Bat Signal

Issue 332 – “the Joker’s Last Laugh”

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I was wondering when this time was going to come. I’m kind of shocked that it took so many installments of this series before I hit a Joker issue. Hell, I’ve had two different Riddler stories on here and one about an evil Box before getting to the guy that everyone thinks of as Batman’s archnemesis. I’ve talked a bit before that over the years my interest in the Joker has taken a huge dive. I just don’t find him that compelling a villain, and while the whole idea of a murderous clown that’s hellbent on anarchy and chaos is super awesome when I was in high school, his complete lack of motivation other than just being evil usually leaves us with a really boring character. And honestly I’ve never really been a fan of him being Batman’s defining villain. It’s kind of the same thing with Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, he’s the arch-enemy because the comics keep telling us that’s the case, and because he’s just killed more people Batman loves. I don’t know, maybe that does make you an arch-enemy, but I’ve always been more in the Two Face camp, because I think they just have a more compelling history and chemistry. However, I’m mainly familiar with the Joker from his post 1988 appearances. 1988 was kind of the year that ruined the Joker as a character, because we got the one-two punch of the Killing Joke and Death in the Family where we saw Joker do truly despicable things that just made Joker a monster, and not an interesting character. And from there he went down the slippery slope that led him to be a soulless serial killer who wears his own face like we have today. But I know Joker has had a long life as a character, and while he initially showed up as a horrible monster in his original appearances, there was a large stretch of time where he was more align with his Batman ’66 character, just a weird prankster who was more interested in plotting a plan to pie the mayor in the face then flay him alive. And that’s more the Joker I’m interested in. And look what we got here? Our first Joker story is from 1964, so you better believe we lucked out and got silly Joker instead of monster Joker. So let’s see what Joker’s last laugh shall be.

And just to hammer in the silliness, we open on a newly opened store in Gotham that specifically sells rubies. Nothing but rubies. Sometimes the stores in Gotham are just asking for it. And just on time, as the Red Ruby opens up, a weird station wagon with a sound system hooked up to the roof shows up, and starts blaring out terrible jokes to the crowd gathering to buy rubies. And as the station wagon asks the audience “why did the chicken cross the road?” it’s back opens up, becomes a significantly larger vehicle, and the Joker comes barreling out on what’s either a giant chicken, or a robotic chicken. They don’t explain it, but the crowd starts laughing to the point that they can do nothing to stop the Joker and his giant chicken from getting in the store and making away with all the rubies. That’s where we’re starting folks.

So the Joker and his goons get away with all the rubies while the crowd is still rolling from his awesome chicken joke, and Batman and Robin are called in to investigate. They start cruising around Gotham, trying to find Joker, which isn’t really getting them anywhere. But they get a call from Commissioner Gordon, who lets them know that there’s something shady going on in a place called Harlan Square, so Batman and Robin head over there, only to find a fire truck parked with it’s ladder up to the window of an art gallery. And shockingly, they aren’t actually fire fighters, and it’s just Joker and his goons. They rob the place blind while the crowd gathered to check out the potential fire start cracking up. But as the Joker and his goons get back down to the truck, Batman and Robin show up to stop him…and start laughing their asses off too, giving the Joker ample time to get away while gloating the whole time. And man is it odd to see Batman laughing.

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So that’s a little concerning. Batman is obviously pissed that he was foiled by laughter, so he and Robin make their way back to the Batcave to figure out what the hell just happened. And as they examine themselves they find that they’re both covered in a strange layer of dust, so Batman brushes some off and starts doing some science. And after some rigorous experimentation he finds that the dust comes from something called the  “loco weed” which can give people “fits.” So Batman and Robin deduce that Joker somehow got some of this weed, and manufactured a dust from it that can give people uncontrollable laughing fits. But even with that information, they still need to come up with a proper defense, so Batman heads to his library to try and figure something out. And after consulting his Chemistry Encyclopedia Batman comes across some strange type of medicine known as an anti-histamine. Now, this scene was super strange to me, but who knows, maybe anti-histimine’s were uncommon in the sixties, but Batman and Robin treat these pills like some sort of miracle drug that they’ve never heard of before. And start just popping them like crazy, which should make them groggy as hell, but whatever.

So after overdosing on Benedryls, Batman and Robin head out to stop the Joker, only to find him pulling the same stupid scheme at a loan company, trying to rob it. And just like the other times, there’s a crowd of onlooker just laughing uncontrollably while Joker and his goons rob them blind. But this time Batman and Robin are equipped with their magical wonder drugs, so they’re able to walk right up to Joker, not laughing at all. At which point Joker pulls out a little spray can and douses them with some new gas. And this time the loco weed hasn’t been designed to cause laughing, this time it’s weeping. So Joker and his guys get away while Batman and Robin just cry. Which is pretty hilarious. But Batman isn’t going to stand for this, and fights through the tears to chase after Joker and his station wagon. And after a brief chase, Batman sees him pull over in the outskirts of Gotham. Batman leaps into action and catches the Joker, conveniently right next to a small police station. So Batman, not looking a gift-horse in the mouth, walks into the little jail with the Joker, and shoves him inside a cell, not really caring that it appears devoid of police. And right as he locks the door on Joker’s cell, we learn that this was all an elaborate prank by the Joker, and a turnstile that was under Batman’s feet spin him and Robin into the cell, locking them inside while Joker is free to escape. Which, while super stupid, was pretty great. But what happens next is amazing. Because Robin gives up hope pretty much immediately while Batman gets to work doing something to a stool in the cell, and what he does is this:

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Damn straight Batman was able to whittle an exact replica of the key he saw for only a split second out of the leg of a stool! He’s the goddamn Batman! And of course it works, so Batman and Robin are free from Joker’s weird fake jail…that he built specifically for this prank? I don’t know, Joker seems to have a lot of free time on his hands. The important thing is that Batman and Robin need to go find the Joker, and the only hint they have is that he happened to mention his next plan will get him $50 million. And as usual, Batman has an encyclopedic knowledge of the goings on in Gotham, and knows that a company is getting ready to fire a satellite which is made of platinum, gold, and diamonds soon. Why is a satellite made of $50 million worth of precious metals and stones? Because Gotham is an insane place, that’s why. But since they know about the satellite they head straight over to the television studio where it’s being kept, and manage to stop the Joker from stealing it. Batman and Robin have a big fight with Joker and his goons inside the television studio, while beating him up with camera dollies and microphone wires, and in the end they manage to subdue him and take into jail. And the story ends with the weird last scene of Batman and Robin laughing while the other prisoners psychologically abuse Joker by just mocking him relentlessly in his cell.

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This was some great silly Batman fun. It was pretty similar to a lot of the older Batman stories that I’ve read so far for this series, with Batman and Robin racing around always just a couple minutes too late to actually accomplish anything, which I’m actually growing really fond of. Plus we actually did get some detective work in this one, with Batman using his lab for the first time in this series, learning about the loco weed. Although man was that anti-histamine scene strange. I did a modicum of research on the topic, but couldn’t really figure out when antihistamines became popular, so I’m not sure if this scene was meant to teach people about some miracle breakthrough, or was just completely weird even when it came out. But antihistamines aside, this was a pretty enjoyable little read. I much prefer this version of the Joker, harmlessly robbing places with the help of laughing powder instead of just stabbing everyone in sight. And I also love that he planned ahead, knowing that Batman and Robin would come up with a defense against his laughing powder, and had the crying gas at the ready. But nothing will beat the incredibly elaborate plan to get Batman locked in the jail cell. He purposely got caught only for Batman to just take him into a jail cell that Joker had custom built to spin around and trap Batman. We’ve seen a lot of ridiculous commitment and planning in some of these comics, but I think Joker wins for most man-hours given to his stupid plan to foil Batman. But he should have known not to leave a wooden stool in the cell, because Batman is a renowned artisanal key-maker.

“The Joker’s Last Laugh!” was written by John Broome and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, 1964.

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