DETECTIVE COMICS #826 "SLAYRIDE"
A Joker Christmas Tale
DC COMICS 2006 - Publishing cover date February 2007; purchased Dec 2006
Story: Paul Dini
Pencils: Don Kramer
Inks: Wayne Faucher
Colors: John Kalisz
Cover art: Simone Bianchi
For a seasoned Batman comic book reader, another tale of the Joker capturing Robin would immediately seem like the thousandth time of: Joker captures Robin; Batman saves Robin; Joker goes back to Arkham Asylum. As predictable as the motion of the sun.
But, in what I am thinking is the best Batman tale I have seen this year (though Bats is hardly in the story at all), Paul Dini and crew have fashioned a brief little story in which the Joker's bone fides as a disturbing, homicidal madman are resurrected in an effective and artful way. And that takes some doing considering the number of times the character invented by Bob Kane/Jerry Robinson in 1940 has been used, over and over ad nauseam. By juxtaposing this character into a reasonable facsimile of "reality," that is, just another man behind the wheel of a big SUV being driven through town, the terrifying picture of an automobile as a weapon becomes the vehicle for a tight, effective story.
Learning about the Joker
The first four pages seem like typical Batman fodder setting up a plot, a discussion between Tim (the new Robin) and Dick Grayson (the old Robin) about the Joker, brought on by the two watching a television broadcast of a Marx Brothers movie.
Well, yes, we learn, the Joker is a sad, failed comedian who through some tragic accident became Batman's arch-criminal. There's some psychoanalysis tossed in:
Old Robin: "I've seen him saunter into a room and then stop just to listen to the first curious whispers and savor how quickly they turn into screams. ...It's candy to him, a sip of rare wine, the chorus of a favorite song."
New Robin: "Blood in the water"
Old Robin: "Exactly. Then his eyes dart around until they lock with the person who is scared of him the most."
This scene is told in flashback, because we now see that New Robin (Tim) has been picked up (apparently by pure happenstance) by a joyriding Joker when Robin was pinned down by the gunfire between two warring gangs.
Quickly gassed, Robin is trussed up into the front passenger seat of the SUV from where he is a witness to the randomly plowing-down of pedestrians on Gotham's snowy streets. Like a berserk holiday shopper running errands, the Joker passes off each hit-and-run as if it were an accidental fluke, even calling in wrong addresses to the 911 emergency service, and then heading (with the helpless, mute Robin beside him) to a fast food drive-through.
Of course this erupts into bloody mayhem too, but I cannot tell if this is because Joker intended it that way all along, or if this character truly does lose his (rather prodigious) temper when the window girl cannot keep up with his highly detailed order.
A sense of unpredictability, along with a glimpse into Joker's megalomania, combine with common everyday life in Gotham City to create the unnerving success of Dini's tale.
Christmas Joyride with the Joker
Don Kramer's artwork is stiff but serviceable. There are times I cannot tell what is visually happening. For example, near the beginning of this 22-page story, it looks like the Joker's SUV is already smashed in the front with a cracked windshield when he picks up Robin, implying he had already been busy elsewhere knocking down Gothamites. But then a few pages later the car is in pristine shape with a solid windshield. Referencing back and forth I realize that this battered car (though colored the same as the Joker's vehicle) is some other car altogether, though not one of the two original cars that were chasing Tim/Robin on the first page. Where did this fourth car come from?
Another complaint is when Joker pulls up into the fast-food drive-through on Christmas Eve to order the "big beefer extra mustard" burger. Is it realistic to expect the window girl to not notice Robin in the passenger seat, trussed up and gagged with a Christmas ornament in his mouth?
There are also two dead bodies in the back seat staring into the night with "Joker grins" plastered across their faces (the order girl doesn't notice this either). With the Joker hanging from the driver's window, gesticulating and shouting into her face, maybe she might miss these gruesome side details, but the manager she calls to the window also takes no notice either. (Not that he has long to gaze at anything when the angry Joker promptly pulls a gun.)
Maybe a rudimentary hearse like this Joker-mobile just isn't that peculiar in a violent city like Gotham.
The denouement at the end of this tale wraps it all up with a paternalistic chat from Batman who has finally shown up to take the matter in hand.
What puzzles me is the identity of the dead body on the street surrounded by Gotham Police flares and another officer directing traffic away from the corpse-traffic. It's clearly not the Joker, so who is it? The panel detail is shown twice (in fact it is identical, the same panel cut and pasted) - - but what does it mean?
Aside from the lack of editing to clarify foggy bits of the story/art, "Slayride" is a nicely-condensed education in the vicious homicidal-tendencies of DC Comics' 'Clown Prince of Crime.'
Simone Bianchi Cover artwork
More Simone BIanchi Batman Covers:
Poison Ivy on Detective #823
Original Page December 13, 2006 | Updated Oct 2015