Funny thing, the Internet. You get up on a Sunday morning, spout off, post it and people — to quote a great villain — “start losing their minds.”
A couple hours ago, I posted a piece about my disdain for The Killing Joke in the context of the controversy of the Batgirl #41 variant cover that dredges up that ugly story.
I guess I touched a nerve. I’m surprised and not at the same time. People have already had a lot to say about the piece, good and bad — and keep those comments coming folks, either below or on Facebook: Debate is good. Yay, America.
Anyway, the column speaks for itself.
But I am gonna double down on the notion that you can tell a great, twisted Joker story without resorting to sadistic sexual torture. Here are five of them. Feel free to add your own. There are many to choose from.
Batman #251, 1973
The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge, by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams is the first Joker story after the 1966 Batman series went away. It famously returned the Joker to his homicidal roots. It also happens to be a cracking good tale, with a classic cover, spectacular art, dramatic pacing and excellent sick humor.
Detective Comics #475-476, 1977-78
The Laughing Fish, by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers is a cornerstone Batman story that influenced writers and artists — in the best possible way — in the decades since. Side note: That the entire Englehart-Rogers run (bookended by chapters including Walt Simonson and Len Wein) remains out of print is a crime against comics.
The Dark Knight, 2008
I don’t have to point this out, do I? Now people will say, “Well, Heath Ledger was inspired by The Killing Joke.” To which I say: So what? I’m not against the notion of a stone-cold Joker who’s also a maniacal anarchist.
Gotham Central #12-15, 2003-04
Soft Targets, by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, is probably the best Joker story of the last 15-20 years. It also greatly influenced The Dark Knight. (And of course this whole series begat the TV show Gotham.) This is collected in the trade, Gotham Central, Book Two: Jokers and Madmen.
Batman #1, 1940
The very first Joker story — by Bill Finger, Bob Kane (signed, anyway) and Jerry Robinson — remains one of the best, and major elements of it survive to this day. Oh, and that Joker was a nasty piece of work.