After the rousing success of last year's Matt Signal Advent Calendar, Dan and I talked and decided to do it again! This year, we'll each be picking twelve of our favorite episodes of cartoons that are based on comics, or at least have comics in their DNA. We each had to pick twelve episodes from twelve different shows. Some shows might crossover from each of our lists, but I couldn't, say, pick nine episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, as much as I would have liked to. So, without further ado, here's the first entry from, you guessed it, Batman: The Animated Series...
Batman: The Animated Series
Season 1, Episode 7: “Joker's Favor” 1992
To me, I don't think there will ever be a cartoon as masterfully crafted, as enjoyable, or as formative as Batman: The Animated Series. I think most of modern adventure cartoons have a little bit of this show in their DNA, as it was something completely different than any cartoon on TV at the time: it was serious, a bit brooding, not a toy commercial, and beautiful to look at. While other shows, many from Bruce Timm and his cohorts at Warner Animation, have taken the ball and run with it, building complex, layered series set in this shared universe, none are as special to me as this one.
Picking one episode of this series was tough, and when I had it narrowed down to two, Dan sent me his list, and I saw he had picked one of the two, so I went with "Joker's Favor." There are any number of reasons this is my pick. It's the first time The Joker appeared on Batman: the Animated Series, and rewatching it, it amazes me how Mark Hamill already has the Joker down (it is technically the third Joker episode, as two were recorded before this, but in those as well, Hamill is stunning). Hamill's Joker is at times hilarious and at times menacing, and you're never sure which Joker you're going to get.
I wrote about this episode once before, a long time ago, in an article about how many of the great B:TAS episodes feature very little Batman. Batman barely appears in the first two acts of the episode. Instead, it's the story of a put upon everyman named Charlie Collins, who while driving home, is pushed over the edge by a rude driver. Charlie drives up to him, shouting, only to realize that the driver who cut him off is The Joker. Charlie attempts to escape, but his car breaks down on a wooded road. The Joker's first full body appearance in the series is standing on a mound of earth with headlights backlighting him, hands in pockets, menacing Charlie who sits on the ground beneath. It's a beautiful shot and just perfect.
Charlie begs for his life and Joker grants it to him, but he has to do him a favor. Two years later, Charlie has changed his name and moved to Ohio, but one day he gets a phone call. Joker, who addresses Charlie as his hobby, is calling in the favor. Charlie flies back to Gotham to find Joker having escaped Arkham to help "celebrate" an award being given to Jim Gordon. Charlie's job? Simply open a door when a big cake is wheeled into the room. Joker, of course being Joker, has different plans, and Batman's third act arrival quashes many of them. But in the end, it's Charlie, poor nobody schnook Charlie, who gets the last laugh on the Joker.
Aside from the excellent plot and stellar animation, this episode has all the other hallmarks of this series. The humor, especially the scene at the end where Joker screams for Batman as Charlie menaces Joker with a bomb, is funny in a clever, non-whacky way. Ed Begley Jr. makes a great guest star as Charlie, at times put upon, at time manic when he's pushed too far. The moral of the story, about being grateful for what you have, isn't clubbing you over the head, but it comes around nicely at the end. And the music! Shirley Walker's Joker theme makes it's first appearance here, and I still whistle it to this day. And the bouncy piece that I think of as Charlie's Theme is some of the show's most memorable music.
And if that's not enough this episode features the first appearance of Rocco and Henshaw, Joker's two goons, who appear throughout the series. Oh, and another character debuts in Paul Dini's script too: Harley Quinn. But I'm sure none of you have heard of her...