Following on from yesterdays article in which Jule’s made his case for what would be “The Essential (and entirely subjective) Batman“, in which a list of great Batman stories which are somewhat off the beaten track were recommended.
So I have taken the baton to give what I think is THE essential Batman story. No collection is complete without it and no Batfan should be without having read it.
Of course I refer to Batman #251 which featured a story called “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge!”
This issue of Batman which hit racks in 1973, diverged from the established conventions of The Joker, his actions and his interactions with Batman, which at that point were more in line with a prankster or mild annoyance more than a wildcard killer. Despite it being rightfully recognised by many as the measuring stick for a more hard edged take on The Joker, it can often get ordered at the back of the deck, superficially some fans consider the late 80’s where Death in The Family, Killing Joke and Dark Knight Returns were gaining Batman and his nemesis a new level of recognition as the defining period for both.
Part of the reason for the success of this issue and it’s intent is the creative team on it, after all it is hard to think of all time great groupings to have handled Batman without Adams and O’Neil springing to mind.
The pre – crisis Batman started to heat up as the 70’s began, the previous decade was pretty absent of any real grit favouring wacky storylines with aliens, an ever expanding Bat-Family and a largely neutered rogues gallery, that isn’t to diminish it since even that period has it’s fans. Straight from the outset this story makes it clear that this isn’t the same Joker who would set elaborate and tame pranks such as trying to cover Wayne Manor in paint from oversized tubes.
The story works pretty well as a self contained unit, with the plot ultimately being resolved by the end of the issue, O’Neil does a great job of scripting a cat and mouse game as Joker tracks down his old gang knowing that one of them was a snitch.. It was said Snitch’s testimony sent him to jail and so he picks them off one by one, a he murders each Batman finds it harder to stop him from getting to the next victim.
Perfectly paired with O’Neil scripting this story was Adams, this was during their phenomenal run on Batman (previously having ingratiated R’as and the League of Assassin’s into the mythos). Adams oft imitated but rarely bettered penciling work on Batman is at a highpoint here, the panels flow really well making the action seem logical and well paced, which helps to raise the stakes in the story as we can see Batman struggle within the situations the Joker lead him towards.
Tomorrow is Batman Day (the 26th of September), which is hard to ignore if you follow the blog or social media feeds, as I have given my recommendation for a great Batman story then perhaps one of the other guys or gals will add their inclusion. In the meantime you can find Batman #251 in the usual places, it is often reprinted and will be featured within next year’s Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Omnibus.
The writer of this piece was:
Gary Kane aka (GK)
GK tweets from @Kanoclassic