Christmas With The Joker is the second produced episode of Batman The Animated Series, and was directed by Kent Butterworth and written by Eddie Gorodetsky. It starred Kevin Conroy as Batman, Lorem Lester as Robin, and Mark Hamill as The Joker. It originally aired as the 38th episode on November 13th, 1992.
In Christmas With The Joker, it’s Christmas Eve and the Joker, using a rocket disguised as a Christmas Tree, escapes Arkham Asylum. When settling down for a viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life, Bruce Wayne and his ward, Dick Grayson, are surprised to see that Joker has taken control of all the broadcast signals in Gotham City. Joker has kidnapped the “Awful Lawful Family” of Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Summer Gleeson, and publicly challenges the dynamic duo that if they do not find him by midnight, the trio will die. Searching for clues that the Joker has left behind, Batman and Robin spring into a chase across Gotham to find the clown, but Joker has a few tricks of his own (surprise!) to throw off our heroes.
Batman The Animated Series was still finding its stride when this episode went into production following On Leather Wings, but Christmas With The Joker is a fun change of pace for longtime fans of this series. This episode provides a unique, if not somewhat familiar tone. This episode’s claim to fame is being the first episode produced featuring The Joker (originally voiced by Tim Curry, but re-recorded to feature the voice of Mark Hamill) as well as the debut of Robin, but it’s the episode’s similarity to Joker’s debut in the Bill Dozier Batman series that stands out. In the two-part episode The Joker Is Wild/Batman is Riled, Joker escapes from prison via a booby-trapped catapult hidden in a base in the prison’s baseball diamond, similar to the hidden rocket he uses in Christmas With The Joker. Both episodes also feature Joker broadcasting a kidnapping over a pirated signal (which is, perhaps coincidentally, also featured in Scott Snyder’s Joker’s debut in the arc Death of the Family). The Animated Series is famous for its more dramatic leanings, but this episode is wildly entertaining, although it is not necessarily, as Batman says, “relentlessly cheerful”, as the Joker is out for blood.
Christmas With The Joker is the lone contribution to the series by both Butterworth and Gorodetsky. This most likely is the cause for its uncharacteristic tone, as well as some uncharacteristic artistic choices. The episode makes use of wider shots and larger “sets” than is typical for the series. The animation in this episode is also uncharacteristically subpar, as the movement is slower and choppier than what viewers expect from this series. This is obviously not the tone that Bruce Timm and company ultimately wanted, and the way that the episode plays on its own corniness may turn off some viewers. This episode also highlights in my eyes the necessity for this Joker to have a Harley Quinn to play off of, as it seems strangely wrong to see Joker play the lone wolf, but Mark Hamill’s presence always is elevating to the production as a whole, and Robin’s presence reminds me that Dick Grayson was underutilized in the series.
Overall, Christmas With The Joker is a fun episode that offers a throwback feel to longtime Batman fans, but is bogged down by the earliness of its production. Longtime fans can find enjoyment in it, while seeing the growing pains of a show that will soon begin to perform at a higher level.