Saturday, February 19, 2011

Worse Than a Dead-Fish Handshake... Detective Comics 475

Detective Comics #475 (February 1978)
"The Laughing Fish"
Steve Englehart-Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin

I had so much fun last Saturday taking a trip back through Dark Knight time, that I thought we could do it again today and next week as well. Today begins a two-part tale involving the Joker. On Steve Englehart's website, he credits himself and this particular story as serving as the inspiration for the 1989 Batman film that starred Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. You be the judge.

Doug: As my resource for this (and next week's) post, I'm using The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told hardcover. That tome was released in 1988, before the height of Batmania and shortly ahead of Batman's 50th birthday and the release of the Batman movie.
My copy is autographed by Dennis O'Neil, Sheldon "Shelly" Moldoff, and Julius Schwartz -- I was fortunate to garner their signatures at the Chicago Comicon in the early 1990's, and can testify that all three men were truly wonderful to visit with. And if you don't have this book, you might consider getting a copy -- it really does contain some great Joker stories.

Doug: Our story begins on a stormy night in Gotham, as the Dark Knight sits perched atop a roof, looking for the right window. He finds it and descends, rapping on the glass of the apartment of Silver St. Cloud. I remarked last week that Marshall Rogers just draws this woman so beautifully, and here is no exception. In fact, he sexes her up even more than last week's panel of her in the hospital bed. Batman is concerned that Silver knows his secret identity and has entered her bedroom to find out. It's an awkward moment, as he is not himself.
Englehart and Rogers do a phenomenal job of conveying the emotional tension in this scene. It's really just perfect.

Doug: As Batman leaves to continue his patrol, he's hailed by a fisherman. The man shows Batman his catch -- all sorts of fish, disfigured with Joker faces! And reports come in from up and down the eastern seaboard, and out west as well. Fish in American waters are being poisoned by the Joker! We then cut to the Gotham copyright office, where the Joker has come to meet G. Carl Francis, the official in charge. The Joker wants to copyright the "new look" fish -- and he intends to profit mightily from every herring, sardine, and fish sandwich! However, when Francis informs him that fish are a natural resource and beyond U.S. copyright law, the Joker leaves not a happy man.

Doug: This is a brutal Joker. On the way out the door, he threatens Francis that he has until midnight to amend the copyright laws.
Once outside, one of his henchmen asks the Joker what's next for them. While talking to the man, the Joker oh-so-casually pushes him into the path of a passing semi, ending the man's life instantly. I think Steve Englehart, for whatever reason, really had his finger on the pulse of every character in this story. This is such a stronger job of writing than I read in 'tec #473, which I reviewed last week. Rogers'/Austin's art continues to be fabulous, but the big difference for me from last week to this is Englehart's execution of the events and dialogue. And this stuff as influence for what would become Tim Burton's first round with Batman? Read on.

Doug: We next get an interlude with Rupert Thorne, still haunted by the ghost of Hugo Strange. And who should show for a visit, but the Joker?
The Joker tells Thorne that he knows full well that he and the Penguin, along with Thorne, had bid for the Batman's secret identity (see my review of #473); the only reason Thorne remains alive is because he didn't learn the Batman's ID. That is for the Joker alone to know -- the Joker admits that he needs the Batman in his life.

Doug: After a Bat-signal alert, Batman arrives at the home of G. Carl Francis, where the Gotham City P.D. is on guard. Commissioner Gordon walks Batman over to the television, where the Joker is on the screen promising to make good on his threat to kill Francis by midnight. Batman is given charge of security, and painstakingly goes over every aspect of the house and how it might be attacked. Now I'm no sleuth or CIA guy, but come on -- how about evacuating the potential victim from the premises? I guess Englehart didn't think of that. So at 12:00 AM, gas suddenly begins to emanate from the home's ventilation system. Batman moves to place a gas mask over Francis, but he drops to the floor, with a horrific Joker-grin on his face. Gordon enters, and immediately notes that many of his men didn't have gas masks, but didn't die. Batman quickly deduces that the Joker used a binary compound, either half of which is non-lethal. The Joker must have sprayed Francis with the additional gas earlier in the day. As the lawmen regroup, the Joker comes on the television again, threatening to kill again by 3:00 AM if his copyright demands are not met.

Doug: And in closing, we come up Rupert Thorne, who had fled Gotham after his brush with the Clown Prince of Crime. He stops by a lady in distress, and who is it but Silver St. Cloud, she also fleeing Gotham and the events of her evening. They recognize each other, and Silver asks for a lift. Thorne obliges and the two drive away.

And before I leave you (or you leave me...), I wanted to file another entry under "Great Minds Think Alike" -- our friend The Groovy Agent revisited all of Marshall Rogers' Detective Comics splash pages, just yesterday!

1 comment:

Fred W. Hill said...

One of my favorite Bat Man stories! Even better than O'Neil & Adams' classic "The Joker's Five Way Revenge". The Joker's plan is a brilliantly insane idea and he falls ever deeper into the category of someone "mad, bad and dangerous to know". Plus, more of Bruce Wayne, as a human prone to normal human frailties rather than the relentless scourge of criminals, is shown. Although I didn't read it until years after it was published, it was still one of the first I'd read that actually made me interested in Bat Man/Bruce Wayne as a character.

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