Not That Diamond: Comics, Baseball, and The Jokester

It is a unique confluence of events that leads me to this column. First, I have had a specific comic book floating around in my brain for the last week. Secondly, we have baseball season starting. Then as I watched my favorite baseball team lose a heartbreaker I realized that comics and baseball are alike in a lot of ways.

Following baseball is a lesson in managing disappointment. Your team is going to lose. They are probably going to lose 60 times over the course of the season, at the minimum. They could be an incredible team, but it doesn’t matter. They are going to lose. Your favorite player is probably only going to get a hit one out of three times. There is no way to avoid disappointment. Yet at the same time everyone starts the season thinking that their team has a chance. Hope springs eternal before the first pitch. Winter peels away and we all know that the summer is on its way. Even the worse teams can pin their hopes on a young player with promise.

Comics have a similar nature. You can’t avoid a bad comic. Luckily the percentages are better and more than one out of three comics are good. There are more good comics out there than bad  But…If you are deep into the hobby, then you are going to end up reading a clunker. Your favorite creators aren’t going to get a hit every time. They might have every intention of making a great book and put the effort in, but it just doesn’t work out. There are times where you just have to shake off the bad book you read and keep on going. Hope also springs eternal for comic books. Every event is incredible before the first issue comes out. Every first issue is the start of an incredible run. We get excited for solicitations because they are the promise that there is a new book  around the corner. The next Batman story you read could be the best Batman story ever.

The closest parallel between comics and baseball though is the little moments of joy mixed in with what can seem like a mess of tangled motives and execution. As much as you can feel mired in a losing streak there can always be a brief moment of joy. For example, a player hitting for the cycle long after your team is out of contention.  Or a comic book that is part of a messy event that has a clear shining nature. The comic book I have been thinking about is Countdown Presents The Search For Ray Palmer: Crime Society #1 or as the kids call it CPTSFRP:CS #1. Countdown on a whole was disappointing. 52 had been a unique creative and commercial success. It melded the writing talents of four very different but talented writers (Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Greg Rucka) with the art backbone of Keith Giffen and a slew of talented artists giving life to the story (Joe Bennett, Chris Batista, Eddy Barrows, Shawn Moll, Todd Nauck, Dale Eaglesham, etc.). It’s weekly format pushed the creators into a freewheeling, edge of the seat approach that led to one of the most compelling stories in modern comics.

Countdown took that format and seemed to squeeze the spontaneity out of the story. It seemed to be overly planned while also being a bit lost in what it wanted to be. It was the worst of both worlds. Amidst this mess was a gem. The Crime Society one shot by Sean McKeever, Jamal Igle, and Rob Hunter still sticks with me.  A story taking place on the parallel world of Earth-3, the story introduced us to the Jokester, who was the reverse image of the more familiar Joker. Earth-3 was an entire world of reversed roles. Our heroes were villains and vice-versa.

The Jokester starts as man who seeking to use humor (without success) to understand his twisted world. It is a world that is ruled by an organization of super-powered criminals like Owlman (Bad Batman) and Ultraman (Bad Superman). Our hero finally finds his place in the world making jokes at the expense of the powerful Crime Society. He makes a fortune making jokes about Owlman but then sees his beloved assistant Harley murdered by the Caped Criminal. This pushes him to use his fortune to become the Jokester, a constant thorn in the Crime Society’s side.

He eventually finds a home of sorts with the Riddler family, including an estranged lover from his past (Evelyn Dent, Three Face) and a teenage daughter (Duela Dent). This family is also torn from him by the Owlman. The description would lead you to believe that this was a standard alternate universe tale. McKeever, Igle, and Hunter give the Jokester a unique voice and feel. The Jokester is a sad, almost naïve man that hides a righteous anger that lingers right beneath the surface.  The Jokester seems resigned to his death before he falls in with Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner, and Jason Todd in their Search for Ray Palmer (seriously…that was the name of an “important” storyline).

Whereas in the past we had always seen the “evil twins” of Earth-3 as two dimensional characters, this felt different. Previous Earth-3 characters were carried by the fact that we were titillated by seeing an evil Batman. In this case we got a bit more depth and character who seemed to have staying power. A real gem in the mud of the Countdown storyline.

Then disappointment rears its head again. The Jokester was snuffed out within a few issues and it finally dawned on me that the Countdown storyline had problems. While 52 had been flexible enough to follow the story lines that seemed to pop out of nowhere, it seemed like Countdown didn’t have any room to let a character like the Jokester breathe. It was a real shame as I still think back to the one shot as being such a great introduction to the character.

I look at my long boxes and think of baseball cards and time spent reading funny books in the sun. Disappointment has a sharp bite in the moment, but as time passes you tend to remember the good games and books. Countdown may have been not lived up to my hopes but there is at least one part of that I will always remember…and I tend to think about that more than my crushed expectations.

Tom Katers is dead. April Fools.


  1. I love The Jokester.  I bought every issue of countdown (for reasons I can’t comprehend now), but I don’t remember anything of consequence from the series except that character.  He was written in a very interesting fashion and I was very dissappointed when they killed him off.  I’d love to read an elseworlds tale that centered on him.

    Also, I was a White Sox fan growing up, so I can sympathize with your baseball analogy.  When Frank Thomas came along it was like a ray of sunshine.  (And that is the first and last time anyone will ever compare Frank Thomas with a ray of sunshine.) 

  2. Comics + Baseball…add some apple pie and you don’t get anymore friggin America than that. Love it. one of the things i love about this site is how so many of you guys are baseball fans. There is a comfort in that.

    Just the other day you look down your rosters and say “who’s beating this team!?!?!?!” same way you look at solicits and creative teams on comics. We all do it, its fun.

    I think your Brew Crew can make a nice run this year. Might surprise some people in the NL i think. Whats the sleeper comic of this year gonna be?

    p.s. Just cause its appropriate….Go RED SAWX.  =)

  3. Jokester was a great character. I was left scratching my head when they killed him off. I would definitly pick up a jokester mini or ongoingn again.

  4. The Jokester issue of Countdown was the only one I remember. And thus, the best.

  5. Nice picture of Judah Friedlander up there.

  6. I was wondering how you were going to put this together, but once you threw out the 60 losses comaprison it hit. I’m a big hockey guy love the sport, and I am Canadian so that makes sense, but if i could play any sport pro, it wold be ball. That long marathon season really is like reading a comic; marathon arcs that take 6 months to come out; a boring game becomes a big game with one swing of the bat, or a series can turn with one great issue (thinking of Knight and Squire #5). i hope this season of baseball and events are memorable, and i am sure we will see some great games/issues and some bad ones.

    If we are in the resurgence of the pitcher, what role is having a resurgence in comics.

    and I’m with Wally, go Red Sox!

  7. They featured a version of him (he’s called The Red Hood) in a really strong two-part Batman The Brave and The Bold. The episode is pretty intense and action packed with nice development and Batman’s dilemma of working with a Joker even a parallel earth Joker.

    It’s worth a look.

    The Episodes are from Season 1 and called “Deep Cover for Batman!” and “Game Over for Owlman!

    (It also features a heoric Gorilla Grodd!)