Spring Break: Surf’s Up, Batsters!
Yes, this is a beach/surfing image. And yes, the protagonist is wearing a t-shirt, baggy board shorts, and a 1960’s Batman Utility belt. Were you expecting her to wear a bikini? She’s a bit butch for that, having worn a dress only a handful of times. Heck, it’s huge that she’s wearing SHORTS.
As the week goes on, I continue to get no end of inquiries as to my opinion on Batman v. Superman. It really puts me in the mind of when I really, really liked Batman, a long time ago. In that time period, the “grim and gritty” portrayal of the character was a new idea, fresh, unseen…not driven into the ground as in current years. When I tell people that I didn’t see the third Christian Bale Batman film, mainly because I didn’t like the second, there is one question that always precipitates:
“You didn’t like it? But wasn’t Heath Ledger’s performance incredible?”
I’m going out on a limb here…but I’m saying “No, it wasn’t.” It was fine for what it was, but if you take any actor of his quality, and ask them to run around incoherently with no backstory, you will get a performance like that. Heath Ledger had better roles, and performed better in those roles…honestly, I think his performance in “Dark Knight” was good, but limited by the crummy, inherently flawed script. Also limited by the modern interpretation of the character as a murder clown.
If you asked a bunch of comic fans what the greatest Joker story of all time was, I imagine you’d get a variety of answers. A large number would say Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “The Killing Joke,” which raised the bar for the Joker’s criminal madness. Others might say Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’s “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge,” which defined the direction the character would take for the next thirty years.
Those people are all straight up wrong. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the single greatest Joker story of all time is “Surf’s Up, Joker’s Under,” an episode of the Batman TV series in which the Joker attempts to take over Gotham City by defeating Batman in a surfing contest. This episode is the absolute best example of the Joker just straight up doing weird stuff to mess with Batman, an idea that we’ve really gotten away from in recent years. I don’t even think the Joker does anything that’s actually illegal in this story, but you never know when one of those seemingly inconsequential acts could lead to the absolute destruction of Gotham City.
Which is why Batman and the Joker had a surf-off to win the hearts of Gotham City’s most radical teens. Old School Batman isn’t going to fight Superman…they are both Good Guys. But he is going to put on some @#$%ing board shorts to make sure that the Joker can’t lead impressionable surfer youth astray. That’s a Good Guy. That’s @#$%ing BATMAN, people.
The story opens on a sunny beach, where Barbara Gordon (Batgirl!) is chilling on the beach with her beau, Skip Parker, when the Joker cold rolls up in a hot rod. A bitchin’ hot rod, really. He then starts talking into a hot dog…yep. That’s another thing I really miss. Not hot dogs that are actually sophisticated electronics, or cell phones, but I miss that too. I miss that the Joker can just drive around and go places without people losing their minds about it. “Oh look…there’s an Evil Clown. That happens in Gotham City. I bet we’ll see Batman!” No one freaks out…it’s just a thing, like the weather.
Anyway, the person on the other end of the hot dog? The Joker’s latest henchwench, the sultry, silver-bikinied Undine. It’s a surf episode, so bathing suits are key here. Also, that’s why a pretty lady is talking into a hot dog in the art for today…I’m not CRAZY. Still, you stop and think about that subtext a minute…I’ll wait.
Good, we’re back. Hang on for the next paragraph..there’s a lot to digest.
While Undine provides an entirely understandable distraction, the Joker’s goons — Riptide and Wipe Out — stuff former surfing great and malt shop proprietor Hot Dog Harrigan into a bag and toss him into a trash can, a fate from which there is no escape. With Harrigan out of the way, the Joker has full run of the malt shop, The Hang Five. He then gets Undine to lure Skip in with the promise of a phone call, and then gasses Skip with a gimmicked payphone by pressing a button on his electronic hot dog.
Got all that?
Then the Joker just reveals his Big Plan. He’s going to abscond with Skip, steal his surfing secrets with a brain-swapping machine, and then “rule the waves.”
Seriously. That is his entire plan.
Also…the Joker just HAS a brain swapping machine. There’s no need to explain it. No backstory AT ALL. That works fine for me, because I didn’t need to see him stealing it, or inventing it, or whatever. He just has it. He’s a @#$%ing supervillain, people.
Back at the beach, Barbara notices that her boyfriend’s missing and the Joker’s running around, puts two and two together, and phones in a tip to her dad. He, in turn, calls up Batman, and in one of the show’s most brilliant moments of the good guys being unfailingly thorough in the pursuit of justice, Gordon explains that he “suspects” it’s the Joker up to some “brazen buffoonery” because of Barbara’s description.
He “suspects!” How many green-haired albinos in purple three piece suits are at the beach? Whatever… Gordon wants to make sure that they have all the evidence before he confirms or denies it.
As you might expect, the Joker is not exactly a good loser (even at surfing), and a fight scene breaks out, with Barbara joining in as Batgirl to more thoroughly bash the Joker and his thugs. Thus, evil is defeated, Skip gets his surfing power back, and the Commissioner hauls the Joker off to jail again. The jail with a revolving door, apparently. The moral of the story? While evil may have the seductive, alluring abilities of a master surfer, they are merely stolen. True surfing ability, and the responsibility of using it wisely, belongs to the righteous!
You won’t see Ben Affleck doing anything remotely that cool on Friday. I recommend buying a Season 3 Batman DVD and watching “Surf’s Up, Joker’s Under” instead, True Believers.