“Joker’s Wild” (season one, episode 41; originally aired November 19, 1992)
Don’t piss off the Joker. As terrifying as he is on a nondiscriminatory crime spree, Joker takes it to another level when it comes to settling personal vendettas. “Joker’s Favor” showed the lengths he’ll go to horrify the average Joe, and “Joker’s Wild” directs his rage on one of Gotham’s elite: Cameron Kaiser (Harry Hamlin), owner of the new Joker’s Wild casino. We saw how Joker reacts to the use of his likeness without proper compensation in “The Laughing Fish,” and the casino’s gross exploitation of his trademark grin backed by a robotic laugh track is an inexcusable offense. All three of the aforementioned episodes are written by Paul Dini, a man who understands Joker’s sadisticomic appeal, and he gives Mark Hamill ample scenery to chew with his consistently fantastic voice work. In typical Dini fashion, the true villain of “Joker’s Wild” is Kaiser, who is using Joker as a pawn in an insurance scam, and if there’s one thing Joker hates more than copyright law, it’s being used to make other people rich.
The episode begins with Joker in the Arkham rec room, hogging the television and being a general pain in the ass. Dini is great at writing the interplay between the rogues, and Joker speaks to Poison Ivy with the same kind of semi-flirtatious patronizing he showers on Harley, with Ivy’s thorny reception foreshadowing the ongoing tension between the two as Ivy befriends Joker’s wacky sidekick. Now that the main cast of villains has been established, Arkham is in full on revolving door mode, and this is the first time we see a full-on escape from one of the prisoners. I’m starting to suspect Arkham is actually run by a council of powerful Gotham citizens who benefit from supervillain attacks: politicians that run on fear-based platforms, contractors that repair the city after each new rampage, CEOs of pharmaceuticals that mass-produce the Joker venom antidote. How else could you explain the lack of asylum basics like locks on doors and a staff of non-imbeciles? It’s silly to hold a cartoon loony bin to any sort of realistic standard, though, especially when its main purpose is to be broken out of.
This is Akom’s first episode after being fired from the series with “Cat Scratch Fever,” and the addition of layout services by Mr. Big Cartoons makes for an improvement on Akom’s usual work. Unfortunately, their usual work is dreadful so this episode barely hits average. There’s an exaggerated Looney Tunes quality to the animation that wouldn’t work for a more mature episode like “Heart of Ice,” but it’s a suitable fit for the lighter tone of “Joker’s Wild.” The action is smoother and the character models more consistent, which is basically what happens when additional layout services are provided on this series, with the team of Dong Yang and Spectrum having done strong work together, including the next episode "Tyger, Tyger." Of course, any help Akom can get is greatly appreciated, and they clearly realized that after getting their asses canned.
Bruce Wayne is convinced that Cameron Kaiser didn’t originally plan the casino’s Joker theme, and peels back the wallpaper of his room to reveal a layer of medieval print underneath. He switches into his work clothes and investigates Kaiser’s office where he finds a model of Camelot casino and an insurance policy paid in full. Having bankrupted himself building the $300 million casino, Kaiser changed the establishment’s theme in hopes that the Joker would destroy it, allowing him to collect on the insurance policy and start another doomed business venture. Joker begins his reign of terror in the casino by posing as a blackjack dealer, leading to his first meeting with Bruce Wayne, who recognizes Joker as the real deal immediately. It’s a great scene that Conroy and Hamill nail, showing new sides of both characters as Bruce toys with Joker’s pride. We get to see Bruce the cocky jerk with Joker as his punching bag, and both actors are clearly having a lot of fun with the snappy banter Dini has mapped out for them.
The Batman/Joker action is a mix of hardcore fisticuffs and spectacular deathtraps, from a suicide run in the Jokermobile to a giant roulette wheel of death and an airborne helicopter duel. Director Boyd Kirkland isn’t as strong an action director as some of the other directors for the series, but “Joker’s Wild” is a solid effort on his part, particularly the roulette wheel. Batman shooting his grappling gun at just the right moment to catch a bouncing grenade, blowing up the wheel and setting himself free is just a completely badass move, and it’s a nice little nod to the oversized props of Batman artist Dick Sprang.
Villains are most interesting when they have something to fight for, and “Joker’s Wild” makes Batman’s greatest enemy fight for the integrity of his name, a name that has come to represent the darkest, most deranged corners of the human mind. He ends up back in Arkham by the end of the episode, but he’s achieved his goal. He’s reminded the world what a wild Joker really looks like.
“Tyger, Tyger” (season one, episode 42; originally aired October 30, 1992)
What was going on in the producers’ heads when they plotted Selina Kyle’s arc? Here’s a sexy cat burglar with a complex relationship to our leading man, she should fight a Russian terrorist! And corrupt pharmaceuticals! And get turned into a cat! You know it’s bad when that last one is the strongest option, and while “Tyger, Tyger” does manage to delve into the thematic and emotional concepts Catwoman represents, it’s still a far-fetched story for a character that works best at street-level.
The biggest problem with B:TAS' Catwoman and Penguin is that they don’t receive specific origin stories because of the series’ proximity to the release of Batman Returns. The characters are given a kid-friendly makeover, but we never learn how exactly they found their place in the DCAU, which is a much different world from both the movie and comic universes. Selina Kyle is a thief and an animal rights activist, but how did she get there? And why did she choose the cat as her avatar? “Tyger, Tyger” attempts to answer that last question as Dr. Emile Dorian kidnaps Selina and injects her with a serum that transforms her into a short-haired Tigra (or Cheetarah if you swing that way), but Selina takes a backseat to Dr. Dorian's other pet project, the hunky Tygrus.
Michael Reaves and Randy Rogel tell a Catwoman story that doesn’t suck horribly so they already get points for that, but the use William Blake’s “The Tyger” as the episode’s anchor is a bold move for a kid’s show. It helps bring a layer of sophistication to the plot, which tries to achieve the same kind of gravitas as Reaves and Rogel’s previous episodes but falls a little flat in the execution. My main issue with the script is that the Selina/Bruce relationship is sidelined to give Catwoman a one-episode love interest in the form of Tygrus, but the character does introduce some interesting ideas about the relationship between the human and animal characteristics that many Batman characters embrace. That’s where Blake’s poem comes into play:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The opening and closing stanza, both Dr. Dorian and Batman quote the passage in reference to Tygrus, who personifies the perfect, fearful symmetry of man and beast. Batman and Catwoman wear masks that keep them human, and all they have to do is remove them to subdue their animal urges, but that mask is taken off Catwoman this episode. Dr. Dorian is obsessed with cats because they are independent, powerful, and beautiful, and I wish the independent and powerful sides of Selina were shown as much as the beautiful. She's in a submissive role for most of the episode, and it would have been nice if Reaves and Rogel took advantage of her new look to make the character more vicious. The most terrifying villains are the ones that no longer wear masks, that have completely succumbed to their subhuman sides, and characters like Tygrus or Killer Croc have fully embraced their primal nature, making them more dangerous threats, and Tygrus' animal attraction to Selina makes him a sexual opponent for Batman as well.
I like seeing characters thrown into arenas and forced to fight for their lives. It’s a plot device that just works for me, so this episode’s Batman/Tygrus jungle fight sequence stuck with me as a kid, because not only are the two evenly matched, but they’re fighting over a girl. When B:TAS originally aired, I was very much in the “girls have cooties” years of my life, so I was fascinated by the Batman/Catwoman relationship. The relationships I saw in books and movies were still very innocent, and female characters were never as sexualized as Selina Kyle. When she’s Catwoman she wears skintight leather, and in this episode she basically walks around naked. The emotional foundation of Bruce and Selina’s relationship is that they like to make out while wearing animal costumes, and I didn’t quite understand that as a child.
Selina wants a man that can be Batman all the time, which is unfair if she insists on holding onto her Selina Kyle identity. With her transformation, Selina and Catwoman are one, but is that what she really wants? Tygrus represents a life where she can have that raw, wild feeling she gets in costume all the time, and all she has to do is change her spots. I think there's a saying about how that tends to work out.
- Batman Beatdown: After being tied to a giant roulette wheel with a live grenade and getting shot out of the sky, Batman swings open the door of the helicopter Joker has hijacked and delivers a satisfying punch to the clown’s cackling face. Who’s laughing now?
- “You hold my hand, and I'll slug you.”
- “Ugh, that is disgusting!”
- “Jumpin' Jiminy Christmas! It's an homage to me! I'm kind of sorry I have to blow it up.”
- “All those horrible faces grinning at me. That would do things to my mind after awhile.” “Who says you have one?”
- “He’s here.”
- Sign on Jokermobile: WAN THE CIRIN QNAL JOKERNOCILE. It’s supposed to say “Win the original Jokermobile.”
- “I hate it when you make sense!”
- “Why I outta—” “Hit me.”
- “It was a scheme worthy of me, Kaiser.”
- “Why can't he ever stay dead?!”
- “Ah, you bunch of no-good, whacked-out losers, ya make me sick.”
- “I'm talking primal here!”
- Dr. Dorian’s T-99 compound turns water purple and smoky. Of course it does.
- Dr. Langstrom just so happens to have a mutated cat-monkey around his lab.
- “Your father was a test tube.” Cold, Batman.
- Anyone ever read Garth Ennis’ amazing Punisher: The Tyger? Similarly inspired by Blake’s poem, it flashes back to Frank Castle’s childhood to explore the beginnings of the character’s apathetic and vicious psyche. Snazzy John Severin art, too.