“The Last Laugh”
Written by Carl Swenson
Directed by Kevin Altieri
As What’cha Reading counts down to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, we have been re-watching the classic cartoon by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, Batman: The Animated Series. In “The Last Laugh”, we find Batman going head to head with the Joker, yet again. “The Last Laugh” is a far better Joker episode than “Christmas with the Joker”, and features a standalone story free of Dick Grayson/Robin. Episode four also continues the trend of each episode not directly tying into the previous installment; it no longer feels like a disservice to have featured The Boy Wonder in only one episode. I’d also like to point out while “Christmas with the Joker” was a dark episode, “The Last Laugh” is a significantly more adult take; it’s closer in tone to some of the more gothic of Batman comic books.
It’s April Fools Day in Gotham City. For those closely paying attention to the framework of each episode, you will notice that Batman: The Animated Series has followed a loose timeline with Batman’s previous encounter with the Clown Prince of Crime taking place in December, with this one taking place four months later. We also get another depiction of the city, which borrows the best elements of New York City, while maintaining the dark deco tone that sets it in a timeless period.
The Joker, along with his thugs, drive a garbage barge down the river with toxins that poison Gotham. The toxin/gas quickly turns Gotham into raving lunatics with uncontrollable laughter. As the city descends into anarchy, The Joker merrily loots bags of money and pilfers the city with help from his team. We learn that the air-borne gas has emanated from the river front district of Gotham and has permanent effects if exposed for too long. Unfortunately for Bruce Wayne, the gas has also made its way to Wayne Manor and Alfred has fallen under the effects, as well. The idea of The Joker gassing the city brings to mind the Scarecrow’s plan from “Nothing to Fear” while also being heavily reminiscent of the Tim Burton 1989 movie. The episode, written by Carl Swenson, does manage to leave its own twist on Batman and the Joker’s conflict, while providing a much better story than “Christmas with the Joker.” This fourth episode, maintaining a more cartoonish plot than some of the previous episodes, does present Joker in a more sinister way.
- “The Last Laugh” is also important for being the first episode of the animated series to introduce the Batboat and the late Efrem Zimbalist Jr as Alfred Pennyworth. For fans of the series, you will know that Zimbalist Jr. was the main actor to voice Alfred for the series, along with subsequent DC Animated Universe appearances of Bruce Wayne’s surrogate father, friend, and butler.
Batman manages to track down the Joker’s barge and fights off “Captain Clown”, a robotic clown robot. The fight scene plays a bit like Indiana Jones meets The Terminator as Batman desperately tries to defeat the unrelenting advances of the killer robot. He eventually manages to crush him, but the build up to his success is nothing short of thrilling. The fight scene, however, does bring to mind that Batman never gets to have a physical confrontation with the Joker in either episode he’s appeared. While the Joker has never been one of Batman’s more physical of opponents, we have seen them fight within the comic books and in 2008’s The Dark Knight. But this was 1992 and it seems as if DC and WB were content with offering a more wily, jester, clown more content with surrendering when he knows he’s been defeated.
And that is exactly what happens. The Batman chases him through the ACE Waste Disposal Plant and the Joker attempts to incinerate him. He’s unsuccessful, but really, did you think for a second that Batman would die? The Dark Knight eventually stops his nemesis and before the Joker falls into the furnace at the heart of the disposal plant, Batman saves him. Right before the Joker drops, he begins to beg Batman to save him and it’s interesting as the situation further illustrates the idea that he will always surrender when beaten (just as I had written earlier.) Going forward with the Joker, considering everything Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have done with him on their prolific and ongoing Batman run, it will be very interesting to see just how much of these earlier versions are in Jared Leto’s performance in next year’s Suicide Squad.
“The Last Laugh” is a great episode in the first season of Batman: The Animated Series. Mark Hamill truly owns the role and gives the character a real voice, one that operates independently of any sort of influence from Jack Nicholson or Caesar Romero. As for Kevin Conroy, he is the Batman! I will issue the following about the fourth episode and second to feature the Joker – Batman: The Animated Series only becomes a stronger series as it goes on, naturally. While this was a well done Joker story, it still is not the best nor, by any means, definitive. You could see that the crew were still trying to find themselves as they approached a character done before. Whereas they had more freedom when introducing villains such as Man-Bat and the Scarecrow, it appears as if a mainstream and iconic rogue such as Joker is more troubling in a creative sense.
Stay tuned for more Batman: The Animated Series. Next episode up is “Pretty Poison”, featuring the animated series debut of Poison Ivy and marking the first episode Paul Dini wrote.