Celebrating 75 Years of the Joker

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In 1939, Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27. A year later, his popularity was so vast that National Comics, which we know today as DC Comics (they get their name from Detective Comics), decided to give him his own solo comic in addition to making him the main feature of Detective Comics (at the time comic books were like anthologies and had several recurring characters rather than just one character like they do today). In that first issue, Batman’s most well-known foe, the Joker, made his first appearance. DC Comics celebrated their 75th anniversary in 2014 with a series of hardcover anthologies collecting classic and modern stories. This post will review all the stories in the Joker anthology.

  1. “Batman vs. the Joker” (Batman #1, 1940)–Batman faces the Joker for the first time in the story that introduces many of the mythos we know today: his iconic costume, his manic laugh, and the toxin that causes its victims to laugh themselves to death. It still manages to hold up. Bob Kane knew how to introduce a villain.
  2. “The Riddle of the Missing Card” (Batman #5, 1941)–The Joker commits a series of crimes, starting a formula that has been repeated several times, as he uses a specific theme for each crime. This first time is cards. It’s great to see for posterity’s sake, but when you know how much the “themed crimes” motif will be overused later, it kind of loses its charm.
  3. “The Joker Walks the Last Mile” (Detective Comics #64, 1942) The Joker is sent to the chair, marking the first time the Joker cheats death. One thing we Batman fans always have had to get used to is that the Joker can’t die. This is the first story to establish that.
  4. “Knights of Knavery” (Batman #25, 1944) The Joker and the Penguin forge a short-lived truce and work together in an attempt to defeat Batman. This is the first of many stories where the Joker teams up with another villain. They’re always so much fun, and even the Batman TV shows have done this theme over the years. I especially like when he teams up with Lex Luthor, as their two personalities are always fun to watch. But here we get to see just how funny both characters can be. The Joker is just too much for the Penguin’s cultured persona.
  5. “Rackety-Rax Racket” (Batman #32, 1945) This is the worst story in the collection, as the Joker joins a fraternity and has them help him commit crimes. It just seems too silly, even for the Joker.
  6. “The Man Behind the Red Hood” (Detective Comics #168, 1951) Batman discovers the Joker’s origin as the Red Hood, a small-time criminal he thought he’d accidentally killed in a card factory over a vat of toxic chemicals. The graphic novel The Killing Joke added to this story even further by giving the Joker a past as a down-on-his-luck standup comedian who joins a gang. The Red Hood is important for another reason as well, which I’ll touch upon later. I like this story a lot and the college kids who Batman is teaching aren’t as annoying as you’d think. (I especially like Chip Kale, who wants to become a criminologist because he believes he owes a debt to society to make up for his father’s past as a crimelord.)
  7. “The Joker’s Millions” (Detective Comics #180. 1952) The Joker inherits a rival criminal’s fortune, only to discover he’s been had–half of the money is counterfeit. This was later adapted into an episode of Batman: the Animated Series, and it’s every bit as funny here. My favorite part is when the Joker realizes he won’t be able to pay the high taxes from the fortune. “I can handle Batman, but the IRS? No thank you!”
  8. “The Crimes of Batman” (World’s Finest Comics #61) The Joker kidnaps Robin. In order to save him, Batman must cheat, steal, and kill–in that order. So he does. He cheats death, steals the Joker’s thunder, and when he rescues Robin, he calls the cops and “kills two birds with one stone”! I just love Batman’s ingenious strategies in the story in order to save face as a crimefighter. If I were in charge of a Batman cartoon, this is one story I would have to adapt.
  9. “Batman: The Clown of Crime” (Batman #85, 1954) Batman and the Joker accidentally swap bodies, with Batman in the Joker’s mind and vice versa. It must’ve been a novel concept back then, but the story idea’s been done to death in so many cartoons, even those not starring Batman, so it shows its age.
  10. “The Joker Jury” (Batman #163, 1964) The Joker puts Batman to a mock trial, with his own henchmen as his jury. For all the buildup, it kind of falls flat, as the trial is only a few panels.
  11. “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” (Batman #251, 1973) Beginning in the 1950’s the American Comics Code forced DC to tone down Joker’s crimes so he wasn’t as threatening. However, by the 70’s the Code became more relaxed, allowing the Joker to return to his killing sprees. Here he hunts down five former henchmen, thinking one of them ratted him out. It’s an excellent suspense story, and it’s a shame it hasn’t been adapted. (although an episode of Batman: the Animated Series did pay homage to it)
  12. “The Laughing Fish”/”The Sign of the Joker” (2-parter) (Detective Comics 475-476) The Joker poisons the Gotham river, causing the fish to all look just like him. The story was later adapted into an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, although I prefer the original. I can understand why the show had to make changes since it’s actually part of a much larger arc that they weren’t going to use. But if you take out those parts, you still get a great story.
  13. “To Live and Die in Metropolis” (Superman #9, 1987) After their “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event, DC hired John Byrne to redefine Superman for a new generation. This is a story in which a new version of Superman is reintroduced to the Joker. I like how the story is handled, and John Byrne’s artwork is still as good as ever.
  14. “A Death in the Family” (Chapter 4) (Batman #427, 1988) The infamous story in which the Joker brutally murders the second Robin, Jason Todd. This story was retconned several years ago. Jason Todd has now been brought back from the dead, and has ironically adopted a new identity as The Red Hood to mock the Joker for not finishing him off. As the Red Hood, Todd has completely dismissed everything Batman taught him about not resorting to the same tactics villains use.
  15. “Going Sane” part 2 (Legends of the Dark Knight #66, 1994) The Legends of the Dark Knight comic was actually an anthology comic that took place outside of continuity, allowing writers more freedom. Here we get a what-if: what if the Joker was actually cured of his madness? It’s an interesting concept, but I wish this was complete.
  16. “Fools Errand” (Detective Comics #726, 1998) Oh I loved this story when I first read it! The Joker kidnaps a girl and tricks Batman into thinking he’s arrived too late to save her from drowning, only to learn the girl is alive. I like that the Joker plotted all this from prison and is enjoying toying with Batman from afar. He gets the revenge that has eluded him for years, because Batman has to live with the fact that he almost let someone die.
  17. “Endgame part 3: Sleep in Heavenly Peace” (Detective Comics #741, 2000) A Christmas themed story in which Commissioner Gordon finally gets revenge on Joker for crippling his daughter. You know, if I were in charge of DC, Barbara would never have been cured of her handicap she received in “The Killing Joke”. I liked her better as Oracle, as she was a much bigger help to Batman and a more inspirational character. Sure, she wasn’t able to use her legs, but she was able to use her mind in ways she never thought she could.
  18. “Slayride” (Detective Comics #826, 2007) Part of the “No Man’s Land” arc, in which Gotham City is cut off from the rest of the US. It doesn’t feel right without the rest of the story.
  19. “Faces of Death” (Detective Comics #1, 2011) The Joker is redefined for a new generation as his face is literally ripped off, leading into the best Batman story of the “New 52” DC Universe, “Death of the Family”, in which the Joker targets those Batman cares about most, even Alfred, even though he still doesn’t know who Batman is.
  20. “But Here’s the Kicker” (Detective Comics #15, 2012) I wish this story wasn’t here. You know what? Skip this one and get the Death of the Family graphic novel. You’ll get the full story that this is part of and it’ll make more sense. Trust me, you’ll love it.

I love the Joker. I think he’s a great foil for Batman. Here’s to another 75 years, Joker. Thank God you’re not real!

 

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Author: rocklobsterjwt

I am a Christian and an anime fan. My blog will cover anime reviews and maybe an occasional story

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