NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Detective Comics #951
It isn't too often that comic book writers invite comparison between their own work and the untouchable, unforgettable, and iconic work of writers and artists who came before them. Especially not when you're dealing with characters as well known as Batman, whose most revered storylines, moments, battles, or death scenes tend to find themselves on lists with titles including terms like "all-time," "greatest," or "best in history." But for readers of DC's new Batman Beyond, the latest issue brought with it a chance to see homage paid to one of Bruce Wayne's darkest hours - in the best way possible.
The series has been one bombshell after another since its Rebirth, using the return of Terry McGinnis to springboard into ambitious and unexpected territory. The first five issues have dealt with the mysterious plot to bring Joker back from the dead, only to reveal the test subject in question to be Bruce Wayne in disguise. But the tease of a returned Joker was finally delivered upon in the most recent issue, and in a fashion guaranteed to twist the knife in Bruce's newly-awakened side.
Apparently, writer Dan Jurgens and artists Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo decided: if you're going to bring Batman's greatest adversary back from the grave... why not do it in the guise of that adversary's greatest victory?
A Death in The Family (1989)
In case there are Batman fans out there who have somehow never actually read the comic in which Jason Todd, the second boy to bear the 'Robin' name was murdered by Joker, we present the infamous collage of blows here. Having lured Jason to an isolated warehouse, and ambushed him and his mother, the Joker and his goon waste little time in putting a hurt on, at the time, a teenage boy. Punches led to kicks, before Joker took up the infamous crowbar and delivered the most severe injuries (thankfully) off-panel.
It's the artwork courtesy of Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, and Adrienne Roy that has taken the scene from an unforgettable moment of plot, to an unforgettable moment of visual horror. Joker's massive, unchanging grin completely oblivious to the brutality he's engaged in, and only the sweat beading on his forehead revealing that the murder requires any effort from him at all. And given the time and characters, that single image of Robin being struck - and the spittle of blood - was enough to trigger a conversation about the morality of the story, whether or not Jason had survived.
Over the years, flashbacks and recollections of the scene have shown it through stylized lenses, and more modern inks and colors. But in its original form, the colors, lines, and inks encapsulate the moment in comics history that the murder was set. And when you have as memorable a layout as that, it's no wonder Batman Beyond released twenty eight years later sticks with the formula.
Batman Beyond #5 (2017)
Where the original scene was a case of readers staring in shock as Joker actually succeeded in his quest to harm, and eventually kill Robin, the one depicted in Batman Beyond was shocking for an entirely different reason. In hindsight, readers watched as the hatted, hooded figure above followed faithfully at the villain's side for two full issues. The villain, for those curious, was the always-annoying Terminal, leader of the Joker-esque gang calling themselves... Jokerz. But once Terminal spilled the secret that he had kept Bruce Wayne alive by pretending he was actually Batman's greatest villain - and insulting the Joker more than a few times along the way - the faceless henchman made his presence known.
After and attempt to kill Bruce Wayne allowed Terminal and his lackey to escape, they were shot down over Neo-Gotham, grounding their aircraft in a nearby park. And while it was technically Terminal who requested that his concealed goon pass him a crowbar from the ship's toolbox, we like to think fate was at work. Almost three decades later, DC fans witnessed the Joker attacking a young man from behind with a crowbar, then savagely beating him within inches of his life. This time, his unchanging face was a little easier to take in... and somehow, more unsettling at the same time.
Revealing himself to be the true Joker after the above assault, the returned Clown Prince of Crime seems to have put Terminal out of his misery with one final blow. The recreation is clearly a nod to the fans who had seen the villain's resurrection dangled in front of them, only to be pulled away with Bruce Wayne's return. But more than that, evoking the memory of Jason Todd's death before showing Joker walking off into the sunset, claiming that Batman "never could... nor will he ever... kill me!" proves the point.
Joker murdered Robin, handing Batman his most terrible, most tragic failure. The Dark Knight never sought retribution then, and three decades later... well, the Joker is still walking free. But for how long? Now that's what keeps us reading.
Batman Beyond #5 is available now.