Book Review: The Joker, A Celebration Of 75 Years

The essence of the batman vs. Joker dynamic in “The Sign Of The Joker” Detective Comics #476 (1978).

Batman is popular, but that’s due in large part to his villainous Rogues Gallery. Of all those villains, none is such a cultural icon as The Joker. 

I’ve been a Joker fan since the early 1990s, and I’ve read a lot of Joker comic books. I got away from comics for a few years, but I still make a point of checking out these best of collections to make sure I have a handle on current interpretations of the character, how modern fans are defining the character, and what he industry sees as the best Joker stories. The tales chosen for each collection are pretty telling, and The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years  is no exception. 

“Batman vs. the Joker” Batman #1 (1940).

The book starts with pretty standard choices: Joker’s first appearance and his reappearance in the 1940s, and some Golden Age selections like “Joker’s Millions.” These are good foundations for someone new to Joker and Batman’s dynamic and gives some good background before moving to newer stuff. The 70s-90s selections are particularly good: standards like “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” through “A Death in the Family.” There is some attempt to include standalone issues in larger tales that sometimes feel forced — part two of “Going Sane” feels a bit off here, especially considering the lack of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, even Tim Sale Joker interpretations.

“The Laughing Fish”/“The Sign of The Joker” Detective Comics #475-476 (1978).

There are classic Joker stories starting with his first appearance in Batman #1 in which he’s a strange psychopath without empathy and murdering for profit. Classic tales like “The Laughing Fish”, famously adapted to an episode of the same name in Batman the Animated Series, are always a joy to reread. Then there’s a smattering of Rebirth Joker. If you’re not familiar with that story line, you’ve probably still seen the result — Joker wearing his own torn off face as a mask.

Eww.

It’s not the best story line, admittedly, but it’s here because it’s what DC wants to make popular. Rebirth is a bit like “fetch” though: you can’t just make it happen. 

Rebirth Joker being decidedly extra in “But Here’s the Kicker” Batman #15 (2012).

Overall, this is a solid Joker collection. Definitely gives insight into the character and why he stands in a prominent position within pop culture and the DC Universe. I strongly suggest reading other storylines though afterwards that this book notably left off the list. There are plenty of other great Joker stories out there that aren’t #edgy like the Rebirth line. Try “The Best Man” parts 1 and 2 (Batman #48-49, 2018) for example, Batman: White Knight, or Batman: The Dark Prince Charming. These are all very recent, relevant stories that get at more nuance.

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Look at this magnificent bastard in “…Sleep in Heavenly Peace…” Detective Comics #741 (2000).

So what’s in this collection? Lots of different stories painting the character in broad strokes. The stories here cover Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comics. The book divides these periods up according to Joker’s various portrayals.

  • The Grim Jester (1940-1942)
  • The Clown Prince (1943 – 1972)
  • The Harlequin of Hate (1973 – 1990)
  • Archnemesis (1991 – 2010)
  • Rebirth (2011 – Present)

I’ll likely review each of these individually, but overall it’s a pretty solid collection for new Joker fans. 

Classic exploding cigar Joker time in “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” Batman #251 (1973).

The character endures because of his versatility. He adapts to each new fashion trend, each new philosophy, each ear with grace and skill. He’s the perfect villain: clever and murderous but with a killer sense of humor. But you can see his character devolve in Rebirth era comics into #edgy without good reason. But I digress, that’s a tale for another time.

And I admit it: I love this Brian Bolland cover art.

Find my original review on Goodreads here and follow me there.

If you like Joker stories, check out my review of Batman: Europa here.

Pick up the book for yourself here.


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