Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Batman #251

The Joker has had a few makeovers since his first appearance in the Golden Age.

He started out as a crazed, unpredictable killer, but soon became more of a clown - which was more in keeping with the Comics Code Authority. Lots of gags, some laughs, but no real menace.

I admit that my Batman collection is far from complete, but I'm pretty sure this issue from 1973 is the one that propelled the character back into the "crazed killer" category.

The story was written by Dennis O'Neil, drawn by Neal Adams and edited by Julius Schwartz - quite a pedigree! It features the Joker returning to Gotham City to get revenge on four of his former "employees" - one of whom betrayed him.

Readers at the time were shocked to find that this Joker was surprisingly bloodthirsty. Instead of his usual gags (like the exploding cigar referenced in the story), his jokes were now deadly. One man after another is brutally killed while Batman tries to track down his old foe.

Even the Joker's appearance, as drawn by Adams, seems less clownish and more menacing, deranged - downright evil. A far cry from the familiar figure on the '60s Batman TV show.

The art is Adams at his best, with fantastic, articulated figures, inventive layouts and stunning designs (you'll find the iconic image of Batman running, as seen on the first volume of Adams-drawn art below, in this issue).

It's nice to see a great balance between Batman the detective and the action hero, facing death traps, criminals and his greatest foe.

It's a terrific (and much-reprinted) story by the team credited with the rebirth of the Dark Knight. Under their guidance, he made the transition from a campy, lighthearted comic character into a serious crime fighter, a creature of the night and a character - and a comic - to be watched.

Grade: A


No comments: