Batman #1: "The Joker"

Batman #1
"The Joker"
Spring, 1940

Script: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane; Jerry Robinson (backgrounds)
Letters: Jerry Robinson

A master criminal is stalking the streets of Gotham City -- one who is weaving a web of death about him -- leaving behind stricken victims wearing ghastly grins -- the sign of the Joker! Only Batman and Robin dare to oppose him! They are engaged in a battle of wits -- with the only compromise being swift death!!! In the evening, most people are at home listening to their radios -- The music is cut off by static -- then a toneless voice drones on -- Tonight at twelve o'clock midnight, the Joker will kill Henry Claridge and steal the Claridge Diamond! None must try and stop him!

When the music resumes, most listeners believe it to be a gag like the one from the fellow who scared folks with the story about Mars! The radio stations are swamped with calls! The authorities declare the mysterious message as harsh reality! Frantic with fear, Henry Claridge calls for police protection. The officers assure the millionaire he and his diamond will be safe with them in the same room with him. BONG BONG At eleven o'clock, the police officers form an inflexible cordon around Claridge! The minutes drag on -- until the hour of twelve o'clock! Henry Claridge is delighted to find he is still alive and safe! Then, without warning... AAGH! AAG-HH! The Joker has fulfilled his threat with the death of Claridge! Slowly, the facial features of Henry Claridge are pulled into a ghoulish grin. The sign of death from the Joker! The criminal always leaves his victims with a smile!

If the Joker has killed Claridge, he must have gotten the diamond! How could he have done this with all of the officers in the room? The "diamond" in their possession is a glass phoney! A Joker playing card is found beneath the display case! Elsewhere, a man sits -- a man whose features do not change -- save for his burning, hateful eyes! The Claridge Diamond is now his! The authorities would probably like to know how he accomplished it! And how he would like to tell them! He injected a solution into Claridge while he slept at twelve last night -- a solution that kills in exactly twenty-four hours -- so the millionaire would die at twelve this very evening! They have found the glass diamond the Joker had exchanged for the real one last night! This was a prediction of a crime that has already been completed! The Joker's smile is bereft of mirth -- a ghastly grin! If the authorities expect to play against the Joker, they had best be prepared to be dealt with from the bottom of the deck. Newspapers and radio run the story of the cunning criminal known as the Joker! At home, Bruce Wayne speaks with young Dick Grayson! When asked by Dick why they don't take a shot at the Joker, Bruce replies the time isn't right...

Another evening, another unscheduled interruption, and the same deadly, toneless voice -- Tonight in exactly one hour, the Joker will kill Jay Wilde and steal the Ronkers Ruby! Once again, a living wall of officers surrounds a doomed man! Jay Wilde has only five minutes left! BONG BONG At ten o'clock, his life is ticking away! AAAGH Wilde's strangled death-scream is followed by a strange gas... From a suit of armor emerges the Joker!!! Fortunately for the officers, the venom spray only paralyzes, and they are still among the living! Unlike them, Jay Wilde was done in by a blow dart! The concentrated venom ensured Wilde's smile! After removing the armor, the Joker steals the Ronkers Ruby, and takes a bow! He is now happy and is confident they will meet again!

The authorites search for the Joker but to no avail. Another group is also interested in the criminal! A hangout frequented by the criminal element -- They gotta get this Joker guy! They has the Claridge Diamond lined up for a job and the Joker pulled the job! They were also trying for the Ronkers Ruby when the Joker cut in on their racket! Word is passed that Brute Nelson is gonna get the Joker because he thinks he is a yeller rat! The news travels along the criminal grape-vine... and the Batman is ready to go into action. That evening, Brute Nelson sits in his suburban home. When he gets through with the Joker, the criminal will be nothing but a joke! Suddenly, the droning, deadly voice is heard, and Brute Nelson sees the funereal features with eyes radiating pure hatred. The doors burst open -- and the Joker is trapped!! Nelson's ugly head does have a brain! He knew the Joker would come if he got sore enough! The Batman's arrival on the stairs is heard by those gathered below! The Joker is forgotten as the Batman leaps down the stairway --

The Dark Knight strikes the gunmen with the force of an avalanche! His massive fist strikes a gunman's jaw! A chair is wielded to take down the other two assailants! The Joker has taken advantage of the fight to settle his score with Nelson! He won't even waste his Joker venom upon Brute, but gives him something he can comprehend! A lead bullet! The Batman leaps after the fleeing Joker!! That criminal isn't getting away if he can help it! Even as the automobile starts on its way, the Batman is upon it!

Only the Batman could have made the leap successfully! The automobile speeds on its way, with the Batman grabbing the Joker's hand! As the Automobile careens off the bridge, its door swings open, and the Batman tumbles out with the Joker! Their struggle continues at the bridge, where the Joker delivers a haymaker to the Dark Knight's jaw!!! A devastating kick drives the Batman's head backwards! The master criminal pushes his helpless opponent off the bridge! Fighting against the Joker has proven to be a deadly lesson! The shock of cold water quickly revives the fallen Batman! His head feels as if it were going to burst at any moment!

It appears he has met an enemy that can give him a good fight! However, he is not quite licked yet! Once again, the Joker delivers his message of doom! Judge Drake, who once sentenced the Joker to prison -- is the next to die! Death will come for him at ten o'clock! Bruce and Dick have two hours! At the home of Judge Drake, it is now nine o'clock, and he has only one hour to live! The police chief reminds the judge there are men posted outside every door! No one can get in or out! In order to relax, they will play some cards. Minutes later, it is the judge's bet, and in order to win, Drake needs the Ace of Spades! Unfortunately for Judge Drake, the "police chief" holds the winning card. The Joker has taken the place of the real police chief, who is currently tied up in the cellar! Among his many accomplishments is the art of disguise! At ten o'clock, the venom has done its work, and the card game is finished! The "police chief" reports the death of Judge Drake, ordering the body to be watched, and he will be heading to police headquarters!

Unbeknownst to the "police chief," his departure has been noted by Robin the Boy Wonder! Batman told him to follow anyone that comes out of the judge's home! The Boy Wonder trails his quarry to a deserted house! Robin enters the darkened dwelling!! The quiet is broken by a crushing blow from behind! The Batman is inspecting the scene outside of the judge's home. Noting Robin's absence, the Dark Knight uses his infra-red flashlight! The crimson beam of light reveals the Boy Wonder's footprints! The soles of Batman and Robin's boots are coated with a luminous chemical that glows only in the presence of infra-red light!

With his police disguise removed, the Joker prepares to inject his deadly venom into Robin... when Batman comes crashing through the window... causing the startled criminal to drop the hypodermic! He may be the Joker but the Batman is the king of clubbing blows! The Joker is sent crashing backwards into a table full of chemicals. There is a flash of electric flame, ignition, and chemical fire! The Joker reaches for the fallen spray gun. The paralysis gas spews forth, causing the Dark Knight's jaw to tighten into a ghastly grin! The Joker will leave his paralyzed victim to the mercy of the flames!

Thanks to his amazing recuperative powers, Batman recovers, and drags the bound figure of Robin from a fiery death! The Boy Wonder heard the Joker boasting about getting the Cleopatra Necklace next! Otto Drexel is the owner of the Cleopatra Necklace! The Dynamic Duo must get to Drexel's penthouse residence before the Joker does! As the master criminal prepares to enter the penthouse, the Caped Crusader leaps down from the scaffold!

The crazed killer fires off bullet after bullet into the charging figure! The Joker must not have heard of a bulletproof vest! CLICK! CLICK! The maddened criminal hurls his empty gun at the Batman! The Dark Knight is ready to see if his opponent can really fight! The Joker leaps for the adjoining construction site... but Robin the Boy Wonder is already there!! He is Batman's ace in the hole! As the Joker gains ground upon the riveting platform, he leaps at the Boy Wonder, who drops, and gets even for the sock in the head with one of his own!

Robin's kick sends the Joker flying off the scaffolding! As the frantic figure falls past the penthouse ballustrade, the Dark Knight's hand reaches out... His strong arm hauls the hapless Joker to safety! The Joker has played his last hand and Batman's final blow serves to seal his capture! The following day, the Daily Star reports the Joker being left in front of the police station. Dick would like to know how the victims' mouths turned into that horrible grin! Bruce tells his ward the Joker used some sort of drug that pulled the muscles of their faces! The Joker was a clever, but diabolical killer! One too clever and too deadly to be left free! Even as Bruce Wayne speaks, at State Prison, the Joker is planning his next escape! They can't keep him here! He knows of a way out - and the Joker will yet have the last laugh!

This story was reprinted in The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feifer.

Conrad Veidt (The Man Who Laughs) served as a model for the Joker's appearance.

Steve Englehart paid homage to the Joker's roots during his run in Detective Comics.

Unfortunately for the Golden Age Batman, his amazing recuperative powers were no match for the cancer caused by Bruce Wayne's years of pipe-smoking.

Both the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime are masters of disguise.

Dabney Coleman starred in "Drexel's Class".

When Dick Grayson went off to college, Bruce Wayne closed Wayne Manor, and moved into a penthouse in Gotham City.

Robin's reckoning against Boss Zucco took place atop a construction site.

The Joker character proved too valuable to lose and became Batman's arch-nemesis.

The Clark Kent of Earth-Two worked at the Daily Star.

Steve Chung
"The Review!"