1992 could be considered a big year for Batman.
While the Tim Burton-directed Batman Returns was a hit in theaters that summer (despite it’s somewhat ‘darker’ tone), a new incarnation of the Dark Knight,would find it’s way to the Fox Kids block of weekday afternoon shows that fall.
With it’s retro-stylings and entertaining writing, the show quickly became one that I and many kids watched after school (if any cartoon block could give The Disney Afternoon a run for it’s money, Fox Kids could!).
While there would be plenty of colorful members of Batman’s rogues gallery that came to light, the show would also give time over to the mobsters within Gotham City, as well as members of it’s police force (two areas that the movie series at the time, failed to properly focus on).
It also gave us some interesting one-shots, dealing with the average people that lived within the city, and how Batman and his adversaries interacted with them.
The first ‘average Joe’ we encountered, was Charles Michael Collins, in the 7th episode of the first season, titled Joker’s Favor.
On the freeway heading home from work, Charlie Collins is taking stock of his bad day: his boss turned down his request for a raise, his son needs braces, and his wife is making meat loaf for dinner.
Charlie feels the world is further treating him like a punching bag, when several police cars and the Batmobile flash their lights, making him move to another lane. Right after this, a station wagon cuts him off, and Charlie decides he’s had enough! Catching up to the wagon, he begins to rant at it’s driver.
“Hey, you,” he yells. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, clown! You think you own the whole road? Why for two cents, I’d-”
Charlie quickly shuts up, when the street lights reveal just who cut him off: The Joker!
Fearing for his life, Charlie pulls off onto some side roads. Eventually his car gives out, and he is soon confronted by the Joker. The Clown is about to teach his rude friend some manners, when Charlie pleads that he’ll do anything if the Joker will spare him.
This request intrigues the Joker, and he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Taking his driver’s license, the Joker claims he’ll let Charlie go, if he’ll do him a favor.
“Okay,” agrees Charlie. “What?”
“I DON’T KNOW!! I haven’t thought of it yet!” Yells the Joker, before his voice softens. “You just toddle on back to your mundane, meaningless little life, and when I need you, I’ll call.”
The Joker then walks away laughing, as Charlie is left behind, shaking from the encounter.
Two years later, we cut to the Gotham Police Department. A testimonial dinner is being planned for Commissioner Gordon at the Gotham Peregrinators Club, but deep down, he finds the whole thing a waste of time and money.
As he sulks in his office, the Batman shows up.
Gordon claims that the Batman should be honored instead of him, but the Dark Knight puts things in perspective, claiming he just works “the night shift,” while Gordon has to deal with things on a daily basis.
The Commissioner accepts the Batman’s ‘endorsement,’ but as he asks if his friend knows where to rent a tux, he finds the room empty.
“I hate it when he does that,” mutters Gordon.
Meanwhile, the Joker has gotten out ‘on early parole,’ and feels he should be able to honor Gordon at the event as well. As he looks through his little black book, his assistant Harley Quinn, asks if he’s looking for ‘a specialist.’
“No no,” says the Joker, pulling out Charlie’s license. “Just an old friend…who’s dying to do me a favor!”
Some time afterward, the phone rings at the residence of Don Wallace, in Springdale, Ohio. When the caller asks for Charlie Collins, Don claims the caller has the wrong number. However, the Joker is on the phone, and he knows he’s talking to Charlie! He even rattles off Charlie’s new address, and claims he’s made knowing about Charlie and his family, his ‘hobby.’
The Joker tells Charlie that there’s a ticket on the next plane to Gotham for him, and that he should tell his family he’s visiting ‘a sick friend.’
Once Charlie is face-to-face with him again, the Joker is all-smiles, as if he’s seeing an old friend. Charlie pleads that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but the Joker simply tells him that once the favor is repaid, he can go home.
Soon, the Joker outlines Charlie’s part of his plan. Harley is to deliver a huge cake to Gordon’s party at The Peregrinators Club. Charlie will stand by the main doors to the party room, and once Harley knocks three times, he opens the door…and that’s all he has to do!
When Charlie enters the club’s room prior to the start of the party, he sees two of the Joker’s henchmen standing nearby, keeping an eye on things. With the two men in the room, he realizes there’s no way he can alert any of the cops about what is going to happen, and wishes he could somehow contact the Batman.
Walking into the nearby Hall of Inventions, he sees a glider in the shape of a bat, hanging from a crane. Willing to try anything, he maneuvers the glider to a nearby window.
It just so happens that Bruce Wayne had been at the party a few minutes prior, congratulating Gordon. As he and his butler Alfred drive away, Alfred points out the bat-symbol in the window behind them, wavering back-and-forth.
As Gordon gives a few words inside, three knocks are heard at the door. Charlie opens it, and Harley enters with the cake. Charlie then attempts to leave, but finds an adhesive keeping his hand stuck to the door handle!
Harley gives a little ode to the Commissioner, when suddenly, nerve gas erupts from some nearby candles. Harley gives Charlie a gas mask, and the two watch as everyone in the room freezes in place!
The Joker then emerges from the cake, and has Harley place a small bomb on Gordon’s jacket.
“Wear it in good health,” he chuckles, “all remaining 59 seconds of it. Toodles!”
“Wait! You promised to send me home,” pleads Charlie, still stuck to the handle.
“I never said, ‘alive,'” laughs the Joker, as he and Harley leave the room.
A few moments after they leave, Batman appears through the skylight in the room. Charlie points out the bomb, and Batman quickly sends it hurtling outside of the building (where it conveniently blows up the Joker’s van).
Back in the main room, everyone has started to regain movement, and Batman loosens the adhesive on Charlie’s hand. He tells Batman about the Joker using him as part of the assassination plot, before Batman rushes into the club to find the Joker.
He quickly subdues the Joker’s goons and Harley, but ends up chasing his adversary into a recreated ancient temple (“Right down to the poison-tipped darts!” laughs the Joker at one point).
The Joker attempts to blow up Batman, but mainly succeeds in the bomb destroying the temple, as both of them run for their lives.
Escaping into an adjoining alleyway, the Joker is confronted by Charlie. At first, he laughs off seeing the little man again, but Charlie then punches him, knocking him to the ground!
“You miserable little nobody!” he spits out. “If I get caught, your wife and son are history!”
Charlie then claims that he’s got some insurance…and reveals one of the Joker’s bombs, which is ticking!
“This is how it ends, Joker.,” he says. “No big schemes. No grand fight to the finish with the Dark Knight. Tomorrow, all the papers will say, is that the great Joker was found blown to bits in an alley, alongside a ‘miserable little nobody!’ Kinda funny, ironic really. See, I can destroy a man’s dreams too…and that’s really the only dream you’ve got, isn’t it?”
“Stop! You’re crazy!” pleads the Joker, struggling to get away.
“I had a good teacher,” smiles Charlie.
The Joker desperately calls for Batman to help him, and his adversary emerges from the shadows. Batman tells Charlie to stop what he’s doing, but the angry little man is determined to finish off the Joker, claiming it’s the only way to keep his family safe.
It is then the Joker empties out his pockets, claiming all the information about Charlie’s family is there.
Charlie then freaks out the white-faced clown, and chucks the bomb at him! Joker ducks behind Batman, and the detonator goes off…just causing a puff of confetti, and a paper reading ‘boom” to pop out.
“Gotcha!” smiles Charlie devilishly, as Batman laughs at his little ‘joke.’
“Oh, very funny,” smirks the Joker, like a bad sport. “A million laughs.”
As Batman leads the Joker away, Charlie heads off, eager to get home to his family.
After all these years, Joker’s Favor is still one of my Top 5 favorite episodes for this series, and in the release schedule for the show, it was our first story to feature this incarnation of the Joker.
It was nice to see that the showrunners didn’t just decide to make an animated Jack Nicholson, and gave this Joker his own spin on the Clown Prince of Crime. It also was one of the first times I think many of us realized actor Mark Hamill’s talent for voices. He manages to provide a voice that becomes impossible to separate from the mad man we see on-screen.
This Joker is also a bit theatrical, but does have certain vestiges of pride.
Notable is when he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Charlie thinks the Joker wants whatever cash he has, and the clown is somewhat disgusted at what Charlie is thinking.
“Oh please, don’t insult me,” he snaps.
Of course, the character also revels in the power he has over this little man. The Joker even gives Charlie all sorts of nicknames, from ‘Chuckers’ to ‘Charlie Brown.’
To many a Batfan, what is most notable about the episode after all these years, is that it marked the first appearance of one of the modern era’s most famous Batman characters: Harley Quinn (voiced by Arleen Sorkin).
In the beginning, she seemed little more than a cute hench-girl for the Joker, but as time went on, a backstory was developed for her, and she began to appear in more material related to Batman. In this episode, she is the main ‘cheerleader’ around the Joker’s plans, and has some memorable lines.
When she tries to sweet-talk Batman as a distraction, he quickly subdues her, and leaves her handcuffed for the Police to arrest.
“Beauty school’s looking pretty good about now,” she mutters.
And then, there’s Charlie Collins.
Of all the ‘average Joe’s’ the show has had, Charlie is the one who definitely stands out. He’s just an regular guy, who ended up thrust into circumstances beyond his control.
My favorite moment for the character, comes at the end when Charlie freaks out the Joker. It’s the equivalent of seeing a person whose been bullied, getting ‘the last laugh’ on their tormentor. Actor Ed Begley Jr, provides Charlie’s voice, and it’s fun to hear him go from timid, to almost crazed as he makes the Joker squirm.
Plus, it is funny that Charlie manages to do what the Joker couldn’t: make the Batman laugh!
We also get some fun little character moments, with members of Gotham’s police force. At the time, we were just beginning to meet other members of the force, such as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Officer Renee Montoya.
At the Peregrinator’s Club, we see Montoya acting much more ‘refined’ than Bullock, who seems to be there just for the free food. There also comes a moment where he tries to sweet-talk Harley, and gets the business end of a baton to his knees.
While one of my favorites, the episode isn’t perfect.
What is notable is that when Charlie throws the bomb at the Joker, Batman has a split-second look of panic, yet doesn’t run! With a (supposed) live-bomb inches away from him, it is surprising that he wouldn’t try to kick it or toss it away (even with seconds to spare!), given how we saw him handle the last few explosives the Joker was using. Of course, it is funny to see both Batman and the Joker, in this split-second shot of utter panic.
There also is a thought, that maybe the episode could have been better utilized later on in the first season of the show. I mean, we’re seven episodes in, and we have a guy threatening to blow up the Joker!? If Charlie had gone through with it, I think Hamill’s Joker would have had slightly more screentime than Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad!
Even the music for the episode, has it’s own special ‘flavor.’ The late Shirley Walker often never gets enough recognition for the themes and musical pieces she did for the series. While there is a tinge of Danny Elfman in some areas, she brings a regality to Batman’s theme, and a playful-yet-ominous tone to the Joker’s theme.
Joker’s Favor has a theme that feels like a distant cousin to the Joker’s Theme. It has a happy-go-lucky feel with a chorus whistling a tune, but becomes somewhat humorous with an added synthesizer piece put in, that sounds like someone is squeezing a whoopee-cushion. It’s never stated outright, but I sometimes refer to the piece as Charlie’s theme song: it seems the kind of song for a ‘lovable loser,’ who just wants something to go right in his life.
Overall, I feel Joker’s Favor should be ‘required viewing’ for anyone who is introducing someone to Batman: The Animated Series. As we celebrate the show having been around for over 25 years, stay tuned, as we recap several more episodes in the coming months.
One of writer Rod Serling’s most famous contributions to popular culture, may have been his television anthology series, The Twilight Zone.
For 5 seasons, Serling’s show would often take unsuspecting people into ‘another dimension,’ where all manner of strange and unusual things could happen. These tales would go on to inspire a number of people, including Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King.
Along with it’s tales of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, many of the show’s episodes often reflected on ‘the human condition,’ providing cautionary tales, in the same way as fairy tales.
One of the traits that can be both a blessing and a curse to humanity, has been ‘control.’ For centuries, we’ve seen human beings do horrible things, often at the behest of their own petty whims. Once in power, some are thinking of only a select few, and ignoring the needs of the many, that surround them.
That seemed to be what Serling was looking to convey, in his Season 3 episode, The Little People.
In a rocky canyon on an alien world, a rocket has touched down. Standing outside of it are two men: William Fletcher, and Peter Craig. Both are at odds with each other, over what has brought them to this place.
While Craig chastises his commander for landing them in a canyon, Fletcher counters that Peter got them into this mess, by navigating them into a meteor storm, causing them to seek a place to land for repairs.
Craig continues to complain (even about the food rations), leading to Fletcher demanding that he stop with the attitude. While Craig sees negatives, Fletcher is the optimist: they’ve walked away from their ship in one piece, and are on a planet that is able to sustain them while they make necessary repairs to their craft.
While Craig gives an affirmative to being told to ‘knock it off,’ Fletcher notes that taking orders seems to not be one of his co-pilot’s strong suits. When Craig mentions how he’d like to make ‘a few changes,’ the commander plays a game with him.
“What do you hunger for most, Craig?” he asks, introspectively.
“Try this one, Fletch,” says Craig. “I’d like a whole lot of people at my elbow. The more, the merrier. The louder, the better. And I’d like Yankee Stadium right alongside…but I’d like them on ‘my terms.'”
“That’s what I’m getting at,” replies Fletcher, looking into Craig’s face. “What are ‘your terms?'”
“I’d like to be the number one ‘straw boss,” he answers. “I’d like to give the orders.”
“I’ll bet you would,” replies the commander.
As the conversation trails off, Craig begins to look around, claiming he hears a strange sound, that sounds like…people.
The camera then whip-pans over to Serling, as he delivers his opening monologue:
“The time is the space age. The place is a barren landscape of a rock-walled canyon that lies millions of miles from the planet Earth. The cast of characters, you’ve met them: William Fletcher, commander of the spaceship; his co-pilot, Peter Craig. The other characters who inhabit this place you may never see, but they’re there, as these two gentlemen will soon find out. Because they’re about to partake in a little exploration into that gray, shaded area in space and time…that’s known as the Twilight Zone.”
When we return to Fletcher and Craig, we find a few days have passed. Fletcher is still making repairs, while Craig seems to have given in to shirking his duties, and has returned from another trip away from their landing site.
As he looks up at the twin suns beating down on them, Fletcher realizes that for how hot it is, he hasn’t seen Craig dip into their rations, and finds his canteen is still full!
Fletcher suspects that Craig is holding out on him, and has found a source of water. Craig soon gives in, claiming he was simply testing it to make sure it was drinkable, but Fletcher isn’t so easily convinced. He also finds some small plants that his co-pilot has collected.
While Craig claims they’re “just lichen,” Fletcher examines them under a magnifier, and finds something startling: they’re clumps of miniature trees!
Realizing that his secret’s out, Craig pulls something out of his jacket, and shows it to the commander. Though it is the size of an ant, looking through the magnifier, Fletcher finds the tiny object to be a truck!
Craig seems to be enjoying the look of awe in his commander’s face, and soon leads Fletcher to another part of the canyon. Spread out on the ground, is what appears to be a small civilization, complete with miniature houses, and even a marina (observed by Fletcher through his magnifier).
Craig tells how he’s still deciphering their language, but they do understand mathematics. He goes on to tell how cooperative the little people are, and in looking for edible plants, they directed him to the trees that Fletcher was looking at.
As Craig continues to talk about the people they are observing, his voice quivers with excitement.
“They’re scared, Fletch,” he says. “Petrified. And so they do as they’re told! Because this giant, is like some avenging angel to them. I’ve graduated, Fletcher, from a slob with a slide rule to…to…to a god!”
“Craig, they’re people,” replies Fletcher, trying talk sense to his co-pilot. “They’re flesh and blood. In that respect, they’re no different than us.”
“Sure they are,” says Craig, his eyes growing wider. “Because they’ve been created, ‘in my image!””
Mad with power, Craig begins stomping down on the miniature world. Trees and houses collapse beneath his feet, as a chittering cry rises up from the unseen masses below! Fletcher is forced to knock out his partner to stop his ‘reign of terror,’ and the co-pilot collapses to the ground nearby.
“You’re no god, Craig,” he says. “That’s not what you are at all! The only trouble is, that by now you’ve probably gotten them to believe in the devil.”
Fletcher addresses the little people, telling them that he’s sorry, hoping they can forgive them for what has happened.
Some time afterwards, We see Fletcher making final repairs to the ship. Calling out to Craig, he receives no answer. Returning to the spot where the little people are, he comes across a life-size statue of Craig, towering over the miniature landscape!
As he looks over the statue, Craig smugly tells how the little people, constructed it overnight.
It’s too bad they don’t know who they’re breaking their backs for,” says Fletcher.
“Meaning what?” asks Craig, the smile disappearing from his face.
“Meaning they’re worshiping a heartless slob whose insides are made out of the same stuff as that statue,” replies Fletcher. “Yeah, it’s a good likeness, Craig…and an hour from now they can sell it for junk!”
Fletcher then tells Craig that with the ship fixed, conditions are right for them to blast off soon. However, Craig pulls his laser-pistol on his partner, claiming he isn’t going back.
Fletcher tries to reason with his co-pilot, claiming that left alone, he’ll end up losing his mind, but his pleas are met with a laser-blast from Craig’s gun, that knocks the head off the statue.
“This is a monotheistic society here,” claims Craig. “Just room for one god.”
Soon afterward, Fletcher takes off, and Craig glowers over his miniature ’empire,’ a look of ‘mad power’ spreading across his face.
Declaring that ‘The Age of Peter Craig’ is upon them, he proclaims that there will be a lot of projects for his little minions to begin work on.
Craig gleefully stamps down on parts of the miniature world again, claiming that he will continue to give these ‘little reminders’ periodically, to remind them to be subservient to his whims.
Suddenly, the sound of a ship can be heard overhead. Craig claims it’ll quickly go away, but he soon plugs his ears, as the sound of the craft reaches a fever pitch! Finally, the sound dies away, but is replaced by an earth-shaking, rumbling sound. As Craig looks around for what is causing the sound, he is shocked!
Above him, stand two men, towering giants to his eyes, dwarfing the canyon walls!
“Go away!” demands Craig, trying to keep some semblance of control. “Don’t you understand?! I’m the god! I’m the god, don’t you understand?! I’m the god!!”
Craig screams in terror as one of the giants notices him, and reaches down to pick him up. However, in the process, the enormous man accidentally crushes him to death. As the giant looks down at the now-silent Craig, his partner tells him that they have repairs to make. And like a dead fly, the giant tosses Craig’s lifeless body to the ground, where he lands in a crumpled heap, not far from the little people’s world.
Some time afterward, we see a number of small ropes attached to Craig’s statue, and small, triumphant cries go up, as it comes crashing down, breaking across the body of the dead ‘tyrant.’
Rod Serling’s voice then returns to us, closing out the segment:
“The case of navigator Peter Craig: a victim of a delusion. In this case, the dream dies a little harder than the man. A small exercise in space psychology that you can try on for size, in the Twilight Zone.”
Size and scale have often factored into a number of episodes of The Twilight Zone, though of course, the logic of what is shown here may be a bit ‘pedestrian.’
Though we are dealing with a miniature civilization on another world, it is strange that they would have such Earthly creations as trucks and boats. However, given that we don’t actually spend time among the little people, this may have been a simplified way to make us feel sympathy and association, for the unseen masses that Craig mistreats.
The effects work in the episode may seem primitive by our standards (Fletcher’s staring at the sun is simply a static image of two ‘lights’), but it is in how both of the actors sell the piece that makes it work.
The episode is one of many, written by Serling himself. Much of the story is contained in several little ‘moments,’ as we cut to scenes that actually matter to the story. It’s possible the episode could have been stretched out in the longer, Season 4 format, but for fitting into the 25-minute frame work of the 3rd season, It gets the job done.
Both Claude Akins and Joe Maross are veterans of The Twilight Zone series, with each of them having starred in a Season 1 episode (The Little People would be their final appearances in the show).
In this episode, the voice of reason, falls on Claude Akins as Commander William Fletcher. Akins had already appeared in another cautionary episode of The Twilight Zone, with the first season’s The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. In both cases, he tried to serve as the calming voice, though in this story, he manages to escape with his sanity and reasoning intact. Akins’ voice had that deep, commanding tone I heard in a number of things from the 50’s, and it works well when he tries to talk sense into his delusional co-pilot.
Maross’ first role in the series, was in the first season’s Third from the Sun episode. There, he played a more calm role, while here, he gets to act quite unhinged. There are times in his performance, where one wonders what the space agency was thinking, pairing him up with someone like Fletcher. Given how Craig doesn’t like to take orders, it seems odd that he’d be cleared to co-pilot the ship….but then again, maybe in this world, there are less restrictions on who gets to go into space.
Maybe it’s the pacing of the episode, but Craig’s delusional rantings of becoming a god, feel like they come on a bit too quickly. At times, he chews the scenery, much like some over-the-top Stephen King villains do…though one has to wonder if maybe Mr Craig, may have inspired some of the crazies in King’s novels.
Like most Twilight Zone episodes, the concept of The Little People found it’s way into popular culture.
On the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Robinson would sometimes use Peter Craig’s cries of “I’m the god,” when he’d riff on some film characters in the cheesy movies they’d watch.
Even TV show creator Matt Groening’s series The Simpsons and Futurama, borrowed from the episode.
The Simpsons had a Treehouse of Horrors segment titled The Genesis Tub, which saw Lisa Simpson create a miniature society, and her brother Bart quickly caused mayhem within it.
In an episode of the Futurama series titled Godfellas, the robot Bender ends up floating through space, where a stray asteroid crashes into him, upon which are a number of tiny creatures. They think him to be a god, and Bender revels in having a number of tiny underlings that will do whatever he commands…however, he soon finds out there are consequences to his actions.
Though a simple episode, The Little People still serves as a good cautionary tale, about size and power, and like many of Serling’s works, it’s a story that can still be used to teach morals and lessons today.