Hey there everyone, and welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with essentially no context. And, folks, do I have a story to share with you today. Last week we happened to pull a more recent story, and one which ended up being the first part in a larger narrative, which left us without much of a satisfying conclusion. Which was made especially noticeable when it ended with a bizarre cliffhanger reveal that the main antagonist of the story had actually been the Joker. We got lots of unpleasant Joker from that issue, including him shooting Zatanna in the throat, which didn’t exactly leave a good taste in my mouth. But, the random number generator gods have decided to smile upon us and deliver an absolutely goofy Joker story from the weird period of comics that make up the transition from the Golden Age to the Silver Age. Let’s get ready for some Jokerfied Journalism, folks!
The story begins in a Gotham City prison where the Joker is currently incarcerated. He’s brought in to meet the Warden, and is informed that he’s been given a new job inside the prison. For reasons that aren’t explained, the Warden has decided that the Joker should start running the prison newspaper. Why does a prison have its own newspaper? Why, to write stories about criminals being caught, seemingly to just harass the inmates. Which really doesn’t seem like the best idea, but I’m not a comic book Warden, so who knows. Because what we do know is that it’s pretty effective. The Joker is miserable working on this little paper, and begins planning an escape. Luckily, he’s apparently needed at an upcoming trial, which will necessitate him being taken out of the prison and brought to a courthouse. Which gives his goons the perfect time to drive up to the car he’s being kept in and douse in it Joker gas, incapacitating the guards, and letting the Joker escape. They they bring him back to his hideout, where he announces he’s making some changes in their organization.
Yep, the Joker has decided that instead of his usual crimes and shenanigans, he wants to start a criminal-themed newspaper. So, he lays low for a few weeks, and puts together his own newspaper operation. They get printing presses, offices, and the Joker starts dressing like a newspaper editor. And it pays off. Joker’s Journal starts being distributed to all of the lowlifes and hoods of Gotham City, and it’s a huge success. The paper has comics about how lame Batman in, advertisements for gunrunners and hideouts, interviews with people complaining about the Dynamic Duo, and even a classified section where the Joker is selling specially planned crimes to the highest bidder. It’s spreading crime in Gotham and it’s making the Joker a mint. Which means Batman is upset.
But, he doesn’t know how to find the Joker. So, he devises a crazy plan. Batman designs a disguise and character which he calls Knuckles Groat, and makes a perfect decoy to get the Joker’s attention. “Groat” goes to a criminal bar, and hires an actor to dress up like Batman and raid the bar. “Groat” then throws a drink in Batman’s face, and flees from the bar, only to return in just a few minutes claiming he escaped the Caped Crusader. This story greatly amuses the Joker, and he ends up ordering Groat to be brought to the office so he can offer him a job. Groat accepts, and gets a job as in advertising for the Joker’s paper, meaning Bruce can now learn the secrets to all of the criminal hideouts and fronts in Gotham.
Bruce then immediately starts taking down the Joker’s biggest advertisers. His first “account visit” is with a gunrunner who operates secretly out of a salvage yard. So, once “Groat” goes to meet with the criminals, he switches to his Batman costume and starts ruining the operation, beating up the head of the gang and bringing in Commissioner Gordon to clean everything up. The Joker finds this a little worrisome, but is mainly occupied with his larger plan, which is to release all of his crime ideas into Gotham, flooding the town with supervillain heists. But, before he can worry about that Bruce ruins another couple plans. He finds a smuggler ring operating out of a dog food factory and a counterfeit operation working out of a paper factory.
And, apparently even the Joker can recognize a pattern. So, Knuckles Groat is brought into the Joker’s office, and is attacked by Joker’s goons. Apparently Bruce has somehow been wearing his Batman costume under his Groat costume, so that when they remove the Groat face they still find the Batcowl, and the Joker realizes he’s found a fun new game. Instead of killing Batman, he’s going to torment him by making him a copy boy! And, after humiliating him that way, the Joker even sets up a photoshoot with Batman in a dunce cap. However, this gives Batman his chance out. He manages to smudge a chalkboard that the Joker set up, so that it read ELM ST, the location of the Joker’s little operation. Which means that when this picture gets put in the latest edition of his paper Robin is able to come along with the police and raid the compound. The Joker is then arrested, and Batman even reveals that he messed up all of his secret crime plans, making it so that anyone who uses them is immediately caught by the cops.
This issue is an absolute delight. I know I’m in the vast minority, but I really prefer this type of Joker story. I’m completely over the grimdark serial killer clown stories that have to one-up themselves each time, getting more and more horrifying. Give me a story where the Joker decides to run a newspaper for criminals any day of the week! It’s just such an incredibly solid idea. Gotham City is absolutely overflowing with criminals, and I’m kind of shocked that I’ve never seen an idea like this before. The fact that it’s the Joker who is running the newspaper, while cosplaying a newspaper editor no less, it just the icing on the cake. Really, the only part of the story that I didn’t enjoy was Batman’s plan. I mean, he’s not being very subtle. Infiltrating the paper makes complete sense, but he ends up playing his hand immediately, getting the attention of the Joker right away. It’s then just luck that he’s saved. Not exactly World’s Greatest Detective material. But, despite that quibble, this is an incredibly fun little story that I ended up enjoying quite a bit.
“The Joker’s Journal” was written by David Vern Reed, penciled by Bob Kane and Lew Sayre Schwartz, and inked by Charles Paris, 1953.
Categories: Bat Signal