Directed by: Boyd Kirkland
Written by: Paul Dini
Original Air Date: September 11th 1992
Synopsis: [From IMDB see link: here] An ordinary man finds himself forced to assist The Joker in one of his crimes.
Within the annals of DC Comics history, Joker’s Favour stands as something of a landmark. Written by fan-favourite writer Paul Dini, the episode famously marks the first appearance of Harley Quinn; a character that has gone on to achieve incredible popularity. Yet, while this episode’s importance might be dominated by such a debut, there is more to Joker’s Favour than merely Harley Quinn. In fact, this episode stands as a cult favourite that offers up the best Joker episode so far.
The episode begins with an average-Joe named Charlie Collins, who finds himself in the wrong place in the wrong time. Stuck in rush hour traffic and having been denied a raise by his boss, Charlie accidentally insults the Joker when the supervillain cuts him off on the freeway whilst running from the police. Following Charlie to a nearby woodland, the Joker stalks Charlie, who then begs the supervillain for his life. Surprisingly, the Joker accepts his pleas and lets him go, on the condition that he repay him with a favour at some point.
Two years later, with Charlie having been moved as part of a relocation programme, The Joker returns to cash-in on his favour, threatening the man’s family whilst planning to use him in a plot to blow up Commissioner Gordon at an awards dinner. Forced into helping the Joker, Charlie quickly finds his own life in jeopardy, something that causes him to call on Batman for help.
Straight away, the episode does what many of the best Batman: The Animated Series episodes have done before it. By grounding the episode at the human level and then placing the larger-than-life Superheroes and villains around such characters, the episode creates a story that is both thrilling and identifiable to the audience. Charlie Collins is a likeable, identifiable figure. An average guy who happens to get mixed up in the insane world of Gotham City. He’s the audiences window; one who is quite effective particularly when set against Mark Hamill’s excellent Joker.
Following Be a Clown (see my earlier review: here), Joker’s Favour illustrates a further positive step for the clown prince of crime; one that shows the writers further getting to grips with what makes the character tick. Under Dini’s craftsmanship, the Joker appears as part comedic showman and part deranged psychotic. Dini is well documented as stating that the Joker needs to be written in this way, emphasising both the comedic aspects of the character, as well as the terrifying, monstrous side. It’s an aspect many Batman writers forget, choosing to lean to heavily into the Joker’s monstrous side; an effect that sometimes leaves readers with a bitter taste in their mouth. Using Hamill’s excellent range of performance, Dini manages to encompass both, creating arguably the most perfect distillation of the character, which is in equal parts hilarious as he is scary.
Such evidence can be particularly seen with the Joker’s apparent stalking of Charlie Collins. Throughout the episode, it becomes clear that although his altercation with the Joker may have seemed minor at the time, the Joker has been stalking and collecting information on Charlie for almost two years. Such an action offers fascinating insight into the Joker’s character, illustrating an obsessive madman who never forgets a favour. This is a character who has been keeping tabs on a relative nobody for over two years, merely to call him up for a minor job within his scheme. It is an excellent piece of dark comedy from Dini; one that emphasises the character’s terrifying intelligence, as well as his absurdity.
Not only this, Dini adds a showman aspect to the villain that builds on the work set in Be A Clown. This is a character who demands to be centre of attention; a egotistical narcissist that is obsessed with the performance aspects of his crimes. For the Joker, it is not enough to defeat Batman and the GCPD, he has to make a statement about it. In other words, a crime is not worth committing, unless people know it was him.
It is this obsession that eventually leads to his downfall and greatest fear. When Charlie confronts the Joker at the end of the episode and threatens to blow them both up, the fear isn’t so much that the Joker is going to die, it’s that he is going to be killed by a nobody. It is a great little insight into the character that adds further depth to him, while offering an amusing conclusion to the episode.
Although such insights are of interest, as noted in this article opening, this episode will be mostly remembered for the introduction of Harley Quinn. Originally starting as a simple ‘hench-girl’, the character has moved from being simply the Joker’s sidekick/girlfriend to a complex, well-rounded villain/anti-hero in her own right. Such is Harley’s popularity, it might well be controversially argued that Harley has gone on to eclipse previous female bat-villains, such as Catwoman or Poison Ivy. What is most impressive about the character within Joker’s Favour, is the way that she almost seamlessly enters the world of Batman. Through Dini’s writing and the creative teams fantastic design work, the character seems at home within the mythos, giving the impression that the character has always been part of Batman’s history. Not only that, the character also stands out due to an excellent Brooklyn inspired vocal performance from Arleen Sorkin, which is both funny and unique.
However, this is not to say Joker’s Favour is completely flawless. Although the animation is largely on point, the action sequences are sadly among weakest within the series. From the nonsensical chase through a replica Aztec temple (it’s weird even writing it!), to the poorly rendered explosions, sadly the episode tapers off where many of the other episodes have excelled. Not only this, there is very little for Kevin Conroy’s Batman to do. While, this is not necessarily an issue for me (I’ve previously praised P.O.V for this very attribute, see: here), I can understand that for many fans, particularly younger viewers, it might be something of a let-down.
Ultimately, Joker’s Favour is something of a triumph, and not just for its historical significance. Despite being only the fourth episode to contain the Joker (though ironically, the first to be aired), in Dini’s hands this feels like a real insight into the character that is both funny, as well as terrifying. While this episode might act be remembered as Harley Quinn’s impressive and memorable debut, if one is to look further into this episode, you will find a darkly comic story that adds an absurd, obsessive dimension to the Joker. Finally, the series is getting the clown prince of crime.