Batman: The Animated Series, Episode 86: “Holiday Knights”
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Dan Riba
Originally Aired: September 13, 1997
DVD: Batman: TAS, Volume 4
Summary: Harley and Ivy borrow Bruce Wayne for a shopping spree, Barbara Gordon encounters the world’s grumpiest Santa, and Batman and Robin have a rocking New Year’s. Oh, and Batman picks up a tab.
Debuting Characters: This is Tim Drake’s first production and airdate appearance, although not his first in continuity, as his origin story appeared after this. Can anyone explain why this aired for the first time in September???
Featured Villains: Clayface, Joker, and Harley and Ivy each have a segment to themselves.
This episode is an adaptation of the Batman Adventures Holiday Special, published by DC for the 1994 holiday season. Although by the time the line finally ended in 2007 there were over two hundred issues published in DC’s tie-in Adventures line, this issue holds a relatively unique position of being the product of the crew who worked on the TV Series, as opposed to comic creators like Ty Templeton, Mark Millar (we’ll get to his Adventures work in a Weekend Aside in the new year), Adam Beechen or Dan Slott working in the animated style. Bruce Timm recalls Paul Dini and his pitch for the original issue
… what happened was that Paul pitched to DC on the concept of doing the book – the short story format and all the little Christmas stories – and while we were talking about it, I said it would be really cool if we got our crew to do it. Instead of getting the usual suspects, the Klaus Jansons and whoever else, it would be a neat, little Batman: The Animated crew book. We knew all the guys were really good artists and were itching to do comics anyway, so DC signed off on it.
Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 86
After the issue was put out to a good reception, it laid dormant for a couple of years while the team worked on Superman. However, when word came down that Batman was going to be revived in a new format, the team looked for stories to adapt into animated form, and the Holiday Special was an obvious choice.
When we got the call to do more Batman episodes – normally we don’t like to repeat ourselves, but we were so busy doing Batman and Superman at the same time and we had to get goign on it really quickly. I don’t remember who mentioned adapting the Holiday Special for the series, but we thought “Why not It’s cute,” and we had done anthology stories before, like “Almost Got ‘Im”, and it was one less story that we had to come up with.
Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 87
The actual issue is slightly different than what made it to animated form. For one, the story occurs during an earlier era in the show’s history, so the character models are in the older style. Secondly, there are four full stories in the book plus the coda with Batman and Gordon, which got trimmed down to a three-act format for television. The ‘lost’ Holiday Special story – which was actually granted the cover shot – was entitled “White Christmas”, a Dini-penned story featuring art by Glen Murakami and starring Mr. Freeze.
“White Christmas” is a nice story, and opens with Batman called to Arkham Asylum late on Christmas Eve after Mr. Freeze escapes. As he tracks Freeze to his wife’s grave, Batman has to deal with the effects of a blizzard that has crippled Gotham without warning. Batman confronts and disables Freeze – after being tossed against his own parents’ tombstone in an oddly sweet moment – before finding out why Freeze was causing the blizzard. As it turns out, he was doing it in tribute to his late wife on their wedding anniversary, assuming that she would be sad that it had failed to snow on their special day. It’s a touching ending.
I assume that the reason the story was dropped is that Mr. Freeze’s character had changed significantly between 1994 and 1997, with his wife having been cured, rather than dying, in the direct-to-video movie Sub-Zero and Freeze’s motivation taking a more sinister turn in the new series [this change of direction is hinted at slightly here]. As nice as the piece is, it just wouldn’t make sense in animated form.
Thoughts on the Episode:
Wow, what a difference a new writer… and director… and animation style… and animators… and a three-act structure… and wholesale changes to the cast… makes. This episode is an example of a lot of the elements that make Batman a great character – he’s a great straight man, he fosters memorable supporting characters, and is easy to tell great action stories with. Happily, that’s also divided up into three neat acts.
Act one features Harley Quinn moping to her partner (… in crime…) Poison Ivy about her lack of Christmas cheer, which leads the two of them to find a sugar daddy. They find an unwilling accomplice in the form of Bruce Wayne, out at a party at socialite Veronica “Ronnie” Vreeland’s house (I like where Ronnie wound up as a character – she may well be Batman’s only entirely platonic female friend), and, as Bruce is fleeing from a mob of golddigging socialites, Ivy takes the opportunity to plant a kiss on his lips. Of course, she’s wearing her hypnotic lipstick, which means that now Bruce is in Harley and Ivy’s thrall… and he has his credit cards tucked into his suit.
Do I even need to say that Hilarity Ensues?
This story was good in the comic, but, with perfect voice work and an excellent use of a jazzy version of “The 12 Days of Christmas”, it’s raised to another level. Bruce’s various facial expressions are hilarious throughout, from the deadpan look in the limo to his horror at Harley’s exclamation of “LOOK… PIANOS!” The musical interlude in the middle plays out like part fashion show and part exercise in absurdist filmmaking, keeping the muted colour scheme from the comic and adding more comedic interplay between the girls plus Bruce’s tortured signing of the credit card bills. Of course, the fun has to end eventually, but it ends well, starting with Bruce’s clever escape, Batman’s chase of the limo, and Harley finally getting her tree, paying off Ivy’s rant from the start of the episode. While there’s very little actual “action” (aside from Harley and Ivy wailing on Batman with oversized mallets), it’s unnecessary.
The second act is a Batgirl feature, as she teams up with Bullock and Montoya to take down Clayface. This story shifts a bit more towards action, but there’s still a good amount of comedy.The sheer absurdity of Bullock as a surly, belching Santa is another highlight, especially the great exchange with the child of a criminal Bullcok sent upstate a couple months previously. Once Clayface makes his appearance it gets a bit more serious, with great animation effects when he shifts his face to match the detectives’. Although the gag from the comic about Babs timing her quick-change routine is lost, there’s still room for a couple more good laughs, especially Bullock’s brief shocked expression as he thinks Batgirl wants Montoya to fill him full of lead. Another great segment, albeit a lot shorter and simpler than the two parts on either side of it.
After that much comedy, it seems a bit counter-intuitive to bring Joker into the episode for an entirely serious segment, but that’s the case in the final act, which is a straight out “Joker tries to murder lots of people” plot, albeit one with the tail end of the holiday season in mind. Joker actually bothering to take precautions against Batman’s inevitable appearance, frustrating Batman somewhat in the process, does a good job of making him seem a bit deadlier, and he even gets to shoot Batman, which is a rare treat for him. Mind you, he probably wasn’t just intending to wing him, but, hey, better than normal. This is probably the weakest of the segments, sharing the problem with “Christmas with the Joker” did that it’s played a bit too straight for a Christmas ep, along with the usual complaint of the horrid Joker revamp.
If it had ended there, this one would have been a very solid episode, but just without that extra intangible that’s needed to make it to the next level. Luckily, that’s not where the episode ends, instead cutting to a brief coda featuring Batman meeting up with Gordon for a cup of coffee in what’s described as a New Year’s tradition between the two – a way of celebrating their survival for another year. It may just be a couple of lines followed by Batman’s patented disappearing act (and picking up the tab, which you figure would be the least a billionaire could do when having a drink with a civil servant), but it does a great job of playing up the fact that the two of them are friends, complete with the goofy little traditions of the holiday season that develop between long-time friends. I’ve often said that the scene that sold me the most on Chris Nolan’s vision for Batman was nailing just this type of Batman / Gordon scene at the end of Batman Begins, and having something similar at the end of this episode is a great way to finish off, providing a great holiday feel-good ending. A great episode all around, and my favourite New Adventures episode to boot.
Grade: A. It’s very hard to do a bad anthology episode if you know what you’re doing, and it strikes a perfect balance between sentimentality and the usual dark action of Batman.
- Harley makes a reference to being Jewish in the comic, but… c’mon, her last name’s QUINN QUINZIEL (… whoops…). Unless someone converted, it seems pretty unlikely.
- Yup, that’s Timm and Murikami carolling in the final segment, along with Shane Giles.
- The gold diggers at the party are pretty much the same group seen in Mask of the Phantasm, complete with the “Ingagement” girl.
Line of the Episode:”WHAT? And support the mad campaign of botanical genocide that grips this country every December?” Ivy must have been annoying in college.
Runner-up: “Waaaaaaaaaugh!” Great scream by Conroy as he’s falling down the elevator shaft, made that much funnier because the viewer knows Bruce is obviously faking terror.
Next Side Story: Back to the actual tie-ins, rest assured, this “Avatar” is most emphatically not “Captain Planet with Cats.”
Next Justice League: If you promise not to think about any spoilers, it’s “Comfort and Joy.”