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I Love Ya But You’re Strange – The Great Batman/Joker Boner War of 1951!

Every installment of I Love Ya But You’re Strange I spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories. Here is the archive of all the installments of this feature. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have a suggestion for a future installment!

Today we take a look at one of the most famous (infamous?) strange comics of all-time (one I can’t believe I’ve never gotten to until today), “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors” by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Lew Schwartz and Charles Paris (Kane penciled in the Batman and Robin figures, Schwartz penciled everything else and Paris inked both of them) from 1951’s Batman #66 (Wow, in the present day Batman ’66 is awesome and in the past so was Batman #66!)…

The comic opens with the Joker causing a blackout at the electric company and using the blackout to rob the company of their payroll. However, with the power turned off, they were unable to take their loot with them as they escaped via the stairs. The next day, the Gotham City newspapers give Joker some guff over his screw-up, or if you prefer, his “boner”…

boner1

In one of the greatest moments of inspiration in comic book history (surpassed only by that rich guy who decided to dress up as a bat after a bat flew into his window), the Joker decides to embrace his boner and commit a series of crimes inspired by OTHER famous boners from history….

boner2

boner3

boner4

You have to love how freaked out Batman and Robin are.

The Joker’s boner plans sort of devolve a bit at this point, as he stretches the theme a bit too far when he breaks a criminal out of prison by having them recreate how John Dillinger broke out of prison with a wooden gun (with the theory being that the guard who fell for it committed the boner).

Comissioner Gordon is now well freaked out, especially at the boner the Joker might make Batman pull…

boner5

Batman then figures out that Joker is going to reenact the Trojan Horse in a new movie being made about the Trojan War. Batman and Robin stop them, but Robin lays an egg, as it were, by slipping while they are trying to catch the Joker and the Joker got away.

The Joker, though, is confident that he’ll be able to win the day…

boner6

The Joker’s plan involves, of course, a powerful directional beam transmitter (as all Joker schemes are wont to do) that he uses to confuse Batman in the Batplane from flying not to California to testify in a court case against a criminal but to Europe, thereby re-enacting “Wrong Way” Corrigan’s 1938 flight from New York to Ireland instead of his scheduled flight to California…

boner7

However, did you know that Corrigan almost certainly flew the “wrong” way on purpose? He clearly wanted to fly across the Atlantic but was not given permission to do so, so he instead “accidentally” did so. Well, just like Corrigan’s “boner” was really for his own benefit, so, too, was Batman’s boner, as you’ll soon see…

boner8

An awesome story from Finger.

If you have suggestions for future editions of I Love Ya But You’re Strange, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com

65 Comments

I get this weird feeling reading about Batman’s and Joker’s boners, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Internet comic book experts often tell me that the purest essence of the Joker, the “real” Joker, is as an agent of chaos, who never, ever plans. Obviously the writers of this story don’t know or have had little experience Batman, to write the Joker so out of character.

I’ve read this book and it’s hilarious how often the word boner appears, even when not taking into account double entendres and taking the word at face value at its original meaning. They just seemed really intent on working the word into the dialogue as often as possible.

@T, your right that is a lot of boners.

As far as stories about Batman and Joker’s boners for one another, I still prefer the Killing Joke.

This is ri-dic-ulous.

Thank you! I’m outta here! (leave on a high note, Costanza)

How old is the contemporary use of the word “boner” and when did that become the standard? I know there are Stan Lee Spider-Man’s where the word is used in the sense above. Even when I was a kid in the 90s there was a sitcom where one goofy character was called “Boner” – I assume in the original sense, since it was a family show, although I was aware of the alternate meaning at the time. I guess what I’m asking is: what was the tipping point for “boner”?

The other meaning was JUST coming into use at around this time, so the odds are decent that someone could be oblivious about the other meaning for the next decade or so. The other meaning didn’t really become popular until later in the 1960s and especially the 1970s and 1980s (so by the time Growing Pains debuted, there was no doubt that they were trying to get away a bit with naming one of the supporting characters “Boner”).

T. –

Strangely enough, almost all versions of the Joker, from the Golden Age to the Silver Age to the Grim and Gritty era, have been methodical planners. He might SAY that his purpose is chaos, but he is very manipulative and precise in his actions.

One more reason I don’t buy that he is beyond the law by reason of insanity.

A cruise ship, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a close-up of an off kilter bell tower, the Bat-plane: just the right amount of phalluses to compliment any good “Boner” story.

always heard about this legendary story mostly how many times the joker not only tries to commit boners but uses the word boners never thought it would finaly show up here in colum.

Boners usually show up in columns.

…and on a related note, Andrew Koenig who played Boner on Growing Pains, also played the Joker in the fan-film Batman: Dead End.

What does it mean Bruce? How can he force you into a boner?

And I’m worried about the boner he’s readying for YOU!

The comments really write themselves, don’t they?

And Wertham was worred about Batman and Robin, not the Joker?

Sorry if this was mentioned above, but the cover is worth a look, a giant Joked headed totem pole
http://www.comicconnect.com/bookSearch.php?title=batman&issue=66

Also, before it is mentioned in a cut and paste comment, Robin’s shorts and boots do not indicate that Batman and Robin were gay…

akkadiannumen

May 13, 2014 at 1:43 pm

@renenarciso: being legally insane doesn’t mean you can’t plan anything at all. Mostly, it means your mind doesn’t work the way it should and the line between right and wrong becomes blurry or simply inexistent.

…and on a related note, Andrew Koenig who played Boner on Growing Pains, also played the Joker in the fan-film Batman: Dead End.

…and on a related note, I can’t believe it’s been over three years since we lost our Boner.

Joker trying to force Batman into a boner must have been Frank Miller’s inspiration for the ending to DKR #3.

akkadiannumen –

I’m not a law expert, but the little I know is that psychopaths aren’t considered exempt from ordinary prisons and executions in the USA, to put things in an extremely simplistic way.

To me, that is what the Joker is, a psychopath. He is fully aware of right and wrong, and the line between them, but he just doesn’t care.

He is not in any way psychotic (described as involving a “loss of contact with reality”).

“@renenarciso: being legally insane doesn’t mean you can’t plan anything at all. Mostly, it means your mind doesn’t work the way it should and the line between right and wrong becomes blurry or simply inexistent.”
In terms of not being legally responsible for your actions, I believe the current standard for insanity is that you have no idea what you’re actually doing–i.e., you think you’re chopping down a tree but you’re actually whacking a person’s head off. The Joker clearly knows exactly what he’s doing and makes a conscious choice to do it, so I don’t believe he qualifies (the Law and Superheroes book has more detail on this).
I can’t say this is really that strange, other than the now loaded use of “Boner” (though the usage is certainly funny now).

Bill Williamson

May 13, 2014 at 3:22 pm

“Gotham City will rue the day it mentioned the word ‘Boner'”

Indeed it will.

Maybe it is just me, but stories like this seem more ‘realistic’ than anything from the grim-and-gritty era.

Fraser –

Yes, that is it.

There is a lot of Batman villains that can be excused easier than the Joker. Perhaps Clayface III, that fantasizes about being married to a wax doll. Perhaps Two-Face and the Ventriloquist, that have created entire split personalities. The Joker knows what he is doing.

Bill Williamson

May 13, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Wasn’t there one Batman comic that basically explained The Joker gets off so easily because of his crack team of lawyers?

And wasn’t there that B:TAS episode where The Joker was represented by Johnnie Cochran?

I stand at attention at the spunk it took the Joker to get a rise out of Batman. It’s such a cock-up that Bill Finger always gets the shaft in the creation of Batman. His pen is the greatest to ever stroke the pages of Batman – perhaps his seminal work even. I find it hard not enjoy his story. It penetrates he very core of golden age comics. Every member of this forum should read this story. Do you understand the thrust of what I am saying. I invite all comers to refute me.

Thanks for posting this. I had a ball reading it.

T – I don’t know if you were joking, but Bill Finger (co-creator of Batman and The Joker) wrote this story.

@ Bob, well done, sir. Well done….

Remember, of course, we get a lot better look at the Joker’s actions than, say, a court does. I’m sure there are people who don’t fit the legal defence insane who have successfully used it and people who probably do in prison.

“And that’s when I broke into Commissioner Gordon’s apartment and shot one of his books.”

That’s correct, Duggy.

The FBI has published some scary papers that say that psychopaths are specially adept at playing the legal system and manipulating psychiatrists to get reduced sentences, paroles, or even acquitals. There are estimates that psychopath rapists and murderers are 2.5 times more likely to escape justice than their non-psychopath counterparts.

That’s the things about boners. It’s always funny when it’s someone else’s, but your own is nothing to laugh about. When will we see a story about Batgirl making a boner or two?

Joker has openly said “If I was sane, I wouldn’t be so brilliant!” He does have plans, they just usually lie hidden under layers of madness (that Laughing Fish bit for example), it’s not all pure chaos. At heart, he’s a performer putting on a grand display, the wilder the better and this story fits that well.

This friggin comic brought tears to my eyes when I first read it. Just the sheer discomfort in Batman and Robin’s faces when they talk about forced boners. I couldn’t handle it.

Homer Simpsons used the word “boner” in it’s original meaning in “The Telltale Head”.

There’s a Dini story in one of the Batman: Black and White editions that speculates the Joker is homicidal but sane, just faking insanity so that he can kill with impunity.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the people working on this *were* familiar with the modern use of “boner”? Because things like that panel that’s been mentioned and just how frequently it gets used without ever seeing any synonyms like “mistake” make me honestly wonder if someone was trying to pull something here.

No, no evidence. I think the odds are strong that it IS just a coincidence.

Homer Simpsons used the word “boner” in it’s original meaning in “The Telltale Head”.

Re: the law and the Joker being “legally insane” and all that. I’m from Britain, where obviously we don’t have the death penalty, so maybe some you can fill me in. If a state in the US doesn’t have the death penalty – let’s say this is true for wherever Gotham is – would it still be possible for the Joker to receive a death penalty federally, as it were, due to the scale of his crimes? Or is it dependent on wherever he commits his crimes or wherever he’s tried?

Hope that makes sense :-) Just wondering if “Gotham doesn’t have the death penalty” is a catch-all answer as to why Joker has never been executed! Other than “then they wouldn’t be able to write any more Joker comics”, obviously…

David, if the Joker commits a federal crime he can be punished under federal law. Crimes with a death penalty include espionage and murder of a federal official–so quite possibly killing the copyright people in “The Laughing Fish” would qualify.
But I’ve never heard anyone offer the lack of a Gotham death penalty as a reason for the Joker not being executed. Certainly in the Golden Age it had one–people went to the chair all the time. And Batman 180 establishes the chair was still in use in the Silver Age.
Of course it’s possible at some point the state had no death penalty because of a court ruling or legal change, and then switched back later. A number of states went without a death penalty for a while in the 1970s that have them now.

By the way Brian, I keep looking at this post. And just those opening two panels are hysterical.

>And wasn’t there that B:TAS episode where The Joker was represented by Johnnie Cochran?

“Joker’s Millions.” He also represented Harley Quinn, Ventriloquist, Mad Hatter & Riddler in “Over the Edge.”

The Joker doesn’t even go to a regular prison. Regardless of the death penalty issue, there is in the Batman comics a misunderstanding that is all too common in fiction: that someone is exempt from the law if they’re not completely normal psychologically. In reality, things are more like Fraser said, those with psychopathy (anti-social disorder) aren’t exempt from the law, even though you might say they’re not sane either.

A short list of comic book supervillains that always struck me as psychopaths: the Joker, Mr. Zsasz, Bullseye, Sabertooth, Major Force. They have most of the traits associated with it: lack of empathy, superficial charm, self-grandiosity, impulsiveness.

On the other hand, a supervillain that I think would be really beyond the law is Norman Osborn, who is prone to hallucinations, memory loss, disconnected feelings, split personality, and the whole she-bang. He really doesn’t know what he is doing, most of the time.

force you into a boner… how was that not a meme?

renenarciso – Great point. Norman Osborn is probably the only one of the archnemeses is truly is insane, yet he seems to go to regular prison. The rest, who are just psychopaths or malignant narcissists, all seem to go to asylums.

I will third the good point about Norman Osborn.

As for the Joker and the death penalty, I think there was a Golden Age story where the Joker was executed, but he had prepared by taking some special drugs and was revived afterwards (I think this was mentioned in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told (first edition)).

The Joker also faced the death penalty in Joker: Devil’s Advocate.

His being insane was first mentioned in the 50s I think. There is a story in the above mentioned Greatest Stories where Batman reveals his identity to the Joke in a plot to make the Joker think he is loosing his mind. At the end the Joker winds up in an asylum. It might have been O’Neil/Adams’s Batman 251 that first established that the Joker was ‘insane’ and confined to an asylum after his captures.

Wow… they didn’t have synonym dictionaries back then… they use the word “boner” about a hundred times!! …BTW, I really cannot give the word “boner” another meaning than slang for erection… I’m trying…but my head can’t wrap itself around it! haha :)

The Osborn example is a great one. In the Joker’s case, it all comes down to the debate of whether he does really evil things because he likes it, and doesn’t care who he hurts, or does he do them because he doesn’t really see them as doing anything wrong, and treats poisoning someone like eating a steak sandwich? His interactions with Batman seem to portray the former. A guy who might just puts smiles on fish for the heck of it might put him in the latter.

http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Insanity+Defense

Under the test for cognitive insanity, a defendant must have been so impaired by a mental disease or defect at the time of the act that he or she did not know the nature or quality of the act, or, if the defendant did know the nature or quality of the act, he or she did not know that the act was wrong.

Bill Williamson

May 14, 2014 at 10:29 am

I think The Joker going to Arkham instead of regular prison is just one of those things that comic book fans should just accept without having to rationalise, explain or retcon away. Sort of like how Clark Kent can disguise himself by wearing a pair of glasses. One of those things that have become so ingrained in the mythology that they’re beyond criticism.

@ Bill Williamson:

I think The Joker going to Arkham instead of regular prison is just one of those things that comic book fans should just accept without having to rationalise, explain or retcon away. Sort of like how Clark Kent can disguise himself by wearing a pair of glasses. One of those things that have become so ingrained in the mythology that they’re beyond criticism.

I disagree.

We are 75 years in on Batman at this point. While it is theoretically possible that the Joker breaks out of Arkham, Batman defeats Joker and Joker goes back to Arkham formula might have some as yet unearthed variant, it probably doesn’t. There is nothing wrong with asking the naive question and seeing where it takes you.

It’s made clear that Joker can just break out of Arkham anytime he feels like it. The one time they did try to put him in a super-prison, the Slab (In that “Joker’s Last Laugh” event), he ended up causing a riot, a mass escape and hitting the inmates with a virus that made them all Joker-level crazy. After that, the feds probably figured “forget it, he’s Gotham’s problem from now on.”

Captain Librarian

May 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Having the Joker captured and imprisoned, then escaping once, twice, perhaps three times is plausible I suppose, but at around that time it starts to stretch credibility. They really could avoid a lot of this if they’d have him just avoid being captured at the end of the day.

“As for the Joker and the death penalty, I think there was a Golden Age story where the Joker was executed, but he had prepared by taking some special drugs and was revived afterwards (I think this was mentioned in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told (first edition)).”
The Joker Walks the Last Mile. Really funny when he pretends to be a law-abiding citizen afterwards, as he plays it very over the top.
kdu I seem to remember him ending up in a straitjacket in an old story, but it was more like a joke (look, Batman’s got him so confused, he’s gone nuts!) rather than an assessment of his mental condition. Joker’s Five Way Revenge was the first to establish insanity as the canon setting.

@Fraser
Thanks. I did not intend to imply that the 50s story was the “Where We First Met- Insane Joker” but what I wrote does come off that way.

For the record (I just got out my Greatest Joker Stories) the tale is “The Crazy Crime Clown” from Batman 74, 1952-3.

Spoilers ahead!!!

When he last appears in the story, the Joker is laughing hysterically in a padded cell. The next panel, the stories last, Bruce Wayne reads the news paper and says “I see where the Joker’s recovered from the confusing night we gave him! They’re transferring him to the state prison!” Robin replies “Yes– He finally had to tell the authorities where Derek’s money was hidden, in order to prove that he himself was sane!”

Aww, let’s just say that the Joker has magical powers he’s not even aware of himself that keep authorities from ever giving him the death penalty and carrying out the execution. Of course, in the Marvel & DC universes, pretty much every supervillain who’s ever committed murder has the same power. Seems superheroes get far more grief when they even appear to have committed a murder, even if the “victim” is a villain who “died” while trying to kill the hero or someone else. Naturally, there are very few top notch villains hwo die and stay dead. The original Baron Zemo was just a stand-in for the Red Skull and had to pay the ultimate price for having supposedly slain Bucky. The Tumbler proved the perfect fall guy for a plot to make Captain America look like a cold-blooded murderer — a grade-D baddy killed on the sly by a nastier baddy while in his civvies and in a clearly outmatched fight with Cap. The Tumbler doesn’t even get a son who wants vengeace on Cap. The Joker, though, boners and all, he’s immortal, just like Batman. As long as they can sell comics, toys and movie tickets!

Boner crimes.

That is all.

Travis Pelkie

May 15, 2014 at 12:49 am

Either the Joker has some sweet PR guy deal or the investigative reporters are really intuitive at knowing that the Joker is lashing out at his boner and starting a new wave of boner related crimes.

I figured you’d pull this one out when you were hard up for any other material.

While I agree that it is debatable whether the Joker would pass a real-world insanity defense, once it is established that he *has* been declared legally insane, wouldn’t it make sense that they keep locking him up in Arkham rather than having additional trials which would (a) cost a lot of money and (b) quite possibly result in him winding up back in Arkham anyway?

The Joker getting away with his stuff isn’t so bad as long as it’s kept reasonable. Then we can all ignore it like we ignore Clark Kent’s glasses as a disguise. But I think the Batman comics passed the “reasonable” threshold a long time ago.

It’s funny how fiction often seems to teach lessons that are actually the opposite of the intended hero’s moral code.

I was watching the TV show ONCE UPON A TIME the other day with my wife (we’re watching the earlier 2nd season, so no spoilers, guys!), and there is a scene where Rumpelstiltskin, a sympathetic villain that is almost into anti-hero territory by now, is about to kill another villain that is his nemesis, but he is talked out of it by the good guys, because “heroes don’t kill.”

Very good, so far.

Then, later in the same episode, the villain that received mercy does something awful to a loved one of Rumpelstiltskin.

My wife immediately realized what the REAL moral lesson of the episode was: “You know, if you have a bad guy at your mercy, kill him. Kill him now and be done with it”

When comic books wallow in murderous villains doing horrible things to a hero’s loved one or hundreds of innocents, while the hero is unable to do anything really effective about it, then what the comics are actually teaching is that killing is necessary, and that heroes that don’t kill are more to be pitied than admired.

And ONCE UPON A TIME isn’t a comic, it’s a TV show. As such, it has a finite lenght. It’s very possible that in the last episode the good guys will get the happy ending they deserve. Also, most of the villains in the show seem to be redeemable, so it’s possible to defend the heroes being merciful.

Batman comics have no end in sight and the Joker can’t be redeemed. That makes things even bleaker.

renenarciso – very true. That bleakness you describe is the very essence of the modern Hot Topic Batman.

@B Smithy:

So you’re saying skilled Finger work is responsible for all the boners in the story?

@Fred W. Hill: I’ve often thought that they should just make him literally, magically, immortal… not in the “impossible to physically destroy” way, but, in the sense that, if the Joker ever dies, some random vulnerable person in the world (or maybe the person most directly responsible for his death, or physically closest to him) slowly transforms into him, body, soul, and memories. It gives incentive for them to lock him up instead of killing him, he can have fanatics who “break him out of jail” by killing him to hopefully become him, and gives Batman a reason to try to save him if he’s about to die from his own efforts.

(And for a fun twist… the Joker doesn’t believe this is true, no matter how many people explain, and so doesn’t kill himself)

Fred, I actually like the Tumbler in his original appearance. The idea of a hoodlum inspired by Captain America to achieve greatness (“If an ordinary man like Captain America can lead the Avengers, why can’t I make myself the leader of the underworld?”) is pretty fun. Though once in action yeah, just a big tough guy.

On the Dillinger’s wooden gun reference…

To this day I still see references to him using it to get out of prison as if he did it solo with hostages.

Yet other modern sources state that the guard that was the “hostage” was actually his co-conspirator that was released once they shook off pursuit, and was the one who brought the wooden gun in after they had it carved outside the jail.

When did the “Guard as Dillinger conspirator” revelation occur, in relation to “The Boner Wars”? Afterwards? or was it before, but got buried in all the legends and mythos of the Gangster era?

What? Sixty-two comments about Batman’s boner story, and not a single thing about Dick?

@ Felipe

Well, it kind of goes without saying that Dick has always been closely involved with both Batman and the Joker’s boners.

TIL Bill Finger was a bonehead!

Someone had to say it.

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