As a final Christmas gift before heading off home for Christmas I thought I'd post this.
According to the man himself, THIS is the story that Paul Dini used to get the gig writing Detective Comics, which is pretty remarkable as Batman is in it for exactly four panels. The trimming has not been easy, but I think I have this down to about a third of the issue.
We start with Robin chasing down a gun-bust gone wrong. He'd been targeting a bunch of lowlifes selling guns to gang kids, but on the day he decides to break the ring, a rival gang shows up to "rumble" and Robin's caught in the middle, and neither side like him. He's on his motorbike trying to get some breathing space when he has to sacrifice it to stay alive... it was a nice bike too... though as Tim wasn't wearing a helmet, he has no one to blame but himself if he gets hurt...
Landing, Tim is pinned down by enemy fire, when a passing car brakes suddenly and the door pops open with a shout of "Robin! Robin! Over here!" a Good Samaritan is born... not having much choice, Robin takes the offer only to find...
Oh yeah, this is going to end well!
I know he has his detractors, but I love Kramers art in this issue, a LOT. And that last image of the Joker there is awesome, the fading colour as Tim passes out adding definite shades of Conrad Veidt as Gwimplaine in "The Man who Laughs". (IMHO at any rate)
Being a good little Bat-boy, Tim doesn't dream, he flashbacks significantly... to a discussion from their time on a boat during the OYL trip that the three Batboys are taking. While Bruce is out on deck, casually demolishing solid wooden beams for practice, Dick is playing darts (clearly unaware that the top score on a dart board isn't a bullseye, which is worth 50 points, but the treble 20, which is worth 60, but then, Americans...) and Tim is watching an old Marx Brothers movie on video... Dick mentions he prefers the Three Stooges (Which, given his love of puns and wordplay as a kid strikes me as not right. Dick would surely much prefer Groucho and Chico's shenanigans to the more pratfall comedy of the Stooges... a question for the ages perhaps)
At any rate, Tim asks Dick if he ever thinks about him... Dick thinks he might mean Groucho, but Tim has more serious things on his mind, "No, the clown... the Joker..."
It's a bit of a leap to get from Groucho to the Joker, but hey... just because they're hot little Batboys doesn't mean they always make sense.
Tim ponders what his past might be, and asks for the info that isn't on the Batcomputers... Dick comments that there's not much to know. He's heard rumours of him being a failed comedian, as often as he had always been a monster.
The following is one of THE best summations of the sort of Joker who used to give me nightmares as a kid.
"His grin widens... he moves forward like a comic going into a routine, and god help the poor soul he chooses"
FAB! just FAB!
And as Tim starts to come around after his little lungful of sleeping gas, we realise that the Joker's got a new favourite captive audience. And Joker in a Santa hat and scarf? Comedy gold right there. (oh, and as someone pointed out last time this was posted on LJ, bear in mind throughout this that kidnapping Robin was not on his "To Do" list for the night (Well, no more than any other night), so what we see here from start to finish, is the Joker IMPROVISING.
Now do what I do, and hear Mark Hamill reading the part of the Joker, and Loren Lester as Robin (I know he didn't play Tim's Robin, that was mostly Matt Valencia, but Loren sounded closer in age)
And, need I add, as an afficionado, that the tying and gagging is as close to Joker perfection as it's possible to imagine. Who the hell else would dream of giving their Robin bondage such a whimsical seasonal theme?! He's a deranged monster, but the Joker has STYLE! (Harley using leather jingle-bell-gags on the Bat-clan as seen in my icon is perhaps the only thing I've seen to match it)
The Joker being menacing is scary, the Joker being friendly is like "Go straight to bed-wetting terror. Do not pass fear. Do not collect minor panic". His trying to get a reaction out of Tim is creepy, his putting his arm around him is just... "Brrrrrr!"
Tim guesses he's even cranked the heat up in the car just to make him uncomfortable.
This is why I love this story so much, the Joker isn't engaged in some mass murder scheme, some overlarge scheme, he's applying all his talent and skill to making a single captive uncomfortable, and he's loving every minute of it, and it's all in the little details.
He tells Robin that he'll let him go in a little while, just let him jump out and phone Batdad, everyone's happy... As Tim would put it if he didn't have a Christmas tree bauble taped into his mouth; "Yeah right...."
Can you guess what happens next?
The look on Robin's face in that last panel is because he's just realised where the putrid smell was coming from. He can't see the poor soul that's just been run over, but he can see the unfortunate couple lying dead on the back seat, hideously agonising grins on their faces, with dried tears running down their dead faces. And that's when we're reminded again just how evil the Joker is. He killed this innocent couple, probably out Christmas shopping, simply because they had a car he liked.
(Harming random innocents is something that the BTAS couldn't do. In the original draft of the BTAS episode "Christmas with the Joker", it wasn't Gordon, Bullock and Summer Gleason that were planned to be the hostages, it was a random family, but it was felt that would be too creepy for the kids. And in another Dini scripted BTAS comic focussing on the Joker, his last line is "Time to head for home... I wonder whose it will be today!") But I digress....
Again, that is just a glorious little exchange. Pure Joker... pure Robin...
I like that Tim can think past the problem to find a solution, Bat-dad would be proud.
And now, fast food hell takes on a whole new dimension, and again; hear in Hamill voice
Something tells me a tip is out of the question....
Sadly, the page count forbids me from showing how the Joker deals with poor customer service, but it's a classic, and doesn't suggest that the fast food industry is a safe career in Gotham.
I like Robin's reaction in this next panel...
And here we see why he's such a successful baddie. He thinks of EVERYTHING, even giving his captive something to do to stop him getting bored. He removes Tim's gag (spoilsport) to allow him to beg for his life... Or if not that, then maybe someone elses (This as Joker aims the car towards a sidewalk Santa and a crowd of kids.. Seriously, all they need to be doing is carrying kittens to make this a perfect Joker moment...
The Joker is genuinely delighted that someone Robin's age knows about the Marx Brothers and spares the innocents.
Robin comments that he always loved "The Big Store", Joker vehemently protests that the "Sanity Clause" routine is from "A Night at the Opera" (He's right BTW). And out little bird boy goes on to prove that as with comedy, dealing with the Joker is all in the timing of the punchline.
I love Tim's "Just go Batman on his ass" as the definition of extreme badassery. And Tim's creative use of the poor drivers corpse is winceworthy, but commendable. Uncle Joker isn't too happy about that though... (and try not to imagine what the bulge in the Joker's coat might otherwise be.
And the thing is, you actually believe that this Joker doesn't mind (at some level) this ending, since it really IS his own joke.
There's a rather unnecessary Batman scene at the end, I suppose they felt he had to be in it somewhere, which is almost a shame, but we don't need to see it.
So there we are... Detective 826, a perfectly formed little jewel of a story, with a truly malevolent Joker, a brave and resourceful little Robin and a novel, original plot. Marvellous!