Tuesday, 1 February 2011

First tale of the ... Joker

I thought it might be an idea to go back to the very first apperance of the Clown Prince Of Crime (God, what a crappy title) to see what was there from the off and how different he was to his modern incarnation.
So, Batman number 1 it is, dated Spring 1940.

He's not on the cover but there he is on the splash page of his tale, straight away showing the influence of Conrad Veidt in "The Man Who Laughs". And he's clearly in purple and gloves. Alex Ross in his excellent Mythlology book claims at the start he was clad in black with the purple only a highlighting device. Hmmmm... looks solid purple to me Alex. He's called The Grim Jester here but there's not that much in the way of comedy about him in the tale that unfolds.

On the second page we learn that the Joker is already known to the police and his trademark deaths grin for his victims is already established. Page 3 has the big introduction to the fella, sitting in some sort of trophy room "...with a changeless, mask-like face - but for the eyes.. burning, hate filled eyes!" Okay, another reference to "The Man Who Laughs" - the character in it has his mouth cut into a permanent smile by gypsies, so that no matter what he's feeling he smiles all the time. Next panels a close-up though and - he ain't smiling. That and the next panel he appears more Sherlock Holmes than Veidt. Also on this page we learn that Batman has known about the Joker for some time but "the time isn't ripe". He says that after the Joker has already bragged over the radio that he'll kill a gem owner and does, then announces a second. So, he knows the Joker will strike that first time and did nothing. He allows the second to happen. And only steps in at the third attack. Er... What?

Anyway, step in he does and, for the decades of clashes between the two that will follow, their first ain't 'arf a damp sqib - Bats holds on to the Jokers bright red getaway car while the Joker whips his gun out. The car crashes, the Joker hits Batman once, kicks him once and he falls in the river. That's it.

Batman seems quite pleased though, climbing out the river believing he has "at last met a foe that can give me a good fight!". Puta a damper on all the crooks, the vampire, hunchback and giant gorilla he'd already faced by then, yes?

Final shot of the Joker in this tale is classic Veidt, leering out of the regular State Prison, bragging that he'd be out soon.

So, the very first Joker tale presents him pretty much fully formed. Design-wise, he's not going to change really for 50 years or so - and why should he when its such a classic? The character's already there and won't change either. All that's missing are the outlandish props and plots of later years.
But you could say that of The Batman too.

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