Welcome to the sixteenth installment of Adventure(s) Time, an examination of a classic animated series and a related issue of its comic tie-in. This week, following a suggestion from commenter Tayo Jones, we’re going to be looking back on the Mad Hatter’s debut in Batman: The Animated Series and its more obscure follow-up in the Adventures comic.
“Mad as a Hatter” first aired on October 12, 1992, as the twenty-seventh episode of the series. Like most of the first season origin stories, it’s written by Paul Dini, who much like the villain of the piece, seems to be a fan of Lewis Carroll. The episode is directed by Frank Paur, who had fairly rotten luck when his episodes were sent overseas to be animated. Don’t let that impressive opening with the lab mice fool you — this is an Akom job. Akom, as mentioned before, was widely regarded as the weakest studio to work on “Batman,” and while this is arguably the nicest-looking Akom episode, that’s extremely faint praise. The character movements are often stiff, Batman’s facial expressions are occasionally horrific, and many of the peripheral figures simply look goofy.
Thankfully, “Mad as a Hatter” has plenty to distract from the mediocre animation. The story of socially awkward Jervis Tetch’s evolution into the Mad Hatter is one of Dini’s best origins, and the voicework, featuring incredible performances from Roddy McDowall as Jervis Tetch and Kimmy Robertson (“Twin Peaks”) as Alice, brings real humanity to the tale. Shirley Walker also produces one of her finest scores, highlighting Tetch’s erratic mood swings with lonely cues that emphasize his isolation, mixed with the joyous refrains that accompany his (delusional) date with Alice.
The story opens with lonesome Jervis Tetch, working away as a Wayne Enterprises neuro-technology employee. While assigned to develop microchip technology that increases the brain’s potential, he’s secretly developed a mind control system that works on lab mice. He manages to keep this a secret from both Bruce Wayne and his immediate supervisor, Marcia Cates. Within the opening few minutes of the episode, we learn that Jervis is intensely shy, obsessed with “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” mythology, and harboring a one-sided crush on his secretary, Alice Pleasance.
Like many of the series’ origin stories, nothing about Jervis seems particularly villainous during his introduction. He’s odd, certainly, but portrayed as utterly harmless. When Jervis learns that Alice’s boyfriend has broken up with her, he convinces himself that, in a new guise as the Mad Hatter, he can find the confidence to take her out. Assuming that Jervis is a friend just looking to cheer her up, Alice agrees to the date.
Things go wrong quickly, as Jervis and Alice are accosted by street punks. Jervis uses his mind control cards to send them away, a perfectly defensible use of the technology, given the circumstances. Notice that when Jervis tells them to go jump off a bridge, it’s very possible that he didn’t mean this literally. It’s a fantastic line from Dini that can be read either way — maybe Jervis is already mad with power, or maybe he’s still the innocuous, isolated nobody we met in the opening scene.
The incident with the muggers is the beginning of a dark turn, however, because within minutes, Jervis is using his technology to not only enjoy a free meal, but to turn the restaurant’s staff into his personal servants. Alice, who just might be slightly slow on the uptake, doesn’t seem to notice any of this. She’s briefly uncomfortable when Jervis asks her to dance, but ends the evening with the impression that Jervis is a charming eccentric. Kimmy Robertson’s childlike portrayal of Alice helps to sell the concept. She genuinely comes across as the kind of sensitive, friendly young woman that an introvert like Tetch would find approachable.
One of the strongest elements of the story is Dini’s willingness to delay Jervis’ inevitable kidnapping of Alice. He’s a lonely, odd introvert with mind control technology — of course he’s going to become a villain and brainwash the girl he’s obsessed with. But Dini’s patient enough to make Jervis’ descent more believable. The once powerless office drone had his first taste of authority on that night out with Alice, and he’s now deluded himself into thinking he can pursue her romantically. When Alice reconciles with her boyfriend, Jervis is devastated…but still not villainous. His cold reaction, and the fury that rests behind his words (symbolized by Jervis cutting his finger on the roses he brought for Alice) is beautifully played. It’s much closer to Hitchcock than anything viewers of animated programming were used to seeing at the time.
Perhaps Jervis could’ve made it through the day, maybe with a few sessions of HR-mandated counseling, if Bruce Wayne didn’t call in to make an appointment to see him that morning. As Batman, Bruce has discerned that Jervis was behind the two brainwashed thugs who’d climbed the Gotham Bridge the night before. When an already unhinged Jervis learns that he has to speak to the Big Boss, news delivered by Marcia, his intolerable middle-manager boss, he snaps.
Jervis’ first two targets are Marcia Cates and Alice’s fiancé Billy. Batman, being Batman, knows that Alice will be next, and is already waiting at her apartment when Jervis, now truly the Mad Hatter, arrives. The Hatter debuts his two new henchmen, dressed in laughable Walrus and the Carpenter outfits, and escapes with Alice. Eventually, Batman locates them at the Storybook Land theme park, where Mad Hatter is housing even more mind-controlled minions, among them Marcia and Billy. Batman tries to explain to Jervis that he’s now made Alice nothing more than a puppet, but Jervis is too far gone to listen. Batman’s the person responsible for all of this, Jervis claims, and the physical confrontation lasts about as long as you’d expect it to. Jervis is felled by a statue of the Jabberwock, and left to sorrowfully recite the “Would not, could not, would not, could not, oh could not join the dance…” song as he awaits prison. It’s as poignant as it is disturbing, a testament to the Mad Hatter’s complex portrayal in this continuity.
Jervis Tetch wasn’t totally forgotten in the B:TAS canon, but his appearances were rare. This also holds true for the “Adventures” tie-in comics, although his few showings in the “Adventures” comics were memorable.
“Batman & Robin Adventures” #17 (April 1997) features a plot from Paul Dini, a script from Ty Templeton, and pencils by Joe Staton. “But a Dream” opens with Jervis as an Arkham inmate, obsessing on his deathbed over his loss to Batman. Standing over the bed are a doctor and priest, who are joined by Bruce Wayne, who’s asked to be personally updated on Tetch’s status.
Having died of a broken heart, word of his passing is announced on the day of Alice and Billy’s wedding. Alice is devastated by the news, and abruptly calls off the wedding, mid-ceremony. Bruce, accompanied by Dick Grayson at the wedding, suspects something’s up and they follow.
Alice is soon tracked to the abandoned section of the riverfront; specifically, the derelict wax museum, which somehow contains perfectly maintained wax replicas that no one’s bothered to ship somewhere else. Really, it’s an excuse for a cool setting, and for Joe Staton to draw all of the classic figures we saw on the cover.
After splitting up, Batman locates Alice and tries to escort her to safety. Unfortunately, he’s bushwhacked by two of the statues, who are actually the Arkham doctor and priest in disguise. After Batman’s subdued with Jervis’ dream inducer helmet (and, in case you’re curious, I do plan on covering the dream inducer’s debut in a later installment), the Mad Hatter suddenly appears. Jervis explains that weeks earlier, he secretly created tiny new variations of his mind control technology, which he slipped on to the Arkham staffers who oversaw his “deathbed.” After becoming his henchmen, they facilitated his escape…and slipped another mind control module into Alice’s bridal veil.
With Batman a prisoner of the dream inducer, it’s up to Robin to save the day. Too bad he’s brutally gutted by the Hatter, a fate that also awaits Batman.
With his two opponents out of the way, Jervis finishes the ceremony, marries his love Alice, and lives a life of “simple joys” in a bucolic Wonderland-inspired world. Sort of. In reality, Robin managed to remove the helmet from Batman and place it on Jervis’ head. The resulting jolt sent the already unstable Jervis into a permanent fantasy world, one that he can’t escape even after the dream inducer’s been removed. The way this final act is executed, not revealing the actual truth until the final page, is a great trick on the reader, and it’s the kind of moment that would’ve worked incredibly well on the animated series.
While the Akom animation is consistently mediocre, the background designers did an amazing job on this one. Aside from the typically impressive Gotham cityscapes, this episode features numerous Lewis Carroll-inspired designs that add to the atmosphere (and in the case of the crying Mock Turtle, offers some insight into Jervis’ psyche.)
- The opening of “Mad as a Hatter,” with Jervis as a lowly Wayne Enterprises employee who happens to meet Bruce Wayne one day at work and later experiences a psychotic break, was perhaps an inspiration for the Riddler’s origin in “Batman Forever.” Both origins even have an overbearing middle manager who harasses the villains before they snap.
- The traditional comics interpretation of the Mad Hatter has him obsessed with haberdashery, viewing Batman’s cowl as the ultimate prize for a hat collector. Dini’s revised origin humanizes the Hatter’s motivations, much like his revamped origin for Mr. Freeze. Both stories have become the standard origins for the villains, although the Mad Hatter now tends to be portrayed far creepier than seen in this episode.
- Paul Dini would later introduce his own interpretations of the Walrus and the Carpenter as members of the Wonderland Gang when writing “Detective Comics” and “Streets of Gotham” for DC.
- “But a Dream” features Jervis with red hair, opposed to blond. The later “New Adventures” redesign of Jervis gave him gray hair.
- Hal Jordan, as Green Lantern, is one of the figures in the wax museum.
- The late Roddy McDowall is probably best known from “Planet of the Apes,” but he also portrayed Bookworm in the campy 1960s “Batman” series.
Battle of the Lonesome Endings
Both stories end with Jervis as an Arkham inmate, dreaming away of Alice. The animated series has the advantage of stellar voicework and music to aid the scene, elements that can’t be replicated in a comic book. Also, the closing of the “Adventures” issue has numerous plot points that need to be addressed on only one page, so the dramatic impact is blunted. However, just as a concept, I love the closing of the “Adventures” issue. Jervis, still alone, more pathetic than ever, wasting away in a cell as he lives in a fantasy world with the object of his obsession. In a hypothetical reality where these characters didn’t have to return periodically for new adventures, it would be the ideal ending for Jervis’ story.
That’s all for now. Thanks to the World’s Finest crew for research aid. If you have any suggestions for future animated episodes that could be examined with their “Adventures” cousins, just leave a comment or contact me on Twitter.
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