From Batman #1…
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.
Next up on the countdown:
7. BATMAN #1: “THE JOKER”
Written by Bill Finger. Pencils and inks by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson.
For you eagle-eyed readers who’ve been following along, the first six slots in the TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN have been dominated by screen adaptations.
That ends now because here on out, it’s all comics. So, it’s fitting that we go back almost 80 years to the greatest Batman story of the Golden Age — the Joker’s debut in 1940’s Batman #1.
Like many people of my generation, I discovered the untitled story in DC’s tabloid Famous 1st Edition #F-5 and it’s as riveting now as it was then. It would be notable for being the Joker’s first story anyway, but it just so happens it’s a cracking good yarn — and one that was enormously influential, to boot.
You probably know it by heart: The Joker announces on the radio that he will kill and rob his chosen victims. Panic ensues but he manages to pull it off. He also runs afoul of local mobsters who are unimpressed by this sinister clown and they end up paying the price as well. Finally, Batman and Robin get the upper hand and apprehend the criminal who would become the Caped Crusader’s arch-nemesis.
It’s remarkable how much of this first story — by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson — encapsulates what we know about the Clown Prince of Crime today, from his murderous ruthlessness to his theatrical trappings, like the deadly toxin that leaves his victims smiling, his purple get-up and his calling card.
Further, the Joker’s terrorizing of the city through mass media and his besting of more conventional criminals are themes that would be repeated for decades. Just look at Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight — the #8 pick in our countdown — as only one such prominent example.
And let’s not forget that this was one of Robin’s earliest stories too — and yet the Dynamic Duo were already a fully formed unit, solidifying what began a mere one month earlier in Detective Comics #38 (the #12 pick in the countdown).
Sure, changes would come — the Joker would evolve into a less lethal and more gimmicky bad guy before he would come full circle in the ’70s, and Batman would start cycling through Robins – but the core of these characters were set nearly eight decades ago.
Though this countdown is about specific stories, it’s also worth noting just how important – and captivating — the entire Batman #1 is: We also get Catwoman’s first appearance (as the Cat), Hugo Strange’s last appearance for 37 years and a second Joker tale. And that Famous First Edition version even includes an essay about how Bill Finger was the real creative force behind the Caped Crusader. (For more on Batman #1, check out Rob Kelly’s TreasuryCast. He and I discuss the issue in great detail.)
Anyway, as far as that first Joker adventure goes, panelist Mark Reinhart, the author of The Batman Filmography, put it succinctly: “The story is every bit as much of a tone-setter as The Case of the Chemical Syndicate (in Detective Comics #27) because it provides a fully formed template for all of the great Batman vs. Joker stories to come over the years.”
NEXT: The #6 PICK is…