Friday, July 18, 2008

Hush Chapter Seven: The Joke (DC)
Batman #614 When: June 2003
Why: Jeph Loeb How: Jim Lee

The Story So Far...
When a child heir is kidnapped by Killer Croc the seeds of a plot to undo Gotham City's dark knight protector become unwittingly revealed. Batman's greatest villains are about to be manipulated by an unknown assailant, whose war of strategy against the hero proves deeply personal.

The next chapter in Batman's struggle emerges in the unlikliest of venues, during a night at the opera in the company of friends; Selina Kyle, Dr. Thomas Elliot, and Dr. Leslie Thompkins. When Dr. Elliot resists Harley Quinn's attempts to loot the crowd of their valuables, including a jade ring given to him by his deceased mother, he directs the attentions of the villain's gang on their balcony seats.

While Elliot pursues his heirloom; Wayne and Kyle emerged in their costumed alter-egos as Batman and Catwoman. Their battle with Harley Quinn earns the applause of the crowd, but when Batman tracks the fleeing villainess, he enters the alleys behind the theatre to find his arch-nemesis, the Joker, squatting over the gunshot inflicted body of his childhood best-friend, Thomas Elliot.

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Ed McGuinnessARTWORK: Doug MahnkeStrength: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

- After witnessing the street murder of his parents, the young Bruce Wayne's destiny was forever shaped to be one dedicated to an ideal. Having spent his formative years studying the various sciences, martial arts, and crime fighting techniques, Bruce is ultimately inspired to become the one-man war on the criminal element in Gotham City: Batman.

Perhaps Batman's greatest power is the millions inherited from his industrialist parents, and the various facilities that came with that. They prove crucial in the design and construction of his many weapons, which are typically non-lethal, and have a variety of uses.

Complimented by his keenly strategic mind is Batman's expertise in the martial arts. He is extensively trained in multiple fighting styles, and commonly regarded to be one of the greatest hand-to-hand fighters in the world. He is also extremely proficient in general urban warfare.

- It has been claimed that he was the victim of one very bad day, which ended with a fall into a vat of chemicals that bleached his skin, dyed his hair, and twisted his face into a permanent grin. The truth of his name and origins remain unknown, but as the Joker, he is one of the most feared killers in Gotham City.

Joker is known to have an aptitude for creating and working with toxins and other chemicals, favouring trademark concoctions that induce uncontrolled laughter, facial distortion, and often, death. Joker is also a proficient strategist, who is said to regularly reinvent his identity as a part of his vendetta against Batman.
The Joker, though not a skilled fighter, is shown to have an inhuman capacity for pain tolerance and recovery.

Additional: While Batman has one of the most impressive lists of nemesis, few characters reach the status of Joker as his arch-villain. Joker's rivalry with Batman has arguably produced the definitive vision of the classic comic book supervillain, defined by; false deaths, personal attacks (deaths), trap and baits, and a continuing relationship unlikely to be resolved.

Joker's unpredictability often means Batman is forced into a responsive position. The Dark Knight's dedication to non-lethal justice is the means by which Joker maintains his villainous presence, with an uncanny knack for escape.
Despite their continuous rivalry, it is Batman who has a distinct advantage over Joker in physical confrontations, and regularly dishes out defeat accordingly. [Examples include; Detective Comics #781 and Batman #663].

History: Batman (2-0-0)
Math: Batman Ranking: Batman (#2)

What Went Down...
He knows the moment he sees him, that Dr. Thomas Elliot is already dead.
Enraged; Batman's mind opens to decades of death and violence, filling his fists with a vengeance that recalls the Joker's crimes against Barbara Gordon, Sarah Essen, Jason Todd, and the many nameless victims who've suffered.

The Dark Knight is unsympathetic to Joker's objections. His fists spray the blood of the clown prince with an uncharacteristic ferocity, bordering dangerously on what seems like a total loss of control, but the Batman is in control.

He pummels the Joker with a barrage of expert punches, each more devestating than the last, and unanswered by the weedy killer. For every uppercut, cross, and hook, the Joker pleads with Batman, through broken teeth and blood.

Unable to stand any longer, Joker buckles under the raging bull that is the Batman. With his enemy floored, Batman pins him down and wraps his powerful hands around the spindly neck of the chalkfaced killer. With a twisted grin, the Joker whispers his innocence to a Batman, stone faced.

The Joker's partner in crime, Harley Quinn, lurks into the alley from the nearby theatre exit. Wielding an oversized mallet, she and Joker lock eyes to hatch an unspoken ambush, but the Batman is more than prepared. He rolls to the side, allowing Quinn to clobber the Joker with with her weapon.

Batman sends Harley Quinn hurtling across the alley with a stiff kick, before returning his stoic attentions to the Joker, who continues to deny responsibility for the death of Thomas Elliot. Batman slams him against a wall, only to feel a whip wrap around his neck to jerk him away.

Catwoman, injured in the previous battle with Harley Quinn and her goons, does her best to pull the weight of the Batman away from Joker. Having developed a romantic relationship with the dark knight, Catwoman offers up her bitter intent to do everything she can to prevent the raging Batman from commiting acts regrettable. Despite their closeness, her words fall on deaf ears.

Batman yanks Catwoman toward him by the length of her whip, but the lithe vixen is able to use her momentum to slash the Bat across the chest with claws in her gloves. She emplores Batman to consider what he'd do if the roles were reversed, but the silent dark knight is submerged in regreat, recalling the death of Jason Todd, a milestone that has informed his every decision since.

Intent on punishing the Joker for his constant crimes, Batman takes advantage of Catwoman's wound, putting her down with a simple palm strike. He rests her gently out of harms way and thinks about how easily he could lose her, too.
With the image of her broken body in his mind, Batman makes his decision: "He dies tonight by my hand."

Attempting to flee, Joker is quickly engulfed in the shadow of the bat.
Batman pins him to the ground once more, allowing only screams of terror to escape from beneath the canopy of his long dark cape.

An authorative voice echoes through the rain, firing shots into the alley that clip the Batman's arm and cowl. "Stand up and put your hands in the air. The next shot, I WILL drop you." The descending voice of reason holds a gun to the back of the Batman's head and tries to remind him of the virtues that have prevented his descent into the madness that he combats. He is Jim Gordon, former GCPD commissioner, and lifelong ally of the Batman.

Gordon compells Batman to think, only to reach the chilling realisation that he has thought about his actions. As if resigned to the Batman's will Gordon makes a final empassioned speech, declaring the thin line that seperates the Gotham vigilante from costumed killers like the Joker. He is successful in finally talking the Batman down, but not relieving his sense of responsibility.

ARTWORK: Tim SaleThe Hammer...
Successful in overcoming Joker, Harley Quinn, and Catwoman - your winner and new Infinite Wars champion -- Batman!

That's right! After slipping from the top of our cumulative rankings some sixteen months ago; July's 'Dark Knight-sponsored entries have seen the original number one return to the top! Six months of the Spider-Boycott hasn't hurt the Bat-cause, but does this mean a return to the Season 2006 dominance of Batman? Stay tuned to Super Stock updates (and tape stats) to watch as the drama of the rankings resumes!

With the first appearance of the Joker arriving in 1940's Batman #1; the feud between the dark knight and his clowning arch-rival has become one of the most storied battles in comics. It's a relationship that has spawned an empire of cross media success, including a second feature film outing in this month's The Dark Knight; starring Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger in the respective roles.

Directly inspired by the adventures of pulp fiction and serial films of the 1940's; the Batman's trials began with bashful confrontations against fairly standard criminals. It was, however, the emergence of macabre characters like the Joker who gave birth to the arch-nemesis as we know it today, not as an evasive foe, but as a supporting character within the genre.

Customary of grim tales of the time was the concluding death of an evil-doer, but for Bill Finger and Bob Kane, this proved merely an obstacle through which they would create a standard. This desire to revisit colourful and memorable villains quite immediately created a situation now regarded with chagrin by many fans of the modern industry -- the false death.

Joker's many murderous returns from near-death situations made his duel with Batman a veritable archetype of the genre, culminating in less permanent solves, like Arkham Asylum, which first appeared under the pen of Denny O'Neal during the grim and gritty period of the seventies and eighties. As his criminal acts became increasingly horrific, the plausibility of Joker's constant return and escape from Arkham created new questions, which arguably remain unsolved.

In reviewing the confrontation in Batman #614, I wanted to look at a question that's probably going to be as relevant to longterm diehards as it is to relative neophytes who've just seen the film: Why doesn't Batman just kill the Joker?

As with Batman, the Joker has gone through many iterations, but the question rests at least on the implication of a Joker who is sufficiently lethal. I tend to think it's modern interpretations that justify the question the best, as Batman delves deeper into increasingly subdued settings, and faces plausible evils.

Because of these many interpretations [and the history just recapped to a questionable quality] it's very difficult to attribute any single reason for the Batman's restraint, and in the context of Joker, Jeph Loeb explores this lethal imperative on the terms of their longstanding relationship.

Quite suitably, the Christopher Nolan films have made quite a good effort to present both sides of the argument. It was Batman Begins that helped distill the character's motivations as they had become through the benefit of decades of refining, presenting a clearer depiction of Bruce Wayne as a man attempting to create an incorruptable symbollic structure for good.

[Christian] Bale's Batman defines himself by these broad ideals, benefitting from a slightly more balance psyche than popular interpretations of the comic book Dark Knight. In the four-colour medium the character is free to indulge much bigger, more fantastic ideals, where his morality and sense of responsibility becomes the spiral point for the Gotham villains to emerge.

The Dark Knight appears to reinstate a sense of individual, if tangential, motivation in the Joker as an independent entity. He is undeniably attracted to the Batman, but appears as a villain with a proclivity for chaos, and intrinsic homicidal tendencies to be played out en masse.
Bruce Wayne's larger-than-life push to be a force for good, without becoming an executioner, justified Batman in the first film, but the sheer scale of Joker's madness quite realistically reconfirms doubt over Batman's non-lethal tactics.

It's a fairly curious thing.
While off the page the answer might simply be a corporate American ideal to present Batman in the moral company of his superhuman counterparts -- the reality reflect by world law enforcement is an increasingly militant presence, forced in greater number to deal with life and death situations.

Geoff Johns has done well to introduce this concept to the Green Lantern mythology, granting even sometimes war-time pacifist, Hal Jordan, the license to do something previously attributed solely to the vengeance of Parallax.
So, as comics continue to confront the reality of a dark world, why not Batman? Why is the distinction between crippling and maiming sufficient for a man so staunchly against lethal force? I might redirect you to previous discussions about our totem of justice, and ponder the subject for our last Dark Knight Friday, where maybe I'll be ready to discuss the matter with more focus.

Oh, and the punchline? Joker didn't kill Tommy Elliot!

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 5.5

If you want to know more about Batman's attempt to kill the Joker; Gordon's intervention; or the secret war waged against the Dark Knight by a new foe - Hush - then you should head over to Amazon and pick up the trades! The top ten selling storyarc is the perfect way for fans of The Dark Knight to initiate themselves into the world of the Batman, as he is forced to tackle some of his greatest foes (and allies) in an effort to uncover the true identity of Hush! If you don't like what you see, but are looking to get your Bat-fix on, then be sure to check out the Amazonian Gift Shoppe for more legends of the dark knight! Collections featuring most issues reviewed in the Secret Archives are available, and by using purchase links provided, you help sponsor the Infinite Wars!

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