The importance of Batman 251 (Sept. 73) cannot be exaggerated. The Joker had not appeared in four years, which was a rarity for him. For thirty years, the Joker had been a crime clown, stealing in themed robberies. In this issue, Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano return him to the murderous maniac he had originally been.
From the very first page, it’s clear that this is a far more intense Joker than the reader had become used to. This was not the character played by Cesar Romero on the tv show, this guy is dangerous.
And for the first time since the early 1940s, the Joker is murdering people, and leaving them with a grin on their face, his signature calling card left behind.
The story has the Joker out of prison, seeking out his former gang members. He is certain one of them betrayed him, and goes about killing them all off. Did one of them turn him in? The story leaves that unanswered, and in making it irrelevant, emphasizes that the Joker’s actions are not rational.
Batman does his best to prevent the Joker from killing his former associates, but of course none of them trust him. A helpful nun gives Batman some information about the final, and oldest, member of the gang, abducted by the Joker, who was using the name Mr. Genesius. This nun has appeared again, and fairly recently, although off the top of my head I can’t recall in what story.
Batman and the Joker only face each other in the last few pages of the story, as the villain makes Batman jump into a shark tank, exchanging his life for the last gang member – then promptly tosses the man into the tank as well.
The art throughout this issue is superb, the story much darker than any Joker tale in ages, and a transformative one for the villain.
The Joker returns in a few months, in the pages of Brave and the Bold.