The Joker is hunched in a derelict Santa suit, his yellow eyes and equally yellow teeth beaming in the near dark of the night before Christmas. The cheerful Christmas anthem that plays is underscored by greasy brass notes, like aural pollution.
Arkham Asylum at Christmas, where the inmates butcher carols and the guards give suggestive glances above perfectly trimmed mustaches.
Among the inmates is the Joker, who launches into the version of Jingle Bells that got me in trouble with my teachers, Sunday school and otherwise:
Jingle Bells, Batman smells / Robin laid an egg / the Batmobile lost a wheel / and the Joker got away
It was so meta, I didn't have the words to express it as a child; no, really - back in 1992, no one knew what “meta” was or meant.
On the last stanza, the magnificent bastard actually gets away. He sticks the tree topper on his own head, and sings an extemporized verse as the Christmas tree rocket shoots off into the night
In the Batcave, Robin makes a poor first impression by sounding like the “bad friend” from an after school special. Instead of drugs or tobacco, he's trying to get Batman hooked on It's a Wonderful Life. “Let's kick back, Batman! Even scum spends Christmas with their families.”
Batman tells him the Joker has no family, so Robin retools his approach to high school girlfriend – if the city is quiet, Batman promises him that they'll come back, eat a nice dinner, and watch the movie. He leaves out the part about stopping by the mall, just to browse.
To Batman's chagrin, the streets of Gotham are doing their best impression of a Norman Rockwell painting. His reaction to all the good cheer is to wordlessly throw a batarang and swoop off angrily. There's even a Good Samaritan he almost bludgeons.
Batman must hate It's a Wonderful Life.
Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne is in his brown suit, yellow shirt again. It looks like they're finally going to watch the movie, but no matter how many times Dick Grayson hits the only button on the remote, the picture stays the same.
Dressed like a Technicolor Mr. Rogers, The Joker tells viewers It’s a Wonderful Life has been cancelled. Barely escaped that one, Brucie! Mark Hamill then delivers his Joker laugh, proving that, as the Joker is a match for Batman, so he too is a match for Kevin Conroy.
A Santa tank doing a Nazi salute menaces downtown, a sentence I have always wanted to write.
The Joker addresses a cardboard cut-out audience of Gotham’s most prominent citizens in a send up of President Carter’s fireside chats. The Dynamic Duo is trying to track the broadcast, while back on stage the Joker mentions that since he has no family - what, can he hear everything? - he had to kidnap one!
Here’s where we meet the Awful Lawful family, played by Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Summer Gleeson, all wrapped up like presents and kept quiet by candy canes that stay in their mouths…somehow.
If Batman wants them alive, he has to rescue them by midnight.
The Clown Prince of Crime follows this up with a Senor Wences routine, and his hand puppet Laffy encourages two of his cronies to blow up a train bridge while mangling more carols.
Mommy Lawful reveals that her own mother (Grandmommy Lawful?) is on that train! The Batmobile executes an abrupt turn as the Joker laughs at the woman's pre-bereavement.
Batman pushes one of the many unlabeled buttons in the Batmobile to engage autopilot, and then he and Robin leap out onto the train. Robin uncouples the passenger cars, and Batman flings himself and the engineer free of the crash.
They've finally tracked the signal to the observatory atop Mt. Gotham, where they find a present containing a Joker-in-the-box. The toy announces the next act up on Christmas with the Joker – the death of Batman, courtesy of the observatory's telescope-cannon!
The Joker then turns directly to the screen and breaks the fourth wall by explaining we'll be back in a moment, after a word from our sponsors. (Meta!)
Batman acts as a diversion while Robin tries to get inside, which kinda ruins the point of having a sidekick dressed as the Bolivian flag. Robin nimbly dodges through a double line of machine-gun fingered Joker robots, and calls Batman on a walkie talkie the size of a brick.
“Operation cause and effect,” Batman tells him, which is superhero code for, “Throw a grenade at the giant shooty cannon.” Following the explosion, the two are at their chummiest. Batman briefly holds Robin's hand to assure him that he's fine.
The Joker has moved on to his version of Bob Denver's famous Chinface bit, throwing the floundering Duo a clue in the form of a Betty Blooper doll. Batman not only recognizes the doll on sight, but knows the manufacturer and how long they've been out of business.
World's greatest detective, sure, but maybe he's got a hobby.
The Batmobile crashes into the abandoned LaffCo warehouse. Mark Hamill does some more disturbing laughter and queues up Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. The Joker pulls levers to release the imposing yet incredibly fragile toy soldiers, whose heads fly off with merry aplomb at the slightest touch.
Then the show sets us up for the punniest gag in the world:
“They don't call you Batman for nothing!” Robin says, and I can feel the show digging an elbow into my side. From a catwalk, men in plain sight unload on Batman and Robin with machine guns, missing them in the middle of an almost empty warehouse.
“Snipers!” Batman shouts, employing a use for that word I'm unfamiliar with. He tricks the “snipers” by using his cape as a decoy, and then disables them with the heaviest stuffed bear in the world.
A heretofore unseen green curtain that runs the length of the warehouse is drawn back, revealing the Lawful family dangling from a rope above a vat of molten metal like what killed the T1000. The Joker has a present in his hands for Batman.
The Dark Knight opens the package and promptly gets a cream pie in the face.
Batman takes the gag like the stoic he is, wiping the pie topping off as the Joker laughs. Once he's cleaned up, he leaps at the clown. However, the Joker cuts the rope! Batman vaults to the edge of the cauldron, leaps again, and tackles three full grown adults to safety.
That's...a lot of push-ups you have to do.
The Joker's grand escape is brought to a halt by an errant skate that he probably planted himself. He's held aloft over the boiling vat by Batman's grip on one lavender pants leg. “Merry Christmas, Joker,” he quips, dunking the clown a hair’s breadth lower.
At Wayne Manor, the boys have finally finished It's A Wonderful Life, courtesy of Commissioner Gordon's private copy. Bruce Wayne outsmugs even Gaston from Beauty & the Beast as he contemplates having put the Joker away in Arkham once more.
From a solitary cell, the Joker madly cackles carols and wishes us all a Merry Christmas.
End credits. Batman is awesome.