Friends, I have been a fan of comics for nearly 43 years, starting with just picking up what might have caught my eye on the spinner rack at the local gas station – like Captain America, Weird War Tales, and Batman to name a few. Although I would start seriously following my first comic series beginning with the DC Comics produced funny animal book in 1982 entitled Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew – created by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw! Even with my overwhelming love of Batman, thanks to not just comic books, toys, and various appearances on animated series – it was this rather unique DC Comics book that really captured my heart. While this is of course only my opinion, I have always felt that in the past it was DC Comics that not only embraced their Golden Age characters a little more than others – but they also produced books that were quite different for the time. Case in point, the mid-’70s The Joker series, where the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ was the star of his very own book.
How The Joker Received His Own Comic Book Series
Beginning on May of 1975 and sadly only lasting until October 1976, DC Comics released a total of nine issues where the Joker took the spotlight. Legendary writer on Batman, Dennis ‘Denny’ O’Neil took the job of crafting a bi-monthly comic series where the Joker could not only be the star of the book but wouldn’t come under fire from the Comics Code Authority. While O’Neil scripted only four of the nine issues he realized that they would have to really draw back on the Joker’s more frightening aspects not to mention his ability to murder innocents at the drop of a hat. So he and fellow writers, Elliot S. Maggin as well as Martin Pasko made the Joker a rather wicked prankster.
The shocking thing perhaps is how absolutely fantastic these nine issues turned out, they aren’t exactly lighthearted but they certainly fall under the category of fun. At times the Joker even would find himself at odds with his fellow members of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery like Two-Face and the Scarecrow – but at the end of the day you can see why he was the one to merit his own book.
“Sherlock Stalks The Joker”
In issue #6 of The Joker, which was released in March of 1976, the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ matched wits with the World’s most famous Detective… no, not the Dark Knight in this case but Sherlock Holmes himself!
You see, in “Sherlock Stalks the Joker“, the deranged clown in disguise sneaks onto the stage of a theater hundreds of miles from Gotham where a famous thespian named Clive Sigerson is performing as Sherlock Holmes. Why? To merely tweak the nose of any do-gooder that considers themselves a detective – and since Sherlock Holmes isn’t real he decides to punish Clive. In this case Clive is subjected to a spring-loaded punching glove to the face before he is clocked across the brow by a heavy smoking pipe prop courtesy of the Joker. Stunned he watches the villain and his henchman make good their escape… actually they dance and sing their way off the stage… because when you are the Joker you absolutely must perform crimes with a little style, right?
An unforeseen side effect though is that Clive now thinks he is in fact Sherlock Holmes, kind of like George C. Scott’s character from 1971’s They Might Be Giants. The stage show’s Producer demands that a stagehand – named Watson – follow Clive/Sherlock to make sure while he is wandering the city he doesn’t get into trouble. Unfortunately for the stagehand who used to be a sailor and whose nickname was ‘Dock’ Watson, the confused actor is hot on the trail of the Joker which leads him to a Golf course where the two do battle with the weapons at hand – namely golf clubs. Obviously the Joker is not above using tricks or deceit to make good his escape – but it is revealed that Batman’s greatest foe is using the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to plan his recent capers. In the case of the golf course, the heist he pulls off is merely the flag from the fourth green, the ‘Sign of the Four’.
Sherlock/Clive deduces that the Joker’s next target is a sailing ship that just so happens to be named The Baskervilles. Why is the Joker there? Well, he is below deck using a cutting torch to remove one of the clasps from a steel door – which is used to secure hatches on ships – an action referred to by sailors as ‘Dogging down the hatches’. In the Joker’s twisted mind he sees himself holding a ‘Dog’ and another name for a dog is a hound, so he possesses the Hound of the Baskervilles!
I won’t ruin the remainder of the comic as I am quite happy to report that you can pick up this very issue over on Comixology right this second for a mere .99 cents – but I would highly recommend you pick up the The Joker: The Clown Prince of Crime collection to get all nine issues. For what it might be worth, at least for myself it’s quite refreshing to revisit a time when the Joker was so much fun, dangerous but not exactly deadly.