Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stacked Deck: The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told

One of the greatest finds I have ever found in a bargain bin was a copy of Stacked Deck: The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told. As soon as I saw the purple faux leather cover, the gold leaf on the edges of the pages, and the signature Joker grin on the binding, I knew that this was a real find and that I had to have it. The best part about it was that it didn't break the bank at only $14 at my local Half Price Books. I showed it to Katie and even she agreed that it was too good to pass up and that it would look very nice on our bookshelf.

Now the really strange part about this acquisition was that I bought the book only a month before the release of The Dark Knight, arguably the biggest comic book inspired movie to date. How perfect is that? I am in the mood to read some Batman and Joker stories and there is a gorgeous collection of the best ones right there for me and at a dirt cheap price. Why would someone sell this to a used book store when they could have easily made a mint off of it on eBay? OK all you comic deal hunters out there. This is where I teach you a lesson. That question can NEVER enter your mind. The only thing you are supposed to think is "their loss, my gain." In the hunter/gatherer world of longboxes and quarter bins, you have to grab what you want or it will be gone before you have time to blink. Questioning why someone would want to get rid of something is a waste of time. Just be happy that you have the opportunity to read it and add it to your collection.

With my militaristic rant over (don't forget that I still have a lot of Battlestar Galactica in my system), I can get into the book itself. Like a said before, this is a gorgeous edition worthy of being in a library. Aside from a small scuff on the front cover image, the copy is in excellent shape. All of the reprints were reinked and recolored so even Batman #1 looks brand new. All together, there are twenty-two separate stories included in this volume from Batman, Detective Comics, World's Finest Comics, and the daily newspaper strips, and they run the gamut from 1940 to 1987. The only thing missing in the book is Alan Moore's Killing Joke, but the afterword explains that it was omitted since it was new at the time Stacked Deck was printed and needed to stand on its own two feet.

As I read through the many stories, two major ideas popped out at me that I think are worth discussing. First, the Joker's temperament and MO have changed drastically throughout the years. Mike Gold, a DC editor, also mentions this in his preface. The Joker starts out as a basic sociopath and murderer. Many of his first appearances don't even have the grand plans or jokes that we have come to expect. He just hides in someone's home and then kills and robs them. Yes, he still has his purple suit and white face, but the connections to a clown persona end there. Then as the character progresses, he becomes the thief with the grandiose plans that we have come to expect, but there is no bloodshed or massive death toll as there had been years earlier. Joker would try to steal the money from a charity collection or make an attempt to discredit Batman, but he would be caught with everyone safe and sound by the end. Now the modern Joker is a combination of the two using plots and pranks with deadly outcomes. I just find it interesting that today's Joker evolved as a combination of the original Joker and his murderous ways with the later Joker and his jokes and elaborate plans.

The other plot device that I kept noticing was the use of female characters. Honestly, I think I know now why comic books are only considered a "boy thing" these days. The seeds were planted in all of these classic issues. A handful of the stories in Stacked Deck involve a witless woman making a complete mess of something, be it Joker's plan to get rich or Batman's attempt to defeat him. There was one moment where I literally burst out laughing at the brainless female portrayal. In The Joker's Utility Belt from Batman #73, Batman and Robin are christening a ship in Gotham harbor. They had have already found that the Joker rigged the bottle of champagne with paralyzing gas and replaced it with a safe bottle. Right when they are about to strike the ship, a woman runs out of nowhere grabbing the rigged bottle and yells "I want to have fun too! HURRAH!" She breaks the bottle and releases the gas, paralyzing everyone and allowing Joker to rob them all and get away. This is just one of the many examples of how women were written to just be a nuisance to everyone, hero and villain alike.

After reading Stacked Deck, I found that there is a lot of Batman lore that I have missed out on and a lot of interesting stories that have been written throughout the evolution of both the Dark Knight and his nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime. It looks as though there are a lot of other books that I need to look for next time I go digging in the longboxes.

No comments: