THE LATE 1980s was an explosive time for the comic book industry.
Mention Batman to most people of a certain age and they’ll be thinking of the 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. The UK’s first 12-rated movie, it was a seminal moment as it turned the 1960s camp TV series into a Hollywood blockbuster.
But comics fans know that there had been a renaissance going on with the source material.
In 1986, Frank Miller has written The Dark Knight Returns, a pivotal moment that saw Batman grow up.
Two years later, comic legends Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and John Higgins created The Killing Joke – a radical retake on the origins of Batman’s nemesis the Joker. No more the giggling buffoon from the Adam West TV show, here was the template for all Jokers that have followed since, not least the latest acclaimed movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as the sinister villain.
For comic Justin Moorhouse, it was a seminal moment – he quite literally dropped his much-loved Beano for the strange world of Gotham City.
People may dismiss comic books and graphic novels as being just for children, but they are far more than that, as Justin explains: “The Killing Joke made me realise that men of evil had to be evil for a reason.
“Batman and Joker are the same: they lost everything.”
Comics help form the backdrop of his latest show, Northern Joker. It’s currently on the second leg of its tour and will be dropping in again to Norden Farm on Friday, November 1, after a sell-out date earlier in the year.
But don’t think you’ll have to get your geek on or take a crash course in Nutty, Whizzer and Chips, Sparky or The Sandman to understand it all. It’s just a way in to the show that helps Justin look at the differences between his childhood and his daughter’s.
The show blurb says that we’re living in a time of uncertainty with Brexit looming, appearing that the Cold War is being rebooted and, well, closer to home, Justin is starting to feel redundant as a parent. One kid is leaving home, the dog is getting older and needs fewer walks, and the youngest kid hits 13 and cancels the family subscription to The Beano.
Justin has shared his love of reading comics with his family, and he has a lot of time for The Beano, which celebrated its 80th anniversary last year.
“It’s great, of course. I’ve read the Beano for half of its life, it’s been in my life for that long. It’s very British humour,” he says. “I’m loving the Beano now.”
And, being a Beano fan, he saw the similarities between The Numbskulls – who started life in The Beezer before transferring – with the Disney Pixar film Inside Out.
He’s also shared some of his old comics with his daughter when she was a reader.
“It was of its time,” he says, “It was full of slippering kids, black eyes, steaks on eyes, all stuff that wouldn’t happen now for very good reason.”
He admits to being a little sad when his daughter cancelled her Beano, but he’s been expanding her reading material, introducing her to titles such as She-Hulk before moving on to Spider-man and other titles. And there’s little chance of her being accused of being a geek over it.
“Because of the films, it’s easy for them to talk about it,” he says.
And the show also touches on the adverts that cropped up in American comics, offering everything from X-ray specs to sea monkeys, things that seemed so tantalising to British youngsters used to three TV channels and soggy sago for tea.
“In the show, I talk about them. I’m so fascinated by them, the idea of selling these things to kids, you think it’s a scam,” he says. “But if it’s in America, it must be real.”
Northern Joker uses comics to allow Justin to rip large on life today.
“There’s a feeling of world-weariness, my kids are growing up, my son is 22 and making his own way in life, my daughter is a teenager and my wife is a teacher a very busy,” he says of the starting point for the show.
“Am I a grumpy old man? Yes, of course, I am! As a comedian, I can reflect on these things and talk about them.
“The show is not a mick take [on comics], it’s just a grumpy middle-aged old man.
“But I like being a comedian, it is my thing. And I get to go to different places and make people laugh, and take their minds off things.”
The touring life means he’s away from home a lot, but this, he feels, is good for his marriage.
“I think being away so much is why my relationship has lasted so long. I am quite sloppy and my wife is neat and tody, touring gives us space.
“When you don’t work nine-to-five, it’s good to spend a bit of time apart.”
The tour has been going well, the second leg that he’s now on sees him return to some places including Norden Farm.
“The show is really funny – I have to say that,” he jokes. “People are enjoying it.
“And without being big-headed, I feel really proud of it. It’s my best show, I’m really, really happy with how it’s going.”
The return to Maidenhead pleases him too: “I really, really like your neck of the woods to be honest with you,” he says.
So, a night out with a top comic, dressed as a Joker. If that doesn’t make you laugh well, why so serious?
Justin Moorhouse: Northern Joker will be at Norden Farm on Friday, November 1. For tickets, call the box office on 01628 788 997 or log on to norden.farm