Bizarro Back Issues: The Joker Commits Moon Crimes in ‘Public Luna-Tic Number One’ (1969)
Saying that the Joker has done a lot of weird stuff in his time is putting it pretty mildly. From trying to patent poisoned fish to serving as Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, the dude has been up to some pretty strange stuff. But never, in a 70-year history of thematic villainy, has he done anything stranger than he did in July of 1969, because that was when he turned his dastardly criminal mind to moon crimes.
That’s right: MOON CRIMES!The stories come courtesy of John Broome, Bob Brown and Joe Giella in Detective Comics #388, and it’s pretty easy to see where the premise came from. At the time, the Apollo 11 mission to put a man on the moon was, well, probably the biggest news story in human history, and doing a story that tied into it really just made sense.
It’s also the last thing that makes sense about this story. It’s amazing right from the cover, which is without question my single favorite Joker cover ever:
The old saw about covers in the Silver Age is that they made you want to pick up the comic just to see what the hell was actually going on, and this one definitely qualifies there. Even if you’d read every single comic there was, you would have never seen the Joker’s head become the moon and start shooting eye-beams in two completely different directions while his voice boomed from the heavens about Batman and Robin were going to be the first men killed on the Moon. And because this is the Silver Age, that doesn’t quite happen in the comic.
Instead, we open on a Gotham City held in the grip of a criminal whose identity is unknown (hint: It’s the Joker), but whose penchant for committing crimes underneath a full moon has led the press to dub him “Public Luna-Tic Number One!“
Every time the word “lunatic” or “lunacy” shows up in the story, Broome makes sure to emphasize the “Luna” part to tie into the whole Moon thing, and considering that those words actually mean a madness caused by the Moon, it seems a little unnecessary. But honestly, if we start listing off the things that were unnecessary in this comic, we’d be here all day.
Point is, PL#1’s latest act of satellitic villainy is the robbery of a planetarium, and sure enough, it turns out to be the Clown Prince of Crime:
Right from the start, the big set-piece fight scenes, the bizarre plot and even the dialogue makes it clear that even if Broome’s script wasn’t deliberately meant to echo the style of the TV series, it was definitely operating on that same goofball wavelength. It’s almost impossible to read the Joker’s lines without hearing Cesar Romero giggling his way through them.
But it also features a great aspect of the Joker that’s still here in the Modern Age:
I absolutely love that panel, and the idea that the Joker is fully aware that his men have absolutely no chance whatsoever at beating Batman. They’re just there to keep him busy while he gets his stuff together for a far grander and more elaborate deathtrap, and that kind of never-ending crime spiral is exactly what makes him such a great character. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this is a prime shot of Batman getting ready to drop the hammer on some poor thug, either. Hoo-Hah indeed.
The other great thing about the Joker in this issue? Once he’s successfully dazzled Batman and Robin with the planetarium’s projector, he makes his escape — but not before he stops to tag the Batmobile with a little graffiti:
You know Batman was glaring at his own reflection for the entire time that he was fixing that back at the batcave. Nah, just kiddin’. He had Alfred deal with it.
Since the Joker has taken to only committing crimes during the full moon, that means that there’s 27 days of downtime before he shows up again, and to fill that up, we turn now to SCIENCE! Specifically, a project by one Dr. Doomer — no relation — that Bruce Wayne has apparently been funding in order to get some of that sweet, sweet government contract money.
Despite the ominous name, Doomer less of a mad scientist and more of the good-natured crackpot inventor, along the lines of Carter Nichols, who sent Batman and Robin on hypno-trips back in time, or Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen’s Pal Professor Potter, who also sent people back in time in a story where Jimmy Olsen joined the Nazi party. Really.
Doomer’s latest bit of tinkering has resulted in an anti-gravity device, but when he tries to demonstrate it, nothing happens — and when Bruce Wayne investigates, he finds that it’s been replaced with a fake by the Joker. With that in place, the Joker’s plan starts to take shape. The next time there’s a full moon in Gotham, he robs Gotham Central Station itself, using his anti-gravity box to both render the guards helpless and pose them like your average modern-day super-heroine:
Once Batman and Robin make the scene, they quickly find themselves outmatched. The Joker’s men have been training to fight in zero-G, and while Batman’s known for preparing for the worst, an anti-gravity box in the hands of a homicidal clown apparently hadn’t crossed his mind. Fortunately, he’s able to come up with an alternate tactic.
And like so many problems in the Silver Age, this one can be answered by bondage and short, choppy blows:
Naturally, the Joker has a plan for this: As soon as Batman and Robin are floating in the middle of the room, he just turns the box off and the Dynamic Duo plotzes on the floor, already tied up for his convenience. Seriously, Batman doesn’t see that one coming. I’m starting to think that the whole “World’s Greatest Detective” thing might’ve just been sarcasm.
But while his thugs hand out a beating, killing them now just wouldn’t be the Joker’s style. That’s why they wake up ON THE MOON!
Just when you thought this issue was done being awesome, it presents you with the knowledge that the Joker has custom-made spacesuits for both Batman and Robin, complete with utility belts. That is a dedication to his art that you just don’t see in today’s “super”-villalins.
Generally speaking, one does not remain unconscious after being punched for long enough that one could be transported to a launch site, dressed in a custom spacesuit, and blasted 238,000 miles, so right away things seem a little fishy. But to be fair, Batman has a pretty weird life, and before he can figure it out, a giant floating Joker head shows up to harass him a little:
His crime, of course, is the murder of Batman and Robin, but the execution — er, no pun intended — is where it all falls apart. He tells Batman and Robin that they’re going to freeze to death as soon as the shadow of Earth falls across them, but Batman decides to just go ahead and run into the darkness anyway. Before long, he’s running straight at the Joker, who, by the way, glows in the dark:
As you might have guessed already, they’re not actually on the moon. They’re actually just in some cave where the Joker has used his hijacked planetarium equipment to create a reasonably convincing simulacrum. This points to a pretty big flaw in his plan: There doesn’t seem any way to actually kill Batman and Robin. The whole thing with the dropping temperature is just a flat-out lie, and the story claims that his plan was to scare them to death, but we all know better than to think Batman would die of fright. Really, the only thing that could possibly result in the best case would be that he’d tear off running and end up smacking right into a cave wall. And now that I think of it, that would actually be a pretty solid goal for the Joker.
As to why Batman was able to suss out the fakery, even when the very gravity itself was Moon-accurate, he had a little help — from geology!
Thus, evil is defeated and Batman’s status as the World’s Greatest Detective is reaffirmed. But there’s an important element to this comic that we should never forget: Some villains are motivated by revenge. Some by a lust for power. In 1969, the Joker wanted to be the number one criminal on the f***ing Moon. Aim higher, villains. We have standards to live up to.