*Disclaimer: This is not the true first appearance of the Joker. Mistah J has informed me that takes place in Batman issue #1, which chronologically takes place before this issue. However, that is collected in the next trade on his shelf, and so I am writing this post based on this being my first comic encounter with the Joker, although not technically his first appearance.*
As I mentioned in my previous entry, my first Joker comic experience deserves its own post on this blog, for a number of reasons. The Joker is an icon in the comic world. In fact, he is probably one of the most iconic villains found in any media. I place him among Darth Vader and Norman Bates as one of the greatest on-screen villains of all time, and yet he began his infamous run in print.
I have always found the Joker to be a fascinating character. My interest in him developed during the 90’s while watching the animated original series, as well as Jack Nicholson’s portrayal in the 1989 Batman film. And who among us wasn’t thoroughly impressed by Heath Ledger’s more recent portrayal in The Dark Knight? Although each adaptation brought its own unique spin to the character, the psychopathic hilarity remained was a constant.
I absolutely loved it, though even to this day I’m not entirely sure why.
Maybe it was the deadly spin on cheap gags or the clownish features that drew us in as children. For me, I liked that the Joker wasn’t your typical thug. He was intelligent, witty, and always had an entirely unique way of dealing with people in his way. Brains, not brawn, was his game. The Joker certainly wasn’t Batman’s only nemesis, yet something about him attracted us specifically to the character and left us eagerly anticipating the next battle between hero and villain.
As I read this collection of early Batman stories, I eagerly turned each page, waiting for the Joker to appear. I knew it was coming. Mistah J had already let me in on that little secret, and indeed was texting me asking what I thought about the portrayal before I had even finished the issue. I could tell he was very excited; but then, so was I.
Filled with anticipation, I tore through this issue, eagerly taking in each panel, desperate to see how one of the Joker’s first iconic appearances would play out.
After just one issue, it’s clear to me why the Joker became such a popular villain.
Unlike other villains appearing in early Batman comics, the Joker is much more well-developed and fully really realized. The first panel he appears in provides a detailed description of that character that hasn’t changed much in the 50+ years since his original appearance:
The sinister features and bright colors draw the reader in instantly, much more so than the average criminals usually depicted. Not only is the character design spot on, so is the layout. Look at those eyes. Staring right out at you from the page, drawing you in. None of the other villains up to this point had been depicted with such focus. The reader can’t help but be intrigued. The Joker pulls you in and won’t let go.
I was riveted by the story as it progressed. The Joker sets out to kill the DA. Standard enough for a comic. The Joker doesn’t opt to do so with a knife or a gun. No, nothing so mundane as that. He sends the DA a “record of music and death” as he terms it, a record laced with deadly gas that is released when the album is played.
How awesome is that?!
This is by far the most inventive villain featured in a Batman comic so far. How could anyone not love such creativity? This was typical Joker work alright, right there in his very first issue.
My enjoyment escalated when I saw the culminating panel for this scene:
Here was a classic Joker motif, his victim dying with a smile on his face and laughter surrounding him, all in one of his very first appearances in the series. The Joker was more fully realized and self-contained as a character in this one issue than I believe Batman was in his first ten.
That’s not to say his character has remained completely unchanged since his initial conception. I was surprised to find that he didn’t display the usual wittiness I generally associate with him. Indeed, Batman was given the one-liners while the Joker remained relatively straight-laced:
When I read this panel I couldn’t help but feel that the roles should be reversed, with the Joker tripping Batman and throwing out sly remark. Again, my preconceived notions of the characters prevent me from taking the comic at face value. I rather enjoy having a bit of knowledge of what’s to come for these characters, after all. I’m able to get a taste of what the writers and artists must feel. Although I’m not controlling the characters’ fates, I am at least aware of some events before they happen. It’s a somewhat powerful feeling. (Luckily I’m all too aware of my overall lack of knowledge to get drunk on it.)
I’m pleased to report my first Joker comic was so much more satisfying than even I expected. Certainly his character develops and grows over time, but the base characteristics of his personality were there from the very beginning. It’s no wonder he’s gained such a massive fan-base.
After that one short issue, I anxiously await the next encounter between Batman and the Joker. Luckily for me (and not so lucky for Batman), I know there will be plenty of those to come in the future.
Ha Ha Ha.