Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Joker’s Favor” & “Vendetta”

“Joker’s Favor”
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
Episode #022
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Layout Services by NOA Animation
Original Airdate – September 11th, 1992

Plot: Two years ago, the Joker spared Charlie Collins’s life. Now, on the eve of a banquet honoring Commissioner Gordon, the Joker calls in his favor. 

“Joker’s Favor” is another one of my favorite episodes of The Animated Series. Charlie Collins, Ed Begley Jr.’s second great guest performance in a row, makes a wonderful everyman: pudgy, bald with a pathetic attempt at a combover, and his own ‘50s sitcom theme music, courtesy of Shirley Walker. He’s a whiner and a loser, but he’s not a bad guy. He risks his life to protect his family and he’s surprisingly resourceful, basically inventing the Bat signal within the show’s continuity. So the story of this likable sadsack caught in the terrifying world of Batman is a great follow-up to “Be a Clown,” an adult’s take on the Joker in contrast to a child’s. Whereas Jordan Hill saw the Joker as an immediate monster, once vanquished gone forever, the Joker is a looming presence in Charlie’s life, a constant threat to his family.

Mark Hamill’s portrayal of the Joker is especially psychotic in this episode. Not only has his hatred shifted inexplicably from Batman to the Mayor and to Gordon, he has obsessively tracked one man for two years only to off-handedly try to kill him in a plot to kill someone else. He’s delightfully dickish throughout, making a big show of signaling after Charlie chews him out for cutting him off, throwing two cents at Charlie to call him on his bluff, greeting Charlie like an old friend, then making sure Charlie is mobile but trapped before the explosion (unlike the rest of the police), just so Charlie can beg for his life. He’s an unmotivated villain, one who wants to hurt people for no better reason than to hurt them.

In the end, however, we learn that the Joker is just a bully and a coward at best. His power comes from the fear he causes before he attacks, creating the false impression that only Batman can stop him. But while Batman is running though a recreated temple (complete with death traps!), it’s Charlie who punches the Joker and threatens him with a bomb until the Joker begs for his life. Of the Joker episodes so far, this is by far his most satisfying defeat. He doesn’t escape or trip, he’s outwitted and out-joked, and by a “nobody” at that.

Okay, the real story of “Joker’s Favor” is that it’s the first appearance of Harley Quinn, easily the most popular character created for the series (suck it, Sewer King!). I’ll get into a discussion about my complicated feelings about her character later, because she’s barely in this episode, she’s not quite fully formed here, has only a few lines and the one about being a beauty school drop-out is later contradicted. On the other hand, you can see the character she’s going to become. Following up the theme from “Be a Clown,” the Joker has recruited a mini-Joker as his biggest fan, another costumed villain who laughs at every joke he makes, even and especially the terrible ones. What’s missing is just how dark their relationship really is, but we’ll get there.

 

“Vendetta”
Written by Michael Reaves 
Directed by Frank Paur
Episode #023
Supervising Composer Shirley Walker
Music Composed by Michael McCuistion
Animation Services by Spectrum Animation Studio
Original Airdate – October 5th, 1992

Plot: When witnesses against Rupert Thorne disappear, Batman suspects Detective Harvey Bullock is behind it. But Harvey is being framed a monstrous reptile man who has a… what’s the word? Starts with V….

My biggest problem with “Vendetta” is that it’s not “A Bullet for Bullock.” Since the pilot, Bullock has been a thorn in Batman’s side, calling him out on stealing evidence, attacking cops, and taking the law into his own hands. And here Batman is straight-up wrong about Bullock’s guilt and almost puts an innocent man in jail. Had Batman interrogated Bullock as he does Thorne, roughing Harvey up in his own home and throwing him off a roof, Reaves and Paur could have shown that Bullock has a real point and there should be limits on what Batman does. 

Additionally, they could have demonstrated Bullock’s actual redeeming qualities. Gordon says Bullock is a good cop, but we don’t see it. It’s implied Bullock is someone to respect, as Killer Croc nearly kills Batman, and Bullock managed to arrest this monster without Batman’s help two years earlier (perhaps while the Joker was not killing Charlie Collins). Had Bullock helped in the climatic fight at the end, the episode could have ended on a note of mutual respect. But instead he’s unconscious and so we don’t. (At least Batman admits he was wrong). For an episode revolving around him, Bullock is singularly passive the whole time.

That said, it’s a little unfair to criticize this episode for not being a different one. The story it chooses to tell it tells very well. Michael McCuistion’s tense, moody score is solid throughout. Spectrum Animation brings their A game to Frank Paur’s noirish direction of neverending rain, shadowy bridges, and dark, menacing caves. And the fight in the sewer at the end is a bruising affair between a master martial artist and a much stronger monster.

Additionally, the introduction of Killer Croc is great. No time is wasted explaining why he’s a super strong reptile man, just that he is and he’s back for revenge. In later episodes Aron Kincaid will play Croc as a buffoon, but here Croc is patient, vicious, and even clever. Framing the cop who arrested him for killing the witnesses who testified against him is brilliant in its simplicity. And that’s before he nearly beats Batman to death in the sewer, making him on par with Clayface and Mr. Freeze as physical threats.

Not to say there aren’t Fridge Logic problems with Croc’s plan: Does a crocodile man in a trench coat really look like Harvey Bullock? How could he leave a scale when his whole plan involved the police finding a planted toothpick? The worst question is why does he keep Spider Conway and Joey the Snail alive? The answer “It’s a kid’s show” doesn’t quite sit right, as the menacing shot of Croc moving in on a screaming Conway implies he was doing something to them in that cave, and torture is the least awful thing I can think of.

(By the way, Spider Conway is named after Killer Croc’s creator, Gerry Conway.)

Also, this is another episode of Batman being a really terrible detective. Not only does he suspect Bullock on very little evidence, it takes forever for Batman to tie the human reptile scale he finds to a crocodile man on record as having a vendetta against Bullock, Conway, and Joey the Snail. He doesn’t check Bullock’s arrest record, ask the zoo’s reptile expert if they know anything, or even ask Kirk Langstrom if he’s been working on any sort of “Man-Crocodile.” He goes to a children’s exhibit at “not-Sea World” to find out crocodiles live underwater. It’s one of the stupidest things in the entire series, so out of tune with the dark crime fiction tone of the rest of the episode that it stands out like, well, a giant grey reptile man in a trench coat.


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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