BOF RETROSPECTIVE: "The Last Laugh" Author: Chris Clow (Follow @CHRISCLOW)
Date: July 25, 2017
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Production Order: 15
Airdate Order: 4
Original Airdate: September 22, 1992
Written by Carl Swenson
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Alfred
Mark Hamill as The Joker
Mari Devon as Summer Gleeson
It may seem a little strange to people who've absorbed this episode in adulthood, but "The Last Laugh" scared the hell out of me when I was a kid.
Sure, I was only four years old when it was first broadcast, but even at that young age Batman was a significantly important part of my life. It never occurred to me to be afraid of a Batman story, but weirdly enough – even after two Burton movies, including having seen BATMAN RETURNS in theaters and distinctly remembering other children crying as they were escorted out of the theater – it was "The Last Laugh" that first unlocked a sense of dread I'd felt as a Batman fan that was connected with the character's world, and specifically with The Joker. Kids, right?
It's especially weird now, because in the dozens of times I've revisited this episode since its initial broadcast, it definitely stands as one of the more lighthearted encounters that Batman has with his nemesis over the course of this series. It's April Fool's Day in Gotham City, and the hero who often doesn't have time for much of a sense of humor is a little annoyed by the day's influence on everyone, including his own trusted butler and confidant. After hearing of lunacy-related disturbances on the streets of Gotham, it doesn't take long for Batman to deduce that The Joker is acting rather predictably by striking on a day that's dedicated entirely to playing jokes and pranks on people.
Two things stick out to me as striking a sense of fear: the gas that The Joker uses in this episode will lead to permanent insanity, which sounded scary, and just the mere presence of The Joker's killer robot, "Captain Clown." From the really ominous title card attached to this episode depicting his detached, ghostly and grinning face, to the power and relentlessness he exhibits when he briefly gets Batman in his grasp, Captain Clown – in my estimation – is one of the more unsettling (if short-lived) thugs that Batman has to contend with over the course of this show.
Of course, Batman finds a way out of his series of predicaments and takes it upon himself to save the day, while also giving us a charming moment or two by showing Batman get a joke over on both the Joker, and by giving Alfred a "receipt" for having a joke played on him at the top of the episode. Overall, "The Last Laugh" is not a particularly notable episode of BTAS, but it's memorable for a couple of reasons: one, Mark Hamill as the Joker is always memorable, and two, it's hard not to remember "the one with Captain Clown" even decades after you first see it. The only other notable aspect to this episode is that it features the first appearance of the Batboat on the series, but other than that, it only sticks out because it's a "Joker episode."
Sure, it's only "okay," but I can think of a lot of worse ways to spend 22-minutes. Why not spend it with Batman and The Joker? - Chris Clow