BATMAN #251: Towering Evidence the Bronze Age Is the True Golden Age

For the JOKER WEEK finale, a tribute to a comic book that emblemizes the best of the best era…

It’s JOKER WEEK! We’re celebrating comics’ greatest villain since there’s a big ol’ major motion picture coming out this week. For the complete index of features, click here. — Dan

Walking into Midtown Comics this week and seeing a glorious new reprint of 1973’s Batman #251 made me realize something that has really been self-evident for a good long time: the Bronze Age is comics’ true Golden Age.

Now, I love the actual Golden Age. I love the Silver Age even more. And I love a lot of what the Modern Age has to offer.

But, push to shove, no period in the history of our favorite entertainment medium burrows deeper into my heart than the Bronze Age, which I define as 1970 to 1986. (Others have more nebulous definitions but I see it as beginning when Robin split for college and ending when Crisis on Infinite Earths wrapped up.)

Did you know the original art for the Batman #251 cover will be going up for auction? It’s true.

Anyway, you could chalk some of it up to nostalgia, sure. I was a child of the ’70s, that era of Batman TV reruns, Megos and Hostess ads, the heyday of Ben Cooper costumes and Slurpee cups.

But there’s more to it: Taking the 81 years of the Superhero Era in sum, no period better exemplifies comics’ ability to entertain and make you think.

It’s the ideal nexus of high adventure, dazzling art, pathos, realism and fantasy. Serious but never too serious. Sometimes silly but in the best way.

And as far as standalone stories go, Batman #251The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge! by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams — is absolutely unparalleled. Everything taken together,  it’s the single greatest issue ever produced and I expect I’ll believe that until I read my last comic.

Best opening splash page ever.

But hey, I’m sure you’ve got your own Bronze Age choice for that distinction and I invite you to list it in the comments below.

In any event, Batman #251 is a deceptively simple story executed masterfully: the Joker, who has been locked away (DC pretty much had him on the shelf for several years), returns to kill his old gang because one of them had betrayed him.

It marked the Harlequin of Hate’s return to his homicidal roots and O’Neil infuses the 22 and a half pages with a thrilling combination of suspense, action and dark humor, tossing in a sly bit of social commentary for good measure.

And Adams? Adams is Adams at his very best, illustrating with power, atmosphere and style – a monument to a magnificent career that’s influenced two generations of artists and will influence countless more.

I’ve written a lot about Batman #251 over the years. I’ve had a chance to talk to Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams about it. (Click here.)

It’s also been the centerpiece of JOKER WEEK: It capped both our TOP 13 JOKER STORIES EVER (click here) and TOP 13 JOKER COVERS EVER (click here) rankings.

We also showed you an EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK at the Batman #251 Facsimile Edition. (Click here.) DC released it this week in tandem with the movie Joker — which, bringing it full circle, inspired JOKER WEEK to begin with.

This brings me back to Midtown Comics.

I’ve told this story before, but every week, I cross Park Avenue at 47th Street on my way to the shop – an intersection that the Joker looms over on the cover of Batman #251.

Every time I make that trek, I look up and imagine that spectacular image. Every time.

So, it was only fitting that when I got to the store on this particular Wednesday, bright, crisp copies of this exemplar of comics creativity were waiting for me, telling me in my mind something meaningful and true:

This is why we read comics.


— The Complete JOKER’S WEEK Index of Features. Click here.

— NEAL ADAMS Discusses the Cover to BATMAN #251. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Agree – The Bronze Age is the Golden Age – at least it is for DC. Batman; Green Lantern/Green Arrow; The Legion of Superheroes; The New Teen Titans; Wrightson & Swamp Thing; Warlord, etc. This is where DC broke the shackles of their Silver Age doldrums and started publishing great stories to match the art.

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  2. I was very happy to add Batman 251 to my collection a few months ago. That didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of the facsimile today, though.

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  3. Super cool story, Dan! I had somewhat the same moment when I found Batman 251 in my weekly comics stack this week. I can still remember how many times I wrote to DC asking for more Neal Adams Batman stories, only to read Julie Schwartz’s note in 250 that Neal was drawing the next issue. I…could…not…wait to see that issue, and it lived up to my high expectations.

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  4. I start reading comics in the late 80’s but I think the Best period all-around is around 2000-2010. I Love bendis and millar and geoff johns.

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