animated universe, but alas, Loeb hired his pals Man Of Action with dire results. Anything Marvel animation has produced since it's amazing The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has sadly not been worth watching. It's drivel, designed to sell toys and not much else. In an effort to stop further rants (you have suffered enough in this very thread dear readers!), I won't go off about the current and former state of Marvel animation.



Warner Bros. Animation were quicker off the mark than Marvel and hired Weisman and Brandon Vietti to produce Young Justice, a show set in the DC Universe about a team of young heroes working under the Justice League. The show was not based on the actual Young Justice comic book or the traditional, more famous Teen Titans but was intended to be it's own beast. Vietti of course, produced and directed Batman: Under The Red Hood as well as being a veteran director of many DC animated shows.

The show would take place in a brand new continuity, with the Justice League already established and the opening two episodes shows featuring sidekicks Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash visit The Hall of Justice to earn their stripes within the Justice League and when the sidekicks and newly discovered Superboy discover Project Cadmus and realise an evil agency is working behind the scenes with metahumans, presumably in an attempt to eventually take on the Justice League. The main premise of the show is established as Batman, impressed with the work the young ones did here, decides to put them together as a covert operations team to work on the sly under the radar while the Justice League deal with the noisy, global threats in the public eye.

The boys are eventually joined by M’gann, the Martian Manhunter's niece and Artemis, the archer replacement for Roy Harper and they become ‘The Team’. They are never referred to Young Justice or The Teen Titans, just ‘The Team’. I found this to be an excellent premises for the show, and as it develops the central characters, but never makes the Justice League themselves feel secondary or ineffective. It also means they never overpower The Team and push them out of their own show, but whenever they do show up, it feels like an occasion, to both the audience, and the young characters themselves. The Team have their base of operation in Mount Justice, a previous headquarters of the League, with Red Tornado a live in Mother Hen, Black Canary as their trainer and Batman deploying The Team on missions. The show follows the usual Weisman model of each episode being standalone, yet leading to a bigger arc as the show goes on. One of the most impressive things about this season is particular is that each episode feels like it has a purpose in a bigger picture, without ever losing an individual episode to build up the season arc, or reducing none "building" episodes as just filled. Again, this was something that hearkened back to The Spectacular Spider-Man in that none of the episodes felt like filler, each of the shows's tragically short 26 episodes mattered. Some more than others unquestionably, but each and every one did indeed matter.

And with Batman featuring, The Joker will surely follow. He appears in Revelation and at time of writing, this is quite shockingly, his only appearance in the show. He is featured as part of The Injustice League alongside Count Vertigo, Black Adam, The Ultra Humanite, Wotan and Poison Ivy. I confess to having no idea who Wotan is, but the Batman fanboy in me appreciated seeing Ivy again. Not all of the characters spoke due to budgetary concerns, but it was great fun seeing the Justice League battle the giant plants and the team going against The Injustice League.

Young Justice as a show has the best animation models in the business. The show is stunningly beautiful from top to bottom and has incredibly animation, the quality of which I didn’t think we’d see on a television animation budget again. The Batman model is exceptionally beautiful and the rest of the characters seem to have a modern take on many of their classic outfits. Character designer Phil Bourassa, the main go to guy for the DC animated features, does his finest work ever on the show, in my opinion. There is one model in a later DTV feature which eventually takes the crown as Bourassa's finest work, but at the time? Young Justice was the best looking show on TV since the original Batman: The Animated Series once the crew/animators had figured out the kinks.



Bourassa's take on The Joker seems to be based on Lupin the 3rd. Whether or not this is just me reaching and I am completely off the mark or not, I’m not aware, but it seems the design is some sort of tribute to the anime character (I know less than nothing about Lupin, so if there are similarities between he and Joker, they are utterly lost on me.) His face itself does not appear to be based upon any specific comic book artists design, he has many of the makings of a classic Bourassa design (check out those sideburns). At time of writing, he is the best model designer in the business for me... although looking at every nearly every other cartoon going at the moment, they are clearly designed to be as cheap as possible. Many of the shows don’t seem to know how to colour the characters properly. And character shading? Not likely lately. The Cartoon Network cartoons in particular, look to be doodle based crap. The television animation industry is in dire need of a shake up. I feel it is going to take someone to produce another hit the size of Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man: The Animated Series or X-Men from the 90s to shake network animation out of it's current state of apathy. But I digress!

Casting wise, Jamie Thomason is the Casting/voice Director here and does a stellar job. As with Spectacular Spider-Man, there isn’t a single miscast voice to be found. Brent Spiner portrays The Joker.... and it’s weird. Not weird in a terrible way, it just feels off, but it works in the context of the character. I feel this was completely intentional for this version of Joker, from how little we see him, sees a bit more out there than we normally see. I am told that he is featured in the accompanying companion comic book series, but I admit to my shame, I have never read the same. Spiner works in the role, he received a mixed reaction online but I liked it. He is unusual, but this is clearly intended to be so. Sometimes you have to think a little outside of the box, and this is clearly one of those cases. Perhaps the shadow of Mark Hamill's Joker had some say in this?

I do admit to getting a kick out of seeing The Joker and Poison Ivy animated again and the episode has a tremendous ending with The Light revealing The Injustice Gang was simply a ruse to feed the League to let them think the master planners had been caught.



It is difficult to assess a single character in Young Justice as it has so many moving parts but I feel they did a decent job with Joker here. I would not at all be opposed to seeing him appear in any future seasons. The bigger villains in the show, Vandall Savage, Lex Luthor, Queen Bee etc, are all wonderfully developed, complex characters, who are seen as a threat to both The team and The Justice League. I believe The Joker would indeed work best as part of a group, but throwing him in with The Light would not really gel. As an Injustice Gang member? Perfect.

As one of only two cartoons I currently watch, I hope HBO Max reviews this and Harley Quinn for many, many seasons and I would certainly hope to see more of The Joker.

Next: Here's to Crime.
 

M.O.D.O.K.

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I think I'm one of the few that didn't mind this take on the Joker. It's not really my favorite, but I've honestly seen worse. Also, I think a lot of people expected him to take over the episode and didn't stand that he was just one of the many threats. Again, I think that's due to the character's overexposure, but that's just me. I assume we might see him again in season 4 if they ever revisit the Jason Todd story or Oracle's origin. Assuming he is the culprit behind those events, of course.

I recommend checking out the tie-in comic. The neat thing about it is that the Joker showed up before his debut episode aired, so the readers essentially got a sneak peek of him. It doesn't happen often with tie-in comics (Beware the Batman and Star Wars Rebels are the other two times I remember), but it was cool getting "bonus" canon content as the show was airing and even between hiatuses.
 

Frontier

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I get they were going for a different, more low-key, kind of Joker in Young Justice but it just didn't really stand out very well. Brent Spiner was a much more memorable Riddler than he was a Joker in my opinion.

I'm hot and cold on Tara's Harley. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn't and she sounds really grating. Personally I feel like Hynden Walch is a more natural successor to Arlene Sorkin vocally and Laura Post did a really interesting rendition of Harley in the Telltale games.

Joker definitely dominated the Arkham games, for better or worse. I mean, I was personally fine with it because I view the whole trilogy as Mark Hamill's swan song as Joker and Origins as Troy Baker's Joker debut and he was probably one of the most memorable part of all the games, but I get where people would get a little tired of him constantly hijacking the plot like he's a Nintendo villain.
 

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Bourassa's take on The Joker seems to be based on Lupin the 3rd. Whether or not this is just me reaching and I am completely off the mark or not, I’m not aware, but it seems the design is some sort of tribute to the anime character (I know less than nothing about Lupin, so if there are similarities between he and Joker, they are utterly lost on me.) His face itself does not appear to be based upon any specific comic book artists design, he has many of the makings of a classic Bourassa design (check out those sideburns).
A visual tribute to Lupin the Third would explain those sideburns. Lupin is more of a roguish charmer though--a thief, but also something of a hero--so I don't think any connection goes deeper than the character design. The manga and the first anime series are a bit more gritty than the later incarnations of Lupin and his crew, in case you decide to check it out.
 

Revelator

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Joker's outfit in Young Justice might also be inspired by Neal Adams's portrayal of the Joker in "The Joker's Five Way Revenge!" (Batman #251). This was the first real Joker story of the Bronze Age, and Adams modernized the character's outfit to give him a standard suit and tie, instead of the classic zoot suit and string tie combo:



Joker_Earth-One_004.jpg
 

Stu

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M.O.D.O.K. said:
I recommend checking out the tie-in comic. The neat thing about it is that the Joker showed up before his debut episode aired, so the readers essentially got a sneak peek of him. It doesn't happen often with tie-in comics (Beware the Batman and Star Wars Rebels are the other two times I remember), but it was cool getting "bonus" canon content as the show was airing and even between hiatuses.

Am I right in thinking Weisman who wrote the tie in comic himself? I didn’t know that it took place before Revelations, that’s very cool!

[QUOTE="Frontier" said:
I'm hot and cold on Tara's Harley. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn't and she sounds really grating. Personally I feel like Hynden Walch is a more natural successor to Arlene Sorkin vocally and Laura Post did a really interesting rendition of Harley in the Telltale games.

I’ve not quite got to Harley in Telltale yet, but yes, I feel Walch is much better than Strong as Harley. I feel she adds a lot more to Harley and doesn’t come across as a toddler trying to sound angry. I feel Walch is overlooked, whereas Strong is overrated, personally.

Otaku-sempai said:
A visual tribute to Lupin the Third would explain those sideburns.

I have no idea if this is intended or not, but it stood out to me as soon as I saw it. Might be one to ask Phil Bourassa himself directly.
Joker's outfit in Young Justice might also be inspired by Neal Adams's portrayal of the Joker in "The Joker's Five Way Revenge!" (Batman #251). This was the first real Joker story of the Bronze Age, and Adams modernized the character's outfit to give him a standard suit and tie, instead of the classic zoot suit and string tie combo:

View attachment 284190

I can see that. Wasn’t this the storyline which brought The Joker back to his murderous roots, writing wise? It would make sense to give him a small visual revamp too, especially back in the day when changing a character model was a big deal, not something they do after a year hoping for a sales boost.
 

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Before we get to The Killing Joke, for the sake of completeness, I will briefly touch upon Batman Unlimited. The series looks to have been commissioned by Mattel to tie into their line of Batman action figures... and it shows. The shorts look like they are developed for the soul purpose of making toys and the designs reflect that they are based on the figures themselves rather than crafting figures from the model sheets, which I suppose is better than disguising itself as an animated television show.

Joker appears in a few of the shorts, which is a strictly comedy affair in which he fights with The Scarecrow over who is going to gas a building. He is clearly voiced by Troy Baker but this is grunt work, no dialogue is present from either him or Batman. I enjoyed Bank Heist the most out of the four shorts I watched. Broadwork Battle, which sees Joker’s giant... robot action figure do battle with Batman’s robot dinosaur is nothing to write home about, No Joke features easily the ugliest Green Arrow model I’ve ever seen and Run For The Money features a puma (?) that turns into the Batbike. These are simply action figures commercials, but they are not disguised as anything else. I watched them for free on the DC Kids You Tube channel.

Three feature length spins off were commissioned to be released direct to DVD. I confess I have not seen them. I would normally purchase the Blu Rays for these articles (those who follow me on Twitter will see I’ve amassed quite a collection of Blu Rays/upgrades from DVD for this article, but having recently been laid off, I wasn’t willing to part with my coin for these features. Apologies.) I haven’t seen them, so won’t comment on them further.

Now, onto Batman: The Killing Joke, a film I actually have seen. The Killing Joke movie seemed inevitable. One of DC Comics’ favourites and the historical significance of the storyline with Joker crippling Barbara Gordon and for many, many years ended her career as Batgirl.



The story is a controversial one, with many speculating that Joker raped the paralysed Gordon and Batman snapping Joker’s neck off panel in the final page. I don’t believe either happened, but the level of violence shown in the book was shocking at the time, especially towards a woman. Alan Moore has since addressed the book as not one of his favourites, but with Mr Moore, I’ve never really known what to make of him. He seems to enjoy criticising most things regarding his work, and does not wish to see his books adapted into other mediums, even considering the financial rewards of the same. I have yet to hear his opinion on this particular film, however. It also helped serve as some of The Joker’s backstory for the 89 Batman movie and is widely regarded as The Joker’s origin story. Batman: Arkham Knight and Batman: Arkham Origins also feature flashbacks to the story... it’s footprint is a deep part of Batman’s lore.

Translating the book to a film presented many problems, as these Direct to Video features always do. From a visual point of view, there is no way the budget for this would allow it to look anything like Brian Bolland’s book, so wisely, the producers didn’t even attempt to try. Rather than streamline Bolland’s beautiful models, the crew decided to base their look off comic book artist Kevin Nolan’s work. Bolland arguable draws the definitive Joker, but one can sympathise with the creative team here... trying to animate that would’ve looked horrendous. Sadly, the animators didn’t appear up to the task of moving these streamlined models. Of all of the DC DVDs, this one has the weakest animation, in my opinion. I originally thought that this may because I actually saw this at my local cinema on the big screen via a limited release rather than Blu Ray first time around, but upon viewing this again for this feature on my TV, I again found the animation to be much lower quality than the standard for these DTVs. The only character who seems to move well and pop onscreen is Batgirl, Batman and Joker are very rigid throughout.

The other main problem with adapting the book for the screen is that the story is very short. While most of the stories selected for adaptation are graphic novel length, The Killing Joke was a one shot. Pacing has always been a problem for these DTVs as they essentially have to cut/cram the films to make a cohesive story, but this story is simply too short for a 70 minute feature. This probably could’ve been done as a feature length short, rather than a full animated movie. Bruce Timm later revealed that they had attempted to adapt The Killing Joker as an animated movie beforehand and a longer ‘short’ approach was discussed, but eventually they decided against it. Rather than try and beef up the original story and give Batman something to do other than catch The Joker, or actually delve into their relationship, the decision was made to give Batgirl more of a focus rather than just have her open the door and be crippled. The whole “Woman in refrigerators” backlash had started by the time this movie was released (and without question, this book is one of the main catalysts of said argument) so the idea to bring Batgirl to the forefront was put forward. Sadly, it does not work. This is simply my opinion, and the film received negative to mixed reviews upon release generally, but my own negative view of the film seems to be entirely different from everyone else’s.



The Killing Joke movie, to me, should’ve been a Joker movie, first and foremost. The first half of the film is about Batgirl’s interaction with a self obsessed gangster, Paris France, a cliched jerk of a villain that gets into Batgirl’s head far too easily and makes her come across as really weak because of it. It’s weakly written, it’s pace is slow and plodding and turns Batgirl into Bratgirl. To be outfought and outsmarted by a punk of a villain did not serve her character justice, nor did the tacked on argument with Batman, who seems more of a bystander in this story than he is in the actual Killing Joke part of the story.

Then came the sex scene. Timm has hinted at the idea of a Batman/Batgirl relationship in Batman Beyond, which worked in that context, as a flashback we never see or even really hear about again, as it adds intrigue and curiosity to their love/hate professional relationship when they are senior citizens in Batman Beyond. The idea of a Bruce Wayne/Barbara Gordon relationship when they are both young? Just weird. Ignoring the fact he’s old enough to be her Dad (these relationships do exist, creepy as they can come across), the screen is so off kilter and ridiculous, it would be funny if it wasn't so weird. Batman essentially explains that France is manipulating her (he is), which is effecting her decision making abilities (it did) and she is best to leave this alone. Everything Batman says to her seems to be accurate to my mind, and her admonishing him again comes across as childish. After a fight, she then gets on top of him... I remember the sniggers from my theater as this happened, it's so out of left field I felt embarrassed for Batgirl. The whole thing comes across as misogynistic nonsense.

It is not helped that as soon as they capture France, the film becomes something else entirely. The first half seems to bear no relevance to the second, as Joker is not even mentioned in the first 28 minutes. This when the film adapts the book, almost slavishly so... it's just jarring. In my opinion, the film should've either been done as a short, or preferably, used the book as the skeleton of the story and improved upon and developed it from there. Instead, we get a nonsensical Batgirl story which bears no relevance on the rest of the film. Screenwriter Brian Azzarello seems to make a complete mess of things here, sadly.



When we finally get to The Joker, he randomly appears and cripples Barbara by shooting her in the spine, in an attempt to drive Jim Gordon crazy. There seems to be no real reasoning behind this (which could've been an interesting first half of the movie) and we get seemingly random flashbacks to a pre-Joker comedian, a failure of a man who is all but tricked into robbing a card factory via a the chemical factory he used to work in. He falls into a vat of chemicals and emerges from the waste below the factory with his skin bleached and his hair dyed green.

To add something positive to this post, Mark Hamill reprises his role as The Joker. We actually get his natural voice for the flashbacks before he removes his Red Hood and in a nice twist, it actually sounds like his vocal chords were burned in the fall. I will never tire of hearing Hamill's Joker and thankfully, Kevin Conroy joins him to portray Batman. Conroy sadly isn't given much to do, and Batman is sadly absent for what feels like the majority of the film, and again... Batman doesn't have a lot to do. The whole thing just seems like a massive waste of the opportunity.

The rest of the film follows the book closely enough so that anyone who has read it will have no surprises. There is a nice musical number, which again shows that Mark Hamill still has his singing chops, but the second half seems to just fall a bit flat. I did like the scene in which Batman and Alfred discuss how the two of them seem to hate each other without really knowing anything about each other (look for some nice nods to various parts of The Joker's history on Batman's massive monitor in the Batcave. Can you name them all? )



I did appreciate the ending of the film, as Batman reserves himself from beating the snot out of Joker and offers his hand in help to try and rehabilitate him and Joker commenting that we are all one bad day away from madness... by the time it gets to this point in the film, it all feels too little, too late.

In closing? This film seems like a mixture of bad ideas and wasted potential. It's watchable, but out of all of the DC animated movies I looked back on so far for this retrospective, this one disappointed me the most.

Next: The Bright Knight Returns
 

M.O.D.O.K.

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One thing that bothers about the Joker in the Killing Joke movie is the delivery of the joke to Batman. He sounds too rushed. It messes with the comic's slow, dramatic pace. Also, the "Why aren't you laughing?" is supposed to be him being surprised and sad, not angry. I really wanted to enjoy the second half as an adaptation, at least, but even in those areas, it fell short.

Am I right in thinking Weisman who wrote the tie in comic himself? I didn’t know that it took place before Revelations, that’s very cool!

Weisman co-wrote Issue #0 with Kevin Hopps (one of the show's writers) and then wrote starting with #7 with Hopps also co-writing a few. But every single issue is canon to the show.
 

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I never watched this film after reading the bad reviews, but I regard the original story as one of the best Joker tales in any medium (what Moore thinks of it now is irrelevant--trust the tale, not the teller). It portrays the Joker a nihilist who regards life as a nasty joke ruled by chance--all it takes is one bad day to turn a man into a monster.

Batman is the Joker's philosophical opposite. He didn't let a bad day destroy him. He used it turn himself into a hero. He is an existentialist who believes you can make yourself into something better and overcome chance. Life is not a sick joke but an opportunity.

Commissioner Gordon is the site of the Batman and Joker's philosophical struggle, their tug-of-war. The Joker wants to drive Gordon mad to prove his point. Batman wants Gordon to triumph and cheer his violent revenge on the Joker. But Gordon ultimately emerges as the sanest man of all three.

TKJ is therefore a very tight drama involving the struggle between these three characters. Adding any other major protagonists immediately throws the dramatic premise off-balance. That's why adding a chunky prologue devoted to Batgirl doesn't make sense except as a misguided attempt to make a more woman-friendly narrative.

Even less understandable is why the powers-that-be greenlit an adaptation of a one of the most famous and respected Batman graphic novels but decided to be cheap with the animation and the very look of it. What's the point of animating an extremely famous and extremely distinctive graphic novel if the animation doesn't come anywhere near the look of the original? They sabotaged their own prestige project and made it look cheap.

If I was in charge, I would have insisted on two things: doubling the budget and adding nothing to the story. No prologue. Instead I would have decided on including a "bonus film" about Barbara Gordon's life after the events of TKJ. This would a completely separate story but available on the same Blu-Ray or Digital package as the TKJ. I would have commissioned someone like Gail Simone to write it, thereby providing a critical exploration of the now-problematic aspects of TKJ. This would allow for a self-contained adaptation of TKJ and a follow-up addressing what people now find objectionable about the book. Lovers and haters would be equally catered to, instead of being fed a tone-deaf botch of an adaptation.
 

Yojimbo

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A visual tribute to Lupin the Third would explain those sideburns. Lupin is more of a roguish charmer though--a thief, but also something of a hero--so I don't think any connection goes deeper than the character design. The manga and the first anime series are a bit more gritty than the later incarnations of Lupin and his crew, in case you decide to check it out.
Well once upon a time, some guy named @James Harvey did an interview and Phil Bourassa said:
As for the Joker, I wanted to get away from the evil clown in a billowy tuxedo that we have seen for so long. While I love the classic look and various interpretations, I needed to do something different. I knew I wanted the vibe to be more "Spike Spiegel meets the Rat Pack" with "Lupin the Third" and "1960's Yakuza" thrown in the mix. So that's what I did, if you compare the two, the silhouette of my Joker is really influenced by "Lupin the Third."
 
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