This is another comic book that was bought for my brother Ken, an event that was happening with greater and greater frequency.  It was an interesting experiment, doing a book like THE JOKER, especially under the constraints of the Comics Code. Given that, it’s not hard to see why it failed–the very premise of the series insures that the lead character can never really triumph or get away with anything. And that’s pretty unsatisfying issue after issue. That said, it’s borderline baffling that DC hasn’t tried it again in all the years since, as they’d have a much easier time today, and it’d be a sure-fire seller, at least at the outset.

In any event, in this series editor Julie Schwartz attempted to keep interest up by pairing the Joker up with different antagonists from across the DC line, characters whom you’d never truly seen the Clown Prince of Crime contend with before. That’s a pretty sound strategy when you get right down to it, and potentially likely to bring in the fans of those characters at least for one issue. In this installment, as indicated on the cover, the Joker would be contesting with his fellow Batman foe the Catwoman over comedian Benny Springer and his cat Hiawatha.

The Joker has his sights set on ransoming Springer and sneaks his way onto the Mammoth Motion Picture Studios lot while disguised as him, only to be cold-cocked by a script girl who is secretly the Catwoman in disguise. Catwoman makes off with the real Springer and Hiawatha, leaving the Joker behind to be discovered. Fortunately for him, his disguise holds up, but he chooses to reveal himself and makes a run for the exit.

The Joker rather absurdly gets past the security guard at the gate by posing as a cowboy. Meanwhile, realizing that the Joker has become an unwanted extraneous element in her scheme, Catwoman decides to lure him to her and take him out of the equation before moving ahead further on her own plan. The Joker is able to locate a member of Catwoman’s operation and fatally interrogates him as to the location of their headquarters.

Meanwhile, Springer manages to escape captivity, but realizes that he needs to go back in order to rescue his cat co-star. Why he doesn’t call in the authorities at this point is never addressed. Catwoman is startled by the not-unexpected appearance of the Batman, but when she tries to entrap him, he’s unmasked as the Joker–mere seconds before another Joker enters, claiming that the first one is a fraud. The two Jokers mix it up as Catwoman stands agog.

It’s a frighteningly long fight sequence as the two Jokers play trick after trick on one another. Unfortunately, from a narrative sense, the reader is let in on the truth immediately: the Joker who had been masquerading as Batman is the genuine article, the other is Springer in disguise. So while there’s some drama to the fight, all it really does is make the actual Joker look like a bit of a creampuff as he’s manhandled by a middle-aged actor. Eventually, Catwoman has had enough, puts a stop to the brawl, and releases Hiawatha, figuring that the cat will return to its master, Springer.

Except that Hiawatha is so well-trained (moreso than any other cat the Catwoman has ever seen, which seems like a stretch) that Springer is able to signal it to go to the Joker, who is zapped by the Catwoman. But her victory is short-lived as Springer springs her anti-Batman trap on her, ensnaring her as well. So both Batman foes are brought low by one film comedian–maybe Gotham needs a different sort of vigilante after all. There’s a denouement that gives the Joker a slight one-up as he had successfully spliced his own image into the master copy of Springer’s latest film, so now he’s the star of the show. But that doesn’t really take the punch out of being beaten by an actor (the second time that had happened in the two issues of THE JOKER I had read.) 

The letters page for this issue teased the next issue and a conflict between the Joker and the Justice League of America. Now that was something I wanted to read, but no tenth issue of THE JOKER ever appeared–this was the final issue of the series. And while that story had been finished before the plug was pulled, it never found its way into CANCELLED COMICS CAVALCADE or any latter-day reprints, so I’ve still never read it. But perhaps someday.

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