Badass Panels, Volume 5: Batman Adventures #3
As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to the definitive portrayal of the character, it's hard to beat Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series. You can get pretty much everything you need to know about Batman in the opening sequence, which features both an explosion and Batman looking awesome in front of a bolt of lightning. Plus, that scene where the criminals see him on the rooftop and Batman narrows his eyes and uppercuts one?
Seeing that was the moment I became a man.
DC's Batman Adventures, the often-overlooked print counterpart to the cartoon, was every bit as awesome, and if you ever get a chance to buy a run, do yourself a favor and jump on. The issues usually featured the team of always-exciting writer Kelley Puckett and the late Mike Parobeck, whose amazing pencils graced books like Justice Society of America (starring Wildcat!) and the Elongated Man mini-series before he died at the age of 30, way too young.
Tonight's Badass Panels selection, however, was pencilled by one of my personal favorites, Ty Templeton, and it is, without question, the defining moment of the Joker.
For the first two issues of The Batman Adventures, the Joker was behind the scenes, manipulating Catwoman and the Penguin into doing his bidding while attempting to remain anonymous... right up until a henchman accidentally turns on a light, revealing his identity a few pages into #1 and getting shot dead for his troubles.
Yes, this is a kid's book. And yes. It is awesome.
By the time #3 rolls around, the Joker's ready to make his move, and so he kidnaps Comissioner Gordon and takes over the Gotham City airwaves, broadcasting from an undisclosed location in an effort to do nothing but make a point. What follows is a sequence where each panel is more badass than the last:
I think it's only fair to mention this that I was ten years old when I first read this comic, but it still hits me the same way now. The Joker's message is clear: There is no one--not the police, not the government, not your ideals of good and evil, no one--who can protect you. You are not safe. There is always a clown with a baseball bat waiting around the corner for you.
Tell me that's not terrifying. And it gets better.
Even more than Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, that single line for me encapsulates what the Joker is all about. The look of pure, abject fear on Jim Gordon's face, a split-second loss of composure--is just icing on the cake.
What happens next is one of the best pages all time, presented here in all its glory:
Holy Crap. Like I said, I was ten, and the Joker taking a baseball bat and breaking Commissioner Gordon's arms while Batman watched, helpless to stop him, was not something I saw every day. Not to mention the Joker's snide "Be a man, Gordon, arms heal fast." I remember staring at that one line for minutes, shocked by the sheer brutality of it.
And Panel Five? That thing's a masterpiece. The Joker, sweating from the exertion of beating a beloved character with a vintage bat that he took the time to explain, peering mad-eyed and evil from behind his hands, and all the while smiling. I'd never seen anything like it. It was awesome. And it all happens by page seven
Of course, Batman comes up with a clever plan to stop the Joker, and by that point we all know how it's going to end: A little chat with Mr. Fist.
But even after he gets clocked in the jaw, the Joker manages to make his escape, leaving Batman empty-handed and the Commissioner with a set of broken arms. That's not exactly a happy ending in the traditional sense, but it does wonders to reinforce the Joker's point: He's still out there. And he's got a bat. And he's laughing, because there's no one who can stop him.
Best Joker Story Ever.