Bat Signal

Issue 109 – “The House That Jokes Built”

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Howdy everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order. And look what we have today. The Joker’s up to some masonry mischief! Well, unfortunately that’s not actually what we’re getting. This is yet another example of Detective Comics providing us with a very misleading cover. Also, I would kind of take umbrage with that bit of ad-copy saying that we’re in for a “super-goofy adventure” this week. Because I wouldn’t really qualify the events of this issue as super goofy. It’s actually a very odd example of the transition Joker took from homicidal clown criminal to toothless prankster who was trying to throw pies at Batman, but still leaning more on the murder than the silliness. I mean, unless you think death by hanging is super-goofy. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s get on with the issue.

Things start off with the Joker, fresh from escaping prison, heading out to cause some chaos and make some money. The money seems to be his primary goal, since all of his prank-based murders end with him just looting his victim’s corpses. First we see him mail a copy of a joke book to a stuffy investment broker, only for the book to release some gas and asphyxiate him so Joker can stroll in and take his money. Next he puts an empty wallet on the ground while waiting behind a fence so that when a miserly millionaire walks by to pick up the discarded wallet the Joker can just pick his pocket and steal his cash. At least that guy got off alive. And the next batch will do okay too, because Joker is planning on sneaking into the swanky Crocus Club, pretend to be the new porter while wearing some contacts (no idea how he doesn’t think the white skin will be a give-away) and then spray the rich people inside with tear gas so that he can rob them while they’re incapacitated.

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And it’s at this Crocus Club that Joker’s plan hits a snag, because it just so happens that to of the visitors of the club that evening are Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. They’ve been wondering when Joker would make an appearance after escaping prison, and quickly change into their crime-fighting costumes to attack the Clown Prince of Crime. Joker is obviously shocked to find the Dynamic Duo suddenly raining on his parade, but he manages to think quickly and sprays Batman in the face with the tear gas, causing Batman to collapse on the ground while the Joker escapes.

But Robin manages to get out of the attack unscathed, and gives chase, following Joker out of the club and into the night. Unfortunately there’s some sort of laundry delivery going on outside of the club, and Robin collides into the worker, falling onto the ground. Joker then grabs Robin, stuffs him into the laundry bag, and escapes with his new kidnapped victim. He hops in the laundry deliver truck and drives off to a hideout where he hangs Robin up on the wall, still in the laundry sack. Joker then comes up with a plan to vanquish Batman, and buys an ad in the newspaper that leads Batman to a certain rooftop at 10 pm that night where they’ll discuss Robin’s freedom. Batman obviously thinks that there’s a trap involved, but goes to stake out the location anyway. And when 10 pm arrives, something surprising happens.

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Yep, a poison-tipped arrow is launched from a secret crossbow, directly at Batman. Luckily, the Caped Crusader has lightning quick reflexes, and he’s able to duck and avoid the arrow. He also notices that there’s a not attached to the arrow, confirming that it’s laced with poison, and giving Batman and address to head to if he survived the arrow. So Batman heads off to the new address, and finds that it’s a run-down derelict house. Obviously sensing some traps Batman cases the building, and finds another note inside the house. But he knows that the Joker will have left a trap, so he slowly opens the door while crouching, anticipating another arrow. But this time the Joker had just set up a bucket of acid to drop down on whoever opened the door, and because Batman was being cautious he managed to avoid it again. So he gets inside, finds the letter, and is given yet another address to head to.

However, when Batman gets to the new house he finds that things are very different here. The Joker is actually inside and waiting for him, and the whole house is full of ridiculous traps. All starting with a staircase that becomes a slide, dropping Batman down to a bed of spikes. He manages to avoid being impaled, and climbs the banister to get to the Joker, only to drop down into a trap door at the top of the stairs. Batman gets out of the trap door, and chases Joker through the house, eventually reaching Robin tied up in the sack. But when Batman enters the room he’s suddenly trapped by some metal bands, holding him captive. Joker then shows up, puts a noose around Batman’s neck, and announces that Robin’s weight in the dangling sack will now slowly pull the noose, strangling Batman. Robin starts trying to fight back, swinging in the sack to hopefully get an arm out and stop things. It takes a while, and Batman seems to succumb to the strangulation, but Robin finally gets an arm out and stops the process, freeing Batman as well. Joker then tries to flee again, but ends up getting punched by Batman and landing on a box full of fire ants he was going to pour on Robin, while the Dynamic Duo laugh at his pain. They then arrest him and Joker is given 100 years in prison, until he escapes again.

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This is a fine issue, but nothing overly special. I’ve talked about it a lot before, but I’m not the biggest fan of the Joker in general, but this issue at least has some interesting things going on with his portrayal. This wasn’t quite the silly prankster from the Silver Age, but he was at least a little tamer than the older issues when he was a straight-up serial killer in clown makeup. It ends up giving this issue a very strange feeling, seeing Joker kill an investment banker on one page and then just pickpocket another man on the next. It feels like they were told to tone down Joker a bit, but they were still able to get some murder in here. It’s strange to see Joker make some rich people cry while robbing them a the beginning of the issue while then also seeing Joker try to cause Robin’s weight to snap Batman’s neck later on. It’s just kind of an odd issue that ends up being more interesting than entertaining. It also wasn’t super goofy. Maybe next time.

“The House that Jokes Built” was written by Don Cameron and penciled and inked by Win Mortimer, 1946.

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