Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

Batman Beyond & Robin (Tim Drake)
Batman Beyond & Robin (Tim Drake)

Yesterday’s post was about the tragedy of a Robin killed by the Joker. But things could have been worse. Worse than death, some of you might be wondering? Well, yeah, I’d argue that what happened to Tim Drake, the third Robin, in this movie is worse than just being killed. With that in mind, let’s talk about one of the darker Batman movies!

For those who don’t remember, Batman Beyond was a spin-off sequel to the Batman animated series, taking place a number of years in the future. Bruce Wayne has retired and wearing the new suit is Terry McGinnis, a boy with black hair and blue eyes despite his parents both being gingers (I argue that post-series reveal that he’s actually the biological son of Bruce was in motion since the beginning, but I haven’t been able to find any confirmation on that). The series got one direct-to-VHS movie, The Return of Joker. See, the Joker was absent throughout Batman Beyond, and here we find out why. And it’s… rough.

In this movie, surprise surprise, the Joker returns. But he’s supposed to be dead! And like, really dead, not just “comic book bullshit, his body was never found” dead (that happens to Harley Quinn, who is later revealed to be alive). Back when Bruce was active, he had abducted Tim Drake–the Robin at the time–and over three weeks tortured him until he became a “Joker Jr.” Batman and Batgirl are absolutely horrified, and it gets worse when Tim breaks out of his brainwashing enough to shoot the Joker in the chest. So he’s dead. Except it turns out he embedded a super science microchip on Tim, so that years later it would rewrite his DNA and bring the Joker back, taking advantage that he now knows everyone’s secret identities. In the end the day is saved and Tim is freed, but it was a dark ride getting there.

What I find fascinating is that the idea of “the Joker lives on through the person who killed him” would be revisited in comics 17 years later in The Batman Who Laughs, an alternate reality version of Batman who killed the Joker and was infected by his dying breath, turning him into a Joker with all the skills and knowledge of Batman (comics are dumb). But it also raises the question, how the hell does the Joker do all this cutting edge super science? A microchip that rewrites the target’s DNA and mind? A similar toxin that infects whoever kills the host? What I’m saying here is that the Joker is secretly a nerd. NERD!!

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