Classic Comic Rereads – Batman #251

Recently, the comic book world mourned the loss of legendary writer and editor Denny O Neil.

O Neil was a writer of great significance, bringing DC Comics of the 70s bang up to date, by ditching the camp and inanity of the silver age, and dragging heroes like Batman and  Green Arrow into a more gritty and realistic world. A world of drug addicted side-kicks and villains that murdered people, and a world of progressive and diverse storylines that would shape the industry forever.

Perhaps one of his greatest stories appeared in the pages of Batman 251 from September 1973.

Written by O Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, a partnership as relevant as Lee and Ditko, the story “The Jokers Five Way Revenge” was a tightly constructed reinvention of The Joker that still holds up today.

The iconic cover, with a huge looming Joker holding a playing card with Batman attached, is as iconic today as it was when it appeared on spinner racks everywhere.

Adams was completely on board with the soft re boot, showing us a Joker that is instantly recognisable, but somehow more realistic than he had ever looked before. Gone was the pantomime villain that was more of a pest than a villain, and in his place was a vengeful grinning demon, seeking revenge on the hired hand that ratted him out, landing him in a unnamed mental hospital. It would be another 7 issues before the name Arkham would pop up in the Batman mythos.

The Joker is now on a murder spree, killing every member of the gang , knowing one of them betrayed him, and Batman is one step behind cleaning up the mess.

The finale with Batman in a death trap with  a killer shark, may seem low key by todays standards, but for me, it’s a thrill a minute read that would be emulated again and again by new creative teams.

The third act of the story would also be used in an episode of Batman the Animated Series.

If this comic was to be written today, it would probably be a 6 issue mini series, or a 3 part Black Label release, but O Neil and Adams presents us with a premise so concise , and pacing so fluid, that in one issue they tell a legendary story and reinvent a genre that lesser writers today  would stretch out, dilute and eventually burn out on, before the final scenes.

Many people may credit The Dark Knight Returns as the template for todays Batman, but the seed was sown years earlier by Denny O Neil.

To grab a first print of this issue you would need to spend a few quid, but it was reprinted as a facsimile issue by DC, so you should grab one of those instead.

The comics industry has lost another true legend with the passing of Denny O Neil, he will be sadly missed.

Louie Fecou

Louie Fecou reviews films, tv shows and comics for Ready Steady Cut, HC Movie Reviews and We Have A Hulk.  He currently runs his own business in between watching films.

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