Batman The Animated Series: Christmas with the Joker

"Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg, the Batmobile broke a wheel and the Joker got a way!"

The Joker breaks out of Arkham Asylum intent on ruining everyone's Christmas.

'Christmas with the Joker' is a fun episode, if one a little light on plot. The Joker breaks free, takes Commissioner Gordon, Det. Bullock and Summer Gleeson hostage, puts on his own Christmas TV special, and Batman and Robin go from one set-piece after another in order to rescue them, culminating in a finale where the dynamic duo battle giant robot nutcrackers set to The Nutcracker and Batman takes down some killer toy planes with a baseball bat ("They don't call you Batman for nothing" quips Robin).

One of the many amazing things about this show was how it managed to retain its dark and brooding tone while sometimes being as utterly bonkers and absurd as the Adam West series was. BTAS worked so well because it took the character of Batman completely seriously (although not too seriously, thankfully), but not necessarily the world that he inhabited. It acknowledged and accepted that the villains Batman regularly faced off against were all quite ridiculous and often came up with some truly over the top schemes. Take the Joker's escape from Arkham, for example. He breaks out of the joint by riding a rocket powered Christmas tree. That's exactly the kind of stunt that Cesar Romero would've pulled if the show's budget had allowed for it.


What separates this Joker from Romero's is that, for all his absurd antics, you never doubt for a single second that this guy is a homicidal maniac who wouldn't think twice about slicing everyone's throats. The villains from the '60s series were never anything more than annoying pests. You half suspect that the reason the police always called on Batman and Robin to deal with them was because they really couldn't be bothered to do it themselves. They never posed a serious threat to anyone, not even Batman and Robin, despite the many needlessly complicated death traps they strapped the dynamic duo to every week.

But the villains on this show? They might never get to actually kill anyone, because this show is aimed at a much younger audience, but you know if they could they absolutely definitely would, the Joker most of all. The Clown Prince of Crime is a tricky character to get right. Lean too hard on the jokes and he just comes across as goofy. Go too far in the opposite direction and you get whatever the hell Jared Leto was meant to be. Fortunately, BTAS manages to get the balance just right. Much of that is is down to Mark Hamill, who delivers a delightfully deranged performance that is, as far as I am concerned, the definitive Joker.

As well as the Joker, this was also the first episode with Robin which makes this a perfect opportunity to talk about how much I love this show's Dick Grayson. Robin is still something of a divisive figure amongst fans, probably because of his strong association with the Adam West series (which many still refuse to see as nothing more than a camp embarrassment) and the Schumacher films (which no one should see as anything but a camp embarrassment). This Robin, however, isn't as aggressively earnest nor as annoyingly bratty as those Robins. He's a more laid back and sarcastic character, who spends most of this episode gently mocking Batman for his complete lack of holiday cheer.

And the costume ain't bad either. No Peter Pan shoes for this Boy Wonder.


I know that Voice 

I'm sure I'm not the only one who did a double-take or three when they first discovered that the Joker was none other than Luke Skywalker himself. Tim Curry was originally cast in the role, but dropped out, allowing Hamill to step in.

Comic Book Connections 

Both Robin and the Joker were created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson. Robin first appeared in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940), and the Joker in Batman #1 (April 25, 1940). The Joker's look was inspired by the character of Gwynplaine, played by Conrad Veidt, from the film The Man Who Laughs (1928). Robin was added to the comic because the creators wanted to make Batman a lighter character and attract younger readers.

Notes and Quotes

--The man the Joker salutes just before he climbs on the tree resembles Charles Manson.

--I actually had to Google who the Joker's third hostage was. Despite appearing in multiple episodes, Summer Gleeson is not one of the show's most memorable characters.

--This is Mark Hamill's favourite episode.

--According to Bruce Timm, director Kent Butterworth quit halfway through production and Eric Radomski had to finish the episode.

Robin: "Okay, I'll make a deal with you. If we go out on patrol, and Gotham is quiet, with no sign of the Joker, we come back here, have Christmas dinner, and watch It's A Wonderful Life."
Batman: "You know, I've never seen that. I could never get past the title."

Robin: "He could give lessons to Scrooge."

Dick: "You're going to love It's a Wonderful Life. It's a great movie."
Bruce: "It's not relentlessly cheerful, is it?"

The Joker: "Live from Gotham City, the show that nobody wants to see, but everyone will watch!"

The Joker: "Run, run as fast as you can, you'll not catch me, I'm the Jokerman."

Three out of four rocket powered Christmas trees.

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

4 comments:

sunbunny said...

The most memorable thing about this episode is its rendition of Jingle Bells. Which I'm not saying is a bad thing, "Jingle bells, Batman smells" was an anthem of my childhood and still pops into my head from time to time.

I can't believe Tim Curry was the original Joker. That's so funny. I wonder if he would have worked as well as Mark Hamill. I do love Tim Curry. But Hamill's Joker was definitive.

Aaron Studer said...

You nailed it - I loved in this series that Mark Hamill could do exactly what Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger did for The Joker, plus so much more.

Chris said...

While this is certainly not the best Joker episode on the show by any means, it still is a ton of fun. After the rather dark first episode, this one proves that the show can be just campy superhero fun, too. I think that is one of the things that really allows this show to be the definite version of Batman for so many fans, myself included: while most other versions either focus on the dark or the camp side of Batman's world, this show embraces both of these aspects and mixes them seamlessly.

As for Summer Gleason, even though this is the correct production order, this episode does feel a little out of order. Summer is introduced as Joker's hostage without explaining who she actually is, as if the audience is already supposed to know her. It's a little strange.

Btw, I love that you always include the episode's title card at the top of your review. I love these things and was pretty disappointed that they were abandoned for the sequel series. Another aspect I just love about the show that I don't think you've mentioned yet: each episode has it's own musical score. There are recurring character themes, of course, but there are new tracks in every single episode, setting each one apart from another.

CoramDeo said...

Not the greatest episode. I completely agree about the Joker, though, and I think you have it right about Robin as well. With very few exceptions, this show can be pointed to as the definitive way to do any character. I love Mark Hamill's performance here more than I can really say. There's just no world in which any other Joker, including Ledger, can hold a candle to him.