The Joker 1975-1976
In 1975 the Joker was given his own ongoing series. But sadly it ended after only nine short issue. Because of the Comics Code at the time the Joker had to loose every issue and a book that focuses on a villain who is your titular character and can't get ahead. The series began to feel repetitive when every issue the Joker was either locked back up in Arkham or he disappeared at the end of an issue after being thwarted by a hero or the police. There was a lot of potential here but sadly with the constraints placed on the writers, good stories became average stories.
While I do have problems with the book, it is also a ton of fun. It was a nice change of pace to read a Joker story where he was not a psychotic mad man bent on destroying the lives of everyone around him. Instead we get a Joker who has fun with his madness. The Joker is a lot more fun loving, but no less deadly. There are a handful of guards and policemen who fall prey to the Joker's poison gas. This is a Joker who has henchmen who actually seem to like the Joker, and the Joker seems to like them as well. There is a strange sense of comradely in the book. The supporting henchmen stay the same and while they are sort of generic things, they still feel more like close associates or even friends of the Joker as opposed to hired help. They still are in it for the money though. But when you have the Joker dressing up as a bus driver and falling instantly in love with Black Canary it's easy to forget how deranged he becomes years down the line.
I mentioned guest stars in the book earlier, there are some great ones. There is an issue where Lex Luthor and the Joker swap intellect and madness. It is great seeing Luthor run around cackling and causing mayhem while the Joker is calm and collected. We also get your standard Bat villains popping up as well like Two Face, Catwoman and Scarecrow, and while these issues are entertaining, they don't hold a candle to my favorite issue in which the Joker meets Sherlock Holmes. Sort of. The Joker knocks a stage actor playing Holmes out, when the actor comes to, he believes he is Sherlock and uses his deductive reasoning to track down the Joker, who is committing crimes based around Holmes stories. While it isn't Sherlock vs the Joker, it is probably the closest we will get and it is one of the most fun issues in the whole series.
There is a reason this series is a forgotten gem. It is not the most memorable bunch of issues. But it is a great look at who the Joker was in the seventies. The art is great with a lion's share being done by Irv Novick, but we get some Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez in here as well. This is classic Joker and the best part of the whole series. Not a Bat in sight the whole time.