Batman: The Joker’s Last Laugh

What would the Joker do if he was diagnosed with terminal cancer?

That’s the question posed in Batman: The Joker’s Last Laugh.  As it turns out, the Joker’s response to inevitable death is all-out mayhem, as he’s determined to leave his mark on the world.  In his mind, if he has to go, he wants to take as many innocent people with him as he can.

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Joker’s plan is nothing short of epic: break out every inmate from the prison he’s currently incarcerated in (after Jokerizing them with his laughing gas, of course) and use them to do his bidding as he plots to unleash his chemical compound on the entire world, turning the entire planet into a wave of Jokers.

It’s his plan for a legacy, and it’s absolutely maniacal.

Of course, this is a Joker comic, so there’s plenty of humor interspersed with the violence.

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Apparently the weather isn’t cooperating with Joker’s plans for world domination.

This comic is brilliant in its characterization, with a large supporting cast that helps add to the overall story.  We see Barbara feeling angry and guilty, as she was away from her monitors when Joker broke free, as Nightwing tries to explain to her that they can’t kill the Joker no matter what he’s done, because they’re better than that.

Later we see Harley Quinn hiding out, as the Joker has gotten it in his head that he needs an heir, and that she’s the perfect vessel for a little Joker baby (she disagrees.)

As the story progresses, we learn that the Joker’s cancer diagnosis was nothing more than a sick joke by the doctor treating him, as a means of making the clown prince of crime sweat a little.

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Yeah, brilliant idea, make the crazed psychopath think he has nothing to lose. What could go wrong?

The comic comes to a head after Huntress battles Killer Croc and finds Robin’s cape amidst a pile of bones.  The entire team believes Robin is dead, and blame Joker for the loss.

In a rage, Nightwing tracks down the Joker and starts pummeling him, going so far as to almost beat him to death.  At this moment, Robin resurfaces, very much alive (no explanation is given here as to just how he’s alive. I’d assume it’s explained in a Robin comic?)

Unfortunately, Robin’s reappearance has a drastic affect on Nightwing, who realizes that he crossed a line that night.

The implication of this loss of control will likely be felt by Nightwing for some time.  If he wasn’t already as morose and brooding as Bruce, he will be now.

The comic closes with Joker returned to his cell, with heightened security in place to ensure he can never escape again.  I’m sure it won’t last forever, but the measures taken at least seem effective at the time.

This was a pretty great comic. The plot was over the top, but then what would you expect from Joker when he believes he’s about to die?  There are a bunch of villains featured, as well as appearances by just about every member of the extended Bat family (including Man-Bat, yay!).   Everyone joins together to stop this madman, and they feel like more than a team; they’re a family.

It was especially heartbreaking to see how everyone reacts when they believe Tim is dead.  I admit to not fully embracing the drama, only because I was 99.9% certain that he doesn’t actually die.  Still, even the depiction of a supposed death was enough to tug at my heartstrings.  More than anything else, this provided the perfect catalyst for Nightwing to cross that line, and who better for him to take out his anger and pain on than the Joker?

Joker has caused so much death and destruction within Gotham, and especially within the Bat family, that no one can really blame Oracle or Nightwing for considering the possibility of killing him, or at the very least not saving him should his life be at risk.  They maintain a higher caliber of justice though, and ultimately know that they must do what they can to save any human life.  Given how many deaths Joker is responsible for, it’s a tricky situation, and a stance that I’m sure many people may not fully agree with.  Still, this is what separates Batman from the criminal element.  It’s a very clear-cut distinction; without it, Batman is no better than the villains he fights.

It’s interesting to read how Joker would respond if he knew his life was about to end, and it’s a reality that no one wants to face.  His unhinged mind goes completely off the rails when faced with his own mortality, and while Joker doesn’t dwell on the thought of death itself, he leaves a path of destruction in his wake as a means to cement his legacy.

Personally, I think he’s caused enough damage in his life to remain infamous for a long time.  Then again, I can’t imagine a point where Joker would actually die anyway, so maybe it’s a moot point.

-Jess

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Superman: Emperor Joker

Imagine a world entirely constructed by the Joker’s psychotic mind.

That’s the premise for this Superman tale.  Simply put, Joker manages to get ahold of most of Mr. Mxyzptlk’s magic and fashions himself a brand new reality, in which he is emperor of the entire universe and the rest of humanity is his to toy with as he sees fit.

Superman is labeled a murderer. Lex Luthor is Joker’s slave.  Lois Lane is a cold, calculating businesswoman.  Bizarro is the top hero of the world.  Countless characters show up, each with their own depressing life to live under the Joker’s watchful gaze.

None, of course, has it worse than Batman, who is strung up and tortured to death each and every day, only to be brought back to life and forced to go through the ordeal again.

Superman, though a bit fuzzy, knows something isn’t right.  This completely illogical world is not where he belongs.  He escapes Arkham Asylum and seeks to discover the truth of who’s behind this mad world.

As he encounters scores of old friends, now strangers in this backwards world, Superman realizes he will need all the help he can get to stop Joker’s evil reign and restore order to reality.  He seeks out members of the JLA, a ragtag group who were likewise imprisoned at Arkham and who bear little resemblance to the heroes we’re familiar with.

After more than a little persuasion, Superman convinces his friends to have faith in him, restoring them to their rightful selves.

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It is his own unwavering faith that restores them, proving just how indomitable the man of steel truly is.  Not only is he able to maintain his faith in the wake of utter chaos, but he is able to rally those around him to follow in his stead as well.  This is true power, power that not even the Joker can imagine.

That being said, reforming the JLA only gets him so far, and I can’t say I was surprised. After all, this is Joker we’re dealing with.  Batman inevitably has to be a part of the final confrontation.

At this point the comic takes a broader, more reflective turn, with Superman realizing that Batman is, in many ways, Joker’s Achille’s heel.  He confronts Joker directly, pointing out that Joker continues to keep Batman around, even in his own universe, because he needs him, because he can’t exist without him.

Hoping to prove Superman wrong, Joker wills Batman out of existence, only to continue seeing him again and again.

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This is a great image.

This scene pinpoints the never-ending battle that is constantly raging between Batman and Joker, decisively explaining why, even in his own creation, Joker can’t envision a world without the Batman.  They are simply that interconnected. Unfortunately for Joker, Batman has the upper hand in this relationship.  He is the Joker’s reason for being, and as such Joker can never truly be rid of him.

Superman exploits this little chink in Joker’s own psyche, allowing him (along with Mxy and The Spectre) to regain control and rebuild the universe as it was.  As the story closes, it almost felt a bit anti-climactic for Superman. After all, it was the mere presence of Batman that stopped Joker.  Superman made Joker aware of this weakness, but his actions weren’t exactly…exciting.

Alas, my concern was unfounded. As the world is returned to normal, we learn that Batman’s memories of being tortured to death every day cannot be easily removed, and that such memories will likely spell the end of the caped crusader.  Superman refuses to let this happen, and agrees to allow Spectre to transfer those horrific memories out of Batman’s mind and into his own.

There’s the Superman we all know and love. His self-sacrificing behavior is what makes this his story, and although he seems to be able to handle those memories better than Bruce, his actions are nevertheless heroic and selfless.

Overall this was a wonderful story.  The idea was intriguing and the writing was exceedingly well done.  There were plenty of references to past events and outside characters to feel like this has a proper place within continuity, none more jarring than when Joker is seen sitting around a table with all three Robins, each one of them dead.  Jason Todd’s Robin was particularly tongue-in-cheek, with a note hanging around his neck:

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Clearly a reference to the poll taken by DC to determine whether Jason would live or die, I found this inclusion to be extremely entertaining, albeit morbid (but hey, this is the Joker, after all.)  I like small details like this, and appreciate having read these past stories even more now.  I can only imagine how many previous events will be referenced in the comics I have ahead of me.

The story managed to be funny and dark all at the same time, alternating between the two as only a story featuring the Joker can.  The details were well-thought out, and the culminating scenes explaining Joker’s weakness were fantastic. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this comic going in, particularly when I imagined how a battle between Superman and Joker would even have a questionable outcome, but this story provided the perfect backdrop for such a battle to occur.  There’s is not a battle of strength, but of minds, and luckily for the world, Superman was able to one up the Clown Prince of Crime.

Besides, where else can you find an instance of the Joker making a Spice Girls reference?

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Aaaand now that song is stuck in my head.  Friggin’ Joker, causing chaos wherever he goes.

-Jess

 

The Joker: Devil’s Advocate

It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve read a trade that featured the Joker prominently.  Sure, he pops up every once and a while here and there, but he hasn’t been the star for quite some time.

Thankfully, when he makes his comeback, he does it in a big way.

The Joker: Devil’s Advocate opens with a handful of scenes of unconnected people, all in the process of mailing an envelope (hardly a dramatic opening, to be sure).  As soon as they lick the stamps, however, they immediately begin seizing and wind up dead, a grotesque smile splayed across their faces.

There’s no doubt about it, the Joker’s nerve toxin is to blame.

Cut to a scene of the Joker, raising hell in a post office as he angrily questions why he wasn’t chosen as an honoree for the “comedians” special edition stamps.  He starts shooting up the place, killing anyone he pleases, until Batman and Robin intervene and throw him in jail.

It’s a rather ridiculous opening plot, but this is the Joker:  Somehow, it just works.

As the Joker goes through the motions of being read his rights, given a lawyer, etc., we’re given the first hint that all may not be as it seems.

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I was unsure how to take this comment.  After all, it wouldn’t be out of line for the Joker to feign innocence while he sends the police on a wild goose chase.  Still, something about the crime just felt off.

The story that unfolds is enthralling, but the true star of the comic is Joker himself, in all of his unhinged glory.  The D.A. makes the bold decision to forgo the typical insanity plea and try the Joker for his crimes.  Unsurprisingly, he makes a farce of the courtroom and is ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death.

Of course, the Joker takes this news in stride, acknowledging the celebrity this sentence will bring him.

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He pushes for a quick execution, threatening to sue Gotham City should they delay the matter.  All the while Batman is hunting down clues, convinced that the Joker has been convicted of the one crime he didn’t commit.

Ultimately Batman discovers the true culprit, a throwaway character who gained access to Joker’s nerve toxin through an old storage unit, and the man is brought up on charges.  The stay of execution call is made with mere seconds to spare, but the Joker seems unconcerned with the whole situation.

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It would seem the Joker has won in this case, escaping death and returning to the familiar walls of Arkham.  As the comic closes however, he receives a visit from Batman in his cell.  Batman points out that Joker owes his life to him, a debt Joker undoubtedly doesn’t wish to be in.

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While I didn’t care much for the “Who actually committed the crime?” side of the story, I loved the Joker’s portrayal.  Everything about him in this story felt organic, which is more than a little terrifying given how abnormal all of his reactions are.  Unconcerned with death, desirous of fame and glory, the Joker is a complete enigma.  It’s a difficult feat to write a character who’s totally unpredictable yet make their actions fit their personality, but this story pulls it off perfectly.  I’ve read plenty of Joker stories at this point, and while it’s easy to see why Joker is an intriguing character study to many, this comic proves why he’s a fan favorite.  His dark humor and maniacal actions combine to make an entirely unique and unforgettable character, and one whom you want to survive only because you want to read about more of his exploits.

I was thoroughly surprised how much I liked this comic, and particularly enjoyed the subtle characterizations that helped show the unstable nature of the clown prince of crime.  Joker always makes for a fascinating read, and while I cringe at many of his crimes merely due to their sheer brutality, they are completely absorbing and leave me wanting more.

Does this make me crazy or a little unhinged? Perhaps.  Then again, aren’t we all?

Aaaaand now I’m having serious doubts about myself after having typed that last line.  Okay, Jess, time to step away from the comics for a little while…

-Jess

Batman: The Killing Joke

I’ve been looking forward to reading this comic for a long time now.  I knew enough about its notoriety to know its popular, but I knew nothing about the actual plot.  Having plowed through it in the last half hour, all I can say is:

Wow.

This truly is a fantastic, albeit disturbing, story.  There’s just so much that goes on, yet it all flows together seamlessly.

A super-basic summation is this: Joker escapes Arkham, kidnaps Gordon, and proceeds with his usual hijinks to lure the Batman out of hiding.  All in all, a pretty standard Joker story.

This description does not, however, do justice to the brilliance that exists within this story.  Yes, the above summary holds true, but there is so much more going on here.  First off, we see an extremely brutal and unexpected shooting, of none other than Barbara Gordon, a.k.a, Batgirl:

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I vaguely know about Oracle, so I knew this was coming, but I never expected it to happen this way.  I had no idea that Joker was responsible for paralyzing Batgirl, or that it would occur at such an innocuous moment.  Then again, such unexpected cruelty fits the Joker all too well.

While the main storyline is taking place, the comic is peppered with flashbacks to Joker’s origin, providing glimpses into his life before he became a deranged master criminal:

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An ordinary, albeit slightly unhinged, man just trying to make a living for his young wife and unborn child.

This backstory is less a slow spiral into madness and more a depiction of a series of tragic events that eventually culminate in the Joker’s creation.  A helpless man has had everything taken from him, and madness is his only escape.

I’ve always been curious about Joker’s origin.  I know there are a variety of origin stories out there, and none have been definitively called out as true, but I found this one to be especially intriguing.  Alan Moore painted a very believable picture of a man who’s down on his luck and is doing what he must to survive.  When his whole reason for living is taken from him, he is driven mad by the pain.  The “Joker” persona and physical defects are almost a random by-product, far less important than the psychological change which occurs within the man himself.

It felt believable, and that’s what made it so powerful.

Moore seems to have a certain knack for humanizing even the most despicable villains, making the reader sympathize with the very characters they’re supposed to hate.  This is never more obvious than, when realizing he’s been caught, Joker looks forlornly at Batman and accepts his fate:

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It’s so rare that you see Joker with any expression other than his trademark maniacal grin.  It was startling in a very odd way.  Of all the Batman villains, Joker is the least likely to be humanized.  He’s always been this other, a crazed man with no history, no weaknesses, and no clear motive other than madness. Seeing him show even a hint of humanity is jarring, but not unwelcome.  I always thought the Joker’s appeal lay in the mystery surrounding his character, and the ambiguity of his past.  While I like that his origin story isn’t presented as canon, and could easily be written off as one of many possible origins his psychotic mind has created, it was fun to read a possible history of such an engaging character.  Moore’s presentation of Joker is so well-crafted that the reader is left feeling as though they’ve peaked behind the curtain at his twisted psyche, while countless questions are still left unanswered.

I really have no criticisms of this comic, other than that it’s so brief.  I want to continue reading Moore’s imaginings of the Batman universe, and see his take on different characters, as well as what direction he might take Joker’s story.  I admit to not really knowing how much work Moore did on Batman other than this comic, but for the sake of his readers (namely, me) I can only hope he pops up repeatedly in other Batman comics on “the shelf”.

-Jess

Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Can I just say, I was really excited to see how the Joker would be portrayed post-Crisis.  With Batman taking on a much darker tone and with all the characters being intensely developed, I had very high hopes for the reimagined Joker.

Needless to say, after this short trade I’m more than pleased with the new developments to the character.

I’ve come to expect a prevalence of violence and gruesome images in these recent collections, but this Joker trade took the brutality to a new level.

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These twisted, grotesque smiling corpses are so characteristically Joker that anyone remotely familiar with him would instantly recognize his handiwork.  This panel helped set the scene for the entire trade, bringing crime in Gotham to a new, horrifying level.

As with the last few trades I’ve read, this one drew upon some of the earliest Batman issues for inspiration.  This story references back to the Joker’s first appearance in Batman #1, using many of the same tropes to develop the character.

The most notable allusion to the original story occurs when the Joker first appears, making his trademark threats via a hijacked news crew and singling out an individual victim:

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In this incarnation though, Joker increases the brutality by murdering the news anchor before making his blatant threat.  I was happy to see this trademark method included (and also glad that they left out the somewhat hokey “The Joker has spoken!” line that was his common closing line in the earlier comics).

Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke further develop the entire world of Gotham, but there’s no question that the Joker is the star here.  His character has always been well-developed, with his maniacal, murderous behavior never faltering.  Here we get to see a deeper understanding of just how crazed he can be though.

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I found this panel particularly disturbing, and feel it helps characterize the Joker perfectly.  His complete disregard for human life, the bored way in which he kills innocent people, helps the reader to understand just how twisted this character is. Unlike earlier stories which might rely on narration to spoon feed a psychological diagnosis to the reader, here the Joker’s actions do the talking.  This is a much more effective way to shock the readers and show them that this is certainly a new, vicious kind of criminal.

As expected, the Joker has a much bigger plan in mind than simply murdering a few individual people.  Instead, he plans to poison the entire Gotham water supply to poison the whole population of the city.  In older issues, this would have been the beginning and end of the story.  Batman would discover the Joker’s plot, foil the plan, and throw Joker in jail.

This all certainly happens in this comic.  What sets this story apart from those earlier issues is the depth added.  On his quest to uncover the Joker’s plans, Batman comes to believe that Joker and Red Hood (a criminal from a prior comic whom I unfortunately didn’t get to read about) are one in the same.  Batman believes Red Hood, who fell into a vat of chemicals, has transformed into the Joker.

While I’m not familiar with that entire storyline, this comic gave enough of a summary that I didn’t feel lost.  It was jarring to read any sort of origin story about the Joker; he has always just been this mysterious figure who appeared out of nowhere.  True, there isn’t much of a backstory here; we know nothing about the Joker’s real name or what he did prior to his life of crime.  It still felt odd to read any reference to the Joker before he was Joker.

I was impressed that the Joker seemed to serve as an awakening for Batman, and a symbol for a change in the crime that has plagued Gotham.  Batman starts to believe that he’s responsible for this string of costumed criminals, having inspired them in some way.  Maybe he has; the comic leaves that open.  What is clear is that Gotham is facing an unprecedented type of crime, one it’s not entirely prepared to face.

As a result, Batman’s role as a wanted fugitive is reversed, with the police opening supporting him and even creating an all-too-familiar signal with which to call him:

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I liked that the Joker was the catalyst for this change in views around Gotham.  It’s unfortunate that it took such a massive threat to change the general opinion, but then I suppose that’s just how things go – sometimes it takes a major upheaval to help people realize who the real heroes are.

This Joker story was tauntingly short, but it feels like a seminal moment in his development.  The basic character tropes established in the 40’s comics remain; they’ve just been polished and sharpened a bit to truly hone in on the Joker’s maniacal, unhinged personality.  I can’t wait for future Joker stories to appear on “the shelf”.  Being Mistah J’s favorite character, I know there’s no shortage of those; I’m just excited to see what that crazed Joker will come up with next.

-Jess

The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told

With the 35th trade on “the shelf” that I’ve read (35?! Yay me!) I found myself face to face with a collection of the best Joker stories ever written.  At least, that’s what the title claimed.  I was curious if the stories would live up to that name.  I wondered if any that I had really enjoyed had found their way into this collection, and what others might be included.  I had mixed reactions to the other “Greatest Stories Ever Written” trades I’ve read, as I’ve already written about.  I was eager to see which side of the fence I would fall on with this collection.

Piled on my eager anticipation was a healthy dose of concern. As Mistah J handed over this trade, he informed me that this was his absolute favorite comic as a child, and that it was probably the first trade he ever owned.

No pressure or anything.

I started guarding this thing with my life, keeping it in a bag at all times and never leaving it unattended, for fear of some freak accident.  Luckily, (knock on wood), I’ve managed to keep it safe so that it may return to its proper place on “the shelf” unharmed.  Nothing like walking around with crippling anxiety for a week.  Is this what collectors feel like all the time? How do they stand it??

Clearly I’m not made for the comic life.  Or maybe I’m just a nutcase.

Anyway, back to the trade. I had already come across a number of the stories featured here in other trades, which made this a quick read.  All in all, I have mixed feelings about the individual stories, feelings which seem to stem from the time period in which they were written.

The collection naturally opens with Joker’s first Batman appearance.  This first appearance struck me the first time I read it, and holds up even after I’ve read more sophisticated Batman stories.  When I finished that issue, I was reminded why the character was so engaging.  As the issue closes, we are met with the following image of Joker:

wpid-wp-1447117373746.jpgEven behind bars, The Joker is not defeated, and is in fact plotting his revenge.  His sinister plot, along with his truly disturbing image, combine to create a unique, frightening villain.  Such images would certainly intrigue readers.

This was the war-torn 40’s though, and as America transitioned into the much more idyllic 1950’s, so too were comics expected to change.   When reading other Batman comics I had noticed this change, but it was even more apparent in this collection of Joker stories.  Gone was the maniacal killer who tormented Gotham’s citizens.  In his place was a pure jokester, creating elaborate heists and stealing obscure valuable items.  His methods were often outlandish, and generally involved strange, comical gadgets or tools.

wpid-wp-1447202391151.jpgSay, for example, a giant vacuum that might inadvertently suck up the boy wonder.

These stories aren’t bad exactly, but they don’t leave that lasting impression that earlier Joker stories do.  As you read, you’re left wondering, “Joker, what have they done to you?”

That’s not to say that all of the issues from this time period are throwaways.  In fact, one of my favorites from this collection was written during this time, and featured The Joker tricking the justice system into declaring him insane so that he could infiltrate the Gotham mental institution to garner the location of stolen funds from a fellow patient.  Discerning the plan, Batman creates a trap to confuse Joker, leading him to question his own sanity:

wpid-wp-1447200814509.jpgAlthough the subject matter wasn’t as dark as some other issues, this story felt quintessentially Joker.  The play on madness and sanity was right up his alley, and the fact that he ends up doubting his own sanity at the end of the issue added an additional level to the story as a whole while also expanding The Joker’s characterization. This was one of the first occurrences I’ve read of Joker doubting himself, and it fit within the story perfectly.

As the decades progressed, the Batman comics started to return to their darker roots, abandoning the comic capers of the 50’s and 60’s in favor of a grittier reality.

wpid-wp-1447206324726.jpgSeeing Joker actually murder someone had not occurred within this trade for a number of stories.  Seeing the return to his original MO was a bit jarring, but fit perfectly.  In true Joker fashion, he faked out his victim with a cheap gag before ultimately ending his life in a very unfunny manner.  As Robin remarks on Joker’s mental state, The Joker smiles and simply agrees, remarking, “Isn’t it wonderful?”  Gone is the character we might have labeled simply eccentric in prior decades.  Here is a villain fully aware of his actions, and relishing in his insanity.

Since The Joker goes through a number of variations within this trade, it could potentially be difficult to define his character based on these stories.  Certain key factors never leave him, though. Perhaps above all else, The Joker’s penchant for theatricality remains a staple in his appearances, such as when he creates an entire courtroom of Jokers to be the judge and jury for Batman.

wpid-wp-1447202609107.jpgThese moments are absurd, comical, and just a tad unrealistic, but they’re exactly what one would expect from a villain called The Joker.  Such images make these stories uniquely his, and further prove what a rare character The Joker truly is.

As I reflect on this collection of Joker stories, I’m left wondering what the remaining decades did for his character.  This trade was published at the end of the 80’s, and I’m certain there have been plenty of storylines since then to feature such a popular character.  In that sense, this collection is incomplete, as it’s certainly possible (and ultimately quite likely) that comics published after this trade would have been included in a “Greatest Ever Told” trade.  Instead, I’m left to decide if this is a fair representation of the character up until that point.

wpid-wp-1447205800781.jpgUltimately, I’m inclined to say yes.  Sure, his character hasn’t remained completely unchanged since his initial appearance, but what comic book character has?  The Joker’s persona was led astray for a few decades, but he eventually returned to his old ways, sharper and more diabolical than ever.  Besides, even if I prefer the darker, murderous Joker, I can’t deny that the zanier stories exist and helped shape the character.  Indeed, the silly thematic crimes certainly influenced his later depictions, marrying his homicidal tendencies with a cheesy, sometimes sick brand of humor that is undeniably Joker.  His is perhaps one of the most recognizable characters in the whole comic multiverse, and this trade accurately captures all of his trademark quirks: deadly gags, laughing fish, and all the other signature traits that make The Joker the maniacal jester we all love to hate.

-Jess

The Joker: The Clown Prince of Crime

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? wpid-wp-1445993077502.jpg

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).

wpid-wp-1445995249807.jpgSay WHAT now?

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.

wpid-wp-1445996389445.jpgThis 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.

The premise alone was more than enough to hold my attention. Even more intriguing than the concept, though, is Joker’s reasoning for wanting to face off against Holmes:wpid-wp-1446028726165.jpg

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.

wpid-wp-1446028878702.jpg^Easily the weirdest sentence I’ve written all week.

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.

-Jess