Batman: Lovers and Madmen
Now this is interesting. Michael Green writes a story that, for all intents and purposes, can’t be considered canon, since it contradicts The Man Who Laughs and The Killing Joke. Both of those are already considered the origin of the Joker. But here’s the thing; to me, this is a better tale. This story puts front and center the idea that Batman is responsible for the Joker, yet he’s only part to blame.
The character on stage is Jack, a skilled hitman who sees no point in life. He’s too good at what he does and keeps hoping a cop will get lucky and take him out. It’s when he sees Batman, all dressed up and out of this world, that Jack finds a reason to live. Batman is ridiculous and it’s nothing Jack has ever seen.
Over the course of the book, Batman has a few chances to stop the actions that are going to turn this guy into his worst enemy, but he doesn’t. Batman is still new to the game and even sets Jack up to get beat by some mobsters. The Joker is given life because Batman exists. Without him, the man called Jack might have just lived out his boring life and died on the job.
It’s well told and does such a better job at examining the Batman/Joker relationship, that I wish this was the official story, instead of the mediocre The Man Who Laughs or the overrated The Killing Joke.
Batman: Dead to Rights
Taking place after the events of The Man Who Laughs (or whatever is the first Joker appearance), Dead to Rights, written by Andrew Kreisberg, shows what happened the first time Batman dropped off one of his rogues at the police station. The Joker is on display here, as the first real super villain Gotham had and we get to witness how unprepared the cops are for this type of criminal. The book shows how handling these characters wasn’t always second nature to Gotham and how someone like the Joker, Riddler or Scarecrow can change the game forever. It’s a little goofy at times (because the Joker is full murder clown in this one) but the story is a smart one and worth looking at for an early history of the Bat-world.
Batman: Year Two
A direct sequel to Year One and it does not hold up. Mike W. Barr’s writing is not up to par but it is nice to see early Todd McFarlane art in the later issues. Due to that, however, even though this book was written in 1987, it reads and looks like a early nineties comic for all the wrong reasons. Bloody violence, overwrought religious undertones, giant capes taking over the page, it’s a trip.
I’ve heard people bring up the similarities between this comic and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm but I don’t know if I would have found the comparisons otherwise. Maybe because they’re early Batman, maybe because the villains are reaper-themed characters, but that’s were the likeness end. This Reaper is dull, killing just because it was cool to have a villain kill with a scythe, all while wearing one ugly costume. Throw in some terrible Joe Chill (Bruce’s parent’s killer) and Batman using a gun (for very little reason) and you have a comic that you’re not sad to see leave canon.
By the team of Dan Curtis Johnson, J.H. Williams III, Seth Fisher, this story is right at the end of Batman’s solo career. He tries to form a team out of misfits, who would act more like an anti-crime cell than masked heroes. While that’s going on, Batman also has his first encounter with Mr. Freeze, which is also his first fight against someone with ‘superpowers’.
Mr. Freeze’s roll is largely forgettable, borrowing from the animated episode “Heart of Ice” and not adding anything very interesting to it. The team building is more unique because it flies in the face of how Batman wants to work; alone. But he builds them unlike a team of heroes and more like operatives. When it all falls apart, Batman decides that working with other people isn’t the problem, he just needs to go about it in a different way. And so he happens to see the Flying Graysons are in town, so…
Next week, we read Batman: The Long Halloween!