Friday, February 21, 2014

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's Clown Prince of Crime - Joker 4

The Joker #4 (November/December 1975) (cover by Ernie Chua)
"A Gold Star for the Joker!"
Elliot S! Maggin-Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez/Vince Colletta

Doug: Last December we discussed and praised the release of the trade paperback collecting the mid-70s Joker solo series. As many of us have remarked (notably Karen) over the past few years, we truly are living in the golden age of comic book reprints. To have this material, probably minor in the entire landscape of the Bronze Age as it was, is still pretty special. Today I've chosen to review an issue smack dab in the middle of the run (The Joker lasted nine issues), due mostly to the art team and the guest stars. Last autumn I ran a 3-issue Superman series of reviews featuring the art of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. You'll notice that he's on the pencils today, with fan-fave (ha!) Vinnie Colletta doing the erasing embellishing. And we get comments about Green Arrow every now and again. He's along for the ride today, and the beauty you see hoisted above the Joker's head is none other than the Black Canary. But enough introductory gibberish -- let's check this out!

Doug: I'm going to start this one on a negative note. I've commented in the past that Bronze Age DCs often contained a feature story that was only 18 pages long; of course, there may also have been a five page back-up tale. However, I'm certain that this particular issue had no such bonus. My point is, to include a splash page that virtually mirrors the magazine's cover seems like a waste. Now we're dealing with a 17-pager, and when compared to Marvel's 20-21-page stories in the same era I feel like I would not have received as much bang for my quarter.

Doug: We open with a yellow bus crossing a bridge into the colonial harbor town that became Star City. I know many of our readers like DC's fictional metropoli, but I so wish the authors and editors who first penned these tales would have (in this case) just said "Boston". It would have made life for this guy so much easier in terms of geographic placement of our heroes and their nemeses. The bus is empty, except for the driver -- a tall, wiry guy with some serious male pattern baldness. He pulls up to a beautiful brunette walking along the street and addresses her as she stops to unlock the door to a flower shop. We are told this is Dinah Lance, aka the Black Canary, and our bus driver is definitely making a pass at her. He asks if he can come inside; Dinah is reluctant, saying she was going to tidy up first. She relents, and he enters. He wants to buy 11 roses -- she of course tells him that he must mean 12. He says "no", and then tells her what he wants on the card.  "These eleven beauties, held next to you, surely make a lovely dozen!" She calls him a romantic, and then he says that they are for her!

Doug: Our driver exits the flower store and hops on his bus. He drives it to a terminal, where he intentionally crashes it! He tells other drivers on site that he borowed it from their outlet in Gotham City, and that it might be easier to ship it back in pieces! He then runs, vaults, and runs some more to get away. Once on a rooftop we see our mystery hack emerge from his disguise as the Joker! And while he leans against a railing, pining for Dinah, we switch back to the flower store. Oliver Queen has arrived, in his best 70s civvies, and is not happy that Dinah had a suitor. She tells him it was nothing, that the guy was sort of a kook. That rings a bell with Ollie, and he asks about the guy's height and weight -- which is suspiciously like that of some loon who intentionally crashed a bus earlier in the day. At that very instant police bulletins begin coming over the radio in droves.  Ollie switches to his "work clothes" and heads off to the action. We relocate to the roof of the shop, where the Joker sits. He is the one who overrode the radio frequency and broadcast those now-phony reports! He looks over the side of the building, waiting for it to empty out. Dinah steps outside, and she's immediately snatched up in a net -- now the prisoner of the Clown Prince of Crime!

Doug: Green Arrow returns to the shop to find one of Dinah's customers lying on the sidewalk, his face stretched into the hideous Joker-grin. Knowing what he's now dealing with, GA hustles to the local police precinct. Meanwhile, the Joker talks to one of his henchmen, who reports that he is rolling into Star City at that moment. At the police station, a report comes in that one of the bridges is shaking -- GA's off to investigate. On the bridge, the Joker pulls up alongside a semi, which opens to reveal the Joker Car.  Dinah and her captor jump in, and away they go. There's a great conversation that takes place between the two -- the Joker makes no bones about his lack of mental wellbeing; he in fact states that his official residence is an asylum. As the Joker cackles maniacally, the Emerald Archer arrives. Full of bravado, GA first tells the Joker that he's playing out of his league, and then proceeds to show off his prowess with the bow and his fantastic arsenal of arrows. Alas, it's his piercing of a small bomb tossed his way that does him in -- laughing gas brings our hero to his knees and allows the Joker to escape with Dinah.

Doug: So here's my beef, and maybe it just goes again to my ongoing posit that DCs were forever written for 10-year olds: why didn't Dinah ever use her Canary Cry to throw the Joker off-balance? If it was solely to protect her secret ID, then I say "that's stupid!"  She was in the clutches of one of the most dangerous killers in history, and I'm thinking getting out of Dodge as fast as possible would have been a prescription for success. At the least, and even bound, she could have used her extensive knowledge of the martial arts to at least kick the clown out of the car.

Doug: The Joker's goal is to steal the star that is mounted to the Archway Bridge and greets visitors to Star City. Arriving on the bridge, he tells Dinah his plan. His goons are mounting a fake star to the bridge, one that will emit radiation that will kill drivers passing near it. Those drivers will in turn crash their vehicles, thereby creating a huge pile-up. The police station nearest the Museum of Art will be affected, and no police will be able to get to the Museum to prohibit the Joker from stealing a priceless display of porcelain clown figures! Got that? So in a scene that seems torn right from the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #121, the Joker takes the bound Dinah to the top of the Archway Bridge. But Green Arrow is there waiting, and another brouhaha breaks out. Dinah's bindings are immediately cut, and now she uses a leg lock to take down the Joker. Sheesh -- earn yer superhero union card, lady! But the Joker, as we've seen over the years, is so crazy that he's no easy victory. He's able to release a spray from his boutonniere, which gags Dinah. With GA distracted, the Joker grabs the bow and bumrushes Ollie off the bridge. However, GA is able to right himself and get off a rope arrow, allowing himself to swing to safety. Once on his feet, he shoots across to Dinah, a line now taught right at her feet. But c'mon... anyone who thinks the Joker is going to stand for that is... well, insane! Pulling a short blade, our baddie cuts the line -- he'd said he'd hoped to marry Dinah Lance so he wouldn't have to kill her. But GA fires off another rope arrow, which Dinah is able to grasp. She's now safe and out of the Joker's reach. And what of the Clown? He loses his balances while dancing disgustedly and falls off the bridge. Falls laughing, all the way to the water below.

Doug: I liked this story. It was the first issue from the run that I'd ever read. How many antagonists have ever had their own book? Marvel tried it with Dr. Doom twice, and DC did it here and with the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Are there others? You know what the best part of the story was?  The Joker seemingly died at the end. And there was a next issue. For me -- no explanation required. Just a cool trope. I don't have a lot of experience with the work of Elliot S! Maggin, but I thought his script was fine. I'm always amazed at how many words appear in a Bronze Age comic. While no Don McGregor, Maggin certainly filled the word balloons. And in spite of my criticisms of Black Canary being wasted for 95% of the story as a stereotypical damsel in distress, she did prove pivotal in the outcome of the tale. Characterization for the Joker and for Green Arrow seemed to be handled nicely. And the art -- very, very nice. Of DC's bullpen of Bronze Age pencilers, Garcia-Lopez really stands out. Sure, he emulates the Adams/Giordano house style, but man does he do it well. And Vinnie does make women look pretty, doesn't he? I thought the art was pretty detailed, so perhaps Mr. C. had run out of erasers while inking this one. But overall, low page count notwithstanding, this was a fun read.


Edo Bosnar said...

Nice review, Doug. Seems like a nothing-spectacular, yet still readable Bronze Age DC offering. And I like the art, too, although Colletta would not be my first choice for inking Garcia-Lopez.
I'm actually seriously thinking about getting this Joker book (although I'm still a bit miffed that this got published while I'm still waiting for Ragman).

And since you brought it up, DC kind of led the way with these villain-headlined books: besides Joker and Secret Society, there was also Kobra.

J.A. Morris said...

Doug, I believe you meant to type "Oliver Queen" not "Oliver North".

Otherwise, thanks for the review, I've been thinking of picking up the Joker tpb and probably will, even if Black Canary is poorly depicted here (secret identity be damned!). I picked up a few issues of this series over the years and thought they were pretty good. I've always been a fan of "villain-centric" titles like this, Super-Villain Team-Up and Secret Society of Super-Villains.

Doug said...

Hahaha!! Jeez, what a goof-up that was! Could you get further apart than Oliver Queen and Oliver North?

Great catch, J.A. Goes to show that no matter how much one proofreads, there's still bound to be a forehead-slapper in the post somewhere.

Man, what was I thinking??

Thanks again - it's been corrected.


david_b said...

This entire DC title has that fresh, frothy aroma of..


Art looks gorgeous, and as gushed about the similarly brief Shanna title, Vinnie can always make the ladies look their best. He aways draws very distinctive eyes and facial features.

The writing is harmless enough, in a DC way.., like enjoying a nice candy bar. Frankly, the art & writing strongly reminds you of those Hostess full-page ads running at the time.

I was going to pick up the individual issues (will still pick up the first ish though..), but may just settle for the tpb here.

Doc Savage said...

What's up with GA's legs on that cover? Ernie was pumping out covers left and right, maybe this was a rush job. Not his best work.

How many antagonists have had their own books? Hmm...Punisher, modern Wolverine, modern Batman, Venom, Carnage, everything at Image...

Doug said...

Matt, I'll defer to your knowledge of modern comics. That's a list I'd not have been able to come up with. Although I'd argue that the creators probably wouldn't agree with you on Batman and Wolverine; Punisher, too.

It's still a short list. Seems to work better for mini-series.


dbutler16 said...

Doug, I've often complained myself that Bronze Age DC splash pages are not part of the story. That drives me crazy. One good thiing about Bronze Age DC is that the stories are usually one patters so when I pick up random issues in the dollar bin of my LCS I usually get the whole story.
I wasn't aware that this was available in TPB. I'm glad to see that they offer something relatively obscure like this.
I am a fan of Luis -Garcia's art.
Marvel had a supervillain team up series for a short while, right?

Doug said...

Yeah, Dave, the two Dr. Doom series I alluded to would be the short run in Marvel Super-Heroes and then SVTU as you mentioned.

As I said above, I think in the past 10 years there have been a whole bunch of minis dedicated to those unsavory types. But for the reading period most of us enjoyed in the '60s-'80s, not too many.


mr. oyola said...

That's be a great topic for a post. Villains with their own books and/or villains turned heroes (which is usually how they end up w/ their own books - I think Venom falls into that latter camp, but not ever read much with Venom in it, I couldn't tell you).

Hoosier X said...

If it had been Oliver North coming to the rescue, he would have been selling arms to the Joker and using the money to fund Darkseid.

And the Black Canary would have been doomed! (Or maybe just forced to use her sonic powers.)

dbutler16 said...

Doug, it might not be a coincidence that there are a lot of series dedicated to unsavory types in the past 10 years, and the fact that I don't collect new comics.

Garett said...

Nice review, nice art. I wouldn't normally pick Colletta to ink Garcia Lopez, but he does an alright job here. It's more simplified than most Garcia Lopez work, but it works for a Joker story like this.

I'll take a look at the TPB--haven't read any of these tales. Joker is such a great villain. Humorous and threatening! Someone like the Penguin has the humor, but I can't see as a threat.

I'm not a big Green Arrow fan, but I like the relationship of Ollie and Dinah, and a Bronze Age title for them with stories and art like this would've been a treat.

I don't mind the fictional cities. Also DC was certainly not "forever written for 10 year olds"--has there been a review here of the New Teen Titans by Perez yet? To me that's a central title of the Bronze Age.

Anyone liking this story should check out Batman Vs Hulk, with Garcia Lopez art (inked by Giordano) and Joker again as the villain.

Doug said...

Garett -

Karen and I don't have a lot of New Teen Titans in common, but that is a subject we've discussed in the past as a major hole in this blog's library of reviews. And regarding the growing up of that title's stories, do keep in mind that it was published post-1980; not sure that arbitrary date makes any difference, but I do think DC tried to write their stuff in a bit more of a mature manner toward the end of the Bronze Age.


Anonymous said...

I think, in my opinion as a US American, that both major companies seemed to be locked in a death spiral of competition to once and for all knock the other one out. DC had a larger stable of characters to put out there, but a mid-70s book with the villain as the protagonist (the Joker) and the good guys as the antagonists (Ollie and Dinah) had a very fine line to walk. How close to bad can you get your main character without losing any sympathy the read has? I know that some have referenced Super Villain Team Up, but as one would see on the Longbox Graveyard posting Super Diva Team Up (thanks Longbox), Doom had sabotaged Namor's suit and was holding Namor's people hostage. Hardly a team up in the true sense of the word.

Doug, you were mentioning how the book ends with the Joker's death but he's back in the next issue, no explanation, no beat missed. I remember the run of Marvel first issue books where Nova or Spider-Girl or insert name here had the cover blurb teasing their first mission would be their last. After awhile, I think it had to become a running joke.

And Hoosier X, if it had been Ollie North, he would not have been selling to the Joker, he would have been using a Canadian company to supply the Star City Police Department with body armor, riot gear, special arms and an urban assault vehicle (thanks Sgt Hulka) in their fight against the Joker, resupplying the Canadians with American munitions in exchange for funds which would then be used to supply elements on New Apokolips in their struggle against Darkseid.

The Prowler (keeping it tight and keeping it real, and a card carrying member of the New Pedantic Panther Party).

Anonymous said...

I hate sneezing in the middle of a post, I always forget my point!!!!

The death spiral lead to a glut of titles flooding the newsstands. Everybody was getting a title if for no other reason than to lock up spinner space.

And as I'm learning from Groovy's blog, many of the Marvel Premiere's and Marvel Fanfares and Marvel Features were 17-18 page stories with no back up features. I think the big guys were 21 to 22 pages, but some of the lesser titles were under that.

But it gave us great things like the Hostess ads and cool Keds sneakers.

The Prowler (losing his train of thought at the drop of a.......).

Fred W. Hill said...

As far as I know, the Yellow Claw was the first outright badguy to have his own ongoing series, for all of 5 issues I think, in the mid-50s (Marvel's Atlas years). As for Dr. Doom, he had a one issue appearance in Marvel Superheroes, but his first ongoing series was in Astonishing Tales, split with Ka-Zar for the first 9 issues until the Lord of the Hidden-Jungle shoved out the metal-clad Lord of Latveria. The Joker's certainly an interesting character, but I'm not sure he could really carry his own book for very long as he isn't particularly complex, being mainly a psychopathic killer who rejoices in creating chaos. Dr. Doom is just as murderous but has also been played up as a bit of an anti-hero. Then there's Dracula, the bad guy who's had the longest run in comics -- of course, he's been a success in literature, theater, and movies as well, long before Wolfman & Colan did him proud in the comics! And the real Vlad Dracula (Tepes was what his enemies called him, not his actual name) was so brutal he makes Victor Von Doom seem like a hell of a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

(Snort) Ollie Queen and Ollie North! Hey, guy from Super Team Family, ya gotta show this titanic team-up!
Seriously, Doug, I do the same thing. I once referred to Laurence of Arabia as "Laurence of Olivier."
In front of my college professor, no less.
And twenty years later, I have even less of an idea what I'm talking about!

Goldenrulecomics said...

Very nice review! I enjoyed the Joker series when it was first published -- it never really pretended to be anything other than a silly fun boo, and as far as that goes it always delivered! Thanks for bringing back some fun memories.

Otto Sell said...

It was much later, but DC did publish a series in the early 90's(I believe) with a villain protagonist-Eclipso ran for twice as long as Joker (18 issues). The death toll was much higher, even killing 13 or so superheroes who had teamed up to stop him in one two-issue arc(the female Wildcat and Dr Midnight, Creeper, some other 2nd tier heroes). I enjoyed the series, but I guess it's hard to sustain a title when the primary character is pure evil...

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