Writer: Steve Englehart
Artists: Marshall Rogers (p), Terry Austin (i), John Workman (letters)
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: Trapped in a house of horrors, Silver awaits two saviors (also her two lovers), the Batman and her jilted gubernatorial candidate Evan Gregory. But are either prepared for the Joker's tricks?
Conventions: An old house on an isolated stretch of road, a deathtrap designed by an unbalanced killer, a kidnapped woman in restraints, unsuspecting police converging on the scene - Englehart has all the pulp conventions in place for this comics noir tale, and the bright colors that have enlivened several chapters don't contradict the darkness in the story. In fact, this issue has some rather grim and gruesome fates for several of the players, but their deaths aren't the gross explosions of body fluids that pass for a realistic tone these days.
Which is not to say there's any sense of censorship or of the macabre being muted; just that the horror here is more of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman school than the trendier sort of body horror we've grown used to. The menace of the house is clear, but the darkest presence in the well-lit house is Batman himself. It's the lurid colors of the Joker that signify true madness in this world where the stakes are so exaggerated and extreme.
What's interesting: This is really Evan's story, as he has a conventional but believable motivation. He wants to win back his girl, but he can't imagine the depravity of the foe he's facing, and he's ill-prepared for what ensues. It's a hopeless quest, one that he nonetheless wins, by default, in the tale's conclusion.
Bruce is prepared to deal with whatever the Joker has in store, and it's very entertaining to watch him avoid each trap through cleverness and physical skill.
Sexism watch: Silver is in her slip on the cover of the issue, bound and threatened by a red-hot branding iron. She fares somewhat better in the story. Though at the Joker's mercy, she keeps her wits about her, and stalls without losing her head as she knows (just as the Joker does) that her rescuer is coming.
She also falls into a conventional role in the denouement, too, making a choice out of loyalty and devotion rather than passion, one that conveniently frees up Bruce for other stories. I'm not too bothered, though, because if Englehart wants to keep Silver off-stage unless he's writing her, that's probably for the best.
Satisfying: The best thing about this series is how distinct each issue has been as a complete package of entertainment. The first issue set up the basic conflict between Bruce and the Joker (as it needed to, so convoluted has their relationship become in other books), the second played with the Scarecrow's role (linking this series thematically to the recent film), the third caught up in Two-Face's machinations, the fourth a choice between illusion and reality relating to love, the fifth a mysterious flashback to childhood, and now this final one a haunted funhouse and climax. It does go a bit off the rails with the Joker losing his focus and descending into chaos for the fiery climax, but even that fate is one that effects him more than anyone else, leaving all the pieces in place for a sequel.
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