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CCR: Detective Comics #826 "Slayride"
Bar Harbor
For a few months now, Paul Dini has been writing Detective Comics (one of the main Batman books). Since I'm generally a fan of his writing, I've been following it.

The latest issue, #826 (an impressively large number!) features Robin up against the Joker. It's generally well written. I like the fact that Robin's eventual escape hinges on knowledge of The Marx Brothers. But, at the end of the day -- it was still a Joker story.

It's been a lot of years since I could enjoy a Joker story. Frank Miller struck the first blow, in _The Dark Knight Returns_, with Joker's lines about how while he doesn't count up all his victims over the years, he knows that Batman does. Once exposed to that idea, the reader can't help but do so himself. And it's really depressing. In this latest issue alone, Joker kills at least half a dozen completely innocent people. In an infinitely-extended serial like this, the number must easily be in the thousands by now. Batman's continued refusal to use lethal force against the Joker becomes less and less defensible every time the Joker goes on a killing spree.

The second major blow came in an essay by Peter David on the subject of what makes a "great supervillain". The one major ingredient, he argues, is that the great ones are the ones who actually get away with it. Sure, Superman may stop Luthor's latest plot and send him to jail; the FF thwart Doctor Doom and have him deported -- but in each case, this is a temporary setback at most; the villain is sent "home" (which prison effectively was for the pre-Crisis Luthor) without significant punishment to rest up for the next fight.

The Joker can apparently leave Arkham at will, so it's not that useful for Batman to send him back there. Batman doesn't even really thwart his plans any more: the Joker wants to kill people and sow terror, and he *does* that, every time. At the end of the current issue, the Joker gets hit by a truck and knocked off of an overpass -- but they don't recover a body, and it's clear he's not dead. This is hardly punishment -- as the truck bears down on him, the Joker says "I can take a joke." And apparently, he can.

(Side question: has the Joker been officially upgraded with some flavor of limited invulnerability or something? He seemed really unphased by the prospect of being hit by a truck...)

It may well be that "a bad guy who is never really punished" fills some psycological need for the typical adolescent male reader. But I'm not an adolescent any more. I like fiction where it is possible for evil people to actually be defeated. Guess that's why I don't read nearly as many superhero comics as I used to...


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