The episode begins with Everyman Charlie Collins driving home from a rained-out baseball game and complaining about his very normal, everyday problems—busted after asking for a raise, his kid needs braces, his wife Bonnie is making meatloaf for dinner... As if that weren't bad enough, some speeding police cars and the Batmobile chasing someone cut him off. Angered and frustrated when yet another motorist cuts him off, Charlie loses his temper. The resulting rant, however, is the worst thing yet—it turns out this second car is being driven by The Joker, who does not appreciate people yelling at him. Charlie desperately tries to drive away, but the Joker cuts him off at every turn and corners Charlie when he gets out of his car to run away.
Joker: We can't have people cursing at each other on the freeway! It's simply not polite! I'll just have to teach you some manners!The Joker prepares to kill him, but Charlie begs and pleads for his life. It isn't until Charlie tearfully claims he'll do "anything" to save his life that the Joker's interest is piqued. Thoroughly amused by the idea, Joker promises to spare Charlie's life in return for a "favor" sometime in the future—he doesn't say what, he doesn't say when, but when he calls, he expects Charlie to answer. Then the Joker leaves, having changed Charlie's life forever...Two years later, Commissioner Jim Gordon is receiving a testimonial ceremony at the upscale Peregrinator's Club, a show of support for all his years of service, and all the best and brightest in Gotham will be there to show support... except the Joker, who wasn't invited. Furious at this, the Joker plans to teach everyone involved a lesson, and instead of getting a specialist to help, he decides this would be a wonderful opportunity to cash in his favor with Charlie. Meanwhile, Charlie has changed identities, moved halfway across the country, and started a new life. Nevertheless, the Joker effortlessly contacts him.
Charlie: How did you find me?Charlie initially refuses, but after the Joker threatens his family, he grudgingly comes back to Gotham. His attempt to go for help is intercepted by Harley Quinn to bring him back to the Joker, who tells him the favor he brought him back to do—opening the door at the Commissioner's testimonial. That's it. Charlie is understandably baffled, but knows how nuts and dangerous the Joker is and thus does not argue much. However, he does realize that there must be something much more sinister at work, and before the ceremony he gives a last ditch effort to contact Batman, jury-rigging a Batsignal that Bruce Wayne just happens to see as he is leaving the party early.Later, at the testimonial, Gordon's ceremony goes as planned until partway through. Harley knocks on the door, Charlie answers it, and an unscheduled cake is rolled in, in the Commissioner's honor... and Charlie finds that his hand has been glued to the doorknob. The cake holds a surprise—gas that paralyzes everyone in the room except Charlie and Harley (she gives him a gas mask too). The Joker then pops out of the cake and gives a riveting speech in praise of the Commissioner, capping it off with a gift from him and "all the others doing 25 to life": an explosive medal, set to take out the whole building. Thus, the Joker departs with one of his worst enemies and a room full of people about to die and laughs in Charlie's face, leaving him behind to die as well.Thankfully, Batman interrupts the party, and Charlie directs him to the bomb. After checking to make sure everyone's all right and freeing Charlie, Batman goes off in pursuit of the Joker, effortlessly taking out his goons (including Harley) and tracking the giggling madman into a temple the Peregrinator's Club reconstructed. After avoiding a few deathtraps and close calls, Batman manages to push Joker into the street, where he runs into Charlie, who sternly demands he stop. When the Joker tries to keep running, Charlie repeats his demand and grabs him, before punching him.The Joker is furious about "a miserable little nobody" like Charlie making demands of him, and tries browbeating him into obeying him again by threatening Charlie's family. But, driven to mad desperation by the Joker's machinations, Charlie reveals he has taken one of Joker's bombs and plans on killing them both. He says that he has truly figured the Joker out; the Joker's only real dream is defeating Batman in a grand public spectacle, or, at the very least, dying in the effort of it—Charlie gloats that he'll now make sure that it that dream will never come true because he will blow himself and the Joker up. His family will be safe and the Joker will only be remembered as the villain who was unceremoniously killed by "a miserable little nobody." And he hits the nail right on the head, as suddenly the disdainful and mocking Joker is reduced to gibbering, pleading, and screaming for Batman's help as Charlie menacingly advances to kill him with his own trap.
Joker: Oh, I never lost you, Chaz. You've become my... hobby! [evil laugh]
Joker: Oh, I never lost you, Chaz. You've become my... hobby! [evil laugh]
Charlie: You see? I can destroy a man's dreams, too! And that's really the only dream you've got... isn't it?Batman shows up just in time, and the Joker desperately begs him to save him from Charlie, but despite Batman's attempts to talk Charlie out of what he's doing, he refuses, claiming that this is the only way his family stays safe. In desperation, Joker immediately takes all of his info on Charlie's family, which he keeps in a book, and frantically tosses it to Batman—at which point Charlie reveals that the bomb was a dud and his craziness an act all along, in order to get the Joker to give up the information.
Charlie: Hey, Joker! Gotcha!With the Joker thoroughly defeated and humiliated, Charlie earns a rare laugh from Batman and a new future as a free man. As Batman takes Joker away, Charlie wearily walks off happy to be able to see his family again... even looking forward to having some of Bonnie's meatloaf...This episode marks the first appearance of Harley Quinn.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Actually Pretty Funny: Even Batman permits himself a chuckle when Charlie terrifies the Joker into submission with a fake bomb.
- Adult Fear: Having one bad day on the road will lead to a crazy stranger stalking you and your family for two years, not allowing you to cry for help. Charlie says as much when he explains that the Joker threatened his wife and their son.
- Adventurers Club: The Peregrinator's Club is an exclusive lounge for the wealthiest citizens of Gotham City. Originally used by adventurers and explorers, it later became home to the city's rich and affluent bluebloods. That would explain why on earth the club has reconstructed a Mayincatec temple—right down to the poison dart trap.
- An Aesop: Possibly several.
- Alliterative Name: Charlie Collins
- And I Must Scream: The Joker's gas totally paralyzes people—while it's obvious they are still conscious, which meant that Commissioner Gordon is watching as a timed bomb counts down, and all he can do is watch it happen.
- And Your Little Dog, Too!: Joker threats Charlie's wife and son.
- Badass Normal:
- Discussed. Batman says the other officers would disagree with Gordon's disgust at honoring him. The Commissioner retorts they should present Batman with the award, who declines, saying Gordon works around the clock fighting the loonies of Gotham.Batman: I'm just the night shift.
- It can't get more badass than everyman Charlie Collins actually instilling fear in the Joker.
- Discussed. Batman says the other officers would disagree with Gordon's disgust at honoring him. The Commissioner retorts they should present Batman with the award, who declines, saying Gordon works around the clock fighting the loonies of Gotham.
- Batman Gambit: Charlie invokes He Who Fights Monsters as a way to bully the Joker into giving up all the info he has on him and his family.
- Became Their Own Antithesis: Charlie Collins begins as an Everyman with a touch of Ungrateful Bastard (at least about his day-to-day life). By the end, he becomes an Action Survivor with a new appreciation of his life.
- Big Eater: Bullock, to Montoya's disgust.
- Booby Trap: The reconstructed temple is full of them.
- Book Ends:
- The episode begins with Charlie unhappy with his mundane life and the perspective of eating meatloaf for dinner, and ends with him happily going home and looking forward to Bonnie's meatloaf.
- Also the scenes of the Joker threatening Charlie and Charlie eventually threatening the Joker.
- Brick Joke: Aside from the meatloaf bit mentioned above, Charlie decides to yell at the Joker's car for cutting him off without warning. As Joker begins hunting a terrified Charlie down, he very politely uses both a hand signal and his blinker when changing lanes.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Joker's ultimate response to ruining Charlie's life and then killing him is akin to someone finishing off a collection—the Joker simply decides to get a new hobby.Joker: [casually] Looks like I'll need to get a new hobby now that Charlie's... ["dead" gesture] ffft.
Harley: [even more casually] Macramé's nice.
- Can Only Move the Eyes: The Joker's gas paralyzes people in this manner.
- Character Development: Over the course of the episode, we see Charlie Collins evolve from a helpless victim when he meets the Joker, to a guy who seeks help in ingenious ways (when he manages to fake a Batsignal) to a guy who manages to trick the Joker!
- Continuity Nod: Back to this episode, rather than from it. The Peregrinator's Club is later robbed by Harley and Poison Ivy in their self-titled episode.
- Cornered Rattlesnake: After the Joker's attempt to kill Charlie, he realizes he must take other measures in order to protect his family.
- Dartboard of Hate: The Joker is seen flinging darts at a newspaper's front-page photograph of Commissioner Gordon.
- Distant Prologue: Opens with Charlie Collins accidentally cursing out the Joker, leading him to be forcibly hired by the Clown Prince of Crime to do a favor that he has not thought of yet. It takes 2 years for "Mistah J." to think of something and track Collins down.
- Does Not Like Spam: Charlie is clearly not a fan of his wife's meatloaf at the beginning, but after all he goes through, he knows he'll be grateful to be with her no matter what she cooks.
- Driven to Madness: Invoked by Charlie Collins in his last confrontation with the Joker.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Charlie has to assume control of the situation to save himself and his family. He defeats the Joker while Batman is a mere spectator.
- Entitled Bastard: Just after another attempt against Batman's life, who's the guy the Joker asks for help when Charlie threatens to kill him?
- Everyman / Muggle / This Loser Is You: Charlie, an average man who lives an average life that Joker derides as "mundane" and "meaningless." The fact that the Joker spends two years keeping track of this poor guy only to find him and sadistically hold him up to a promise later, even though it doesn't benefit him in the least, only serves to show what a monster he is.
- Exact Words:
- Charlie caps off his rant at being cut off with, "if I had my 2 cents, I'd—" before noticing who he's dealing with. When the Joker later catches up to him, he throws two pennies at Charlie's feet and ominously dares Charlie to do something to him.
- Also:Charlie: Wait! You promised to send me home!
Joker: I never said alive!
- Fade to Black: The last shot of the episode is Charlie entering the shadows and vanishing into silhouette, symbolizing his return to his "mundane and meaningless little life."
- False Camera Effects: When the Joker threatens Charlie Collin's family by phone, the camera's depth of field moves from Charlie inside his house to his wife and son outside; when he hangs up, it shifts to Charlie again.
- Faux Affably Evil: This is the episode that cements that aspect of the Joker's characterization. Once Charlie calls him out for being rude, the Joker acts as a model driver.
- Flaw Exploitation: Charlie wins his Batman Gambit by exploiting Joker's dream to kill or be killed by the Batman (The Only One Allowed to Defeat You) and his belief that everybody is only a "bad day" away from where the Joker is, by invoking He Who Fights Monsters and Not So Different.
- Fleeting Passionate Hobbies: Darkly invoked by the Joker in Charlie's case; see But for Me, It Was Tuesday.
- Foil: Charlie is one to Batman and Bruce Wayne, in that he actually does have a normal life and barely manages to hold onto it; whenever Bruce gets a sense of normalcy like marriage or family, circumstances manage to hold it off. Charlie has more mundane problems such as not having enough money for his children's braces and disliking his wife's meatloaf, and by the end he comes to prefer those to the madness that the Joker brings to any party. Batman seems to silently agree, given he doesn't call out Charlie for helping the Joker when hearing that the Joker kept Charlie as a "hobby." Unlike Bruce, he doesn't have to put on a mask to bring down the Joker.
- For the Evulz / Evil Is Petty: The only reason Joker keeps stalking and threatening Charlie all those years, just to kill him anyway. More so than most of his other appearances, this episode shows just how needlessly cruel the DCAU Joker can be, simply because it amuses him. However, Charlie manages to get this to backfire on him by the end.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- Joker saying that Charlie is "ffff...ked."
- Harley posing as a police stripper.
- The Heckler: Charlie Collins realizes the only way to truly inspire fear into the Joker is stealing his act by menacing Joker's only dream: his Final Battle with Batman.
- Heroic Heelization Speech: Charlie gives one of these to the Joker of all people, after Joker has terrorized him and his family for years.Joker: You miserable little nobody! If I get caught, your wife and son are history!
Charlie: You're not getting caught. Not this time. I found this blown out of the van. [reveals a Joker bomb] This is how it ends, Joker. No big schemes. No grand fight to the finish with the Dark Knight. Tomorrow all the papers will say is that the great Joker was found blown to bits in an alley alongside a miserable little nobody. Kinda funny. Ironic really. See, I can destroy a man's dreams too, and that's really the only dream you've got, isn't it?
- He Who Fights Monsters: Invoked by Charlie, and the Joker believes it!
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Joker is ultimately beaten and humiliated by one of his own dud bombs.
- Holding Out for a Hero: When Charlie sees Batman at the paper, he tries to call him to take care of the Joker... only after Joker's Kick the Dog moment does Charlie realizes that he, and not any other, must stop his tormentor.
- Hope Spot: Just when Collins believes he has lost the Joker, his station wagon appears from nowhere. Collins tries to approach two policemen at the airport, only to be intercepted by Harley.
- Hourglass Plot: Current Trope Illustrator for that page!
- Ignored Vital News Reports: Everyman Charlie Collin's car radio broadcasts the last part of the bulletin announcing someone has escaped and is considered armed and dangerous. Charlie, not being a Superhero, only cares that this is aggravating the traffic jam he's in and goes in a Slight-Induced Rant on how his life sucks. Some minutes later, he will be Mugging the Joker...
- Implacable Man: The Joker manages to find Charlie wherever he goes, no matter Charlie's maneuvers to lose him.
- Ironic Echo:
- At the highway:Charlie: Hey buddy! Yeah, I'm talking to you, clown! You think you own the whole road? Well, for two cents I— [sees the Joker]
[after a frenetic chase]
Joker: [throws down two pennies] There's your two cents. Now, what are you going to do to me?
- Charlie tries to justify his road rage with, "I had a bad day." When the Joker tries to convince Charlie not to kill him, he mentions Charlie has had "a... busy day."
- When the Joker threatens Charlie's family, calling him a "miserable little nobody," Charlie throws those Exact Words back at him when he threatens to blow them both up.
- At the highway:
- Jumping Out of a Cake: The Joker. Amusingly, they were originally going to have Harley do it, figuring it would be "weird" with the Joker—only to have him do it and keep Harley, who grew into one of the show's iconic characters.
- Leitmotif: It's Batman: The Animated Series, so Charlie has one. It's a whistling tune (backed by tuba!) used in increasingly ominous ways as things go sour.
- MacGuffin / MacGuffin Title: Joker's favor is only an excuse for Joker to Kick the Dog.
- Mugging the Monster: Charlie Collins gives a Rant-Inducing Slight to a unknown motorist... who is the Joker. See Oh, Crap!.
- Musicalis Interruptus: Charlie's Leave It to Beaver-esque Leitmotif suddenly stops dead as he realizes, with a look of horror upon his face, that two of the Joker's underlings have managed to track him down to Ohio after living for two years in some form of peace and quiet under a new name.
- My Car Hates Me: When Charlie flees from the Joker (breaking through a fence to do so), his car starts to sputter going up a steep hill. Charlie prays: "Go, go, go... come on!" However, when the radiator overheats and his car stops, Charlie simply gets out of the car and runs for it.
- Not So Different: Charlie is an average man who lives an average life that the Joker derides as "mundane" and "meaningless," his only dream to be with his family—he's nothing more than a hobby for the Joker. It turns out that the Joker's dreams are pretty petty too... Charlie lampshades the fact that the only thing that brings the Joker any joy is destroying innocent lives like Charlie's.Charlie: You see? I can destroy a man's dreams, too!
- Not So Stoic: Charles Collins's revenge on the Joker gets a brief chuckle out of Batman.
- Offscreen Teleportation: Joker takes a page out of Droopy's book when Charlie first tries to get away from him. No matter how far Charlie drives, how many twists and turns he takes, Joker always ends up right next to him—smiling.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Charlie Collins:Charlie: That was the Joker! I cursed out the Joker!
- The Joker:Joker: Stop! You're crazy!
- Charlie Collins:
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Genially exploited and lampshaded by "miserable little nobody" Charlie Collins when he snaps and becomes a Cornered Rattlesnake willing to take the Joker with him in a Heroic Sacrifice. Collins manages to inspire fear in a psychopath by menacing the only real dream he has.
- Pastiche: This episode shares a lot of the tropes with Alfred Hitchcock's Signature Style:
- Action Survivor: Charlie Collins fits the Hitchcockian pattern of an ordinary man, through one bad turn, falling into extraordinary circumstances and fighting his way out.
- Black Comedy: So, did you find the episode funny? Just ask Charlie Collins how much fun he had!
- Dramatic Irony: A lot of times, Hitchcock placed his heroes in formal social gatherings, where they conceal something dark and horrible and yet can't tell a soul:
- The police cars and the Batmobile run to chase the Joker—when he is right behind them in a station wagon.
- Charlie realizes he has Mugged the Joker and tries desperately to escape him, while the other motorists, trapped in boredom, don't even pay attention to him.
- When the Joker menaces Charlie by phone, False Camera Effects uses Emphasis by Focus, showing the audience that Charlie has to hide the peril he faces from his own family.
- A police convention proves to be the most dangerous spot in the city.
- Charlie cannot tell any policeman the peril they all face, because the Joker's minions are watching him.
- Fade to Black: The last shot of the episode is Charlie entering the shadows and vanishing into silhouette, symbolizing his return to his "mundane and meaningless little life." And he couldn't be any happier.
- Hope Spot: Just when Collins believes he has lost the Joker, his station wagon appears from nowhere. Collins tries to approach two policemen at the airport, only to be intercepted by Harley. Charlie always hoped the Joker would spare him, even trying to justify himself before Batman.
- MacGuffin / MacGuffin Title: Joker's favor is only an excuse for Joker to Kick the Dog.
- The Oner: There is one take at the Peregrinator's Club when the camera goes from being placed on Bruce and Gordon to pan down past the legs of a passerby to see little Charlie Collins emerge from a door in the background.
- The Peeping Tom: Charlie Collin is spied upon by the Joker for two years to ensure he will not break his Deal with the Joker.
- Police Are Useless: Just moments after police cars and the Batmobile had pushed aside Charlie Collin's car at the highway, Charlie asks "Where'd all the cops go?" when the Joker is chasing him. The entire police department could have been killed if not for Batman.
- Perspective Flip: This episode tells the tale from the point of view of the Everyman citizen Holding Out for a Hero who has aroused the wrath of the Super Villain and must become an Action Survivor. Indeed, Bruce Timm stated that this episode, along with "The Man Who Killed Batman," was inspired by the style of Will Eisner's The Spirit, in which many of the stories revolve around ordinary people and the hero is often not featured except at the beginning or the end.
- Playing the Victim Card:
- Harley tries this on Batman.Harley: I know. You're thinking, "What a shame. A pure, innocent little thing like her led astray by bad companions." [grabs a knife, but Batman stops her]
Batman: Right. Tell me another. [handcuffs Harley and goes after the Joker]
Harley: Oy. Beauty school is looking good right about now.
- Charlie Collins also invokes it when he confesses to Batman that he helped the Joker with his plans.Charlie: Watching me for two years, like a bug in a jar, watching, laughing and threatening my family. I had no choice, Batman, really!
- Harley tries this on Batman.
- Poison Dart: The Peregrinator's Club has reconstructed a Mayincatec temple, right down to re-poisoning the darts in the traps, which Joker uses to his advantage. The Joker had probably fixed this up beforehand.
- Rant-Inducing Slight: Getting cut off on the freeway leads to a rant by Charlie, which leads to a much, much worse reaction than usual. Also, Joker's reason for trying to kill everyone at the testimonial is supposedly that he wasn't invited.
- The Real Heroes: The episode's Central Theme. The subplot mentions that Gordon doesn't think he deserves an homage, but Batman remarks that Gordon deals with Gotham's insanity 24/7 while Batman is only pulling the night shift. And Charlie, an example of This Loser Is You, defeats the Joker.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Joker gets a pretty good one from Charlie.
- RevengeSVP: Though it's more likely he's merely taking the opportunity to kill Gordon while his guard is down, Joker claims that he plans to attack Gordon's testimonial simply because he wasn't invited.
- One of Joker's mooks reads a Tiny Toon Adventures comic in one scene, one of many references in the series as the two shared several writers and producers.
- "Say goodnight, Gracie!"
- "Now listen up, Charlie Brown!"
- The Joker's two mooks, Rocko and Henshaw, are named for characters from The Phil Silvers Show.
- The Sociopath: The Joker holds off on killing Charlie in favor of stalking him for years, forcing him to move and change identities. When he brings Charlie back, it's to do a seemingly pointless task which is actually just an excuse to kill him anyway. The kicker is that this was never anything of note to the Joker, he just regarded this as a hobby, something to do for a laugh when it dawns on Charlie that the whole thing was meaningless.
- Stock Phrases:
- Tempting Fate: Said by Charlie just before everything goes to hell.Charlie: When exactly did I became life's punching bag?
- They Call Me Mister Tibbs: When Batman meets Charlie Collins, he is a pathetic victim of the Joker who is Holding Out for a Hero and could have helped the Joker to kill a lot of people. When Batman meets him again at the alley, Batman calls him Charlie. After Charlie confronts the Joker and pranks him with a bomb, Batman addresses him as Mr. Collins.
- Took a Level in Badass:
- Charlie attempts this at the start of the episode. Big mistake.Charlie: Oh, so that's it! No signals! No nothing! Just push me aside! Treat me like I don't exist! Well, not this time.
- At the end of the episode, Charlie takes it for real. If the Joker calls you crazy and Batman grins at the end of it, it's safe to say you pulled off a good prank.Charlie: Hold it!
Joker: [pats his head] Oh, come now. [walks away]
Charlie: I said hold it!! [punches Joker in the gut]
- Charlie attempts this at the start of the episode. Big mistake.
- Villainous Breakdown: The Joker has a funny one, being bullied by Charlie Collins and calling Batman for help!
- Villains Want Mercy: After tormenting Charlie for years, the Joker begs him for mercy when Charlie threatens the Joker with the Joker's own bomb. Joker goes so far as to cower behind Batman when Charlie the (fake) bomb at him.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Averted as Batman frees Charlie from the door and saves everyone from the bomb. He asks with genuine compassion about Charlie being the Joker's "hobby" and understands the situation that Charlie was in—having a bad day that led to his family being threatened, being hounded and stalked for two years. This makes sense, especially given that Bruce hasn't had a truly normal life since his parents, Thomas and Martha, died—he pines for a normal life, but due to his double-life as Batman, Gotham's criminals constantly take it away.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Averted when a Freeze-Frame Bonus of Charlie Collins' driver license reads: Charlie Collins, Woodrust Drive, Gotham States, N. Y.
- You're Insane!:
- The Joker accuses Charlie of being "crazy"—"I had a good teacher!"—when he really believes Charlie's going to blow them both up.
- More typically, though he's naturally afraid to say it to his face, Charlie mumbles that the Joker is nuts when he cashes in his "favor" by stalking him for two years and calling him out of his new home and changed name to hold a door open, and yells at him for not thinking it was obvious.