Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's forty-sixth installment, a look at classic animated series and their tie-in comic books. This week, we're examining two times the Joker's schemes infected the entire city of Gotham. Thanks to Gravity Falls Poland for the suggestion! And if you have any ideas for future installments, just leave a comment.
Debuting on September 22, 1992, "The Last Laugh" was the second Joker episode produced for Batman: The Animated Series. Scripted by animation writer Carl Swenson and directed by TAS vet Kevin Altieri, this episode is famous in fandom for just seeming...off. Some fans were convinced for years that this was the show's pilot. People assumed something this off-model couldn't have been produced if the crew already had an idea of where they were going.
Is the animation to blame? Not really. It's from Akom, the studio known for the weakest episodes, but nothing here looks egregiously bad.
Is it the music? The score is unusual for the series. The symphonic score is present, but often overpowered by an accompanying hip hop beat. Occasional episodes would incorporate other styles of music. Heck, Batman even once faced a werewolf with a heavy metal guitar in the background. But the early '90s beatbox sound does feel like an odd fit for the series' tone.
Does the story miss the mark? Well, it's the Joker causing chaos while Batman pursues him throughout Gotham. Yeah, that's a Batman story. But while the plot might sound fine in summary, in practice, it doesn't suit the vision of Batman the series is known for. (Ironically, the actual pilot, "On Leather Wings" doesn't play as one at all. That episode shows a team with a clear vision for what Batman should be.)
The story of "The Last Laugh" is as generic as the title. It's April Fool's Day and Joker has unleashed a supply of laughing gas on Gotham City. He robs the city blind, as Alfred is brought down by the gas. (Never mind the gas is coming from a barge nowhere near Wayne Manor.) Batman dons a gas mask and pursues Joker through a garbage barge. After taking down the robot Captain Clown, Batman finishes off the Joker.
To be generous, there's some attempt to make this story personal for Batman. Alfred will die, we're told, if he isn't treated in time. And there's a running bit about Batman not having a sense of humor, paid off in the final line of the episode. But it all feels like standard kids' TV writing. And if Batman was meant to be anything, it was the antithesis of what viewers expect from kids' TV.
The episode isn't a total loss. The voice acting is solid as always, with Mark Hamill saving many of the Joker's mediocre lines. And his faux-outrage at the death of Joker's robot is still quoted to this day. (“You killed Captain Clown! YOU KILLED CAPTAIN CLOWN!”) But the lack of depth is hard to overlook. Even the obvious setup of contrasting Batman's lack of humor with the Joker's dark hilarity is squandered. Not every Joker story has to be Killing Joke, but refusing to explore this contrast in any way is just frustrating.