Friday, January 29, 2010

The Joker 3 - My "Replacements are circling" too!

As esteemed Bat-blogger David Uzumeri mentioned in his B&R blog this week ... go here for a knock 'em dead article by 4thletter:

This stuff is not altogether new to us. We've been noticing massive nods to Alan Moore's accidental, possibly not self-appreciated work within The Killing Joke (By all accounts, and rightly so, the greatest Batman story ever told) cropping up all over Morrison's run. Homages. Nods. And even outright moments of rebellion from that holiest of 80's super-sized one-shots.

In my own musings I've covered how the Club of Villains, quite obviously so, all represent "followers of Joker's art" in the same way that the Club of Heroes are all inspired by Batman (and indeed, how J.H. Williams III homaged the various periods of Batman's life with their art styles).

My fellow blogger Cass Sherman has pointed out plenty of references, as has Uzumeri himself, and many others online throughout forums like CBR, Newsarama, ComicBloc, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. To those of us invested enough in Morrison's opus to really get crazy with these annotated blogs, The Killing Joke homages seem old hat. Le Bossu represents the twisted experimenter. Scorpiana represents the use of poisons. El Sombrero represents the use of death-traps & fun-houses, and leaves calling cards. Pierrot Lunaire represents the creepy clown factor. Swagman represents the defiance of the law (perpetual outlaw), and his Ned Kelly inspired gear pays wonderful homage to Heath Ledger. King Kraken I'm actually lost on ... other than being an inhuman monster. Charlie Caligula is the vanity. Professor Pyg has the completely insane mental status. Eduardo Flamingo has the lanky frame and absurd showmanship. Pearly King has the old-school street hood (Jimmy Cagney) vibe and the love of street-level games like dice, cards, darts, dominoes.

But in the interest of that article (and in total celebration of my new Absolute Hardcover Edition of TKJ with the pretty Brian Bolland coloring) I've decided to re-read TKJ and point out things Morrison would later homage - in reverse, rather than reading Morrison's stuff new and going back in time for references, which wouldn't do at all, since I've already done that.

So, without further ado:

THE KILLING JOKE and everything I can find in it that Morrison will use later. With some thoughts.

1A. Batman goes to Arkham to have a sit-down with Joker. There he finds Joker (actually a stooge pretending to be Joker, but bear with me) dealing a hand in a solitary card game that provides clues to the sharp-eyed reader. The "stooge" is arranging the cards into suits, and the Jokers are set aside, outside the deck. Keen readers will notice in 5.2 seconds that this flunky is "picking up Joker's mess" and distracting Batman, while the real Joker isn't even there to begin with.

1B. Batman goes to Arkham to have a sit-down with Joker. This happens in the DC Universe # 0 one-shot that kicked off the events leading toward Final Crisis. In Batman's chapter, Batman goes to Arkham to sit down with the Joker to ask him about the Black Glove. Joker is dealing the cards so as to give Batman clues. In typical Morrison (or Joker) fashion, it's much more coy than just some schmuck cover for Joker, because it's the real Joker, and he's working with a theme, he deals the "Dead Man's Hand" with himself as the wild card at the end.

2A. The Deck of Cards.

2B. The Deck of Cards? In case you may have noticed re-reading The Killing Joke, the design on the back of the deck of cards is Red & Black Checkers. The Joker card that Batman keeps to bring to the Bat-Cave for analysis is one of these. Side-note: Red & Black are also the colors of the original Red Hood costume ... and the new "half Batman inspired" Red Hood costume that Jason Todd (born of both Batman and Joker) wears.

3A. The Carnival Grounds. Here we see Joker buys it for his experiment with spreading his psychosis and hires gimmick carnies as henchmen.

3B. Years later (about 5 by my, and Morrison's count) Professor Pyg uses the same grounds, the same Ghost Train ride as his secret hideout for experimenting a drug that spreads "his sickness" and uses gimmick Dollotrons as henchmen.

3C. Prior to that, actually, in Batman # 663 The Clown at Midnight we get reacquainted with Solomon and Sheba, the two dwarfs who torment Gordon in TKJ. Joker has them killed in his traditional "thanks for your service, henchmen" way. Actually Sheba lives. According to Joker's inner monologue (Morrison's prose) during his "metamorphosis", TKJ is his short-lived "Ringleader from Hell" phase. And according to Morrison, the whole super-sanity theory he came up with can be credited to one Harleen Quinzel, so kudos Grant for effectively tying Moore's TKJ, Dini's Mad Love (or "Case Study"), and your own Arkham Asylum: A Serious House ... all together as "THE" definitive Joker reads.

4A. Joker walks by the posters for the sideshow freaks. There's a poster for Siamese twins, a three legged man, and a fat lady. We meet them later.

4B. When Professor Pyg unleashes his Circus of Strange on Gotham Central in B&R#2, sure enough, we meet a fat lady ("Big Top"), and an amalgam of Siamese twins and a three-legged man - the Siamese TRIPLETS known as "Siam". Also the "flaming man" Phosphorous Rex, but Rex was actually one of the Batman # 666 villains of Grant's own creation, much like Flamingo and Pyg, and others. The Carnival Freak Show is one of the classic pulp cliches.

Intermission - One would assume that, since Grant believes that somehow, all Batman's stories, even the outrageous 50's and 60's stuff, somehow really did happen to him ... that all of Joker's insane 50's and 60's stories happened as well. Not necessarily how they appeared to when first read, but something similar. Now, couple that with Grant's thoughts on Joker's David Bowie style reinventing himself - his innovation, and the fact that Grant gave us the names of these "Joker Styles" during The Clown at Midnight, you would assume that just like (and apparently Dick Grayson as well), "everything that ever happened to Joker is in continuity" as well. So how does that work with his "Multiple Choice" flashbacks to his own origins? I assume Grant, like he's doing himself with Batman, would encourage a devoted Joker fan to "mix and match the parts you like" and ignore the ones you don't.

5A. The photograph. In the Bat-Cave, Bruce sets the Joker card down next to a portrait of him, Dick Grayson (Robin), Bat-Mite, Kathy Kane(Batwoman), Bette Kane (Bat-Girl), Ace the dog, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner Gordon. It's drawn in the distinct Bob Kane Style and even has his iconic signature at the bottom. Is it a drawing, or is it a real group photo of the Batman Family of the late 50's and early 60's?

5B. Morrison would say a portrait, for sure. Of course now, in the wake of Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, it's harder to pin down continuity. It's a writer's plethora. Whatever they choose. But on the issue of known things - Bette Kane in current continuity moonlighted as the Earth-based Flamebird. She was a Teen Titan, she's retired now. Kathy Kane goes by Kate Kane, is Batwoman, but only recently (This is less specific, as she has a stepmother named Catherine Kane (a rich socialite, like Kathy Kane was) and an Aunt Kathy, presumably her father Jake Kane's sister, and her namesake, who may be the "old friend" of Bruce's who was killed by assassins). Bat-Mite is Bruce's imaginary friend that he only sees when he's going crazy - but he probably does exist in some capacity. They may very well have had Ace when Dick was younger, but odds are the dog didn't really fight crime.

6A. The Bat-Cave. Notice the one-seater "Bat Gyrocopters" hanging from the roof along with the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Morrison postulates that a lot of the goofier "trophies" in the Bat-Cave were Dick Grayson's ideas - the trophy collecting was a fun thing that he really got Bruce into doing. The goofier, more outlandish gadgets were also his influence on Bruce.

6B. Sure enough, in Batman and Robin # 7, Dick and England's "Squire", Beryl Hutchinson, fly from London to a remote coalmine in the countryside via these very same Bat-Gyros. Apparently Dick has "dusted off" some of his old favorite toys.

7A. Alfred's snack tray. Alfred brings the costumed, but umasked Bruce tea and sandwiches as Bruce ponders the Joker's next move, offering a snack for the busy detective. Bruce is too distracted by work to eat.

7B. Alfred's snack tray returns! In B&R#1 Alfred brings the costumed but unmasked Dick and Damian sandwiches and tea. Dick munches down sandwiches. Damian (Bruce's supposed son) is too distracted by work to eat. There's an interesting blog floating around out there about how Morrison never has Bruce eat food, but shows Dick eating all the time. At any rate, while Dick actually takes the sandwiches, he like Bruce remains glued to the monitors - in his case, he's chasing down Professor Pyg.

8A & 8B. As 4thletter pointed out, Gordon and Barbara enjoy cocoa but Joker barges in and shoots Barbara in the spine three times then kidnaps Gordon. He ties them up, tortures them, attempts to make Gordon watch. In B&R#1 Pyg barges in and kidnaps Sasha and turns her father into a Dollotron. Then later, he goes to turn Sasha into a Dollotron and makes Damian watch. Also, three shots to the spine - Flamingo shoots Damian in the spine three times. Damian is rapidly undergoing the "what Joker is capable of experience" whirlwind tour.

Intermission # 2. You know, I just realized for the first time that the gun Joker shoots Barbara with is a Colt Single Action Army - otherwise known as "The Peacemaker". It's probably THE most legendary cowboy/pistol duel/gunfighter gun to come out of the Civil War/Old West, and it was famous long before badass guys like Clint Eastwood made it THE standard in gunslinging Spaghetti Westerns.

9A. As Joker strips Barbara to her underwear/naked (Comics Code!) to take some photographs that will surely help tip Gordon over the edge, he says "To prove a point. Here's to crime."

9B. It's a slightly thinner reference, but Grant's "Pearly King of Crime" in London talked about "street royalty", but specifically said his gang was old-school. In it for "the good, honest plunder". And in fact, it's a recurring motif for Morrison to point out the fact that Gotham's "Pop Criminals" are all in it for the fun of crime - the GAME of crime. Cops vs. Robbers. Detective vs. Heist. Which is why all these street geniuses all pick a common street-level game as a gimmick and then try their hand at being a super-criminal. Two-Face with his coin tosses. Riddler with his riddles. Joker with his cards. It's a slick way of rationalizing Bob Kane's original very 40's comics way of coming up with villains, where he just took everyday items and things and made a character out of them.

Intermission # 3. You'd be wrong to say that Morrison is taking every homage from The Killing Joke. In fact, he references tons of 70's and 80's Batman as well. In the 70's? Well, it's pretty heavily from Denny O'Neill's celebrated run. Man-Bat has been seen. Ra's al Ghul, Talia and the League of Assassins are huge. But mostly it's the big-time great Joker stories of the time - The Laughing Fish. The Joker's Five-Way Revenge. From the 80's? He's made a big point to embrace what the 80's did to Jason Todd. Morrison uses what he likes from ALL eras of Batman.

Intermission # 4. Something always didn't sit well with me for Moore's Joker backstory. Recently I've wrapped my head around it, but I'll clarify. Moore's Joker is celebrating crime. He's trying to prove a point, sure, by torturing Gordon. But he's really the same gleeful criminal mastermind, and some would say "crime artist" he's always been. As The Joker, Moore never paints him as anything more than he's always been painted (albeit with some thoughtful shots of what he might be thinking about as segues into the flashbacks).

So it dawned on me when I first finished the story ... Lab Assistant, check. He's a smart guy. Failed comedian. Okay, maybe that's where the whole joking craziness comes into play after the Red Hood poor attempt at crime took place. But honestly? Joker is way too much of a crime savant, if that's the case. He's so good at crime. He knows the ins and outs. The ups and downs. It seems impossible to me that Joker came from humble backgrounds as a lab tech and failed comedian. This guy has the extensive street knowledge that a LIFE of crime would bring.

I'm not saying it's not possible he was a lab tech, a failed stand-up comic, and a husband and not-quite father ever. It certainly is. But the notion that somebody who would later be dubbed a PRINCE OF CRIME wasn't already a really talented criminal prior to his Joker days? Dubious, at best.

It doesn't bother me much anymore. It occurred to me more recently that if Joker had done ALL of it, in keeping with Morrison's "EVERYTHING COUNTS" mentality ... if he WAS a lab tech, a bad stand-up comic, an expert heist-level lock-pick/bank robber (See: Lovers & Madmen ... or The Dark Knight, I guess), a hitman (See: Batman '89, Batman:TAS, "Case Study") ... if he was a sicko little kid who killed animals and as a teen murdered his parents (See: J.M.S.' The Brave & The Bold: "The Atom & The Joker") ... if he did a TON of that stuff at a very young age, and quite a bit of it actually happened ... well then he really would have been a Jack of All-Trades, you know? And that's precisely what Joker was before he became a Joker. He was a Jack. He went from a Prince of Crime to being a Clown Prince of Crime.

Side-note to that whole concern. It can not be a coincidence that one of the gangsters who convinces the "young Joker" to take part in Moore's possible origin story's "Red Hood gimmick" looks absurdly more like the Joker than the kid does himself. Now anyway, back to the task at hand. In fact, in 90% of Bolland's panels, that guy gets better panel time than the young comedian does. Of course, that guy also gets shot in the head by a cop. But hey, so it goes. And as evidenced by Batman's "So, Red Hood, we meet again" ... it's all up for grabs.

10A. Actually, I've really already covered this. Joker's got midgets for his henchmen here, and they're scary and creepy and weird and torture Gordon. Look at the "girl midget", who we learn later is named Sheba. She's wearing Red & Black Checkers.

10B. Morrison brings them back, in the only way we ever meet "former Joker henches". Five-Way Revenge style.

11A. Joker sits atop a throne on a mountain dolls.

11B. Dollotrons. Lots of 'em! The cover of B&R#3 says it all, as Batman and Robin battle atop a mountain of Professor Pyg's Dollotron henchmen, and it appears they're standing atop a mountain of dolls. Even the color-scheme is similar.

Intermission # 5. This one is shorter, I promise. Moore's Joker basically sums up the entire existence of The Joker. "But can we live without them? Memories are what our reason is based upon. If we can't face them, we deny REASON ITSELF." That's Joker to a tee. His past trauma has turned him into a whirling dervish that lives only in the present. He denies reason in favor of being unreasonable. By the way, Moore's puns here are off the charts.

12A. Ripples in the Reflection. This shows that Joker's memories can't be trusted. Most of the puddles in this book are being rained upon, and so they're not still reflections, they're broken, rippling, chaotic. Not especially true. Moore's got a nice subtle metaphor going with the rippling puddles.

12B. Meddlesome Memories. Bruce wanted to know what it's like to be The Joker? He finally got his chance when his memories could no longer be trusted amidst Last Rites (During Final Crisis) when he was being telepathically read like a book by The Lump and his memories couldn't be trusted. I wonder, when he gets back, if he'll finally be able to understand Joker more.

13A & 13B. 4thletter already pointed out the clear comparisons you can draw between being "Blinded by the Hood". Dick Grayson said it to Damian in Revenge of the Red Hood, and indeed Jason was blinded a good deal by "the mask" he was wearing (a hood). Joker was blinded by the hood and that's what caused him to fall into the vat of acid. To top it off, Frank Miller recently (All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder # ?) coined that "A hood turns into a blindfold" line. Dick Grayson had thought to dub himself "Hood" like Robin Hood, and Batman tweaked it - ditch the Hood, be Robin.

That is all. Between the various bloggers and myself we'd already put thought into about 75% of these, but some stuff ... feels less thoroughly debated.

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