The next trade on the shelf threw me for a bit of a loop. Glancing at the cover, I expected it to be a collection of Joker appearances in the Batman comics. Once I started reading, I realized this wasn’t the case, and it was instead a collection of Joker comics from the 1970’s, completely separate from Batman. I wasn’t even aware The Joker had his own comic. I suppose it’s not surprising, given how popular of a character he is. What is surprising is that this series lasted for just nine issues. The stories presented here are very entertaining, and it seems odd that the comic wouldn’t be continued.
Each issue in this series focuses on The Joker’s encounter with a separate hero (or sometimes villain). He squares off against the likes of Green Arrow and Two-Face, each time bringing his panache and penchant for theatricality to the page (not to mention his love of alliteration.) Who can resist his thoroughly unique brand of criminality, mixing vicious attacks with a healthy dose of slapstick humor?
Herein lies what makes The Joker unlike any other villain. He is an evil, sadistic murderer, but you can’t help but smile when he’s on the page. He’s humorous and silly, qualities that endear him to the reader even as he’s committing violent crimes left and right. In this regard he’s the perfect villain. We know he’s bad, but he’s written in such a way that we can’t help but like him, even root for him.
This series also expanded The Joker’s character, branching out in new (and sometimes odd) directions. Perhaps the best example of this is when The Joker becomes completely enamored with Dinah Drake Lance (aka Black Canary).
From my prior knowledge of the character, romance has always been the last thing on The Joker’s mind. Even his primary lady love, Harley Quinn, is less romantic partner and more blindly devoted sidekick. It was unusual, to say the very least, to see Joker showing any romantic inclinations whatsoever. It almost made him seem too human, and less the psychotic criminal mastermind we all know and love.
In Joker’s defense, Black Canary is pretty awesome. Still, it was a bit jarring to read a story in which love was his primary motivating factor. I’m glad that such details have faded from his character, and that he’s able to focus on the deadly jokes that have made him famous.
Joker’s character also developed with the inclusion of one of his many fabricated origin stories.
This was the first Joker backstory I had come across on “the shelf”, and fit seamlessly into what I already knew about the character. Here, Joker’s origin explains his motive for an art theft. As expected, he reveals at the end of the story that this family history was made up. Such inclusions expand the reader’s view of The Joker’s psyche, giving us a clearer picture of just how twisted and maniacal his character can be.
My favorite story in this collection was issue #6, “Sherlock Stalks The Joker”. In this, Joker encounters an actor portraying Sherlock Holmes on the stage, engages in a quick scuffle, and hits the man on the head. As a result of the jarring blow, the man believes he actually is Sherlock Holmes, and a game of cat and mouse ensues. My love for literary allusions was fiercely kindled with this issue, with the supposed Sherlock employing a number of Holmes’s catch-phrases, and referencing a handful of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous stories.
Joker seeks a worthy adversary, and views Holmes as one of the best. The events of this story allow him to spar against a hero whom he would otherwise have no opportunity to face. The fact that Joker acknowledges his “burning need” to humiliate detectives gives further insight into his personality, making the character that much more interesting.
Also, in case the story doesn’t already sound interesting enough, in this issue Joker and Sherlock engage in a fencing battle with golf clubs.
These stories combine hard-hitting action with pure, unfiltered comedy, and somehow it just works. Perhaps that’s part of the genius that is The Joker; he’s exciting, crazy, unpredictable, and on top of all that, funny to boot. That sounds like the makings of a completely engrossing character.
(As an aside, when I typed “engrossing” above, I immediately imagined Joker exclaiming, “Who are you calling gross?!” Again, I think I read too many comics.)
Each story presented in this series is self-contained, so the trade simply ends with little fanfare. Surprisingly, Joker’s arch-nemesis Batman never makes an appearance in this collection. The fact that it still stands as a solid work without his primary foil proves the strength of Joker’s character. It is doubtful whether many other villains would have been able to uphold an entire comic series without their main counterpart.
I found the stories collected in this series to be highly engaging and unique. I’m quite surprised that the story didn’t continue (though I realize it’s possible it was continued or rebooted at a later date). Given The Joker’s popularity, I can’t imagine this not being widely enough read to continue the series. If written today, I’d imagine such a series could run indefinitely. I enjoyed seeing Joker encounter various heroes and villains that he might otherwise not have come across. He meets not only Batman characters, but other DC characters as well. There were virtually endless possibilities for this series, and the well-written stories and entertaining artwork should have been enough to keep the story going, at least far past nine issues.
Although this particular series didn’t last, I can take comfort in knowing that there are plenty of Joker stories on “the shelf”, just waiting to be read. This Joker comic didn’t take off, but there are numerous other Joker stories out there, and thanks to Mistah J’s fondness for the character and extensive collection, I’ll get to read plenty more of them.