The Mayor's son falls in with the Joker.
Written by Ted Pedersen & Steve Hayes
Directed by Frank Paur
Music by Michael McCuistion
Animation by Akom
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon
Lloyd Bochner as Mayor Hill
Mari Devon as Summer Gleeson
Mark Hamill as The Joker
Jim Cummings as Real Jekko
Justin Shenkarow as Jordan
The title card shows the Joker and a small boy holding hands and skipping through an amusement park. It's an intriguing image, but not for the idea that a small boy might be entranced by the Joker. We're all entranced by him, and little boys are entranced by even damnder things.
No, what is shocking is that the Joker seems quite taken with the boy. How could such a thing be possible? And what are its implications?
The Joker is famously unpredictable, but this is an unpredictability of an entirely different order. The iconography suggests a companionship that is natural and wholesome and guileless. It doesn't suggest the Joker tempting an innocent into the sinister funhouse that is evil, but of the Joker being tempted out of it. If you contemplate that title card long enough, you have the startling impression that, just maybe, in the company of such a child the Joker might find a respite from hellish habits, a chance to return to a time before mischief meant death and fun meant destruction. It suggests that evil is the chore and that goodness is the holiday.
That, you may recall, is the stabbing accusation made by Graham Greene (that novelist of wintry paradox) at the conclusion of The End of the Affair: God, the sybaritic Creator, offers us an infinite universe of happiness if only we will step freely and heedlessly away from the webs of misery we spin for ourselves. And it's a thought that, were it to pierce Gotham's gloom, would shatter its Calvinistic integrity. For if the Joker could, in a moment of self-forgetfulness, find grace and escape, whither Arkham and Stonegate? Indeed, whither Batman and his imprisoning guilt?
Even leaving aside the profound moral and psychological possibilities such an approach could have raised, think of the potential improvement to the story. The "child in jeopardy" is the meanest trick a melodrama can play, and the best way to get a strongly drawn character like the Joker out of a predictable rut is to put him an obvious situation and then have him react oppositely to what one would predict. What could have been more dramatic than putting, not Jordan, but the Joker and his entire being in jeopardy when the child, with no malice aforethought, unintentionally kidnaps him. Imagine the tension that would have followed and the suspense we might have felt as we watched Jordan playing with a mad and capricious beast suddenly turned playful. Is the Joker merely indulging some curiosity, to be discarded once he gets bored? Or is it the beginning of a genuine reform? Can Batman be trusted not to spoil things?
Bruce Timm on the episode's genesis: "I started with this image of Batman and this kid who is in some kind of peril. ... The kid is deathly afraid of Batman, because he is so scary. And Batman is not used to dealing with kids, because he's just a dark avenger of the night."
Frank Paur: "I was still having problems with [the storyboard crew]. A freelancer jumped ship on me and Bruce Timm shut himself off in his room and did a wonderful job storyboarding the second act."
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Beware the Gray Ghost