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Robert Greenberger

by Robert Greenberger

The Joker: The Bronze Age Omnibus

Thanks to the ABC Batman television series, the Clown prince of crime was a lot more a prankster than the murderous, grotesque figure from his first appearance in Batman #1. As a new era dawned, the Joker was ready to get back to his roots, much as his arch nemesis. He took pleasure in a renewal of popularity as witnessed by the diverse collection of stories coming as The Joker: The Bronze Age Omnibus.

While this mammoth hardcover collects lots of of the most familiar covers and stories, notably Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, and Terry Austin’s “The laughing Fish” from Detective Comics #475-476, there are lots of interesting stories that haven’t seen the light of day considering that initial publication.

Batman #251

It all started with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, who had taken the mythos back to its gothic pulp origins so Batman #251, from summer 1973, kicked it off. This figure was a killer; a deadly opponent and clearly certifiable.

The problem was, this was hard to sustain. So between that story and the ‘Tec tale, we had a large spectrum of personas, each one plaguing the Caped Crusader, less deadly than the first story but certainly not as harmless as his 1950s and 1960s incarnation. That’s right away obvious in the second tale, from Batman #260 as O’Neil, Irv Novick, and Dick Giordano give us a serviceable story, guest starring green Arrow, Speedy, and Superman. The same can be said for #286’s tale from O’Neil, Novick, and Bob Wiacek.

Batman #291

Things don’t get interesting until the four-part “Where were you when Batman was Killed?” which ran from issues #291-294. Under a quartet of swell Jim Aparo covers, David Vern (writing as David V. Reed), John Calnan, and Tex Blaisdell gather the most familiar rogues at Batman’s graveside. for each installment, Catwoman, Riddler, and Lex Luthor each tell a tale, claiming to be the killer. The Joker concludes the testimony before the Gotham Guardian proves he was very much still alive. When published, it was a quiet tiny event and it’s great to have here.

More familiar is the terrific tale from issue #321 by Len Wein, Walter Simonson, and Giordano under a memorable Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez cover. Not long after, Gerry Conway arrived as writer and Batman and Detective were treated as one story on a biweekly basis so you can see some of the sub-plotting in play with the tale from issue #353, with charming Garcia-Lopez and Dan Adkins artwork.

Batman #366

Conway was replaced by Moench with Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala settling in for the art chores and the two-parter from issues #365-366 are memorable for the Simonson cover and Jason Todd dying his hair and emerging as the second Robin.

Detective Comics #504

Detective #504, with a great Jim Starlin cover, features a tale from Conway, Newton and Adkins while #526, celebrating his 500th appearance in the title, pitted Batman against a cadre of his foes, set up by his most current villain, killer Croc. The issue is noteworthy for Jason Todd’s discovery of the Batcave and pertaining to aid the Dark Knight, setting him up as Dick Grayson’s replacement. A few issues later in #532, Moench, gene Colan, and Bob Smith show how they handled the maniacal criminal.

It’s an all-hands on deck affair for the 400th issue of Batman by Moench with some genuinely outstanding art from John Byrne, Steve Lightle and Bruce Patterson, George Pérez, bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams and Terry Austin, Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran, Steve Leialoha, Joe Kubert, Ken Steacy, Rick Leonardi and Karl Kesel, and Brian Bolland. The Joker is just one villain in this standalone tale.

The brave and the bold #111

So popular was the Joker that he was paired with his foe by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo for The brave and The bold #111. Editor Murray Boltinoff was so pleased with the sales action to the story that he returns for issue #118 (with Wildcat), and as identify team affair as Batman, the Atom, and green Arrow took on the Joker and Two-Face for issues #129-130; and Black Canary joined in the fun for issue #141. Writers Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn joined Aparo for #191’s story, which also featured the Penguin.

DC Comics presents #41

Speaking of team-ups, once Superman began partnering with people in DC Comics Presents, the Joker seemed an inevitable matchup although it took until issue #41. Here, Martin Pasko, Garcia-Lopez, and Frank McLaughlin used The Prankster to lure the clown to Metropolis. He reappeared in issue #72 from Paul Kupperberg, Alex Saviuk, and Dennis Jensen as Maaldor the Darklord threatened Superman’s sanity so the Phantom stranger brought in an expert to help.

The Joker #1

Someone thought it might be a good idea to give The Joker his own bimonthly series even though the Comics Code Authority still insisted that criminals could not win. That verified problematic as Arkham Asylum began to earn its track record for having a revolving door instead of a gate, but O’Neil was game to try writing it then ran for the hills and was replaced by Elliot S! Maggin and Martin Pasko. Novick kicked off the art but in time was spelled by Garcia-Lopez and Ernie Chan. To lure readers, the Joker faced off against Two-Face, Willie the Weeper, the Creeper (himself enjoying a renewal at the time), green Arrow, Black Canary, royal Flush Gang, Sherlock Holmes (no kidding), Lex Luthor, the Scarecrow and, of course, Catwoman.

A tenth issue was promised but was never published and it was believed the art had been returned or lost until Pasko found photocopies of the completed issue in 2011. While seen here and there, this will be the first time the story, “99 and 99/100% Dead,” with art from Novick and Vince Colletta, will be printed in its entirety. Pasko has written that he received “a plotting assist from Paul Kupperberg, in which The Joker tells a psychiatrist of his efforts to kill the Justice League, of whom we meet green Arrow, wonder woman and the Flash. It’s not a self-contained story, but rather was planned as the first part of a 2- or 3-issue arc.”

Wonder woman #281

Finally, there’s the Earth-2 Joker who is represented in a serial from wonder woman #280-283, where the aging criminal was hunted down by his foe’s daughter the Huntress. The story from Joey Cavalieri and Joe Staton was taut and dramatic, well worth a re-read.

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