This Wednesday, DC Comics will be releasing the landmark 1000th issue of the longest-running comic book published in America, Detective Comics. Yup, if you look the word “landmark” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Alex Ross’s variant cover.
Go ahead. Check it out.
I’m a fan of Alex’s, both his work and his own self. But I really like this cover not only because it is a true tribute to Batman, who (not-coincidentally) turns 80 this week, but because it doesn’t have The Joker on it.
Now, trust me on this one too: the real reason Detective Comics #1000 is called #1000 is not because of its linear numbering. It’s because there are 1000 different variant covers. Hey, kids! Collect them all!
No. Don’t bother. I’m sure DC will release a hardcover reprinting them. And I’m pretty sure I’ll buy it. But this week I am not ranting about the crisis of infinite variants, but, knowing me I probably will in the future.
Uh-uh. This week I’m ranting about The Joker.
When I saw Michael Cho’s variant, my first reaction was not “wow, what a cool tribute to Shelly Moldoff.” Nor was it “wow, what a cool tribute to my precocious childhood.” It was this, and I said it out loud as though I’d impress our cats. You’ll note the ersatz story is titled “Too Many Batmans.”
I said “Ha! You mean “too many Jokers!” Seriously. My reaction took the broad view for a change.
I grew up during the dead zone of great Batman villains. Appearances of The Joker, Catwoman, the Penguin et al were very few and very far between. They interfered with all those space aliens and robots and monsters the Dynamic Duo took on in DC’s nearly-successful attempt to crush the second of their crown jewels. It’s possible that somebody thought these baddies might incur the wrath of the (then) all-powerful Comics Code of America. Whatever. When any of the Big Bads appeared, it was a big deal.
Then editorial director Irwin Donenfeld decided Batman was about to crash into the ground and he made the sound most successful decision in his comics career: he did a Hail Mary and gave the franchise to The Great Resurrector (is that a mixed metaphor?), Julius Schwartz, who brought in Carmine Infantino, Gar Fox and John Broome to do an overhaul. Later they were joined by the likes of Denny O’Neil, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo and Marshall Rogers – and many more of that caliber. Of course, the teevee show came down the pike and brought the whole thing off.
They brought back the Big Bads, but – get this – they used them judiciously. It was still a big deal when I saw The Joker on the cover. And when The Penguin was cover-featured, I almost lost my tiny little fanboy mind.
Let’s flash-forward (sorry) to… today.
These days, does DC Comics publish any comic books without The Joker? On a percentage basis, he shows up more frequently than Sam Jackson appears in Marvel Studios movies. I swear, if DC were to resurrect Sugar and Spice in their original form, The Joker would appear in the second issue.
Holy crap. I think I just gave Keith Giffen an idea.
This is not to say that there haven’t been some truly excellent Joker stories. DC is not out to defy the law of averages, and the recent Batman #49 (volume whatever) was one of the best Joker stories since Laughing Fish. And Batman wasn’t even in it. But outside of a few stories, The Joker has appeared so frequently that he’s got mini-Jokers such as Harley Quinn and… The Batman’s Daughter? That one raises issues I’d rather not contemplate. Ever.
And now we’ve got a Batmanless Joker movie. And a Batmanless Birds of Prey movie, starring Harley Quinn, who also returns (or so it is said) in Suicide Squad II. Also Batmanless, but Jared Leto is expected to provide The Joker’s shits and grins. We have no Batman movie, nor do we have an actor to play Batman on the silver screen. But we’ve got plenty of Jokers.
Which is one hell of a straight line.
The Joker might appreciate that… if he only had the time.