Book Review. "Joker: The Bronze Age Omnibus."
Copyright 2019 by Michael W. Rickard II
With a film starring the Joker as played by Joaquin Phoenix in the works for fall 2019, DC collects the greatest 1970s tales of the clown prince of crime in one massive hardcover for the first time!
He has been the thorn in the side of the Caped Crusader for years, always there to confound Batman and his allies before their own genius and heroics halt whatever crazy scheme has hatched from his maniacal mind. As the swinging '60s moved into the troubled '70s, so, too, did the Joker shift into something new. The Bronze Age Joker was a step away from Cesar Romero's comical portrayal in the Batman TV series toward the diabolical maniac that would eventually plaque the Batman of the modern era. The Clown Prince of Crime had come into his own, both in his own comic book series and in his psyche, or lack thereof... Including all of the Joker's major Bronze Age appearances, including the never-before-published The Joker #10, The Joker: The Bronze Age Omnibus chronicles the Clown Prince of Crime's adventures throughout the DC Universe. This volume collects Batman #251, #260, #286, #291-294, #321, #353, #365-366, #400, The Brave and The Bold #111, #118, #129-130, #141, #191, DC Comics Presents #41, #72, Detective Comics #475-476, #526, #532, Justice League of America #77, The Joker #1-10, and Wonder Woman #280-283! -Amazon Blurb
While I have my doubts about Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the Joker, I have no doubts about The Joker: The Bronze Age Omnibus, another back-breaking tome (an 832-page hardcover) from our friends at DC. This book supposedly collects every appearance of the Harlequin of Hate from the comics’ Bronze Age (roughly 1970-1986) and while a more knowledgeable fan find may an omission, the appearances here include all the essentials (off-hand, the only Joker appearances I can think are missing here are the Earth-Two Joker’s appearance in Justice League of America 136 and the Bizarro-Joker from DC Comics Presents 71). The artwork is beautifully reproduced and while you will have to pay anywhere from $58-$73 for the book, it’s worth it if you’re looking for a solid run of Joker stories from the 70’s and 80’s.
Despite such claimants to the throne such as Ras Al Ghul and Bane, the Joker remains Batman’s number one villain. There’s something about his coldblooded ruthlessness, utter insanity, and capacity for mayhem that makes him so feared in the comic book realm. Reading some of these stories, you’ll see why the Joker has stood the test of time, evolving to keep up with contemporary audiences, but maintaining the core qualities that make him such a unique and terrifying character. As longtime Batman fans know, both the Joker and Batman had a rough go of things during the 50’s and 60’s. The original Joker was a cunning criminal mastermind who always seemed several steps ahead of the police and even at times, ahead of the Batman. A master of disguise and poisons, the Joker could turn up at anytime and anyplace, terrorizing the citizens of Gotham City and always seeming to cheat justice and death. Even when Batman softened in tone with the addition of Robin, the Joker remained a murderous menace (although not nearly as much as his early appearances) up into the 1950’s when Batman’s adventures got downright silly. “The New Look” Batman of the early 60’s turned things around, but the Joker was still a shell of his former self, and the “Batman” TV series lightened the tone of Batman comics further. That changed when the TV series was cancelled, with Robin heading to college and Batman becoming the Dark Knight Detective of old. However, it wouldn’t be until 1973 when the Joker returned as a diabolical foe.
Wisely, DC chose to limit the Joker’s appearances as not to dilute him. That is until 1975 when DC Comics published The Joker a comic book devoted to the Clown Prince of Crime’s various activities. At the time, the Comics Code Authority was still strong which meant each issue ended with the Joker brought to justice. The book has its moments, but in hindsight it was doomed to fail and ended after 9 issues. A 10th issue was produced but not published, but can be found in this omnibus.
One person who seemed to enjoy writing the Joker was Bob Haney, the writer at DC’s Brave and the Bold Batman team-up book. There are five stories in The Brave and the Bold featuring the Joker (one of them being a two-parter) including one where the Joker guest stars alongside Batman. The two-part story features a cavalcade of guests including Batman’s allies Green Arrow and Atom battling Two-Face and the Joker. All four stories are fun and feature the art of Jim Aparo, one of the finest Batman artists ever.
Fans who grew up reading these stories need no introduction to them whether it’s the aforementioned Batman 251 “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” or the classic “Joker Fish” two-parter from Detective Comics 475-476 where the Joker uses his Joker venom on fish and tries to copyright them, a seemingly ludicrous scheme but one which shows the Joker’s use of the preposterous to kill and terrorize people. The “Joker Fish” story is arguably the best Joker story since his debut in Batman #1 and the story borrows elements from said story to showcase why the Joker is such a fearsome villain.
There are a variety of other stories including a team-up involving the Man of Steel and the Joker and two tales featuring the Joker teaming with a small army of Batman’s foes to take on the Batman and his allies. Some are better than others but you won’t find a dud in here. You’ll also find some interesting additions like a tale featuring the Earth-Two Huntress battling the Earth-Two Joker. There’s also a reprint of the classic four-part story (“Where Were You On the Night the Batman Was Killed?”) involving Batman’s supposed death and the trial his enemies convene to determine his murderer. This book begins with a reprint of Justice League of America #77, a book right on the cusp of the Bronze Age, and worth checking out.
Whether you’re a hard-core Joker fan or just a Batman fan, this is a must-read. Unless you own these issues, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to buy the originals (in any condition) for the price of the omnibus. It’s a well-curated collection and a look at how Batman’s arch-foe operated in the 70’s and early 80’s. The Joker: The Bronze Age Omnibus is a great value. Like most of DC’s Omnibus collections, you probably won’t be reading it in bed as it’s bulky. Still, it’s difficult to think of any better way to read the Joker’s Bronze Age crimes in one sitting and for a reasonable cost.