Episode 09: Be A Clown
Written By: Ted Pedersen & Steve Hayes
Directed By: Frank Paur
Original Air Date: 09/16/92
Having a child runaway from home, is no doubt a traumatic and stressful experience for any parent to go through. But if you knew that your child has run off with a homicidal maniac, your stress level would absolutely go through the roof! Well in the Batman: The Animated Series episode titled “Be A Clown,” this is exactly what happens to Mayor Hamilton Hill, when his son Jordan runs away from home, and ends up running away to the Joker.
When I think about the more memorable Joker episodes throughout Batman: The Animated Series run, “Be A Clown” isn’t really one that comes to mind. It’s not the worst episode to feature the Joker, but there was really nothing special about it, and while the overall plot had the potential to tell a cool story about a kid running away from home with the Joker, I just felt the episode didn’t really deliver on that front as much as it could have.
I liked how the episode started with Mayor Hill giving a speech at a construction site, stating this will bring forth a safer Gotham, and right after making that statement, a police chase comes right through the construction site, where a shootout then commences between some crooks and cops. As the crooks try to make their escape, Batman comes swooping in on a crane, and takes down the criminals. The reporters try to make their way to Batman to ask him a few questions, but Batman makes his escape before they can catch up to him, so they have to settle for asking the Mayor about what happened. As the mayor is making his statement, he makes the mistake of comparing Batman with the Joker, and says he will eventually make Gotham City as safe as his own home. Meanwhile, the Joker is watching this news broadcast from his hideout, and he is not too pleased about being compared to Batman by Mayor Hill. I got the feeling that if the mayor didn’t mention making Gotham as safe as his home, the Joker probably wouldn’t have done anything. But once that was said, it was all Joker needed to hear for him to go teach the mayor a lesson about the safety of his home, and for comparing him to Batman.
The next sequence shows the mayor getting a birthday party ready for his son Jordan, who really doesn’t want to be at the party anyway. The episode wastes no time in showing that Mayor Hill and Jordan don’t have the best father son relationship. Jordan is only interested in performing magic tricks and becoming a show magician, and the mayor is only interested in making himself and his family look good in front of their guests, which makes them end up having an argument about the party. Both characters don’t come off as likable to me in this episode, as Jordan comes off as a whiny kid, and Mayor Hill comes off as too strict, and as a politician who only cares about his image. But despite their argument, the Mayor does provide his son with some entertainment at his party, by the means of a clown named Jekko. We quickly realize that Jekko is actually the Joker, and Jordan is instantly drawn to Jekko, as he sees him perform some magic tricks. But as Jordan asks Jekko to perform one more trick, his father interrupts, telling Jordan he needs to meet more guest, including Bruce Wayne who was in attendance. Jordan doesn’t want to go, so he tells his father off, and runs away from the party. Joker then decides it’s time for Jekko to leave as well, but not before he shows his audience one last trick. Before he leaves, he puts a large sparkler candle on the cake, which is actually dynamite, and says one last goodbye to Mayor Hill. As he says goodbye to the mayor, he lets out a laugh that gets Bruce’s attention, as it sounds strangely familiar to him. Bruce looks around the party until he spots the dynamite on the cake that has the Joker’s face on it, and then has to hurry over to the cake before it explodes. It’s kind of hard to believe that no one else at the party recognized the Jokers face on the dynamite, as you would think that most people in Gotham would know what the Joker looks like. But Bruce is the only one who does, and he makes his way through the crowd to get to the cake. I did like how this scene showed that Bruce needed to act on this situation quickly, even though he was not in costume, and how he had to save the day in a completely different way than Batman normally would have. He pretends to act real clumsy, and knocks the cake into the pool, where it then explodes. The mayor is furious at what happens, but only because it made him look like a fool in his own home. As the mayor is yelling at the police for answers as to how this happened, Gordon walks in with the real Jekko the clown, who said a maniac jumped him, and took his costume and van. After hearing this, Bruce ask Mayor Hill where Jordan is at, and the mayor gets a worried look on his face, as he realizes that his son is missing.
Thinking he got back at the mayor for his earlier comments, Joker returns to his hideout and is about to take off his Jekko makeup, but as he does, Jordan comes into the hideout saying he ran away from home to become a magician like Jekko. Joker at first is furious at Jordan, and is about to strangle him, but then he quickly starts laughing, and says he was actually thinking about taking on a protege. Nothing really interesting happens in the episode with Joker and Jordan though, and I felt this was mainly because Joker was pretending to be a clown magician, and not himself. I think the story would have been more interesting if Jordan was a kid who took a liking to the actual Joker, and wanted to be with him. Bruce Timm has said that the genesis of this episode started with him having an image in his head of Batman trying to save a child, but the child was too scared of Batman’s image to accept his help right away. While we did see something like this happen at the end, I thought it would have made for a better story if Jordan was someone who never liked Batman, but instead liked the Joker at first, but at the end realized that Joker is not someone to look up to, and then comes to realize that Batman is the one he has to trust in order to make it home safely. But the story here in "Be A Clown" plays out in a predictable fashion, where you are just waiting for Joker to reveal his true identity to Jordan, which is what eventually happens.
Batman soon learns the location of the Joker’s hideout by a clue Joker gave at the party which was video taped, and he eventually makes his way to an amusement park, which is where the Joker is hiding. As Joker’s alarm notifies him that Batman has entered the park, he decides that he and Jordan need to play a joke on Batman. Joker uses Jordan to get Batman’s attention, and then leads him inside Joker’s hideout. Inside, Joker greets Batman by throwing his blade cards at him, and the way Batman dodges them is just awesome! Joker throws a barrage of his cards at Batman, and the great way this scene was animated, showed off Batman’s great agility at dodging all those blades. But Joker had one more card to throw at Batman, and this one was a gas card, which knocks Batman out cold. When Batman awakes, he finds himself in a tank filling up with water, strapped in a straightjacket with shackles, and needs to escape out of the tank, just as Harry Houdini did. I always love it when we get to see the different skills Batman possesses in this series, so it was cool to see him show off what he had learned from the magician training he received in this sequence, as he gets out of the straightjacket with no problem, but is now having trouble breaking the top of the tank to escape. Jordan starts to fill uncomfortable about the situation, so he decides to grab a nearby axe to help Batman escape. But he only gets one swing at the tank before Joker takes the axe from him, and reveals his true face. Jordan then sprays Joker’s face with some seltzer, and makes his escape into the amusement park. Joker quickly goes after him, and Batman is left alone to try and escape from the tank, which he of course does, with the help of the crack that Jordan made with the axe.
Batman and Joker are now both looking for Jordan, but Joker finds him first, as he sees Jordan hiding in a seat of a roller coaster. As Joker sees Batman closing in on them, he turns on the roller coaster, and Batman has to quickly catch up to them as they ride the coaster. This was probably the best sequence in the episode, as this was a well animated sequence with Batman riding a coaster on one side, and with Jordan and Joker riding a coaster on the other. But Joker is of course not going to make this an easy chase for Batman, as he throws some grenades at him from the other coaster. But in typical Joker fashion, the grenades were in the form of baby dolls, which I thought was great touch. Joker thinks he gets Batman with his doll grenades, but then sees Batman on his coaster car after the smoke clears. Joker quickly jumps on Batman and knocks him down, and then tries to spray him with gas from the flower on his jacket (it was actually supposed to be acid, but the network made them change it to gas) but Batman moves his head away from the gas, and he then kicks the Joker out from the car. This was nice to see, as we finally get a good ending to a Batman Joker confrontation here, as Joker falls into the water below. It didn’t happen by him tripping on some random item, like he did in the previous two episodes he was in, but instead he was actually stopped by Batman in this episode.
Now that the Joker has been taken care of, Batman just needs to rescue Jordan, but he notices the track is damaged, and he quickly has to get to Jordan before the coaster falls off the damaged track. We now see the scene that Bruce Timm wanted to show of a child being scared of Batman as he is trying to save him, but I don’t think it came out the way Bruce Timm intended it to. Batman tells Jordan to grab his hand to escape, but Jordan doesn’t really show that he’s scared of Batman here, but rather it looked liked to me he was more scared of the situation of the coaster falling off the track, then he was of Batman. It’s mainly in how the shots were cut together for this part, where they didn’t really give you the feeling that Jordan was terrified of Batman. Jordan eventually reaches his hand out to Batman, and they both escape before the coaster falls of the tracks. Batman returns Jordan home, and both Jordan and Mayor Hill are happy and relieved to see each other again, where they both apologize for how they treated each other. As the Mayor gives his son a hug, the episode ends with Jordan and Batman giving each other a thumbs up.
Really, the best thing about “Be A Clown” that makes it worth watching is the Joker. Once again, Mark Hamill gives a great performance, and I noticed that he changed the tone of his Joker voice for a few lines in this episode that he really hadn't use before, or would use again. In particular, when he says the lines: “I’m certainly a better dresser,” and when he says: “You’re gonna love this.” He also had some funny dialogue in this episode, which was made better by how Mark Hamill delivered the lines. But someone who didn’t have good dialogue in this episode was Batman. He had some really bad one liners that really weren’t things you would expect Batman to say. Like the line he says after he escapes from the water tank: “Get ready for a little Bat-magic!” That line, and several others were just corny, and sounded like something you would here Batman say on the old 60s show, and not on Batman: The Animated Series. But overall, “Be A Clown” is an episode that I felt didn’t live up to the potential it had with its story. There were some cool sequences at the end, and the Joker was great in it, but it falls short of being a great episode, which I think it could have been, if the story played out where a kid actually wanted to runaway with the Joker.
Batman: The Animated Series-Be a Clown:
Reviewed by Tim Geraci