Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October is Spookey Month: The Joker versus the Scarecrow!

If there's a DC super-villain made for Halloween, it must be the Scarecrow.  He likes to scare people, people like to be scared on Halloween.  The Joker #8 (August 1976) pits him against our titular anti-hero over a batch of new-fangled fear gas developed by those happy-go-lucky chemical warfare specialists down at S.T.A.R. Laboratories.  What's startling about this book is despite its sunnily appealing Irv Novick-Tex Blaisdell art, there's a body count.  I'm simply fascinated by this dichotomy, which gives the book a mood of joyful nihilism.  Innocent people die, and so does a not-so-innocent.  The Joker himself says it best right there on the cover, "What a beautiful night for a murder.  Let's find a victim!"

While we're looking at it, that's a nice Ernie Chan cover.  Once again, Chan had to sign it "Chua," thanks to some kind of bureaucratic goof involving his work visa.  Whoever colored it didn't quite capture the essence of night, though.  No matter.  The lurking Scarecrow provides a lot of menace that's missing in the cheerful story itself.  I mean despite all the killing.

And now a special message to you, the reader!

Dear Reader,

How have you been?  Did you have a nice summer?

Okay, let's discuss something perhaps you can help me with.  This story brings up something that's troubled me for a long time.  I just can't imagine why your average, ordinary, work-a-day criminal would ever join the Joker's gang. 

Being a Joker henchperson has such a high fatality rate.  One touch you can almost count on in any Joker story is when the writer decides to present the Joker's bona fides as a dangerous lunatic by having him off a henchman.  This time writer Eliot S. Maggin floats the clever idea the Joker instills a post-hypnotic killing suggestion in all his employees.  If any of his gang rats him out, that person laughs himself or herself to death.  Good deal for the Joker, but a terrible burden for his lackeys.

While there's no riskier occupation in the DC universe than Joker henchperson, there is virtually no reward in it.  Most of us grow up with the idea of risk versus reward.  The greater the risk, the greater the expected reward.  What's the reward for members of a Joker gang?  Even if the Joker decides to steal, say, a solid gold statue of famous clown Emmett Kelly, he's not doing it to melt the metal down and sell it off and split the profit equitably, or even to remove it from the market in hopes of increasing the value of his own stockpile (although a single statue would hardly do that) as when Auric Goldfinger colluded with communist China to irradiate the United States' gold reserves at Fort Knox.  The Joker operates whimsically.  He steals that statue because Emmett Kelly appeals to him in some personal way and he just wants to look at it.  In this story, the Joker takes the fear gas so he can use it to steal the ceiling out of a hyena cage because the painting on it would make a pretty decoration for his "Ha-Hacienda," a kind of Winnebago of crime he and his gang drive around in.  

Yet the Joker never seems to lack for lackeys, does he?  It's easy to understand why the Joker would appeal to anarchists, weirdos, cultists and anti-social types.  Even Charles Manson has fans.  But as far as I know, no writer has attempted to explain the attraction of working for the Joker to the Rockos and Leftys out there in Gotham City and Metropolis.  The blue-collar professionals-- safe-crackers, strong-arms, grifters, B&E boys (and girls) and car-thieves-- with families to feed. 

Here's where you come in, loyal reader.  Has any DC writer addressed this in a story?  I know Alan Moore had the Joker employ carnival freaks in Killing Joke-- which makes a lot of sense-- but never explained their motivation for taking part in his spree.  Every other Joker story I can think of features more conventional criminal types.  What's their attraction to the Joker?  I can only conclude lawbreakers in the DC universe must be even bigger idiots than real-world criminals.

Thanking you in advance!

A Dope

Oh yeah!  I forgot all about the Scarecrow!

He flies into the comic in a teensy-tiny helicopter with his knees jutting skyward as if he's Disney's Ichabod Crane (a partial inspiration, I believe) on his horse at the end of the classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment from their 1949 package film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  He and the Joker engage in a duel right there in the zoo, and Scarecrow makes a complete ass of himself.  Oh well, to hell with him.  Here's Der Bingle singing about the Headless Horseman...

Here's Thurl Ravenscroft doing the same...

Happy Halloween, everyone!

No comments: