Tripwire Reviews DC’s The Joker: 80 Years Of The Clown Prince Of Crime

Still Wild After All These Years

Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at DC’s The Joker: 80 Years Of The Clown Prince Of Crime Deluxe Edition…

The Joker: 80 Years of the Clown Prince of Crime (The Deluxe Edition)
Writer: Various
Artist: Various
Letters: Various
Published by DC Comics

“If the police expect to play against the Joker, they’d
better be prepared to be dealt from the bottom of the deck!” – Batman #1

It’s generally accepted that The Joker was created in 1940
by Jerry Robinson, an artist who was working closely with Batman creator Bob
Kane (though Kane was insistent that he was the actual creator of the
character). Tasked with creating a villain for The Dark Knight, Robinson sat
around and mused as to who would make a perfect foil.

“I knew from reading the classics that memorable characters
often have an internal contradiction – such as a deadly villain with a sense of
humour,” says Robinson, writing in his autobiography Jerry and the Joker. “’That’s it!’ I shouted to myself in an eureka
moment. I had the name: The Joker.”

Inspired by a pack of cards and Harry Clark, an English
gothic artist who illustrated stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Robinson created an
elongated and white-skinned vision of evil, the grinning ying to Batman’s stoic
yang. And thus one of pop culture’s greatest villains was born. In the 80 years
since his creation, The Joker has been Batman’s most virulent nemesis in the comic
books, in video games and on the big screen.

The Joker: 80 Years of the Clown Prince of Crime collects
some of the greatest adventures of the grinning maniac with the multiple-choice
past and documents the change in his character from being merely a criminal
with bad dress sense to the crazed psychopath that continues to make a mark on
Batman – and comic book – mythos today.

Unsurprisingly, this collection begins with Batman Vs. The Joker, the first meeting of the two that graced the pages of Batman #1 way back in Spring 1940. This and other Golden Age tales in this collection (such as ‘The Man Behind the Red Hood’ and ‘The Great Clayface Joker Feud’) contain many of the tropes that defined the era. The stories are bold and simple – with Joker engaging in murder, ransom and robbery in a way that seems quaint compared to his later incarnations – and the art of Bob Kane and Robinson is striking, all primary colours and kinetic action. In these early stories The Joker does – visually at least – stand out from the crowd with his grinning white visage and sunken dark eyes betraying a malevolence that other super villains lacked. Yet, for many years, The Joker was merely one of many within Batman’s rogues gallery. Years would pass without a Joker story appearing in Batman while thanks to the TV show, Caesar Romero’s wonderfully OTT performance would render The Joker as seemingly nothing more than a rather camp antagonist who would occasionally pop-up to feel the wrath of The Dark Night Detective.

It was the sorely missed Dennis O’Neill who re-invented The Joker and started to place him at the centre stage. ‘The Joker’s Five Way Revenge’ – in which Mr J returns to enact vengeance upon some of his former henchmen – is a classic, not only for its gloriously mad story but for its re-invention of the character. The malevolence that was buried beneath the surface in the Golden Age is brought to the fore here. An underling is dispatched with an explosive cigar (“A pity he didn’t guess the explosive in the cigar was nitro-glycerine!”) and it’s both ridiculous and scary. And The Joker himself has slightly changed. There’s still the smile that hides the evil behind the eyes, but he’s almost impossibly thing and angular: a walking gargoyle amongst a normal world.

Subsequent stories, such as two great Steve Engleheart
efforts ‘The Laughing Fish’ and ‘Sign of the Joker’ and Len Wein’s ‘Dreadful
Birthday Dear Joker’, add to the character’s unpredictability. Mixing seemingly
insane schemes (to make fish look like him so he can capitalise on copyright)
and random acts of murder (the shooting of one henchmen with a spear-gun is
particularly memorable) The Joker starts to become actually terrifying as he
moves from ‘conniving’ to ‘insane’.

It would be A Death In The Family – in which the Joker beats the Jason Todd version of Robin to death (and he remained dead for a surprisingly long time in comic book terms) – that would cement his status as Batman’s chief antagonist, which is here represented by the final chapter in said story. There would also be The Killing Joke, Alan Moore’s seminal story that tries to give The Joker a possible past, which would explore more of The Joker’s insanity. While the story has been disowned by Moore and its treatment of women is slightly troubling when examined more than three decades since it was released, The Killing Joke (of which an excerpt in presented here) is still an important part of the character’s mythos – with the important caveat of “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”

This is part of what makes The Joker such an unsettling antagonist. Batman. We can understand the motivations of Batman, after seeing his parents gunned down. Even the most heinous of crimes and criminals have some sort of motivation, no matter how twisted it may be. But there’s nothing to hold on to with The Joker. He’s unknowable. An agent of chaos who inflicts harm, seemingly on a whim.

The Joker’s notoriety had also increased in pop culture
thanks to not only the Tim Burton movies but Mark Hamill’s excellent as the
character in The Animated Series. This is represented here in a reprint of the
excellent one shot ‘Mad Love’. While ostensibly an origin story for Harley
Quinn, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s story not only provides a welcome snapshot of
their version of The Joker but also reminds us of the manipulative traits of
his personality .

By the time we reach stories from the modern era, The Joker
is in full on psychopath mode. An excerpt from Hush reminds us of the dynamic
between Batman and The Joker, and the former’s promise to never kill the
latter, while an excerpt from Soft Targets, a story from Gotham Central, places
The Joker in a more realistic setting that heightens how disturbing he can be.
One shot ‘Slayride’ is a disturbing thrill ride of a story – also from the pen
of Dini – in which The Joker kidnaps Robin and engages on a murder spree. Much
like the modern incarnation of the character, it’s thrilling and disturbing in
equal measure.

The most modern stories here suffer slightly from being
conclusions to more convultued stroylines, such as the end of Death of the
Family. With The Joker now being able to strike at the heart of the ‘Bat
Family’ (with the revelation that he has known that Batman was Bruce Wayne all
along) there is a sense of grandiose evil here. But there’s also a sense of
continually having to ‘one up’ previous iterations of the character and make
him even more evil and psychotic. It may be fittingly disturbing  but when The Joker is removing his own face
and using it as a mask, it seems over the top even in the world of Batman.

But we shall see where the world takes him. With the current
Joker’s War storyline and the much anticipated Three Jokers, he will continue
to develop and be the most important antagonist in Batman’s universe. But he’ll
be very unlikely to defeat him. After all, what would be the fun in that?

This is a brilliant collection with some wonderful essays
accompanying the stories, such as thoughts and reminisces from the likes of
Mark Hamill, Steve Engleheart, Paul Dini, Jeph Loeb and Scott Snyder. While
there are maybe a couple of minor absences (an excerpt from Brian Azzarello’s
Joker would have been welcome alongside a glimpse of the hyper sexualised
Jokers of Arkham Asylum and The Dark Knight Returns, though the latter does
appear in a reprinted cover from Dark Knight III: The Master Race) this is an
essential collection for those wanting to chart the evolution of The Joker.

The Joker: 80 Years of the Clown Prince of Crime (The Deluxe
Edition) is available now published by DC Comics at 25GBP

The post Tripwire Reviews DC’s The Joker: 80 Years Of The Clown Prince Of Crime appeared first on TRIPWIRE.

Still Wild After All These Years Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at DC’s The Joker: 80 Years Of The Clown Prince Of Crime Deluxe Edition… The Joker: 80 Years of the Clown Prince of Crime (The Deluxe Edition)Writer: VariousArtist: VariousLetters: Various Published by DC Comics “If the police expect to play against
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