The Joker’s First Appearance-Review of Batman #1
The Joker first appeared in two stories in Batman #1 in April, 1940. We review those first Joker stories for you, and we take a look (in our attached video review) at some of the artwork by Bob Kane and the writing of Bill Finger, the co-creators of Batman, Robin, Joker, and many more.
As we all know, the Joker is perhaps the most iconic and well-known supervillain in the DC Comics Universe, and perhaps in all of comics. This Harlequin of Hate first appeared in Batman #1, published on April 25, 1940. At this time, America was still in the throes of the Great Depression, and over a year and a half away from entry into World War Two. Batman had first appeared in Detective Comics #27, published in 1939, and had quickly gained fame and recognition. By the Spring of 1940, DC Comics (then called National), decided to give him his own title, while also continuing his star turn in Detective Comics.
While Joker was not the first code-named villain to fight Batman, he was perhaps the most maniacal. In Batman #1, we find five separate stories. The first, a short re-telling of Batman’s origin, sets the stage for the other four stories, all of which feature soon-to-be iconic Batman villains. The second and fifth stories feature the Joker, a crazed, white-faced, green-haired murderer with a penchant for stealing jewelry and art. He is also a scientific genius, using his chemistry lab to concoct his now-famous Joker Gas (kills victims and leaves their bodies with a crazy Joker-like smile, referred to in the comic as the “ghastly grin, the sign of death from the Joker!”) and knock-out gas. The third story features the second appearance of Dr. Hugo Strange, while the fourth story shows the first appearance of a female jewel thief called “The Cat.” This of course, is Selena Kyle, the Catwoman.
But, back to the Joker. These first two stories with Joker are connected, as the second Joker story picks up two days after the first story. In their first encounter, Joker gets Batman’s attention by killing several well-known citizens of Gotham by various secret means, using several poisons of the Joker’s design, as well as a handgun. Batman and Joker’s first battle takes place in Joker’s red car as he attempts to escape, and on a bridge, where Joker manages to physically best Batman and kick him into the water.
Robin, who is in his third comic book appearance here, follows Joker to his lair, where he is captured (of course), and tied up by Joker. Batman, who followed Robin’s trail by means of the “luminous chemical that glows only in the light of the Infra-Red Lamp,” (another Bat-Gadget created by Batman), that Batman and Robin coat their footwear with, rescues Robin and battles the Joker again, knocking him out and capturing him. This first Joker/Batman story ends with Joker in jail.
In the second Joker story in Batman #1takes place, according to the narration, two days later, where we see Joker is still in jail, wearing purple prison clothes, and plotting his escape by means of two false teeth in his mouth, where, Joker says, “inside each tooth is a chemical which when mixed together, forms a powerful explosive,” which he uses to blow up the jail.
We see Joker enter his secret underground laboratory (hidden in a cemetery), where he again plots his crimes. As in the first story, we see citizens listening to their radios when Joker interrupts the show with a threat to kill the Chief of Police. Joker succeeds in killing Chief Chalmers, and two more citizens (while stealing art and jewelry). As Joker attempts to rob the Drake Museum, Batman intervenes, and again is bested by the Joker in a fistfight.
Just as Joker is about to kill Batman, the arrival of police reinforcements causes him to flee. The police find the unconscious Batman and begin to unmask him, when Batman regains consciousness and knocks out the police. Remember, at this early stage of Batman’s career, he is a vigilante operating outside of the law, and is wanted by the police, to the point that one policeman tries shooting Batman as he flees out a window.
Joker continues his murderous crime spree, and to set a trap, Batman meets with Commissioner James Gordon in his guise as millionaire socialite Bruce Wayne. Wayne and Gordon are friends, and, since Batman is still a fugitive, Batman’s plan to trap the Joker has to come from Wayne, who gives Gordon an idea of how to lure Joker into a police trap.
Joker falls for the trap, which is not a very good one from the police perspective, as Joker kills several officers before fleeing. Robin follows Joker and they fight, with Robin knocked off a roof, seemingly to fall to his death. Here we see Robin’s acrobatic training (he was, after all, raised as a circus acrobat in his pre-Robin career), as he saves himself by grabbing onto a flagpole. On the ground below Robin, Batman and Joker is about to shoot Batman (and, in reference to the first Joker story, Joker remarks, ” I know you wear a bullet-proof vest…this time I’m going to shoot at your head…the Joker is still trump card.” Robin then drops down onto Joker, knocking the gun from his hand. Batman then starts hitting Joker, who then draws out a knife. Batman’s punch knocks Joker into a wall, causing the knife he is holding to pierce his own chest.
Batman and Robin leave the scene, believing that Joker is dead. Later, in the ambulance, a doctor tells a policeman that the Joker is still alive.
Interestingly, we see the Joker’s body in the ambulance with his jacket and shirt off. The skin of his torso and arm are clearly as pasty-white as his face, indicating that his odd coloring is not due to clown makeup, but is perhaps his actual skin color. At this point, we do not have any hint of an origin story for the Joker. The Joker would survive (of course), and appear again in Batman #2, where he teams up with The Cat.
To a reader living in the 21st Century, the stories in Batman #1 can seem quite archaic, what with ordinary people, and even rich people (Joker’s favorite victims), listening to the radio for news and entertainment. While television had been invented, and the first television broadcasts had begun some 12 years before the publication of Batman #1, most people in the U.S. still used listened to the radio, rather than owning and watching television.
In these early Joker stories, he is presented more as a an obsessive criminal genius than an out-and-out lunatic as we see him in the modern day. He clearly has an obsession for jewels and artwork, and his murders are largely with poisons of his own creation and other scientific means. He also carries a handgun, which he uses often. Physically, he is able to fight Batman and Robin, to the point of knocking them out, and, in the second story in Batman #1, we see Joker leap from one rooftop to the other, visibly impressing the acrobatic Robin.
In the first story, Joker says he targets a judge, who, he says, once sentenced Joker to prison. If true, that means that Joker was a criminal in the past who was caught and imprisoned. We can assume that at that point in his career, Joker did not have the tell-tale white skin and green hair.
Facts and Info on Batman #1 (Spring, 1940)
Batman #1was first published on April 25, 1940.
The first five issues of the Batman comics series were published quarterly on a seasonal basis; in other words, a new issue appeared every three months and was listed as the “Spring Issue,” or the “Summer Issue.”
This is the third appearance of Robin (Robin’s 1st appearance was in Detective Comics #38, and his second appearance in Detective Comics #39)
Batman and Robin chronologically appeared last in Batman #12 (due to flashbacks in that story). Their actual, last published, appearance was in Detective Comics #39. They appear next in Detective Comics #40.
Hugo Strange appeared last in Detective Comics #36 (his first appearance). He appears next in Detective Comics #46.
The Cat (Catwoman), appears next in Batman #2, as does Joker, and they team up for the first time.
Commissioner James Gordon chronologically appeared last in Batman #32. He appears next in New York World’s Fair Comics #2.
This issue features the first appearance of the Joker. The Joker makes a chronologically earlier appearance as the Red Hood as revealed in flashback in Detective Comics #168. He appears next in Batman #2.
“The Joker” and “The Joker Returns”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Bob Kane
Inker and Letterer: Jerry Robinson