In the late eighties comic books and in paticular Batman was reinventing itself into a grimm dark reflection of the happy kid friendly books they had once been. Keen to loose the connection to Adam West and ‘Bat-shark repellent’ writers such as Moore and Millar were hard at work to bring us the Bat we know today. Yet one of those books was a little bit more “problematic” than the others and is still a heated topic for conversation today. So lets see if I can add anything new to the discussion and cash in on those google statistics; what with Bruce Timm’s version out on DVD fairly soon.
We start with another day trip to Arkham as Batman greets Gordon and his morning cup of coffee, scares the receptionist and interrupts the Joker playing a quiet game of solitaire. Turns out however this is just some Joker cosplayer, they’re dime a dozen at your local comic-con, and the real Joker has broken out yet again.
After a thorough interrogation of the perp Bruce chases off through the land of cameo on a wild goose chase giving the Joker enough time to buy a carnival, hire a freak shows worth of henchmen and mastermind his most deadly plot yet. You see his theory is that all it takes is one bad day to drive a man over the edge and he’s going to test that hypothesis out on our very own Jim Gordon. Stripped by bondage midgets and stuck on a ghost train through the mind of a mad man will he survive in time for Batman to show up and save him?
This is the first and perhaps best attempt someone has made to delve into the mind of the Joker though what do you expect from someone who worships a snake with a puppet for a head. This is one of those comics that even if you haven’t read you’ve probably heard the name and for good reason. The Joker as the opposite of Batman pretty much started here and everyone since has called back to it in one way or another. Yet despite the love for the book many are dismissive toward it including the two who thought it up and everyone else has one big problem with the plot.
To get to Gordon, Joker goes after dear sweet Babs with a rather unfunny bullet to the spine, something that has pretty much defined her ever since. There is a term in comic books known as fridging for when a woman is murdered, beaten, crippled or cut up into little pieces and shoved in a fridge freezer; all in order to show how dire the situation is for the male hero. This is bad enough when it’s some nobody introduced for just such a reason but here it was Batgirl out of costume and in a one off issue of Batman. She gets about a handful of lines and no attempt at a fight in a story about the Joker, headlined by Bruce Wayne and simply the driving force and motivation for one Jim Gordon.
This isn’t the only problem people have with the story with Moore himself calling it ‘clumsy and misjudged’ and nobody satisfied with how it came out. Many comic fans have requested it be stripped from continuity altogether in one of DC’s many universe wide reboots especially with many now of the belief that Babs was not only shot but raped by the clown prince of crime. Having reread the story for this review I found little to back that up and that’s including the previously unreleased artwork of Barbara’s Bat-boobs. There is far more call for the argument that Bruce finally snaps the Jokers neck at the end ending their fight once and for all what with them monologuing all story that one day one of them would bite it and the only question was who. This does, believe it or not, link back to the “problem” with Babs.
See they had no problem dropping that in at the end because many thought it would be a one off alt-world story like many other Moore had written for the company. This wasn’t designed to realign continuity but to just try and make the Joker a decent villain again. See after moving from the swinging sixties nobody had really known what to do with a guy dressed as a clown defined by Ceaser Romero who kept his moustache on beneath the grease paint. This book is what made him the villain we know today. It just so happens that the book was so well received that DC brought it into continuity much like they did with ‘Year One’ and all the nods to ‘Dark Knight’.
Like a lot of problems we have in the book however most of it didn’t need to happen. The Joker would leave his mark with a crowbar a few months later in ‘Death in the family’ and DC would make a habit of fridging its female half. The problem is that nobody knew this back then and all we can say is hind-sight is twenty-twenty. While I am neither here nor there on it being scrubbed from continuity I would hate for this to be lost under a cry of ‘problematic!’ I’m not saying the story is perfect and easily the best thing about the Jokers origin story is the line that he prefers his past to be ‘multiple choice’. If however you have enjoyed the Joker in any variation in the years since, from Skywalker to gay cowboy, from faceless murderer to ancient spirit then you owe it to this book and you probably owe it to yourself to read it. Its widely available and quite short. It dishonoured Barbara but i.m.o DC did far worse by “making her better” and has done far far worse by making the story “better”.
See she’s no longer a bit part in a mans story, she’s a spurred lover of an older man in a mans story. Much better.