Editor’s Note: DC recently launched a line of comics known as facsimile editions. Those unfamiliar with what exactly facsimile comics are, they are exact reprints of the comics including the original advertisements from when the comic was first published. The goal of the line is to feature some prominent moments from within history that might also tie into current stories as well. While the following review is not of the exact print version of the new edition, it is a review of the original story published in the new edition.
Overview: Joker is getting vengeance and Batman takes some stupid pills.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): We begin our story staring down Joker’s deranged grin, followed by Gordon and some detectives investigating a corpse of a criminal. Gordon muses about wanting Batman there, and then Batman shows up, revealing he has already been there for ten minutes, but wanted to observe the crime scene unnoticed. He then points out that the man’s face is very obviously showing the classic Joker’s smile and that the Joker is back. Why Batman decided to stay there for ten whole minutes when the only clue he collects was the very obvious joker smile and the victim’s name isn’t very logical. It seems the victim is an ex-henchman of the Joker, and so Batman makes his way to another of Joker’s ex-thugs: a retired boxer named Packy.
Packy chats up Batman like an old friend while Batman warns him that the Joker is going after his old crew after one of them sold him out and got him arrested. After a quick boxing match, Batman manages to convince Packy to come with him, as the only other option would be for him to beat him unconscious and have police protect him at a hospital. Packy concedes, but goes to take a drink of water. The water is poisoned though with Joker venom and he dies with a smile on his face. How did Joker smuggle the venom into his drinking water? It is never explained.
With Packy dead, Batman destroys evidence by kicking over the bucket the water was in and gets really angry. Meanwhile, the Joker is meeting with another of his ex-mooks, who is unaware of the previous two deaths that happened that night. Joker gives him a cigar as he leaves, which explodes with nitroglycerine, destroying him and the apartment. Three down, only two left to save. So our Caped Crusader rides to an out of the way house on the docks. The criminal living there is still an active criminal and when he sees Batman coming for him (because he isn’t being very stealthy), he books it, in one of the funniest scenes in the book. He’s parkoring over shipping containers, diving under piers, and crawling into sewer pipes, trying to give Batman the slip, who’s nowhere in any of these shots. And then as soon at the guy comes up out of the sewer, Batman’s right behind him. There’s no escaping the Dark Knight, no matter how many Benny Hill montages you have.
Then Batman proceeds to lose all intelligent thought and does whatever the criminal asks of him, and gets his own head smacked over. The criminal runs back to his bungalow and there waiting for him is the Joker. By the time Batman wakes up, he is suffering a concussion and is too late, the criminal has been hung. But the Joker is still secretly there and he knocks Batman out again with another blow to the head. He then kicks Batman while he’s down, but instead of killing him off, the Joker just leaves him because the death must be perfect.
Batman tries to get to the last criminal, who is old and living in a retirement home, but he was taken before any of this went down by the Joker. Batman then uses clues left behind by the Joker in his previous attack and tracks him down to an aquarium. Joker still has the old man hostage and tells Batman if he gets handcuffed and lowered into a shark tank, he’ll let the hostage go. He lies of course, which surprises Batman of all people, as he throws both Batman and the old man in the tank. Batman then breaks the shark’s neck with the handcuffs and uses the old man’s wheelchair to break them out of the cage. Never actually checking if the old man is alive, just hoping. And then chases after Joker, who should be long gone, but is only now just leaving. He slips on some petroleum on the beach, which was Bruce’s clue earlier to find Joker, and the only reason Batman is able to catch the Joker is that he fell on his butt trying to run away. Batman then takes Joker away, showing no intent to go check on the old man who was drowning, and making a hamfisted reference to ocean pollution.
Analysis: This story is honestly really dumb. It starts with a really good premise for a basic noir story. Joker is killing off old henchmen of his and Batman needs to stop him. Clean and simple. But Batman is so utterly incompetent throughout this entire issue its laughable. Like I mentioned before, Batman destroys evidence without thinking, does whatever the criminals want and gets a concussion as a result. The Joker only gets caught because of blind luck in the end, and Joker by all accounts succeeded in what he was trying to do. For all we know, all the criminals have died, even the old man. I mean there’s a small line where Batman says he’s breathing, but this is an old man, thrown into a tank for forty seconds and all Batman knows is that he’s breathing. The man’s heart could be giving out or anything. Instead, it just ends with Batman making a witty one-liner.
The comic does have one saving grace, and that is the art. Neal Adams is one of the greatest Batman artists to ever pen the paper and his work here is no different. Top-notch work. Adams’ work defined much of the later century’s work. The dark shades, the cool blues and purples. Even his yellow is low-saturated like gold or bronze, rather than the normal bright sunshine saturation. It fits the noir tone of the story and every person’s face is so distinctive and expressive. Honestly, Neal’s art is what kept me reading this story through the end.
Final Thoughts: If you can suspend your disbelief and see this as a comedy, an intentional mockery of the Batman formula, you can consider this a classic book. And if you want an excuse to look at Neal Adam’s work, this is definitely worth your money for that alone. Just don’t come into this thinking it’s a genuinely good story. It’s so bad, it’s good.