Admittedly, this one is intensely personal to me. This is the episode that every Batman fan, in the back of their mind, knew needed to be done, and done well. As this series is probably the best Batman adaptation as of this writing, no one was more qualified than series creator and writer Paul Dini.
It takes place at a poker game at the back of the Stacked Deck Club, a hideout in Gotham City for the members of various gangs, as well as Batman’s (Kevin Conroy) rogues gallery. The game is between Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Killer Croc, The Penguin and the Joker (Diane Pershing, Richard Moll, Aron Kincaid, Paul Williams, and Mark Hamill), who all share their suspicions about how Batman always wins, then they choose to share their best Batman-killing stories, which, of course, all end with Batman getting away using some sort of last-second bat-miracle.
Poison Ivy used a scheme involving gas-bomb pumpkins at Halloween. She almost unmasked a gas-incapacitated Batman… right until he remote-controlled the Batmobile to run her down. Two-face captures Batman during a heist at the mint, and straps him to a giant penny. During the flipping of the giant penny (it involves a catapult), Batman frees himself with Two-face’s own signature coin, and captures Two-face. In gratitude, the mint lets Batman keep the penny (one of the 3 possible reasons that Batman has a giant penny in the Batcave, depending on continuity). Killer Croc faces… you know what, I’m just gonna post the glory of this one. Nothing I say will do this justice:
The Penguin’s scheme involved mechanically and genetically altered birds of all sorts, resulting in Batman stabbing a cassowary with a hummingbird. I love that I got to write that sentence. The Joker, the one who declares himself the winner, reveals that his “almost got Batman” story involves Batman on a laugh-powered electric chair, and a talk-show audience dosed with laughing gas. Unlike the others, Batman doesn’t actually escape from this one, Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) intervenes and provides Batman the opportunity to get free. However, the Joker’s henchgirl Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) captures Catwoman, whom he’s going to kill… or would have, if Killer Croc wasn’t revealed to be Batman in disguise, who proceeds to rescue Catwoman. Catwoman, in gratitude, makes a pass at the Dark Knight, only for him to escape, smiling, while her back is turned, bringing the total of villains who “almost got ‘im” to 6.
This episode’s story segments are all very well-crafted, but it’s actually the poker game that sets it apart. It shows how the villains act when they’re not in the process of pulling off a scheme. Poison Ivy tries to act above it all, while still being her usual femme-fatale (unfortunately, her audience is rather hostile), Two-Face is actually ruled by his idiosyncrasies (he only keeps pairs of twos, or a pair of face cards, even if he has a winning hand), the Penguin has to preserve his image around his “less sophisticated” counterparts despite not actually being wealthy, Killer Croc (though he’s Batman) is anxious to show that he’s just as big of a villain as the others, and the Joker cheats more often than should even be plausible (it’s implied that the other villains are just too scared of him to call him on it). The episode depicts the things that the audience never really gets to see, the down-time of the antagonists.
It’s not that shows haven’t done world-building episodes like this, but this one really turned the concept on its head. The bad guys aren’t always scheming or crafting death-traps, sometimes they’re just having a few drinks and shooting the sh*t. The idea that these costumed sociopaths compare stories of fighting the hero in the same way people talk about their fishing trips is… well, brilliant, because it’s both completely logical and yet something that you usually wouldn’t think about. It’s like finding out that John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer were on the same bowling team. It’s a level of subtle character development that earned this episode a spot on here.
Also, “it was a big rock,” will make me laugh until the day I die.
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If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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