A single issue for all time…
In celebration of Detective Comics #1000 and Batman’s 80th anniversary this month, we’re counting down the 13 GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER — from all media — as selected by a panel of 16 experts, including such luminaries as former DC publisher Paul Levitz, legendary Batman artist Neal Adams and comics writers Ron Marz, Tom Peyer and Fred Van Lente. For a complete rundown of how the vote was conducted and the full list of panelists, click here. The countdown will run daily across 13 days and culminate in THE ULTIMATE BATMAN READING AND VIEWING GUIDE, which will feature every single Batman story cited by our panel.
PICK #6 was the Batman: The Killing Joke. Click here.
Next up on the countdown:
5. BATMAN #251: THE JOKER’S FIVE-WAY REVENGE!
Written by Denny O’Neil. Illustrated by Neal Adams.
When Batman #251 came out in 1973, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams — as well as their creative colleagues behind the newly invigorated Darknight Detective — had largely shied away from archvillains (with some very notable exceptions). Instead, they preferred to pit Batman against a mix of supernatural forces, freaks, mobsters, assassins and run-of-the-mill killers.
The Joker, meanwhile, had been sitting on the shelf for four years: He was last seen tormenting Batman and Robin in 1969’s Detective Comics #388, where he tried to convince the Dynamic Duo that they’d been rocketed to the moon. While a kick, the story was one of the last gasps of Batman’s campier era.
So when O’Neil and Adams finally brought the Joker back, they did it in the way he was envisioned by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson — a malevolently mirthful, bloodthirsty lunatic. (Check out the countdown’s #7 pick.)
The result? A 22 1/2-page masterpiece — a doctorate course in taut storytelling and moody, evocative art.
I’ve spent quite a bit of digital ink on this one over the years, so I think the best thing to do here is just bring in the men who created the story — O’Neil and Adams themselves. I’ve spoken to both about Batman #251 in interviews and you can click here to see what they had to say. (Go ahead. It’s worth it. We’ll wait.)
Back now? Great. Now here’s what some of our panelists had to say (and yes, Adams had the story on his own ballot):
Michael Eury, editor-in-chief of Back Issue magazine and the co-writer of The Batcave Companion, made the tale his top pick: “It’s probably on everyone’s best-of list — and it should be! Not only does it famously restore the Joker to his homicidal roots, but it’s Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams at their absolute best.”
Batman: The Brave and the Bold producer James Tucker added: “This story redefined Joker more so than Batman, but it returned Joker to his homicidal, maniac persona.”
And Mark Reinhart, author of The Batman Filmography, wrote: “O’Neil and Neal Adams return the Joker from the silly prankster of 1950s and 60s comics to the leering, homicidal madman found in Bob Kane’s and Bill Finger’s original work.”
By the way, here’s a spoiler for you: Batman #251 is the highest-ranked single-issue story in the TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN.
Another way of putting it is that The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge! is the greatest single-issue story in Batman history.
Which, to my way of thinking, makes it the greatest single-issue story in comics history.
NEXT: The #4 PICK is…
— The Complete TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN. Click here.
— How NEAL ADAMS Created the Cover for BATMAN #251. Click here.