07 July 2008

The Joker: Devil's Advocate (DC, 1996)

The Joker: Devil's Advocate is a little known gem of a Joker story. I say little known when compared to, say, Killing Joke. It's hardly mentioned when Batman/Joker stories are discussed which is a pity because I feel it's quite a good story featuring Batman's premier villain. It's also a pity that the graphic novel is out of print but try the back issue bins and discount bins the next time you walk into a comic shop. You never know. Of course, there's always EBay.

Anyway, Devil's Advocate. A rash of deaths have occurred in Gotham City and were caused after the victims licked the back of stamps featuring some of the great comedians in American entertainment history. The victims all have the morbid Joker grin on their dead faces and after the Joker is captured by Batman and Robin while attempting to rob the vault of the Gotham Post Office, the D.A. decides to pin all the deaths on Joker and ask the jury to give him the death sentence. The jury agrees and Joker is brought to Blackgate prison to await execution. There's only one problem: the Joker insists he's innocent of this particular crime and Batman agrees. So it's a race against time for Batman and Robin to find the real murderer and save his deadliest foe from the electric chair.

Did I say race against time?

The Joker actually wants to go snap, crackle and pop as soon as possible because it's all about the limelight, baby. Too bad Batman has to stick his nose in it and clear the Joker's name. Turns out the real murderer is some guy who wanted to get rid of his wife. Yeah, that's it. He wanted to get rid of his wife. Oh, wait. Should I have given a spoiler warning at the beginning of this paragraph? Eh, I didn't spoil anyone's surprise. The story isn't about who really killed all those people.

This story is all about the Joker. The investigation to clear his name by Batman is more of a sideshow and it seemed to me like writer Chuck Dixon was more interested in showing the reader how Joker coped in a real prison (he had never been in one before as he was always sent to Arkham Asylum with the rest of the crazies) than he was in showing us how Batman solved the mystery. Even the big clue that led Batman to the murderer was discovered by chance by Robin while helping his girlfriend's uncle move stuff. Yes, really.

Still, that is not a complaint. I've always been wary of Joker stories. He is so overused as a foil to Batman that there aren't any surprises anymore. The formula has always been the same: Joker escapes, plans a themed crime, Batman stops him in time and then the Joker either escapes or ends up in Arkham again. Lather, rinse, repeat. But Devil's Advocate at least attempts to show a different aspect of a Joker story. Instead of trying to hunt him down, Batman has to save his arch enemy from a state sanctioned death. And the beneficiary of Batman's hard work won't even help because he's actually looking forward to a death that is promised to be high in ratings! No wonder Robin and Commissioner Gordon wonder why Batman even bothers (something about justice yada yada yada).

Of all the old Joker stories that DC is making available again in time for the Dark Knight movie, they seemed to have missed this one. It's worth your wile to hunt down this original graphic novel and have one of the better written Joker stories in your collection.

One of my favourite panels featuring the Joker in Blackgate Prison:

He no like dem harmonica music, do he?

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