Thursday, August 20, 2015

Favorite Joke-(r): List Part One

Before counting down, there’s one more Joker “also ran” that missed my list by the bleached skin of its giggling teeth.
It's J.M. DeMattis and Mark Pajaril’s Day of Judgment follow up in JLA issue 35 (No CBR rating). 

 Hal Jordan as the Spectre had a ridiculous amount of baggage tied to it, but any kind of spiritual or soul searching character in Demattis’s hands is going to have some stellar moments.   I thought of this issue immediately as it’s a fantastic use of the character, but Joker only features in only a minuscule bit near the end.  That bit is also primarily inside of his head, proving that there is a bastion of sanity and decency buried deep within him. There’s a great deal of awesome in the moments that are there, though.  Having the Martian Manhunter demonstrate there is goodness in all humanity to the others - including the Spectre (the Wrath of God incarnate), and Zauriel (an angel) - spoke volumes about why J’onn is the heart and soul of the Justice League.  Batman was the first one to figure out that the peaceful and idyllic setting was actually within the thoughts of his arch enemy.  While he completely (and quite understandably) freaked out based on this revelation, it provided solid evidence that his decision not to take the Joker’s life, and believe he may one day be redeemable is the correct one.

A final disclaimer- I’m only going to list the writer and penciler. Apologies to gangs of inkers, letterers, editors and their fans. (Not to mention the guy with a contractually obligated by-line for #1 and every other appearance.) Comic geeks who read this already know how many people it takes to make a finished book, and non-comic geeks likely stopped reading half way through the last post.

OK Bat-bozos!  On with the list!

#10: “Wildcard” & “Judgments” 1990 Batman issues 450-451, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo (CBR #34)

One of the earliest “events” in my Batman reading years was the Joker’s brutal slaying of Jason Todd.  (Batman 426-429 “Death in the Family” CBR #6)  
It’s a famous and often reprinted Joker story, but I didn’t put it on my list of his “best.”  It had fantastic art, and cool character moments for Batman, Jason, and Superman.  The fact that the villain killed Robin meant it had to be the Joker, but the execution of the deed (pardon the morbid pun…HA HA HA HA HA HAHA!!!!) and the immediate aftermath could have been anyone.  A crowbar bludgeoning followed by an explosion and then hiding under diplomatic immunity isn’t specifically Jokery.

However, a couple of years later, the Joker’s return remained in my memory. He hadn’t been seen since being presumed dead (again) after trying to escape at the end of “Death in the Family.”  This tale brought the character back during a summer focusing on all the classic villains,
along with Detective 617 “A Clash of Symbols:” a cool Tarot Card reading issue by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle showcasing the Batman/Joker interconnection.

The Joker was first shown to be injured and, more importantly, to have “lost the joke.”  The process of a copycat pretending to be the evil clown bringing the Joker’s sense of humor back stayed with me.  I may be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure there was also some connection with Joker manipulating Harvey Dent off the sanity slide and into his Two Face persona again around that time.  That was cool too. Whether it was connected to this story or not, it shows the Joker isn’t only a criminal, he’s contagious.

#9 “Slayride” 2006 Detective Issue 826, Paul Dini, Don Kramer (CBR #9)

Paul Dini’s byline is on most of the best episodes of the DCAU series’ shows.  Therefore it came as no surprise that his run on Detective contained a large number of amazing done-in-one adventures. It’s also not surprising he worked Zatanna into the mix during his run as he’s basically married to her. “Slayride” featured the Joker driving around with a captured Tim (Robin III) Drake.  Dini is the man who put the words into the mouth of Mark Hamill’s take on the killer clown many times, and the levels of insanity, callous disregard for human life, and sheer goofiness he brought to the cartoons shined here as well.  He also remembered Joker’s fixation with vaudeville era comedians, and used that quirk to highlight why Tim was the most intelligent of all the Robins.

#8 “The Demon Laughs” 2001 Legends of the Dark Knight issues 142-145 Chuck Dixon, Jim Aparo (CBR #42)

More Aparo, ‘cause it’s my list.  One problem with the Joker’s massive popularity and appeal is, by design, he doesn’t play well with others.  On second thought, that’s all he really does is “play” with others.  I’m not sure if he thinks anyone other than himself and Batman are anything but his toys.  My rather meandering point, though, is it’s difficult to believe other top tier bad guys, who tend to be a self-centered and self-preserving lot, would ever come up with a positive risk benefit analysis when weighing their continued existence versus getting help from the Joker. His mooks have about same life expectancy as those working for the rest of the lunatics in Gotham, and the Joker is more successful, probably explaining why he’s never shorthanded.

“The Demon Laughs” made a team up work, showing how the only other candidate for Batman’s arch foe status (albeit of a completely different variety) used the Joker for one thing and one thing only:  his continued ability to drive old pointy ears batty.  The qualities of the clown’s twisted mind got some props when he was shown defeating the Demon’s Head, no slouch in the master strategist department, at chess. (Probably for the same reasons Captain Kirk can defeat his first officer.  Jim’s got a tad more control of his unpredictability though.)  The Joker Meringues heavily around both sides of that fabled genius/insanity line.

There’s also the fabulous scene after Batman is forced to revive his enemy in a Lazarus Pit as the only way to save the world. (Naturally.) Anyone else revived in such a manner becomes violently froot loops afterwards. True to form, the Joker’s reaction was the opposite.  In Aparo’s renderings of the clown’s unmitigated horror at what he was, and eventual slide back into the psychopath we all know and love, the emotions jumped off the page and slapped the reader in the face…

Likely with a rubber chicken given the subject matter.

#7 The Devil’s Advocate, 1996, Graphic Novel, Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan (CBR #14)

Another by Dixon tale is unavoidable as he was running much of the Bat-show during my heaviest collecting years.

Many quality Joker adventures have him expounding on the fact that his way of reacting to the insane world we live in is the only true “sane” response.  Therefore it became highly entertaining when the court agreed with him, found him sane enough to stand trial, and eventually handed down the death sentence. His uncontrolled flipping out was an amusing contrast to his normally controlled and calculated flipping out.

He does regain his composure to lay some of his usual antics on the prison’s General Population and workers.  Oh, that poor priest hearing his last confession *hee hee*, almost as bad as the poor poor man with the harmonica. *giggle- snort!* Sorry...he's just fun.  Dark, but fun!

The other positive about this tome was Batman’s reaction, and subsequent investigation.  Some writers (mostly those not on my favorites list) show Batman just as insane as his enemies and/or show him as the cause of his enemies rather than a reaction and way to stop them.  The idea often presented is Batman doesn’t kill his foes not for any altruistic reason, but because he is as mentally unstable as they are, and addicted to battling them.  The reason Batman saves the Joker in the Devil’s Advocate isn’t because he has some unhealthy need to preserve his murderous arch enemy. It’s because it is the right thing to do.

He also gets to end the day by having a good laugh at the Joker’s expense, a rare and appreciated high point for their conflicts.  Speaking of those, It also happened in…

#6a “Joker’s Five Way Revenge” 1973, Batman Issue 251, Denny O’Neil, Neil Adams (CBR #3)
#6b “Dreadful Birthday Dear Joker” 1980, Batman 321, Len Wein, Walter Simonson (CBR #21)

There are two stories at this place, because of the way I read old comics: reprinted in anthologies.  Sometime in my youth, I combined these in my head.  I voted for “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge,” based on remembering Batman’s allies ringed around a giant cake, which was in “Dreadful Birthday Dear Joker.” 

O’Neil and Adams returned Batman to seriousness following the Comics Code enforced lightness of the Fifties and the camp that inspired, and then built on the Adam West show of the Sixties.  Their Joker story made the Clown Prince of Crime a truly deadly threat again for the first time since the Golden Age.

Wein and Simonson showed the Joker at his most over the top, tying foes to an exploding birthday cake. He was dangerous but still inspired laughter. It was also probably the first appearance of the Joker killing someone with a *bang* flag gun, now immortalized as a Mortal Kombat fatality.  Every great tradition has to start somewhere.

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