DC Animated Universe

"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 of all sold in the Gotham area, and holds Gotham's Copyright Office ransom when they refuse.


The first catch of Joker Fish

The first catch of Joker Fish.

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.

Joker's Laughing Fish commercial

Joker advertises his fish on TV.

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 cures Francis

Batman gives Francis an antidote to cure him from the Joker gas.

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 on him earlier 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 that he's the one Joker really wants.

Joker shows Batman his resemblance to the shark

Joker shows Batman his resemblance to the shark.

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 a sobbing Harley (who drops a Joker playing card into the sea in sadness) 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 (devouring the Joker card previously dropped by Harley), 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.

Background information[]

Home video releases[]

Production notes[]

  • 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.[1][2][3]
  • According to Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm directed this episode as a result of the network not wanting to pay for an extra director, leading to the two splitting seven episodes that weren't previously assigned to anyone, and adding them to their normal workloads.[4]
  • Bruce Timm storyboarded the entire third act on his own.[1]
  • Timm praised the music in this episode, as he wanted the score to sound like a horror movie, making reference to the film Alien, stating it "builds a weird tension" behind the Joker that most viewers consciously wouldn't be aware of.[1]

Production inconsistencies[]

  • 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 among these fish.
  • When the Gotham Times spins onto the 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 easily sneaks into G. Carl Francis's home disguised in a Gotham Police uniform. Within the uniform, Batman's bare hands are shown, but when he discards the disguise, he is unexplainedly wearing his dark gloves.
  • When administering the anti-venom for G. Carl Francis, Batman rolls up the sleeve of Francis's shirt to expose his arm. In the next take, the sleeve is completely torn instead of rolled up.
  • 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 backward (as he should), but when we see him doing this from up by Bullock, he's winding it forward.


  • This is one of Bruce Timm's favorite episodes of the show.[5]
  • Bruce Timm has also remarked he believes this to be one of Paul Dini's best scripts for the show, particular praising how threatening Joker is in this episode."[1]
  • 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 where the Joker is supposedly killed but later returns alive and unharmed without any explanation, which became something of a recurring gag in the DCAU (except the instance where he was ultimately killed by Terry McGinnis at the end of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, dying for good).
  • 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 named 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 as well as her evil doppelganger Vanessa), 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).


Actor Role
Kevin Conroy Batman
Bob Hastings Commissioner James Gordon
Robert Costanzo Harvey Bullock
Fisherman (uncredited)
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Alfred Pennyworth
Cop (uncredited)
George Dzundza G. Carl Francis
Thomas Jackson (uncredited)
Fisherman (uncredited)
Mark Hamill The Joker
Stevedore (uncredited)
Arleen Sorkin Harley Quinn

Uncredited appearances[]


Alfred: Dining in tonight, sir?
Batman: The dissection tray, please, Alfred.
Alfred: Any idea what our happy friend is up to now?
Batman: Normal criminals usually have logical motives, but the Joker's insane schemes make sense to him alone.

Batman: Well, he's not out to poison people. This diluted toxin only affects fish.
Alfred: Maybe he's trying to make us all die from disgust.

(watching one of Joker's TV commercials)
Alfred: This could cause a stampede to pork.

Francis: Great Scott!
Joker: Actually, I'm Irish.

Francis: No one can copyright fish. They're a natural resource!
Joker: But they share my unique face! Colonel What's-His-Name has chickens, and they don't even have moustaches!
Francis: I can't help it! It's the law!
Joker: Oh, tryin' to cheat the Joker, are ya?

Bullock: Relax, Mr. Francis, I get men posted at every window and door, nobody's sneakin' in here tonight!
Batman: (reveals himself inside the house, disguised in a Gotham City Police Department uniform) If I got in this easily... (sheds off his disguise) ...so can the Joker!
Bullock: Hey, hey! This is police business, hold your bat-butt outta here!
Gordon: Hold it, Detective! No one knows the Joker's methods better than Batman! He stays!
Bullock: Glory-hogging, long-underwear geek!
G. Carl 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: And in his sick mind, that's the joke, Mr. Francis.
(Meanwhile, a Joker van with a smiling swordfish on its the ceiling arrives at the outside of Francis's house, the van parks and then slowly targets the swordfish towards the house)
Batman: Feeling alright?
Francis: (calmly) Oh, sure. It's just that everything's been so crazy today. I haven't even had time to rinse off that gunk the Joker's girl squirted on me.
Batman: (to Gordon) GET THIS MAN TO A HOSPITAL! NOW!
Francis: What?!
(The living room clock strikes midnight, the swordfish skyrockets through the main window into the house. Batman quickly saves Francis from being impaled by the fish, which gets struck against the wall and starts spraying toxic gas. Everyone coughs, the Joker van is heard speeding away from the scene)

Gordon: Nearly 3 a.m., and not a cackle from that hyena.

Bullock: Oh, this is just dandy, Commish! Your pet bat's playing dress-up while the Joker's poppin' off pencil-pushers right and left! Well, I ain't sticking around to see who's next! I got my own methods!
Gordon: BULLOCK!!! (the detective walks to a door, slams it, and is gone)

Joker: If this lunch meat figured out where we are, Batman won't be far behind. And why spoil my sharky's appetite, when I can feed him bigger fish?
Harley: Eee-yuck! Again with the fish! I HATE fish! (notices Joker's glare) Uh, no offense, Mr. J.

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: (after hitting Batman's shoulder with a big wrench) Meanwhile, back at the wrench! Since my side-splitters don't tickle you, how 'bout a skull-splitter?

Harley: Oh my poor, poor puddin'.
Bullock: Come on, he was a demented, abusive, psychotic maniac.
Harley: Yeah. I'm really going to miss him!
(Harley sobs uncontrollably while Bullock cannot comprehend her infatuation with the Joker)
Gordon: Do you think he's gone for good?
Batman: Believe me, Jim, I wish it were true, but deep inside, I doubt it.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Episode Guide" - Cinefantastique Vol. 24 #6/Vol. 25 #1 (February 1994)
  2. "Animated Knights" by Pat Jankiewicz - Comics Scene Magazine #29 (October 1992)
  3. "The Joker's Keeper" by Bob Miller - Comics Scene Magazine #31 (February 1993)
  4. "Knight Vision: That Master of Dark Deco, Eric Radomski, Looks Behind the Mask of the Animated Batman" by Bob Miller - Comics Scene #43 (June 1993)
  5. Batman: The Animated Series Co-Creator Bruce Timm on His Favorite Episodes | SYFY WIRE