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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Friday, March 20, 2009

The Joker: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

So why is a guy who has proclaimed loudly that he hates the Joker, that he thinks the Joker should be killed off and not in a "he'll be back in three months" kind of killed off way, why is that guy reviewing The Joker: The Greatest Stories Ever Told [DC; $19.99]? Because I can.

No. That's not an honest answer. An honest answer is because I didn't always hate the Joker. My abhorrence for the character grew with the Joker's murderous excesses and those of the DC editors and writers who exercised neither restraint nor the most infinitesimal modicum of logic in portraying the character. They took away the Joker's style - murderous and otherwise - and turned him into the comics equivalent of Stephen Colbert's dreaded bears. They turned the Joker into a brutal godless killing machine.

In this collection of stories ranging from the Joker's 1940 debut to more recent stories from this new millennium, we see many faces of the Joker. In his Bill Finger-written origin, the Joker is a diabolical killer and truly chilling. A decade later, in "The Joker's Comedy of Errors," he's more crime clown than great white shark. The latter story is notable for how many times Finger got the word "boner" into his script and yes, that still cracks me up. I revel in my immaturity.

In stories by David V. Reed - "The Joker's Utility Belt" and Dave Wood - "Crime of the Month Club" - Batman's arch-foe continues to mix crime with comedy. Those stories are from 1952 and 1957. This trend continues in "The Joker's Last Laugh" from 1964, but the John Broome script offers a bit more sophistication. This would be true of most of the villain's appearances before his 1973 makeover - or, if you prefer, restoration - by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. They gave the Joker back his hankering for homicide. Surprisingly, that pivotal story is not reprinted in this volume.

However, we do get 1978's brilliant "The Laughing Fish" two-part thriller by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers and a pretty good 1980 story by Len Wein and Walt Simonson. Alas, the Wein tale has my most hated Joker cliches, the villain's slaying of one of his henchmen. That bit got old real fast.

Paul Dini, one of the best Batman writers, is represented by a trio of tales. The first is in the style of the Batman animated series and is ably drawn by John Byrne. From Batman: Black and White, we get a Dini/Alex Ross collaboration. The third story, though well written, stars the godless killing machine Joker and, as such, was far less appealing to me.

Finally, we have two tales by Jeph Loeb, both of them chapters of extended serial - "The Long Halloween" and "Hush" - with art by Tim Sale and Jim Lee. Good as they might or might not be - I like the former more than the latter - neither belongs in this book. That they are included is testimony to the inability of some DC writers and editors to create worthy done-in-one stories. It's the "comic book as crack" theory of management. Instead of hooking a reader with great stories, you try to hook him on any story and then take six or more issues to tell that story. The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but we sure aren't seen a lot of truly terrific extended serials these days.

The Joker: The Greatest Stories Ever Told earns three out of five Tonys. Because, at the end of the day, even though I admit there were some great stories in this collection, I'm still that guy who hates the Joker.

Tony Tony Tony



Our last frequently-asked Black Lightning question for March. Unless someone comes up with a really good one.

Did you get paid for the DC Direct Black Lightning figure that came out in 2007?

In fairness, I must state that the likely reason this question was asked so often was because I mentioned in several columns that I had not, at the time of the writing of those columns, been paid for the figure. That said, I'm happy to report that I did get paid for the figure...about a year late.

Sincerely apologetic DC staffers gave three reasons for the delay. It was a glitch. It was an oversight. They sent all of the creator money to Trevor Von Eeden, who DC considers a co-creator of the character. But we talked about that yesterday.

There's another DC Direct figure of Black Lightning coming out later this year. This new figure shows him in his original costume. Adding these two DC Direct figures to the Kenner action figure of a number of years back - that one featured the costume designed by Eddy Newell - I'll finally have a complete set of Black Lightning action figures for my wall display. Cool.

One more related answer. DC has been very good about sending me these action figures as they come out. I'm quick to take DC to task when it screws up, either through error or malice, and I try to be just as quick to mention it when they do something right. It has always been my hope - despite my telling a friend at DC that I fear I am doomed to be forever disappointed by DC - that the latter will eventually outweigh the former.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/19/2009 | 03/20/2009 | 03/23/2009 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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