Batman #450 (Early July, 1990)
Writer – Marv Wolfman
Penciller – Jim Aparo
Inker – Mike DeCarlo
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Associate Editor – Dan Raspler
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
Hey a book with the Joker on the cover… from a time when that wasn’t a weekly occurrence! This one’s gotta be important!
We open on the… maudlin scene of a the Gotham City Police Department discovering the body of Judge William Patricks, aka “the Hanging Judge”… and, well… he’s been hung. Get it? Commissioner Gordon has a sneaking suspicion that the Joker is behind this murder, and shares an expositional conversation with Detective Hanrahan to catch us all up on The Killing Joke.
Gordon excuses himself and heads home. Along the way he wonders how anyone… even the Joker, could have survived a helicopter crash (which occurred at the end of A Death in the Family). He arrives home, and breaks down.
We shift scenes to a dilapidated brownstone building where a shadowy figure watches the television news report on “the Hanging Judge”. He’s surprised that “the Joker” would resort to such silly punnery rather than an actual gag… and declares the entire affair “unfunny”.
At the same time, a plane full of youngsters lands in Japan. A trip sponsored by that kick-ass philanthropist, Bruce Wayne… which includes among the junior globetrotters, Tim Drake. A Professor Smith phones Bruce to inform him of their safe landing… which relieves our man because, if the newscasts are to be believed… the Joker is back at it. He’d prefer his newest charge be as far away as possible… for his own safety, as well as not to see what Batman might do to the baddie should he get his hands on him.
We jump ahead to that evening where a yuppie(r) version of Tony Robbins (named Curtis Base) is giving a gala seminar on investment opportunities. While the wide-eyed hopeful millionaires applaud his every word we see both Gordon and Hanrahan arrive… both seem like they’d rather be anywhere else, though.
Base wraps up his speech. As he leaves the stage, he is approached by Vicki Vale who attempts to question him on some of his alleged sketchy business practices… she gets blown off with the quickness.
We hop outside and overhear a very punny fella with a gaggle of leashed shaggy dogs. A “Shaggy Dog Story” is one with a whole lotta build up, twists, turns, yadda yadda… which ends with a disappointing or absurd anti-climax. Depending on your mileage, they might have some comedic value… but the pointlessness often makes you feel like you wasted your time watching, reading, or listening. Anyhoo, the dogs crash the party.
It’s revealed pretty quickly that the baddie is… the Joker! And boy oh boy is he trying hard with the puns… what is he, me?
Anyhoo… he sics the dogs on several of the party-goers, and blows a few peoples’ brains out before grabbing Detective Hanrahan… muzzling her, and threatening to poison her with Joker toxin. Commissioner Gordon, seeing a young lady at the Joker’s can’t help but bring up his daughter Barbara… and, oddly enough, the Joker doesn’t react. It’s as though he doesn’t know who “Barbara” is. Hmm…
The Joker and his gang decide to quit da killin’ and get ta stealin’. They clean out every pocket in the room, and split. Outside the main hall, we can see Mr. Base tied up and wearing a jester cap… the Joker got him too. Didn’t kill him though, hmm…
After being untied and giving his statement to the police, Curtis Base asks if he can trust his aide Marty. He takes him into a back room, where he (and we) learns that his boss is actually the unfunny (unfunnier?) Joker!
Base gives Marty the ol’ “Greed is good” speech that was still sorta fashionable before asking him if he’s on board. Marty tells him that he can’t live that way… so, Curtis decides he’s not going to live at all! Marty is hurled out the window, presumably to his death.
Meanwhile, back at that ramshackle apartment we get a better idea who our shadowy television watcher might be. Okay, okay… it’s the Joker… the real one. Trembly… scared even, he reaches for his old red hood. We get a few flashback panels to inform us that more than just the crippling of Barbara Gordon made it into continuity from The Killing Joke. Worth mentioning that he refers to “the stunt with Two-Face” here… which, we might recall being the nonsense with the radio during A Lonely Place of Dying.
As the Red Hood, he robs a jewelry store… but things are all wrong. He can’t seem to find “the joke”, even resorting to some Chris-level punnery. Holding a crowbar, he flashes back to what he had done to Jason Todd… and what had happened to him soon after. He panics, and drops the tool.
We wrap up this bit with an amazing panel… the Joker is laying in bed… terrified… with his red hood capsule-helmet next to him. Really great panel here… the terror in his eyes is so good!
We return to the phony Joker as he does some more punnin’ and killin’. Not that the real-deal is all that charming, but Base is really tryharding the banter. I mean, he slices a dude open just so he can mention “side-splitting”. C’mon man… the gore shouldn’t be a means to an end.
We join Gordon, Hanrahan, and Batman (remember him?) as they investigate the latest Joker crime scene. They find a victim, suffocated… mouth stuffed with chestnuts. A-ha, double terrible pun! I haven’t even hit that level yet… or have I? I’m scared to look. The trio of ‘tecs deduce that the Joker isn’t quite acting like himself… especially since he didn’t react to the name Barbara. They put their heads together for a moment… but Batman bugs out before sharing his theory.
We wrap up the issue with the real-Joker watching the news… and growing really quite sick of the terrible pun-based crime. Seeing as though this is really hurting his criminal reputation, he decides it’s time to come out of the shadows… this time, the Joker is Wild(er)!
Alrighty… pretty good stuff. We got some stuff to unpack, so let’s get to it.
I’m not as familiar with this era of Batman where I can say with any certainty that this was the first time the Joker’s The Killing Joke origin was confirmed as the true Joker origin… but it’s very likely to be one of the earliest. This story feels like the convergence of several story points… a true “moving forward” moment.
As stated, we have plenty of The Killing Joke here… with Joker’s origin as well as the crippling of Barbara Gordon. We’ve got some A Death in the Family, with the bludgeoning of Jason and the Joker’s helicopter crash… and we’ve even got some A Lonely Place of Dying with Tim Drake being a part of the cast, and mention of the Joker’s radio-manipulation of Two-Face.
When I started getting heavily into DC Comics fandom (mid-late 90’s), the “must read” Batman stories were… well, the three I just mentioned. Seeing all of those converge and advance here was a pretty big deal. I’m a big fan of lore and a very big believer in the “everything matters” approach to comics, so I love it anytime past events (regardless of how recent) are tied into a narrative.
For the story itself… I thought it was pretty good. Using Base as the ersatz Joker seemed like a neat approach, though I wish they altered the look a smidge. I don’t think he’d look exactly like the Joker when in the paint… I mean, out of costume they even have very different builds. I dunno.
I like the idea of Base not really “getting” the Joker… and having to resort to puns in order to attempt to appropriate the gimmick. Being a long-time punster, I can tell ya… puns are easy, and often quite lame… so it stands to reason that a comedy neophyte might take that approach.
I appreciate Gordon and Hanrahan being invited to the investment pitch thing… as it had them front and center to see Base all tied up and jesterfied. Pretty good thinking there, keeping the heat off our baddie. Seems Base is a pretty smooth (and sinister) character… not bad for a short-term side-villain. I’m not sure if there’s any commentary on investment bankers and/or real-estate moguls being made here… but, we can leave that to the fiduciaries.
The Joker being scared is something pretty new to see. I really thought those scenes were well done. Aparo is able to show the sheer terror in the Joker’s eyes so well. I’m reminded of the old saying about airplane turbulence… if the flight attendants are still serving drinks, you got nothing to worry about… when they start to worry, it’s time to get scared! Having the Joker visibly shaken… just isn’t something ya wanna see!
Overall… really good issue! This truly feels like we’re moving into the next “era” for post-Crisis Batman… the “big three” stories are out of the way, our status quo is taking hold… and we’re moving into the future. A great read… worth checking out. Available digitally.