Of all the Batman villains, the Joker is my favorite; I love him in all his inclinations, be it funny Joker, mean Joker…well, I guess there are just the two inclinations. Anyway, little did I know that in the late 1970’s, he had his own comic book series, and recently, DC Comics decided to put those nine issues of The Joker: The Clown Prince of Crime together in a collected trade. I was curious to see what kind of hijinks Joker would get up to on his own, so I picked up a copy to see what the funny man does on his Batman-less days.
Unlike the current crop of books that collect multiple issues forming a distinct storyline, these nine stories are all different from one another. There are some recurring characters — mainly members of Joker’s gang — but for the most part, each story begins and ends in an issue. A lot of Batman villain favorites show up here (mainly to antagonize Joker) like Two-Face and Catwoman. We also get appearances from DC heroes like Green Arrow and Black Canary so as to provide some kind of good vs. evil element to the stories. Plus, there is Sherlock Holmes! Well, a man who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes, that is. Each story is a short and sweet comic vignette, so the book can be read piecemeal or all in one sitting, if one’s in the mood for Joker’s bad jokes and his weird Joker-mobile that has his face on the hood.
This collection is written and illustrated by a variety of great talent including Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano, and many others. The visual style throughout the book is indicative of 1970s and 1980s cartooning style. It’s very bright and colorful, almost to the point of oversaturation, which works well for Joker – I mean, look at the man’s hair and his clothes! Characters are drawn relatively realistically with exaggerated motion and action lines. When backgrounds are not drawings of real things like a building or trees, they are usually solid colors of, again, an extremely vivid nature; yellow seems to be a popular one in this set of stories. So although the illustrations border on realism, the extreme coloring and background fillers really make the book seem more cartoony than it actually is, which fits with these stories: they are over the top and campy, and so are the accompanying illustrations.
The stories are fantastical, like Joker himself, and these nine issues go a long way. I enjoyed reading them, but I was okay with the series being wrapped up in this small number of comics. I love me some Joker, but I love him in relation to Batman, and I was sorry that Batman was nowhere to be found in this collection. That makes sense in a Joker-titled comic, I guess, but it doesn’t mean that I missed him any less.
All in all, I liked these stories; I’m glad that I was able to read them, but this isn’t a series that I will revisit again and again like other Joker stories that I enjoy (like Death in the Family or The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge), but Batman fans will chuckle and smile, and it’s kind of nice to see the villain have his place in the sun occasionally, isn’t it?
The Joker: the Clown Prince of Crime
by Dennis O’Neil, Elliot S. Maggin, and Martin Pasko
Art by Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Ernie Chen, Vince Colletta, Tex Blaisdell, and Frank McLaughlin
DC Comics, 2013