"The Laughing Fish" is the forty-sixth episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It first aired on January 10, 1993. Joker unleashes a toxin into Gotham City's harbors, causing all the fish affected to mutate into "Joker fish", with a deformed smile clearly resembling his own. Batman analyzes the fish and finds that the chemical is non-toxic to humans, so Joker is not trying to poison people. Instead, his plan is far more bizarre: He attempts to copyright the fish, and thus gain a percentage over all sold in the Gotham area, and holds Gotham's Copyright Office ransom when they refuse.
The catch of the night comes in and the fishermen take a look. They are horrified and disgusted to see that every fish is white with green fins, and has a huge Joker smile. Batman watches from afar and mutters, "He's made his move".
While Batman returns to the Batcave and analyzes a Joker Fish, the Joker goes to the Gotham Office of Copyrights. He heads up to a random worker, Mr. G. Carl Francis, and starts to talk business. However, he warns Francis not to speak, and hits him with a fish to drive home his point. This prompts Harley to spray him with a "perfume" to rid him of the fish smell. Joker explains his plan: since all the fish in Gotham Harbor now bear his likeness, he is entitled to royalties. Bewildered, Francis tells him that fish are a natural resource and cannot be copyrighted. An angered Joker gives Francis until midnight to change his mind.
Back in the Batcave, Batman learns that the toxin only affects fish. Just then, a commercial for the Joker fish comes on and Joker repeats his threat against Francis.
The police set up guards around Francis in his house, and Bullock is confident that the house is secure. However, Batman slips in easily, and says the Joker will too. Outside, a Joker van with a swordfish on top drives up.
Batman asks Francis if he's alright, and he says it's just that he didn't rinse off the "gunk" Harley sprayed him with. Batman immediately shouts at Commissioner Gordon to call an ambulance, but just then, the van launches its swordfish, rocket-propelled, through the window and into the room. It sprays a gas, and when Francis breathes it, he begins laughing hysterically and a Joker grin appears on his face. Fortunately, Batman is able to inject him with an anti-toxin. He explains that the gas that Francis just breathed was one part of a binary compound, and the "perfume" that Harley sprayed was the other part.
Joker then appears on the television and announces the name of his next target, copyright office bureaucrat Thomas Jackson, unless his demands are met by 3 A.M.
Again, the police and Batman try to protect Mr. Jackson. However, the Joker sends Jackson's cat into the room, infected by a Joker fish. The cat attacks and scratches Batman, poisoning him with the same venom. Batman begins laughing hysterically until Jackson injects him with the antidote and removes his mask, revealing the real Jackson underneath, Batman having masqueraded as Jackson to no success, and administers the antidote to the cat as well.
Both Francis and Jackson have survived the Joker's attack on them, but Bullock is tired of waiting for the next attack and takes matters into his own hands. After he storms out, Batman notices that the Joker fish the cat was carrying is an exotic Japanese species, not native to Gotham's waters.
Bullock enters a closed harbor aquarium, but Harley finds him and takes him captive. The Joker then starts to lower Bullock into a tank with an enormous shark, but realizes that Batman will arrive soon and he's the one Joker really wants.
Batman arrives and persuades Joker to allow him to switch places with Bullock. The Joker eagerly agrees and drops him in the pool, then shoves a lump of hamburger into Bullock's hands and pushes him in after Batman. The shark is instantly attracted to the blood from the hamburger. Batman manages to straddle the shark and use his wrist shackles as a crude bridle. He steers the shark into the side of the tank, which breaks the glass, spilling himself and Bullock onto the aquarium floor, and the shark into the bay outside.
Batman then heads to the roof to face Joker. He attacks Batman with a wrench, but is ultimately outdone, and Joker is left with no place to run. Facing arrest yet again, he jumps off the roof towards the harbor below. On the way down, he blows up a rubber ducky life preserver, but realizes too late that the shark is circling the water below him. He plunges into the ocean, and the shark dives in, seemingly devouring him.
Gordon then arrives to round up Harley and the remaining goons. He asks Batman if he believes the Joker is gone for good. Batman looks out to the sea, and bluntly responds that as much as he wishes it were true, he doubts it deep inside. The shark does indeed dive in and out of the water, but there is no trace of the Joker, dead or alive.
- The "Kiss the Cook" waist apron Harley Quinn was wearing in the Joker's commercial threat reappeared in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker as a full apron Joker wore in the "Family Memories" torture film of Tim Drake, the next Robin.
Home video releases
- The Adventures of Batman & Robin: The Joker (VHS)
- The Adventures of Batman & Robin: The Joker/Fire & Ice (DVD)
- Batman: The Animated Series, Volume Two (DVD)
- Batman: The Complete Animated Series (DVD)
- Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Blu-ray)
- Batman: Under the Red Hood (Blu-ray only)
- Few toothed fish have the large, flat teeth required to make the Joker's smile. The fish that Joker mentioned such as smelt and tuna are not amongst these fish and therefore the toxin should not have worked on them.
- When the Gotham Times spins into screen and zooms in on the Joker's picture, his chin is straight, not following the rest of the folded newspaper. When Alfred reads the paper folded out, Joker's chin is exactly the same.
- Batman deduces that the toxin affects only fish, but in a later scene, Thomas Jackson's cat is clearly seen to have been infected by the same toxin, and Jackson himself is infected when the cat subsequently scratches him. However it is possible the Joker used a different toxin for them.
- When Batman fires his grapple gun at the ceiling of the aquarium, the "clink" of the grapple catching is heard while the wire is still wrapping around the pole.
- When Joker starts reeling Bullock back up, he winds backwards (as he should), but when we see him doing this from up by Bullock, he's winding it forward.
- This episode is based on the comics stories "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" (Batman #251, September 1973) by Dennis O'Neil, and "The Laughing Fish" and "Sign of the Joker!" (Detective Comics #475/476, February/March 1978), by Steve Englehart.
- It is also reminiscent of the Joker's first-ever caper in the comics: after he announced that he planned to kill a millionaire and steal a priceless diamond from the man's house, the police set up a protective ring around the millionaire, only to be baffled as the man dropped dead right in front of them. Batman discovered that Joker had broken in the night before, injected the sleeping millionaire with a slow-acting version of his Joker toxin, and stolen the diamond, replacing it with a fake.
- It is revealed that Bullock knows the existence of the Batcomputer, but how he learned of it exactly is unrevealed. It's possible though he just might have been referring to a computer used by Batman as a "Batcomputer" akin to the 1960s TV series habit of everything having a bat-prefix.
- This is one of three episodes with no title card, the other two being "Heart of Ice" and "The Demon's Quest".
- Joker's mention of "Colonel What's-his-name" is a reference to Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Later in the episode, he mentions another plan that would create a "happy meal", referring to the children's meal package from the fast-food chain McDonald's.
- The Joker takes a wrench from a toolbox labeled "Binford Tools". A reference to the fictional tool company of Home Improvement. Although the label was partially obscured off the side of the screen, it was clear enough what it read out to be.
- This marks the first time in the DCAU where the Joker is apparently killed but later returns alive and unharmed without any explanation. The second time is in the movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (but later, a sequel-comic explained the reason of his survival), the third time is in the episode "Harlequinade", the fourth time is in the episode (later a 2002 direct-to-video movie) "World's Finest", the fifth time is in the episode "Mad Love", the sixth time is in the videogame Batman: Vengeance, the seventh time is in the episode "Wild Cards", and the eighth time is in the movie Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (see "List of characters that have cheated death").
- When Joker says, "Oh, trying to cheat the Joker, are ya?" to Mr. Francis and the tune he makes before closing the shark tank are imitations of Curly from The Three Stooges. In The New Batman Adventures Joker has a trio of goons name Mo, Lar and Cur based on, and named after, The Three Stooges.
- While trying to "cheer up" Harley Quinn, Joker says she can be his "Little Mermaid". Mark Hamill previously had a small voice role as a sailor in the opening scene of Disney's The Little Mermaid in 1989 (using a voice similar to that of Solomon Grundy). In the film, Hamill co-starred with fellow DCAU voice-actors Jodi Benson (Ariel), Kenneth Mars (King Triton), Paddi Edwards (Flotsam and Jetsam), Edie McClurg (Carlotta), Rene Auberjonois (Louis), Hamilton Camp (a sailor), Kimmy Robertson (Ariel's sister) and Frank Welker (Max).
|Bob Hastings||Commissioner James Gordon|
|Robert Costanzo|| Harvey Bullock|
|Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.|| Alfred Pennyworth|
|George Dzundza|| G. Carl Francis|
Thomas Jackson (uncredited)
|Mark Hamill|| The Joker|
|Arleen Sorkin||Harley Quinn|
Batman: Well, he's not out to poison people. This diluted toxin only affects fish.
(watching one of Joker's TV commercials)
Francis: No one can copyright fish. They're a natural resource!
Bullock: Glory-hogging, long-underwear geek!
Francis: Uh, Batman? Why is this happening to me? I've never done anything to this Joker. I'm just a paper-pusher. I can't change the laws. I'm harmless.
Batman: Feeling alright?
Bullock: I didn't need no Batcomputer to tell me that wired-looking minnow came from an aquarium!
Joker: You're right, Harley. Fish are disgusting. I think I'll start using my toxin on cattle. Joker Burgers! Ha! Talk about a happy meal!
Joker: Since my side-splitters don't tickle you, how 'bout a skull-splitter?
Harley: Oh my poor, poor puddin'.
Gordon: Do you think he's gone for good?