Published in 1978 by DC Comics, The Laughing Fish is a classic Batman tale featuring the Joker. Written by Steve Englehart and illustrated by Marshall Rogers, The Laughing Fish originally appeared in Detective Comics issues #475 and #476, and tells the story of the Joker’s attempts to claim copyright over poisoned fish.
What happens in Batman: The Laughing Fish?
Part One: The Laughing Fish!
Local fishermen are discovering something unusual within their fishing nets. Each fish they snare bares the image of the Joker.
The Joker is keen to create what he views as a lucrative source of income. So, he poisons the fisheries, believing he can claim copyright on each Joker-fish and in turn make some money.
Upon discovering he can’t claim copyright against an animal, the Joker threatens the lives of those who work at the Gotham City Copyright Commission. He then delivers on his threat by killing the first employee, to highlight how serious he is about his copyright.
Part Two: Sign of the Joker!
The Joker threatens the life of a second employee of the Copyright Commission. Batman and the Gotham City Police Department attempt to protect him, but they are unsuccessful in saving his life and the Joker claims another victim.
Batman and the police redouble their efforts and when the Joker strikes for a third time, the Dark Knight intervenes. A fight ensues, culminating with the Joker’s apparent demise.
Is Batman: The Laughing Fish worth reading?
In terms of Joker stories, The Laughing Fish is one of the best examples of a comic completely nailing the Joker’s character. The Joker’s plan to copyright fish is absolutely bonkers, yet it allows for writer Steve Englehart to showcase the way the Joker’s mind works.
The Joker conjures up this bizarre scheme without really thinking it through; almost as if he is bored and simply needs something to do. He then escalates the plan by turning to murder, simply because he is committed to it… and why wouldn’t he kill?
In my mind, he doesn’t really care about the fish or the problems over copyright, he simply wants an excuse to gain the attention of the Caped Crusader. Everything is a game to him, which could easily end if he simply became bored or a better scheme came to mind.
There is something quite macabre in his plan and this is pure Joker through and through. From disfiguring fish to killing people over a copyright disagreement, it becomes clear that he is a lunatic who craves attention from Batman.
If there is a downside to the story, it is largely to do with some side discussions which have little to do with the Joker. These discussions relate to another ongoing story from previous issues of Detective Comics. But look past these moments and there is a lot of gold to be mind from The Laughing Fish. This is one of the best Joker stories from any Batman comic and boasts some fantastic artwork from illustrator Marshall Rogers.
Has Batman: The Laughing Fish been adapted for film?
The Laughing Fish has not been adapted for film, however, in 1993 the storyline was adapted into an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. The episode – also titled The Laughing Fish – retains the key story beats from this two-part story, but also incorporates an aspect of the story, The Joker’s Five-way Revenge – an unrelated tale that was originally published in Batman issue #251 (1973).
The Laughing Fish is a great episode of Batman: The Animated Series and one which perfectly captures the spirit of the original story. The Laughing Fish is unlikely to ever get adapted for film (it is a little too short), but this animated offering is a worthy substitute.
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