Saturday, March 18, 2006

"She Was Only An Umpire's Daughter..."

A Batman/Joker story was running through my head the other day and then, coincidently, my friend Ulysses brought up the same story later that day. So now I'll share it with you (in case you've never read it).

Originally, "This One'll Kill You, Batman" appeared in one of those legendary 100-page giants that DC used to print in the 1970s (specifically, in Batman #260, 1975). As you can see from the cover, it was chockful of goodies: reprints, appended to one main, new story (as was the pattern for such issues).

This Denny O'Neill story has been described on-line as one of the worst he ever wrote. I strongly, vehemently disagree; Denny wrote much much worse stuff (just read some of his JLA work).

But this is the first story to show the Joker in an asylum for the criminally insane, rather than a regular prison. Two-Face is also there, so, although the asylum is unnamed, it is what we would later know as Arkham. Batman shows up (Poof, just like that! It was the Seventies, after all...), and during a struggle with other inmates the Joker has released, takes a bath in an overturned vat of coffee (yup; it was the Seventies).

Throughout the story, Batman starts giggling more and more at very inappropriate things. You heard me, giggling. Turns out the coffee was drugged (the Joker's a busy guy) with a specialized Joker venom that progressively inverts your humor reaction while poisoning you.

I usually hate Denny's writing with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns, but, dang, you gotta give him props for imagination on that one.

Anyway, so when Batman goes to find "the only physican brilliant enough to cure him", he finds that the Joker has kidnaoped him. In comic books, it is always that case that medical, technical, or scientific problems can be solved only by a maximum of one to three people (and if it's two people, one is evil and one is good but gets kidnapped; if it's three people, the third is in an accessible, politically unfriendly country).

When Batman catches up with the Joker, he's in an abandoned theater with the physican trapped in a guillotine sitting on the stage. All Batman has to do is reach them, but he can't because he's doubled up with laughter at the moldy vaudeville jokes the Joker is spouting.

My personal favorite was "she was only an umpire's daughter but she was never safe when she was out."

The hook? Batman stops laughing by concentrating on something he considers genuinely funny: scenes from the Marx Brothers movies.

And that is why the story could never be retold; what the heck would our humorless Batman concentrate on to save himself?

If you want to read it for yourself, you can buy it in the Batman of the Seventies volume.


Jon said...

Crimes and Misdemeanors.

His favorite Woody Allen movie, according to a random issue of Starman.

Anonymous said...

Random trivia point: While #260 may not have referred to Arkham by name, it was named (well, at least, "Arkham Hospital" was) two issues earlier, in #258 - the facility's debut.

Say what you will about O'Neil's writing, he gave us some additions to the Bat-Mythos that were, in the sacred words of Wayne and Garth, totally worthy. And I think his rĂ´le in the darkening of Batman is overrated; when he started, Bats was in serious need of a little seriousness. If the pendulum has since swung the other way . . . way, way, way the other way . . . that's not Denny's fault.

Marc Burkhardt said...

To amuse himself, the modern Batman would probably imagine his hands around the neck of his parents' killer, squeezing tighter and tighter.

Sorry, but I just can't imagine the Bruce Wayne of the past few years having enough of a life to find anything amusing, let alone a Marx Brothers movie. Maybe the current creators will rectify this situation.

And as far as Denny O'Neil's writing goes, he's had his share of hits and misses just like any other creator out there. But his role as Batman's editor for so many years left as indelible an impression as Mort Weisinger left on Superman.

The whole "urban myth" who never belonged to the JLA, liked Superman and was bordline psychotic formed during O'Neil's watch.

Anonymous said...

"club him like Hal Jordan."

Thanks, I'll be taking that.

And I guess today's humorless Batman would focus on the things that actually make him smile, if not laugh out loud.

How well Dick Grayson turned out, a dry riposte from Alfred, Selina, kicking Super Gorilla Grodd in the Super Gorilla Gonads. Actually, he made a joke while doing that that made ME laugh out loud, so there maybe a sense of humor there after all.

Like, I can't vote for any of the quotes in the quote poll because MY favorite line of the week--"Diana, Alfred will need that recipe--isn't up there. This is after we see him kicking back with his feet on the table and off handedly calling Superman an idiot.

Zaratustra said...

No matter what age you're in, you can always get some laughs from Hal Jordan getting it on the head.

Anonymous said...

To laugh, all Batman has to do is think about the time he gave the Batman-tle to Jean-Paul Valley.

Always makes me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the first time the Joker is mentioned as having been incarcerated in an asylum rather than prison was the now-classic Batman #251, "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" by O'Neill and Adams.