Sunday, April 10, 2011

I'm Not a Fan, But... Batman #251 (1973)

Greetings, Good Gothamites! It is I, Frank of the non-Bat Believers. Here I am once again to give a non-fan's perspective and desecrate the name of Caped Crusader whose image is printed all over those flanel pajamas you're wearing! (Very becoming, by the way.) In case you missed it, last time I talked about my introduction to Batman with the 1966 Adam West feature film. This time around, I've been given an assignment by the man with the bearded FAC3: Batman #251 a.k.a. The Joker's Five Way Revenge! It's a classic tale of the Joker's merciless ways and Batman's perseverance in chasing him down.

WARNING: Spoilers lie ahead! You've been warned!

The basic story here is that the Joker is killing off his former henchmen one by one because of their disloyalty to him in the past. Batman is in hot pursuit, but the Joker always keeps one step ahead of him. At one point, Batman is knocked unconscious and lays at the mercy of his nemesis. Standing over his victim, the Joker changes his mind at the last minute, realizing that he'd rather defeat the Batman in a fair fight than by pure luck. He'll enjoy Batman's death more if he knows he beat him at his own game. Ultimately, Batman saves the final henchman, but not before he has to battle a shark! (No Bat Shark Repellant this time. I know. I was bummed too.)

I actually did a minimal amount of research on this issue, and I learned that it was one of the early Batman stories to come from the legendary team of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. I've always loved Neal Adams' artwork, even before I knew who he was. Meeting him at New York Comic Con in October 2010 was an enormous honor. He gave Batman his long ears and flowing cape, and gave the Joker his sinister look. This story, published in September 1973, is the first major departure from the silly Batman stories of the 50s and 60s and established the Joker as the evil, sick, twisted character that we know him as today. I never realized it until now, but it would appear to me that Christopher Nolan has this story to thank for his treatment of the Joker in The Dark Knight just as much as he has The Long Halloween to thank for many of the major plot points.

I really enjoyed this story. It's your standard faire, but knowing that this was essentially the story that re-introduced comic fans to the Joker as a sinister, totally insane clown makes it so much better! I love the Batman-as-detective angle, and I've never really been able to resist a good mystery. I loved seeing the iconic struggle between Batman and the Joker, with Batman's great intellect still keeping him just one or two steps behind the Clown Prince of Crime. It definitely feels like a comic of its day in terms of storytelling and pacing, but with a hint of serious stories (like the aforementioned Long Halloween) that would follow in the future.

Thanks for indulging me for another non-fan review! I love doing these because they open me up to things I would never have experienced otherwise. Tune in next time when I'll answer the age-old question: How do you see the Bat Signal on a clear night without Kryptonian eyes?

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