When Batman Wasn’t Around, Joker Became Gotham’s Hero

Back in his original solo series from the 1970s, Joker covered for Batman while he was away and took the role of Gotham City’s protector.

The Joker is commonly referred to as Batman’s arch-nemesis, but there was once a time when the villain unwittingly covered for the Dark Knight while he was away from Gotham City. Back in the pages of his own self-titled comic from the 1970s, the Clown Prince of Crime embarked on a Joker-fied version of a typical Batman crime fighting adventure. Perhaps to the surprise of many, the villain actually didn’t do a half-bad job as Gotham’s de-facto protector.

The recent Joker solo series, in which Jim Gordon hunts the titular character to put a stop to him once and for all, is actually the second time that DC’s most famous villain has gotten a comic title to call his own. The first volume of The Joker began in 1975 and ran for a mere nine issues, with a previously-unfinished tenth issue published in 2019. True to its namesake, the series focused on the exploits of Joker as the protagonist, with Batman rarely making an appearance outside of small cameos and passing mentions. Most of the issues focused on Joker facing off either against various members of the Justice League or fellow members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery.

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Perhaps the most interesting thing about the series is how it essentially supplanted Joker into the role of Batman without the Caped Crusader actually showing up. The very first issue of the series, written by Dennis O’Neil with art by Irv Novick, contained a story in which Joker attempted to foil Two-Face’s latest scheme in a bid to prove his status as the better supervillain while Batman was away in Paris. The story demonstrated a very different side of Joker; one that bore uncanny resemblances to the camp iteration of Batman from the ’60s and ’70s. Over the course of the issue, the Clown Prince of Crime engaged in detective work to deduce Two-Face’s whereabouts, used several wacky gadgets like fake throwing hair and an acid-squirting flower made out of acid-proof plastic, managed to escape from a classic villain-designed deathtrap that threatened to saw him in half and even put a stop to Two-Face’s plans all on his own before they were both sent back to Arkham Asylum. In other words, it was a typical Batman comic book plot…with Joker instead of Batman.

Joker 1 Interior

It’s pretty amusing to see Joker fit into the classic Batman hero mold so effortlessly. Perhaps those parallels serve as evidence for the villain’s frequent suggestion that he and the Dark Knight aren’t so different after all. In any case, the issue definitely proves that Joker could be a top-tier crime fighter if he chose to use his skills for good. It’s too bad that he chooses to spend most of his time killing Batman’s allies and emotionally manipulating his girlfriend Harley Quinn instead.

It remains to be seen if the new volume of The Joker will draw on any elements from its decades-old predecessor, but the original series endures as an entertaining reminder of what a Batman series would look like if Joker was in the starring role. Gotham City will always be Batman’s city to protect. But when the Caped Crusader isn’t around, at least the citizens of Gotham can rely on Joker for back-up.

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