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Comic Book Legends Revealed #481

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Welcome to the four hundred and eightieth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and seventy-nine. This week is a special theme week tied in with our recently completed 75 Greatest Batman Stories of All-Time countdown. Was the Joker going to dress like Madonna in Arkham Asylum? Was KnightQuest shortened due to fan backlash? And did Harley Quinn really make her comic book debut in Mad Love?

Let’s begin!

NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).

COMIC LEGEND: The Joker was originally going to dress like Madonna in Arkham Asylum.

STATUS: True

Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum ended up at #6 on the 75 Greatest Batman Stories countdown. The story introduced us to one of the more innovative visual approaches to the Joker…

joker5

joker6

joker1

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However, originally, things were going to be even MORE different, but the timing of the project worked out so that while Morrison had the script written in 1988, with the release of the then-upcoming Batman movie in 1989, Warner Brothers was a bit more hands on when it came to Batman projects, especially high profile graphic novels.

Morrison explained to Steve McGinty of Fear magazine in 1990 one of the most notable changes to Morrison’s original script (other stuff was like removing the words “Fuck” and “masturbate”

The movie was coming out and they were worried that our version of The Batman would contradict theirs. They wanted a PG-rated Batman because they didn’t want to jeopardise the $50 million they had sunk into the movie. Because of this a couple of things came out. The Joker was originally dressed as Madonna. They didn’t want this because they thought people would think that Jack Nicholson was a transvestite. Is this the conclusion you would jump to?’

Interestingly enough, Morrison’s script was written before he even knew McKean was going to draw the series.

As commenter Benjamin notes, Morrison actually put in a copy of his original description of the Joker in the 15th anniversary edition of Arkham Asylum. Here it is:

jokerdescription

Here is Madonna from the video in question (“Open Your Heart”)…

openyourheartmadonna

Anyhow, thanks for the information Steve and Grant! And thanks for the reminder of the bit from the anniversary edition, Benjamin!
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Check out my latest TV Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Was Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar banned for life from McDonald’s because of some ads for Burger King she did as a little girl?
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On the next page, was Azrael’s time as Batman cut short due to fan outcry?

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60 Comments

Having read all of the Knightfall related issues some time last year, I can tell you that the didn’t shorten it enough.

Coincidentally that batman adventures book popped up on the wall of the LCS for a nice markup ;)

Just out of curiosity, when did Harley cross over from the toonverse comics into the mainstream DCU?

@buttler That was the Batman: Harley Quinn one-shot. It would have been June or July of 1999, right in the heart of No Man’s Land.

If anyone ever says that lettering doesn’t matter to a comicbook, just direct them to Arkham Asylum. It turns what is otherwise a very interesting story into an utterly illegible mess. Yes, yes, it was a specific stylistic choice, but that doesn’t mean it was a GOOD choice…

“Interestingly enough, Morrison’s script was written before he even knew McKean was going to draw the series.”

Not a series, a book or GN.

Hmmm, Harley had a red mask instead of a black one in her debut.

Brian, maybe just to make sure people don’t get a little confused, maybe you should mention that Batman Adventures was the comic based on the animated series? I’m sure most people know that, but some may not.

interesting for always thought harley made her debut first on btas then the mad love comic. plus not surprised to find out that grant had the joker almost dress in drag for his batman work shows he is up to any idea even one that would have the warners suits think he is nuts or smoking something.

Harley Quinn was a brilliant addition to the Batman Rogues Gallery! The whole Timm-Dini-verse was brilliant.

Strange. In my memory of Arkham Asylum I thought The Joker was in drag in the book.

I must have misremembered.

Maybe dress him up like a nurse instead….wink

Obviously no one here remembers or knew about Tangent Comics…a short run DC imprint in the late 90s…where they turned Joker and other characters into females….
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangent_Comics

Also…I think the lettering in Arkham Asylum is brilliantly done.

Just reminds me how missed Mike Parobeck is

Love Arkham Asylum, hate how unreadable the Joker’s dialogue is!

“Strange. In my memory of Arkham Asylum I thought The Joker was in drag in the book.

I must have misremembered.”

Not really…..he’s wearing a nice pair of heels. I imagine he’s wearing some Madonna drag under the flasher Mac.

IIRC, Arkham Asylum was intended to be 48 pages, much like The Killing Joke. Once Dave McKean began working on it, though, he took more pages for sequences than were originally scripted.

I’m with yo go on the Asylum typeface.

The anniversary edition of Arkham Asylum has most of Morrison’s script (with his own annotations) in the back, where he describes in detail what he wanted in terms of The Joker’s appearance, among other rather interesting things that did and didn’t make it into the final book.

If anyone ever says that lettering doesn’t matter to a comicbook, just direct them to Arkham Asylum. It turns what is otherwise a very interesting story into an utterly illegible mess. Yes, yes, it was a specific stylistic choice, but that doesn’t mean it was a GOOD choice…

I feel the opposite. I think Arkham Asylum is an otherwise moderately interesting story that’s lent much of its impact by the visuals, including the lettering.

D’oh! Thanks, Benjamin, I totally forgot that that was in there. And I HAVE that book! Argh! Okay, I’ll go edit that in there.

What exactly is “dressing up like Madonna” anyway? In a Wedding dress? Fishnet sleeves, gloves, and a hair bow? Cone bra? It’s not like she had one look, even at the time.

Perfect timing, M-Wolverine! I just added in the specific reference.

“The Joker was originally dressed as Madonna. They didn’t want this because they thought people would think that Jack Nicholson was a transvestite. Is this the conclusion you would jump to?”

Well, of course.

I always thought that Knightquest was shortened not because of the fan backlash of Azrael but because of Zero Hour itself. I read somewhere that DC or the Batman team wanted Bruce back in the suit in time for Zero Hour so the tie in issues could seem relevant. As a result both Azrael’s penultimate arc and Bruce’s return in Knightsend had to be completed in the timeframe DC had set.

Yeah, I always figured that Zero Hour was sort of the turnoff where Azrael had to be gone by that point in time, but Dixon didn’t recall that as being an impetus for the changeover and I tend to believe him.

@buttler – I think you nailed it. While some of the lettering errs on the side of being hard to read, it and the art make the story more interesting.

I thought it was weird that Azbats actually starred in a DC/Marvel crossover (with the Punisher). I get that he was the then-current Batman, but it felt like going to see a star-vehicle play and getting the understudy instead.

Then again, my feeling is that a Batman/Punisher crossover would play out exactly as it did in JLA/Avengers. Batman runs off for a minute to take out some nut with a gun, then goes back to what he was actually doing.

It’s interesting-having read Grant’s script for AA in the 15th anniversary edition and comparing it to the published story-Dave McKean is a fantastic illustrator, but falls short of being a good comic-book artist (or at least he did at the time). The visuals were spot-on, but the scene-to-scene transitions falter a bit, and some of the layouts are confusing and de-emphasize important aspects of the story. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Looking at that picture of the outfit Morrison wanted the Joker to be wearing, I think it’s pretty much a guarantee that the majority of the readers would think it was a reference to Frank N. Furter unless someone specifically compared him to Madonna in dialogue. Whether that would have hurt or helped or made no difference to the effect he was going for, though, I can’t say.

Travis Pelkie

July 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm

The creepier notion of the Joker’s look that Morrison wanted to go with was a bearded Joker. Egads, that would have been weird!

I’m confused about the last legend.
Wasn’t the “Batman Adventures” book supposed to be based on the animated series and NOT in “real” continuity?
If so, then the legend is party true: although Harley’s first appearance in comic book form was in “Batman Adventures”, she wasn’t added to the real DC Universe until “Mad Love”.

I’m going to have to agree with Yo Go Re. That lettering is absolutely horrible. And so is the art. It looks like McKean copied all of Sienkievitch’s bad points and none of his good.

I’m confused about the last legend.
Wasn’t the “Batman Adventures” book supposed to be based on the animated series and NOT in “real” continuity?
If so, then the legend is party true: although Harley’s first appearance in comic book form was in “Batman Adventures”, she wasn’t added to the real DC Universe until “Mad Love”.

Mad Love was not in “real” continuity, either. Harley wasn’t added to real continuity until 1999, when she made her debut in DC comic book universe with Batman: Harley Quinn, written by Paul Dini.

Annoyed Grunt

July 25, 2014 at 6:09 pm

@buttler

There was a second part to the Punisher/Batman crossover which took place after Bruce was back. The fight was short but there was a great bit where Frank has a gun point blank at the Joker, who then says something along the lines of “Wait, this guy isn’t kidding.”

Knightquest is where the story was starting to get long in the tooth, anyway, as much as I loved it. Yeah, we get it, Jean Paul’s crazy, can we get Bruce back to reclaim the mantle already?

@Annoyed Grunt, there’s one line quite a bit later in Nightwing that suggests it was Dick under the cowl (therefore taking place during “Prodigal”).

Morrison: meh.
Harley Quinn: meh.
Knightfall: Okay with a little meh.

But Azrael was a great character and the series was good, too. I wonder why they never brought him back…

@Demoncat_4 I loved Morrison’s Batman run, but his new 52 Action comics run convinced me that he IS smoking something. I see what he was trying to do, but mixing time travel with Mr. Mxyzptlk’s dimension resulted in a story that was mostly gibberish.

People always give Grant Morrison credit for including trans and gender-nonconforming characters in his work, but his actual depiction of transness is very problematic. And a lot of what he says about trans people in Supergods is very ignorant.

Thank god DC made that change. The last thing pop culture needed was yet another implication that non-normative gender expression and psychopathy go hand in hand.

Timothy Markin

July 26, 2014 at 6:00 am

Batman Adventures was published at the very height of the Image craze where every comic book artist was emulating either Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane or Jim Lee. BA was about the only mainstream comic around that had an Alex Toth vibe to the art, and I practically worshipped Parobeck and Rick Burchett back then. No other collector I was friends with touched BA and that’s why those Adventures books are so hard to complete a run of today. I remember buying a reading copy of Mad Love after buying my first copy because Bruce Timm’s art was unlike nearly anything on the stands and I read that second copy almost to pieces. Today’s comics are so diverse and cartoony styles are commonplace, which is wonderful! Back then, not being a fan of the Image look drove me to the independents where you had stuff like Eightball, Sin City, Why I Hate Saturn, and several other notable comics. How many of those unreadable 90s books still hold up today?

I don’t think I would have picked up on the Madonna thing. I would have thought it was a Rocky Horror Homage.

@Timothy Markin: X-Force. Nicieza wrote some wonderfully subversive dialog and did great character work, and the post-Liefeld art by Capullo and Daniel was slightly less Image-y than a lot of their contemporaries.

Sigh –

Interesting. I own SUPERGODS, but haven’t read it in its entirety yet. What does Morrison say about trans people?

What did you think was problematic about Lord Fanny in THE INVISIBLES, for instance? I thought it was a very positive depiction. My own touchstone for that sort of thing is comparing the character to the other protagonists in the piece. Lord Fanny isn’t better or worse than the other heroes in the story.

As for the Joker in drag, I think Morrison was simply making more explicit one element that has been part of the Joker for a while. The Joker is often depicted as androgynous and/or effeminate. And yes, it’s sad that our culture treats androginy as a BIG THREAT. But hey, it was the 1980s, the decade where people cheered cinematic serial killers killing teenagers that had sex before marriage, and having one affair outside of marriage resulted in your pet bunny being put in a oven.

The best bit of Knightsquest was when Azrael goes after Catwoman, confident he’ll prove how much better he is at catching crooks than that softy Bruce Wayne. Only the first time he sees her, he’s reduced to a 10-year-old with a crush on teacher.

This just seals it: I am convinced that Madonna and Grant Morrison are fans of each other. Not only did he use her likeness in Batman Inc (http://wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/popcrush.com/files/2011/12/Comics.jpg
), she seemed to have copied the look for her tour (http://img2.timeinc.net/instyle/images/2012/WRN/060112-madonna-concert-2-383.jpg). MDNA is kind of/sort of a sigil, and a song from the album (I’m Addicted) seems to be about the same kind of magic practiced by Morrison. One of these days I’ll get around to pursuing my doctorate in lit and write all about it …

@Timothy Markin: The Batman Adventures was absolutely the high point of the entire DC Comics line during its run. Clever stories, beautiful artwork, and the advantage of the DC Animated Universe, uncluttered by reboots and general editorial stupidity. I didn’t start buying until after the first trade was released and I realized it was brilliant, and then I scurried around snapping them up.

Even as the animated titles worked their way through Superman, Justice League, Teen Titans, The Batman, and Batman: Brave and the Bold, they were still head and shoulders above anything else DC published. It’s sad that so few people realized it.

I can tell you another reason those issues are so hard to find. A few years ago, I sold off all my single issue comics. I was tired of moving them and organizing them and caring for them, etc, etc. You know which ones I kept? Yeah. That’s the total contents of my single remaining longbox.

I would be shocked to learn that Madonna has even heard of Grant Morrison. That sounds pretty unlikely.

Ethan Shuster

July 29, 2014 at 6:56 am

Has anyone else ever noted you may consider it sort of homophobic to give a character hints of being gay as a way to emphasize the character being weird, creepy and perverse? I think even The Dark Knight Returns’ hints of that are more of the same. I suppose may you could go there when seeing the Joker as completely obsessed with Batman, and thinking of it going so fat that it becomes sort of an attraction.

But I guess that’s probably a much larger issue. I have heard it discussed in the context of women characters being shown to be lesbian or bisexual as if to emphasize that they’re “bad.”

Ethan –

Frank Miller probably gets it from the enormous influence pulp detective fiction has had on him. Raymond Chandler was a great writer, but he wasn’t exactly subtle when it comes to gender politics. In his works, the hero was hyper-masculine, every other bad guy was effeminate, and almost all women were vamps leading men to their doom.

Ethan Shuster

July 29, 2014 at 7:57 am

renenarciso: I wasn’t really thinking of the fact it was Miller that wrote TDKR. He takes things to an extreme though, and I tend to just recall his women characters. Like in Sin City where almost every woman is a hooker or a stripper. Not that there’s any saintly male characters, either.

I read lots of those Chandler books, and the wimpy ineffectual man was a common character. He also usually includes the “good girl” and the “bad girl.” The Maltese Falcon is another example of that in the same genre, though Dashiell Hammett’s the author.

I’d say a lot of how “offensive” the portrayal of the Joker is depends on the depiction of Batman. If Batman is being as uptight and controlling (as Miller did more and more from DKR to DKSA to All-Star) then it just makes Joker more of his opposite. Not just gay, but sexually free, and as likely to come onto Batman as Harley, or whatever. If Batman is more grounded, then it does make Joker’s “otherness” seem like it’s being painted as a bad thing. Batman as a sexless obsessive vs. complete id Joker is just the continuation of being opposites. Putting a Batman who can date Silver St. Cloud with “gay” Joker can only come off as kind of a questionable portrayal. (Well, not only, but it would take really good writing to make it not seem like a negative in some way).

Has anyone else ever noted you may consider it sort of homophobic to give a character hints of being gay as a way to emphasize the character being weird, creepy and perverse?

I felt Scott Snyder’s Death of the Family was especially guilty of playing on the reader’s homophobia to amp up the menace of the Joker. I found it very insulting.

M-Wolverine –

Sure. Omnsexual Joker vs. uptight Batman doesn’t bother me. It fits with the character archetypes, as you said. It’s a interesting dynamic.

It only becomes slightly problematic when you start to catalogue the number of macho heroes versus sexually ambiguous villains in fiction, and it becomes visible as a “trend” or something.

But I dunno, I just notice it and shrug. I think this will gradually disappear. People today aren’t as sexually uptight as they were in the 1980s or 1950s. And fiction reflects the times.

If you go overall in the history of the genre, there’s definitely that trend. (Take a look at the James Bond novels where hints of homosexuality is almost a tip off to villainy). I don’t think we’re anywhere near the disappearance of macho heroes (and don’t necessarily see the need), but are trending towards the latter not being as common.

Going off of my novels example, Skyfall actually plays that scene of “traditional” roles in an interesting way, if not exactly flipping it on its ear. Whether it feeds it or diffuses it is probably a discussion for another site.

Yeah, I think Skyfall subverts it.

I don’t know if Bond was bluffing or not, but in any case he is a macho man that doesn’t feel menaced by a bit of homosexual play.

“But I guess that’s probably a much larger issue. I have heard it discussed in the context of women characters being shown to be lesbian or bisexual as if to emphasize that they’re “bad.””

Alternatively, highly sexual women characters are frequently shown to be bi, as if woman who’s transgressive enough to like sex must be completely decadent (not that I think being gay is decadent, but that seems to be what they’re shooting for).

T. -

I didn’t read Death of the Family, but I will take your word for it.

The problem with DC is that they keep regurgitating old stories. And they ignore the context those old stories were inserted in.

For instance, DC publishes Identity Crisis, trying to apply a Watchmen-like makover to the Justice League. They copy the whole plot of a rape that happened years ago and was covered up and how that sows the seeds of distrust in a superteam.

But in 1986 that was new and dramatic and daring for a superhero comic. In 2004, it’s only comes across as misogynistic, particularly because they handle the whole thing in a clumsy way and compound things by killing Sue Dibny off.

The Joker having a homosexual attraction to Batman is the same thing. In the mid-1980s, it seemed sort of daring and in tune with the zeitgeist. Gays were just starting to become a part of the mainstream, people were afraid of AIDS, etc.

Nowadays, it doesn’t work as well. Being gay nowadays isn’t edgy or rebellious, it’s as boring as being straight, and it even involves marriage and adopting kids.

It’s like you said. DC is trapped in the past. They’re not trying to be homophobic or misogynist. They’re just clueless.

Fraser –

I wonder. In Victorian days, the thinking was that sex was something only males naturally enjoyed. Proper women were supposed to only tolerate it to have children and please their husbands.

Ergo, a woman who enjoys sex denies her gender and becomes a little masculine. So she develops an appetite for other woman too. I think this trend is a remnant from that sort of thought, but I don’t see it as much nowadays.

On the Chuck Dixon Spotlight panel at the recent SDCC, Chuck said Azrael’s story was shorted by 6 months. You can hear it at http://www.theComicbooks.com/audio.html#SanDiego2014

“All her appearances were in comic books based on the animated series until 1999…”

Actually this is wrong, an Elseworlds version of her paper a year or so earlier in Thrillkiller ’62.

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