Batman: The Animated Series Rewind Review: S01E07 Joker's Favor
Welcome back Bat-fans as we take a walk down Batman memory lane and rewatch Batman: The Animated Series for its 30th anniversary! Today we're going to take a look at the first episode to air featuring Batman's arch-nemesis and the most iconic villain in all of comics, if not in all of pop culture. Yes, here we'll get our first look at The Joker on B: TAS and get our first taste of the beloved and long-tenured performance of Mark Hamill in the role as we'll take a look back at Joker's Favor.
Joker's Favor (Original Air Date: 9/11/1992)
The official synopsis for the episode: "When a timid accountant accidentally runs afoul of the Joker, he promises the Joker anything if the villain will only let him go."
While this was the first Joker episode to air (and the seventh to air overall), it was actually the fourth one featuring the villain to be produced (and the 22nd produced overall). As mentioned above, this is indeed the first look at the series' version of the Joker that the world got and while there were similarities to Jack Nicholson's version of the character in 1989's Batman, the creators of this series wanted to cherry-pick the elements they felt worked in the live-action film, while mostly focusing on bringing the version of the character who was crafted by comics writers like Dennis O'Neal and Steve Englehart to life.
This Joker would be a psychopath, first and foremost. Of course, there would be some zany schemes and humor, I don't think there's a version of the character where those elements are totally absent. But like Nicholson's portrayal, this Joker would be a murderer and former mobster turned into a cackling madman whose objectives are centered around harming Batman and as many innocent people between them in the process.
It's near impossible to imagine this version of the character without hearing Mark Hamill's voice in your mind. It's simply iconic and goes without saying why he has continued playing the character in various mediums for 30 years now. But what is interesting is that he wasn't the original actor lined up for the role. The great Tim Curry was originally cast and has even begun recording for the series, but after a short while, the producers decided he needed to be replaced (the exact "why" has never been definitively explained and theories have ranged from Curry suffering from bronchitis to his performance being too frightening for a kid's show and being too similar to his other killer clown performance, that being Pennywise in IT) and the search for a new Joker was now paramount for the series to go forward.
Hamill was already working on the show, having voiced the corporate villain Ferris Boyle on Heart of Ice. While there, he learned of their issue in casting the Joker and pressed the producers to allow him a shot at it, which they were initially hesitant to, due to Hamill's iconic performance as one of the film's greatest heroes, Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series. But it was precisely because of that typecasting that Hamill was anxious to play a villain like the Joker, so he could dive into a role so night and day different than what everyone knew him as.
Hamill explained how he was very doubtful of his getting the role, despite finally being granted an audition, saying "I'll never get it because my association with Luke Skywalker is going to preclude me from being considered. I remember the controversy when they cast Michael Keaton as Batman, just because he was a more comedic actor. So anyway, without having any fear that I was getting it, I went in and just let it rip."
He goes on to explain how he came up with the character's trademark laugh and how that was essential to his getting cast. "I had been on the road and on Broadway doing Amadeus so long that I had an arsenal of giggles and laughs that I used for Mozart. That was one of the requirements of that role: It startled Salieri in the Viennese court that this man that was capable of writing this celestial music had a donkey bray of a laugh that was just so unsettling. It just didn't fit with who they thought he was. And I had to play around with that laugh a lot. When you do eight a week, just to keep it interesting I had a huge palette of different kinds of laughs. And the only reason I say all this is because later I said, "What got me the part, by the way?" And they said, "Oh, it was your laugh. It was your maniacal laugh that really sealed the deal."
This episode is also of great note because it is the debut of a character who would go on to become one of the most famous and beloved in all of DC Comics, that being Harley Quinn. One of the series' greatest legacies is creating such a big character and it all started here.
The character was created by writer Paul Dini, who spoke about how he took the simple idea of the Joker having a female sidekick and fleshed it out into what would become one of comics' most-profitable characters. "I was writing a script about the Joker menacing a regular person who had strayed into his path, and I needed to give him a gang of henchmen to work with him. The idea occurred to me, let's put in a female henchperson because that seemed like a fun variation on the regular big thug guys. I liked the idea of someone kind of fun and funny that he could have a back-and-forth with. I was thinking of the female henchwomen they had in the '60s Adam West series. Often the Joker or Penguin would have a moll, so I thought, let's go back and give a nod to that."
Dini continues on his inspirations, saying "I thought what would be fun would be a Judy Holliday type, somebody snappy and a 'girl gone wrong' type of character. So then I was shooting around names and I just came up with the name Harley Quinn. I pitched it to Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, and Bruce was like, 'That sounds like fun.' So I wrote the script and Bruce did the design of her in the classic jester outfit, and everything just clicked."
The character would be featured again and again going forward, which Dini thinks helped in making her an iconic part of the Joker's presentation. "I think the audience just began to expect her. They liked her, they thought she was funny. Arleen Sorkin's voice certainly gave a great deal of life and dazzle to the character."
While her tragic past and the Joker's sinister actions and motives with her weren't yet present in this debut appearance, the groundwork for Harley Quinn was laid here in Joker's Favor and that would lead to some of the most popular and striking episodes of the entire series, that would not only feature or focus on Harley but would also flesh her out into a character that would become one of the biggest in the world.
So after all of that, let's actually get into Joker's Favor!
We open on a malcontent schlub named Charlie (Ed Bagely Jr.), who while stuck in Gotham City traffic and listening to a news report on the radio of the Joker's escape from police custody, whines about his awful day and everything wrong with his life. He's nearly run off of the road by a couple of speeding GCPD cars and then by an even faster Batmobile behind them.
Another car cuts him off then, which sends Charlie into a rage. He speeds up and gets into a road rage incident with the car, where he smashes into them. As he yells out his window at the other car, he sees the Joker in the driver's seat smiling back at him. A terrified Charlie tries speeding away from the madman, but Joker follows him everywhere he tries for a getaway.
Charlie eventually is trapped by Joker in a park, where his car breaks down. Charlie runs into the woods but is found by Joker, who looks to teach Charlie a lesson. The terrified man promises to do anything for Joker if he just lets him live. The Joker agrees and takes the man's wallet and license, telling him he'll let him live if he'll do a favor for him in the future. Joker runs off, leaving the man broken and shaking.
We move forward two years now, where Commissioner Gordon complains about an event in his honor to Batman in his office. At the same time, we see the Joker has learned about the event, as he informs Harley Quinn and his other two goons that he intends to be there to honor Gordon in his own way. He then finds Charlie's license and says he will involve him in his plans.
Charlie, now living under the name Don in Ohio with his family, is contacted by the Joker, who threatens his family if he doesn't come back to Gotham to help him. He returns to Gotham and is reunited with the Joker, who informs him that once he's helped him, he'll send him right back home. He lays out his plan, which involves Charlie simply opening a door for Harley and a giant cake at Gordon's event.
We head to the event honoring Gordon at a museum that night, where Bruce Wayne chats with Gordon and apologizes for having to leave early. Charlie enters the museum and thinks about a way to possibly get Batman's attention for help. He enters a room there featuring famous inventions and spots an early prototype of the flying machine shaped like a bat. He maneuvers it to the window in hopes of somehow getting Batman's attention. Luckily for him, Alfred is driving by with Bruce Wayne in the back and they notice the visual. As Gordon gives a speech to the guests, Charlie hears the knock at the door and opens it for Harley Quinn, dressed in a police woman's uniform, to enter pushing a giant cake.
Charlie tries to escape, but his hand is now stuck to the door with some kind of adhesive. Harley brings the cake in front of Gordon, the Mayor, and others at a dais and recites a poem before setting off numerous gas bombs with a nerve toxin that paralyzes everyone. The Joker now pops out of the giant cake to make a grand entrance, as Harley cheers him on. Joker mocks the frozen Gordon, before placing a timebomb on his jacket and leaving. Charlie pleads with the Joker that he promised to send him home? "I never said alive!"
The Joker and Harley leave everyone to die when Batman crashes in through the skylight. Charlie informs him of the bomb and he shoots it into the sky with his grapple gun before it explodes. The Joker and his team realize the explosion came from outside and try to make their escape, but the bomb blew up their van. Charlie explains his situation to Batman as he frees him. He then sets out after Joker and his goons, taking the henchmen out one at a time until he chases Joker into a temple room, where Joker unleashes all of the temple boobytraps on Batman. When Batman gets the upper hand on him, Joker throws a bomb at him and runs as Batman disposes of the bomb.
In an alley behind the museum, the Joker is confronted by Charlie, who punches him out. Charlie tells him he's not getting away this time and shows Joker one of his own bombs he found in the van. He tells Joker he's going to kill himself and the Joker with him. Joker is terrified and screams to Batman for help. Batman shows up and Joker hands over all of the information he has on Charlie and his family, but Charlie still throws the bomb at him, which just blows up into streamers and a "BOOM" flag. Batman laughs as he takes the Joker into custody. Charlie heads home, now feeling positive and looking forward to the mundane things in his life he once complained about.
And that's that for Joker's Favor, a fun but pretty silly episode. While the B: TAS version of the Joker is right at the top of many fans' lists of best versions of the character, one issue I've always had is the inconsistency throughout the series with him. At the end of this episode and a couple of others, we find him pleading for his life and genuinely terrified of death, yet in other episodes and even in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, he seems completely unfazed by his life being threatened and even welcomes it. I chalk this up to censorship and network interference. Basically, whether or not the censors and or network executives were looking hard over their shoulders or not for the episode. Here they clearly went for a sillier and less psychotic mindset for the character and it's not bad, but for me personally, I like the Joker to be completely fearless and beyond any consideration of human life, including his own.
It's also notable that this episode features one of the very few times on the series or any series associated with it that we see Batman laugh. Interestingly, we also see him laugh in the future episode, Mad Love, which shows the origin of Harley Quinn and how she wound up with the Joker. So in a sense, we see Batman laugh in both inception episodes of Harley Quinn.
This episode along with the entire series is available on HBO Max in full HD. Next time, we go back to the beginning as we will finally see the second part of the first episode that aired, The Cat and the Claw, Part II. See you next time Bat-fans!
Batman: The Animated Series Season 1 Episode 7 "Joker's Favor"
The first episode to air featuring the Joker and the debut of Harley Quinn is one of the zanier episodes of the first season of Batman: The Animated Series. While not a bad episode by any means, it is a bit lighthearted compared to where they would take these two characters in the future and that may bother some fans who prefer the Joker to be a much more violent and sadistic character.
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