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Batman and the Joker
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Fred Hembeck

Batman and the Joker
Uploaded December 18, 1999

Oh boy.

I reached a turning point a couple of weeks ago with respect to all this comic book stuff, and I'm not sure what the future holds anymore.

A little background first, though. I've been reading comics for about twenty-five years now, ever since my Dad bought me a battered copy of Superman Family (one of the early-seventies 100-page issues) at a rummage sale at the local YMCA. It was love at first sight, or as close as it gets for a six-year-old. Since then, I've bought comics, I've traded comics, I've salvaged comics, heck, I've even worked in a comic store (yes, primarily for the staff discount). In short, the collection's gotten pretty big over the years.

Two weekends ago, I drove out to the east end of the city to pick up my newly mounted-and-laminated Perez/Ross 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' poster, and stopped off at a nearby comic store. Well, ka-zart. A back issue sale. Buy over fifty back issues, and they're only 25 cents apiece. My pace quickened, my eyes lit up, my archeologist instinct began to take over, etc., all of the things that kick in when I come across quarter bins.

You see, I buy comics based on a sliding intrinsic-value-per-dollar scale. Truthfully, about 99% of the current output of the comic book publishers doesn't measure up for me. Oh, I understand the economics of the comics industry very well, with respect to print runs, creator royalties, changing demographics, production costs, and the like, so I am very aware of why comics cost what they do. It's not that I can't afford them; I just can't justify spending the dollars, given what I get out of them, compared to other things.

These days, the only new comic I pick up regularly is James Robinson's 'Starman' series for DC. Before that, I picked up Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman' run. The value I get from these series justifies the money spent. I'm also slowly expanding my collection of DC Archive Edition volumes through assorted online auction sites, but my proxy bids all have ceilings that vary with what I'm willing to pay for the books.

….and that brings me back to quarter bins. Throughout my years of collecting, I've only rarely come across a comic book that wasn't worth at least a quarter to me. Even if it's a typical, pedestrian, none-too-exciting time-filler like Marvel Two-in-One or DC Comics Presents, it's still worth dropping a quarter on.

The best part is that sometimes you find some really great stuff buried in there, too. There's a store in Waltham, Massachusetts, called 'The Outer Limits', whose owner (hi, Steve!) makes a regular practice of buying collections, cherry picking the really expensive stuff, and then consigning the rest to his quarter bins to get a fast turnover with a modest profit. I picked up a lot of nice runs there, from series like Action Comics, Moon Knight, Nexus, and others. I also picked up a lot of schlock, too, but, hey - it's only a quarter, right?

Okay, back to a couple of Saturday afternoons ago. I've recovered from the - ahem - exertions of the preceding Friday night, and I'm rummaging through thirty boxes of miscellaneous DCs, Marvels, and independents, confident that I'll have no problem coming up with at least fifty.


I found only four, count 'em, four, and even they only marginally snagged my interest. The rest….well, nothing else grabbed me, even though it was the kind of material that I would have snapped up in years past. I suppose that my required value-per-dollar threshold must be rising as I get older. It's a sobering thought.

I'm also beginning to look at the stacks of comic boxes in my apartment (freshly relocated from the basement of the house that Dad moved out of a few months ago), and thinking of how nice it would be to have that all that room back….

Okay, enough about my crisis of faith.

Everybody knows who the Joker is, right? He's The Batman's arch-nemesis, a homicidal sociopath, who's killed scores of people, and is in and out of Arkham Asylum as if his cell had a revolving door.

And he looks like a clown. Literally.

I wonder what made Bob Kane and/or Bill Finger develop the idea of taking an icon associated with children, circuses, and fun, and turning it into a personification of evil and murder. Some bitterly repressed memory surfacing from childhood? Some kind of traumatic run-in with a clown, perhaps? The truth is out there….

By the way, DC recently published a trade paperback collecting the classic Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin run of Batman stories from Detective Comics. Some great stories, featuring the likes of The Joker, The Penguin, Deadshot, Professor Hugo Strange, and others - highly recommended for that comics geek, sorry, fan on your shopping list.

- NP

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