A forgotten Bronze Age masterpiece with The Joker fulfilling his role as the clown, and Batman using The Marx Brothers to defeat him.
This classic comic review of Batman #260 contains some minor spoilers.
As a kid, nothing was more appealing than grabbing a 100-page spectacular from DC Comics. Usually they were part of the normal run of the title, sometimes they would be special one-off issues, but in the mid 70’s you would find a short run of these books in titles such as Justice League, Superman and Batman.
The first story would almost always be a new production from the regular creative team, and the other back up stories would be reprints from the Gold and Silver Age of comics. Recently, DC has revisited this format with Walmart exclusives , and the format, new story then reprints, holds up pretty well.
Batman #260 from 1975 is a classic Denny O’Neil-penned story, with art from Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. “This One’ll Kill You Batman” starts with a stunning splash page: Batman laughing uncontrollably at the feet of The Joker, on an empty stage.
The story starts with The Joker drugging the guards of his cell with his laughing formula. He steals the keys from a guard and makes his escape. However Batman was worried about such an event and shows up to catch the villain. However Joker has released some other villains who attack Batman. During the fight, Joker kicks an urn of coffee over Batman allowing Joker to escape. However the coffee contained Joker’s laughing poison, and Batman is covered in the stuff. (There’s also a surprising cameo from Two-Face here in a great character moment).
Batman finds that the drug is causing him to laugh uncontrollably, so he seeks the help of Doctor Hamish, “an expert in bizarre chemicals.”
However, while Batman is at his office the good doctor receives a delivery of flowers, but they are of course from the Joker, and the flowers spews forth a deadly gas that kills Batman’s chance for a cure.
Running outside, he finds the “delivery man” and after a short fight, the villain hands Bats a tape recorder with a message from The Joker. The Joker explains that the laughing drug that Batman has been poisoned with will increase in intensity, and in 72 hours he will be dead. There’s only one more doctor in the world that can help, and he’s in London.
Bruce attends the funeral of Doctor Hamish along with some other familiar faces from DC, but has to leave as his urge to laugh is out of control. He is found in the back of his limo by Alfred, laughing like an idiot, and realises that the quicker he gets to London the better, but the Joker has also (somehow) made it across the pond, and their race to find the only person who can save Batman is on.
Many people may have forgotten that there was a time when the Joker was actually The Clown Prince of Crime. Modern comics have transformed him into a complete and utter psychopath, that will commit the most horrendous crimes, and murder anyone in the most vicious way possible. The trend actually began in the 70’s with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams redefining the character. The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge in Batman #251 brought the Joker up to date and away from his camp portrayal in the 60’s, but just nine issues later in Batman #260, and we see The Joker literally telling Batman jokes that are so bad that he is laughing himself to death.
In his defence, The Joker also has a doctor on stage, in a guillotine that is ready to behead him, while Batman can do nothing but watch and laugh, but there is still something quite chilling about seeing the Batman laughing like a fool, while a life hangs in the balance.
How Batman manages to pull himself together, with the help of The Marx Brothers, is again so silly, and yet somehow appropriate.
This may not be a Batman/Joker story that many people remember or even know of, but it is just so odd and quirky that it deserves to be read. It very rarely gets reprinted anywhere, but you can grab a copy on eBay if you are eager to have a look.
For me, this book brings back a strange nostalgia for this era of comics, drifting between serious thriller stories, but still just gently embracing the silliness of the previous age.