Thursday, August 27, 2015

Favorite Joke-(r): List Part Two

#5 “World’s Finest” 1990 Mini Series, Dave Gibbons, Steve Rude (CBR #33)

Morrison’s return of the big seven stars to the JLA was still seven years away.  After being best friends for years, Post Crisis, the most Batman and Superman could hope for was grudging respect.  Then the World’s Finest title (along with the friendship) was resurrected in this wonderfully written and beautifully drawn miniseries.

The relationship of the enemies of Batman and Superman was also reestablished.  There’s wasn’t nearly as smooth.  That is due to Lex Luthor being closer to an evil version of Bruce Wayne than having any connection to the alien he lives to despise.  Once the contrived reason for the now theoretically legitimate Luthor to stoop to working with a known criminal was established, the Joker spent the rest of the three issues expending as much effort as possible driving old Lexy up the wall like he does to old Batsy.

A true high point for all the characters was how it showed, at first, that neither hero was capable of dealing with the criminal methods of the other one’s foe.  However, they both also were able to learn from each other not only how to combat the new enemy, but how to use the other’s methods on their usual opponent.  All four heroes and villains came off worthy of the title “World’s Finest.”

#4 “Going Sane” 1994 Legends of the Dark Knight Issues 65-68 J.M. DeMattis, Joe Stanton (CBR #10)

God, I love this story. Any time I give comics as a gift, I use this one as a self-contained tale to introduce Batman to them.  (Yes, I’m not only a comics addict, I’m contagious.)

The key to it is the different way Batman and the Joker deal with the women who are “saving them” – physically for the hero and mentally for the supposedly reformed villain.  DeMattis looks at the idea that Joker only exists because of Batman, and subtly pokes holes in it.  Stanton brings the emotions and transitions of the characters right into the readers face during the ride.  The buried in his secret identity Dark Knight was far more honest and open with the woman helping him than the “sane” Joker is with the woman he’s theoretically forming a “normal” relationship with, as his flashes of darkness grew.

I’d write more, but I don’t want to ruin it, go out and read it.

#3 “Laughing Fish” 1976 Detective Issue 475, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers (CBR #2)

This may be the perfect single regular issue Joker story.  It’s been referenced countless times, made into an episode of the Animated Series, and even followed up by Englehart in 2000 during the short lived Legends of the DC Universe with a nifty two-parter:
“The Fishy Laugh” Issues 26-27. Aquaman was none too thrilled with the smiley faces on his piscine pals.

The premise - patenting fish that look like his face for financial gain - was fantastically silly.  However, the Joker was presented as completely unpredictable, utterly in control of his plan and unquenchably lethal, forcing the city to try to deal with his absurd demands.  It was a fantastic issue, embedded in the equally marvelous run by Englehart and Rogers. 

Their follow up in 2005, Dark Detective which read like it was set back in the Seventies, showed they hadn’t lost a step when creating stories about Batman or his funnyman foe.

#2 The Killing Joke 1988 Prestige Format, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons (CBR #1)

Many comic readers and critics have called this story overhyped, or mean spirited, including the creators.  I don’t care, as this list is based on how I experienced the stories.  I was still only reading Marvel in 1988, which was in the throes of trying to bury everyone in continuity and crossovers (kinda like today).  The now famous camera cover caught my eye, and I figured, “I used to like Batman comics back when I read anthologies and reprints, here’s a one shot story.”

Most modern comic fans have an “I didn’t know comics could do that” revelation story. The Killing Joke was mine.  I’d seen Brian Bolland’s mind bogglingly stunning art in Judge Dredd, but never on fancy, glossy paper before.  It was also before I became a fan of Moore’s Watchmen and Swamp Thing.   I read it over and over again and brought it into school after the AP tests in High School. The entire physics class was passing it around with a much higher priority than the other comics I brought in.  (Again…I’m contagious.) 

It also inspired me to paint this:

Aside:  I prefer the original coloring. I know it’s contrary to Bolland’s intent, but the medium is collaborative, and I think having it look like a regular comic, rather than a cinematic feature, added weight to what was occurring.  Also, if you do read it, try to get a printing with black border panels instead of white. I can’t explain it, but it works far better.

I’ve seen this story cited as evidence that Batman is just as crazy as his enemies.  I’d say nothing is further from the truth.  Joker’s whole point in this tale is based on his current version of the multiple choice past he lives with:
A single bad day could turn anyone into the same level of unhinged, dangerous, psychopathic lunatic as he is. 

While the execution of this idea is simultaneously unforgettable, twistedly humorous, and wholly evil, it’s also completely wrong.

Batman turned his one bad day into a drive to protect the innocent, and prevent tragedy from befalling them in a tireless war against the forces of evil. More importantly, James Gordon was put through a day arguably worse (in his state, and given what he was shown, he has no reason to believe Barbara was still alive) and far stranger than the Joker’s bad day.  Once rescued, his insistence that Batman get Joker, “By the book…we have to show him that our way works,” is the strongest disproval of the clown’s thesis there could be. It’s a truly powerful character defining moment for the continually abused Commissioner. Batman following his best friend’s request, and pausing to even offer Joker the chance at redemption that prisons and asylums are supposed to be based on, punctuates the error of Joker’s thinking.

The treatment of Barbara was pretty callous.  However, the chain of Ostrander & Yale, Chuck Dixon, and Gail Simone turned Oracle into a far more developed, strong and indpendant character than Batgirl ever was.  Yup, the Nu52 messed that up as well.

Back to the Joker:

Now Bruce Timm is producing a Killing Joke animated feature with Mark Hamill returning to his second most famous (and probably his best) role.   CAN’T WAIT!!!!!

#1 “Joker” and “Joker Returns” 1940 Batman Issue 1, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson. (CBR #7)

Again: My list based on my experiences. 
The retelling of this story in The Man Who Laughs (2005 Ed Brubaker Doug Mahnke CBR #12) had better production values, stronger art, and a more complex story.  However, I bought that book as a seasoned comic book reader following a writer and artist whose work I admired.

Back when I was a kid reading hardbound anniversary collections and oversized Golden and Silver Age reprints in the library, my first Joker story was THE first Joker story.

And over thirty years after its creation, it still scared the living bejoobies out of me!

Before the happy, shiny, comics code approved Fifties turned him into a non-lethal cackling criminal goofball, there was a darkness in those Forties stories that became the basis of all the modern interpretations. 

What’s amazing is how fully formed he was in those first appearances.  In the same issue that has Batman riddling monster men using a plane mounted machine gun, and the soon to become Selina Kyle as a non-themed burglar in an Asian looking dress called “the Cat,” the Joker scenes would fit into any Bat-comic on the shelves today.

The dead eyed smile,
The disturbing laugh,
The ability to outwit supposedly saner opponents,
The venom that causes spasms of laughter before leaving a hideous grin on the departed,
The penchant for returning from death.

It was all there in those two little stories back in 1940.

And it’s all still here today.


Man, I used to have that image on a t-shirt.  Not one of them “kinda that pose by another artist” shirts but the REAL Bolland one.  I replaced it with an Alex Ross design when it disintigrated, but it isn’t the same.

Why is my life defined by a slowly evolving t-shirt collection?

Maybe I could be a Gotham villain!
I could speak with an evil sounding German accent:

Beware the insidious distractions of…

DAS HEMD!!!!!!

Well, that should have taken care of confusing and boring all the stragglers into leaving.

Ta Ta!


longbow said...

Seen this enactment?

Jeff McGinley said...

Very cool thanx for sharing.

Still looking forward to the Hamill version, yay!

There was a comic book documentary where Adam West read snippets from the Dark Knight Returns, which was awesome as I ALWAYS read that story in his voice. It makes it about a million times better.

thanx again.