Stuever on the Clown Prince of Crime

How the hell did I miss this? Stuever’s one of my favorite scribes at the Paper of Record, and The Joker is, of course, the scariest killer in fiction. Decent essay — Stuever’s are never less — but he misses that people said the same thing about Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman that he’s saying about Chris Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight: That the villain is more interesting than the hero. Well, yeah, Hank: The villain is always more interesting than the hero.

I can’t recall if it was an issue of Detective Comics where I first saw the ad pictured above on the back. (Could they advertise “Suggested for Mature Readers” books on Comics Code-approved books?) It would have been late 1987 or early 1988. I do remember being terrified by Brian Bolland’s depiction of The Joker — those swollen, murderous eyeballs! — and reading longtime editor of the Bat-books editor (an occasional writer) Denny O’Neil’s “From the Den” warning that The Killing Joke was most certainly not appropriate for children. His column ended with the sentence, “You are alerted.”

A smart salesman, that O’Neil.

Naturally, I had to have it.

I’d read The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One by that point, both “adult” Batman stories that had found a massive audience outside of the comics mainstream — one that O’Neill hoped, no doubt, would spend $3.50 on The Killing Joke, too. (The new hardcover reissue will set you back $17.99.)

When it finally hit the comic book shop to which I faithfully pedaled a sweaty mile, several times a week, Roger (the rat-tailed manager who was exactly like Comic Book guy on The Simpsons, only disgustingly skinny instead of corpulent) slapped a “PG-18” sticker on it, which made it like an R-rated movie, only you couldn’t buy a ticket for something else and then sneak in. Your parents, could however, sign an index card granting you permission to buy PG-18 comics (mostly the DC fantasy/horror books like Swamp Thing and, a year or so later, Sandman; the kind of stuff that in the 90s would comprise DC’s Vertigo line. I’m pretty sure this store didn’t carry anything that might approach any legal standard of obscene, though probably a lot of parents would have called Love & Rockets that.) Incredibly, my dad accompanied me to the store at my urging so I could buy The Killing Joke. (Later — somewhat incredibly, he even signed one of those index cards.) It was the first comic I ever saw where the bad guy actually seemed evil, and his acts horrifying and irreversible.

I’m going to have another look at The Killing Joke tonight, before I see The Dark Knight on Thursday. Can. Not. Wait.

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