By Wes Calimer
When I mention Christmas, you automatically think of snow, candy canes, Die Hard, (as you should), eggnog, that jolly fat guy, and Batman, yes?
Well, shame on you! Our hero has a lot more in common with the holiday spirit than you might think. Let us we revisit all the best Christmas-themed tales from Batman: The Animated Series, where we’ll find the similarities in what Christmas and Batman both stand for, and enjoy the whoop-ass he wholeheartedly hands out every season. So let’s take a trip together, gentle readers, as we look back at the merry adventures of our holy dark knight!
We’ll be delving into one Bat-mas story at a time. Let’s start things off this week with “Christmas with the Joker.” I mean, we kinda have to, right? Christmas is, like, right in the title. Plus, look at his li’l Santa hat! Here are a few things that have always stuck with me about this episode.
A freaking rocket-propelled christmas tree! Yep, that just happened. As a way to escape from Arkham Asylum, the Joker either builds a rocket himself, or hires a crew of inmates that are actual rocket scientists, who also happen to be criminally insane, to engineer a functional Christmas monstrosity of death and transportation.
When the sucker takes off with the Joker on top, the twenty or so people below start to scamper away. But you KNOW that the exhaust must have taken at least half of ‘em out, and who even knows about the aftereffects? The thing might have been nuclear!
By the way, notice: The Joker and Charles Manson are tight. You can see Chuck wishing him well right before Joker climbs that bad boy and splits.
Sure, the Joker is crazy, but he’s a problem-solver as well. Not only did he build a high-powered rocket into a tree, but to do that in a maximum-security prison is pretty impressive. Then, when he was airborne outside of the prison, he had to take his landing projections into account. So many variables!
And dude! Where’d he get all that fuel?! Do you understand how much fuel a rocket has to have to even achieve liftoff? I sure as hell don’t, but the Clown Prince of Crime does! All with a smile on his face! So the guy is either a genius or just disgustingly loaded from all the heists he’s successfully pulled off. Or both, probably both…
Meanwhile, in the Batcave, Dick’s trying to get Bats in the holiday spirit by pitching the idea of watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and Bruce ain’t hearin it. I dunno, I’m not going to retell every second of this episode, mostly because I can’t bear to. Right off the bat (pun intended), the dialogue and dynamics between Batman and Robin feel off. Kevin Conroy (the voice of Batman) also sounds off: “The Joker’s escaped from Arkham Asylum, Robin.”
It’s true that the series was just trying to find its footing (with this offering being from very early in its run), but Eddie Gorodetsky, who wrote this episode, comes from a background of mostly half-hour sitcoms and it’s also notable to say that this is the only episode of Batman that he ever wrote, like, ever. So again, it’s all just a bit off and has a weird tone.
Anyway, Robin bets Batman that if nothing goes wrong on Christmas Eve, they can come back home, eat a goose, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life, all the while KNOWING that the Joker literally JUST escaped from Arkham. Dick assumes that the Joker just has a holiday family vacation to go to or something…
Batman and Robin go out on the prowl, searching for cats up a tree and crap, find nothing, and head back to the mansion. Robin compares Batman to Scrooge a few times, ’cause that’s fair. It’s not like Bruce is a well-known prolific philanthropist or anything. Plus, the whole serving Gotham as a vigilante every waking moment for justice is kinda greedy.
They get back to the Manor, after all that effort NOT looking for the Joker, since he just escaped! Yo, Batman — you JUST said it! They begin to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, then all manners of crazy ensue, as Joker takes over the airwaves with his very own Christmas special! Joker says that Batman and Robin have until midnight to fight their way past his traps and shenaniganery hidden all over town to rescue the kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and reporter Summer Gleeson (who matters for some reason) — otherwise, they’re dead.
I love the incredibly, ridiculously elaborate measures that Joker goes through every time, no matter what. Procuring a sound stage, a camera, making sure everything works, drawing and cutting cardboard cut outs of all the people he loves to hate for his audience, planning all these deadly traps, outfitting a Nazi Santa tank … it’s the little things that count and he’s a special kind of crazy.
Oh, one side note: Jim Gordon is a decorated police official, but if you put him up against a candy cane, and especially if said candy cane is in between his lips in an attempt to keep him quiet, he is INCAPABLE of speaking! He physically can’t muster up the strength to overcome the obstacle of spitting that scrumptious, jolly, piece of evil out of his mouth.
This is a common motif in film and television, and it never fails to irritate me.
“Oh no! I have a handkerchief in my mouth! What to dooo?!” Well, they’re all muffled so it’d probably sound more like “MMMFFFFFMNNNNTTTFF!!!!”
Back to the plot! Batman and Robin came across six laughing life-sized Joker toys with guns for hands, four deadly model airplanes, three killer giant robot toy soldiers, evade one giant observatory telescope that Joker made into a cannon and a partridge in a pear tree. (which, you remember, he turned into a rocket.)
Wait! Batman and Robin are looking for Joker’s hideout, jumping through all these insane(ly entertaining) hoops for nothing. Robin asks, “What’s our next move?!” Batman says “To be quite honest, I don’t know,” then figures out from a discontinued doll that the Joker’s hiding out at the Ol’ LaffCo Toy Factory.
HEY! “World’s greatest detective!” From now on, why don’t you just take a head count of all the creepy, ABANDONED factories in Gotham that have giant weird clown faces on the front of them, then demolish them all! The Joker would then have no choice but to take over a Wal-mart or something. That’d be weird, though…
After all that, these two henchmen come out from the top of the factory with machine guns and just start shooting at the Dynamic Duo. I guess when all else fails or whatever, just go with what works. When that, of course, doesn’t work, Joker pulls back a curtain to reveal that the hostages are all hanging by a rope over a big pot of lava or something, and he’s got some dastardly scissors.
But all of that is forgiven with what comes next. Joker gives Bats a suspiciously dangerous-looking gift. The tension builds as the hostages are hanging over certain death, desperately gasping for air through those forcefully restraining candy canes. Batman carefully opens the maliciously laced box and…
Pie all up in the face. That’s what makes the Joker fantastic. He’s actually insane and loves nothing more than to get under the Batman’s cowl.
Batman jumps over the pot and saves all three candy-cane victims, catches the Joker and goes home to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Robin says “It is a wonderful life” and Batman replies “It has its moments.” Again, the writing is still a bit off, but fun. This was clearly meant to be a kid’s episode. There are amazingly deep episodes like “Mad Love” and “Heart of Ice,” then there are some like this that include Robin saying lines like “They don’t call you Batman for nothin’!”
Batman’s not a Scrooge, but he can get a bit grumpy around the holidays, and given everything with that “Jingle bells, Batman smells” song, who can blame him? We all have our humbug moments, but Batman never forgets that giving, and appreciating what he has, is awesome. That’s what we should take from Christmas and Batman. Just give. Don’t get caught up in the killer toys, or Nazi Santa tanks, and screw the candy canes. Just give a little time, compassion and friendship to all the people you love.
Wes Calimer is a Los Angeles-based geeky writer and director who is very grateful to have a hot girlfriend who loves him for it.