“Detective Comics #475 (The Laughing Fish) and #476 (The Sign of the Joker)

The Joker has come up with the perfect way to make money. He dumps a chemical concoction into the ocean, changing all of the fishes’ features into something similar to his own. He then copywrites the fish and cut of every fish-sale in America.

Only the bureaucrats won’t copy write the fish for him. Some guff about not being able to own a natural resource. Typical big government stepping on the little guy. No wonder the Joker has been forced into a life of crime!

But to every problem there is a solution. The Harlequin of Hate will keep killing bureaucrats until they give him what he wants…

Or Batman stops him

Rupert Thorne has a Strange encounter on the road

I have always liked Batman, but I was never what you call a follower of his adventures. I owned exactly one of his comics in my far off, fabled youth. And that one comic was Detective Comics #476. An issue that haunted my childhood.

So naturally I had to hunt it down to see if it held up. However, finding it would be trick because I didn’t remember the issue number, the title, or even the plot. All I remember were two pages: the climax of the Joker’s confrontation with Batman (which would be a spoiler) and a bit of ghostly vengeance (which is over on the left and, while creepy, not by far the creepiest thing that happens in the comic.)

As the Fates would have it, though, I had the tail end of what some consider to be one of the best Batman/Joker confrontation. So finding it proves very easy. I found it in a collection called The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told. A look through Amazon.com shows that the book isn’t currently in print, though you can pick up a copy through them. I got my copy from Half Priced Books, so if you’re curious, you probably can find a copy.

Now were these two issues worthy enough to be included in a Greatest Joker Stories collection?

Let me get the bad parts out of the way first.

First off, the resolution is a bit wonky. As the image suggests, there are other plot lines from previous issues running through. For instance, we are told that, quite recently, the ghostly figure (Hugo Strange) tried to sell Batman’s secret identity to the highest bidder. Not exactly the nicest of men, and one you would assume wouldn’t be an ally of Batman’s.

And yet, for reasons we are not told, he gives our hero the means to stop the Joker. While the Harlequin of Hate is a monster that needs stopping, some explanation would have been nice. It probably came next issue, too, but that’s not the point, now is it? Separated from such context, it feels like a cheat.

Speaking of cheating, that other page I remember as a kid? I might be reading it wrong, but it looks very much like a deus ex machina. Which, as we know, is NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY! Sadly, it’s stuff like that I most associate DC comics with. (Though, in fairness, Marvel pulled a few fast ones in it’s time.)

But outside that? It’s a good read. A gruesome read. Most of the Joker’s victims are poisoned by the same chemicals that he uses on the fish. The end result is a face with a near skeletal grin. I am amazed I didn’t remember that.

And the Joker himself, my God. There has never been an accurate depiction of him outside the comics. Let me reiterate this: There has never been an accurate depiction of him outside the comics. No matter how good the actor, be it Mark Hamill or Jack Nicholson, no matter how good the cartoon or the makeup, no one has come close to looking or, really, sounding like the Real Deal.* Even his mannerisms are incomparable outside of the comics. At one point he breaks the fourth wall by attempting turning the page for you. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Not to mention a little creepy.

Batman, too, impresses. While he is a step behind the Joker the whole way (as I said, he in the end needs an assist from Strange to stop the Clown Prince of Crime), he is always a step ahead of the cops as well. On this, he’s dealing with a dying relationship, killed, as always, by his obsession with the cape and cowl.

(And no Robin. Lest I’m mistaken, by this point Robin’s hanging out with other superpowered teens in another comic. )

On the whole, a very entertaining story.

* Mark Hamill does the voice for the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and is, as far as I’m concerned the best actor to portay the role. It’s just that, so soon after reading these issues, I can’t match his voice to the words. However, I reserve the right to change my mind about this at a later time


8 thoughts on ““Detective Comics #475 (The Laughing Fish) and #476 (The Sign of the Joker)

  1. Hamill’s Joker is by far the best. I don’t care who plays the Joker in the next Batman film, he’s already fallen far short of the ideal. (Hamill also did a great Solomon Grundy for Justice League.)

    And I think the Joker in BTAS does come pretty close to the comic book portrayal, though I’ve seen more episodes of the show than read issues of the comic.

    (The Laughing Fish was adapted for the series, by the way. But then, I’m sure you know that.)

  2. I won’t say that, as a rule of thumb, the BtAS Joker doesn’t match with the comic nine times out of ten. (Ignoring that the comic Joker is far darker, far more violent, than the cartoon series would have been allowed to be.)

    For me, this is the one left over bit of time.

    And yep, I knew “Laughing Fish” was adapted. Even seen it, though I’ll be damned if I could remember any details about it. Still, I’d place good odds that it remains a good story.

    BtAS rules.

  3. But the animated Joker, being less dark and less violent, is SO much more entertaining. IN the comics, he’s just a psychopath, but in the animated shows, he definitely wants to be an entertainer more than anything else.

    I think the line in the Batman Beyond movie–that what the Joker found most frustration of all was that he never got Batman to laugh–is spot-on.

  4. It would be a mistake to assume that the Joker of the comics is pure psychopath. Read Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke for the absolutely definitive art and writing for the character. This sums up everything that this character has meant to readers since his first appearance in Batman #1.

    This story was also expanded upon in a pair of issues of Shadow of the Bat and several issues of Gotham Knights, although the issue numbers escape me at the moment.

    All told, as a harder-core Batfan than almost anyone I’ve ever met, I have to say that the BtAS Joker would have been pitch-perfect had the writers been permitted to portray the character the way he was meant to be seen. And if Jim Carrey would have played the Joker (with Nicholson on the Riddler two films later) he might have done a damn fine job as well (and both films would have held up better), but we’ll never know.

  5. Hamil was great as Solomon Grundy, wasn’t he?

    Still… now that the new Batman movie is in fact out, I have to wonder… what do you think now? I was prepared to agree that Hamil was the Best Joker Of All Time until now. Now… I hate to say it, but I honestly think he’s been outdone. Moreover, I think Heath Ledger was probably one of the most amazing things I have ever seen on the big screen.

    Not that I won’t enjoy Hamil’s performance(s) as the Joker now. He’s easily the creepiest thing in the whole of Batman: The Animated Series (which beats the holy crap out of the current “The Batman: series). He was even amazing when he appeared in a Batman: Beyond made for TV movie.

    But between the line “Why… so… Serious”, the Amazing Disappearing Pencil, and “I just want my phone call…” I dunno. Heath Ledger comes the closest to the comics, and was terrifying, funny, and utterly believable.

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