Detective Comics #570 (January 1987)
"The Last Laugh!"
Mike W. Barr-Alan Davis/Paul Neary
Doug: I mentioned yesterday that I really love this art team of Alan Davis and Paul Neary. They would certainly qualify as a "good import", giving us a favorable balance of trade. I have to ask, though, in the days before thongs (yeah, I'm going there...) became fashionable, what would Ms. Kyle have been wearing on the cover of this issue?? Wow. And I have to give both combatants a whole lotta credit in the balance department, because keeping one's footing given how fast the Joker is apparently driving would be no small feat (get it?)!
Doug: Who makes a better entrance than the Batman? Just about NO ONE! We open at a seedy bar, because in comics and movies all bars are seedy. A rap on the door brings the bouncer, and the speakeasy trap opens up to reveal a blue gloved hand; and then the bouncer's head disappears. The assemblage then watches as the Dark Knight and his young ward enter. The proprietor, McSurley (great name), invites Batman to sit down. But this is of course business, and the Batman needs to see an informant named "Profile". Batman greets a hooker, knocks out a would-be assailant, and KO's a tough on his way to Profile's office. Robin is left to "mind the store". Profile isn't about to give up the Joker, until Batman takes the sherry glass Profile had just set down -- you see, those fingerprints could come in handy should, you know, the police get ahold of them right after a big job. Profile suddenly recalls that the Joker is holed up in the Jester Novelties factory.
Doug: As the Caped Crusaders swing away, Robin tells about a madam who sat by him while Batman found Profile. Robin: "That Rhonda's pretty neat, Batman. She sure knows how to make a guy feel good." Batman: "That's what she's best at, Chum." Priceless. We then scene shift to the Joker, and the horrific mental reconditioning Selina was in the midst of as our last issue ended. Dr. Moon's procedure is nearly finished, "recalibrating" Selina's mind. The Joker immediately tries to get Batman's secret identity out of her, but Moon cautions that she can be overloaded if asked to do too much too soon. The Joker shoves his lackey aside and presses on. Selina passes out. Outside, Batman and Robin alight on the roof. Batman gives Robin the opportunity to bow out; of course we know the answer. So Robin descends through the chimney, his orders to occupy the Joker's henchmen. I mentioned last issue that this 2-parter was a great homage to the Dick Sprang years. This scene is right up there with all of those great oversized props we saw in 1950's Batman stories, notably Robin rolling on a giant 8-ball. One of the goons sounds the alarm, and just as he does so the Batman bursts in on the Joker and Selina.
Doug: Selina is really out of it. "Straightline" attacks Batman, but a couple of live wires later he's really in no shape for fisticuffs of any kind. In the diversion the Joker escorts Selina out of the room and downstairs. As Batman begins pursuit, he hears the sound of a strong engine, like a plane. But going to a window, and through it, he sees that it's a Joker Car, not a plane. Leaping and landing, our hero attempts to make the Joker crash the rod. No dice, as the Joker tells Selina a story and convinces her that Batman is her enemy. She gets out of the front seat and attacks. Batman's holding back of course tips the scales in her favor, and the Joker manage to escape with his new "partner". Back in the factory, Robin's rounded up every thug except Straightline, including Dr. Moon. Batman interrogates him, but he's not willing to cooperate. In Moon's words, what he has done will give him notoriety on par with Josef Mengele. Great...
We cut to that locale, and sure enough it is what's going down. Selina, in her awakening stupor, had uttered the name of a millionaire named Benson, whose daughter happens to be in a cataleptic trance. Convinced that he knows the name of his great nemesis, the Joker has bound Benson, his young son, and threatens him with the life of his daughter. But Straightline whispers to his boss, "Besides, you always said you never wanted t'kill Batman." Joker: "I don't. I derive far more pleasure from our continual battles of wits than I would from his single death..." This struck me as consistent with Alan Moore's and Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke, cover dated 1988. In order to get Benson to admit to being the Batman, the Joker's had Straightline rig a trap that will, in effect, break the girl's neck. But, gaining more of her own mind back, Selina tells her partner that whatever she is, she's not a killer. She uses her nails to slash open Straightline's apparatus and free the girl. Batman and Robin arrive as if on cue, thoroughly confounding the Joker. Of course a melee breaks out, with Robin uttering the obligatory bad puns. As the battle commences, the young girl is shocked -- this breaks her trance and restores her mind. Catwoman and the Joker use the confusion to make an attempt at escape. Batman leaps for the ladder, grabbing the Joker's coat. Catwoman turns, slashes the ladder, leaving the Joker and Batman to crash to the floor below. The Joker makes a crack about Batman losing "his little kitten", and loses a few teeth of his own for the effort. Batman beats him to a pulp. And Catwoman? This is the last we'll see of the character in her classic depiction -- the next time she shows up she'll be Frank Miller's ninja hooker...
Doug: This was a nice story and a great-looking read. Back when I was writing this I remarked to Karen that I needed to stop several times and check on publication dates for Crisis on Infinite Earths, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman #404 (first issue of the "Year One" storyline), and Batman: The Killing Joke. As I've said, this story is such a throwback to Batman stories of previous decades that it just sticks out (not necessarily like a sore thumb) in the midst of all of the change, revamping, reimagining, etc. that was taking place at DC Comics in the mid-1980's. At two issues it was deep enough but not too long. It was a swell investment of 45 minutes or so!