One of the forgotten aspects of the Golden Age of comics was its much darker and grittier tone than its Silver Age successor. Batman and Joker’s first encounter was no exception, and saw the hero and villain locked in a fight more reminiscent of a dirty harry film.
Batman’s early years are remembered by those who read them as a darker but more grounded version of the hero they know and love today. Not only was the former Batman more relaxed about killing, he was also a much more grounded and vulnerable hero than he is today. Joker’s arrival in Gotham proved to be one of The Dark Knight’s most difficult cases, and a series of crimes that rocked Gotham City to their core. While it proved a harrowing mystery for Batman, it also perfectly laid the foundation for who and what Joker is, proving so formative that it served as inspiration for his modern stories as well.
The Joker’s First Crime Series
Batman #1 (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane) is an important comic in Batman history for a number of reasons. Not only did the book prove Batman’s near-instant hit with readers, but it also gave two characters, Joker and Catwoman, their first appearances. When Batman first encountered the man who would become his indisputable nemesis, the Joker terrorized Gotham into a seemingly impossible crime spree. The story will later serve as the basis for The man who Laughs (by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke), as Joker threatened Gotham’s wealthier elites with elaborate murder plots that made him unstoppable. While he threatened the lives of each of his victims, no matter how hard the Gotham police tried, all of them would drop dead on the spot.
As he made his way through Gotham’s elite, leaving behind a trail of bodies and stolen jewelry, the city felt powerless to stop him. No matter how hard people tried, Joker’s threats would come to fruition, even managing to kill men surrounded by a wall of police. When Gotham’s most notorious mobsters came together to defeat Joker, Batman and the Clown Prince of Crime proved brave by showing up to confront them. In one of the best plot twists in history, Joker then posed as Gotham’s chief of police, using the disguise to infiltrate the home of another of his wealthy targets. This time, however, Robin was there to find Joker after his crime.
Batman and Joker’s Brutal First Fight
When Joker kidnapped and threatened Robin, an event that would later be replicated in the “Death In The Family” arc by (Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo), he upped the stakes with Batman. After saving his young ward, Batman pursued the Joker, finally being able to defeat the villain in a fight. The battles between Batman and Joker were well served by the fact that, unlike many modern Batman fights, this was a very deadly encounter. Both characters were vulnerable, and the fight was more in line with Batman being an ordinary man.
The story made a fantastic debut for Joker, immediately establishing him as an elaborate criminal mastermind whose plans were in motion long before the execution. On the page, the two immediately feel like natural rivals with comparable motivations, minds, and skills in what they do. The comic is much more like the plot of a dirty harry film than a typical comic book, with Batman going to great lengths to stop Joker’s mayhem. One of the best parts of the book is how strong its core elements are, especially for Joker with scenes and ideas replicated in modern movies.
Batman and Joker’s First Encounter Sets the Stage for Later Showdowns
Despite the passage of eighty-two years, Batman #1 is still a very relevant story to the lore and relationship of Batman and Joker today. It acts as the perfect setup for the biggest and most iconic rivalry in comics to date, and presents each as an unstoppable force in their own right. Presenting the two characters as a real threat to each other made fans realize just how deadly Joker could be.
This gritty, murderous start remains a key moment in comic book history, and truly feels more like a dark crime thriller than many would expect for a comic of its time. What was soon to be drastically reimagined in the Silver Age as a campy, upbeat medium was perfectly presented as a darker medium in the Golden Age. For Batman, this contrast proved essential to his legacy and tone in the comics, and in Batman #1 the foundations of this legendary rivalry were laid.