Monday, July 11, 2016

Laughing His Way Into Cancellation - The Joker 9


The Joker #9 (September/October 1976)
"The Cat and the Clown"
Elliot S! Maggin-Irv Novick/Tex Blaisdell

Doug: There might be a reason this was the last issue of The Joker. Or, maybe the story was written as is because the creators already knew. So who killed what is perhaps moot -- this still isn't what you'd call a Bronze Age gem. And it should be -- the cover is great, and darned if Mike W. Barr, Alan Davis, and Paul Neary didn't have some fun with this same concept. Not so much here.

Maybe we've had this discussion before -- over seven years, I'm guessing that we have -- but let's start with it here. It is very difficult to publish an ongoing series where the protagonist is a mass murderer or some other evil-doer preoccupied with world conquest. In my mind, the only way to make it work is to feature a hero as foil to the bad guys. Had the DC Implosion not occurred, Secret Society of Super-Villains might have succeeded. It was genius to take a character largely unknown to then-current readers (Captain Comet) and make him the steady hero throughout most of the series. It also seemed a nice decision to include various heroes as team-ups, including Kid Flash and Hawkgirl. But this Joker-headlined comic seemed a tougher sell. The bad guys who populated SSoSV were more bent on outwitting their primary nemesis (in most cases, the Flash) and less on widespread property destruction or loss of life. One cannot say that about the Joker. In this issue, the last in the series and pretty goofy all the way around, at least three deaths are featured and the last of them is of a quite malicious nature. Even Catwoman's appearance, and she's much more sympathetic, does not soften what's gone on once you sit back and think about it. And obviously this title could not have featured any of the Bats in that foil role, as that would have made it just another Bat-book.

100-Word Review:Benny Springer is a Hollywood legend for playing Buster Keaton-type comedy roles. Just as popular as Springer, however, is his cat Hiawatha. The two are to star in a new motion picture, “The Clown and the Cat”, but Springer is knocked unconscious by a disguised Selina Kyle. Little did she know, though, that she’d captured the Joker masquerading as Springer. Already confused? The Joker leaves a trail of bodies on his way to Catwoman’s lair, where he ends up fighting… himself? Springer becomes the Clown Prince’s doppelganger and the two clowns fight nearly to the death. Of course the bad guys lose.


The Good: I've always felt that Irv Novick was an able penciler of all things Batman. I liken him to Aparo and Adams, but a few steps below. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to Dick Giordano. We primarily think of Giordano as an inker, but when you've seen his pencils of Batman... similar to Novick's in my mind's eye. I cannot speak much to the inks of Tex Blaisdell. We've encountered his work before over Dick Dillin and Bob Brown. A far cry from "lush", he's in the Vinnie Colletta camp; maybe not that feathery, though. So while I seem to be making excuses for these creators (if you like that, then you'll like this, only not as much), there was merit to the pictures. It's just that they didn't have much to go with because...

The Bad: Elliot S! Maggin's script. As I said above, it's like everyone knew (and I'm sure they did) that this book was on its way out the door. This story seems cobbled together quickly and with not much care. I've argued, maybe unfairly at times, that Silver and Bronze Age DCs were written for 10-year olds. Having been one of those myself (and this would have been on the stands right around the time I turned 10), I don't know if I'd have liked this story. First of all, it's really confusing near the front when Catwoman kidnaps Benny Spencer. At the same time, the Joker is impersonating Spencer, and we see Catwoman out of costume (assaulting Springer... er, the Joker in disguise) and in costume (kidnapping Springer and his cat from the movie studio's screening room). How did this shake out? I read it three times, for detail, and couldn't get it down. No way I'd have made sense of it as a youngster. NOTE: In fact, on the fourth read while preparing the scans, I'm not sure now if it was Selina Kyle who ambushed the Joker. But if it wasn't, then that plot point is even more vague. What's more, the intentions of both the Joker and the Catwoman are pretty lame: Catwoman kidnapped Spencer and his cat (emphasis on the cat as part of the crime) in order to hold them for ransom. The Joker wanted Spencer out of the way so that he could impersonate the actor and then star in a movie. Yeah, OK...


 Additionally, and also as I mentioned above, there's a body count in this book. Two studio guards and a captured henchman of the Catwoman's all succumb to the Joker's laughing death serum. What's more, they all die on screen. That gives me pause, as I'm back to the "written for a 10-year old" notion: Did DC's editorial staff think that was OK? It's certainly not in line with Marvel's "flat of the blade", which we've also discussed. If the deceased died with a smile, does that mean the Comics Code was bypassed? These are legitimate questions that I have.

One knock on the art is that Catwoman only once appears drop-dead (haha) gorgeous. She seems like a character who should always be drawn as beautiful. She also is written with some pretty clunky dialogue. During the "battle of the Jokers", she sits to the side and watches the skirmish play out. She thinks to herself, using words like "interesting", "most fascinating", "absolutely wild", and "far out"... those just seemed like odd choices for her.


The Ugly: Overall, this book is not very good. I really thought the cover implied a fantastic adventure inside. What I got was farcical at best. It wasn't horrible, in that I don't think I'd have requested a refund of my three dimes. But it certainly didn't advance my love of the Batman mythos. And there were just enough stupid plot points that added to my displeasure, notably during the story's climax when Springer said he gave his cat a signal to behave a certain way. You'd have to read it -- the situation was quite complex, in that the cat would have had to ignore all his instincts and behave in a counter-intuitive manner. I wasn't buying it. 

In the interest of ending on a positive note, please see my review of The Joker #4, where I go on in a sunshiney light about Elliot S! Maggin's storytelling. Which further makes this issue disappointing (oh, shoot -- I did end on a negative.).

10 comments:

dbutler16 said...

I thought this series started off pretty strong, especially #1, but it slipped a bit in quality, getting a bit too goofy, and #6-8 were not so great. #9 was a bit zany, but I thought actually a step up from the previous few issues.

Thomas F. said...

I'd always wondered why this series had been canceled after just nine issues. But I suppose it is difficult to make a psychopathic murderer the protagonist month after month. Almost impossible to portray the Joker in a favorable light. It's too bad, since I felt the series had potential.

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the review, Doug.
And yeah, there's quite a difference between your positive remarks in that previous review and your opinions of this issue. That's too bad, because Maggin is usually such a dependable writer - although I think he was always more at home writing Superman stories than anywhere else.
As to the art, I like the way all of the samples you posted here look. Novick really was a solid artist and quite often produced really attractive work. I think I've mentioned it before, but I really liked his art on the Flash stories that appeared in Adventure Comics.

Pat Henry said...

I can only take the Joker in small doses, for most of the reasons described in the review. There's not a shred of depth or nuance or self-reflection to the character, and apparently no inner life that is not also the outer life. Not at all surprised a series could not be built around the character. He seems mostly like someone annoying for Batman to beat up.

Compare to someone like Vandal Savage, whom I think you could quite easily build an interesting series around.

With Marvel's Supervillain Team-Up you at least had things centered most of the time around Subby and Doom, both of which have quite a bit of nuance and inner life.

Redartz said...

Can't really add much to your review here, Doug, or to the comments. This was one of those " bought for the cover" issues. Upon reading it, it all just got muddled. Not memorable, but hey, it's a Joker/Catwoman cover...

Martinex1 said...

I agree with everything said...particularly the question of how you make a one dimensional lunatic killer into a protagonist? A big part of the problem is the Joker is not really easily related to. Doom may be a power hungry and arrogant ruler but his true dedication to Latveria gives him a "softer" side and a nuance. He is b nevilent to a degree. Even the Punisher has the backstory that his family was killed and he is driven by revenge and a twisted sense of justice. Not that I like that, but at least it is something. With the Joker what is there in terms of relationships and motivation? 8on the surface he is better as a villain for Batman and not much else.

Regarding the art, I have to say I really like the clarity of the panel designs and layout. Sometimes artists get too fancy. This has a simple design but it is really quite attractive. Even the page with Catwoman front and center is pretty great with just enough stylistic flare.

Martinex1 said...

Sorry about the weird spelling errors and auto check. Typing from my phone is like Fred Flintstone doing dental work.

Anonymous said...

The Joker may be a psychopathic murdering lunatic, but I think he could have easily clinched the Republican nomination for president this year.
M.P.

Doug said...

Hi, gang --

Thanks for the comments today. I think this is a series that is most likely remembered fondly, even though execution was not always top shelf. Nostalgia probably rules the day.

Next week we'll get back to something positive... indeed, pretty special. After you've put up with some clunkers in the Thor/Stilt-Man review and today's, you deserve it. How about Stan Lee, John Byrne, and Tom Palmer on the Silver Surfer?

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Ooooh, yes, Doug! And now you've given me a reading assignment...

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