Batman: The Animated Series – Episode 9 – Be A Clown
Director: Frank Paur
Writer(s): Ted Pedersen and Steve Hayes
Story Editor: Laren Bright
Animation Studio: AKOM Production
Theme Score: Shirley Walker
Episode Score: Shirley Walker and Michael McCuiston
We’re back with another Joker episode that I enjoy. This is the only episode which Ted Pedersen helped write, same for Steve Hayes, but he had been a writer for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He would later go on to write six episodes for the show Exosquad. Hayes had written episodes for a T.V. spinoff of Rambo and would later write episodes for Tarzan and a show called Acapulco H.E.A.T.
Right from the get go the directing is really solid as is the score to the episode. The animation is also really solid for the most part with some good shots and Paur has a great feel for some unique shots as already seen in my review of The Underdwellers. I love the shot of the smoldering wrecked car in the opening with the police car in hard focus behind.
A vehicle driven by two goons crashes during Mayor Hill’s speech to clean up and keep Gotham safe. An offhand remark comparing Joker to Batman as being, “cut from the same cloth,” helps set the entire plot in motion and it’s a lot of fun to watch. In smart plot development, the writing largely hinges in the roots of the combative relationship between Mayor Hill (voiced by Lloyd Bochner) and his son, Jordan (voiced by Justin Shenkarow), for whom he’s throwing a birthday party. The disconnect is well written simply by the insinuating that Mayor Hill’s invited his own friends & their kids, none of whom Jordan knows, while being dismissive if downright hostile towards Jordan’s interest in magic.
Hamill absolutely kills it presenting Jekko with an over the top high pitched nasally showman’s voice while slipping into his cold, serious Joker voice from time to time. It’s a magnificent little character performance and highlights Hamill’s ability to transition with ease. Given his first two appearances, here I think is where Hamill starts to shine as The Joker especially with some of the darker lines in the episode. More smart writing reveals itself as the plot hurtles forward with Jekko telling Jordan three rules to being a great magician and Jordan enacts on the first two. It’s a good use of foreshadowing without being heavy handed about it while tying into the relationship between Mayor Hill and Jordan as a means of executing step one: running away.
The plot kind of gets a little wonky in terms of believability with Joker not noticing a kid sized body under a sack right behind his seat and Jordan somehow getting inside in the first place since it was padlocked. With that said, Jordan’s appearance and Joker’s irate attitude coupled with a great shot of his shadow looming over Jordan as he comes down the steps almost makes up for it alone. I also oddly enjoy Joker’s interaction with Jordan as it helps paint how dark Joker is with lines such as, “Hey, if it wasn’t risky, I wouldn’t enjoy it,” while making a slitting gesture across his throat with a sword (how did that make it past censors?).
One great aspect of the story I like is that Joker does get the upper hand on Batman, appropriately enough with an Ace up his sleeve, by knocking Batman out with gas. The trap that Joker puts Batman is not only calls to mind the obvious stage stunts by Houdini but specifically Harry Houdini’s Water Torture Cell and outright references it in the episode. The score and Jordan’s immediate necessity to grab an axe and try to break the glass with it only heightens the tension that Batman really is in trouble.
The animation really aids the final act including a fantastic little shot of the final Kewpie doll blowing up in the front seat of the car that Batman’s in sending it off the rails and to the deck below. Joker shows off his spraying flower, which misses Batman, and Joker promptly gets kicked off down into the water below averting a rather dark little ending scenario. In another example of great writing, Batman makes a snarky one liner Bond style only for him to gasp and the viewer to see that Jordan’s not only still in the car but also heading towards a wide open gap in the rails keeping the tension raised without feeling cheap about it. The direction of Batman climbing over the seats and the animation of Batman extending his hand also helps add to the tension that Batman can’t just jump in and miraculously save the day and reminding us that he is still a human underneath the cape and mask.
Overall Score: 78% A very strong little episode that isn’t quite high on repeated viewability but is a lot of fun to watch for the first time and holds up relatively well. Hamill’s voice acting is really strong and the transition of the dysfunctional relationship into the eventual Batman/Joker chase feels organic and very natural. The tension remains surprisingly high throughout the final act and the writing has a lot of deft little touches that help keep the pace going. Frank Paur does a great job with some unique visual shots that help to let the viewer see what Batman sees and accentuates the very solid animation from AKOM.
You can see the rest of my BTAS Episode Reviews: at this link
In 2 weeks comes the 10th and 11th episode of BTAS, Two-Face: Parts 1 and 2!