I think it’s safe to say that a lot of Comic Books are known as much for their Villains as they are for their Heroes and when one discusses some of the greatest comic book villains of all time then the Joker is one of the first to come to mind. The Joker has become a symbol, a force of chaos, he has no definitive origin story, he’s a psycho-killer who does things for reasons that only he understands and he is Batman’s greatest foe. Now I should warn you that perhaps more so than reviewing this particular issue I’m going to be discussing the Jokers character and what it is that makes him so great. The reason for this is simple, everybody with a slight knowledge of comics knows this issue, it’s the Jokers first appearance and is undeniably a classic. Now don’t mistake me to a modern audience it can have its faults, like The Amazing Spiderman #17 that I looked at a few weeks ago, it can seem quite dated but I was surprised how much closer this version of the joker was to the version seen today than the Prankster which actually appeared later in the 1950’s and 60’s. Personally I always assumed that the campy Joker (brilliantly portrayed by Cesar Romero in the 1966 Adam West TV Show) was the version that came first, so this was a nice surprise.
The plot is simple enough, a mysterious killer known only as the joker warns of various members of Gotham’s High Societies murders and then a robbery of a famous item from their possessions before he commits the crime. Gotham’s Police Force seems unable to combat the madman and each victim is found with a disturbing grin on their face, the results of what is known as ‘Joker Venom’. As the Crime Spree continues its up to Batman and Robin to try and take the madman down.
What surprised me most and what I mentioned above is that the Joker in his very first appearance comes across as a maniacal serial killer; he seems to kill his various victims just for the hell of it. Now of course that’s very similar to the joker we know today but I did find it kind of amusing that the campy harmless joker actually came AFTER the serial killer version first appeared. However Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original version, despite being instantly recognisable as the character we all know and love does at times appear slightly more toned down, more morose. It does give one time to wonder that if perhaps the campy joker had not come along later down the line and the two interpretations had not fused then perhaps the Joker would be slightly less fun. Now, this sounds like I have something against Bob Kanes version of the character, of course I don’t but whenever you create a character and that character becomes as famous as the Joker has then of course the original interpretation is going to differ. I mean the Joker is now something like 70 years old? It would be ridiculous if he didn’t adapt and change to suit the times he was in. I was also surprised to discover that the famous ‘Joker Venom’ appears here. I know this is still pre-comics code, but it’s a really gruesome Idea, a poison that makes its victims take on a disturbing grin in death. Bob Kane draws this exceptionally well; whilst his art is simplistic like Ditko’s in Spiderman it has a timeless quality to it. We all know that the inspiration for the look of the Joker was the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs but Bob Kane took this inspiration and created a monster that was equally if not more visually chilling than its film counterpart.
I’m struggling to find things to say about this issue to be honest, everyone knows how good it is and every Batman fan has probably read it so it’s difficult to comment really. One thing though that I really did personally love is that the Joker is as ominous and mysterious here as he would become in later life. We never find out a name or why he is committing these crimes, more unusually why he is killing the people he is robbing from, why doesn’t he just steal the items? Why does he have to kill them as well? Its little things like this that allowed the Joker to become the perfect ‘Ying’ to Batman’s ‘Yang’ that he would turn into later. Batman has a definitive origin that motivates him, he fights for truth and justice and to make those that have made other people fear, feel fear themselves. The Joker on the other hand has no defined origin to motivate his actions, he commits random actions of violence because he perceives ‘life as a Joke’ and the terrifying murders he commits are also his own sort of Joke. Bob Kanes Joker allowed so many talented artists and writers to come along in the future and add their own interpretations to the Jokers mental state. In future years we got the idea that the Joker is the next stage of humanity, ‘mentally’ he is thinking in a way far above what we are. We also got the superb idea that he is constantly re-inventing himself, as was seen in Scotty Snyder’s ‘Death of the Family’, which whilst were on the subject is a brilliant place to start with the Joker, being his most recent comic-epic and discussing a lot of his more monumental past stories.
I read this in a collected edition entitled ‘The Joker: The Greatest Stories Ever Told’, it’s a fun little volume that has many of the best joker stories in it. Ok so there’s none of the Killing Joke or The Man Who Laughs (both of these far too long to be reprinted inside it) and it also has segments from much longer stories Hush and The Long Halloween, but all in all it’s worth it just for this story and the superb ‘The Laughing Fish’. If you’re interested at all in the Joker then you should defiantly try and track down a copy.
Welcome one and all- Please leave sanity at the door
A Teenage boy with a passion for all things nerdy! Expect a lot of Doctor Who, Cult/Horror Movies, Literature and Novels, History, Comic Books and random thoughts. Posts published weekly on a Friday evening. DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the items reviewed on this site and i also do not own of the pictures (unless stated so). If you own one of the photos and wish for it to be removed contact me at this adress: Super.firstname.lastname@example.org. However all of the written work is my own and is protected under copyright law.