We come to it at last. The great battle of our time. The Dark Knight’s first confrontation with the Clown Prince of Crime - but nowhere near his last.
While I typically just cover the villains themselves in First Strike and not other aspects of the story or artwork, I have to do so here because of how well they sell what a menace the Joker is. The plot is a pretty simple, straightforward one, but the vivid artwork elevates it with its cinematic panel breakdowns and heavy use of shadows and inks, creating strong dramatic tension and a malevolent atmosphere. It’s one of the things that made Batman stand out from other comic books of the time, and was as much of a factor in Batman’s success as the character himself.
Readers didn't have to wait long to see the Joker again. His next story was also in Batman #1 - and it was almost his last, as it originally ended with his death, impaled on his own knife during a struggle with Batman. However, the editors saw the long-term potential of the Joker and ordered the ending rewritten so that he survived his injury. And thus was born one of the longest and most intense rivalries in comic book history. Although the Joker was toned down considerably in the 1940s, becoming more of a harmless prankster than murderous mastermind, he was still a worthy opponent for the Caped Crusader, and appeared frequently, even when the rest of Batman's rogues gallery was deemed too grotesque for the pages of comic books in the 1950s, thanks to the Comics Code Authority. In the 1970s, the Joker got his lethal edge back, and he hasn't lost it since.
To this day, the Joker remains an enigmatic figure, his true name and origins yet to be revealed. Detective Comics #168 (February, 1951) established that prior to becoming the Joker, he was a criminal known as the Red Hood who dove into a vat of chemicals to escape Batman while robbing the Monarch Playing Card Company. The chemicals bleached his skin and dyed his hair, permanently disfiguring him. Nothing else about him or his past can be taken at face value. Many readers, myself included, are in no rush to see a definitive origin, thinking that the Joker works better if we don't know who he really is.
"The Joker" has been reprinted many times over the years, and getting a hold of it shouldn't be too difficult or expensive. This is one that is definitely worth tracking down. It's an excellent story that still holds up after almost 80 years, and it gets my highest recommendation.