Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “The Forgotten” & “Be a Clown”

“The Forgotten”
Written by J. Dennis, R. Mueller and Sean Catherine Derek
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Layout Services by NOA Animation
Episode #008
Original Airdate – October 8th, 1992

Plot: While investigating the disappearance of homeless men, a disguised Batman is knocked out. He wakes up in a prison camp with no idea where he is, or who he is.

“The Forgotten” is a sharp change in style for The Animated Series. Most of the action takes place outside of Gotham in a sun-drenched, sweaty mining/prison camp, beautifully painted by Dong Yang Animation. Shirley Walker replaces the orchestral score with harmonica heavy blues. In place of a costumed supervillain, the antagonist is a disgusting fat man who uses weapons no more fantastical than barbed wire and guns. The episode might have been better titled, “Cool Hand Bruce.”

And thematically, it parallels “The Underdwellers”: a villain is exploiting the weakest in society, here homeless adult men instead of young orphans. And while the origins of Frog are left unsaid, this episode takes time to explain how Bruce’s cell mates fell so low that they could disappear without anyone noticing or caring. The show opens with Bruce as Bruce volunteering at a homeless shelter, and the episode really makes the point that, in addition to the supervillains, Batman fights real-world problems in both his masked and unmasked personalities.

That said, I really don’t like this episode, because most of the plot hinges on the hoary cliche of concussion-induced amnesia. Somehow Bruce was hit so hard he doesn’t remember his own name or that he’s Batman (and thus doesn’t remember he could easily escape this prison), but he still has his language and motor skills, his disguise doesn’t come off, and no one recognizes Bruce Wayne under a light layer of make-up. Even in a show with Man-Bat in it, that stretches my suspension of disbelief too thin.

There are some good elements in and around the stupid, stupid amnesia plot. Bruce mentally putting himself back together and vocally turning back into Batman is thrilling, Alfred the detective, fighting in junk yards in a tux and flying a surprisingly snarky Bat-Plane to the rescue is a hoot, and there’s some genuine pathos in the plight of the men being exploited, but the amnesia thing just ruins everything.

 

“Be a Clown”
Written by Ted Pedersen & Steve Hayes
Directed by Frank Paur
Supervising Composer Shirley Walker
Music Composed by Michael McCuistion
Animation Services by Akom Production Co. Nelson Shin, President
Layout Services by NOA Animation
Episode #009
Original Airdate – September 16th, 1992

Plot: Jordan Hill, son of the Mayor, runs away from his own birthday party in the back of the hired clown’s van. Unfortunately, the clown is actually the Joker in disguise. Hijinks ensue.

Hey, remember when I said “The Underdwellers” would be better with an established Batman villain? Well, I was right.

“Be a Clown,” right from the title card, is about the Joker as a tempter and corrupter. Just as Batman is a heroic inspiration for kids, the Joker can influence children, too. Notably, the Joker doesn’t set out to kidnap Jordan Hill. His actual plan to blow up the Mayor’s house (with dynamite with his face on it) is remarkably straightforward. But the Joker’s very existence is an invitation to run away from it all and join the circus. Though, in this case, “it all” includes the law, morality, and sanity itself.

Once the Joker realizes what has happened, though, he starts to intentionally create a protege, and the creepiness factor ratchets up. Through some great voice acting by Mark Hamill, we see the Joker improvise a plan, getting his revenge against the Mayor by turning his kid into a mini-Joker. When, squeezing Jordan’s shoulder, the Joker makes Jordan watch Batman drown. The mythical parents who watch cartoons with their kids must have been freaking out.

The Joker attempting to make mini-versions of himself and demonstrate that anyone could be as bad as he is, given the right motivation, is a recurring theme, from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The Animated Series best expresses this idea in the character of Harley Quinn, especially when we get to her origin, “Mad Love.” But the most extreme and disturbing take on the Joker trying to create his own Robin is Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. But back to Jordan.

After Jordan rejects the Joker and runs away, again, the creepiness factor only increases. Having rejected two father figures, Jordan finds himself alone in an abandoned amusement park, a spider’s web where everything is too big and a monster is hunting him down. Even twenty years later, the sound of the Joker’s cane clack-clack-clacking along a fence sends chills down my spine.

Which all builds up to when Batman asks Jordan to trust him. At this point, Jordan has been betrayed by two father figures, and the second one chased him onto a runaway rollercoaster while throwing exploding kewpie dolls at Batman (in a scene taken from The Dark Knight Returns #3). Now a scary man in a black mask, whom both his father and the Joker insisted is a bad man, asks Jordan to rely on him, or he will die. It’s impressive Jordan is able to even get out of his seat, let alone take Batman’s hand. But not only does his bravery save his own life, it earns Jordan the highest honor, which is again, the Bat-Thumbs Up.

Finally, this is the first episode where Batman fails to capture the villain in the end. The Joker simply falls into the water. We don’t see him escape, but we can’t assume he drowned either. At least Batman actually kicked him this time, and the Joker didn’t just trip, again.


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

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