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CSBG Archive

Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 221: Batman #251

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams! Today’s page is from Batman #251, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 1973. This scan is from The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, which was released in 1988. Enjoy!

Remember when the Joker was scary?

As far as I know, this is the final issue of the O’Neil/Adams collaboration, but what a way to go out! This is another iconic first page (and, of course, the wonderful Adams cover is famous too), but as it’s a splash page, Adams doesn’t have a lot to do except draw the Joker, which of course he does very well. The page is oriented the correct way, so that we’re looking with the Joker toward the second page, and Adams places the laugh sound effects on the left side of the page to give prominence to O’Neil’s prose on the right side. The lettering is excellent, as usual – it begins small and grows larger and more cacophonous and, of course, more insane. The way the letters begin as single letters but then begin to meld together is a very good way to show the Joker’s laugh becoming more manic. Adams, Giordano, and Tom Ziuko (I assume Ziuko was the original colorist and not a “recolorist” for this collection, but I’m not completely sure) do a good job making the Joker seem completely insane – Adams draws him with a flat nose and wide eyes, which helps make his large smile wider and creepier. Giordano adds heavy lines to his forehead and brow, while Ziuko makes the dashboard the only light source, and anytime someone is lit from below, they’re naturally creepier. The gray tones on the Joker’s skin help emphasize his pallor, which makes the white starker, and his green eyes are always somewhat freaky. Adams puts him in the middle of a storm, of course, symbolizing the chaos the Joker brings in his wake.

O’Neil is in fine form, as usual: “It is as if nature itself were weeping!” Like many of the examples we’ve seen this week, O’Neil uses this dramatic tone to link Batman’s weird adventures to horror comics of the past, and as usual, either Adams or the unknown letterer helps him with the ragged lettering of “revenge!” O’Neil goes a bit overboard with this introduction, but considering that the Joker hadn’t been seen in comics in 4 years and O’Neil/Adams were “returning him to his roots” as a homicidal maniac, the florid prose is probably appropriate. This is one of those pages that, as powerful as it is today, probably had much more of an impact in 1973, when readers were used to over two decades of the Joker playing pranks on the Dark Knight and basically being goofy.

After this, O’Neil and Adams went their separate ways. O’Neil continued to write and edit for both DC and Marvel, while Adams drew for the Big Two for only a few more years before starting his own studio and leaving mainstream comics behind for 25 years. They worked together on only 30 issues (unless I’m miscounting), but they had a huge impact on comics history and gave us some superb stories.

Next: Another partnership from the 1970s! This lasted a tiny bit longer, so we’ll see what kind of treasures we can dig up from these two gentlemen. We’ve already seen at least one of their pages in the archives!

15 Comments

Pete Woodhouse

August 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Continuing the lettering theme (Travis – over to you!) from previous “…Cardiographs” on O’Neil/Adams, this to me DOESN’T look like Ben Oda. In fact I’m not sure who it is. Doesn’t look much like Todd Klein or Milt Snappin – 2 guys who were all over DC lettering when Oda wasn’t – either.
On the colouring: the contrast between the green hair and the heavy grey tones on the Joker’s forehead make it look like he’s wearing a syrup! Cockney rhyming slang: syrup of figs = wig.

One of the absolute best Joker stories. This shits all over The Killing Joke, and not just because Batman beats up a great white shark.

Hmm, I dunno on this lettering. It looks kinda like Oda to me, but I’m not quite familiar enough with his stuff to say for sure. (Oh, NOW I say that!)

I…I don’t want to think about the Joker in a 5-Way. Ugh.

What a great issue. This brings back so many memories. And it breaks my heart to think of how long ago this was …

The Joker’s revenge was chili with spaghetti, cheese, onions, and Smilex.

1) I think Tom Ziuko was a re-colorist for this edition. I never saw his name on the credits until around the mid 1980′s. (He took over as colorist of Crisis on Infinite Earths around issue 7 or 8, I think.) I would be surprised if his career had started much earlier than that.
2) The contrast between this and the Joker’s last appearance (1969′s Detective Comics#388,”Public Luna-Tic Number One!”) is astounding. We go from Joker pranking Batman & Robin by pretending they’re on the moon (really!) to the Joker as a homicidal maniac teamed up with a shark! What O’Neil & Adams did here was nothing short of amazing which paved the way for Englehart & Rogers’ “The Laughing Fish”.

I wouldn’t mind living in a world where a villian only gets used once every four years.

Dave-El: I couldn’t figure it out. When you Google “Tom Ziuko,” it comes up with this issue, but not as a reprint or an original – it just says “Batman #251.” His other credits are from the mid-1980s, but I wasn’t sure if he had been around earlier and dropped out of the industry for a while or not. And thanks for the information about the Joker’s previous appearance. That’s pretty funny. I knew it was a goofy appearance, but I didn’t know the particulars.

Was it that or Justice League #75 — the reworking of Meet John Doe, where he conned Snapper Carr into telling him about the JLA’s mountain base? If it was that, it had the effect of putting Joker, Snapper and the Silver Age JLA all on a bus in one issue.

Pete Woodhouse

August 9, 2012 at 3:13 am

Becca: that was JLA#77. It was around the late 60s/very early 70s period so I don’t know without looking it up if an earlier appearance. It’s a 15-center anyway.
What’s the Meet John Doe (was that one of Jimmy Stewart’s films with Frank Capra?) angle, BTW?

Thanks for the info, Pete; sounds like it might be then, but we still don’t know.

Meet John Doe was a Capra film about how susceptible America could be to fascism if packaged the right way — wrapping it up in the package of a perfectly “normal” guy as a front.

Joker’s gambit was to create a John Dough identity — “the most average guy in America” — and use that to play on Snapper’s insecurities until he turned on the League. How many issues do you think a plot line like that would take these days?

It was a pretty subversive story I guess — even the standard (for then) panel of “Now we can relax!” gets blocked — Ollie starts yelling at the rest of the League about just how many problems they still have left — Snapper’s a mess, their HQ is useless, they have huge PR problems thanks to Dough’s shenanigans (but since this was back then, only the HQ is addressed — the satellite was introduced).

I assume Ziuko was the original colorist and not a “recolorist” for this collection, but I’m not completely sure

He would’ve just colored the reprint. Every story in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told was recolored for that collection. That’s part of the reason why the new credits are slugged in underneath the splash page (The other reason is to credit the folks who weren’t credited the first time, like Dick Giordano). The “Laughing Fish” two-parter was recolored by Petra Scotese, even though it had already been recolored by artist Marshall Rogers for the Shadow of the Batman reprints just a few years before.

Ziuko makes the dashboard the only light source, and anytime someone is lit from below, they’re naturally creepier.

Actually, it was Adams and Giordano who set the light source. Ziuko’s just following & enhancing what they already established, as a good colorist should (I HATE IT when a colorist ignores the light sources the penciler & inker put in and does their own thing instead).

^^ And the above post is a perfect example of why I really wish we could edit after posting on this site… :)

John: Thanks for the clarification. I still am never sure how much influence the artist has with light sources and how much it’s the colorist’s job. This is why I’m writing these posts, to learn about this stuff!

Greg: Well, it varies from artist to artist, of course. Someone with a more open-line style, like Bruce Timm or Darwyn Cooke, leaves their work much more open for color than folks who use a lot of hatching & shading, the way Adams & Giordano do here. A great colorist can really enhance a drawing and give it a dimension that it otherwise lacks. Bad colorists are more about being flashy and layering effects on top of a page without purpose, often obliterating the penciler’s and inker’s work in the process.

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