Sun
Oct 21 2012 1:00pm

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

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: The Forgotten and 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.

8 comments
Umbardacil
1. Umbardacil
While I certainly agree now that the amnesia plotline is stupid, I did not feel that way when I first watched "The Forgotten" as a kid and so it remains a favourite of mine. As you say, the bit where Bruce recovers his memories and realizes that he's Batman is absolutely amazing. That part probably makes the whole episode for me.

"Be a Clown" is the episode that cemented Joker as voiced by Mark Hamill as the most terrifying villain ever for me. Oh god, that laugh...I heard that laugh in my dreams for several days after I first watched that episode. Classic!
Mahesh Banavar
2. maheshkb
For me the best part from "The Forgotten" is the music. It is what I remember most clearly from the episode.

"Be A Clown" had two Joker stories!! The first with the cake, and then the one that was really, really scary.

Are any of the side characters (from these or any other episodes) ever revisited? Does Jordan come in any other episode?
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
I can accept the TV amnesia in "The Forgotten" since it's a necessary catalyst for the story, and it's no more absurd than, say, Man-Bat or Clayface. What bugs me is the geography. Gotham's supposed to be on the East Coast, so how can there be this southwest-style desert/mountain landscape so close to the city?

Still, while it's an unusual episode for the series, it's effective in a number of ways, particularly Shirley Walker's score (a cue from which ended up becoming their standard recap music for 2-parters). I like Batman's concern for the homeless, and I love the scene where the disguised Bruce outfights the thugs without even taking his hands out of his pockets.

I never cared much for "Be a Clown," but I guess that of the three Joker episodes that were written before Paul Dini joined the staff, it's the least disappointing. And Mark Hamill did a cool Ed Wynn impression (IIRC) as the party clown.
Umbardacil
4. RobinM
The amnesia story made me think that someone has been watching Days of Our Lives again but I liked the episode. I especially enjoyed the Alfred section.
"Be a Clown" cemented my belief that clowns should NEVER be allowed at little kids birthday partys. On the upside Jordan will have lots to tell the kids at school on Monday.
Umbardacil
5. Jorge Gulías Merelles
Hi. On amnesia. For years I thought it was only a plot driving device that writers invented. Until I had an accident and I got amnesia. I can't begin to describe the feeling of being among your loved ones and having no idea who they are.
That was many years ago. Today I am a writer of comics and, of course, I have used amnesia.
Umbardacil
6. Robby the Robot
I just purchased all four seasons Batman: The Animated Series on Amazon.com. I am glad I did because I didn't get a chance to see them in their orginal run. I do remember this episode. I wonder why the producers don't use Mark Hamill more in the DC animated movies as the Joker? Especially in the Dark Knight Returns....the Frank Miller graphic novel adaptation. Not to diminish the talents of the actor who portrays the Joker in that one. However I believe Mark 's voice was the definative and ultimate version of the animated Joker.
Christopher Bennett
7. ChristopherLBennett
@6: For one thing, the animated movies generally use a different cast and continuity in each one, preferring them to stand on their own and offer different interpretations. For another, Hamill has officially retired as the Joker, with his last performance in the role being in one of those Arkham computer games, I believe. It was getting to be too hard on his voice or something.

Personally I'm really looking forward to hearing Michael Emerson's take on the Joker in TDKR. He is a remarkably talented vocal performer and I'm sure his Joker is really going to be something.
Alan Gratz
8. agratz
I agree with an earlier poster: the best part of "The Forgotten" for me was Alfred's resourcefulness, but as I recall he still comes off as wimpy and uncool. The Forgotten is best, well...forgotten.

And Be A Clown is definitely not one of my favorite Joker episodes. It's interesting to me to read responses from people who watched these first as kids though. I would probably view Be A Clown very different had my first experience with it been as a child.

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