Batman: The Animated Series – The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh

Oh, that’s a joke right? Batman finally told a joke!? AHAHAHAHA

Air Date: 22/09/92

Director: Kevin Altieri

Writer: Carl Swenson

Themes: Hysteria, Humour

Villain: The Joker

Synopsis: Batman must hunt down his arch nemesis when the people of Gotham, including Alfred, are targeted by the Joker’s potent laughing gas,

Review:

So, it’s the second Joker episode. Unfortunately, it isn’t much better than the first.

Joker has Gotham under siege from his laughing gas, dishing it out freely from a rubbish barge he has commandeered. The opening scenes set the general gist of the plot out well enough, as the citizens of Gotham take to laughing hysterically in the street as gas fills the air. So we know from the off that something serious, if not quite deadly, is occurring and we can have a good guess as to who is behind it.

The Joker and gas are well connected, though what we see here is a little bit off from his standard “smilex” stuff. That kills people, leaving a contorted smile on their faces – this really does just seem to be a more potent form of nitrous oxide, the added threat being shoehorned in later from the Batcomputer – prolonged exposure leads to permanent insanity, somehow. It’s too soon in the shows run to show the Joker as a truly homicidal maniac with his trademark weapons, though we have gone a step up – Joker is actually targeting all of Gotham now, not just Batman and Robin.

We move rapidly from the unfolding insanity on the streets of Gotham to the comparatively calm landscape of Wayne Manor. Its April Fools Day apparently, and Alfred is getting into the spirit, playing practical jokes on his master. This does seem a bit odd for the straight-laced butler, but does show us the close connection that the two have, with Wayne tolerating the shenanigans with a degree of good humour.

Well, lack of annoyance at least. This is an episode designed around the mirror between Batman and the Joker – Batman is a deadly serious character, with responsibilities he never shirks. The Joker is an insane clown. Here, Wayne’s serious demeanour is juxtaposed with the more whimsical Alfred, ever trying to get a smile out of his boss, but it will soon be in direct contrast to the outrageous Joker.

The Joker’s exact aim is a little strange, going to the trouble of gassing half of the city just for a little breaking and entering. That’s the clown though, whose motivations and lack of logical sense is an innate part of the character. Joker never does anything the easy way. Extravagance and over-complicated schemes are to be expected. The Joker is a drama queen, an attention whore, who thrives on the spotlight. You don’t get that just from robbery.

So, mass gassing. Joker episodes are going to be a case of one-upmanship on the last one as we go along – the very last episode he features in as part of this animated universe sees him try and mind control the entire country – and they are all going to be slightly outside the box in terms of aims.

That’s actually fine, for the character, but one can’t help but feel a little sceptical about this plot, which has so many random elements in its make-up. It isn’t just that Joker is gassing people, he’s doing it with fake rubbish with a hidden submarine and with robots and a fishbowl helmet and it’s all a bit much really, for such a limited aim as robbery.

Batman springs into action of course, and soon has the laughing gas analysed and presented as the threat it really is. That leads into the best part of the episode as Alfred feels the effects and starts rampaging through the mansion, his earlier April Fools jokes turned into total hysteria. The sight of Batman trying to control his guardian and closest friend as he smashes up his surroundings with euphoria induced madness is actually fairly horrific, and does a good initial job of making the whole plot personal for Batman. This is Efrem Zimbalist Jr’s first go as Alfred, and he plays it really well.

But there isn’t enough of a follow-up done with it. We get the scene of Alfred’s breakdown and subduing from Batman, than nothing until the end when Alfred is back to his old self. We could have done with a little bit more time dedicated to Batman worrying about Alfred, even a brief fretting over a sickbed, just to drive home the point of how genuine the danger really is, that the stakes are high. In the end, Alfred seems to just be a convenient way for the writers to manufacture some tension for the story without really trying too hard.

So we head into the main part of the episode, a series of interconnected action scenes. Batman faces Joker and his goons down directly, and beats the human ones up fairly convincingly, demonstrating his martial prowess. But he comes up short against the robot, a plot device a little out of left field, and is dumped in a rudimentary death trap.

Ever since Adam West and Burt Ward spent half their time dealing with such traps, they’ve become a staple of the Batman mythos. This one is pretty simple, but allows Batman to show off some of his gadgets (and makes the Batboat more than just a pretty animation). In a tight spot, Wayne remains cool, uses his intelligence and gets out of it.

One of the standard tropes of the Joker character, sometimes, is his inability to actually kill Batman, always leaving a way out for the caped crusader, perhaps subconsciously. Batman is “too much fun” is the thinking. That doesn’t seem to be a problem with Hamail’s Joker though, who seems to really be going for it here. The whole deathtrap thing creates some decent tension, and serves as good filler in-between the more basic set pieces.

“The Last Laugh” really is pretty straightforward plot-wise, but its structure is fairly lop-sided. The set-up, all the way to Alfred’s breakdown, takes only a few minutes, and the rest is Batman’s showdown with the Joker and his goons. Save for some brief inserts about the panic in Gotham, this is an episode light on substance or exposition, the vast majority going to the extended confrontation with Joker. I suppose that’s fine, but the episode has a scent of mindlessness as a result, of “shut off your brain” syndrome. I don’t want to call it a totally lazy effort, since the semblance of a very good idea is there, but not enough was done to get decent stuff out of the premise.

The final battle of the episode has some decent action in it, as Batman deals with the goons (again) before a slightly more violent confrontation with “Captain Clown” (see below). This is all good stuff, as B:TAS needs hand to hand combat sequences. We’ve shown off Batman as a detective several times already after all, but he is also a fighter. He still doesn’t get to fight Joker, not really, but the substitution of a chase scene is effective enough as a conclusion to the general plot, as is the second death trap over the pit of fire. One thing “The Last Laugh” has going for it is its lack of nonsense for the Joker throughout the entire course of the episode, the villain not having endless toys to pull out of his ass and throw at Batman. No Nutcracker robots this time, just the Joker using factory machinery to his advantage. That works, showing the Joker as intelligent without it being ridiculous. Batman’s goal is to survive and frustrate his enemy, and that brings victory.

Of course, it’s nearly the same ending as “Christmas With The Joker”, with us leaving off on the main plot with Batman dangling Joker over a deadly pit after the clown tripped over himself. Batman gets to have the titular last laugh of course, smiling gaily at the predicament his deadly enemy finds himself in, the reverse of the first shot of Wayne in this episode. Couple that in with Wayne playing his own practical joke on Alfred in the final scene. I guess that was the point the creators were trying to make – a sort of journey from seriousness to laughter – but the way we got there wasn’t great. I suppose, by the end of “The Last Laugh”, we’re supposed to learn that Bruce Wayne can laugh too. Good to know? It’s not even a bad idea to explore, Bruce Wayne having a sense of humour, but it’s wrapped around a pretty weak core. Altieri directed “On Leather Wings” as well, and this is a step down.

Tidbits/Quotes:

-The recurring musical theme, a mix of horns and jaunty accordion, is ok, but repeats way too much throughout the episode. Very jarring after a while.

-So, how did Joker escape from Arkham this time? This is a recurring problem in all superhero media of course, since they can’t just keep showing the bad guy escaping from prison without it being boring, but the absence of this key element severely effects suspension of disbelief.

-As in “Christmas With The Joker”, the clown prince of crime does have access to a wide variety of gadgets and gizmos, from robots, to chemicals, to an actual submarine. How does Joker pull this off? As the final act demonstrated, he works better when his tools are kept simple. What was it Heath Ledger’s Joker said? “I’m a guy of simple taste. I enjoy dynamite. And gunpowder. And gasoline. You know the thing they have in common? They’re cheap.”

-A basic continuity error near the start, as the “Gotham Globe” van is delivering “Gotham News” papers.

-I suppose you could say that this episode has a bit of an environmental message, from the giant heap of garbage that the Joker uses to disguise his poisonous actions. Not a super effective one though.

-Beautiful shot of Wayne Manor in front of a setting sun early on.

-Hilarious shot of Bruce Wayne shaving, with the most misplaced look of misery on his face. Not the first time B:TAS has done that.

-There is a moment, around the “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping!” line, when Joker appears to break the fourth wall and address the audience. Not sure what the deal was with that.

-His “Everyone remember where we parked” line was the funniest of the episode though. Hamail is a great Joker.

-Really hated that second use of the “permanent insanity” line after Alfred’s breakdown. Way too on the nose and an unnecessary reminder for the audience.

-At least that moves into an excellent little sequence of Batman speeding along in the Batboat with fast paced music in the background. Proper “race against time” feeling.

-Really bizarre moment where Summer Gleeson reports on the stock market fluctuations caused by the Joker’s terrorism, rather than the people going crazy all around her. The stock market thing is referenced a few times, but is not effective at creating extra tension and receives no finality as a sub-plot.

-A few more fight scenes in this one, they’re increasing as we go along. Mostly based along self-defence lines, and not actually throwing many punches, but at least we’re getting more action. Actually, a lot of the “Batman vs henchmen” bits look just like some of the fights against Jokers henchmen in Tim Burton’s Batman.

-The really violent stuff comes with the robot. In animation you can get away with more stuff when your hero is fighting robots, and here that includes Batman wailing on the robot with a pipe, smashing the humanoid face up, than crushing him into a cube. This is as violent as B:TAS is really gonna get for the moment.

-Batman without his cape does look really weird.

-The final confrontation features this extended but of animation where Batman is just running along a conveyer belt, which seems like a bit of padding. It is interspersed with some neat bits of Joker sitting, waiting, that psychotic leer on his face.

-Really nice animation of Batman skimming the flames in the factory.

-I really hated the final shot of Batman dangling the Joker over the fire, not only because it was so similar to “Christmas With The Joker”, but because Batman has the stupidest look of self-satisfaction on his face. The Joker just nearly ruined the lives of thousands of people, and his closest friend. Batman should not be smiling.

-Plenty of plot holes and inconsistencies of course, as is becoming standard. Why does “Captain Clown” start whirring out of nowhere just when the plot requires him to become a robot? How does the Batboat work underwater? How was Batman able to fire those lasers so accurately when he couldn’t even see the Batboat? Why does “Captain Clown” stop climbing out of the crusher? Why does Batman stand still long enough for Joker to hit him with a crane? Do the people of Gotham just get back to normal? Is there a cure?

Overall, a pretty mediocre episode that fails to really suck in the audience.

To see the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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2 Responses to Batman: The Animated Series – The Last Laugh

  1. Pingback: Batman: The Animated Series – Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: Batman: The Animated Series – Be A Clown | Never Felt Better

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