“The Laughing Fish”
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Bruce W. Timm
It’s fitting that with 128 days left until March 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the film which will redefine all of our favorite icons, that today’s Batman: The Animated Series episode is “The Laughing Fish.” With a title like that we already know who the main villain will be and, yes, it’s The Joker. It’s also the second animated appearance of the fan-favorite Harley Quinn! “The Laughing Fish” was written by Paul Dini and directed by Bruce Timm and for those two credits alone, this episode is one of the most fun to watch.
“The Laughing Fish” is one of very few episodes of the animated series to open without a title card. Playing like an animated version of a television show, the story does border on being very comic-book-ish. It’s not even to criticize the tone as, let’s face it, Batman: The Animated Series is a highly regarded series based off of a highly regarded comic book. We learn through a clever news moment that harkens back to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman that the Joker is still at large with bizarre Joker-ized fish terrifying those on the waterfront. The Clown Prince of Crime’s plan is to copyright the fish so he could gain a percentage over all that’s sold. It’s a silly plot, but developed well enough to work by Dini and Timm. I must add that the majority of Batman: The Animated Series episodes featuring The Joker always bordered on more comedic than terrifying and that was one of the main reasons why he was never my favorite member of Batman’s infamous rogues gallery. It wasn’t until the late Heath Ledger’s performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight that I began to like the Bob Kane and Bill Finger created villain. I’m very impressed by the Jared Leto take on The Joker which we will all see in August 2016’s Suicide Squad and possibly March’s Batman v Superman. The interpretation of The Joker as this “demented, abusive, psychotic, maniac” who is a curse upon Gotham and a figurative demon that haunts Batman is a fantastic interpretation and only adds to the positively tragic nature of Bruce Wayne’s life. Under Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s handling, “The Laughing Fish” begins to touch on these themes.
While Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) first appeared in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor”, this was her second appearance. It’s hard to think back to the early 90’s and realize how she was not yet this massive figure in pop-culture as she is now. But Paul Dini and Bruce Timm knew they had something special with the character and because of them, we have a great character who has her own monthly DC title and will soon appear on the big-screen, played by Margot Robbie. We learn in “The Laughing Fish” that Harley hates fish so that’s a fun detail that fans may want to take note of.
Keeping with the dark tone of the series, “The Laughing Fish” also ends with the supposed death of The Joker. He escapes from Batman while they are fighting at the Oceanside Aquarium and is presumed to have died by either drowning or eaten by a shark. It’s the first time since the death of Dick Grayson’s parents during “Robin’s Reckoning” Part One that the viewer experiences death in animated form. However, we all know that The Joker didn’t really die as he surely returns for many more episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
- This episode is based on the comics stories “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” (Batman #251, September 1973) by Denny O’ Neil, and “The Laughing Fish” and “Sign of the Joker!” (Detective Comics #475/476, February/March 1978), by Steve Englehart.
- It is also reminiscent of the Joker’s first-ever caper in the comics: after he announced that he planned to kill a millionaire and steal a priceless diamond from the man’s house, the police set up a protective ring around the millionaire, only to be baffled as the man dropped dead right in front of them. Batman discovered that Joker had broken in the night before, injected the sleeping millionaire with a slow-acting version of his Joker toxin, and stolen the diamond, replacing it with a fake.
Are you looking forward to Batman v Superman and Suicide Sqaud? Do you like the way Harley Quinn and The Joker are being portrayed? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to come back for more on Batman: The Animated Series.