“Slayride” – Detective Comics #826
Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Don Kramer, Wayne Faucher
Color Artist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Jared Fletcher
Review by Eric Lee
Batman has been around for such a long time now that he has an amazing list of holiday-themed stories. In fact, Batman has so many good Christmas stories that DC Comics even published an official list ranking the best Batman Christmas stories. Some people may point to “Christmas with the Joker” from Batman: The Animated Series as the gold standard, while others may have a dark horse choice and pick Batman Returns, despite the fact that it has very little to do with Christmas. Unfortunately, they’re all wrong. In this humble writer’s opinion, the best Christmas-themed Batman story is from Detective Comics #826, where the Joker kidnapped Robin and ordered fast food.
The reason why “Slayride” stands out above the rest of the holiday stories is because it flips the script. Typically, we get a Christmas story where Batman learns the true meaning of the holidays. However in “Slayride”, it’s the Joker who learns about Christmas.
In the story, Tim Drake’s caught between warring drug dealers who are chasing him down by car. When Robin demolishes his motorcycle in the chase, a mysterious stranger drives up and tells the young hero to get in. However, Tim learns quickly that he should not accept rides from strangers. He’s greeted by the Joker in the most hilariously understated, casual way ever.
Dini’s Joker is Funny, but Scary
Before Robin can react, the Joker gases and ties him up in Duct tape and Christmas lights. The reason why this story works so well is due to writer Paul Dini’s depiction of the villain. He’s not an invincible murder god, like in Scott Snyder’s Death of the Family or Endgame. Dini’s Joker lives to tell a joke. He has a sense of humor, even if it is warped. The scary part is that we will probably never know what will make him laugh, or he may kill you. When written by Dini, the Joker serves to make you as uncomfortable as possible. That may be with something as simple as stealing your report card or going on a full on murder spree.
Dini sums it up perfectly in a flashback scene between Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne, and Tim. The Joker loves to prey on the poor schmoe who’d feel the most uncomfortable around him. Not out of spite or revenge, but purely out of his own personal amusement.
So, back to the present. Tim wakes up and finds that he is tied up and riding around in a SUV with Joker. Unfortunately, for Robin, the Joker’s doing everything he can to make him break. In this case, the villain’s driving and hitting people with his car while Tim’s powerless to stop him.
At no point is the Joker not terrifying. Dini reminds us constantly, like when he shows the couple he murdered to steal their car, or when Joker purposely left a toy to give Tim false hope that he could cut through his bindings and escape. Even when the clown spontaneously decides to get fast food is simultaneously horrifying and funny.
The Joker orders at the restaurant’s drive through speaker, but gets angry that the employees don’t understand what he’s saying. So when the clearly depressed manager comes to help the Joker, he just shoots him in the face with zero compunction. You never know exactly what will set the Joker off. The fact that he gets pi$$ed off at somebody in a boring, domestic setting is scary because it shows how nobody is safe.
While the Joker’s unpredictable, Robin figured out what makes him tick. Despite all the murdering, the villain still sees himself as a comedian. So, when Robin quotes the Marx brothers, Joker’s wildly amused. This is enough for Robin to turn the tables on him and beat him up. Tim’s even able to use the Joker’s gas against him, causing him to step out of the car distracted.
The Joker Learns the True Meaning of Christmas
While the Joker was angry that his own gas ball was used against him, he then gleefully realizes that he too should be able to take a joke as he’s hit by an oncoming big rig truck. That, kids, is how the Joker learned the true meaning of Christmas.
He spent the entire comic acting like a Grinch and ruining other peoples’ holiday with his antics. However, he learned that Christmas is not about his own pleasure, or fulfilling his personal desires, but being able to allow others to take part in the joy. That’s a lesson that the Grinch learned and the Joker learns it here too. He gets hit by a truck and flies off a bridge to learn it, but he learns it nonetheless.
That is why Detective Comics #826 is one of the best Batman Christmas stories, despite having very little Batman. We see Tim Drake being a cool and calculating in the face of danger. There is Dini’s Joker causing chaos. And finally, there is a Christmas-themed lesson learned at the end of it.
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