Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Harlequinade” & “Time Out of Joint”

Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Episode #072
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation by Dong Yang Animation, Inc.
Original Airdate—May 23rd, 1994

Plot: When the Joker threatens the city with an atomic bomb, Batman enlists Harley Quinn’s aid in helping track down the Clown Prince of Crime. Hijinks, as they will, ensue.

Harlequinade (n): 1. A comedy or pantomime in which Harlequin is the main attraction 2. Farcical clowning or buffoonery.

“Harlequinade” began life when Arleen Sorkin, Harley’s voice actress, practiced a new audition piece while carpooling to work with her friend, Paul Dini. The song, “Say That We’re Sweethearts Again,” from the 1944 film Meet the People, is about a cartoonishly violent relationship and Dini thought that it perfectly summed up Harley and the Joker. So he wrote an episode featuring Harley Quinn just to give Sorkin a chance to sing it. And if you thought the magic mummy sorceress in “Avatar” was out of character for the series, a full on musical number is kind of insane.

It’s hard to describe this episode as anything other than a hoot. Sorkin turns in her career performance here as Harley suddenly gets the spotlight, and Harley is at her funniest in this episode (we’ll get to “Harley’s Holiday” in a bit) because she never gets a better straight man than Batman himself. The Joker could never let Harley take center stage, and Poison Ivy, as we’ve seen, would never partner with Harley unless Harley was under her complete control. Batman, however, out of desperation if nothing else, needs to let Harley be Harley, and can only get angry and annoyed (or just grumpy) at her without ever actually reigning her in.

And without control it turns out Harley is a child in a woman’s body. Crime for her is a game, not a puzzle or competition like it is for the Riddler, but play-acting like playing house. Which is why she actually narrates her sneaking and wears her hair in pigtails resembling her jester hat when she’s not in costume. She’s easily distracted (Batman buys her a candy apple to shut her up), moody, violent, competitive (“Ooh, Batgirl, eat your heart out”) and also incredibly empathetic. She’s the first Arkham villain who shows real affection for her fellow inmates. Of course she loves the Joker, and Poison Ivy, but she’s just as concerned about the rest of the crew, even if she only knows some of them as “hat guy, lizard man, and puppet head”

Batman The Animated Series Harlequin

Harley is also somehow also naively trusting. Not just with the Joker, who she cannot see has no real affection for her, but also with Batman, who surprises her by handcuffing her to the car, and with Boxy Bennett (Dick Miller), whose interest in Harley is pure lust. Not that her trust in men means she won’t betray them: she slips out of Batman’s handcuffs and distracts Boxy with her sexy song and dance when Robin frees Batman. It’s not even cognitive dissonance on her part. Like a child, Harley just assumes the rules do not apply to her.

Her past as a clinical psychiatrist is brought up twice, and Batman, Boxy, and others keeps asking Harley why she’s attracted to the Joker, but her childlike behavior actually answers that question: the Joker presents a world where she can act like a child and be rewarded for her immaturity, and the Joker’s violence is a joke on others, never to be directed at her, selectively ignoring all the times that it has been.

In contrast to her childlike demeanor, Harley is extremely sexualized this episode, especially in her musical number, which is practically a paean to her ass. While Poison Ivy has always been a femme fatale, and Bruce falls hard for both Selena and Talia, Harley has never been portrayed before as actively attractive, except to the Joker (and the Joker’s taste is suspect at best). But here she’s getting catcalls left and right, men, especially Boxy, keep hitting on her, and she shakes what her momma gave her to save her life (kind of sort of literally).

To motivate Batman to take the desperate route of teaming up with Harley, the Joker has to be his most terrifying version yet. Not only is he a nuclear power, but he’s moved away from the confused entrepreneur of “The Laughing Fish” to the violent nihilist of The Dark Knight, a master planner who has cameras all over Gotham, who will wipe out Gotham just to kill Batman, and is keeping the Mayor from evacuating the city to make sure the death toll is as high as possible. The image of him laughing from the pool in front of the A bomb is genuinely chilling. And yet, the Joker has so little screen-time that his menace is minimized and the focus can remain on the antics.

Batman The Animated Series Joker

In direct contrast to the seriousness of the threat, this is one of the silliest episodes. Harley Quinn is a series of pratfalls, funny faces, and ridiculous lines (“And here you thought I was just another bubble-headed-blonde-bimbo! Well the joke’s on you, I’m not even a real blonde!”). Shirley Walker uses the lighter tone to bring in the most traditionally cartoony score, full of sound effects, xylophones, and comedy strings.

In some ways, “Harlequinade” is a satire of “Avatar.” Harley declares the “irony” of “the grim stalwart Dark Knight and his greatest female adversary” working together, and she then betrays Batman for the man she loves. Except the Joker is hardly as noble as Ra’s al Ghul and deserves none of the same loyalty, a lesson Harley learns by the end of the episode and then promptly forgets. There’s a nice use of Robin in this episode as “Back-up Batman” and Robin is the one who finally figures out how to turn Harley against the Joker by exploiting her empathy for other people, which of course the Joker lacks. And there’s little as satisfying as watching a finally pissed off Harley Quinn easily knock out the Joker from one hundred yards away.

Of course, the relative humor of the rest of the episode is what makes the ending so very dark. As at the end of “Joker’s Favor” and Mask of the Phantasm, Batman stands aside while someone else threatens to kill the Joker. Except whereas Charlie Collins is only faking and the Phantasm disappears with the Joker (and then I guess has second thoughts about beheading him), Harley absolutely tries to shoot the Joker in the face. If Harley hadn’t grabbed the prop gun by accident, the Joker’s brains would be splattered on the Mayor’s lawn. And then they forgive each other and embrace, while the screen goes to black with an ironic heart shaped wipe.

While specifically parodying The Honeymooners (The Joker even quotes Ralph Kramden), it’s also a satire of romantic comedies in general. Audiences root for romantic couples to get together, no matter how toxic the relationship actually is. The real happy ending would have been for Harley to leave the defeated Joker unconscious in the dirt, a sadder but wiser clown. Instead, Harley’s “happy” ending is the darkest of all: the Joker and Harley will be together until the Joker kills her.


Batman the Animated Series Time Out of Joint

Time Out of Joint”
Story by Alan Burnett
Teleplay by Steve Perry
Directed by Dan Riba
Episode #073
Music by Carl Johnson
Animation by Dong Yang Animation, Inc.
Original Airdate—October 8th, 1994

Plot: The Clock King returns, now with the ability to appear and disappear in a… flash.

The Batman creators’ eagerness to start a Superman cartoon is extremely evident in the episode where Clock King, and then Batman and Robin, use a device to move at superspeed. Of course, Alan Burnett and Steve Perry tip their hand when Robin looks over at a bird and a plane and comments that he’s now “faster than a speeding bullet.”

Certainly, this is a visually clever episode, especially once we start seeing things from the view points of those moving super fast. The color shifted images, and the hints that time is slowed, not stopped (such as the still spinning fan or the poor woman slowly falling down the stair) move us into the world of the superhuman, literally removed from the way “normal” people see the world. The image of Batman running down the street holding an exploding bomb is a spectacular homage and improvement of the similar scene from Batman ’66, though BTAS Batman has an easier time finding a place to get rid of a bomb (not that Aquaman’s going to be happy with him throwing all his bombs into the bay). Also impressive is the image of the Batmobile frozen in time for two or three minutes from Batman and Robin’s points of view, but for 48 hours according to the outside world. Cars streaking into solid walls while the sun sets and rises before them ably depict how overwhelmed the Dynamic Duo really are, how outclassed they are in the face of actual superpowers.

Batman the Animated Series

However, outside of the visuals, “Time Out of Joint” is kind of hollow. I love the Clock King in his titular episode, but there he is a meticulous planner with plots and back-up plots, all timed precisely with not a second wasted. But it seems having access to superspeed has (understandably) made Tempus Fugit lazy. Rather than kill Mayor Hill immediately, the Clock King taunts the Mayor, giving Batman and Robin a chance to confront him and find the clue that leads to the device’s creator, Dr. Wakati. And even though the Clock King manages to trap Batman and Robin in a timewarp for two days, he waits until they are out before striking against Hill. Without the hook of his masterplanning, the Clock King becomes just another boring villain defined entirely by his superpower, like Man-Bat or Anthony Romulus. On the other hand, I kind of admire the Clock King’s consistent motive. He shows neither the mission creep nor desire to reform that plagues the other rogues. He wanted to kill Mayor Hill before, and that’s all he wants to do now.

Besides stripping the Clock King of interesting character traits, my problems with “Time Out of Joint” are the problems I always have with characters that can move at super speed, by which I mean the Flash. If one can strike faster than the eye can see, then how does anybody else really stand a chance? Why doesn’t the Clock King kill Mayor Hill, Batman, and Robin IMMEDIATELY? Even if he wants Hill to suffer, he could just as easily kidnap Hill and disappear with him before Batman ever knew what happened. And while I normally don’t nitpick the science of superpowers (because that way lies madness) Batman himself says “E still equals mc squared, last I heard” and an object hitting another at relative light speed creates a fission reaction. Clock King knocking on Hill’s door shouldn’t just sound like machine gun fire, it should also tear the door off its hinges, and Robin throwing Clock King into trash cans at near light speed should make the cans, or Clock King’s face, explode.

Batman the Animated Series Clock King

Though there’s no core, the episode still has some nice details. Clock King displays his single minded purpose by casually throwing away a $600,000 clock he just stole. There’s a moment of continuity as Batman rules out the possibility of “another invisible man.” The Clock King’s callousness turns out to be his undoing, since he trips over a fallen woman he had forgotten about. Batman uses actual detective work to find Dr. Wakati. And there’s good voice work from Alan Rachins as the Clock King, Roscoe Lee Browne as Dr. Wakati, and Futurama and Simpsons regular Tress MacNeille as a couple of the Clock King’s more flustered victims.

On the whole, the impressive visuals outweigh the lack of a real story, and “Time Out of Joint” ends up being a pretty fun episode. At the same time, superspeed and the Clock King are good ideas with so much more potential than this episode cares to exploit, so it also ends up being a little disappointing.

Steven Padnickis a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures


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