Dig NEAL ADAMS’ BATMAN #251-Inspired Variant Cover for THE JOKER #1

EXCLUSIVE INSIDE LOOK: The master flips the script…

I have two all-time favorite comics covers and both were drawn by Neal Adams. (Big surprise there, I know.)

The first is 1977’s Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-51 — aka the Ra’s al Ghul treasury edition:

The extremely close second is 1973’s Batman #251 — which might even be more famous given how many times it’s been homaged:

Well, Adams himself is the one doing the homaging this time around, with a special retailer-exclusive variant for March’s The Joker #1, the first issue in a new, ongoing series from DC.

Dig this role-reversal piece available through State of Comics in Plymouth, Michigan and Adams’ online store.

Back cover (left) and front cover (right)

Adams said the variant was fun to do because there have been so many take-offs of Batman #251 but that this is the first that actually swaps characters, an idea that came from State of Comics. Adams owns Crusty Bunkers, a comics shop in Burbank, California, and connected with the Michigan shop through retailer networking. He pointed out that premium covers like this are exceptionally helpful to store owners, particularly in these difficult economic times.

“They threw out the idea, ‘Why don’t we do a variant for The Joker that reverses the Batman and the Joker?’… which seems on the surface to be ridiculous, in a way. Not so much because people haven’t done a take-off on it — but because nobody has done the one take-off on it, where you switch Batman to Joker.”

Preliminary Adams sketch

Adams gave big kudos to State of Comics owner Ryan Hetkowski for coming up with what he called “the winning idea” for a Joker #1 variant, among the many that will be published by DC and other retailers.

“We’re kind of giddy about it,” Adams added.

I asked him whether he ever tires of talking about the original and he said no, recalling how he first came up with the image, which pays tribute to Jerry Robinson’s Golden Age covers that frequently depicted an oversize Joker.

The goal with Batman #251, he said, was that since he and writer Denny O’Neil were bringing the Joker back after a years-long hiatus, he wanted to make the Joker big and he wanted a showdown — but he didn’t want Batman’s back to the reader. He didn’t even want both in profile.

“Profile to profile can work on a non-important cover but for an important cover, it’s not so good,” he added. “And we really, really wanted to feature the Joker. Solution? Put Batman on a playing card and put the playing card in the hands of the Joker, symbolically driving the playing card forward. You get this big Joker standing over the city and you’ve reintroduced the Joker.

Original art for Batman #251 cover, which sold for $600,000 in 2019.

“It’s a reasonably significant intellectual solution to a very, very difficult problem — how to reintroduce a character,” he noted. “So, I’ve actually been very, very happy with that.”

Hetkowski, who went into business in 2017, called the experience of working with Adams, “surreal, for sure. Especially for one of my maybe Top 3 covers of all time.”

The variant cover is available multiple ways, from a $14.99 raw edition, to signed copies, to high-end slabbed versions. The print run was limited to 3,000; it’s available at other outlets but is almost sold out.

Alert readers may recall that Adams has riffed on this cover before — back in 2016, during DC’s Neal Adams Month series of variants:

I talked to Adams about it at the time and you can click here to see what he had to say.


— NEAL ADAMS’ Original BATMAN #251 Cover Art Sells for $600,000. Click here.

— BATMAN #251: Towering Evidence the Bronze Age Is the True Golden Age. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Love the variant cover, COOL!
    Wish DC would put the JOKER on another 3-4 years hiatus.
    Joker gets way overuse and thus becomes boring.

    Post a Reply
    • There are actually only three characters being published by DC nowadays… Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn. All else is probably by accident.

      Post a Reply

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