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
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.