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Recap / Batman: The Animated Series E2 "Christmas with the Joker"

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It's a snowy Christmas Eve in Gotham City and all the people are getting into the holiday spirit, including the residents of Arkham Asylum. Made to sing "Jingle Bells" as they decorate an enormous Christmas tree, The Joker (gleefully serenading us with a very special version of the song) is given the golden bell to perch atop the tree. However, the tree is in fact a rocket and no sooner does the Joker climb the tree than it takes off and blows through the roof, taking the Clown Prince of Crime to freedom.

Joker: Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg! The Batmobile lost a wheel, and the Joker got away!
Crashing through the roof, in a one-horse open tree, busting out I go, laughing all the wheeeeeee! Ha ha ha ha!

One man isn't in the Christmas spirit, however: Batman. Back at Wayne Manor, Dick Grayson tries to talk Batman into letting up for just one night and kicking back to watch It's a Wonderful Life, but the Dark Knight's primary concern is that Joker is on the loose again. While Robin assumes that even the Joker wouldn't make his move on Christmas, Batman suspects otherwise: unlike the rest of Gotham's scum, Joker has no family to spend the holidays with. The Batmobile roars off into the snowy winter night as the Dynamic Duo begin their sweep of the city.

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And... all is well. Musicians are playing Christmas songs in the streets as last-minute shoppers, ice-skaters and charity fundraisers all revel in the most wonderful time of the year. Even people who look like muggers have suddenly became friendly, generous people who run after old ladies who have left behind gifts for their grandchildren. Robin's protests that they aren't needed tonight still fall on deaf ears, of course. Even back at Wayne Manor before Christmas dinner, Bruce Wayne is still certain that he should have done one more sweep of the city. Nevertheless, Dick coaxes Bruce into finally sitting down to watch It's a Wonderful Life.

But their movie isn't on the right channel—or any channel. Every single channel is broadcasting the same images of a man standing beside a warm fire, bathed in shadow: the Joker. After leaping back into costume, Batman tracks the Joker's broadcast signal while the deranged clown reveals that, not having a family to share Christmas with, he has decided to steal the "Awful Lawful Family": Commissioner Gordon (Daddy Lawful), Summer Gleeson (Mommy Lawful) and Harvey Bullock (Baby Lawful) are all tied up and gagged with candy canes. If Batman can't find them by midnight, Joker threatens to kill them.

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Joker also has a hand puppet, through which he reveals the next stage in his plan: blowing up the President's Bridge, part of a railway route, and sending the 11:30 train and its passengers straight into a gorge.

Summer: My mother's on that train!
Joker: Your mother? Well, that's different then!
Joker: [via puppet] Yeah—it'll be even more exciting when it crashes! Ha ha ha!

Batman and Robin catch up to the train. As the Boy Wonder disconnects the passenger cars from the rest of the train, Batman makes his way to the front carriage to save the engineer. Getting there just in time, Batman and the train driver jump to safety as the train flies off the destroyed bridge in an almighty explosion.

With time running short, Batman and Robin quickly race to the source of the Joker's broadcast signal at the observatory on Mount Gotham. Joker has left them a few surprises though, including a telescope that has been reconstructed into a fully operational cannon. As Batman draws its fire, the cannon hits a nearby control tower, promptly going out of control and beginning to fire shots wildly and randomly into Gotham City.

Inside the observatory, Robin finds himself face-to-face with six giggling, machine-gun-wielding Joker robots. Using their position to trick them into firing into each other, five are quickly dispatched. While under fire from the last robot, Robin throws a bomb at the mechanisms that make the cannon operate, stopping it from firing.

With just minutes to go until midnight, the Dynamic Duo is completely out of leads. Thankfully, Joker throws them a helping hand when he gives "Mommy Lawful" her present—a wind-up Betty Blooper doll, which he promptly uses to destroy a model version of Gotham City for kicks. This is all the lead that Batman and Robin require, however, and they immediately trace the origin of the rare doll to the abandoned LaffCo Toy Factory downtown.

They guessed correctly and found the Joker's hideout. Joker, of course, has a few more surprises to throw at them and activates his army of toys, including flying toy planes and giant tin soldiers (all with the Joker's face). After knocking down the giant soldiers, Batman gets to work on the flying attackers with a bat.

Resorting to far more traditional tactics, the Joker's two goons open fire with machine guns and send Batman and Robin ducking for cover. Batman wraps his cape around a giant teddy bear, using it to draw their fire before the bear falls on them, pinning them to the ground. It's only then that the Joker reveals himself from behind a giant green curtain, where the three hostages are hanging precariously over a vat of bubbling, molten plastic while Joker stands beside their rope with a pair of scissors, threatening to drop them into the vat if Batman doesn't open the Christmas present he has for him.

Being out of options, Batman receives the Joker's present and tears off the bow and wrapping, and opens the box to reveal... a cream pie that springs itself into his face. The gag sends Joker into a fit of hysterics before he quickly cuts the rope and makes a run for it.

Batman leaps bravely to save the hostages and grabs them in the nick of time. He then chases the fleeing Joker and manages to get a hold of him. Joker, however, is in fact wearing a fake jacket that slides off when his arms are grabbed and, after squirming free, he makes his way up onto the walkway above the vat of boiling liquid. But he steps on a very fortunately placed roller skate and tumbles over the railing, almost falling into the vat before Batman grabs his leg. Batman then smiles and bids the Joker a Merry Christmas. The Joker answers with "Bah! Humbug!"

Bruce and Dick finally get to see It's a Wonderful Life (Gordon loaned them his copy of the tape) back at Wayne Manor, and even Bruce is in a far more cheerful mood now that Joker is behind bars. The episode ends with the Joker in his dark cell, cackling madly while singing "Deck the Halls".

Joker: Merry Christmas.


Tropes in this episode include:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: LaffCo Toy Factory, which has apparently been lying disused for fourteen years.
  • Adult Fear: For Summer, hearing her mother is on a train that the Joker is going to crash. She can only cry while Bound and Gagged as the Joker laughs.
  • Airborne Mook: Among the evil Joker toys are a squadron of tiny attack planes that dive-bomb Batman.
  • Ascended Meme: The "Batman Smells" version of Jingle Bells.
  • An Asskicking Christmas: Batman and Robin go after the Joker on Christmas Eve, with fights against some reprogrammed Christmas toy robots and some Trainstopping for kicks.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Attack of the 50-Foot Toy Soldier.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Joker calls the goons who blow up the bridge “Donner” and “Blitzen”. The obvious reference is to two of Santa’s reindeer, but they’re also the German words for “thunder” and “lightning”.
  • BFG: The observatory cannon.
  • Bound and Gagged: Commissioner Gordon, Bullock, and Summer Gleeson, tied up in wrapping paper and gagged with candy canes. Joker releases Summer's hands so she can open a Christmas present, a Betty Blooper doll.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: About 2/3 of the way through the show, Joker tells all the Gothamites who are watching that his Christmas special will return after "a word from our sponsor." Both the fictional program and the episode itself then cut to a commercial break in our own world. The gag is, naturally, ruined on DVD, where there are no commercial interruptions.
  • Christmas Episode: With a "Christmas Episode" Show Within a Show for bonus points.
  • Christmas Songs: The Joker and his Mooks sing a version of "Jingle Bells" ("Batman Smells") and Joker is singing "Deck the Halls" when back in Arkham.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: The giant robot toy soldiers promptly fall over when Batman kicks their heads off.
  • Dissonant Laughter: The Joker's "program" has its own laugh track, keyed to things he finds amusing (such as crashing a train full of passengers).
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: The Joker takes over every channel to broadcast his Christmas Special. Before he reveals his face, Robin gets increasingly annoyed as he flips through station after station, looking for It's a Wonderful Life, only to see the same image over and over.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Canonically this is the Joker's first appearance. So how do you prove the Clown Prince of Crime is an amusing threat? Have him escape after putting a star on a Christmas tree while singing his Ascended Meme.
  • Expy: The Betty Blooper doll is one for Betty Boop.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Batman tries to grab the fleeing Joker, only to end up holding the Joker's cardigan, complete with a false set of arms.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Averted; Mark Hamill's singing voice falls naturally flat when singing the Joker arrangement of "Jingle Bells," just missing the high notes.
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: The Joker wears a rather subdued example for his "Christmas special."
  • Hope Spot: At first Robin and Batman are able to trace the television signal back to the Joker, which would mean they just have snatch him as usual. Then it turns out the Joker has taken three people hostage, they have to stop a runaway train, and the signal is a trap. Batman hangs a lampshade after Robin's line about it being "too easy":
    Batman: It's never easy with the Joker.
  • Hostage Situation: Joker takes Gordon, Bullock and Summer Gleeson hostage.
  • Incoming Ham: Or Incoming Hamill—the Joker is introduced via singing Christmas songs while escaping from Arkham on a rocket disguised as a tree.
    Joker: Crashing through the roof, in a one-horse open tree...
  • Kick the Dog: Joker laughs at the idea of Summer Gleeson's mother being on the train that he's trying to crash, making Summer cry.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Compared to Bullock and Gordon, who are Gotham PD, Summer is a journalist. She's also the only one who doesn't try to mouth off to the Joker when briefly ungagged, but tries to shout out their location.
  • Laughing Mad: "Laughing all the wheeeeee..."
  • Laugh Track: Joker uses a laugh track in grossly inappropriate fashion while discussing violence/terrorism. It's possibly a secondary Lampshade Hanging that the "audience" he's using is revealed to be cardboard cutouts.
  • Mythology Gag: Joker nearly falls into a giant vat of liquid.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Batman and Robin would be stumped if the Joker hadn't produced that Betty Blooper doll. That being said, the Joker wants them to find him.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Batman swings into action to stop an apparent mugging when he sees a young man chasing after a middle-aged woman. It turns out that he's just trying to return a package she accidentally left behind.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: After breaking out of Arkham, Joker in a matter of hours manages to acquire enough technology to hack into everyone's television channels, take three hostages, and evade Batman's heavy surveillance.
  • Pie in the Face: The Joker went to all that trouble just to set Batman up for this gag.
  • Properly Paranoid: Batman was completely right about Joker attempting a Christmas scheme. Robin admits as much.
  • The Public Domain Channel: The episode was produced and aired when It's a Wonderful Life, then in the public domain, could be seen on dozens of channels at any given time. (The film's copyright would be re-activated the year after the episode's broadcast.)
  • Shout-Out:
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Joker loves invoking this.
    • He plays a The Dating Game-style arrangement of his Leitmotif after revealing that he took three hostages, one of whom is terrified and screaming for help.
    • Music from The Nutcracker plays as lethal mechanical toys attack Batman and Robin. It's pretty jarring to hear "Trepak" (aka the Russian Dance) played in a minor key.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • Summer when briefly ungagged screams for help and tries to reveal the Joker's location, which would have brought Batman sooner than later. He merely re-gags her before she can.
    • Batman tries to follow the television signal trace, which is straightforward and "easy" as Robin mentions. They then have to detour to stop a train from going over dismantled tracks, and it turns out the signal is a trap.
  • The Stoic: Batman, even when getting a Pie in the Face or hearing that Joker has taken three hostages.
  • Trainstopping: Being Badass Normals, Batman and Robin are forced to stop the train through the relatively mundane method of disconnecting the carriages from the engine, then leaping off the train with the engineer in tow.
  • Unnecessarily Large Interior: The LaffCo factory is enormous (as is everything in it). It may be why it went out of business.
  • Visual Pun: Batman, wielding a bat.
  • Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: Not addressed in the episode, but you have to wonder how and when Joker managed to get the facilities to broadcast a TV show on every channel, turn an observatory telescope into a giant cannon and construct all those giant toys with his face on them... sure made for entertaining TV, though.

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