The Joker is a Justice League problem.
On one hand, he’s an iconic character, maybe the greatest DC villain. His DCAU voice actor has created a memorable, even distinctive take on the character. Plus, he’s a colorful lunatic, naturally suited for television, and his sidekick is a star in her own right.
On the other hand, he’s not exactly a Justice League villain. He’s a good foil for Batman, but he works with streamers and buzzers, cheap gags and petty crime. Even if Superman and J’onn have the week off, he’s going to need a very good scheme to handle the others. So how can the Joker take on the Justice League?
Not by himself. “Wild Cards” gives us another take on some lesser DC villains, the Royal Flush Gang, and our playing card-themed weirdos team up to cause trouble on the Las Vegas strip. It’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s not a bad way to level the playing field for one episode.
The change in tone from “Hereafter” is a good choice, though. It’s impossible to compete with the legitimate death of a hero (even if he got better), so a different direction makes more sense. This episode originally aired in 2003, and TV was filled with awful reality TV, so the format makes complete sense. The Joker is a natural television personality, and this isn’t the first time he’s taken over the airwaves.
“Wild Cards” is a decent episode, but it’s hard to expect too much, here. If the destruction of Las Vegas seems like a tragedy to you, this is how I know you’ve never been to Las Vegas. So the stakes aren’t the draw here. It’s the entertainment value of the Joker, and seeing our heroes face the clock and our gang of meddling kids.
There are plenty of good moments. While the Joker doesn’t let loose with his signature laugh, he gets some good one-liners in, and his distaste for the heroes is delightful. Flash gets to be Flash. The twist of Ace being the Joker’s ultimate plan is very much a Joker scheme. And the John/Shayera relationship finally happens.
The episode opens with the two of them bickering as usual, which has become a common sight this season. John’s near death from the explosion – choosing to protect Shayera over himself – is a good call-back to his declaration in “The Secret Society”. So when things culminate in the last segment, the remorseless gambler’s sentiment of “it’s about time” rings true. Seeing John remove Shayera’s helmet is a real surprise, though.
The actual ending to the Vegas conflict is merely okay. The reveal of Ace as the point of the battles is solid, and the Joker declaring himself immune due to already being insane is a common sense work-around. But Ace simply leaving, the league seemingly indifferent, is bizarre.
Overall, “Wild Cards” is relatively inconsequential, which is mostly the point. Personally I think it’s in the bottom half of the S2 episodes, though its levity is welcome. It’s always fun to spend time with this version of the Joker and Harley, and there are some solid hero moments here. I’m a fan anytime Flash essentially cheats, and there’s some legitimately good Batman stuff. (Batman successfully playing Harley, though not without getting punched, is classic.)
We’re almost to the end of the season. John and Shayera have admitted their feelings for each other, though happiness and a white picket fence are hardly in their futures.
- Voice Casting:
- The Joker and Harley Quinn are voiced by Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin, of course.
- The Royal Flush Gang are voiced by the actors from the concurrently-airing Teen Titans series:
- Ten: Khary Payton (Cyborg)
- Jack: Greg Cipes (Beast Boy)
- Queen: Tara Strong (Raven)
- King: Scott Menville (Robin)
- Ace: Hynden Walch (Starfire)
- John C. McGinley – Dr. Cox himself – voices the TV executive who meets with Batman, as well as the bookie who matches up Batman vs. Jack.
- Apparently Tim Curry was the first choice to voice the Joker when the Batman animated series was being cast. Who knew?
- I’m curious to hear how others feel about this one. I think my review makes it sound like I disliked the episode, which isn’t the case, but I do think it falls in the bottom half of the season. Again, this is relative to the quality of the others.
- The little featurette on the Royal Flush Gang mostly feels like filler to me, but the moment where Queen declares herself the most powerful, only to retract that statement when the camera pans to Ace, is a nice touch.
- I watched plenty of Teen Titans, because of course I did. I liked it quite a bit, as a kid’s show. Still kind of amuses me that they used Deathstroke as the main antagonist and totally made it work.
- Four Straight Minutes of the Joker Laughing. Consider yourself warned.