The Jester. Artist: Dan Zolnerowich.

THE JESTER

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: unknown writer and Paul Gustavson, artist
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The lawman as superhero, where a police officer assumes a second identity and can then avoid the legal niceties that hamper the "official" pursuit of justice ("niceties" such as due process, human rights and the presumption of innocence), was a common theme …

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… in comic books of the early 1940s. Major examples include The Blue Beetle, The Guardian and The Black Hood, but from The Woman in Red to The Ghost Rider, they abound. The Jester was of that sub-genre, but with a difference — he had the best-developed sense of humor of any long-underwear guy prior to the advent of Funnyman himself.

Rookie cop Chuck Lane inspired merriment among his fellow officers, through his clumsiness. He also had an ancestor who inspired merriment among medieval nobility, as a court jester. So when he put on a costume to fight crime in his spare time as well as during the work day, he made merriment his theme. He wore a jester outfit, played merry jests on his criminal victims, and called himself The Jester. As Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe put it years later, law-breakers "feared hearing the sound of his high-pitched laugh or the bells on his costume." Apparently, he was pretty comfortable with the quasi-lunatic practical joker persona, because his clumsiness seems to have disappeared when he wore it.

The Jester made his first appearance in Smash Comics #22 (May, 1941), where he replaced a more serious crime fighter named Magno (no relation — this one was a former electrical lineman who got super powers from a jolt that would have killed anyone outside of comic books). The writer who co-created him is unknown, but the artist was Paul Gustavson, who was also involved in the creation of The Angel, The Spider and The Human Bomb. The publisher was Quality Comics, which soon added another a funny superhero. But Plastic Man was actually a reasonably serious guy — it was the world around him that was insane.

This hero was strictly a denizen of the back pages — the Smash Comics cover and lead position were alternating between The Ray and Bozo the Robot when he started, and finally settled on Midnight, but never displayed The Jester outside of a small inset. But in his inconspicuous position, he outlasted a majority of the '40s superheroes. In fact, he remained in Smash Comics all the way to its final issue (#85, October 1949).

DC Comics acquired the Quality Comics characters in 1956, but hasn't made much use of this one. He did appear with The All-Star Squadron, but then, so did everybody else, and he was only in a crowd scene. And in the 1990s Starman series, he was shown in a flashback having an adventure with the '40s Starman, set in the early 1950s, shortly before he retired from the superhero game. Apparently, Plastic Man (who, in most revivals, is depicted as the reverse of what he used to be, a funny guy in a sane world) provides quite enough merriment for today's superhero fans.

— DDM

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Text ©2006-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.