Saturday, May 13, 2006
It was strange in a way that nothing of its kind has ever quite been:
Not the Joker; The Joker, a series starring the Clown Prince of Crime that lasted only 9 issues some 3o years ago.
The Joker was part of the DC Explosion (now known more commonly by its cacophemism, "the DC Implosion"). Now, it's one thing to make an out-and-out villain the star of an on-going series; this was the first time DC did so. But to do so with DC's most infamous and utterly irredeemable villain?
To star in his own comic, the Joker had to make the biggest character shift of all: going from antagonist to protagonist. He's not the only character who had trouble making this shift, but we'll talk more about that as a broader phenomenon later.
Joker had to go to Serial Killers Anonymous to star for the duration of his book; why, he barely killed 2 or 3 people, I think, during the whole series. Well, at least one of them was an innocent nightwatchmen, burned alive by a trick cigarette lighter; that's gotta count for extra points.
Boy, don't you hate it when a perfectly bad villain is ruined, defanged just so they can have their own series?
The stories ranged from Bad to Embarrassingly Awful, although some of the bad ones were fun, in a crazy sort of way. Fun guest stars, too: Luthor, Sherlock Holmes (!), the Scarecrow, the Royal Flush Gang, Catwoman.
You'd think that the only meeting between the Joker and the Creeper (that I know of, anyway) would be one of the greatest stories in DC's history (Joker #3). It is, in fact, perhaps the worst story I have ever read (and I've read the JLA Detroit) and proof positive (if further proof were needed) that Denny O'Neill really just cannot write. In one of DC's least comprehensible editorial decisions of all time, THAT was the story they chose to include in the "Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told". I can only assume they let the Joker himself edit that volume.
The series was hobbled by the Comics Code; at the end of every issue, the Joker had to be caught or his imminent capture implicated. If you think Arkham seems like a revolving door to you now, you should have seen it in 1975-76; the Joker had a secret hideout beneath his cell at the Asylum (mostly so he could watch TV, it seemed).
And the art, well, just by looking at the covers you can watch the deterioration. Such a pity; imagine what such a series might be like today.
But the series had many ludicrous joys, such as the Ha-Hacienda, the Ho-Ho-Home-on-Wheels, crooked entymologists, mind-swapping, pet hyenas, and, of course, the Shadrach/Mischach/and Abendego of Denominated Henchman, Southpaw, Tooth and Blue-Eyes.
Maddeningly, the tenth issue of the Joker was never published. According to the letter columns, its story was to be titled "99 and 44/100 Percent Dead!", and it was to guest-star ...
the Justice League.
I cannot for the life of me imagine what that story would have been.
But I have lain awake nights for the last 30 years trying to.