Bat Signal

Issue 504 – “The Joker’s Rumpus Room Revenge!”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with basically no context. And, as you may be able to surmise from both the title of this issue, and the cover, we are in for a fascinating little ride into the weird world of Batman this week. It’s been a painful lesson during the years that this project has been going on that you can’t always trust the covers of Detective Comics to deliver on the insane promises they make, but that is not something to worry about this week. Because we’re getting some really weird, late-Bronze Age Joker here, possibly the strangest and most fascinating era the character ever had. So, buckle up and get ready to take a trip to the Joker’s rumpus room!

The issue begins with the Joker slinking around the streets of Gotham one moonlit night, getting his bearing after a large amount of time away. For some reason the issue doesn’t tell us it’s the Joker for quite a while, and it even has second-person narration boxes to throw that off, but there’s literally no reason that it’s structured like this, and it’s immediately clear who it is, so there’s no reason to play around with it. Anyway, the Joker slips into the home/workshop of a local toymaker named Papetto (lol, wut?) to collect on a special commission he ordered. He’s made the Joker a specially designed cymbal monkey, and it’s clear he’s built several other toys for the Joker. And, as a reward, the Joker squirts Pepetto with some of his Joker toxin, leaving the man dead. Which eventually leads to Commissioner Gordon, some Gotham City cops, and of course Batman to show up and investigate.

 

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So yeah, this is clearly a Joker murder, and the Joker is currently free. Batman then prepares to examine the crime scene, when a city council member, and current mayoral candidate, named Arthur Reeves shows up with a news crew. Reeves has been campaigning on a strong anti-Batman platform, and he’s arrived to complain about Batman’s involvement in the case. And Batman responds with open hostility before taking a sample of some mud from a boot print that he assumes is from the Joker. Batman brings the sample back to the Bat Cave and sets it up to analyze before taking care of some of his duties as Bruce Wayne, which are incredibly strange.

Bruce has to attend a special event at a local glamorous department store where the world’s most expensive train-set is being displayed. Gotham City is insane, folks. Anyway, almost immediately a cloud of some pink gas starts to settle on the attendees, and they all start laughing uncontrollably. Bruce however was able to put on a filter, before changing into his Batman costume, right as the Joker shows up. He rappels from the ceiling, laughing at all the suffering victims of his gas attack, and gets ready to steal the train-set. The Joker then quickly retracts his rappel, not giving Batman the time to apprehend him. He is able to throw a grappling hook at the Joker, but only manages to pull off his little fake parachute and one of his boots. But, that’s enough evidence to send Batman down the right path. Because the boot has the same mud from the toy shop, and it only could be from two areas of Gotham. And, it just so happens that the parachute was saturated with a chemical involved in industrial ice cream production, and there’s an ice cream factory in one of the areas that has the mud. So, the Joker is hanging out in the abandoned Happy Humor Ice Cream Factory. Batman’s then able to sneak into the factory, when he finds himself in a trap.

 

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Yep, Batman’s been tricked. Apparently the Joker planned this entire time, purposefully leaving behind clues that would send Batman to this ice cream factory that he’s transformed into a rumpus room-themed death-trap. The Joker peeks out of a small little window like he’s in an episode of Laugh In, where he starts to taunt Batman. This obviously leads to Batman getting mad and attempting to punch the Joker, but he just scurries out of the little window, and shuts it. He then activates the litany of toys that Pepetto made for him, all of which have been specially designed to kill him.

There’s a giant jack-in-the-box that’s dressed like the Joker as a samurai that has a katana to slice Batman with, and the rest of the toys are designed to latch onto Batman and drag him closer to the samurai to get impaled. He’s attacked by a steel rocking horse that smashes into his legs, the cymbal monkey that tasers him, and several others that keep him occupied. The Joker assumes that his toys have killed Batman after some sufficient time of silence, and peeks back through his window to check. Which is when Batman knocks him out having figured out a way to jam the murder toys up. Batman’s then able to whip a batarang at a giant vat of ice cream that’s still in this abandoned factory for some reason, and the Joker is covered in goop, ending the issue like one of those old Hostess ads that used to be in comics.

 

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This issue is pretty fun. There’s not much to it, and it kind of swings around wildly in tone, but it’s still a pretty solid issue of Detective Comics. We get to see some actual detective work, the Joker isn’t just a straight-up murder clown, and there’s a delightfully silly aesthetic to it all, even though it was at the beginning of the grim and gritty eighties. We were still several years off from Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns screwing up the entire industry and making everyone assume that superheroes needed to be dark and “serious,” and still before A Death in the Family permanently ruined the Joker in comics, pushing him too far into the realm of psychopathic murderer and away from weird prankster. And this issue is kind of a fascinating little microcosm of a Batman story in a world that was getting ready to change. This is a silly issue, full of Gotham City having the world’s most expensive train set, an abandoned ice cream factory, and homicidal toys, and I love that about it. This is a much more competent and conniving Joker than I’m really used to, and it feels weird to see Batman be played like a chump like this, but it’s still a really satisfying little story.

 

“The Joker’s Rumpus Room Revenge!” was written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Don Newton, inked by Dan Adkins, colored by Adrienne Roy, and lettered by John Costanza, 1981.

 

 

 

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