Bizarro Back Issues: The Joker’s Plot To Conquer Canada (1992)
Promo comics are amazing. Since they're created for a wide audience that goes far beyond the normal readership, they always feature characters who have been boiled down to their most basic, accessible forms, but they're always at least two steps removed from what they should probably be doing. I mean, even if you boil them down to their most essential elements, the Justice League probably shouldn't be relying on a guy with a really nice drill to help them defeat a supervillain, and Batman doesn't usually fight crime by helping a small child overcome his allergies.
But that's part of what makes them great, and it only gets better when you're not exactly sure what's being promoted until you're about halfway through the comic. So today, I invite you to join me for 1992's Batman: A Word to the Wise, in which the Caped Crusader is called upon to extoll the virtues of literacy, a department store, and --- if I'm reading this correctly --- the entire nation of Canada.
Written by Len Wein with art by the legendary team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson --- two artists that you don't usually see tackling a Batman story --- A Word to the Wise boasts on the cover that it's a $1.25 value, and I think you'll agree that that is definitely the case.
We open in Montreal, where a trio of kids learn the value of reading when they ignore a sign telling them that it's dangerous to climb on a fire escape and end up being saved by Batman, and once again, I've got to question the effectiveness here. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this comic for tiny children should scare them into reading by having little Guy-Pierre Quebecois Jr. plunge off a building to his death, but honestly. If you tell me that ignoring danger signs will give me even the slightest chance of meeting Batman, then cousin, I'm going out and shaking hands with the first electric fence I see.
At this point, you might be thinking that we move on to actually finding out what brought Batman to Canada, but there's still a little set dressing left to get through. To that end, we shift our focus to Toronto to meet Joey and Joanie, two very relatable #teens who have very different opinions on how to spend their time:
"Maybe I should try [reading] sometime! Right now, I want to go to the Canadian National Exhibition!" We've all been there, haven't we, teens?
Unfortunately, their plans are about to be derailed. When Joanie picks up her stack of books from the library, she accidentally takes a rare old book on Canadian geography with her --- the very same Canadian geography that Batman is road tripping through with some very kind words for our neighbors to the north:
Completely apart from the inherent weirdness that you get with promo comics, I do genuinely love the idea of Batman, the Dark Knight, getting a call from the Mounties that the Joker was on some kind of Canadian Rampage and then deciding hey, you know what? Sure, I've got this million-dollar fighter jet shaped like my own personal brand, but Montreal's not that far. I'll just drive up there --- they have some lovely countryside.
Since the Joker seems to be after copies of a particular rare book, Batman has set his sights on tracking down the other known copies. His next stop is Toronto, and he manages to arrive at Joanie's library just in time to catch up with the Clown Prince of Canadian Crime:
I've often said that the great thing about Batman and the Joker as characters is that he lends himself to so many vastly different but equally valid interpretations, but let's be real for a second. If your ideal version of the Joker doesn't include room for phrases like "this maniac is trying to rob the library of a rare geography book!" then you and I will never truly agree with each other.
The Joker manages to escape without killing anyone --- one assumes that clown murder is far too violent for little Tim Horton and the other children of Ontario to see in their giveway comics --- and Batman heads off to track Joanie down and recover her copy of The Geography of Canada before the Joker can get to it. And that means that he --- and the Joker --- are going to tragically interrupt her trip to the Canadian National Exhibition.
The thing is, this isn't the copy that the Joker wants, either.
You now, for a comic with Batman's name on the cover, this sure is a story where Batman just kind of stands around angrily watching the bad guy walk away.
Clearly, Batman needs some help, and since Joey and Joanie are more familiar with Canada than he is --- seriously, the line in the comic is "the two of you DO know a lot more about Canada than I do," which has finally given us the one missing piece of Batman's otherwise comprehensive knowledge --- they suddenly find themselves recruited as soldiers in an endless war on crime. And since they overheard the Joker's compulsive references to cowboy stuff, they know that he's headed out west to Alberta.
And that's where the promotional part of this promotional comic comes in.
It's not quite as good as casually remarking on the beauty of the farmhouses, but I do love the idea of Batman parking the actual Batmobile outside a dang Zellers and telling those two kids to go buy themselves some cowboy clothes. I wonder how he paid for it?
Once everyone has the appropriately sized hat, they track the Joker's crime spree to a rare book store, only to find that they're too late. Whatever he was looking for in copies of The Geography of Canada, he found it, and according to the shopkeep --- who, amazingly enough, is both alive and capable of frowning --- he's gone off to the nearby rodeo to make an announcement to the world.
And this is where this comic gets amazing. See, the Joker didn't just want to steal books. He wanted to steal Canada.
This is fantastic. It's a Cobra Commander plot --- and I don't mean that it's like a Cobra Commander plot, I mean that it is virtually the same setup as Cobra Commander's actual plan in "The Great Alaskan Land Rush." And the best part about it is that the Joker --- and keep in mind this is the Joker in 1992, well after A Death in the Family --- has decided that the combined covernments of Canada, Mexico and the United States are just going to shrug and agree that he's got 'em on this one before declaring him King of North America.
Needless to say, it doesn't come to that. Instead, Batman knocks him out and hogties him in front of a crowd of Canadian rodeo enthusiasts.
Remember when I said that promo comics weren't quite what the heroes should be doing? I take it back. This is the only Batman comic that actually got it right.