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.).