Joker #8 – DC’s Bicentennial blog continues!

DC SALUTES THE BICENTENNIAL

#7

Joker #8

Joker 8

Published bi-monthly, thirty cents, August

Cover artist: Ernie Chua (he dates his covers 1975 throughout)

Editor: Julius Schwartz

            The Clown Prince of Crime first appeared in Batman #1 in 1940 (below)

 Joker first

 … and has since become the most successful and recognizable bad guy in comics; and only the most obstinant Marvel Zombie would disagree. Even my daughter at three years of age knew the Joker.

            Why then did it take until May of 1975 for the Joker to get his own book?  Villains were given their own titles even in the pulp era – the Mysterious Wu Fang and Dr. Yen Sin to name two; both of them spawned from the Fu Manchu novels of a century ago.

            Villains headlining comics were not unknown in the Golden Age – Yellow Claw for example. But not by the Silver Age … nothing. What happened in the interrim?

             The dearth of superhero titles is what happened. There weren’t that many mask-and-cape-dogooders headlining comics out there (although there were lots of other genres published in the 1950s) and therefore not much room to give a bad guy his own magazine. 

            The Comics Code Authority is what also happened. Although Marvel’s Doctor Doom had his own series in Astonishing Tales, giving a villain his own book was dicey stuff back then – especially if that villain was a homicidal maniac! To appease the code, Joker’s insanity was toned down and he was always captured or surrendered by book’s end.

             The Joker reflected his nemesis over the decades – from a dark criminal in the 1940s to a more gimmicky criminal in the 1950s. 

             By the time of the 1966 Batman TV show, well … 

joker

 

            I think the Joker is the one on the far right. It’s hard to tell; they are all wearing masks. 

            And just so you know, as of today? What is the arch nemesis to Batman’s violent-porn-brooding-sociopath-like? He’s carved his face off and stitched it back on. 

joker face'

 

             Maybe toning back his insanity wasn’t such a bad idea…

***

 

            If the Joker is/was so popular, why wasn’t the title a smash hit? Throughout the comic’s run (to issue #9 in October 1976) the art was wonderful – this Bicetnennial issue especially features the marvelous work of Irv Novick.

 scarecrow

            But the stories were uneven. That’s being kind.

            The first issue was a battle royale with Two Face. Excellent start. The silly issues afterwards likely didn’t even please the youngsters. The fight with Luthor is embarrassingly bad. Great issues, however, were peppered throughout – the fight with “Sherlock Holmes” and this Bicetennial issue are examples of how good the book could have been.

sherlock

 

            Joker #10 was plugged in the letter column of issue #9 and in the “Daily Planet” house ad featuring upcoming releases. The cover and some interiors are found on the internet if you do some searching. When this comic was cancelled, why didn’t they run it in Batman Family? Why not then continue the series in its sister title? Were sales that bad? Were the stories not taken seriously?

Joker10

The proposed cover for Joker #10 

            Would the comic have been more successful with a full-time hero opposing him? Robin or Batgirl?  Perhaps a non-caped hero like Jason Bard or someone else from the back issues of Detective? The comic could have been better and should have lasted a hundred issues!

            Wisely, Batman did not appear in the series, not even in a cameo. His image was peppered throughout – a face on a dartboard, for example.  In this issue Batman’s mug was on a safety net and a “bullet” that popped out of a toy gun.  Thus it is hard to count this as a “Batman” title.

            This was only one of four Bicentennial comics I owned at the time of their publication. It took me 38 years to finish the collection!

***

“The Scarecrow’s Fearsome Face-off”,

Elliot S! Maggin (w ), Irv Novick and Ted Blaisdell (a)

            Disguised as the Scarecrow, Joker steals a canister of fear formula from Star Labs in Metropolis. An angry Scarecrow frightens the location of Joker’s Ha-Hacienda from a former lackey. Joker discovers the Scarecrow’s impending visit and leaves a message to meet him at the local zoo. There, Joker uses the fear formula via a swarm of moths to scare away guards and patrons while he steals a hyena mural for his hide-out!

            The Scarecrow flies in and battle ensues! Scarecrow’s pet crow Nightmare pinches out Joker’s nose plugs while Scarecrow uses acid to release the gas from Joker’s canister. Gas billows out and Joker is on his knees, terrified. The Scarecrow giggles. Giggles? Yes, Joker switched the fear formula for his own laughing gas! His fear was feigned!

            Scarecrow is caught by the police and Joker makes it back safe and sound to his own padded cell at Arkham Asylum.

            Death toll (despite the attempts to assuage the Comics Code Authorities): two guards and one former henchman.

 

 

The Joker’s Ha-Hacienda: letters answered by the Joker himself, mostly for Joker #6! Likely Bob Rozakis answered the letters; these were mostly one-sentence questions and/or comments (“Who is Moriarty?”) answered in a snarky style (“I came home to find all my Batman comics burned, did you do it?” “No, if I did it, I would have burned them while you read them!”). Snarky, but not mean – answers were funny and the insults gentle. This is the Joker, not Murray Boltinoff!

            Mark Wannop of Camden, NJ (positive), Clifford Gerstman of New York, NY (positive), Michael D Dargay of Royal Oak, MI (negative), Fred Schneider, New York, NY (positive), Doil Ward of Ardmore TX (spotted a gaff), Adam Castro of New Rochelle, NY (a general question), Kirk Anderson of DeForest, WI (general questions), Mike White of Mackinaw, IL (negative) and “The Catwoman” challenging Joker to a battle in the next (and last) issue!

            Lots of mail for a failing comic? True, but the nature of the letter column – and answer by the Joker himself – likely had readers send in missives they otherwise would not have done!

 

 tpb

            This issue is reprinted (as is the entire series) in The Joker: Clown Prince of Crime trade paperback.

 ***

 Original Material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

 Images used are copyright their respective holders and reproduced here under the “Fair Use” doctrine of 17 USC 106 & 106a for the purposes of criticism and comment.

 

 

 

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Batman Family #6: the debut of the Joker’s Daughter!

Continuing my reviews of the 33 comic books in which …

DC SALUTES THE BICENTENNIAL

#5

Batman Family #6

batfam5

Published bi-monthly, fifty cents, August

Cover artist: Ernie Chua

Editor: Julius Schwartz

            In 1975 DC launched three comics as companions to Superman Family (which had debuted the year before – an amalgam of the Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Supergirl titles) – all with a “… Family” title. Tarzan Family, Superteam Family and Batman Family. They were “Giant” comics containing mostly reprints for fifty cents, with the lead story (and sometimes a second feature) as a new piece.

            The debut of Batman Family in October 1975 gave Batman (and it was rare the caped crusader did NOT appear inside the comic – especially in the reprints) five titles; tying with Superman (if you count the Legion comic) six if you count The Joker (and to be fair, if you count Superboy/Legion, you should count Joker).

            Superman had seven titles (counting Supergirl AND Superboy – I think they do, as they also had the Big Red “S” on the cover…) before the coalescing of three titles into Superman Family. Not counting their appearances in Justice League of America…  Superman appeared in Superman, Action Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Superman Family and I would also count Superboy starring the Legion of Superheroes, although that is a stretch. Batman appeared in Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest, Brave & Bold and now Batman Family. Not so unusual now, but in the early 1970s out-appearing Superman was quite a feat.  Even Spider-Man was only featured in two comics by this time (his third, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, debuted in December of 1976).

            Also, incredibly to today’s mind, the comic didn’t do well. Batman Family lasted only twenty bi-monthly issues until November 1978. It was by that time a Dollar Comic (and one of my favorites) when it “merged” with Detective Comics – another comic that at the time was such a poor seller it also faced cancellation (the mind reels). The Batman Family/Detective Comics dollar-comic merger lasted fifteen issues before reverting back to a single Batman tale plus an occasional back-up feature.

***

Jokers Daughter

            This is the most collectible of the 33 Bicentennial issues and the most expensive in the secondary markets. This issue was the debut of The Joker’s Daughter, or Duela Dent, who later changed her identity to Harlequin.

harlequin

Although not the same character, the idea morphed into the current Harley Quinn.

harley quinn

Thus this somewhat average entry from a warm August of 1976 turns out to be quite a sought-out collector’s item. It’s no Incredible Hulk #181, but for DC it’s highly prized…

***

 

“Valley of the Copper Moon”, Elliot S! Maggin ( w ), José Delbo (a), Vince Colletta (i).

            Batgirl is guest of honor at this year’s Matituk Indian Reservation’s 2nd Annual Prairie Festival and Indian Rodeo. Congress(wo)man – don’t call her a Congress”man”! – Barbara Gordon (Batgirl’s secret identity) arranges a junket with other Washington officials. They will soon be voting on whether to allow the Abraxas Syndicate to mine the Matituk’s land. Their guide, Jack Lightfoot, is in cahoots with Abraxas (we don’t find this out until the end) and secretly tries to kill Gordon, the single “nay” vote on the junket!

 

“The Joker’s Daughter”, Bob Rozakis ( w ), Irv Novick (a), Frank McLaughlin (i).

            Mystery novelist Christine Arindae dies. Upon her death a room sealed for 30 years is to be opened per her Last Will and Testament. The room is rumored to contain a manuscript of a novel: a mystery concluding with the death of her greatest character – Ulysses Pylate. The room is unsealed and is found to be empty! The Joker’s Daughter enters, takes credit for the theft and escapes! She and Robin fight again atop a pedestrian bridge, where Joker’s Daughter admits she did NOT steal the manuscript, although she wanted to! It was Arindae’s last mystery! Joker’s Daughter escapes – vowing to discover Robin’s secret identity!

 

“Robin’s Cast of Characters” – we are introduced to the supporting cast of the more recent Robin solo stories with brief biographies: Robin/Dick Grayson, Lori Elton, Chief Frank McDonald, Lieutenant Rick Tatem

 

“The Adventures of Alfred: In the Soup”, Don Cameron & Joe Samachson ( w ), Jerry Robinson (a), Jack Schiff (e), reprinted from Batman #32, December-January 1946

            Thieves steal cans of turtle soup from a factory! Alfred, on loan to Bruce Wayne’s friend, walks the dog of his new temporary “master”, suspects the soup company’s competitor and he and the dog lead the police to the competitor’s factory. Alfred claims the dog is part bloodhound and drags a sausage to the factory so it will sniff its way to the factory and affirm Alfred’s hunch. The unbelieving cops follow and Alfred is proved right! But still, everyone believes it was the dog’s nose, not Alfred’s intuition, that solved the crime!

 

“Curious Crime Capers”, Henry Boltinoff ( w )(a). One-page humorous cartoons based on true crimes!

  1. Dayton, KY: a prisoner escaped explaining he was claustrophobic and couldn’t stand being locked up!
  2. A Chicago man’s car was stolen! Description? A ’49 body on a ’30 chassis with a ’49 front bumper…
  3. Oklahoma City, OK: a man stole a wrecker – he needed to get a sedan he stole out of a ditch!
  4. Dallas, TX: a safecracker is caught red-handed – he’s going on trial the next day and needed some cash!

 

“The New Crimes of the Mad Hatter”, Dave Wood ( w ), Sheldon Moldoff (a), Jack Schiff (e), reprinted from Batman #161, February 1964

            The Mad Hatter escapes from prison and starts a crime spree!

            Disguised as a fireman, he robs a bank (“gas leak! Keep your money in my fire truck for safe keeping!” Bankers were idiots back then … ); as Robin Hood he steals $10,000.00 in golden arrows, as a chef at a dinner honoring royalty he steals the queen’s diamond tiara; wearing a bowler had, he robs the prize money from a bowling alley (that’s a stretch…). You see, the jurists who convicted him were a fireman, an amateur bowman, a bowling-alley owner, etc.

            But jurist #5 was a florist, a silk importer and a rabbit breeder … hmm … ah! All those are used by a magician! Sure enough … Mad Hatter disguises himself as a magician to steal diamonds from an exhibit. He tries to get away in a balloon, but Robin pops it with a … hat pin!

 

 

Letters of comment from Mike White of Mackinaw, IL (positive), Fred Schneider of New York, New York (positive – he enjoyed Robin finally complaining about how cold his skimp costume is…), Scott R. Taylor of Portland, TX (positive), and “reader roundups” – short clips of letters from Jeff Sporn of Bethesda, MD, Mark McIntyre of Atlanta, GA, The Mighty Hackman of Santa Maria, CA and Tom Weyandt of Broadtop City, PA; all mostly asking for Batgirl/Robin solo stories alternating with team-ups.

Up next: Justice League of America #132

***

Original Material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

 

Images used are copyright their respective holders and reproduced here under the “Fair Use” doctrine of 17 USC 106 & 106a for the purposes of criticism and comment.

DC Comics advertisements (July/August 1976)

DC SALUTES THE BICENTENNIAL

Part Three: But First, a Word from Our Sponsor…

 

            There have been ads in comic books as long as there have been comic books. Some of the ads have become part of our pop culture – more memorable than most of the comic book characters themselves. Sea Monkeys, anyone?

seamonkeyscomicad

            During my prime-time comic reading, I quaked in fear at the Deadliest Man Alive – Count Dante’! 

Count Dante

             I wanted X-Ray Specs and to learn to throw my voice and go on the Tilt-A-Whirl at Palisades Park (free admission with my Superman coupon) and to win valuable prizes selling Christmas cards and what the hell is Grit?

            The 33 DC comics with the Bicentennial heading contained either 32 pages or 48 pages – not counting the covers (which would add four more pages). Counting those four, all the comics contained 17 pages of the same ads. They might not appear in the same places – an ad from page 12 of one comic would be on page 23 of another – and some reprint titles would have house ads at the bottom third of the page ending a chapter or a story. I will tell you about those variations when I talk about the specific issues. But otherwise the ads were all the same. The centerfold (the middle four pages) of the 32-page comics were all ads, which was traditional for DC at the time.

            I’ll use the first Bicentennial Comic – Our Army At War #294 as the template.

            Inside front cover: Hostess Cupcake ad: “Superman Saves the Earth” – there are websites dedicated to these classic Hostess ads. DC, Marvel, Harvey and Archie comics had dozens of them featuring every popular character you can think of – the Joker starred in three, Josie of “…and the Pussycats” fame? 19! This one is typical – aliens meet to discuss the fate of the earth. Because it is so primitive and backward, humanity must be destroyed! Superman takes the aliens to a grocery store and introduces them to Hostess Cupcakes. The aliens love the cupcakes and spare the earth (the aliens are obviously of great intellect – in this writer’s opinion the original Hostess Cupcakes are tangible proof of the existence of God…). A species that can create such spongy cake and creamy filling deserves a chance! Whew … good thing the aliens decided this in 1976 and not after Hostess went bankrupt … we’d be doomed!

superman saves the earth

            A few DC Comics exchange this Superman ad with one starring the Joker called “The Cornered Clown”. He is trapped in a building cordoned off by the police. He tosses them Hostess Fruit Pies to distract them as he escapes out the back. Despite such tasty treats, the police are not fooled and are waiting to arrest him. Now if he had only thrown glazed doughnuts he might have succeeded. I will let you know which comics feature the Superman ad and which feature the Joker ad.

cornered clown

            Page 5: a full-page ad for Charms Blow Pops.

            Page 6: two half-page ads for selling social security plates (checkbook-sized holders with your number and an American eagle emblazed above it) – this was before identity theft was prevalent, obviously; and an ad for Slim Jims.

            Page 11: a full-page ad for Grit. Grit is still around, you know. It’s not a newspaper anymore; it’s a glossy magazine, but still around. Did anyone out there sell Grit for big money and prizes?

            Page 12: a full-page DC house ad for its latest tabloid-sized Limited Collector’s Edition comics C46 (Justice League of America) and C47 (Superman Salutes the Bicentennial) – see Part Two – the Leftovers for more about these comics.

limited collectors ad

            Page 15: two half-page ads selling Isokinetics (an exercise technique – are they implying that readers of comic books are out of shape? Well, we ARE, but I resent the implication…) and another ad for the social security decorative plates/holders from page 6.

            Page 16: a full-page ad for NCG Merchandise’s comic book binders.

            Page 17: a full-page ad for Action Lure to catch more and bigger fish (comic book fans fish? Really?)

            Page 18: a full page of house ads – a half-page ad for the Amazing World of DC Comics #11 (the Super-Villains issue – I have this one!) and a half-page DC Comics subscription form

            Page 21: a full-page ad from the US School of Music – a self-taught guitar program

            Page 22: a half-page ad for New American Physique and a half page of 10 S. Schwarz & Company ads of various sizes: learn vehicle decor customizing, hobby coin company sales, Universal Inc. muscle growing technique, custom bicentennial t-shirts for sale, Jack Hunt (comic book back issues), the famous X-Ray Specs, Estell (comic book back issues), Abracadabra Magic Tricks, Debt Relief solutions, and Discount Comics (comic book back issues).

            Page 23: a full page public service ad for Justice For All Includes Children. This is #5 of the series. Superman instructs children on their rights and duties as citizens. Here he advises the kids not to crash a party. Trespassing is illegal and could be dangerous!

Justice for all includes children, 5

            Page 27: a full-page ad for “DC Salutes the Bicentennial” reproduced in Part One of this series.

            Page 28: 14 ads from S. Schwarz & Company of varying sizes: “Space 1999” models for sale, learn karate, Robert Bill (comic book back issues), Richard Alt (comic book back issues), Pacific Comics (comic book back issues), weight lifting techniques, stamps for sale, Howard Rogofsky (comic book back issues), muscle building techniques, baseball card holders (called “lockers” – now we would call them deck holders), CCCBA (comic book back issues), techniques to grow taller, live seahorses for sale, and then several small ads designed as “classified newspaper” ads for: earning money stuffing envelopes, selling t-shirt iron-on decals, secret agent pens for sale, gliders for sale, earn money addressing and mailing envelopes.

            Page 32:  a full-page ad for muscle building (from the same company as one of the smaller ads on page 28).

            Inside front cover: a full-page ad for Monogram flying airplanes.

monogram

            Back cover: Spalding gloves (with as-always-excellent Jack Davis art!)

spalding

***

            Eyes spinning yet? I haven’t even begun to review the 33 comics yet! I’ll start with #1: Our Army At War #294…

             All comic covers, advertising, characters and images are the property of their respective copyright holders and reprinted here for your entertainment and review under the Fair Use Doctrine as commentary, criticism and … sometimes … parody.

            Keep in mind the actual creators probably only received a fraction of their creative worth at the time of their creation … but that is a whole other story …

 

Original Material Copyright 2015 Michael G Curry