Is This the Best Joker Death?
April 11, 2017
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. In the world of comic books, characters die a lot.
(We see images of various comic book characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Wolverine all dying/dead)
NC (vo): So many characters have died and often come back that I wonder if there's a phrase among comic writers that says "Die early and die often".
NC: And one of the greatest villains of all time is no stranger to this running joke: the Joker.
(We see various images of the infamous Clown Prince of Crime)
NC (vo): Though, in all fairness, when it comes to the comics, we don't see it that much. Oh, there's been plenty of fake-outs and he's certainly been mangled and distorted something fierce, but it when comes to actual dying, it's the other avenues that take a literal shot at this. We definitely get one in Tim Burton's Batman.
(Joker screams as he plummets to his doom)
NC (vo): We kind of got one in the Arkham video games. Although his personality still lives in other people, somehow? It's a bit confusing. Injustice has Superman ripping his guts out.
(Eyes glowing red with Heat Vision, Superman yells as he plunges his hand through a cackling Joker's chest as the screen cuts to black, and then to a scared-looking NC)
NC (vo): And, of course, there's that infamous last page of Killing Joke, where people still don't know if Batman is killing the Joker or just putting his arms on him in a fit of insane laughter. The short answer is: He doesn't kill him, as Barbara Gordon is paralyzed in that comic and the Joker appears in continuity with that fact. But people still wonder if the intent of the writer was to originally kill him, seeing how it is called The Killing Joke and no main characters die. The series that, ironically, likes playing around with killing him the most is the quote/unquote "kids version", the animated series. In one version, he's fed to a shark, in another, he's killed in a vengeful rage, he even gets blown up in a giant metal smile.
(We hear Joker laughing insanely as the "giant metal smile" explodes, killing him)
Harley Quinn: Puddin'!
Batman: At this point, he probably is.
NC (vo): Much like Killing Joke, though, he often pops up, despite there looking like there's no real chance he could survive. Nevertheless, even with all these deaths, fake-outs, or whatever you want to call them, the animated universe has a death scene that many consider on par with The Killing Joke.
NC: And that comes from Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker.
(The footage from the series Batman Beyond and the movie based on it, Return of the Joker, is shown)
NC (vo): After the run of Batman: The Animated Series, Warner Bros. launched a spinoff show taking place in the future of Gotham City. Bruce Wayne was now the mentor to another Batman...or Batboy?
Peter Parker (Tom Holland; from Captain America: Civil War): Spider-Man.
NC (vo): The show is gaining more and more of a following, but even people unfamiliar with the show know about the movie that showed the death of the animated series' Joker. Not a spin-off movie, or a different animated universe, the animated series many of us grew up with, the one that contained what many people consider the best Batman (Kevin Conroy) and the best Joker (Mark Hamill).
NC: Don't believe me that a lot of people are familiar with this death? Well, just take a look at the YouTube hits.
NC: (vo): Part 1 starts off strong, but starts to lose viewers as most split up videos do. But there is a huge spike in Part 6, which has...you guessed it...the death of the Joker. This is so well done that, in many people's opinion, it's among the best Batman lore.
NC: This part is so good, I could actually talk about it scene by scene. (beat) So, here we go!
NC (vo): Yep, I'm going to go over why this mere 10 minutes is arguably one of the best Batman stories ever told. Because, hey, great storytelling, even if it's only 10 minutes long, deserves to be analyzed. It begins with Commissioner Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, telling the tale of the night when Robin, Tim Drake then, was abducted by Joker and Harley.
(The Joker laughs and steps out of the shadows)
Joker: A bird in the hand.
NC: First of all, this reveal is more brilliant than you may think.
NC (vo): You see, the show went through a redesign, and all the characters were given a bit of a makeover. While most of them were pretty good, a lot of people had issues with the way too simplified and colorless Joker. This reveal makes you think it's going to be that version, only to reveal it's much closer to the original design. In fact, it's almost a perfect fusion of the two, creating not only a good fake-out, but also a creepy image. Tim goes missing for THREE weeks as Batman is unable to find him. That amount of time, added to the mystery of what's happening, beautifully raises the tension. Joker finally sends Batman an invite to meet him at Arkham Asylum. (The Batmobile plows through the gate, followed by Batman kicking the door open) He doesn't even open the door. This, again, visually demonstrates Batman's stress about losing his adoptive son, whom he's put in danger.
NC: The Asylum is silent, with a creepy humming in the distance.
Harley Quinn: (singing "Hush Little Baby") Momma's going to buy you a diamond ring...
NC (vo): You immediately think this is going to be an eerie, scary battle, especially seeing how the Joker hasn't been visible for three weeks.
Harley Quinn: Puddin', company!
NC: But we see it's all part of the Joker's...
NC (vo): ...traditional humor, as he acts like him and Harley have been waiting for Batman to join them for dinner. Even the music is more light-hearted.
Joker: Hello, there! Welcome to our happy home.
NC (vo): It gives you the impression that maybe this is just another Joker outing, and he has Robin over a shark tank or something. You know, the usual stuff. But we finally see what he's been up to for three weeks.
Joker: He needed a little molding, of course. What kid doesn't? But in time, we came to love him as our own. Say hello, J.J.
(The scene shows the shadow silhouette of Tim Drake (now "Joker Jr"), smiling maliciously)
NC (vo): That look alone...
NC: ...is amazing.
NC (vo): Even before you fully see him, you start snickering with fear. Until he's finally revealed.
("Joker Jr" starts laughing as he hops off the gurney)
NC: This setup is both disturbing and hilarious at the same time. Pure Joker!
NC (vo): The idea of this mastermind having a son, a mini him running around, is super funny. But when you think about what he had to do to achieve it, three weeks of both physical and mental torture to A LITTLE BOY, it's probably the most unsettling thing the show's ever done. While Batgirl tries to take out Harley and get Robin to safety, leading to probably the funniest line in the film...
Harley Quinn: Sweetie! Get Mommy's bazooka!
NC (vo): ...Joker in hiding shows Batman the details of Robin's transformation: Showing his torture like a film strip of family movies. Again, always keeping the humor involved, even though it's so uncomfortable.
NC: And just when you think another bombshell couldn't drop...
Joker: And the dear lad began to share such secrets with me. Secrets that are mine alone to know... Bruce.
NC: Now, on the one hand, a lot of people have figured out who Batman is. But the Joker is almost never one of them.
NC (vo): In the movies, in the comics, even in other death scenes, it's NEVER revealed. So, not only is this an iconic figure discovering the biggest secret/weakness of another iconic figure, but it's the one we've had years and episodes of familiarity with.
NC: It's not just another incarnation of the Joker, it's one we've really gotten to know for a long time.
NC (vo): So their particular relationship is beyond well-known to us. For a fan, this is a legitimately shocking and even uncomfortable moment, on top of all the other ones we've just had.
NC: And in typical Joker fashion, how does he react to one of the most famous and tragic backstories in superhero history? He makes fun of it!
Joker: Behind all the sturm and batarangs, you're just a little boy in a playsuit, crying for Mommy and Daddy. It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic.
NC: Oh, bitch! You're a bitch, Joker! You're a goddamn bitch!
NC (vo): Really think about this, too. Most villains upon discovering Batman's identity would play it up as a big thing, play up the drama and how everything is different now. But the Joker still starts off doing his regular shtick of making jokes, playing pretend, and even keeps calling him Batman. He doesn't want to let on too early because the reveal is just too much fun for him. It's so creepy what a master showman he still is, even with information like this. And you know he's not going to tell anybody else about it...
NC: ...because the only audience member in all of this and deserving of the most joy is, of course, himself.
NC (vo): Batman gets so pissed off that he breaks through the projector booth and actually gets two punches in before the glass even touches the floor. It's wonderfully chaotic animation.
NC: And, again, even knowing his true identity, he still calls him Batman.
Joker: You've lost, Batman. Robin is mine.
NC (vo): Because that's what he's known him as for all these years, and that's how he still sees him. In his final act, he passes the gun to Robin and tells him to kill him. Again, how crazy is that? It's not even the Joker that would kill him off, it would be Batman's son, whose mind was destroyed by the Joker. When you really think about it, it's so friggin' twisted. But Tim finds even in his altered state, he can't do it. Or at least has enough fight back to swerve it away for just a second, shooting the Joker. Killed by his own punchline, the Joker delivers the only fitting last words.
Joker: That's not funny. That's not-
(The Joker lets out a death gasp as he falls to the floor dead)
NC: (throws his hands up) How is this not seen as one of the great Batman stories?
NC (vo): I mean, don't get me wrong, the rest of the movie is fine. Through some sort of techno babble, the Joker's consciousness comes back. It's...not really his body or a full resurrection, but it allows our younger Batman to take him out, and... it's good. It's fine for what it is. It's a decent flick. But this 10 minutes, holy hell, is it brilliant! It has humor, it has action, it has drama, it has the psychological intrigue, but without talking about it too much. It's a perfect balance of everything.
NC: There's even callbacks to other great deaths.
NC (vo): You could argue this steals heavily from when the Joker killed Robin in the comics, and even when he paralyzes Batgirl, the idea of getting to Batman through someone else. But while those two certainly were shocking, both of them were older and led their own lives. This was a little kid, Batman's son, still in his care. Putting him through weeks of torture, breaking his mind and body, turning him not only mentally insane, but also resembling Batman's arch-nemesis...
NC: ...good God! That's a lot!
NC (vo): And don't get me wrong. In many respects, Killing Joke IS the better story, with better dialogue, symbolism, backstory, all that good stuff.
NC: But in terms of the death of the Joker?
NC (vo): It doesn't have the familiarity, continuity, or history established by years of being in one universe. Granted, there's been one major change to the layout, but the Batman comics have gone through tons of changes, making it harder to form a connection like we do with these characters. Now, Killing Joke does a brilliant job with the writing, establishing the history.
NC: But this one doesn't need to set it up, because it's already been established for years.
NC (vo): It's an advantage The Killing Joke in no way can overcome. Even the censored version that originally aired on TV is still good! It's not as strong, but it still works. Robin tosses the gun and tries battling the Joker, spilling water and wires all over him, resulting in the Joker tripping and turning on the electricity, killing himself.
(Batgirl is shown walking back to the building as the Joker's screams and sounds of electricity are heard)
NC: Some see this as cheap, but it's still Tim fighting back...
NC (vo): ...and, let's face it: it's a funny way to die. In a strange way, the Joker would almost be proud that he perishes in the equivalent of slipping on a banana peel, a pretty fitting death for a clown.
NC: It's hard to know how many more deaths or fake-outs we're going to get in the future, but needless to say, it's going to be pretty hard to top this one.
NC (vo): In a mere 10 minutes, we've been given a 100% perfect Batman story about the death of the Joker. Not only is there nothing wrong with it, but it delivers everything we would want to see from arguably the best Batman and best Joker we've ever seen battling each other for years. What can I say? It's a masterpiece! Batman and the Joker will always battle in different incarnations, different outfits, and in different stories. But when it comes to which battle ended in the most fitting, familiar, and entertaining way, Return of the Joker delivers the perfect punchline.
Joker: That's not funny.
(The Joker falls to the floor dead)
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(He gets up out of his chair and leaves. The credits roll)