Monday, April 18, 2011

What Kids Don't Know: The Weeper

If, like me, you're a fan of the "Batman: Brave & the Bold"series on Cartoon Network, and watched the most recent episode, which was an amusing inversion of the show's usual perspective. It made the Joker the protagonist and Batman the antagonist. The Joker replaced Batman in the opening credits, re-styled as "Joker: The Vile & the Villainous". Oh, and that was after he blew up in the earth in the opening teaser. But that's not important right now...

Our focus is the main episode, where, true to the show's format, the Joker teamed up with another villain: The Weeper.

The Weeper is a sad-sack of a villain. He is, indeed, a sadness-themed villain, a former 'sad-faced' circus clown gone bad (and, amusingly, voiced by one of America's best-known sad-faced comedians, Tim Conway).

The B:B&B Weeper is unequivocally the Golden Age Weeper from Fawcett Comics, with the same name (Mortimer Gloom), the same foes (Bulletman & Co.), a nearly identical appearance, and the same sadness-based schtick. He appeared only a few times, and only once in a DC Comic proper.

That appearance was in Justice League of America 136 (a comic I bought as a kid), where he teamed up with-- you guessed it -- the Joker.

The Earth-2 Joker, that is; in fact, it was, I believe, the only appearance of the "Earth-2 Joker" during the multiversal eras. Their 'team-up' was only a few panels and mostly just an excuse to get some Earth-2 heroes together with some Earth-S heroes (Earth-S, for you youngsters, was the original version of Earth-5, and the home of all Fawcett characters, like Captain Marvel, Bulletman, and Mr. Scarlet).

That brief moment between the Joker and the Weeper was an obvious throwaway. But did that leave the writers of B:B&B without a template for their own Joker/Weeper team-up? Actually... no. They had Denny O'Neil's "The Sad Saga of Willy the Weeper".

During the "DC Explosion", DC Comics tried a lot of new series and concepts all at once. One was making its best known villain, a psychotic sadistic killer, the protagonist of his own series. Kind of like DC's own version of The Punisher.

Yes, the Joker had his own on-going series. Wherein he fell in love with Dinah Lance, kidnapped Charles Schulz, grabbed lunch and a movie with Lex Luthor, fought the Scarecrow with a truck full of butterflies, was defeated by Sherlock Holmes, and killed an average of one person on camera per issue. And so much more, in a mere 9 issues!!

But what matters to us at the moment is the time the Joker teamed up with "Willie the Weeper".

Now, this was Willie's one and only appearance and he is definitely not the Golden Age Weeper. Perhaps Denny O'Neill didn't want to use the original Weeper due to the multiversal implications; perhaps he wasn't even aware of him; or perhaps he just wanted to make a new character with a unique problem.

The original Weeper always shed crocodile tears for his victims. But Willie the Weeper was a criminal genius who would weep so uncontrollably for his victims that he couldn't complete his crimes. So (um, naturally) he went to the least victim-sympathetic villain he could think of for help:

The Joker.

Oh, and that other guy, with the cigarette, is Harold. A few panels later the Joker knocks him out and throws him down an incinerator chute to be burned alive. You should never do a walk-on in a Joker story; or smoke in his house.

Anyway, the essence of the story is that the Weeper feels like a wash-out as a villain, the Joker volunteers to help solve his problem, succeeds, one of them (naturally) betrays the other, and the Joker winds up crying while the Weeper winds up laughing.

Don't worry, kids! The Joker's not really crying; he's faking it... .

Sound familiar? Yes, it's the same as the underlying plot of the Brave & the Bold episode!

Oh, sure, there are huge differences, of course, such as the nature of the Weeper's problem, Batman's role in the story, the Joker idolizing the Weeper, and the final betrayal. I'm not trying to say that the episode isn't original; lack of originality is NOT one of the problems with Batman: Brave & Bold! The show excels at taking fresh approaches to exisiting characters and material, and the Weeper episode, incorporating both the Golden Age Weeper and the little known "Sad Sage of Willie the Weeper" and reinventing them both is just the latest brilliant example.

P.S. For anyone still unconvinced that Willie the Weeper was inspired by the original Weeper... Remember how I said that the original Weeper started as out as a sad-faced circus clown? His stage name was.... Weeping Willie (an obvious reference to American clown Emmett Kelly).