If' you've never been, know that Wildwood is the kind of beach town that almost seems the fictional ideal of such a place, like Coney Island or Palisades Park. The boardwalk, the amusement piers, the crab shacks -- all of it is eerily semi-abandoned in October. This time of the year could only with great generosity be called "the shoulder season", and the number of open lodgings and eateries is far outweighed by the locked buildings and shuttered establishments.
It is, in fact, a giant ghost town, and therefore, creepy as all get-out. Particularly when the first comic book you ever bought was...
In the summer of 1973, my family was at the shore. Either there on or the way, I bought Batman 251. I'd certainly read other comics before, and I may have bought myself other comics before then, but this is the first occasion I can actually remember buying the comic book for myself with my own (allowance) money.
If you've never read it, Baman 251 (1973) had the story "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge", which is pretty significant, as far as single issues go.
TJFWR was one of the first issues of the O'Neil/Adams run on Batman, which redefined (or, perhaps more accuratel, re-established) the character as a dark creature of the night, at home among supernatural elements as well as gritty crime drama.
TJFWR was the first story to really portray the Joker as INSANE, not just, you know, kind of flamboyent. This story is the greatest turning point in the Joker's history, and is the source of his every portrayal for the last twenty-five years.
TJFWR also set a new standard for the Joker's cruelty and disregard for human life. Once you've seen the Joker push an old man in a wheelchair into a shark tank-- well, anything seems possible after that. And that's not just for the Joker. This story recalibrated how an entire generation of comic book readers defined "evil".
TJFWR introduced (and removed) the character of Bigger Melvin, one of the Joker's five intended victims in the story. His chase scene with Batman in that issues is so classic that it was homaged, in its entirety, in the most recent issue of Trinity.
The issue is not without flaws: for example, subtley is not a virtue of O'Neil's writing. But Adams' art remains unforgettable: the image of Bigger Melvin thinking, "My troubles will soon all be over," while a starkly lit Joker lurks right behind him is a masterpiece of ironic comic book terror.
But, in addition to all this, the story had a great impact on me because the Joker's hideout is at -- you guessed it -- a closed down facility on the boardwalk during off-season, and the beach is a prominent plot point in the story. As a result, the story inextricably linked the image of an abandoned beach resort-- a place of happiness gone dark and sinister -- with the image of a clown gone bad. Together, those images cemented in my mind the concept that, in the words of Batman: The Animated Series, "the brighter the picture, the darker the negative."
That's the kind of power that a strong comic book story can have, even decades later. If you have a story like this to it, what is it, which comic book story gave it to you, and why?