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…
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