Comicscape: Batman and The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years (Mania.com)

By:Tim Janson
Date: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Source: Mania.com

Following up on 2013’s Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years, DC delivers two new archive editions: one celebrating Batman and the other one the Joker.  The book begins with the obligatory reprinting of Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27.  Hand in hand with Detective #27 comes Batman #1 which tells the Caped Crusader’s origin for the first time and even though its only two pages in length it’s an obvious must-include.
 
Oddly the book only contains two more stories from the 1940s including “Accidentally on Purpose” from 1944 which features a new-look Alfred who spends his holiday at a health resort to lose weight, forever giving us the slim and trim Alfred we know today.  I have never been a fan of the Batman stories of the 1950s and 1960s.  The camp silliness of Batman dealing with aliens and other goofball threats are a low point in his history. The exceptions were the stories, and three of them are included in the book, written by Edmond Hamilton.  Hamilton was one of the top Sci-Fi writers of the 40s and 50s and one of the few writers to cross over into comics.  His Sci-Fi skills are utilized in “The Batman of Tomorrow” as Bruce Wayne has to call on the aid of a Batman from a future timeline to aid him when he is injured.
 
The Dark Knight Batman would not return until 1970 courtesy of the team of Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil in “The Secret of the Waiting Graves”.  While I personally think that O’Neil wrote better Batman stories than this one, there is no doubt that Adams is one of the premiere Batman artists of all-time.
 
Here is part of the problem with the book in a nutshell.  The first 31 years of Batman’s existence only get 131 pages of the book while the last 44 years get 300 pages so it is definitely very modern-heavy.  We get stories from the remarkable run of Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers and an offbeat but fun story from DC Special Series #21 featuring a story by O’Neill and Frank Miller.  Jim Aparo who worked on Batman throughout the 80s and into the 90s gets a little bit of a short shrift if you ask me.  Aparo was also the regular artist on Brave and the Bold for 10 years but he gets included only once, in the climactic issue of the Knightfall storyline when Batman has his back broken by Bane in Batman #497.
 
While its overall a solid collection, I could have done without Brad Meltzer’s reimagining of Detective Comics #27 to close out the book as well as some of the mid-80s Mike Barr stories which were average at best. Mania Grade: B

 

No super villain is more associated with a superhero than The Joker is with Batman.  Over the course of 75 years The Joker has gone from homicidal maniac, to cheesy, goofball clown, to even more terrifying homicidal maniac.  With Batman celebrating his 75 years in 2014 DC has released this archive edition feature some of the greatest Joker stories to appear in the various Batman titles over the decades.
 
The book starts with his first appearance in Batman #1 from 1940, written by Bill Finger with art by Bob Kane.  The Joker as we know him today wasn’t so different back in this debut tale.  This story introduces the Joker’s poison which causes its victims to die a horrible death, leaving a wide grin on their faces as they choke out their final breath.  The Joker kills several people in this story and even attempts to kill Batman, shooting him point blank several times.  Only Batman’s bulletproof vest saves him.  The tale may come as a shock to modern day comic book fans that look back on early comics as silly stuff written for kids; clearly not in the case of The Joker.
 
When we see The Joker next in Batman #5, Kane has the benefit of being inked by Jerry Robinson who gave the art a much cleaner and sharp look.  The second chapter covers a period of the mid-1940s to the early 1970s.  During this era the Comic Book code caused publishers to scale back the violence and the Joker became more of a clown-like antagonist, often frustrating Batman and Robin with silly stunts and traps.  The artists of the day, particularly Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff, depicted the Joker with a highly exaggerated grin.  One key story from this era is “The Man Behind the Red Hood” from 1951.  This story relates how the Joker was a criminal calling himself The Red Hood.  He pulled off a robbery, making his escape by swimming through a pool of waste chemicals which turned his hair green and his skin white.
 
The Joker would not return to his sinister, homicidal side until the 1970s when legendary creators Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams teamed on Batman #251.  One of the greatest runs of Detective Comics is highlighted with stories from #475 and #476 by Steve Englhart, Marshall Rogers, and Terry Austin.  Other modern day stories in the book include the final part of the “Death in the Family” storyline where The Joker murders the Jason Todd version of Robin; “Going Sane” which finds a Joker regaining his sanity after he believes Batman is dead.  
 
 
In all The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years features twenty stories ranging from 1940 to 2012 by a host of an incredible group of artists and writers.  Certainly there may be better Joker stories that are not included due to length such as The Killing Joke but in general the book provides an outstanding cross-section of 75 years of Joker stories. Mania Grade: A-

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