By: Adam Basciano
“On Christmas Eve, Joker broadcasts a pirate Christmas special on television. Batman and Robin have until midnight to fight their way past Joker’s traps hidden all over town and rescue Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Summer Gleeson.”
If you look on IMDB, this episode is listed at #38 of Season 1, but on my DVD set, it rests at episode #2. I’m not sure what the story is behind this, but it is what it is. This episode was destined to be a favourite of mine from the start. Why? Well, it has Gotham at Christmas time and the Joker, and that’s a winner for me. This episode is important, because it is the origin of the Joker’s version of Jingle Bells. Yes, the “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” version. I remember we were all singing that song in the school yard, when it first aired. The episode itself, honours the Joker’s history in its portrayal. In the episode, the Joker co-opts a broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, to inform Batman that he has Com. Gordon, Det. Bullock, and Summer Gleeson. He says he’ll let them go if Batman can find them before midnight. In his first comic book appearance in Batman #1 (1940), The Joker co-opts a radio broadcast and announces he will kill three prominent citizens. So in that sense, both the animated series highlight the darkness and the fact that he is a psychotic killer. Yet, the show also highlights the Joker’s more over the top, campy nature. He’s using cannons to fend of Batman & Robin, and when they get to his abandoned hideout, he has the dynamic duo attacked by giant Nutcracker soldiers and mini toy remote control fighter air planes. That is something you’d likely find in a silver age comic book. Big flamboyant, over the top villain props were most definitely part of the 1966 Batman television series. Another big monumental moment is the appearance of Dick Grayson aka Robin. I like that he is a college students in this iteration. Batman bringing and training a college student to be his crime fighting associate, is far more believable then the character was being a pre-teen as he is in the original comic books. I like that Robin is used to try and convince Batman to take some time off, and enjoy Christmas. Robin compares Batman to Scrooge, which makes a lot of sense. Both are wrapped up with their work, and determined to get the job done, Christmas be damned. I loved the running gag about Robin urging Batman to watch It’s a Wonderful Life”, a movie which Bruce has never seen (neither have I). The joke is never stretched too far. Robin is essentially the three spirits and Tiny Tim all rolled into one, as he continually tries to convince Batman to embrace the spirit of Christmas. If you want more Batman/Scrooge allegory, definitely read “Batman: Noel.”
The animation is top notch again in this episode. They take us out of the city and onto mount Gotham, which is covered with snow. I love seeing Gotham City in winter and this episode makes it a winter wonderland. I also like that Wayne Manner is shown as being on the outskirts of Gotham City perched high above a cliff in this iteration. That visual furthers the idea of Bruce Wayne/Batman watching over Gotham City. The visual nods to past iterations of the character continue in this installment. The Batmobile busting though the entrance door of Joker’s abandoned toy factory looked eerily similar to the Batmobile barrelling down the door of the Jokers abandoned Axis Chemical factory in the 1989 Batman film. Also, the scene where Batman holds Joker by his foot perilously above the vat of chemicals, recalls the Joker origin scene from 1989, but also is in keeping with comic book encounter as well. The Robin costume looks good here. Gone are the pantyhose and elf booties, and in their place are full pant like clothing and boots. This is a much more believable and visually appealing rendition of the costume. The Joker’s look is appropriately creepy yet fun, with his pointy nose, sunken eyes, black pupils, and teeth gnashing grin. Anyone notice the Elvis-esque hairstyle The Joker!?
After re-watching this, I’ve made an executive decision to add it to my Christmas viewing list every year, right along with Elf, A Christmas Carol, and re-reading Batman: Noel. If you’re not ready to let go of Christmas just yet, watch this episode, and if you want to enjoy a great Batman Vs Joker episode, watch this episode just the same.