|The Joker: Devil's Advocate|
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The Joker: Devil's Advocate is a comic book published by DC Comics, released in December of 1995. It is a one-shot story, written by Chuck Dixon and pencilled by Graham Nolan.
The story, though not as widely recognized as The Killing Joke or Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, has become a classic amongst most fans of The Joker, as, much like the two aforementioned stories, it analyzes the relationship between Batman and his greatest foe.
The events of the plot are set in motion by an innocent act from the United States Post Office: a series of commemorative postage stamps, each of them with one of the "great comedians" (The Three Stooges, The Brothers Marx, etc.) imprinted onto them. The stamp series proves to be a big hit without any controversy, but eventually, something goes wrong: three people - an old woman, a middle-aged African-American man, and an old man - all die seconds after licking the stamps, their faces distorted into hideous grins. Evidently, Joker Venom had been mixed into the glue on the stamps.
The story then depicts Joker himself attacking a post office in Gotham, demanding to know why, as a comedian himself, he had not been featured on the stamps. Shortly afterward, Batman and Robin arrive, easily defeating The Joker and his henchmen. The postmaster that Joker had kidnapped earlier is found alive, but the Harlequin of Hate's latest crime spree has not been cleaned up yet; the police, believing him to be behind the poison stamp murders, call in Assistant District Attorney Francine Beaudreau to tie up the case's loose ends.
Joker himself meets with his attorney, Milton Delgue, inside the interrogation room. Delgue suggests the routine Insanity Defense for the Harlequin of Hate, and that it is best to get such a plea to the court as quickly as possible, should more poisoned stamps turn up. Joker, however, reacts with confusion - he is clueless as to why everybody mentions stamps to him. Elsewhere in the city, Delgue's words ring true: the poison stamps claim one more victim - the nagging wife of a man named Ernest Kelleher.
Inside Beaudreau's office, the gutsy Assistant D.A. laments that the case will make a laughingstock out of everyone - Joker will intimidate the witnesses, the media will play the court for fools, and the entire thing will conclude with the Ace of Knaves getting off with yet another Insanity Defense. She, however, has an alternative strategy - nailing Joker on multiple murder counts and, if possible, shooting for the Death Penalty for him.
The story then cuts over to show a wheelchair-bound man inside a dark room, watching the evening news showcase the friends and family of the poison stamps' victims give an interview to the press. The wheelchair-bound man, however, has his attention the taunting note that he is typing, which he intends to send to the police station with the impression that it had been Joker who sent it. A woman, presumably his wife, comes in, bringing in a dinner of Chinese takeout with her.
Batman and Robin, meanwhile, meet with Commissioner Gordon to discuss Joker's stamp crimes. Gordon laments that the structure of the crime has made it so that people are dying even when Joker is not loose on the streets, before showing the Dynamic Duo a ransom note from Joker, demanding $999,999.99 in return for stopping the poisoned stamps. Batman requests to have a rundown on what Joker hand on him when he was captured, and is promised that he will have it by tomorrow night. The two vigilantes then leave, intending to scout those who had worked for Joker in the past.
The date of Joker's trial soon arrives, with Delgue, like so many other lawyers had done before, attempting to reason with the jury that Joker is an insane man, not in control of his actions. Bruce is later shown watching a recording of the trial in the Batcave, desperate to find out any clues that could lead him to the source of the poison stamps. In another part of Gotham, meanwhile, a woman whose husband is on the jury for Joker's trial finds herself nearly kidnapped by three of Joker's men. Robin is able to beat the three into submission just in time, and has them apprehended, but it does no good - the three men know nothing of Joker's extortion demands.
Later that night, Batman, Robin, and Gordon meet atop the police station's roof, discussing the recent developments. It is now confirmed that Joker does indeed have someone on the outside pulling off the crime, but Batman raises his suspicions that a demand for money had not been part of Joker's original plan. The next morning, Joker's trial continues, and Beaudreau scores a heavy point by inflicting a cross-examination on Joker. Though the Harlequin of Hate pledges innocent to being behind the poisoned stamps and extortion demands, Beaudreau is able to trick him into losing his temper, causing Joker to remind the entire courtroom of crimes that he had been guilty of (such as the crippling of Barbara Gordon). Delgue hastily asks for the outburst to be disregarded by the judge, but the damage is done; the jury had now been entire turned against Joker.
In the Batcave, meanwhile, Batman and Robin pour over all of the evidence that they had previously acquired from The Joker, desperate to find the hideout where the Ace of Knaves' partners are residing at. Eventually, they do find something of a clue - a torn receipt, upon which a pencil impression reading "101 EA" is found. Batman deduces that the address is of house #101 on the East side of an East-West street, and contacts Oracle, asking her to find how many addresses in Gotham match the description. When Oracle discovers that the case involves The Joker, however, she reboots the computers, temporarily resetting the Batcave's entire mainframe. The message is clear: Barbara does not wish to involve herself in a case regarding the madman who had crippled her.
The day of the final leg of Joker's trial soon arrives, and Joker is all too confident that, as usual, he will get off on an Insanity Plea. To his surprise and fury, however, the jurors unanimously find him guilty of all nine stamp poisonings. Joker breaks into a seething rage over this decision, attacking the guards and all the while proclaiming his innocence in the matter. It is only when a dozen guards swarm over him that he is restrained. News of this ruling soon spreads all over Gotham, much to the comfort of the friends and family of his victims. Indeed, everyone in Gotham is pleased at this ruling - all except for Batman himself.
The night before Joker's transfer to Blackgate Penitentiary, Batman visits the Ace of Knaves inside his cell at Arkham Asylum, only to find that he is wholly unconcerned with the fact that for the first time, he will be in a real prison. Batman then questions Joker as to whether he had really committed the stamp murders, but Joker, stubborn as ever, gives no concrete answer. In the meantime, a squadron of policemen attempt to find the source of the poison stamp extortion demands, but neither side scores a victory; the bag containing the ransom money vanishes without a hint as to who had taken it, but the bag itself turns out to contain nothing but a paint bomb, much to the frustration of the wheelchair-bound man and his wife - the real perpetrators.
Later that night, Batman speaks with Commissioner Gordon about the possibility of Joker being innocent. Gordon is baffled as to why Batman would want to prove a mass murdering criminal innocent, citing the fact that Batman, being a vigilante, has always cared more about justice than the law itself. Batman, however, is not swayed, telling Gordon that "you know it doesn't work that way". Back in the Batcave, Alfred expresses the same feelings - for once, the sins of The Joker's past have caught up with him. Bruce retaliates with a counterargument that, as Joker may not be guilty, the poison stamp killer is still out there, meaning that many innocents may follow The Joker to the grave.
Back at Arkham Asylum, The Joker holds a conversation with Delgue about his fate. Delgue explains that he might be able to delay the sentence with an appeal, or even get it thrown out entirely. Joker, however, is not cheered up in the least, and openly expresses his desire that someone will believe in his innocence of the entire matter. In another part of Gotham, in the meantime, Batman tracks down several of The Joker's (still living) former henchmen, and beats them all senseless, intending to interrogate them all one-by-one when they come to. Early the next morning, as Joker leaves for Blackgate, he is greeted by a crowd of reporters outside Arkham, all clamoring for interviews. As he climbs inside the awaiting police car, the Clown Prince of Crime smiles a genuine smile for the first time in days, pleased at all the free publicity.
At Blackgate, The Joker is greeted by the chief warden of death row: a large, muscular man named Jack DeFillips. Once inside, the various prisoners taunt the Ace of Knaves, one of them in particular informing him that now that he is sentenced to be executed, he may have a chance of being put on the comedian stamps. For the most part, Joker is not bothered by the harsh interior of the prison, nor by the less-than-friendly inmates. As day turns into night, Batman and Robin undertake their mission - interrogating the various people around Gotham who, at one point or another in their lives, had been henchmen to The Joker. Most of the trails lead to dead ends, but one man in particular - the wheelchair-bound man - is revealed to harbor a grudge toward Joker, as the Clown Prince of Crime had abandoned him on one of their heists when he had been crushed beneath a truck, resulting in his present condition.
After Batman leaves, the wheelchair-bound man's wife comes in to comfort him. The wheelchair-bound man expresses concern for her, and asks her to leave the entire operation behind - he has to continue the extortion demands, but she does not. The woman tenaciously refuses, claiming that he and herself are partners. As the days wear on, Joker meets with Delgue again, and shocks the lawyer when he states that he does not want any appeals. He goes on to explain that he wishes to be executed as fast as possible, as he does not want to lose all of the publicity that he has gained over the past few days. Delgue is further disturbed by the fact that Joker does not seem to be concerned about the fact that he will die, and to top things off, Joker demands that he tell the official that he will sue the state for millions if the execution date is stayed.
Joker's gambit soon pays off, as the story of his execution remains the top story in all of Gotham. During this time, it is revealed that the husband of one of the poison stamps' victims - Kelleher - has founded an emotion support group for all of those who had been victims of Joker's previous crime sprees. Kelleher himself is disgusted at the amount of publicity that The Joker has gotten for his crimes, and proclaims the Ace of Knaves to be nothing but a coward. Further enraged, The Joker viciously attacks one of his fellow inmates. The Dynamic Duo, in the meantime, are still hard at work, looking for the true killer. Robin informs Alfred that the address on the receipt fragment has failed to match any location listed in the Batcomputer, while Batman himself meets with Commissioner Gordon yet again.
During the conversation between Batman and Gordon, the two men share what they now know: the real killer had purchased the stamps, mixed Joker Venom into the glue on the back, and returned them for cash. Once again, Gordon suggests abandoning the whole matter, as there have been no new ransom demands for a week, but Batman insists that the killer would not have gone to all the trouble of poisoning the stamps only to quit now - with access to Joker Venom, it is very possible that they will tamper with prescription drugs, food, or even water next. Over at Blackgate, meanwhile, Joker gets into a fight with an enormous and muscular inmate, whom he easily pummels with his bare hands.
On Saturday morning, Tim spends some time with his girlfriend Ariana, helping her uncle Vari unload a freezer from a truck. As the truck drives through a maze of warehouses, Tim notices that one warehouse in particular - number 101 - is marked "Easy Store Self Storage." In the meantime, The Joker receives a head shave, as is customary for all death row inmates, as well as another visit from Batman in the dead of night. The Dark Knight asks Joker to help him in proving his own innocence, but Joker refuses to swallow his pride to do so, and does not tell Batman anything. Fortunately, Batman does indeed receive a new lead - the wheelchair-bound man's wife dies after accidentally licking one of the poisoned stamps, giving the police all the evidence that they need. Unfortunately, while the couple may have tried to extort the city using the poison stamp affair, the actual presence of a poison stamp in their house was completely coincidental; they are not the original killer(s), either.
Tim, meanwhile, re-visits the warehouse district as Robin, intent on investigating. Inside the office, he finds a file marked "H.A. Laughlin", and outside one of the warehouses, he discovers the grinning corpse of a rat - almost certainly killed by Joker Venom. Tim sends an anonymous tip to the police, who search the warehouse, and find a cardboard cutout of The Joker inside, along with several drums of the Venom. Over at Blackgate, The Joker's pre-execution rites commence; Delgue informs him that his threat of a lawsuit has resulted in his execution date moving up in record time, and that bidding to cover the event has gone up to three million dollars. In addition, the film company Paragon Pictures is picking up the rights to make a movie of the event. There is, however, still some paperwork to go through - namely, Joker's estate papers, which he signs in lavender-colored crayon.
Once more, Batman meets with Gordon to discuss the Joker case, though this time at a park. Gordon states that The Joker's fingerprints had indeed been found all over the warehouse, but that no fingerprints of his former henchmen had been found. Batman insists that Joker must have had an accomplice to spread the poison stamps into circulation, perhaps unwitting - during the talk that he had with The Joker, the Ace of Knaves had not gloated or taunted him: a sign that he does not know anymore than they do. Batman then asks Gordon to pull up a list of the employees connected with the warehouse, and leaves.
As The Joker continues to make a fool out of the Blackgate officials concerning his last meal, Robin receives the list of employees from Gordon via e-mail. As he and Batman pour over the list in the Batcave, Batman makes a shocking discovery concerning the owner of the warehouses. Later that night, Batman pays a visit to the apartment of the true perpetrator behind the stamp murders: Ernest Kelleher. As Kelleher turns himself in to the police, The Joker terrifies the priest that he is given (for pre-execution "religious considerations") with a story of one of his more brutal crimes. Over at the police station, Kelleher confesses to the crimes, and explains that he had done so so that he could be rid of his nagging wife once and for all. As the businessman breaks down into sobs, he tells the police to do what they will, much to the confusion and disgust of all those there - including Beaudreau.
With his pre-execution rights now exercised, The Joker is unceremoniously lead to the electric chair chamber. At first, the Ace of Knaves is still unconcerned about the fact that his death is minutes away, but breaks into a rage once the warden reveals that, contrary to what he believes, the execution will not be televised - the governor had turned down the TV network's request. A livid Joker attacks the warden and the accompanying guards, putting up quite an impressive fight before being forcibly seated into the chair. Before the switch can be pulled, however, Blackgate receives a phone call concerning the stay of Joker's execution - and just in time as well.
Batman and Robin, perched atop a rooftop overlooking Blackgate Island, muse upon whose life they had just saved. Though Robin is still bothered by the fact that they had just saved a heinous criminal from a deserved death, Batman maintains that "justice cuts both ways sometimes", and that in one way or another, everyone pays for their crimes. He soon proves himself right with a visit to his archenemy once the latter has been transferred back to Arkham Asylum; at first, the Harlequin of Hate gloats over his brush with death, but the Dark Knight soon reminds him that he is now trapped in a fate worse than death - he now owes his life to Batman. Subsequently, Batman slips out of The Joker's cell, leaving the Ace of Knaves by himself to suffer over his Pyrrhic victory.