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!
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!